The moment I first heard Technical Brain solid-state electronics three-and-a-half years ago at Naoto Kurosawa’s shop in Kawagoe, Japan, I was bowled over by their sound. Listening to music that I had brought with me from the U.S.—and thought I knew by heart—played back through Kursoawa’s Technical Brain TBP-Zero v2 monoblock power amplifiers, TBC-Zero v2 linestage, TEQ-Zero v2 phonostage, TMC-Zero step-up transformer, and Apogee Duettas (never the easiest loudspeakers to drive), I realized instantly that what I thought I knew by heart I didn’t really know at all, by heart or otherwise. Here, on every single CD and LP, was a wealth of detail—musical, performance, and engineering—that I’d simply never heard before, presented with unprecedented transparency, transient speed, image focus, and soundstage breadth and depth. The net effect was a realism that simply towered above what the other solid-state gear I’d heard up to that time was capable of.
Oh, if I had been in a nitpicking frame of mind there were things about the TB electronics that might’ve given me pause. Their overall sound, like that of much Japanese transistor gear, was “top-down” rather than “bottom-up” (to make use, yet again, of Raidho chief engineer Michael Børresen’s indispensable distinction).
Sonically, the TB gear was biased toward the midrange and the treble, giving it a lighter, somewhat brighter and livelier tonal balance (very much like that of vintage ARC gear). Though its grip, transient speed, and resolution in the bass were excellent, it was also a little thinner-than-life in color and body through the mid-to-upper bass and the power range, and a little brighter-than-life in the upper mids. Still and all, at that time I hadn’t heard anything that came close to rivaling it in sheer speed and resolution—or in in-the-room-with-you realism.
Well...times have changed and Technical Brain no longer stands alone at the pinnacle of high-end solid-state electronics. It’s not that the sound of TB has gotten worse; it’s that the competition has gotten so much better. Between Constellation’s marvelous Performance and Reference Series electronics and Soulution’s 500 Series (soon to be reviewed by me) and 700 Series products—to name just a few of many heavyweight-title contenders—the resolution and transient speed gap, once the size of the Grand Canyon, has been narrowed to the width of a bike path. Plus both the Constellation and Soulution products lay claim to a more neutral-to-“bottom-up” tonal balance, which is to say that they are inherently somewhat richer, more fleshed-out (particularly in the bass and power range), and more beautiful- sounding than the original TB offerings I heard in Japan.
Happily, the sound of the latest Technical Brain electronics—now in Kurosawa’s TB- Zero/EX versions (not to be confused with the short-lived, more electrically reliable, but, IMO, inferior-sounding “Import” versions, substantially modified and briefly marketed here in the U.S.)—have also changed with the times, and for the better. (There are reasons why this little company continues to win more Grand Prix Awards from the Japanese magazine Stereo Sound than any of its competitors.)