When it comes to high-end audio, the integrated amplifier represents our strongest example of democracy in action. By combining the preamp and amp in a single chassis—itself a costly part of any component—and by paring down features and eliminating the need for an interconnect cable, integrated designs usually offer the most bang per musical buck, and at prices that a much wider audience can afford.
A few years back (in TAS Issue 177) I reviewed a very good sounding design by the Chinese company Dussun (whose lower-profile products are available on-line only in North America at AAA Audio and Acoustic Sounds). That model, the DS99, sold for $600, and while it had its flaws it was inherently musical sounding and delivered a lot of satisfaction for relatively little money. So much satisfaction that it reminded me of the classic NAD 3020: slightly thick in the lower midrange, a bit lean in the upper mids, and a bit rolled-off up top, but with good depth, overall tonality, and a musically engaging nature.
T6 Integrated Amplifier
Dussun has replaced that model with the T6 ($900), which delivers the same output power, 100Wpc into 8 ohms, has the same five line inputs (no phono), and, while still minimalist in look, is somewhat more attractive. It also offers remote control—something the older model did not—and, according to Ping Gong of U.S. importer AAA Audio, a full aluminum chassis (the DS99’s was made of sheet metal), and improved circuitry and parts selection. These build on the Alps volume pot, beefy toroidal transformer, polypropylene caps, and bipolar output devices used in the DS99.
Otherwise, what does that $300 price increase buy you in a day when three-hundred bucks represents little more than a pair of fancy sneakers? In this case it buys a fair amount, and in all the right places, too.
One of the DS99’s other limitations was its soundstaging. While that amp had a decent sense of depth, its recreation of stage width consistently ended at the outside edges of the speakers. Sonically, it was as if the sound had simply dropped off a couple of cliffs. No longer. From the opening notes of Jeff Buckley’s Live at Sin-é [Columbia/Legacy] it was clear that the T6’s soundstage had been seriously improved, with the ability to pretty accurately define the venue of that live-in-a-club recording, or the larger confines of Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall [Reprise], or the famously great acoustics of Bayreuth as heard on the Knappertsbusch-conducted Parsifal [Philips].
But the sonic upgrades don’t stop there. While the T6 still reveals a slight thickening of the lower midrange, that band has narrowed, as I heard on another disc I sampled with the older DS99—Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 played by Ivan Moravec (with Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields on Hanssler Classics), which also showed the T6’s greater transparency and more open top notes, and the same impressive dynamic shading of its predecessor. Moravec’s way with the second movement is especially lyrical, and the Dussun reproduced it beautifully.
Also like the DS99, the T6 can rock and roll. With the new Epic/Legacy vinyl edition of Pearl Jam’s Ten, the amplifier never seemed to lose steam, dynamic pop, or bass control, even when Eddie Vedder and company were shredding their voices, drums, and guitars with intensely youthful abandon.
So there you have it: the T6 is in every way a step up from the already quite good DS99. It’s more tonally neutral, better balanced, and more transparent, and has a much-improved soundstage and the same ability to draw you into the music that made the 99’s flaws easy to live with. And while it is 33% more costly, these improvements are significant enough to make that premium well worth it.
T2i Integrated Amplifier with USB DAC
Dussun’s T2i integrated amplifier is a nifty item that needs to be appreciated in the context of its intended application—that is, as a small, vertically aligned amp meant for use on a desktop, with a built-in 8x oversampling Sigma-Delta USB DAC.
Priced at $800, the T2i is more stylish than the T6. Housed in a dense aluminum-alloy box, the unit resembles a miniature computer tower with external heatsinks. The front panel offers a volume control, headphone jack, and three source selector buttons: CD, AUX, and USB. Power is rated at 42Wpc, and, in addition to the necessary input jacks on the back panel the T2i offers a pair of line-out jacks and good-quality 5-way speaker hitching posts.
If you were to directly compare its sound to the T6, well, the T6 will beat it in every way. Actually, the sound of the T2i is rather like that of the older DS99 that I described above, but not as powerful or dynamically nuanced. It’s warm and easy, a little thick, rolled off in the high frequencies, and not especially open sounding. But that comparison isn’t particularly fair or even relevant, because while you can plug a CD player or other line-level source into the T2i, its main reason for being is to take digital music files from a computer’s hard drive and play them back using the design’s internal digital-to-analog converter.
Okay, I’m admittedly not much of a computer-music guy. But I figured that having the T2i in house would give me the opportunity to copy some CDs onto my iMac’s hard drive and…oops, nix that idea. The T2i only works with a Windows operating system. Fortunately, my wife’s laptop runs XP. So I copied the CDs mentioned above using Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC), rigged up a set of old Gallo Nucleus speakers in my office, and tried my hand at 21st-century music listening.
I’ll also admit that I’m pretty impressed with the results. While the sound seemed limited more by the T2i’s and the speakers’ limitations than by the music on the drive, and while it’s definitely not the same as sitting down in front of a genuine, dedicated stereo system, the sound was quite enjoyable.
In these circumstances, where critical listening is less of an issue and where speaker placement and room acoustics are generally far from ideal, the amp’s soft, thick, rather rich sound seemed a bonus, creating a large, somewhat diffuse presentation that never grew brittle or nasty. And because the Gallo’s sub, like most, has a built-in amplifier—hooked up via the line outputs—the T2i’s relatively modest 42 watts were more than sufficient, even if I’d wanted to play music at the levels I normally use in my listening room, which I did not.
While I’m not ready to give up my “real” stereo for a desktop version, having good sounds while working can be a nice bonus. Dussun’s T2i should appeal to those of you who are willing to take that route without skidding too far off the audiophile highway.
TW-Acustic Raven One turntable; Tri-Planar Ultimate VII arm; Transfiguration Orpheus moving-coil cartridges; Naim Audio SuperLine phonostage; Sim Audio Moon CD-1 CD player; Apple iMac computer; B&W CM7, Gallo Nucleus, and Kharma Mini Exquisite loudspeakers; Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords; Audience Adept Response Power Conditioner; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks.
SPECS & PRICING
Dussun T6 integrated amplifier
Power output: 100Wpc into 8 ohms, 150Wpc into 4 ohms
Inputs: Five line-level
Outputs: One (each) tape, 1/4-inch headphone, 5-way speaker
Dimensions: 17" x 4.13" x 14"
Weight: 27.5 lbs.
Dussun T2i integrated amplifier with USB DAC
Power output: 42Wpc into 8 ohms, 60Wpc into 4 ohms
Inputs: Two line-level analog, one B-style USB digital
Outputs: One (each) line-level, 1/4-inch headphone, 5-way speaker
Dimensions: 4.33" x 8.19" x 10.63"
Weight: 16 lbs. (shipping)
AAA Audio, LLC
831 Beacon Street, Unit 169
Newton, Massachusetts 02459