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reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
financial Interests: click here
• primary system: source -
27" iMac with 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 16GB 1.333MHz RAM, 2TB hard disc, 256GB SSD drive, ADM Radeon HD 6970M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, OSX 10.8.2, PureMusic 1.88a & Audirvana 1.4.2, Metrum Hex, Cambridge Audio iD100, Apple iPod Classic 160GB - preamps - ModWright LS-100 with Psvane tubes, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X - amplifiers - First Watt SIT1, ModWright KWA100SE - speakers - AudioSolutions Rhapsody 200, Aries Cerat Gladius - cables - complete loom of Zu Audio Event, KingRex uArt USB cable with Bakoon BPS-02 - equipment support - Artesania Esoteric double-wide 3-tier with TT glass shelf, Rajasthani solid hardwood console for amps, Track Audio speaker stands - powerline conditioning - GigaWatt PF2 on amps, GigaWatt PC-3 SE Evo on front-end components - sundry accessories - extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters - room size - 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Desktop system: source - Apple iPod Classic 160GB, Cambridge Audio iD100, Aura Vivid - integrated amplifier - Aura Vita - speakers + subwoofer - Gallo Strada 2 + TR-3D on Mapleshade stand, EBTB Terra III, Ardán Audio desktop stand for various review monitors
- headphone amps - Aura Vita, Sicphones - headphones - AKG K-702 with ALO Audio harness - cables - Zu Audio Event
bedside headfi system: source - Apple iPod 160GB Classic, Pure i20, Burson Conductor - headphone amplifier - Bakoon AMP-11R - headphones - ALO Audio-rewired Audez'e LCD-2 and Beyerdynamic T5p - cables - Western Electric & Crystal
secondary system: source - NuForce Edition Oppo BD93, Sony Bravia TV - preamp - TruLife Audio Athena - amplifier - FirstWatt SIT2 or F5 - speakers - Boenicke Audio B10 - cables - Zu Event - headphone amplifier - Eximus DP1 - headphones - HifiMan HE6 or HE-500, ALO Audio-rewired Sennheiser HD800
review component retail: £6.275

It started with a reader email. "For the last three weeks I've been listening to Ten Audio's valve DAC over my Plinius SA 102 MkII amp,  Kondo valve or Krell KSP-7B transistor preamp into my Apogee Duetta Signature speakers with a prototype of Ten Audio's valved CD transport. After serious listening with their TAD1 converter I made comparisons to a Blacknote DAC30, Audio Note DAC5 and Weiss DAC2.

"In my opinion the TAD1 available in both clear-anodized and gloss black was very musical and revealing and in the context of my many years in this hobby appears to be a rather special machine. I'm not part of Ten Audio's operation but several years ago asked their designer Gregor to build me a custom converter. Since then we became good friends and I've recommend him to many of my audiophile friends. His ultimate goal was finalising his 20 years of research into the current version of Ten Audio's valve DAC called TAD1. He now also has his website up. Please take a look as he would like to send you a unit for review." - Sabih Tasoz

About glowing bottles I'm of two minds when it comes to digital. As a former valve fancier I've since given up on coupling power tubes to speakers via transformers. For me Nelson Pass' FirstWatt SIT1 monos have killed that option decisively. Yet a 6SN7 like a Psvane 'CV-181' in a linestage like ModWright's LS-100 still has my attention. I like just a little tube action. But I'm cognizant also of the redundancy of preamps should one run a single source with proper drive, sufficient gain and volume control which could easily be me. S/N and dynamic range specs of superior digital converters today eclipse most tube preamps by a substantial margin. Paying for such bottlenecks seems foolish then.

The trouble is that by the same logic installing low-level bottles inside a digital source to eliminate the preamp does nothing but shift the same issue one rung higher. So what about 'digital' tubes? I already admitted to being conflicted and indecisive on the subject. With this machine's stepped attenuator covering from 100mV to 4.4Vrms on XLR and RCA alike—albeit without remote control or any display to properly replace a modern preamp—I could experiment.

On semi-vintage performance specs we get 5Hz-20kHz response, 110dB of dynamic range, 24/96 AES/EBU and coaxial digital inputs—hence no USB, no 176.4kHz or higher file acceptance—highish output impedance of 800Ω and jitter around 60ps. Power consumption is 55 watts, dimensions are 43.5 x 29 x 15cm WxDxH and weight is 12kg. After delivery in a generic carton lined with flaky styrofoam panels, I was most gratified to hear that "in the future all Ten Audio products will be shipped in custom-built aluminium-cornered strong Plywood cases for transport safety".