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Technical Brain TB-Zero/int Review

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I thought the Technical Brain TB-Zero/int deserved its own review thread.  I’ll put a copy into my “Addicts Guide” thread just for the sake of completeness but the TB has a big enough rep that it deserves a little space to itself.  The asking price alone demands it, $26K US is pretty decent ask for a piece of audio gear, so it had better be special, and it is.

I’m not sure if there is a fixed RRP for Oz, if you wish to find out Technical Brain are distributed in Oz by Zensati Australia, I’m sure they could supply a price if asked.  http://www.zensatiaustralia.com/


First up I was a little apprehensive when I bought the TB Z from Rob, I knew it was a good piece of gear of course but the price and the fact that listening to it gave me a similar feel to when I was trying to work out how to get the best out of the Halcro DM-38 made me wonder if I was doing something that would turn out to be a difficult piece of kit to nut out.   As it turns out it was a little difficult but nowhere near as complicated as the Halcro turned out to be.


Difficult is not necessarily a bad thing of course, you can learn a lot from a component that sounds a little different to everything else or behaves differently.  They make you think and can send you in a different direction to the one you thought you were moving in.  I suppose the old saying “necessity is the mother of invention” applies here, if you have something that you know can be special and it isn’t living up to your expectations then there will be a reason why, all you have to do is find it.

So far in my TBZ journey I have found that the resolution and detail retrieval of the TBZ seems to have found the capabilities of my usual source and cables wanting.  I initially tried the TBZ out with my YBA cd spinner and Aurealis RC1 interconnects with Redgum Audio Pipeline speaker cables feeding into my Lenehan S2R stand mounts.  I then moved to Aurealis Dragon interconnects and found a nice improvement.  A change from my YBA to a Densen B420 cd player was initially confusing, the Densen was not a good match with the TBZ. (Densen has more a tubey sound while the TBZ is unashamedly solid state, they did not mix well)  The second biggest change so far was when I brought in my Sansui cd917XR cd player, that was a much better match.  The biggest change was moving from single ended cables to balanced.


Yes, I know, many people claim balanced are infinitely superior to RCA but until last week I was among the group who could not find any differences between the two with any gear I tried them both on.  I realize they are good for noise rejection but I was of the opinion that my lounge room was not that electrically noisy that they were required just for that reason.

I am forced to assume then that balanced cables only make a significant difference when a certain level has been reached, or when a design requires something of the signal input that only balanced can provide.  This would be when a true balanced design meets a true balanced design. (again an assumption, but I think it's a pretty safe one)  The TBZ only sports balanced inputs (which really should have been a serious hint) but us audio hobbyists can be pretty thick at times so it took me a while to remember that I was working with a component that was way above the level of the gear that I play with most of the time.


Anyway, the outcome of that part of the story is the TBZ will wow with true balanced designs but perform only as well as many other amps if you use an RCA/balanced adaptor and sub in an unbalanced source.  The Sansui 917 and the TBZ is an excellent match, I was truly taken aback with the level of detail retrieval on display and just as taken aback with the way it was portrayed. (the fact that the cd player is 25 years old and is not any of the usually claimed "audiophile approved DAC designs" is also worthy of note I would think)  The top end is so extended you can really hear all those little metallic sounds, things like strings, triangles and even brass ringing out.  These sounds that are usually not present, probably because they usually sound hard and bright, but on the TBZ they can be heard easily in all their metallic character without coming across as hard or bright.  Or, explained another way, they are still just as hard and bright as they should be but they are somehow just not fatiguing to listen to. 

Some components have a current connection that can be used instead of the usual voltage connections (Audio GD, Krell, Halcro, etc).  I have tried both the Audio GD and the Halcro gear using these current inputs and found that I preferred them to the voltage alternative every time.  The difference on the TBZ between true balanced and normal RCA is a bit like that voltage to current difference I heard on the Halcro gear only about 5 times as pronounced.  Going back is not an option. (well, OK, maybe for TV, but only until I could get a balanced DAC)


So now that I’ve got the front end sorted what about the back?  Were the Redgum speaker cables up to the task?  I tried out my RG213U cables and found a drop in details but an increase in vocal sweetness, the vocal improvement was nice but once the level of detail has been experienced its loss cannot be suffered so the RG213U was not an option.  Next up was a pair of Aurealis UP420s, I’m not quite sure if I prefer these to the Redgums, they do drop the detail level just a touch* (I think, not completely certain on that yet) but they seem to give a lower background noise floor.  This works really well with slower paced music but doesn’t work quite as well with fast paced rock and metal.


My apologies to those who thought they were going to get a full review right from the word go but this is as far as I've gotten.  I plan to get further this weekend and I was going to wait until I was done before posting but I had to do something while my washing machine was running this morning so I thought I'd write up my path so far.  Next steps will be to investigate different speaker cables (emails have been sent) and different speakers.  I did try the TBZ over at Gremrocks place a while back and I found I really liked it on the ML3s but not so much on the ML2 Ltds.  Different source, cables and room of course but that's life.  The ML3s are now sold so the only options I have available to me are the ML2 Ltds and the KEF LS-50s.  I do like the little KEFs but I think this time they are way out of their league so I'll give the ML2s a run and see what I can hear.



*Most people would probably say that the Aurealis cables were a definite step up as they cut down on the brightness and the hardness of the sound.  I am not most people and the TBZ is not most amplifiers, I think it may have enough of a hold on the frequencies in the top end that we can afford to let that “nasty” sound through without it getting nasty enough to annoy.  So this isn’t your typical audio situation.




Notice how the TBZ looks smaller than in many of its brochure pics?  I always thought it would be bigger in person.




One close up.  I'm listening to some Aerosmith to warm things up this morning.  




cd case included for scale.  See, not a particularly big amp.


Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe I hear a beeping sound coming from the laundry.

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OK, definite improvement there.  Smoother sound stage and a quieter and slightly deeper background.  It gave female vocals a nice lift too.

The UP420's have really stepped up, I spent an awesome night last night with a system that is either at my reference level or very close to it in every respect.  I'll start to polish the brass tacks that I've already gotten in to this morning and see what I can come up with.


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Man I have been loving my music this week.  I've been delving into the depths of my cd collection and enjoying every minute of it. *

The UP420 speaker cables have really stepped up and I've found the volume sweet spot where the TBZ really comes to life (10:30 on the volume dial for those who are curious).


The really hard bit is still to come.  I mean how the heck can I find enough to say about an amp that has so little actual character but does such a great job at its assigned task?  


Geoff from Aurealis has kindly sent me a pair of his Litz 201 speaker cables (which are in use as I type) and they work well but I can't say that I prefer them above the UP420s.  There is a slight change in feel to the upper mids but honestly I have to really try to notice it and it while it doesn't detract from anything it doesn't seem to be a positive effect either so I am guessing that the TBZ just doesn't need the boost that some amps get from silver cables.  There is however a decrease in available bass, I ascribe this to the fact that the Litz 201 has less metal in it than the UP420 so it takes a little more effort for the TBZ to pump those bass-causing-amperes to the speakers.  So in this case the copper cables win over silver, it may be a different matter if I had a pair of 202s or 303s as the 202s should match the UP420s for metal content and the 303s surpass them but that is a comparison that must wait for another day.


Geoff has also sent me a pair of Duelund 16 speaker cables to try, I haven't gotten around to those yet but I will.


Once gain I am typing while my washing machine runs, this is starting to become a habit.


The nearest I can come in comparing the TBZ sound to other amps so far is that it sounds very similar to the Sonneteer Orton in the top end except that the TBZ has even more detail retrieval ability, and fairly similar to the Orton in the mid range except that the TBZ has a little more of almost everything (detail, strength of note and hang time in decay).  In the bass region the TBZ is a Cruiserweight while the Orton is a middleweight, the Orton is good (on my speakers at least) but it is thoroughly outclassed by the TBZ.  No surprises there but then that wasn't the point.


Ah, washing machine beeping, time to hang out and then hang out some more.


*(Actually both of those are lies, I am nowhere near the depths of my cd collection, but I am working on it and since the TBZ is not leaving any time soon I feel I have time to re-listen to a few albums before venturing too deep into the cd cabinet, I haven't reached the Top Gun soundtrack yet and it's on the top shelf.  Also I have actually been enjoying every single second of it, even the stuff that proves that recordings are not as good as I thought they were.)

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Damn you Maloney!  How dare you send me out some cables to try for free when you know they are so good I'll be forced to throw more cash at you.  Fine, I'll order some more of your cables then.


It would appear that the Duelund speaker wire is actually as good as people have been saying it is.  This Duelund 16GA seems to fit with the TBZ like a tailor made pair of, well, speaker wires.  So I guess I'll take a pair of 4 wire braids then (double the thickness, double the fun!).  


It didn't feel right when I was fitting them, I felt like I was using black twine to connect amp to speaker.  My old man used to order similar looking black twine by the kilometer so we could use it to build cherry tomato trellises with.  The same black twine that we used to take up the creek so we could tie up our mud crabs with assuming everything went well, it worked well for on-the-fly crab pot repairs too, yeah, that black twine.  Just in case it isn't obvious, I have some fond memories of black twine, however, this is not that black twine.*


This is cotton wrapped tin plated copper wire that somehow manages to both tighten and focus a sound stage that was already damn impressive to begin with.  :)  I've got to have some more of this new black twine.


I do believe I'm enjoying my journey.




* I can't help but feel that paragraph got away from me a little.  Oh well, it happens.


Edited by Cafad
Ooops, typo.

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Just wondering, does it have a remote?

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Nope, no remote.  Volume and input knobs are all you get.  I use my Burson Conductor as a volume control (and DAC of course) for TV watching but when it comes to music the controls are manual only.

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2 hours ago, Cafad said:

Nope, no remote.  Volume and input knobs are all you get.  I use my Burson Conductor as a volume control (and DAC of course) for TV watching but when it comes to music the controls are manual only.


That's odd. Why would such a high-tech integrated have no remote? Are they purists or maybe puritans? I wouldn't even consider an amp without a remote these days.

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I suspect that they have left out everything they consider to be unnecessary. 



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On 16/08/2018 at 6:14 PM, Cafad said:

Man I have been loving my music this week.  I've been delving into the depths of my cd collection and enjoying every minute of it. * 


If you tire of it soon (well, anytime), let me know!

Edited by givita_burl

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3 hours ago, Sonicy said:


That's odd. Why would such a high-tech integrated have no remote? Are they purists or maybe puritans? I wouldn't even consider an amp without a remote these days.

It would be because they couldn’t find a volume pot that is acceptable to them at the high standard they are after. My Lavardin IT has no remote and it took them 15 years to find a remote volume control that Lavardin would use.  

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