Technical Brain Revisited

New EX Electronics From Japan

Equipment report
Solid-state power amplifiers,
Technical Brain TBP-Zero EX
Technical Brain Revisited

You see it isn’t just the sheer excitement of hearing a series of pizzicato transients reproduced as they sound in life, with their energy, timing, and impact precisely intact, that makes the TB gear so extraordinarily realistic (given a great loudspeaker). Pizzicatos also have timbre, though that timbre doesn’t comprise the harmonic series—the roughly even multiples of the fundamental that we hear with a bowed note. The overtones of a plucked note are inharmonic (like the “colors” of cymbals or chimes)— they are spectral partials and their intensity and duration depend on the elasticity, length, and tension of the string being plucked. On violin strings, they typically do not last long, but they give the transient a characteristic color (and sometimes a touch of warmth). The Technical Brain electronics don’t just accurately reproduce the transient portion of a pizzicato with lifelike speed and intensity; they also reproduce the short burst of color that is tightly associated with the “pluck” with equal realism. They get the whole dynamic/harmonic sequence right.

It may be obvious, but electronics that can do this with something as complex (albeit short-lived) as a pizzicato can also do this with the longer durations of more conventionally sounded notes, such as those of the two pianos and orchestra of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos [Decca], where, as opposed to the spare simplicity of the Crumb piece, a great deal is going on at once—in a multitude of timbres and at many levels of intensity and pitch. No, the TB gear doesn’t make the entirety of this piece sound as realistic as the violin and piano do on the Mainstream LP, but it certainly makes the vast majority of who’s doing what and when and how and for how long as clear as (if not clearer than) any other electronics I’ve used. And it does this with great timbral beauty (because this is a gorgeous recording), power (because this is a powerful recording), ambience (because this is a highly ambient recording), and simply extraordinary detail.

For an example of this last virtue, on the Poulenc piece other amps and preamps can reproduce the slight whistling sound of the flutist, doubling the piano at the right side of the stage toward the close of the first movement, as he blows into his mouthpiece, but none that I’ve heard can do it with such fine resolution and perfect timing that you can almost visualize the instrument and instrumentalist. Through the TB, the sound is exactly like someone blowing into the mouth of a bottle (which is pretty much how a flute works); with other gear it is simply a whistling noise in the background—more like the creak of a chair or the rustle of pages of music being turned, a sound that is not as intimately or organically connected to the playing of the flute as it is through the TB gear.

For a third and in some ways even subtler instance, consider the sound of Lou Reed’s voice on “White Heat, White Light” from Rock ’n’ Roll Animal [RCA]. I’ve been listening to this lively album since I was kid—and am now listening to a Danish reissue I picked up in Aarhus while visiting Raidho. While the DaVinciAudio Labs Virtu tonearm (with Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement cartridge) plays a large role in this as I have acknowledged—as do the Raidho C 4.1 and, alternately, the Estelon X Diamond loudspeakers—Reed’s voice simply sounds more youthful and more vigorous through the TB electronics suite (and, to a larger extent, only through the TB electronics suite) than I’m used to hearing it sound. Here, almost magically, Reed is once again a thirty-year-old kid, fired by the excitement of the crowd and the energy of his great pickup band (and the dynamic life of the TB electronics). His shouts on this number and on “Lady Day” are genuinely joyous, near-voice-cracking shrieks; his delivery more supple, articulate, engaged ; his voice less hooded, world-weary, and slumbrous. Electronics (and sources and speakers) that can actually make Lou Reed sound thirty again rather than generic Lou Reed really are functioning, in that most exhausted of audio clichés, as time machines.

How Technical Brain manages this lifelike speed and resolution (and thereby clarifies the “timing” of notes and the way they are being played or sung) has to do with Kurosawa’s innovative engineering. As I noted two years ago, in my review of the v2 versions of these products, the design elements that all Kurosawa’s products share—amp, preamp, and phonostage—are ultra- wide bandwidths (all TB components are zero-global- feedback, non-servo, DC-coupled designs); fully balanced topologies with no mechanical contacts such as relays and line fuses and extraneous pots (such as a balance control); the meticulous arrangement of wires and components to ensure the shortest signal paths and the highest shielding from vibration; massive, low-flux-density, flat-coil, hand-wound, EI-core power transformers (no toroidal transformers here); and, perhaps most interestingly and certainly most unusually, no emitter resistors.