In today’s world things are digital; that is just the fact. While this is a good thing on many fronts, digital is not good for everything. For some things; analog is still king. The old clean and beautiful analog wave form beats out the blocky steps of digital in audio and in many cases video. While it is true that you can improve digital to the point where the blocks are not visible to the human eye in visual reproductions the human ear is still capable of discerning the difference between analog and digital.
The problem lie in fact that analog equipment is harder and harder to find. But there is a bright spot out there for all of the audiophiles that miss the clean, pure and power of the analog curve. This is the tec•on audio model "55" Integrated Tube Amplifier for PC.
The tec•on model “55” comes in a very large box and is quite heavy. The box is nothing fancy, it is plainly labeled letting you know precisely what is inside. Once you rip open the box you will find that tec•on has done an excellent job of protecting your new investment. The Styrofoam padding holds not only the base of the amp but the delicate tubes in a protective cocoon. These three vacuum tubes are the heart behind the amazing audio you will hear from the tec•on audio model “55” and will be discussed in detail later.
tec•on provides everything you need to get started. Including a good quality USB cable [we will talk about the USB connection later].
With the notable exception of the Styrofoam [which can be recycled if that is available in your area] the packaging for the model “55” is very green. There are limited plastic wrappers and the box is plain [although heavy duty] cardboard. Despite this eco-friendly setup I would recommend hanging onto the packaging as it is very easily reusable if you need to transport or store the model “55” in the future.
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The tec•on model “55” is an impressive sight. When you pull it out of the box you will be surprised at its weight. For a small object the model “55” is quite heavy and dense [13 Lbs, 5.89 kg]. The reason behind the weight is to help prevent vibrations from affecting performance and sound reproduction. The weight ties in with the cone shaped feet; now there are different schools of thought on this. While some will say that you need large heavy feet for audio equipment others believe that if you limit the surface area of the feet you reduce the likelihood of transferring vibrations to the equipment. By using these cone shaped feet tec•on is able to reduce the weight [although 13 Lbs is still heavy] needed and maintain a solid, stable amplifier.
Overall the tec•on model “55” is an aesthetically pleasing product. Its design and construction are both sturdy and elegant.
On the technological side tec•on has chosen to use a three tube array; two EL84 [“Beijing” 6P14 tubes are used in the current model] output tubes and one 5755 Raytheon NOS Drive tube. It is the 5755 Raytheon tube that gives the tec•on audio model “55” its name.
For connectivity the model “55” uses acrylic encased copper 5-way binding posts for you speaker cables, two [right and left stereo] gold plated RCA inputs, and a USB connection that allows you to directly connect the model “55” to your PC. The USB connection translates the digital audio through a Bur Brown PCM2707 DAC [Digital to Analog Converter] this high quality part translates the blocky digital audio stream in to a clean and powerful analog curve to send out to your speakers. The center mounted power socket is a little odd, but when you consider the design and internal layout it was the best choice and the most efficient placement.
Internally tec•on uses Rubycon capacitors, thick copper wiring, and PCBs instead of direct signal paths as most tube amplifiers do, this design has not affected audio performance tec•on has managed to find a great balance in their design that keeps costs low and performance high.
The volume dial is an Alps Attenuator that is a potentiometer instead of a more precise stepped attenuator. However the Alps is a high quality part so the normal noise that can be found in a standard potentiometer is kept to a minimum. The Bur Brown PCM2707 DAC was shoved under the transformer cover, this was an odd placement as usually you would want to keep the area around the transformers clear to reduce noise. However I did not notice this placement affecting the performance of the model “55” so I will not linger on it.
Specifications for the model “55” are
- Integrated amplifier with RCA single ended inputs and USB DAC port
- Approx. 4.5 Watts r.m.s. per channel, class A
- Zero global negative feedback
- Choke input filter
- Metal film resistors
- Total Harmonic Distortion (T.H.D.) @ 1kHz, 8 Ohm
- Less than 1% at 4.5 Watts
- Frequency Response **
- 17Hz - 27kHz (-3 dB)
- 30Hz - 17 kHz (-1 dB)
- Tube Complements
- 2 x EL84 output tubes [the model testing came with “Beijing” 6P14 tubes]
- 5755 Raytheon NOS driver tube
- Input Impedance: 47 KOhms
- Unique blue LEDs under tubes for special effect
- Power Source: 115-230VAC switchable
- Power Consumption: 80 Watts
- Dimension: 7 1/2" (W) x 10" (D) x 7" (H) / 190 x 254 x 178 mm
- Weight: 13 lbs / 5.89 kg
tec•on has done an excellent job with the construction and build of the model “55” . While it does hves some interesting design features that are departures from many of the traditional “purest” tube amp builds but does this to balance performance with cost. The outer design borders on pure art and maintains an impression of quality that does not stop at the cover.
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I often talk about aesthetics as it is something I feel is very lacking in the IT world. For years PCs and PC accessories were dull and unattractive, they were utilitarian in the extreme. Apple came along and showed us that you can have a sense of style in the manufacturing of computer components and like crawling from a cave into the first rays of sunlight the systems builders and designers opened their eyes to the possibilities of making components that not only worked well but looked good. You have heard me speak of murderbox, one of the most aesthetically pleasing PCs I have ever wished I could afford. Well I have found the perfect amp to sit beside your murderbox if you own one.
The tec•on audio model “55” was designed to be eye catching; make no mistakes it is an excellent external design. From the moment you look at is you can see the quality and attention to detail. From the solid post legs that fit securely into the upper and lower covers to the center mounted Alps Attenuator securely mounted by six hex-head bolts.
When powered on the three tubes on the model “55” are lit up by blue LEDs surrounding each tube. This adds an eye catching luminescence to the soft glow already present in the tubes.
I did have one small complaint about the design; this involves the placement of the power switch on the right hand side. I found it to be a little awkward given the rest of the model “55”’s clean layout. I have to be honest though, I do not know of where else they could have put the switch, and placing the on/off switch into the attenuator would have potentially introduced unwanted noise into the system. So while I felt the power switch was out of place and awkward it was probably the best solution as it is typically hidden from view.
Sound is a subjective thing, I have said this more times that I can count. It is a hard one to scientifically rate for performance. You have to experience the sound to get a good grasp on the performance of an audio setup. As such in the Florida Bright Lab we try to offer you not just our opinion on the way something sounds but to give you a variety of sources.
Since the tec•on audio model “55” is a departure from the way PC and Digital audio is processed I wanted to expand my usual 5-8 test subjects and increased this to 15. Each was asked to rate the audio on a scale of 1-5 [one being worst and 5 being best] then I wanted one word to describe the sound they heard. I did this for three distinct types of audio. The fist was a traditional turntable with a vinyl LP record. I chose the London Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony Live as my audio source. My second audio source was CD audio [using the USB connection to PC] in the form of some classic Stevie Ray Vaughn playing the Jimi Hendrix classic Little Wing from the “The Sky is Crying” CD, while the third was MP4 audio from my iPhone the song choice there was Cake’s Long Line of Cars off of “Comfort Eagle”.
The Speakers used for my testing were Polk Audio 5-1/4-Inch Bookshelf speakers model TSI200. These fit perfectly in with what I felt was the average usage [although you can certainly use much higher end speakers with the model “55”] for cabling I used Rocketfish RF-G1148 [30-foot spool 16 gauge] cable with Monster Cable Banana Clips for termination at both the amplifier end and the speaker end.
Although my test subjects did not all share in my musical tastes they all agreed that the audio quality from the tec•on audio model “55” was nothing short of amazing. Without exception they all agreed that the sound had more “power” behind it. It felt more alive and vibrant. Even the normally thin and weak sound from the iPhone had more of this life breathed into it by the model “55”. There was no mud, no brassy high-end, and no cluttered mid-range. It was all clean with great separation of ranges. The reproduction of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s musical rendition of Little Wing left most who listened to it speechless. As you hear the buz of the amp and Stevie’s fingers slide over the strings of his guitar the event becomes almost personal; it brought me chills and while my eyes are closed the combination of a great recording and the sound quality from the model “55” made it feel like he is in the room with me.
Likewise the LSO’s performance of what in my opinion is one of Beethoven’s best symphonies was stunning. You could almost feel the tympani drums used in the second movement.
The words most commonly used to describe the sound quality from the model “55” were clean, vibrant, alive, powerful, and wow.
Conclusion on the next page.
Value can be viewed in many ways but it usually comes down to two. The first is bottom line while the second is more subjective and combines the purchaser’s desires and disposable income. Looking at the bottom line the tec•on audio model “55” is an expensive option. It will set you back a hefty $398.00 [US Dollars]. This would seem to be quite a bit for an amplifier to play back your iPhone/iPod or even to run off of your PC. However, when you take the quality of build and design and put that in perspective with the performance you receive the cost is on par with what you are getting and well below others in its class. Audiophiles will be split by the design, as purist will disagree with the PCB build and others looking for the best sound reproduction will not care. Looking at it from our second perspective; the tec•on audio model “55” is a bargain.
The model "55" is covered by a 90-day limited warranty, the details of this are outlined on the tec•on audio website
The tec•on audio model “55” is simply one of the best low cost integrated amplifiers I have ever worked with. It takes me back to my first Carver 1.0 and Dual turn table. Since those heady days of power and vibrance I have moved away and focused on more digital audio reproduction. I now know how much I have been missing. I cannot say it enough, the model “55” is stunning in its reproduction of sound. It is the acoustic equal to the aesthetic impact of the murderbox in terms of what it represents to the world of PC Audio. During my testing I found myself deferring to the model “55” instead of my more expensive 5.1 surround sound system from Logitech even for gaming.
If you are looking for the best audio reproduction you can get and not empty your bank account then I would suggest you look at the tec•on audio model “55”. It should be your first stop and will probably be your last.