Sniff the air. Smell that? It's a trend, and it's all your fault. The juggernaut that is home cinema is rolling over the home entertainment landscape, and those manufacturers who targeted you in the two-channel days want to seduce you in the multi-channel era. Thus, one of the potentially hottest genres is the Quality-All-In-One A/V system, as opposed to the budget sector muck. It's aimed at those who feel they should start to savour the joys of DVD, but don't yet want to commit vast shelf acreage or too much money.
You already know about Linn's clever and compact Classik at £2000 and the like-priced-but-including-speakers Niroson. Germany's T+A has joined the fray with the K6, and it's going to rattle a cage or three. While far from perfect - no all-in-one unit can be - the K6 will appeal to potential purchasers of either the Niroson or Linn, while adding enough extra perceived value to justify a tag of £3899.99. It features, for example, a very fine phono module (you specify mm or m-c), a positively ingenious cover so that the cables won't be seen should you place this handsome beast on a table, and a motorised pop-up display which is a trick worthy of B&O. As you can see, T+A mixes lifestyle with audiophile with no small degree of relish.
A slab measuring 125x560x330mm (HWD), with another 25mm needed above when the display is raised, the K6 is a visual delight. Aside from the pop-up display and the DVD disc tray, the front is naked. You don't get cleaner than this...and I thought the Niro was minimalist. Underneath the leading edge on the left, though, are three tiny 'emergency buttons' for level setting, surround mode, source select and basic transport functions, should you misplace the remote or run out of batteries. Again underneath, but on the right, is a headphone socket. The display is comprehensive, and it's the first I've seen in which the DTS and Dolby logos are not made up of crappy dots. It reveals source, disc type, surround mode, timer (the K6 has an alarm facility), tone setting, tuner functions and loudspeaker array for the various surround modes.
Alas, the K6 doesn't even approach the Niroson for easy installation, the back panel's connection array being somewhat daunting for civilians. Across its top are the speaker terminals for the five channels of a 5.1 system, plus a stereo pair for a remote second zone. Note that the CD-approved terminals have holes in their pillars just large enough to accept banana plugs from the side. Also in that row is a pre-amp out socket for connecting the K6 to T+A's active speakers or other devices.
Below the speaker connections are phono sockets for analogue line level devices including tape and two labelled 'Aux', Aux 2 being the phono input. Next are optical and coaxial digital inputs, an input and an output for a digital tape recorder, two links for compatibility with remote control systems, and the coaxial output for feeding an active subwoofer. The remaining quadrant contains SCARTs for a satellite receiver, a VCR and for feeding to a monitor. Also provided are inputs for an FM aerial and an auxiliary A/V input through three RCA connectors.
Despite the proliferation of connections - pretty much the norm these days - the actual tuning of the various operations is straightforward to a no-brainer degree the T+A pretty much takes care of itself through crafty automatic set-up modes. I wish more brands would do this: the K6 comes with a microphone which you plug into the headphone socket and then place at the main listening position. Hit the right buttons and the K6 takes care of relative levels, channel delay times and loudspeaker distances. And it was spot-on. The tuner has its own auto-seek facility, the clock sets itself automatically, and there's a full-function alarm clock. Easy-peasy.
I fed the K6 into the Marantz FT4200 plasma screen, and connected it to the five Martin-Logans plus sub. I soon learned that the power just wasn't sufficient, so I then opted for five LS3/5As plus sub. Which leads me to a gripe I've had ever since I heard the term 'DIN' - which I always felt appropriate, since a 'din' is an unholy noise.
T+A, alas, uses the Continental method of stating power output, whereas users in the UK (and the USA) tend to assume that, say, '50W/ch' means 50W into 8 ohms at all times. What starts out as 85W in the K6 turns out to be 85W/ch into stereo at 4 ohms. Switch on all five, and you're looking at 55W. Into 4 ohms, though. Which, by my reckoning, makes this more like a 5x30 watter. And that just ain't enough power unless you're using very high sensitivity, low impedance speakers. The only reason the LS3/5As worked so well is, well, they're oddballs and you can never tell what the 11 ohm impedance will do....
Forgive the brevity, but I concentrated on the DVD performance, which is why this unit exists: the world is full of AM/FM receivers and life sucks sans Jimmy Young. After having enjoyed a comprehensive demonstration at the factory and I'd savoured the actual device at home, I was instantly taken by one unexpected strength: the DVD video performance was exceptional. I used a pretty crappy disc, too, as my first test, the collector's edition of Sam Raimi's Army Of Darkness, the DTS widescreen disc which has less-than-crisp visuals. Somehow, the T+A managed to throw up a finer, more detailed, less-washed-out image.
It was like this for disc after disc, sticking, of course, to Region 2 via SCART; I suppose it speaks volumes about conditioning and prejudice. Suffice it to say, T+A has optimised the K6 for European conditions, and the pay-off ain't subtle. Transfers I thought were so-so were much better than other players allowed me to experience, and the video alone is an aspect of performance that goes a long way toward justifying a price tag most would associate with high-credibility separates.
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