Of course, sonics matter too. In its CD mode, the MP3000 is every bit as impressive as the PA3000. This is one remarkably good CD player. Not only is it clean, open, richly detailed, and dynamic, but it gets completely out of the way of the music and imposes virtually no coloration or digital artifacts. While the CH Precision C1/D1 DAC/transport combo (about $80k) has certain advantages—greater scale, timbral density, and dynamic jump—when considered independently, in the context of a PA3000-based system, the MP3000 actually sounds better. This is not unheard of; the synergies reaped by staying within a given manufacturer’s line can be surprisingly powerful. In any event, the HV combination plays music more organically than when mixing and matching, with greater rhythmic drive and coherence.
As an additional reference point, I compared the MP3000’s CD playback with that of my trusty Bryston BCD-1. Although this great CD player is no longer in production, when it was available and selling at $3500, it punched well above its weight class. My goal in this comparison was to see if the T+A, even without all those other inputs, justified the extra money. So, did the Bryston come close to the MP3000? No, it did not. Not even a little. The MP3000 is far more open, larger in scale, deeper in dimensionality, more extended, and even more musically compelling than the Bryston.
Another of the MP3000’s inputs that squarely hits the sonic mark is SPDIF. This input runs a bit mellower than the CD, but in every other way the two sources are very close. Of course, the SPDIF input has an advantage in that it can handle hi-res source material, and this sometimes gave it the edge over CD. All in all, listening to either of these two sources had me once more agog at what I was hearing.
Stage 4: Reality Check
As it turns out, the MP3000 is not perfect. Specifically, its other sources don’t measure up to the benchmark set by its own CD and SPDIF prowess. Switch from either of these to NAS streaming, for instance, and the soundstage and instruments flatten. The sound isn’t objectionable, mind you, but nor does it engage. If you must stream into this DAC, be sure to use a wired connection. That route will still be less dynamic, open, and extended than the CD, but not to the same extent as going wireless, which throws a thick soggy blanket over the proceedings. For all I know, this is no fault of the MP3000’s and is instead endemic to wireless connections. More research is required, but I can say for sure that this particular instance of WiFi streaming isn’t suitable for anything other than background music.
There is better news on the USB front. This interface, at its best, sounds way better than streaming. “At its best” means downloading T+A’s custom USB2 driver rather than using the ones that self-install when you first connect the unit to your computer. T+A’s research revealed sonic problems with kernel streaming drivers as well as ASIO drivers, so it developed its own approach. The MP benefits from the use of a good USB cable. You’ll want to select the “Bezier”—as opposed to the “Bezier plus IIR” or any other—filter. Thus armed, the MP3000’s USB sounds quite good. The only problem is that the CD and SPDIF sound very good.
The main knocks on USB compared to the MP3000’s best inputs are that vocals are more recessed, dynamics are more restrained, and the presentation isn’t as three-dimensional. None of these do major damage, so USB turns out to be quite enjoyable. As an illustration, consider Charles Mingus’ Ah Um. Listen first to the album via USB, and you’ll be tapping your feet and marveling at how realistic the brass sounds. The first track “Better Git It In Your Soul” can lose all sense of cohesion in the wrong hands. But the MP3000’s USB DAC is fully up to the task. Yet when you switch to the CD, the sound suddenly bursts with more life, the stage opens up, and those tonally convincing instruments now take on three-dimensionality. The same contrast holds true when comparing CD with USB-tethered hard drives.
These discoveries tempered—but didn’t eradicate—my original excitement about the MP3000. Naturally, I yearned for USB and streaming that sounded every bit as good as CD and SPDIF. I also found myself wishing that the MP3000’s transport handled SACDs and that its DAC supported DSD files. It’s worth noting, though, that T+A makes a more expensive music player, the PDP3000 HV Reference DAC/Transport ($20,000). That model includes everything the MP3000 HV does (except client streaming functions and an FM tuner), adds in the missing SACD and DSD capabilities, and utilizes a more sophisticated DAC.
Stage 5: Full Circle
After a Reality Check stage that, as noted, somewhat curbed my enthusiasm, I decided to set all that aside and listen afresh to the T+A combo playing either CDs or hi-res files via SPDIF. The sound, once more, just blew me away. I invited fellow TAS writer Karl Schuster to drop by and have a listen. He summed things up perfectly when he described the sound as “spooky good.” That spook factor stems from how eerily close these units come to the sound of far costlier Swiss gear. And that, I realized anew, is really the bottom line here.
For $13,500, the MP3000 delivers tremendous versatility and, on its best sources, sound that rivals digital playback from components that cost six times as much. Not all of its sources are up to that standard, so consider your own listening habits and decide if the MP3000 is for you. Similarly, the $17,000 ($18,500 with phonostage) PA3000 not only competes directly with integrated amps that run all the way up to $50k, it holds its own against $120k worth of Switzerland’s best separates. This is a component that’s not to be missed.
But these HV models not only stand up to their Teutonic brethren, they sound just like them. What T+A has done is to make it possible for audiophiles of more modest (though still significant) resources to get in on the extraordinary build-quality, sonic merit and character, and sheer musical enjoyment of the Swiss School. And that is surely a promise fulfilled.
SPECS & PRICING
PA3000 HV Integrated Amplifier
Power output: 300Wpc into 8 ohms
Inputs: 4 XLR, 2 RCA, H-Link (HV data bus), LAN (system control), trigger input
Outputs: 2 pairs speaker binding posts, XLR balanced line-level, RCA line-level, 3/8" headphone jack
Input impedance: 20k ohms single-ended, 5k ohms balanced
THD: .001% (pre-amp stage), .03% (power amp stage)
Frequency response: .5Hz–450kHz (pre-amp stage), .5-150kHz (power amp stage)
Dimensions: 18" x 6.7" x 18"
Weight: 84 lbs.
Price: $17,000; optional phono module $1500
MP3000 HV Music Player
Inputs: FM antenna, remote antenna, 5 SPDIF (2 BNC, 1 coax, 2 TosLink), 1 AES-EBU, LAN, USB, USB Master-Mode (stick or HDD)
Outputs: USB, SPDIF, H-Link (HV data bus)
File formats: CD, UPnP 1.1 streaming, UPnP-AV streaming, DLNA streaming, WiFi streaming, FM, Internet radio, MP3, WMA, AAC, OGG, FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC
Dimensions: 18" x 6.7" x 18"
Weight: 57.3 lbs.
T+A ELEKTROAKUSTIK GmbH & Co. KG
Planckstraße 9 – 11
D - 32052 Herford, Germany
Phone +49 (0)52 21 / 76 76 – 0