Greg Handy developed a passion for audio in his early teens when he worked as an installer of car audio systems. This experience taught him about passive and active crossovers, subwoofers, and challenged acoustics, as well as how to troubleshoot persistent bugbears like ground loops and noise.
From there, his interests grew to home audio and home theater systems. Once he bought his own home, he began installing sound systems and theater systems in different rooms, spending much time and money along the way. It wasn't long before he began doing the same for friends and family, then sharing his passion for AV with the HomeTheaterReview.com audience.
While writing a review of another integrated amplifier, I researched competitive products and stumbled across Lyngdorf Audio's TDAI-2170 integrated amplifier. Intrigued by what seemed like a never-ending array of interesting technologies, I inquired with the manufacturer, which turned into a conversation with Lyngdorf's head of national distribution for the United States, Claus Glaesner, and the opportunity to review the TDAI-2170.
Lyngdorf Audio is a descendant of the Steinway Lyngdorf partnership, founded by Peter Lyngdorf, an audio engineer with over 30 years of audio pioneering who at one time was the part owner of NAD Electronics and Snell Acoustics. He is also the current owner of Dali A/S speakers. Lyngdorf Audio is based in Denmark, where the company's products--which include amplifiers, integrated amplifiers, and a CD player--are manufactured.
The TDAI-2170 has three notable Lyngdorf design technologies: digital amplification, Room Perfect signal correction, and Intersample Clipping Correction (ICC). Digital amplification, as applied here, is not a loosely worded marketing gimmick, but real science and a newer way to amplify a digital audio signal. Some may criticize that statement, as most technology we see today has been around for a while but was not commercialized due to some impractical hurdle (such as cost) or a missing technological piece of the puzzle. And I am sure that is the case here. So, while the concept may not be new, there are not any digital amplifiers that I am aware of for consumer high-end audio applications that utilize the same technology as the TDAI-2170.
The TDAI-2170, rated at 170 watts per channel, will take a digital pulse code modulated (PCM) audio signal from any digital source (by USB, HDMI, or digital coax cable) and convert it to a pulse width modulated signal (PWM), with the help of a Texas Instruments Equibit chipset. The PWM signal is then applied to the output stage, which translates it to a low-voltage analog signal, with just two analog components, that will then drive your speakers. Lyngdorf may be the only consumer product that uses a linear non-feedback design operating near a constant 400 kHz.
Lyngdorf Audio explains that extremely precise and stable signal processing is required because there is no ability to employ negative feedback to correct errors, which is a common technique with both analog and digital amplifiers of a different design. To achieve power-supply accuracy of this level, it must deliver exact voltage to the output stage, regardless of the quality or stability of the electrical power grid that exists in your location. In fact, Lyngdorf states that its system is so stable, there is no need for external power filtering and line conditioning. In return for achieving such precision, the traditional digital-to-analog converter (DAC), analog preamplifier, and analog amplifier, along with all the various gain stages, filtering, conversions, and manipulations that would normally exist in a traditional analog amplifier, are eliminated. Lyngdorf refers to its digital amplifier as a power DAC because, while performing like a DAC, it creates power at the same time to drive the speakers. According the manufacturer, the process is superior to the traditional analog method, since it avoids so many stages of conversion.
Lyngdorf Audio promises that its digital amplification has several benefits. First, the design offers low noise in the signal path. As a result, the background is claimed to be dead silent. Lyngdorf even suggests testing this with the power on, turning the volume all the way up with no source playing and putting your ear to the tweeter, which will yield no hint of buzz or hiss of any kind. Second, you get bit-perfect clarity due to an undisturbed digital chain, since nothing is lost. Third, dynamic range exists along the entire volume range, due to the use of the power supply as the volume control. We have all experienced the lack of a large clear soundstage at low or even normal listening levels; I know I have, causing me to raise the volume to obtain the best performance or dynamic range. The manufacturer claims this characteristic is significantly eliminated, and that at low volume your system will sound more dynamic.
The second Lyngdorf technology included in the TDAI-2170 is its proprietary signal correction system, Room Perfect. Lyngdorf states that it will eliminate the need for acoustic room treatment and offers the flexibility to locate speakers up against the walls as needed. I know a room can significantly curtail sound quality, regardless how good your equipment is. Hard floors, glass windows, and speaker placement all have an effect. Perhaps you have had the pleasure of hearing an incredible speaker demonstration at a sophisticated high-end audio store, only to notice that they position the speakers four feet from the back and side walls and use a variety of bass traps and wall diffusers. Who has that kind of flexibility in their home? I know that would be hard for me. I do what I can, but let's face it, it's not always convenient or realistic to locate speakers in their optimum locations, nor is it easy to layer the room with acoustic treatment. With Room Perfect, Lyngdorf claims you can locate your speakers up against the front wall and/or against sidewalls and not fret with resonance panels. Other room-correction systems have preconceived time delay curves, which make your speakers lose their sonic characteristics. Room Perfect, on the other hand, has no preprogrammed curves, but rather listens to the speakers, in the room they are located in, and attempts to even out or smooth the signal to a more linear nature, maintaining the overall characteristics of the speakers.
Lastly, ICC is another Lyngdorf design: it determines signals that will cause clipping and subsequently lowers the digital level to prevent it. Many of today's recordings are mixed at a high level, which can cause certain DACs to create a signal beyond 0 dbFS. Anything beyond zero dB will clip, as the signal is non-existent. The clipped signal will translate into a harsher sound at higher audio frequency levels.
The TDAI-2170 is modular in its input and output design, so different input and output configurations are offered. The standard inputs include two sets of single-ended RCA analog inputs, two coaxial digital audio inputs that can handle up to 24-bit/192-kHz signals, and four optical digital (Toslink) audio inputs that support up to 24-bit/96-kHz. Standard outputs include one coaxial digital audio and one set of single-ended RCA analog outputs.
The optional HDMI module includes four HDMI inputs, supporting 24-bit/192-kHz, DSD64, and DSD128, along with one HDMI out. The manufacturer believes HDMI is a viable and useful digital standard, and many audio sources are now using this interface--for example, satellite or cable boxes that offer music channels and, of course, Blu-ray players for music and video on disc. This also allows the use of the TDAI-2170 in a two-channel video setup.
An optional USB module supports up to 32-bit/384-kHz files, including DXD, DSD64, and DSD128. This module is perfect for people who use their computer as their server or stream music from a site like TIDAL.
Lastly, there is a high-end analog input module with three sets of single-ended inputs and one set of balanced inputs. Audio enthusiasts love their analog devices, and they want them supported. The 2170 handles analog-to-digital conversion using an AKM-AK5394A A/D converter.
The TDAI 2170 does have home theater bypass capability, which allows you to adapt this integrated amp into your existing home theater setup. I did experiment with this functionality, and it worked well. By connecting your surround sound processor's front left and right preouts to one set of analog inputs on the TDAI 2170, and with a few setting changes in both my processor and TDAI, I was off and running. As suggested, I labeled that input as "Home Theater" within the Lyngdorf. Additionally, in this setup, you should connect your subwoofer directly to the TDAI following the manufacturer's instructions. In this way, the Lyngdorf Room Perfect functionality benefits lower frequencies. I also had my processor automatically power on the TDAI with the remote trigger feature on both units, making it easy to use on a daily basis.
The base price of the TDAI-2170 is $3,999 with the standard inputs. My review sample was loaded up with every conceivable input module, which bumped the retail price to $4,999. It's not cheap; but then again, if it delivers on all the promises made by the manufacturer, it truly could be a bargain.
I know one thing to be true about the TDAI-2170. It's a good-looking piece of equipment. Its appearance, without any ambiguity, lets you know it's an upscale piece. The front panel is approximately one-third black glass on the left side and two-thirds barbeque matte black aluminum on the right. The glass portion is the display, which shows source selection, volume level, and various other settings as you toggle through the menus. To the right of the glass display, a small round knob controls the input selection, while a large, round wheel controls volume. The case is made up of six thick aluminum black panels, secured with just a few screws. Fit and finish are exquisite. The unit is 3.9 inches high, 17.7 inches wide, and 14.2 inches deep. It weighs in at 17.6 pounds. It feels solid and looks sleek, being understated and dressy at the same time.
Well, Lyngdorf certainly has my attention! Now let's see how all of this technology, and the promises that come with it, shakes out.
I set up shop in my dedicated theater room, which is a cozy space that measures 14 feet wide by 13.5 feet deep. Moving my reference Meridian 8000 speakers to the side, I moved in a set of B&W CM10s--right up against the front and sidewalls, since this is not merely suggested but actually beneficial when using Room Perfect. Due to the CM10's large plinth, the actual speaker column was still four inches off the back and sidewalls. Lyngdorf set along its CD2 CD player, which I connected to the 2170 by coaxial digital cable. I also connected a MacBook Pro by USB to the 2170 so that I could stream CD-quality music from TIDAL.
Following the manufacturer's instructions, I performed the Room Perfect setup. A studio-quality microphone is included as standard equipment with the TDAI-2170, along with a real microphone stand to hold it. I moved around the room, taking nine measurements, with the first measurement being in the main listening position, referred to as the "Focus" position. Twenty minutes later, the TDAI-2170 indicated I had reached 98 percent Room Knowledge and 39 percent Room Correction (that's the Lyngdorf terminology that appears on the display). I was advised this is an outstanding result. There is also the ability to add measurements to an existing calibration, which I thought was a nice feature. Within Room Perfect is an equalization function, which allows the user to amplify or attenuate certain frequencies to their tastes by choosing a preconfigured "voicing" category. For the purpose of this review, I set the TDAI-2170 to neutral. Okay then, there was nothing else to do except to listen.
With Room Perfect set to Bypass (meaning off), I streamed the song "Fight No More" by Alabama Shakes. In the Bypass mode, I noticed excessive mid-bass and low-bass boom, which was expected given the location of the speakers. Engaging Room Perfect with the Global setting (the setting intended for a broader listening window, allowing one to wander about their room), the system impressively eliminated all of the excessive bass. Clarity was impressive, and per the manufacturer's claim the background was dead-silent. Depth was three dimensional, offering easy location of instrumentation and vocals. Speaking of vocals, lead singer Brittany Howard sounded natural, with clarity that projected nicely off a silent backdrop. Moving to the Focus setting within Room Perfect, sitting in the prime seating location, I experienced even more improvement, with vocals more pronounced and greater separation between background and foreground. Instrumentation was more clearly identified. Everything was just better. Changing the setting one more time, back to Bypass and therefore turning Room Perfect off made the sound seem unbearable in comparison.
Next up, with Room Perfect engaged, I listened to both the streamed and the CD of one of my default tracks from Fleetwood Mac, "Song Bird." Through Tidal, Christine McVie's vocals were superb, with a clarity yet softness that sounded very natural and non-fatiguing. Clarity, imaging, and soundstage were commendable. Playing the same track on CD using the Lyngdorf CD2, there was noticeable improvement, with an even more pronounced three dimensionality of the sonic image, improved upper frequencies, a more spacious soundstage, and a nice touch of forwardness that improved the sound overall, in my opinion. I had not experienced this level of distinction between Tidal and CD in past comparisons. Taking Room Perfect out of the equation, the mid range bloat that I had experienced on the first track was back...and unacceptable.
Next I played and listened to the entire album Buena Vista Social Club. Once again, I compared the CD and Tidal versions, with CD again winning out. However, both sources produced excellent results. The Focus Room Perfect setting again proved to be my preferred setting, eliminating that mid-bass boom and pushing the vocals more forward. The combined effect of a dark black absorbing background, clearly located instruments, and vocals projecting off that background with exceptional clarity and detail (yet without being overly analytical) was just an amazing result.
I spent hours listening and experimenting with various artists and genres, often comparing Tidal to CD. The TDAI-2170 could do no wrong, and the distinction between streaming versus CD was consistently noticeable. The CD2 stood out and proved that it's truly an exceptional player, which I will have to elaborate on in a separate review.
I also noticed that, even at lower volume levels, the system still exhibited dynamic range, over and above what I am accustomed to. I was able to enjoy music at a lower volume level without the desire to push the sound level to show off the system's capabilities. This is a nice characteristic if you like soft background music in certain situations.
Next I tested the Intersample Clipping Correction or ICC by turning the feature off and on (auto, actually). With certain CDs, I noticed improvement in the upper registers, providing an advantage on tracks where I would normally notice a harshness--for example, in cymbals or tambourines. Alternatively, on certain recordings I could not discern a difference. I attribute this to the nature of the recording itself; some older recordings may not have had the clipping to begin with.
During various listening sessions, there were times when I had an acoustic memory of a song and would anticipate a certain smearing or crashing of cymbals. I am not sure I consciously knew these offensive sounds existed until I heard the song play back through the TDAI-2170, without those flaws, free of the screeching sound I had always assumed was normal.
One common effect of an amplification design like this is a different volume-control feel than what I am accustomed to. More turns of the volume knob are required to reach a desired level of volume, either up or down. I am not sure this is really a bad thing, just something I noticed as being different. It's also a characteristic of my seven-channel NAD M27 amplifier, which is an Analog Class D design. Perhaps it is the characteristic of switching output stages. Regardless, it just takes a little getting used to.
Another observation, which may seem related, is that there is a sensation that the TDAI-2170 does not play as loud as a traditional amplifier. Over time I came to the conclusion that the Lyngdorf has an uncolored character that does not sound overdriven at higher volume levels, providing a sensation of lower volume. The fact of the matter is it plays plenty loud; I was asked several times by family members to turn it down during my listening sessions. Plus, the CM10 speakers are not easy to drive, yet they still had the bass and full-range sound that I yearn for.
One feature I wish the TDAI-2170 had is the ability to wirelessly stream audio. Given the modern design of this single-unit audio system, which I think would have immense appeal to younger audiophiles (as well as old), the ability to wirelessly connect would be a logical feature. Perhaps a module could be engineered for that purpose, but it would have to be at the expense of an existing module. Of course there are separate component solutions for this, such as the Bluesound Node. Still, a single-unit solution would be sleeker and more hassle-free.
Comparison and Competition
Of course there are many integrated amplifiers on the market; however, by limiting comparisons to direct digital amplifiers, the choices become more limited. I am aware of only a few. The closest competitor I could find is the NAD M2 from the Master Series, but it appears that this unit has been recently discontinued. Alternatively, NAD still has the C 390DD from its Classic Series. It, too, is a digital amplifier using a Direct Digital DDFA chipset. This technology is non-linear and uses a feedback loop for errors, operating at a self-oscillating rate from 400 kHz to 100 kHz. The NAD does not possess any of the other technologies that Lyngdorf offers, like a room correction system, but I suspect the benefits of direct digital amplification exist in this piece to some level. In the end, I did not find a true competitor to the TDAI-2170.
The Lyngdorf TDAI-2170 is one of the most unique designs that I have ever had the pleasure to experience. The benefits of direct digital amplification became clear to me as a viable and, in many ways, preferred method of amplification. The sound was stunning, clear, and articulate, with fantastic soundstage and dynamics. The dead-quiet background is an added benefit. The unusual dynamic range at lower volumes was yet another unexpected benefit of the design, and let's not forget the stunning results of Room Perfect. The ability to locate speakers up against walls and/or greatly minimize the need for acoustic treatment is a huge benefit. Lastly, Intersample Clipping Correction improved dynamic range in the upper frequency area (impressively on some CDs).
The TDAI-2170 is a wonderful modern solution for a world-class two-channel audio system. The claims made by Lyngdorf Audio held true, and when you consider the whole package, the Lyngdorf TDAI-2170 is an incredible value. Add it to your must-audition list before you make any two-channel audio purchase decision. You will be glad you did.
• Check out our Stereo Amplifiers category page to read similar reviews.
• Steinway Lyngdorf Announces Dolby Atmos and AURO-3D Compatible Surround Processor at HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Visit the Lyngdorf website for more product information.