T+A K6 Integrated Amp and Compact Disc Player Reviewed

T+A K6 Integrated Amp and Compact Disc Player Reviewed

Residing in the "where are they now file" (much like Spinal Tap when in Atlanta) Germany's T+A came and went in the American market pretty quickly. Perhaps some day they will be back but their K6 integrated amp had lots of promise. Read the full Ken Kessler review along with words on the matching T+A CD player.

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.

Additional Resources
• Read audiophile power amp reviews from the likes of Krell, Mark Levinson, Audio Research, Linn, Naim, VAC, VTL, NuForce, Pass Labs and many others here.
• Read about tubes on the Audiophile blog, AudiophileReview.com.
• Want to read audiophile stereo preamp reviews? We have dozens from brands like ARC, Krell, Classé and many more.
• In the market for audiophile loudspeakers? Here are over 100 reviews from brands like Wilson Audio, THIEL, MartinLogan, Bowers & Wilkins, PSB, Vandersten, Magnepan and many more.

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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Once I'd mastered the less-than-intuitive remote, I grew to enjoy the sheer convenience of the design. But the K6 is limited in its appeal by its restrictive output. I suspect that T+A has an array of speakers which, when driven by the K6, will blast you out of the room; clearly, hungry speakers aren't advisable. I tried the unit in stereo mode with Loth-X's high-sensitivity Ion Amaze, and the match was much more sensible. Just take this into consideration if you fancy a demo.

Within its operating range, the K6 is clean and precise-sounding, with tight, extended lower registers not embarrassed by the Descent. For lovers of blockbusters, the bottom end will do justice to explosions, thunderstorms and other woofer busters, while a spin of a Prince DVD revealed that more musical bass information is well-served, too.

One of the most notable strengths of the K6 is its detailed mid-band, and it deliver conversation via the centre channel with plenty of clarity, such that garbled speech was more readily comprehended. It also resulted in very fine imagery, with effects positioning especially convincing. I used a number of fly-by scenes to test for consistency in transitions from speaker to speaker, and the K6 never disappointed. Its upper registers proved as detailed as the midband, but there's a slight sharpness which might be exacerbated by bright-sounding speakers. Which presents a quandary.

Clearly, the K6 has sound of a calibre which warrants the very speakers it cannot drive. If this unit had another 30W/channel, it would be a dream with Sonus Faber Cremona Auditors. Conversely, most high-sensitivity speakers err toward the bright, so the K6 would not be flattered by being heard through, say, horns. I'm sure there are speakers out there which have high sensitivity and silky top ends. I just can't name 'em.

Tough speaker choices aside, the K6 is a product which imparts a sense of security. You'll know it's money well spent because the unit delivers the goods and it reeks of the same qualities which make Mercedes more appealing to most than a Reliant Robin. If I were another A/V company with a name consisting of two letters and an ampersand, I'd be looking over my shoulder.

BBG 020 8863 9117

SIDEBAR: THE TECHY BITS T+A is too German, too serious to scrimp, even though a product like K6 is aimed at normal people rather than fire-breathing purists. Despite its turnkey nature, K6 is able to handle Dolby Digital and Pro Logic II, DTS, mono and stereo, plus a half-dozen assorted sound fields such as 'church' and 'jazz club'. It employs a Burr-Brown 20-bit A/D converter and four Wolfson 192kHz/24-bit D/A converters, and the circuit is 'supported by' special op-amps from Burr-Brown and Analog Devices, and the K6 is fitted with WIMA FKP polypropylene capacitors.

T+A makes much of the K6's power supply for its seven internal amplifiers. In order to deliver satisfactory power - a 5.1 system and a second zone in stereo - in a compact space, T+A utilised a compact, cool-running device with 500W capability with 'intelligent' mains supply technology. Its efficiency is said to be 90 percent, to ensure cool running. Then again, the K6 is itself a heat sink of sorts, the case made entirely of solid aluminium with an anodised finish. Despite cramming so much into such a compact chassis, the performance hasn't been compromised: signal paths are short and each sub-section is shielded. Remember: we're talking a German product. These guys even have a machine which shakes the hell out of every component before it's granted the seal of approval. Wild and crazy guys, those Germans.

Additional Resources
• Read audiophile power amp reviews from the 
likes of Krell, Mark Levinson, Audio Research, Linn, Naim, VAC, VTL, NuForce, Pass Labs and many others here.
• Read about tubes on the Audiophile blog, AudiophileReview.com.• Want to read audiophile stereo preamp reviews? We have dozens from brands like ARC, Krell, Classé and many more.

• In the market for audiophile loudspeakers? Here are over 100 reviews from brands like Wilson Audio, THIEL, MartinLogan, Bowers & Wilkins, PSB, Vandersten, Magnepan and many more.

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