This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Reviewer: Mike Malinowski
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Walker Black Diamond turntable; Walker Reference phono preamp; Clearaudio Goldfinger
Preamp: VTL TL-7.5 Reference
Amp: Tenor 350M; darTZeel NHB-108
Speakers: Wilson X-2 Alexandria Series II
Cables: Silent Source Music Reference; Transparent Opus, OmegaMikro, Transparent XL w/MM interconnect; Silent Source and Xtreme between phono pre and preamp
Stands: Custom Renzetti Racks, VPI phono stand, Zoethecus, Walker Prologue Amp Stand
Powerline conditioning: Equi=Tech [under review], Walker Audio Velocitor, PS Audio 300
Sundry accessories: Walker Audio Valid Points resonance control discs; ASC tube traps; Argent Room Lens; separate 100-amp sub panel feeding five dedicated cryo'd outlets; Loricraft Model 4 record cleaner; Walker Talisman
Room size: 29’x 19’ x 10 full ASC acoustic design.
Review component retail: $75.000

Biased? Aren't we all. Anyone who believes in his own absolute objectivity is either lying or delusional. Craving a burger, you can walk into your local fast food place or you might opt for a trip to the hottest new bistro to try their mouthwatering $40 Kobe burger. For each choice your beef expectations are understandably quite different. So it is in our humble little hobby. As with burgers, any reviewer who says that he begins with a totally open mind is not being honest. Let’s not kid ourselves. We attach expectations to everything. And right or wrong, cost is an issue. Herein lies the problem. I had significant concern going into this review. How do you review a preamp that costs as much as a Lexus 460 automobile and is described by Tenor with an unequivocal certainty as "… the Line1/Power 1 preamplifier delivers musicality and transparency beyond all other preamplifiers …[it] is the finest dual chassis/dual mono preamplifier in the world." There's no wiggle room here.

With that as starting point, what is the context of the review? What are the points of comparison? Should price become the invisible elephant in the room where every element is to be judged in relation to it? Or should the review describe the performance without regard to cost, then let the reader decide ultimate value? Is Tenor the best and how would that even be determined? Do any flaws disqualify it? I had a lot of questions and no clear answers. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that these cost issues should be laid out right at the beginning, with the review describing the design, operation and sound. At the end maybe we can make sense of ultimate value.

With price playing such a large role, I decided to present a more detailed introduction by delving into design considerations, component selection, engineering and a little of the Tenor philosophy. I spent two fascinating days with the president of Tenor, Jim Fairhead, and Michel Vanden Broeck, the man behind the design of all Tenor products. As a pair they are polar opposites. Jim is outgoing and gregarious while Michel is reserved and soft spoken. Initially I sensed some reluctance to discussing the design and engineering. That is understandable in a competitive hi-tech environment. In the end however I believe we developed a good balance which will allow the reader to understand not only the sound experience but also some of the underlying how and why. At this level I suspect that someone who might plunk down $75k probably is interested in the engineering.

Where do I start? At this level one would expect and demand unparalleled excellence for every step of the execution. How does the Tenor stack up? Let’s start with the delivery. Two custom aluminum laminate travel cases with recessed handles and wheels open to a fitted interior with a silk-like protective cover. With a combined shipping weight of over 200 pounds, every other shipping case is crude by comparison. The Line1/Power1 consists of two physically matching units with a design that is virtually identical to Tenor’s amplifiers. Actually they physically resemble an amplifier more than a preamp. The design is utterly unique. There is no possibility of mistaking it for any other. These components are exquisite and visually stunning, from the solid cherry wood with sixteen coats of piano lacquer to the anodized aluminum and cyclops center eye. It’s a modern and elegant design that also evokes a nostalgic feel of an earlier era.

As you might expect, the Line1/Power1 has an abundance of inputs and outputs. Five unbalanced inputs, two balanced, two tape loops, four outputs, two balanced and two unbalanced, a headphone output, a USB port for software upgrades and six 12-volt DC triggers to remotely power up to six power amplifiers in sequential startup mode. Outside of the ultimate home theater system, I’m not sure why one would need to trigger six power amps but it’s available.

Physically the preamp unit is dominated by two large silver knobs for volume and input selection, with each performing multiple functions. Four small buttons for balance, setup, info and display are the entire control complement. Between the two large knobs is the center eye containing a vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) showing the volume and setup information for everything from the firmware and time and date to the current operating status.

For those who eschew instruction manuals, you might spend some time looking for the non-existent power switch on the front panel. Instead touch any knob or button and the Tenor comes to life with the center display presenting the on/off instructions. The controls are microprocessor steered and context specific. For example when off, pressing the volume control for 3 seconds turns the unit on. When on, briefly pressing the volume control temporarily mutes the system. The interactions of the buttons, input selector and volume control are one of those situations where actual use is far simpler than trying to explain it. Once you play with the unit for a few minutes, the entire process becomes quickly intuitive. Rather than spending time detailing how things are executed, let’s look at some of the unit’s features and flexibility. Each of the ten inputs can labeled from a menu of 36 choices for everything from phono to iPod. If you label an input as "off", the unit removes that input from use. Therefore you don’t have to scroll through a dozen of unused inputs. Cool. Any combination of balanced/unbalanced and headphone outputs can be activated in either stereo or mono mode. If needed one can activate an additional 6dB of gain.