Totaldac Amp-1 amplifier review


An amplifier from Totaldac!? This is certainly the question that many have raised when The Amp-1 was introduced. Totaldac is renowned for its expertise with DACs, servers, and digital paraphernalia. But a Totaldac amplifier!?

Well, if you know a bit more about Vincent Brient, his background, or if you've followed his successful venture this feels like a most natural and logical step up in the Totaldac lineup. 

Over a decade of constant production and development, Brient has created an impressive portfolio of products that up to the introduction of the full-blooded Totaldac power amplifier consisted of everything else, from digital front end up to the speakers. 


The 10th anniversary certainly aligns well with the review of the Amp-1 that has seen his world premiere last year at the around same period during the Munich High-End Audio Show 2019. Sadly we won't be able to enjoy all of the high-end audio gear galore this year, but this is where publications such as Mono and Stereo are doing their part with keeping the beat with the industry's tickings. 

Many of the visitors of the HiFiDeluxe liked they synergy of the Totadac Totaldac Amp-1 amplifier and Magico M6 speakers. As you can read on, this was no happy accident, but a well-planned, in-depth development. 


I've also highly enjoyed the Totaldac combination with Magico M6 speakers and had the luxury of having a private listening premiere the night before the show. 

The sonic impact has lingered on and later on, when the Amp-1 production was ready and Brient asked me if I want to review his latest addition to the Totaldac portfolio, I was more than happy to oblige.

THE STORY BEHIND


In 2018 Alon Wolf CEO and founder of Magico contacted Brient for the evaluation of the Totaldac digital front end. Brient provided Totadac d1-twelve-mk2 and a d1-driver for Magico's demo room in California. After the in-depth evaluation, Wolf decided to keep Totadac's flagship DAC system and it was an opportunity for Brient to get a pair of Magico M6 speakers for his reference setup. 


T the time Brient had several amplifiers on hand to drive the M6. The triode, pentode, Class A transistor, Class AB, and Class D amplifiers. None of them could exhibit all qualities of the M6 at the same time. This led to a further investigation and trials of many amplifiers from the most recognized brands with no price limit. Again, Brient was not happy. Something was missing. The lack of real-life timbre and open-nature of tubes and the drive capability of the biggest transistor amplifiers in absence of harsh sound so often found with transistor amplifiers pushed Brient to start thinking again about the development of his amplifier. 


The Totaldac Amp-1 followed the prototype concept, with which Brient and his partner already experimented in prior, but from the point of deciding to make the full-blooded Totadac amplifier, Brient was free to optimize it in his way.


The Amp-1 implements a triode voltage amplifying stage and a high current transistor buffer. By combining these two principles Brient wanted to blend the best attributes of tubes and transistors, having the Totaldac d1-twelve-mk2 DAC as the digital front end reference.

Each development step was throughout tested with the Magico M6 and Brient's large coax horn system as well as with the Totaldac d150 speakers and the Camerton one-way bookshelves.


The Magico M6's moderate efficiency and difficult impedance and the bighorn system with 105dB/1W/1m efficiency and easy 8ohm impedance were healthy antipoles that helped with the fine-tuning of the Amp-1. Brient's initial idea was to optimize the Amp-1 in such a way that it would provide equally well-balanced performance with these two opposites. Consequently, this would ensure a real-world performance for most of the high-end audio speakers.  


Brient digital expertise needs no further introduction, but he's also no rookie when it comes to the amplifier design. 

Over the years he developed numerous amps for his own need like:
-bipolar transistor push-pull amplifiers
-MOSFET transistor push-pull amplifiers
-single-ended bipolar and MOSFET amplifiers, for horns
-transistor buffers added after the output of a SET amplifier
-a very specific single-ended and OTL amplifier based on a 6C33 tube
-300B, 2A3 and 45 traditional SET amplifiers
-KT88 push-pull amplifiers
-class D amplifiers
-a power amplifier made off 400 opamps
-a modified class TD amplifier (a concert amplifier)
-many tube and transistor preamps
Yes, quite an impressive endeavor. But that's is not all. As written above, after evaluating many of the modern high-end audio amplifiers, while trying to secure the best references for the development of his DACs and speakers, Brient was never exactly happy with the synergy. He couldn't find a perfect, matching partner regardless of the price. 


All these trials and errors led him to profoundly explore the variable sound of different amplifier technologies and nonetheless the components. This was fundamental to the Amp-1 design and it reflects the painstaking efforts of developing the Totaldac's DACs. 

THE HYBRID NUCLEUS


Totaldac Amp-1 uses hand-picked NOS ECC88 tubes that are mounted on a Teflon PCB. The huge and hefty 2500VA transformer was chosen to maintain the stable voltage during power peaks and keeping the easy control as well as allowing extraordinary dynamic contrast.


Brient is determined how large capacitors perform this demanding task half-way, as after some time (usually less that one second) they are discharged anyway. A big transformer can provide a high power on the fly, several seconds, several minutes, or even several hours.


No global feedback is used with Amp-1. This means that the output voltage is not re-injected in the input circuit, otherwise, the signal induced by the speaker would be sent back to the preamp or even to the DAC.


Mains RF noise is filtered in the amplifier, but without using serial inductors, as they can seriously limit the dynamic impact.


The transformer is potted and acts also as a metal shield. The power transistors that are close to the opening of this shielding have their dedicated protection, that keeps the hum at a minimum level. For driving the speakers with 105dB+ efficiency the silent operation is crucial.


The input circuit and voltage amplifying circuit uses a low distortion triode circuit as the only amplifying circuit. No opamp, no feedback is used in this amp 28dB gain section. The power supply for the gain stage is regulated to provide the lowest noise.



Totaldac Amp-1 chassis is 3mm thick with a 2cm thick aluminum front panel. The beautiful CNC cut-out graphics, the electronic design, the metal parts, power transformer, soldering, and the final mounting are all conducted in France.


In the middle of an elegant and minimalistic looking, solid aluminum 2cm front panel resides a large Totadac logo. The right side concludes with an artistically see-through, multiple hole design that also helps the air to circulate properly.


Most of the components are from Europe like massive 27mm diameter Mundorf binding posts and Mundorf MKP power supply decoupling capacitors. IEC mains socket and fuse holder comes from Furutech.


Amp-1 sports sort of stealth, monolith black understated look, that is further and fully appreciated by the closer inspection of the elegantly etched graphics. Its presence radiates with a solid, timeless appeal. 


Amp-1 installation and moving is no single man affair. It's very heavy due to the huge 2500VA transformer and overall, oversized design, that was not designed only for the optimum airflow, but also to let easily access any of the components if needed. 


THE MUSIC


There is such a thing as over-engineered audio machinery... And there is such thing as musical amplifier designed by engineers who's lives are deeply etched by the music and this, as a rule, shapes the final sonic output.

Some of the high-end audio amplifiers' evaluations push my modus operandi into lab like mind-set, but there are a few of the amps that ignite the un-rational response while keeping my logical "processors" running happily. Totaldac Amp-1 is among this rare breed.  Amp-1 can reveal and pull out all of the quark like nuances of music, but never in its disservice. Totaldac amp comes with a rare ability to fuse vibrancy and transparency without depriving any of the counterparts' essentials. A feature alone worthy of all of the high praise. 

It was more than a pleasurable task to spend my in-depth listening hours with Amp-1. Totaldac amp act as an envoy for music enjoyment.  It's a highly captivating amplifier with both radiant and powerful hub. 

As it became a sort of a standard, here are a few of the reference tracks and albums used during the review. 


"Vere Meininga, concerto for harp & string sextet"
By Ellen Sejersted Bødtker and Oslo Kammersolister from the album, Sonar is a majestical and mystical Nordic musical escapade. I don't easily find a connection with the album and performer if the amplifier fails to address all of the fundamental subtleties.

With "Vere Meininga" Amp-1 splendidly revealed the poignant eeriness. I was smitten by the delicacy presented and palpable tonal richness. Both attributes far escaped Amp-1 given price tag. A class act!

Amp-1 outstanding pace, rhythm and the sense of the sonic expanse was easily established with Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 "Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36: 1. Andante sostenuto - Moderato con anima"


It's not easy to manifest and institute the lyrical etherealness being paired with an utterly dynamic freshness. Yet... Amp-1 rendition of crips brass was as prominent as it gets, with a crystal clear pronouncement and spot on timbre. The unaltered dynamic force allowed Bayz Audio Counterpoint V2 speakers to fully bloom and easily form a sudden, minute dynamic changes.  The crescendos and micro-movements worked equally well. 


I was taken by surprise with Amp-1's capability of conveying the sheer drama. Totaldac amp's dynamic freedom permitted the orchestra under the baton of Karajan to form a far grander scale than expected and with a class of its own believability factor. 

Totaldac Amp-1 could easily cope with all of the rhythm paraphernalia as well as projecting splendid sonic sets from album to album. Amp-1 possesses a rare ability to keep the low frequencies in focus without losing the upper mid-bass and treble weight. This feat is worthy of putting into perspective for anyone in pursuit of the new amp or to those who are stepping up on the high-end audio ladder. 

The rhythm lockability was easily corroborated with John Scofield - The Best Of John Scofield. Especially the "You Bet" where the grit, the guitar's rhyme, and rhythm flow is mesmerizingly effortless if the system is of right balance and potency. "You Bet"  is among my favorite Scofield compositions. It shows all of his expertise, seamlessly blended with his leitmotif musical wittiness. 

With Amp-1 the notes overlays were easily displayed without being lost in translation. Amp-1 keeps an impressive sonic scenery equilibrium by even distribution of horizontal and vertical expanse, never sacrificing or compensating with the PRAT.


Madeleine Peyroux album Bare Bones is a guilty pleasure reference track that is always more than handy to "measure" the intoxication level of any amplifier. The second track "Bare Bones" owns a certain feather-like lightness and a dreamy, mellow mood that instantly bypasses the sensual safeguards when the amplifier is voiced properly. As it happened with the rest of the evaluation music, Amp-1 extended the guilty listening pleasure from the planned single track to the complete album...


A dynamic champion and tour de force "A New Jeruselem"  by Karate from the album In The Fishtank 12 will drive not only any amp to discomfort. It can and will put any of the speakers into the dangerous territory. You don't always need a full-scale orchestra to assess the dynamic potential of the amplifier. This is among the non-classical tracks that easily push the amp to extremes.  


Over the years I've often played Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" from the album Solitude Standing on the shows, at the times I was asked to perform the duties of high-end audio DJ. Almost, as a rule, the reaction of the surprised faces from the crowd was perpetually worthy of picking it up the song and putting on the playlist. 

It's by no means an expected audiophile track, yet it has so many qualities that easily show how well the system or particular part of the chain performs when it comes to the reproduction of the human voices. I'm still baffled how underrated is the human voice among some of the high-end audio aficionados when it comes to the critical audio judgment. Some of the iconic speaker manufacturers knew this "secret" and spend enormous times for such peculiar voicing. It gets even more extreme, with some the iconic British loudspeakers manufacturers conducting their voicing solely with the human voices...


A slight reverb on the Vega's voice is subtle enough not to be in the way. "Tom's Diner" is all about believability and immediacy. Also, the microphone feedback can be easily spotted, but the hum and noise are nowhere near the threshold of annoying. They don't mask Vega's splendid vocal. 

If you'll play it on your system be attentive to the vocal sibilance and if it became unpleasant. There should be no tonal harshness that can happen during consonant syllables and is caused by disproportionate audio dynamics in upper midrange frequencies. 

Totaldac Amp-1 comes with this ability and a rare quality to render human vocals with the right degree of authenticity. A splendid act!

THE CONCLUSION


As with any product that comes from Totaldac the Amp-1 amplifier follows the brand's and designers ' throughout logic and the utmost attention to every detail.  

I've had the luxury to follow Brient's venture from the very beginning and even with the early, initial products Brient was always striving for perfection regardless of the price tag. Totaldac is all about the throughout concept being refined and perfected from the ground up and over time. This is why the entire line of Totaldac's products are performing and sounding so good.


This also tells a lot about the designer himself. The rich experiences and know-how from the telecommunication industry allowed Brient to start the venture with unprecedented know-how. Then again... As seen many times in our industry, this is not solely a recipe for success and the high-jumping start that ensures an objective breakthrough. What sets Brient apart is his focused determination and genuine love and passion for music! This inevitably sequelae in all of his product and Amp-1 is no different. It features the same level of advanced technical proficiency as all other Totaldac products.

Equally to Totaldac's DACs, the Amp-1 reproduces much-needed density, the right amount of details and operates with a recognized vibrant inner core that closely corresponds with the music's inner heart. 


In combination with d1-direct DAC and d1-driver, the Amp-1 really shows it's advantages. This doesn't discredit amp's overall system synergy by any means. It's just that Amp-1 was designed within a full-blown Totaldac environment, by the designer who knows all of the qualities of his product inside out and understands both of their technical and sonic capacities. The Totaldac combo has provided an unprecedented signal/music flow that pushed me to go through many more music references than usual. Not only for the sake of assessment but as I simply wanted to hear my favorite tracks through this unusually potent high-end audio set-up.  


There is something about the Amp-1 crispiness and clarity that sets it apart from the usual crowd. Amp-1 paints the notes on the sonic canvas with the real world color gamut. It shares some qualities of the Lamm M1.2 Reference hybrid monoblock power amplifiers, that I've been using and cherish for years. Lamm's are among a very few hybrid amplifiers that operate with distinct harmonic correctness and a properly weighed sonic signature regardless of the music. They are also among the industry's longest ongoing manufactured power amplifiers. I like and love Lamm's very much and discovering similar qualities in Amp-1 puts the Totaldac on a special plane for yours truly. 

Totaldac is a financially independent business entity and all of the R&D is internally financed from the very start. This gives Brient creative freedom that led to the development of propriety and exclusive technologies. Previous business experiences, engagements, and contacts allow him to employ highly specialized and sub-contractor working in the field of telecommunication equipment. Like other Totaldac products, the Amp-1 is clearly benefiting from all of this. 


Amp-1 concludes the Totaldac complete high-end audio system chain, that now offers everything from the front end up to the speakers and a power amplifier. 

The Totaldac products are reference components and part of the Mono and Stereo reference system for years and over the prolonged evaluation, the Totaldac Amp-1 amplifier has proven to be a highly valuable and potent partner for the tests. Its sheer balance and ability to present a healthy naturally weighted sonic performance is exemplary. A true, thoroughbred high-end audio power amplifier! It stays in the system!

2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the Totaldac and in decade Brient singlehandedly managed to establish a high-end audio brand that not only sticks out of the crowd, but it's up there with the giants of the high-end audio industry competing righteously and boldly. Amp-1 is a continuation of refinement and stand out qualities, that has already captivated a lot of audiophiles and music lovers across the globe. 

Amp-1 amplifier continues the Totaldac's legacy and as the d1-direct DAC and d1-driver, it has become an integral part of my reference listening setup for all the reasons stated in the review. It's a product worthy of highlight and pointing out as the rest of the Totaldac's product output. For what it represents I'm more than happy to acknowledge Brient's commendable work with the rare, 2020 Mono and Stereo Editors Choice Award.⧉

Matej Isak

THE PRICE


- 19900 Euro including VAT in Europe, 18.900 Euro excluding VAT when sold outside of Europe Union

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • stereo power amplifier
  • zero global feedback
  • fully discrete design
  • triode main stage and solid-state output
  • class AB with a medium level of class A for moderate power consumption and moderate heat in the room
  • 2500VA, 26kg LIVE-POWER transformer with separate windings for left and right channel
  • designed on Magico M6 and a 105dB large coax horn system
  • low noise truly tested on very high-efficiency speakers
  • RCA inputs
  • largest Mundorf binding posts
  • 2x160W under 8ohm
  • 2x300W under 4ohm
  • 2x500W under 2ohm
  • stable under 1ohm
  • 28dB gain
  • 1.5V sensitivity
  • input impedance from 0Hz to 20KHz > 2.3Kohm
  • frequency response at -3dB: 0.06Hz to 200KHz
  • distortion: 0.05% @ 20W
  • power consumption when music level is low: 165W @ 230V
  • 248mm height including feet
  • 483mm width
  • 453mm depth including connectors
  • 54kg weight

CONTACT


Totaldac
La Saigeais  
35140 Saint-Ouen-des-Alleux 
France  

office telephone: +33 2 90 02 11 39 (European time zone)
mobile telephone: +33 6 18 03 14 08 (European time zone)