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Neuhaus Labs T-2 Integrated Vacuum Tube Amplifier Review Print E-mail
Tuesday, 24 November 2009
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Neuhaus Labs T-2 Integrated Vacuum Tube Amplifier Review
Listening Cont.

ImageComputer audio has come a long way since I purchased my first PC back in 1996. It was a Hewlett Packard model that ran on Windows 95 and had a pair of speakers that clipped onto each side of the monitor. That bulbous display and plastic speakers served as my first computer audio console, and though the sound was abysmal the prospect of having a glut of music at my fingertips was pretty cool. I watched as computer audio went from its humble beginnings to challenging home audio component space for pride of place. Many audiophiles are ditching their CD players for hard drives and CDs for audio files; others are treading into the waters slowly. Want to have your brain toasted? Visit an audio chat forum, ask what's the best way to set up a computer audio system and stand back.

It's unlikely that you'll hear, “How about a 20-watt integrated tube amp that connects directly to the computer, is plug-and-play, bypasses the computer's DAC and produces warm engaging sound? If necessity is the mother of invention, then compressed audio must at least be its stepmother. As Neuhaus' George Golik told me, “I got tired of listening to crappy sounding computer music, so I built the T-2.” The T-2 is an integrated tube vacuum amp of push-pull design, one that's been around for decades because it sounds good in home stereos and on stage with musicians and typically characterized by very low distortion. Bringing such an amplifier to computer audio makes sense to me.

Neuhaus T-2 Amplifier Front View with Remote

On the surface, the T-2 looks like other integrated tube amps – because it is. Shortly after I had received the Neuhaus my brother paid a visit, and I invited up to my listening room for a look-see. He sauntered over to the amp and tried casually to lift it with one hand, but the T-2's 20 pounds of girth held steady as he mumbled in surprise – no block of plastic here! A stainless steel case and body hold the unit's eight vacuum tubes, protected by a steel cover. If you're a tube enthusiast, four 6N7s populate the amp's back row, while a pair of 6N1s flank a duo of 6N3s on the front line. Tubes can be fussy, but the T-2 is self-biasing and takes any such worries away. Connect the amp to your computer, select the USB sound output device under System Preferences and listen. Just because the T-2 integrates seamlessly with a computer, don't be tempted to pair it with sub-par speakers or cables. This is a serious amp and deserves a speaker that can let it sing – the more efficient the better.

With old school tubes and new school USB connections, the T-2 brings the warm glow and sound of tubes to listeners who demand a butt-kicking computer audio system. If you're a Mac user like me, you'll love the T-2's Toslink with Mac Plug, which connects directly to most Apple computers. This connection bypasses the Mac's own digital-to-analog converter and turns the wheel over to a Cirrus Logic 24-bit/96kHz DAC. Want to stream iTunes? Connect the Airport Express' Toslink to the T-2, and from there directly to a computer with optical or Toslink connection. Windows users can also enjoy the T-2 via USB connection. As well, the T-2 sports three gold-plated analog inputs (labeled for CD, Auxiliary and Tuner), which can be used in any combination desired, and a pair of solidly built, gold-plated speaker posts. The whole point of computer audio is to streamline the listening process and shed unwanted component pounds, but I had to test the amp's playback with a dedicated CD player and tuner. I'm glad I did.
Neuhaus T-2 Amplifier Rear Connections



Marc Ford Album The T-2 makes most computer music sound better. I've been spending time recently on the Last.FM Web site, which lets users create their own “stations” by entering musical favorites into a profile. From there, the site offers additional recommendations based on similar artists. It's a fun way to find new music, but the audio is limited to a 128 Kbps MP3 stream. This is admittedly better than many Internet radio stations but still compressed. Still, I was surprised how good some of these files were rendered through the T-2. Former Black Crowes' guitarist Marc Ford offers a heartbreaking country-rocker, “Elijah,” on his 2002 release It's About Time. The song has a golden sweep that still stands up after getting its audio legs chopped in half. The Elvis Presley tribute “King's Call” features a terrific pairing of Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott with Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler on a heartfelt paean to Memphis' most famous adopted son. Knopfler's inimitable finger-picked electric guitar fills roll with understated ease under Lynott's whisky-smooth vocal. Again, I was taken in by the music, not distracted by the bit-rate.


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