I have been in this hobby for 40 years now. I sold high-end audio back in the 80's and 90's. I have been fotunate listen and own many a great valued audio products over the years. Dynaco ST-70, Pas 3X, Acoustat X's with DD servo amps, Quad 57's, Rogers LS 3/5A, Musical Fidelity A1, David Berning EA 230, and a few more. Now you can easily add the Jan Plummer's TBI Millinia amp to this list.
Here is a modern day giant killer amp like the Musical Fidelity was 25+ years ago. It is actually an integrated, so amp-preamp combo's in the $5-10K should be worried about this little integated amp.
The power output with 8AA batteies is about 10WPC, so a 12V external battey should put out about 15-18WPC. The AC power supply or 24V battery system will put out 32WPC. I hope that does not disqualify this amp in the low wattage systems. The Millenia retails for $500. But I thought it would be an insult to include this amp in the Cheap and Cheerful circle, it is way above that.
I have owned and sold many SET's, OTL's, Class A's, Tri-paths over the last 40 years, Rex has too, and heard many more including Class D. I have never liked Class D amps before, but this one is fantastic. Oh my gosh, did I say that? But according to this review from Positive Feedback two weeks ago, the TBI is actually Class BD topology, so says Jan Plummer and does not have the switching problems that Class D amps have.http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue62/millenia.htm
If you read carefully Positive Feedback's review, this amp is at the top of the heap in the Cheap and Cheerful area, so says the reviewer. But I feel they made a mistake by not using the 24V battery system like I am. If he had, this TBI would have matched or beat his SET set-up. The 24V battey system will sound about 40% better than the AC power supply, probably 15 % better than a 12V.
A close fiend, Rex has one also, and he did a Cardas speaker binding post mod that improved the sound by another 30%. He modded mine and darn if he wasn't right. He still has not the nerve to mod the RCA connectors yet, and that should get even a further improvement. I emailed TBI, and Jan Plummer encourages DIY'ers to modify his Millenia amp. Other mods we have done is to use the AMR fuse that sells for $20. That makes about a 3-5% improvement depending on your system. And another 10% improvement came with using the drum gel pads underneath the amp. Sweetwater Sound has these for $6.99 shipped, well worth the money. I wrote Jan about by-passing the volume control, but he warned against that. Jan said that volume set at max will eliminate the volume control by 99%. You can run this as a straight amp feeding from Dac/preamp, that is how I used it. Thick speaker wires can make the amp top heavy, so Rex said he turned his amp upside down and reversed his IC's.
So what does this amp sound like? Like a JCOTLSETCLASSAPASS amp.
Now I won't bore you with these details, but the TBI has the quickness of the best OTL's and Class A's, it has the transparency and detail of the best SET and Class A amps, is has the speed and quickness of the best OTL's and Class A's, it has the smoothness and aliveness of the best Set and OTL amps, it plays vocals like the best SET and OTL's, and it images like the best OTL and SET amps. That is why I call this the JCOTLSETCLASSAPASS amp. If John Curl or Nelson Pass came out with a tube amp, this is what it would sound like. I would love to be Nelson Pass's neighbor and take this wee tiny TBI amp and put it on his monster horns. Even Pass would be surprised.
One thing the TBI out-shines all of these other amps on is holographic imaging. I would say that with the noise floor being so low with batteies and the extra detail that it has, holographic imaging is out of this world.
If several instruments are playing in the background, this amp will separate them and pinpoint every one. If there is someone in the background barely shuffling their feet or snapping their fingers, you will hear it. If the singer is grunting or smacking their lips, you will hear it. When horn players take a deep breath, it will jump out at you with great clarity. For the first time in my life, I feel I have left my 2-channel stereo system from my living room and now actually sitting with the recording engineer in the recording studio. This is unbelievable.
Yes, you get all that without ever losing the aliveness and magic of the best tube amps in the world. Compared to any conventional tube amp with output tansformers, the TBI makes them sound very veiled. Basically, you have the sound of three of the best amps sitting in a wee tiny box. I wonder how Jan Plummer of TBI pulled that one off? And where are those tubes? If your OTL's or SET amps run to hot for you during the summer, substitute this amp instead. You won't miss a lick.
For those that have to make a statement with your audio buddies, just hide this amp behind your monster expensive one, no one will ever know. If you don't have one to hide this behind, just buy one of those 100 pound Krell KSA amps. I have seen several selling on Ebay and Audiogon for about $1500, get this TBI Millenia for $500, and for $2000 you have the best sounding Krell KSA amp in the world. When your friends ask you how you did it, just tell them you made a wee tiny mod to make the Krell sound so good. Me? I have mine proudly sitting on top of my $9K Set amp.
The speakers that Rex and I have tried this amp on is the following. Anthony Gallo Classico 3 and 4's, Gallo Strada's, Tonian TL-D1's, and Rethm Trishna's. The Classico 3 and 4's will go down to a 4 ohm load, but they have no crossovers. The 3's are 88db efficiency, the TBI plays them loud enough for me. But I would never run this amp with Magnepans or Acoustats, too in-efficient and complicated load.
One negative that I have to report. This amp is so addictive. I have to turn my system on every day just to make sure I have not lost the magic, which I never do. With batteies, I never hear that electronic glare that I hear with AC power supplies. And with so much detail, you will have to re-listen to every one of your songs. You will be amazed at what you have missed.
And there you have it. The modern day best value amp of today. This TBI integrated amp clearly deserves to be a classic 25 years from now. If nothing else, buy one for your wife or kid and when they are out of the house, just slip this in your reference system. Then you will have to buy a second one.
Blues, jazz, pop, rock, easy listening.
list goes on and on