Even if the answer to these questions is “Yes” (and I’m not saying that it is), what about the third downside of Technical Brain’s products: the notorious unreliability of its amplifiers? Here, at least, I can say something positive with certainty. The TBP-Zero/EX amps, earlier versions of which had serious problems with U.S. current (which could trigger the failure of an FET in the power supply that necessitated the amp’s return to Japan for repair), no longer have any problem with our grid. I’ve been using the TBP-Zero/EX monoblocks for six months and there have been no failures, where, in the past, I was lucky to get through six days (or six hours) without one of the amps going south.
Finally, there is the more subjective question of tonal balance. Even though the TB EX gear is now richer in color and higher in impact in the midbass and power range (I would put it roughly on a par with the Constellation Performers/References), it is, as I noted previously, not the equal of the Soulution 501s in these areas, but then nothing is (not even Soulution’s own $130k 700 monoblocks). The 501s’ switch-mode power supplies apparently give them a leg up on every competitor in this area (so if you’re into midbass/power-range “slam,” this is certainly an amplifier you will want to give a very long listen to). But, as great as the Soulution 501 is in the midbass and power range, I don’t think it out-wallops the TBP-Zero/EX in the bottom-most octaves (20Hz–40Hz). Just put on something with really deep-reaching and powerful low bass, like Dead Can Dance’s Into The Labyrinth [MoFi]. The TB electronics go “through the floor” and shiver the walls on those deep synth notes as well as, if not better than, the 501, the 700, the Centaur, or the Altair—another substantial improvement over previous-generation TB electronics.
So what is the bottom line here?
It’s both simple—and not. I love the sound of Technical Brain’s new EX electronics. For the music I listen to, the things I listen for, the speakers I listen with, the room I listen in, and the levels I listen at, they come close to being ideal. All of these EX components—amplifiers, linestage, and phonostage—are improved over previous iterations; all of them are fuller and more lifelike in tone color (though still quite neutral) top-to-bottom; all of them are less lean and mean in the midbass and power ranges and considerably less bright in the upper mids (though still a little brighter than some of their competition); all of them are capable of nearly-unmatched speed, resolution, transparency-to-sources, and (sources permitting) a high degree of realism. All of them are unquestionably reference-grade.
However... it is easy for me to say this because I don’t have to buy them. You do. Unfortunately, as I’ve detailed, the history of this Japanese company (at least, in the U.S.) is such that I simply don’t feel comfortable recommending that you purchase its products without long auditions and careful cross-comparisons, a warranty that protects you if something goes wrong (that isn’t your fault), and a guarantee that, no matter what happens between TB and its new U.S. business partner, you will not have to pay shipping or repair costs for warranted repairs within a reasonable period of time.
TB gear has always been great—one of the true pinnacles of latter-day high-end-audio design. Now, it’s even better. (Then again, so is the competition.) It was never the sound of these components that was the problem; it was the business side. So, even though I now rank the TBP-Zero/EX, TBC-Zero/ EX, TEQ-Zero/EX, and TMC-Zero high among my ultra- high-end solid-state reference electronics, and even though the company’s relationship with RATOC Systems seems to be much stronger and more convivial than its past relationships with U.S. distributors, it would be irresponsible not to close with a “Caveat emptor.” It pains me to say it, but...buyer beware (though, let me quickly add, buyer by all means listen).
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Solid-state monoblock amplifier
Rated output power: 350W, 8 ohms; 700W, 4 ohms; 1400W, 2 ohms
Frequency response: DC to 750kHz (+0, –3dB at 1W)
Input impedance: 3.6k Ohms (balanced)
Input sensitivity: 1.76V RMS
Damping factor: 1500
Distortion: 0.02% max./8 ohms at rated power from 20Hz–20kHz
Protection circuit: DC detector
Dimensions: 13.62" x 9.84" x 23.62"
Weight: 143.3 lbs. (each)
Type: Solid-state linestage preamplifier
Maximum output power: 10V RMS
Frequency response: DC to 990kHz (-3dB)
Input terminal: Four XLR (balanced); adapted XLR to RCA
Input impedance: 7.2k–17.2k Ohms (balanced); 3.6k–13.6k Ohms (unbalanced)
Distortion: 0.02% max./20Hz–20kHz at 5V RMS output
Dimensions: 13.62" x 7.87" x 16.73"
Weight: 44.1 lbs.
Type: Solid-state phonostage preamplifier
Circuitry: Fully balanced DC with no feedback
Inputs: Four XLR (balanced); four adapted XLR to RCA
Input impedance: 54k Ohms (balanced) 27k ohms (unbalanced)
Output impedance: 94 ohms (balanced); 47 ohms (unbalanced)
Gain: 40dB at 1kHz
Dimensions: 13.62" x 7.87" x 16.73"
Weight: 44.1 lbs.
Type: Step-Up Transformer
RATOC Systems (U.S. Distributor)
2000 Wyatt Drive, Suite 10
Santa Clara, CA 95054
JV’s Reference System
Loudspeakers: Raidho C 4.1, Raidho C1.1, Estelon X Diamond, MartinLogan CLX , Magnepan 1.7, Magnepan 3.7, Magnepan 20.7
Linestage preamps: Constellation Virgo, Audio Research Reference 5SE, Technical Brain TBC -Zero EX
Phonostage preamps: Audio Research Corporation Reference Phono 2SE, Technical Brain TEQ -Zero EX/TMC-Zero
Power amplifiers: Constellation Centaur, Audio Research Reference 250, Lamm ML2.2, Soulution 501, Carver Black Beauty 305, Technical Brain TBP-Zero EX
Analog source: Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk II record player, AMG Viella 12, Da Vinci AAS Gabriel Mk II turntable with DaVinci Master’s Reference Virtu tonearm, Acoustic Signature Ascona with Kuzma 4P tonearm
Phono cartridges: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, Ortofon MC A90, Ortofon MC Anna, Benz LP S-MR,
Digital source: Berkeley Alpha DAC 2
Cable and interconnect: Synergistic Research Galileo, Crystal Cable Absolute Dream
Power Cords: Synergistic Research Tesla, Shunyata King Cobra, Crystal Cable Absolute Dream
Power Conditioner: Synergistics Research Galileo, Technical Brain
Accessories: Synergistic ART system, Shakti Hallographs (6), A/V Room Services Metu panels and traps, ASC Tube Traps, Critical Mass MAXXU M equipment and amp stands, Symposium Isis and Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks and Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment and amp stands, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix SE record cleaner, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses