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Soundstaging and Imaging:
In both UL and triode modes the amplifier created a relatively wide and deep image. Depth was overall more convincing in UL mode as was placement although it did not create pinpoint imaging in either. Image placement was approximate rather than precise with best results occurring in UL. Despite limited focus, the images had convincing solidity with different frequency bands favored depending on operating mode. UL brought instruments to life from the midrange on down. Triode illuminated from the midrange on up. Projection was limited to just ahead of the speakers and not exaggerated, with an overall presentation that began at about the plane of the speakers but still managed to take the sound "off the panels" to make them incidental as sources. Comparatively, the more expensive equipment added considerably more precision and refinement in soundstaging and placement but in the absence of such absolute reference points, the 6550 was quite satisfying and superior to a multitude of midfi.

Cable Interaction:
The amplifier revealed sensitivity to AC cables. Switching from the supplied Hobby Lab Prelude 1 to a basic AC cord caused a dramatic degradation of performance. The 6550 suffered immediate losses in amplitude at the frequency extremes as well as losses in transparency, image placement and soundstage size. Most importantly, gone was the dynamic life. Switching to the Audio Art Power 1 SE AC cable restored the advantages of the Prelude 1 and contributed to a small change in frequency balance. In ultralinear mode the 6550 took on some of the upper midrange energy exhibited in triode mode and demonstrated slightly better transparency and dynamic life as well as gains in hard-edge definition and transient precision. These characteristics carried over into triode operation but were not as dramatic. The overall comparative results between the three AC cables proved the supplied Prelude 1 a capable performer demonstrating a good balance of strengths, especially enhanced dynamic power, solidity and cohesive frequency response. It vastly outperformed the stock AC cord and although it didn’t outperform the Audio Art cable, it acquitted itself well and certainly validated TrueHarmonix’s decision to include the Prelude 1 with the 6550 in the purchase price. The designers have taken great care to provide a muscular power supply and have gone that extra step to guarantee that you will hear it unleashed.

The Big Picture
: What can the audiophile expect to hear when firing up the TrueHarmonix 6550? On an absolute basis, they will hear a slightly warm tonal balance, softness at the extremes, with good but not stellar resolution and imaging plus very good dynamics. But life at this price is not just about absolutes. It would be a disservice to say that the amp did not perform to the caliber of the pricey designs. Shrewd compromises were to be expected and the art and challenge here was for the designers to draw the listener’s attention away from those compromises and focus on the music. By that criterion, the 6550 was highly successful.

The TrueHarmonix integrated rarely drew attention to itself and when it did, it was generally to prompt surprise at how well it handled a piece of music. If it failed to reach the sonic nirvana of more ambitious components, it was never unkind to the music. Its failings by and large were subtractive, resulting in a presentation that was somewhat forgiving of source material, a characteristic that was minor in degree and that some will find preferable. The 6550 offered a good taste of the best attributes of tube technology with sufficient gusto to satisfy and brought a wealth of dynamic life to the table far beyond its price point.

The last integrated to grace my system was the Wyred4Sound STI 1000, a virtually unlimited powerhouse of an amplifier. Since the pricing of these two units is reasonably close, the obvious question is how did they compare? Putting aside the vast advantage in raw power of the Wyred4 Sound, the two displayed radically different sonic signatures, with the STI 1000 excelling at transparency and resolution and the 6550 at weight and solidity. The 6550 had fuller bass but lacked the precision and resolution the Wyred4Sound could achieve. It would be fair to say that the TrueHarmonix is aimed at audiophiles who prefer a little more meat on their musical bones.

For a tubular comparison, it was fortuitous that the performance of the Sound Master Reference combination was still fresh in memory. The financial discrepancy makes the comparison unfair of course but since the two efforts share the same designer, it begged the question how much of that elevated performance trickled down. While there was an obvious step down in the sound quality on most levels, the integrated surprisingly held its own on sheer drive and dynamics. The 6550 was never less than pleasant and its overall consistency of character combined with its fortitude never failed to draw attention back to the music. Given the huge price difference, this was commendable.

For a final point of interest I should turn the reader’s attention to the matter of how well the 6550 performed with the Apogees. The Apogee loudspeaker has earned the unenviable reputation of being a very tough amplifier load. While the Duetta Signature is hardly the most difficult Apogee, it is a watershed product that appears to give bellwether indication of problems with amplifier drive and the integrity of the power supply. If the budget-priced TrueHarmonix had turned problematic with the Apogees, it would have meant no black marks on its score card. But that did not occur. The 6550 rarely lost composure and managed to push the Duetta Signatures to comfortable levels even in triode mode where the amplifier was at a severe power disadvantage -  and with a dynamic fervor that was vastly out of place for its wattage. 

Conclusion: TrueHarmonix threw caution to the wind when they shipped me their 30-watt 6550 integrated to face the Apogees but it would appear they did indeed have a trick up their sleeve. In this anticipated classic mismatch of inefficiency meets low wattage, the 6550 went up against the giants and won. I had expected smoke. Instead I got musical fire.

The 6550 is a robust little amplifier with class A and AB outputs of sufficient wattage and musical prowess to be at the center of a satisfying medium-efficiency system. It favors enjoyment over absolute resolution and where the TrueHarmonix doesn’t quite scale the heights of refinement, it meets them in exuberance. Some designs aim to be ruthlessly revealing, others to present an engaging musical performance. Head versus heart. The 6550 is aimed at the heart.

Should you consider the TrueHarmonix 6550? That depends on your needs and priorities. If you need more inputs and output flexibility or can’t live without a remote, this won‘t fit the bill. If you demand absolute precision and resolution, this may not satisfy. But if you’re in a tubular frame of mind and look for a reasonably priced medium-powered integrated amplifier with a warm balance and stout heart, the 6550 is certainly worth a serious listen. Any 30-watt amplifier which can take on the Apogees deserves respect. It makes for a well-earned recommendation. Sold through authorized dealers and direct from TrueHarmonix.

Quality of packing:
Double boxed. Product protected with an open frame foam shell. Tubes are bubble wrapped and power tubes are additionally group foam sleeved.
Reusability of packing: Yes.
Condition of components received: Perfect.
Delivery: Via UPS from TrueHarmonix.
Website comments: Expanding to contain an increasing product line up.
Human interactions: Professional and friendly.
Warranty: 2 years for parts and labor, 6 months on tubes.
Final comments & suggestions: A lively little performer that’s fun to live with.

TrueHarmonix website