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Not all tunes fared so well. Frank Zappa's classic “Peaches En Regalia” had plenty of energy but was noticeably thin in the tooth overall and by the time the song ended, I was glad. Good speakers (and amps) will usually reveal a recording's strengths and deficiencies, and here the deficiencies were due to compression not Zappa's studio technique. I suppose if you're going to listen to MP3s no matter what, the T-2 will reveal a tubby tune made tinny by compression. But if you're going to drop $795 for a tube amp, don't wean it with lean cuisine, give it the keys to the buffet and let it eat.
The open source Songbird Media Player is my go-to player to listen to countless FLAC files I have stored on an external hard drive, and switching from MP3 to FLAC made the T-2 come alive as a true audiophile amp. David Bowie's Hunky Dory, and its smorgasbord of early delights such as “Life On Mars” and “Song For Bob Dylan,” had the brilliant execution of camp and composer that Bowie brings to the table. Fully fleshed out arrangements made better – much better – by the T-2's DAC and tubes.
I keep a few dozen albums – in Apple Lossless - in iTunes for ready playback. Iron Maiden's Piece Of Mind was always a bit on the dry side as far as recordings go, but it's still a fire-burner of an album. The T-2 imbued the throttling opener “Where Eagles Dare” with tube gloss but with enough power to make my wife shake her head... and leave the room. When I listen to Maiden, I listen to Maiden. Don't let the 20-watt rating fool you, this amp will bring it with the right speakers.
The day before I finished this review, a copy of King Crimson's twin-disc set In The Court Of The Crimson King 40th Anniversary Series arrived at my door. A progressive rock landmark, ITCOTCK has received a new stereo mix, re-mixed and produced by Robert Fripp and Steven Wilson from the original multi-track masters along with a bonus DVD-Audio of high-res stereo (24/48 & 24/96) and 5.1 surround at 24/48 sample rate. The sound is absolutely stunning. I listened to “Epitaph” for what must be the hundredth time and have never heard it like this before. The stereo mix sounds like DVD-Audio – deep, deep sound that offers a microscopic look at the music's minutiae. Played back through the T-2, the album had loads of air, openness and crackle that melted me. This may be a tube amp with computer connectivity, but it's a great tube amp for the money, period.
Even my old Sansui T-60 AM/FM Stereo Tuner perked up with the T-2. My local public radio station (KUMD 103.3 FM) has an outstanding Saturday afternoon schedule featuring blues, Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan. Typically I'll tune in with my Tivoli Audio Model One radio, a unit whose marriage of design and sound found favor with me and others very quickly. But I soon found myself turning off the Tivoli and turning on the T-2 and listening to my favorite programs in true stereo. The Neuhaus was a perfect match for my Sansui, and would likely be amazing with an upper-end model. I realize few users would connect a separate tuner to the T-2, but if you can't live without the sound of your favorite tuner have no fear here.
Baseball Goes Better With Tubes
Something of an aside, but my brother recently gave me his Eye TV antenna, which brings digital TV to a MAC via USB. Since I had the T-2 already in the system I couldn't resist and was probably one of the few who listened to the 2009 World Series via a tube amplifier. The Yankees still won so I can't say the amp has magic powers. Maybe they make a Cincinnati Reds model?
I've always considered the music stored on my computer akin to a savings account - something I could dip into if necessary but not for everyday living, but the T-2 had me spending like I inherited Brewster's Millions. With these tubes on my side, I could listen all day long to my digital library. Maybe you already do? Neuhaus asserts that if you're going to listen to music through your computer, it might as well sound good. What a concept – and execution.
- Neuhaus Laboratories T-2 Integrated Tube Amplifier
- Apple Mac Mini
- RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Interconnect (1m)
- RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Loudspeaker Cables (8 ft)
- Grant Fidelity CD-327A CD Player
- Athena AS-B1 speakers