T+A digital playground

T+A are a very well established German high performance audio brand. T+A stands for theory and application which is actually a very good descriptor of their complete approach to the companies many products. One simply has to love a company which is called Theory and Application Elektroakustik. T+A have been designing and building high performance audio devices from its base in Herford Germany since 1978 and I am very excited to be able to offer the T+A product portfolio here at Ultimate Resolution audio.

T+A truly are a multi-disciplinary company who are highly skilled at designing and manufacturing a range of products including amplifiers, loudspeakers, digital media players, cables and turntables. The truly remarkable thing is that they are very good at all of it.

In this article I will focus on the performance of the T+A media player known as the MP 2000 R mk 2. The MP 2000 mk 2 is part of the T+A’s very well-established R-series which is a complete electronics system series comprising of 2 x media players, 2 x integrated amplifiers as well as a turntable.

The key concept here is integration, as the R-series is all about the combination and optimisation of wide ranging digital (and analogue) music components into an elegant and sleek package, which of course delivers exceptional audio quality.

The concept of a media player is fairly new to me as previously I almost only utilised music servers to play back my audio files. The MP 2000 R does not have storage built in and can of course be used in conjunction with a Melco server but can also be used as a standalone player. It really depends on your preferred way to access your music.

As the MP 2000 R is an extremely capable device, for the purposes of this article we will focus on it as the primary music source.

The MP 2000 R is not a computer but is a first class audio device which is designed to extract the highest performance from a variety of different digital sources.

A quick overview reveals that these sources include CD player, hi-res streaming client, USB input, Optical inputs, Coaxial inputs, FM tuner, DAB tuner, internet radio as well as Bluetooth connectivity.

All of the sources are fed to a high quality digital to analogue converter, which in usual T+A fashion, has a separate conversion path for DSD and PCM files. This should not be over looked as it means that DSD audio can be processed natively without being converted to another format, which is a common approach in other comparable products.

The T+A MP 2000 R is a networkable media player which is very straight-forward to add to an existing network. The device was connected to my listening room network via its LAN port and DHCP took care of assigning its IP address.

T+A’s own Navigator app is a very nice way to control the device and access music, however source selection and track selection can also be done from the included SRC 1 remote control. This a very useful option for scenarios where you may want to “digital detox” and refrain from using a mobile device. One nice feature is that the remote control has a full set of buttons for playing, pausing, rewind tracks etc, which is great to be able fully control playback regardless of its source.

T+A devices are designed to work optimally with each other and when the media player and amplifier are networked together via the R link interface, both the remote control, and navigator app, works for both devices, which is a really nice touch.

The popularity of Roon as a resource for music management and playback is ever growing, therefore the MP 2000 R also has the ability to act as a Roon end point.

Digital to analogue converter

The MP 2000’s built in digital to analogue converter is of the very highest quality and of course is a big part of the unit’s sound quality. The converter section is comprised of a double differential quadruple converter with 4 D/A converters per channel which is completely an in-house development. The converters are 32 bit sigma delta types. The units up sampling programmable signal processor contains 4 selectable oversampling algorithms which I will explain later.

The audio data on for example CDs is stored at a sampling rate of 44.1 – IE: for each second of music 44,100 sampled values are available for each channel. In the MP 2000 R the audio data read from the CD is multiplied to a higher sampling rate (352.8 kHz) before it is converted back into analogue music signals. This process delivers a much better, more finely graduated signal to the converter, which can then be converted with correspondingly higher precision. The raised sampling rate is a calculating process for which there are many different mathematical methods. In digital audio devices which exploit the advantages of increased digital sampling rate an FIR filter is employed for this purpose. T+A have been carrying out research for more than ten years, aimed at improving the oversampling process, because the standard FIR method has one drawback to set against its many advantages: it adds small pre- and post-echoes to the music signals.

T+A have developed mathematical processes (known as Bezier polynomial interpolators) which overcome this problem, which means that the T+A filters should sound better and more natural than the usual standard process’s. Since the calculating procedure employed is considerably more complex than the standard method, the MP 2000 R features a high performance digital signal processor (DSP) which carries out the over-sampling process with immense precision (56 bit) using special algorithms developed by T+A. The freely programmable DSP utilised is capable of carrying out the oversampling process using any method of calculation. For this reason T+A have implemented a slightly modified Bezier process (Filter 3) in the MP 2000 R in addition to the pure Bezier process (Filter 4), together with two variants of the standard FIR filter process (Filters 1 and 2).

Please see description of each filter below:

FIR long:

The long FIR filter is the standard oversampling process in digital technology, offering extremely linear frequency response, very high damping, linear phase characteristics and constant group delays. The disadvantage is the pre- and post-echoes which are added to the signal. These time range errors tend to affect the music signal’s dynamics, precision and naturalness, and reduce spatial orientation.

FIR short:

Shortening the filter (lower coefficient) reduces the time range errors, albeit combined with a slight loss of linearity in the frequency range and damping performance.

Bezier/IIR:

In this process an ideal Bezier interpolator is combined with what is known as an IIR filter. This eliminates the problematic pre-echo of the FIR method. This process produces highly analogue system characteristics, with a sound quality and measured performance similar to those of good analogue record players.

Bezier:

This process delivers a perfect reconstruction of the original music signal. It exhibits no pre- or post-echoes of any kind, and does not add coloration or timing errors to the original signal. In sonic terms this method offers an impressive blend of naturalness, good dynamics and accuracy.

For the purposes of this listening test I utilised the Bezier algorithm which brought the MP 2000’s sound to a very good place.

For the listening impressions the MP 2000 R was teamed up with its ideal partner, the T+A PA 2500 R integrated amplifier which was driving Fink team KIM loudspeakers. Tellurium Q ultra-silver speaker cables were used and the interconnects between the MP 2000 R and PA 2500 R were the xlr’s which are supplied with the MP 2000 media player. Electronics and loudspeakers were isolated with Franc audio isolators and the system mains supply was handled by the Puritan labs PSM 156.

MP 2000 R as a streaming device:

The MP 2000 R integrates seamlessly with major streaming services such as Tidal, Qobuz and Deezer. Streaming services appear as a source in the MP 2000 R menu. Set up is pretty straightforward where users account details can be entered directly via the devices comprehensive front panel using the supplied remote control.

In this case I used Tidal as the streaming service of choice.

The first track listened to was Ballinspittle Boogie by Moving Hearts. (16 bit 44.1kHz)

The album is called Donal Lunny’s definitive Moving Hearts. This track has Uilleann pipes which are an amazing instrument which are challenging to both record and replay.

On streaming playback, the MP 2000 R made Davy Spillane’s Uilleann pipes sound very realistic and the timbre/tone was both moving and haunting. The percussion parts were all reproduced with exceptional clarity and sounded explosive when the track demanded it. Another notable aspect of the media players performance was that each individual musical part is easily discernible and the overall sonic picture has everything in its rightful place.

Soundstage dimensionality in depth and width were also commendable. Donal Lunny’s exceptional bouzouki parts sound very fluid and help keep the track moving along. The tracks bass guitar parts are all very well defined and provide a solid back bone to the rest of the line-up.

Overall, this is an extremely good result in streaming a track that can easily show weaknesses in lesser players.

The MP 2000 R succeeds in delivering a high-quality streaming client along with an exceptional D/A converter.

Sting track:

For the next listening impression I streamed the Sting track “Something the boy said” from Tidal: (16 bit 44.1kHz)

First impressions were that this track sounded spacious with defined bass and a really lovely mouth organ part. I was immediately drawn to the presence of Sting’s vocal part which combined beautifully with some very nice effects which added extra layers of depth to the soundstage. The drums recording came through beautifully with a tangible sense of “feeling” the beater head of the kick drum pedal.

Its also worth mentioning the electric guitar part which fades in towards the end of the track. This part literally takes the track to another level and both the positioning and tonality stood out. Finally, the soundstage depth on this recording was very impressive.

Having just witnessed tidal sounding better than I have ever heard it before I began to wonder about how the rest of the digital sources sounded from this piece of German wizardry.

I then listened to the same Sting track being played from the MP 2000’s CD player.

By focusing in on the qualities listed above it was easy enough to pick out differences between the tidal version and the CD version.

First thing to say is that the MP 2000’s CD player is exceptionally good but on the whole CD playback of the Sting “Something about the boy” track fell a bit short of the streamed tidal version.

Most of the differences were perceived in the area of spaciousness and soundstage dimensionality with the tidal version offering a just bit more in this area.

For completeness I also played back the CD ripped version of this track from a USB drive which was attached to the MP 2000’s USB input, as well as streaming the file direct from a Melco N1ZH/2 EX server.

The playback from the USB drive was comparable to the tidal streamed version but fell a little short in comparison.

When I switched to the Melco serving to the MP 2000 via ethernet there was a clear step up in performance.

Spacious and soundstage dimensionality increased, bass response was firmer and fuller, vocal presence and tonality was top notch and the electric guitar tone and positioning was the best heard so far.

So we have a winner! Melco N1ZH/2 EX via UPNP to the T+A MP 2000 produces exemplary digital audio playback.

DSD capabilities

It’s also worth adding the MP 2000’s capabilities in dealing with DSD files. It is essential to treat DSD and PCM separately taking their specific requirements into account. This applies both at the digital and analogue level. On the MP 2000’s USB input there is a separate signal and processing path for both DSD and PCM files. This means that DSD is rendered as a true 1 bit file with very high sample rate, which results in quite staggering life like and realistic images, with playback from the Melco. To achieve this the MP 2000 R employs two separate digital sections and two D/A converter sections – each optimised for one of the 2 formats.

Conclusion:

The T+A MP 2000 is an incredibly capable and versatile digital source component with a very high quality digital to analogue converter built in. The unit consistently serves up the best that digital audio has to offer, from any digital music source of choice.

To add to the substantial prowess of the hardware the T+A navigator app is also excellent and completely developed in house, and as mentioned earlier music navigation and access via the supplied remote control is very useful.

The team at T+A often release firmware updates for the R-series media players as well as the companion integrated amplifiers the PA 2000 and 2500. As the amplifiers are networkable via the R-link interface firmware updates for both the media player and integrated amplifiers can be performed from the media player’s front screen.

There is lots to love about the MP 2000 as well as the other integrated R-series components which clearly highlight the benefits of a system approach, where each critical part of the signal chain is controlled and optimised by the same team of fantastic and very experienced engineers.

As an interesting side experiment, I decided to compare the same Melco stored audio file, played to the MP 2000’s USB input as well as serving it via UPNP to the MP 2000’s streaming client. This was a straight comparison of the MP 2000’s USB DAC versus the streaming client combined with the DAC. As the Melco can act as a player and server at the same time this was possible to A/B, albeit with a slight timing difference between the tracks as well as a bit of source switching time.

However, the interesting part is that there was no discernible difference in quality between these 2 playback options, which again reinforces the point that the MP 2000 is incredibly consistent with its precise rendering of digital audio.

Thank you to the team at T+A in making digital audio easy to access as well as sound amazing.

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