Compact disc

T+A K6 Integrated Amp and Compact Disc Player Review

Sniff the air. Does it smell like that? It’s a trend, and it’s all your fault. The home theater juggernaut is sweeping the home entertainment landscape, and the manufacturers that targeted you in the dual-channel era want to seduce you in the multi-channel era. So, one of the potentially hottest genres is the Quality-All-In-One A/V system, as opposed to budget sector mud. It’s for those who think they should start enjoying the joys of DVD, but don’t want to commit a lot of storage space or too much money just yet.

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

You already know Linn’s smart and compact £2000 Classik and the similarly priced but inclusive Niroson speakers. German T+A joined the fray with the K6, and it’ll shake a cage or three. Although it’s far from perfect – no all-in-one unit can be – the K6 will appeal to potential buyers of the Niroson or Linn, while adding enough additional perceived value to justify a 3899 tag. £.99. It has for example a very fine phono module (we specify mm or mc), a positively ingenious cover so as not to see the cables if we place this beautiful beast on a table, and a pop-up motorized display which is a trick worthy of B&O. As you can see, T+A mixes lifestyle and audiophile with great taste.

A slab measuring 125x560x330mm (HWD), with an additional 25mm needed above when the screen is up, the K6 is a visual delight. Aside from the pop-up display and DVD disc tray, the front is bare. You don’t get any cleaner than this…and I thought the Niro was minimalist. Below the leading edge on the left, however, are three tiny “emergency buttons” for level adjustment, surround mode, source selection and basic transport functions, should you misplace the remote or if you run out of batteries. Again below, but to the right, is a headphone jack. The display is complete, and it’s the first I’ve seen in which the DTS and Dolby logos aren’t made up of crappy dots. It reveals the source, disc type, surround mode, timer (the K6 has an alarm function), tone setting, tuner functions and speaker array for the different modes surround.

Alas, the K6 doesn’t even come close to the Niroson for easy installation, with the rear panel connection network being somewhat intimidating for civilians. On its top are the speaker terminals for the five channels of a 5.1 system, plus a stereo pair for a second remote zone. Note that CD-approved terminals have holes in their pillars just large enough to accept banana plugs on the side. Also in this row is a preamp output jack for connecting the K6 to T+A’s active speakers or other devices.

Below the speaker connections are phono sockets for line-level analogue devices, including tape and two labeled ‘Aux’, with Aux 2 being the phono input. Then come the 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 to feed an active subwoofer. The remaining quadrant contains scarts for a satellite receiver, VCR and for powering a monitor. Also provided are inputs for an FM antenna and an auxiliary A/V input via three RCA connectors.

Despite the proliferation of connections – pretty much the norm these days – the actual setting of the various operations is simple to an obvious degree, the T+A pretty much takes care of itself through nifty auto-configuration modes. I wish more brands did: the K6 comes with a microphone that you plug into the headphone jack and then place at the main listening position. Press the right buttons and the K6 takes care of relative levels, channel delay times and speaker distances. And it was perfect. The tuner has its own auto-seek function, the clock sets itself automatically and there is a full-function alarm clock. Very easy.

I fed the K6 into the Marantz FT4200 plasma display and connected it to the five Martin-Logan plus subs. I soon realized the power just wasn’t enough, so I opted for five LS3/5A plus subs. Which brings me to a gripe I’ve had ever since I heard the term ‘DIN’ – which I’ve always found appropriate, as a ‘din’ is an unholy noise.

T+A, alas, uses the Continental method to state power output, whereas users in the UK (and US) tend to assume that, for example, “50W/ch” means 50W under 8 ohms at any time. What starts with 85W in the K6 turns out to be 85W/ch in stereo at 4 ohms. Turn on all five, and you’re looking at 55W. In 4 ohms, however. Which I think makes it more of a 5×30 water. And that’s just not enough power unless you’re using very high sensitivity, low impedance speakers. The only reason the LS3/5As worked so well is that they are oddballs and you can never tell what the 11 ohm impedance will do….

Pardon the brevity, but I focused on DVD performance, which is why this device exists: the world is full of AM/FM receivers and life sucks without Jimmy Young. After enjoying a full demonstration at the factory and enjoying the actual device at home, I was immediately won over by an unexpected force: the video performance of the DVD was outstanding. I also used a pretty crappy disc, as a first test, Sam Raimi’s Army Of Darkness Collector’s Edition, the widescreen DTS disc which has less than crisp visuals. Somehow the T+A managed to give a finer, more detailed and less washed-out image.

It was like that disc after disc, sticking, of course, to Region 2 via SCART; I guess that says a lot about conditioning and prejudice. Suffice to say, T+A has optimized the K6 for European conditions, and the gain isn’t subtle. The transfers I thought were so much better than what other players allowed me to experience, and the video alone is one aspect of the performance that goes a long way towards justifying a price that most would associate with high credibility splits .

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Once I got the hang of the less intuitive remote, I learned to appreciate the convenience of the design. But the K6 is limited in its appeal by its restrictive output. I suspect T+A has a set of speakers that, when driven by the K6, will propel you out of the room; clearly, hungry speakers are not advised. I tried the unit in stereo mode with Loth-X’s high-sensitivity Ion Amaze, and the match made much more sense. Take that into consideration if you fancy a demo.

Within its operating range, the K6 is clean and precise, with tight and extended lower registers that are unimpeded by the Descent. For fans of blockbusters, the low end will do justice to explosions, thunderstorms and other woofer busters, while a tour of a Prince DVD revealed more musical bass information is also well served.

One of the K6’s most notable strengths is its detailed midband, and it delivers conversation through the center channel with plenty of clarity, so garbled speech was more easily understood. This also resulted in very fine imaging, with particularly convincing positioning effects. I used a number of rollover scenes to test the consistency of transitions from speaker to speaker, and the K6 never disappointed. Its upper registers turned out to be as detailed as the mid band, but there is a slight sharpness that could be exacerbated by bright sounding speakers. Which presents a dilemma.

Clearly, the K6 has sound of a caliber that justifies the very speakers it can’t drive. If this unit had another 30W/channel, it would be a dream with Sonus Faber Cremona Auditors. Conversely, most high-sensitivity speakers lean towards bright, so the K6 wouldn’t be flattered to be heard through, say, horns. I’m sure there are speakers that have high sensitivity and silky highs. I just can’t name them.

Tough speaker choices aside, the K6 is a product that gives a sense of security. You’ll know it’s money well spent because the unit delivers the goods and it smacks of the same qualities that make Mercedes more appealing to most than a Reliant Robin. If I were another AV company with a two-letter name and an ampersand, I’d be looking over my shoulder.

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SIDEBAR: TECHY BOUTS T+A is too German, too serious to skimp on, even if a product like K6 is aimed at normal people rather than fire-breathing purists. Despite its turnkey nature, the K6 is capable of handling Dolby Digital and Pro Logic II, DTS, mono and stereo, plus half a dozen assorted sound fields such as “church” and “jazz club”. It uses a Burr-Brown 20-bit A/D converter and four Wolfson 192 kHz/24-bit D/A converters, and the circuit is “supported by” special operational amplifiers from Burr-Brown and Analog Devices, and the K6 is equipped with WIMA FKP polypropylene capacitors.

T+A does much of the K6’s power for its seven internal amplifiers. In order to deliver satisfying power – a 5.1 system and a second zone in stereo – in a compact space, T+A used a compact, cool-running device with a capacity of 500 W with ‘intelligent’ AC power technology. Its efficiency would be 90%, to ensure operation at low temperatures. Again, the K6 is itself a kind of heatsink, the full solid aluminum casing with an anodized finish. Despite so much in such a compact chassis, performance hasn’t been compromised: signal paths are short and every subsection is shielded. Remember: we are talking about a German product. These guys even have a machine that shakes the hell out of every component before it gets the stamp of approval. Wild and crazy guys, those Germans.

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

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