TIDAL Audio Preos Preamplifier and Impact Amplifier
|TIDAL Audio Preos Preamplifier and Impact Amplifier|
|Riding on a wave of excellence from Germany|
Dave Thomas called me one afternoon, doing his best Clement Perry impression, to let me know that there was a gentleman named Daniel Barnum, in my area, who is a distributor for a company called TIDAL Audio out of Germany, and that he has an amplifier and preamplifier that he would like to have reviewed. Well I found that particularly interesting as I’m always up for meeting new people and hearing new gear. I asked Dave where in the area did Mr. Barnum – and the TIDAL gear – reside? When he said “DeKalb, Illinois,” I pulled the phone from my ear and shook my head. DeKalb is nearly an hour away, which is about the same distance that Dave lives from me. In other words, this is not “in the area.” Fellow StereoTimer H. Courtenay Osborne (the “H.” is silent), lives five minutes away from me; that’s in the area, not Dekalb.
But after a civilized discussion on the difference between “in the area” and an hour away, I soon had Daniel Barnum’s phone number and was ready to make a connection. Upon speaking to Daniel, and trying to gain the measure of the man and the electronics he was representing, I knew this was going to be an interesting review opportunity. Daniel is a very knowledgeable and thoughtful person with a passion for audio and the things he feels good equipment should deliver. He spoke so passionately about the TIDAL electronics – Preos preamplifier and the Impact amplifier – that I knew that once I got to hear it for myself, I was either going to have to bring him back down to earth by telling him the gear was just okay, or I was going to come away having had a rare experience with some truly exceptional electronics.
Initially, Dave was going to do the review, so Daniel brought the gear to my house first for a few hours of listening before we headed out to deliver the pieces to Dave. I was immediately impressed by what I heard, even though the gear had yet to warm up. It was obvious that these products were special and I suddenly found myself feeling jealous of Dave. I was actually thrilled that he was about to have this great sounding and attractive looking amp and preamp in his system. Besides, I figured that I could always just invite myself over.
Because he frequently gets the finest gear sent to him I just felt that there was no way that he was going to appreciate it as much as I would. But alas, he came across it first, so better luck next time old Mikey. Of course, as soon we made it over to Dave’s and setup the Preos and Impact in his system, I immediately let him and Daniel know that I wanted to do a follow-up review. But as fate would have it, Dave decided to go back to school to work on his MBA and his classes immediately began to beat him like a rented mule. He became so bogged down that he lamented that he would not be able to get to the review for a while. Since I was between reviews Dave asked if I would be willing to take the review over from him. I took a deep breath and sighed then told him that I would only do it because he was my brother and I would try my hardest to work it into my schedule … I know what you’re thinking, so just keep it to yourselves.
Remember how I told you that Dave lived an hour from me? Do you think it took me an hour to get over to his house to pick up the TIDAL gear? Before Dave could finish asking the question, I showed up gleefully on his doorstep. Oh sure, I was sympathetic to his plight and how busy he had become, but on the other hand, I was grinning like a village idiot on April Fool’s Day.
Watching the TIDAL wave form
TIDAL Audio was founded in Leipzig Germany in 1999 by its president, Jörn (it’s pronounced like the word “your” but with an “n” on it) Janczak. I actually saw Jörn at CES this year but didn’t know who he was at the time. Jörn is a tall, slim guy, like Jeff Rowland only taller (must be a pre-requisite for audio brilliance). His goal is to make high-end components for audio lovers who demand only the best. Jörn’s vision is for TIDAL to become one of the finest high-end stereo brands available. He doesn’t care about being the biggest, nor is he concerned with having the highest profile or biggest advertising budget. To look at the TIDAL Impact and Preos, you would conclude that someone with verve and panache put a lot of thought into how he wanted his equipment to look and feel. The fit-n-finish of the TIDAL pieces is top notch. The Impact and Preos chassis are made of a high-gloss black methylcrylate with chrome accents.
The Impact is rather compact for a mega-amp but don’t try to lift this powerhouse unless you have your legs underneath you as it is built solidly and has two large 800VA toroidal transformers – one per channel – in the front of the amplifier. These transformers are supported by 240,000 microfarads of “ultra fast” power supply capacitors. Nestled on the back panel of the Impact is a switch that allows the Impact to operate in balanced or unbalanced operation. Though the amplifier is rated at 140 watts per channel, they are very powerful watts.
The Impact does not have rack handles, which allows it to keep its neat and clean appearance. The front panel has an on/off switch and a red LED that lights up when the amplifier is powered on. The side panels are heat sinks that are rounded and have no sharp edges; a very nice touch. The back panel has a 20 amp IEC connector so you can use TIDAL’s own power cord or one customized for the application. There are input connectors for both single-ended and balanced cables. Speaker connectors are custom designed by TIDAL and built to their specifications. The only issue I had with the Impact is the “wing nuts.” If you have speaker cables that use spade connectors, there’s a propensity towards knocking the connection loose due to the wing nut hitting the connector. According to Daniel and TIDAL the speaker connectors were designed this way on purpose to provide an extremely tight connection without the use of tools. If you follow the instructions in the manual the connections are quite rudimentary and elegant.
The Preos contains several treasures that don’t readily meet the eye. It too has that high gloss black finish and does not have a lot of bells and whistles on the surface. There are two chrome-plated knobs on the front that contrast nicely to the glossy black finish, and a chrome-plated on/off switch. The knob on the left is a volume control that can also be adjusted with TIDAL’s remote control. This leads to my only concern with the Preos. There are no easily identifiable markings on the volume control, when viewed from a seated position, that give you a point of reference of how loud you are playing music. An LED was purposely left out due to its deleterious effects on the sound. TIDAL believes a preamp of this quality should not suffer at the expense of a quick gauge reference, however Daniel is currently working with TIDAL to create a solution. The other knob is a selector switch for the input sources. Both of these controls are silky smooth in operation and have a nice feel to them. The rear panel is clean and fairly straightforward. It has five sets of single-ended (RCA) inputs and three sets of outputs: one tape out, one line out, and one pre-out that can be either balanced (XLR) or single-ended. TIDAL feels strongly about the topology of their designs. As such the Preos does not operate in balanced mode, they believe unbalance operation provides the absolute best sound quality, but the Preos has a balanced set of output connectors in case you choose to use that type of cable. The Preos has a set of input connectors, ideally located next to the ground, which will accommodate a low output moving coil cartridge. A unique feature of the Preos is that the cartridge loading is accomplished by adjusting dip switches on the bottom of the preamp. Yeah, I know it’s sounds a little different but it beats unscrewing all those little screws then having to dicker around on the inside of your preamp with a pair of tweezers or a screwdriver. Just be sure to carefully set the Preos down on something that won’t scratch the finish of the top plate before you get started.
Rising up on the horizon
Now comes the hard part. How do you describe how audio equipment at this price point sounds without diminishing or even overstating its relative value? The price of the Preos is $24,712.50 and the Impact is $26,062.50. You can pick up your jaw now.
Let me begin by saying that when you get into audio performance at this level, and especially so with the TIDAL gear, there is something special going on that your ears can readily hear. The problem occurs when your brain tries to process your thoughts into words so that you can describe what you’re hearing and not sound like some kind of cult follower.
The Impact and Preos have a see-through quality that allows you to see deep into the musical event and knock down veils that you wouldn’t even know were there to begin with, and allow the performers to communicate more clearly to you. It’s easy to get into the requisite buzzwords to describe the musical event. The same ones apply in the case of the Impact and Preos but to a greater degree. Yes, the Impact and Preos are fast and transparent, have tight, deep, defined bass but with a lot of detail. Their high frequency performance is both airy and extended and possesses a midrange that’s eerily lifelike. The Impact and Preos also present a stage that gives you the illusion that you could walk around the performers because of the perception of stage size, depth, dimensionality, etc. All of those adjectives and descriptors are appropriate, but the real challenge is trying to describe how much more the TIDAL electronics allow you to experience the music.
The combination of the Impact and Preos gives you a lot of upper frequency information while capturing seemingly all of the subtle nuances and ambience. Anton Bruckner’sSymphony No.4 in E flat major ‘Romantic’, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra [AM-34735] gave me a real sense of the ambience and holographic quality of a large concert hall. Another example of the TIDALs’ capabilities comes from Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Symphony No.2 by Sir Adrian Boult conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra [Angel AE-34438]. On this recording, there is a warm, airy depiction of an immense hall with an abundance of hall sounds. The Impact and Preos were able to reveal the complex colors, textures, and dynamics of the LPO as this long piece is unveiled. On Schubert’s wonderful Symphony No.9 (“Great C-Major) by Otto Klemperer conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra [AE 34463] the TIDAL pair delivers not only all of the all sounds but with midrange layering detail and tight, tuneful, and extended low frequencies.
Switching gears to jazz, one of my favorite Miles Davis recordings is hisA Tribute to Jack Johnson [PC 30455]. Not only for Mile’s staccato trumpet playing, but for the driving, rhythmic beat as laid down by Michael Henderson on the Fender bass and Billy Cobham on the drums. The TIDAL kept the timing and pace of this piece throughout and when some other electronics transient performance seemingly wanes. A truly wonderful live jazz recording, and one of my favorites, is Johnny Griffin’s Live in Tokyo [IC 60422]. On the track “When We Were One”, the combination of the Impact and the Preos cleanly revealed all manner of acoustic cues, room sounds, and small textural details of this live recording. Johnny Griffin was magically transported into my room with more presence and dynamics that I had heard this track played with before. Female vocals are another strong point of the TIDAL pair. On Judy and the Jazzmakers Keepin’ Out of Mischief [Coherent Recordings CD 501] Judy Marshak’s voice came through with clarity and pinpoint resolution amidst the hall’s reverberations as the engineer seems to have used a single microphone that seemingly picked up every sound in the recording venue. On Dianne Reeves self-titled album [Blue Note], her rendition of “I’ve Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good”, is both powerful and moving. The Impact and Preos were able to communicate the emotion of this performance in a way that a couple of guests and I questioned if this was a new SACD version of the recording that we had not heard before.
Riding on a TIDAL wave
Not everyone has the same view of what’s expensive and what’s really expensive. Up until this point, I had not done a review on what I would consider to be really expensive audio equipment. I have always played it safe by reviewing equipment at a certain dollar amount, dreading the day I would have to step up to review something that I could never see myself owning because of cost. A good friend of mine told me to write the review as though I was trying to describe to someone, who could afford equipment at this price point, why it is they should look into purchasing this level of performance. My favorite two amplifiers that I have had in my listening room since I began reviewing have been the Conrad-Johnson Premier 350, and the Blue Circle Audio 204 which I spent an evening with back in December. The Impact is not quite as warm sounding in the midrange as either of those two amplifiers, but it still sounded more “real.” The Impact has more speed, better transient response and snap, and is more lifelike. The Impact’s upper frequency and bass performance was more defined and had better extension. It would also be my opinion that the Impact does a better job of communicating the emotion that the artists are trying to convey in their music. The Impact performed flawlessly through a boatload of equipment and cable changes with not one hum or pop. Regardless of the type of music I played through it or whether it was loud or soft, the Impact exercised total control of my Martin-Logan Quests; not an easy task. If I had the money and could afford it, I would be calling Daniel Barnum and asking him to order me an Impact. At the very least, I would consider it – along with only a handful of other amps that I’ve heard anywhere – one of the best amplifiers available.
The Preos is something of a sonic feast. As a reviewing tool, the Preos is hard to beat. I have commented on several occasions how my Sonic Euphoria balanced passive line stage is such an invaluable tool when it comes to reviewing because of its neutrality. The Preos is an active preamp and did a much better job of allowing me to hear system changes made upstream than any other preamplifier I’ve had at home or even heard in anyone’s audio salon.
But that’s the entré for this wonderful performer. For dessert, there’s the phono stage. I haven’t heard a better phono stage than the one in the Preos, and that’s hard for me to admit to. I have a Thor TPA-3000 phono stage, which I feel is the best component in my system and has gone up against the likes of the legendary Klyne System 7 and the Manley Labs Steelhead. The Preos is clearly a cut above those and most others I’ve heard. I’m still in love with my Thor preamp and phono preamp, but the Preos outperformed both and is easily a reference piece for line and phono stage performance.
I also want to point out that the Johnny Griffin recording and all of the classical recordings in this review were played on vinyl through the phono section of the Preos. I have enjoyed myself immensely rediscovering my classical music on vinyl. The Preos has an uncanny ability to transport me into some of the finest halls in Europe.
The TIDAL Audio Impact and Preos are a wonderful combination and definitely one of the best that I’ve heard, ever. Every time I thought their performance had leveled off, along came a cable, interconnect, or speaker change that stepped the performance up even more. There’s no telling how much better the TIDAL combination could be, especially given the available choices of cables, turntables, speakers and digital front ends. You owe it to yourself, if you get the opportunity, to give the TIDAL Impact and Preos a listen. The Impact is an excellent amplifier and the Preos, with its phono stage, is something very special. In retrospect, someone did come away having had an experience with a truly exceptional amplifier and preamplifier … me. Thanks DT. Both the Impact and the Preos, whether used together or separately, receive my highest recommendation.
Preos DC-coupled Symmetrical Class-A Preamplifier:
Voltage gain: 10 dB (line mode) 20 dB (phono mode)
Bandwith: 1Hz – 350 kHz (-3 dB)
Distortion: < 0.005%
Noise: 100 dB (0.5 V output voltage)
Input impedance: 10 kOhms
Output impedance: < 40 Ohms
Dimensions: 17.3″ x 4,7″ x 15,3″ / 44 cm x 13 cm x 39 cm
Weight: 70 lbs. / 32 Kg incl. packaging m
ImPact Dual Mono Reference Power Amplifier
Rated power output at 8 ohms: 2 x 140 watts continuous rms power
Rated power output at 4 ohms: 2 x 260 watts continuous rms power
Rated power output at 2 ohms: 2 x 400 watts continuous rms power
Rated power output at 1 ohms: 2 x 600 watts continuous rms power
Voltage gain: 25 dB
Bandwith: 1Hz – 250 kHz (-3 dB)
Distorsion: < 0.007%
Noise: 100 dB
Slew rate: 50 V / µs
Damping factor: >200 / 100 Hz and >200 / 10 kHz referenced to 8 ohms
Dimensions: 17.3″ x 8″ x 17,3″ / 44 cm x 20 cm x 40 cm
Weight: 140 lbs. / 70 Kg incl. packaging
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