T+A MP 3100 HV Multi-Media Player review
T+A is a well established, highly respected German manufacturer founded in 1978. Whilst not omnipresent here in the UK, T+A is a significant player in Germany, with consumer audio products representing the State of the Art. The company has an enviable ethical/sustainable approach to production, with the Herford campus in Germany consisting entirely of “green” buildings. In manufacture, the company avoids substances that are potentially damaging to the environment, either during production or disposal. T+A do not have assembly lines as such, but employ a traditional hand-crafted system with specialists working in small groups, manually assembling and checking each sub assembly. The family run business also has very close links to technical universities in Germany, with research, training and career opportunities for gifted pupils.
Previously, T+A had produced valve amplifiers and concluded from their experience that a significant contribution to the enticing sound produced by valve equipment, was attributable to the high power supply rails employed in this type of equipment. T+A found that utilizing high voltages within circuitry for solid state gear improved the sonic qualities of these too. Whilst this was applicable primarily to amplifiers, this technique audibly improved the output stages of source equipment too. For the MP 3100 HV, the fully balanced design, dual mono analogue output stages are using such higher voltage power rails, hence the “HV”.
The level of care and attention to detail that has been lavished on the design of the MP 3100 is something to behold. For example, there is absolutely no doubt that T+A have taken electrical and mechanical isolation very seriously with this design. The player is heavy, extremely solid and instantly inspires confidence. Construction of the case is based on an internal framework of 10 mm thick machined aluminium plates. No ferro-magnetic components are utilized and each section is encased in its own machined aluminium sub-chassis.
The SACD drive is a new design for the MP 3100 HV, incorporating heavy duty motors and featuring two-stage mechanical isolation. The first stage consists of a substantial aluminium case for the drive to provide effective damping of vibrations. Second, is a three point suspension designed to eliminate resonances. T+A clearly recognize the importance of keeping the spinning disc utterly stable, thereby reducing the need for error correction. As they claim, “Less error correction results in greater accuracy of the decoding process”.
Now I have to come clean here as I may be guilty of more than a hint of reviewer bias. This predisposition to T+A led me to asking Struan Mackenzie, MD of Hi-Fi Corner, if I could review this lovely thing. The story goes, I was listening to a truly high-end system belonging to a good friend of mine. The CD player in his system was a T+A 3000 HV, predecessor to the design under review. At the time, we were listening to one of the marvelous Reference Recordings, but on vinyl. The level of vinyl surface noise was somewhat less than quiet, but the recording of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances was exemplary. After the first side finished, I briefly left the room to visit the restroom. On my return we continued listening. Half way through the second side I piped up with “Well you can't complain about the surfaces on this side”. Now I've always been a big analogue fan, never absolutely and entirely comfortable with digital sound. The medium always seem to lack the depth and sweetness of analogue, often with some degree of hardness when HF, particularly on heavy strings. Now what I hadn't sussed was that my friend was now playing “side 2” from the SACD version of the symphony. Cheeky monkey eh? We played a few more CD's and this was not a one-off. For the first time I can say that his T+A 3000 HV had managed to achieve what no other player/streamer had previously done for me. Consistently pure, unadulterated sweetness and joy.
Now, would the newer and more versatile MP 3100 HV elicit the same response?
Like the 3000 HV, the T+A MP 3100 HV player features separate high-performance converters for PCM and DSD. Digital and analogue signal processing are kept entirely separate from each other, and specific sub-assemblies are galvanically isolated - in other words, electrically isolated from each other so as to prevent any current flow from one section to another. The digital and analogue power supplies are completely separate too, each housed in its own physically isolated compartment on each side of the unit. There are two IEC power connections to the player – one for the digital circuitry and one for the analogue circuits. This separation minimizes any interference from one type of circuit to the other.
The two channels are kept entirely separate, designed on the double-mono principle. The player has totally independent paths for PCM and PWM (pulse width modulation e.g. SACD). Furthermore, they are of entirely discrete construction, without integrated circuit operational amplifiers. The MP 3100 HV is capable of carrying out full signal processing of DSD bitstream data, in addition to processing PCM data to a very high standard.
The list of source capabilities is impressive and comprises the following:
SCAD-transport, FM radio, FM-HD, DAB+, Internet Radio, High Res Streaming Client with music services Deezer, Tidal and Qobuz. Bluetooth streaming.
On the input front, there are 5x S/PDIF: a standard coax, 2 BNC 192 kSps/24 bit and 2 optical TOS-Link 96 kSps /24 bit. In addition there is a USB Device-Mode up to. 384 ksps (PCM) and DSD512 DSD256. DSD512 supports asynchronous data transfer (on a Windows PC, only with appropriate driver installed) - 2 USB Master-Mode for USB-Mass storage (Stick or HDD)
Analogue outputs are balanced XLR or RCA single-ended. There is a coax LCPM digital output. There are no less than 3 antenna (supplied) attachable to the rear of the unit for Wireless LAN, Bluetooth communication and the FD 100 remote control supplied with the player.
Operation of the MP 3100 HV is straight forward. Although the extensive set-up menu can appear a little daunting at first, there is Germanic logic and organisation here that aids the process considerably. Of course, once the player is up and running, day to day operation remains as straight forward as can be. The unit is supplied with the FD 100 remote control which has its own re-charge docking station (and instruction manual!). It springs to life when it is moved, otherwise it's in sleep mode....I must come back as an FD100 :-). The remote is not exclusive to the 3100 HV but is operational with other T+A equipment too.
The fascia of the MP 3100 HV has two large knobs which control source selection and navigation/track selection respectively. The feel of these controls is as solid and positive as can be imagined. Additionally, there are eight touch sensitive controls which handle the CD/SACD playback functions, unit set-up as well as a source “favourites” list. When the unit is in standby mode, only the first on-off touch control is dimly lit. In addition to remote control, there is a T+A app for iPhone and Android. With this you can source select, access your music service content/search new music and adjust settings on the MP 3100 HV, including the four digital filters. It's also very useful for the initial set-up procedure when linking up the various streaming services. Response times were very fast with minimal lag.
The 3100 HV has four selectable FIR (finite impulse response) filters. The oversampling is achieved with 56 bit precision. The characteristics of the various filters are extensively described in the manual and the audible effects are relatively subtle, but nonetheless you will end up having a preference for one over the others, possibly for different ones for different genres of music. I settled for the Bezier/IIR filter which produces the most “analogue” characteristics best suited for classical music. Reading between the lines, it seems to be the one T+A recommend for this genre of music.
I feel certain that by now you would have gathered that I'm inclined towards favouring the MP 3100 HV. And this would not be far from the truth. However, following the initial powering up, straight from the box as it were, with a warm up time of 30 minutes or so, I wasn't bowled over as I had expected to be. Undoubtedly, it was a good sounding player but the beautiful smoothness and big sound stage I'd heard on my friend's 3000 were missing. So much so, that after an hour, I de-powered to standby mode, frankly a bit disheartened. Other than trying different filters which I had done, and different music sources which I had done, there's no tinkering to be had by adjusting tracking angle or tracking weight as with my gramophone. I'd played some of my best SACD recordings and they sounded good, but good wasn't good enough at this level.
The following day having had the unit on standby overnight, it was a totally different experience. Here was the smoothness, excellent LF extension and openness to die for. The rock-solid stability of the image gave instruments a tangible quality. At the same time there was a real out-of-the-speaker presentation. A very untiring listen indeed and, as I had originally expected, quality up there with the very best digital has to offer us mortals. Speaking entirely personally of course, the finest sounding digital player I'd heard at home, at a show or in store. I won't list all the recordings I tried but the SACD box of Tchaikovsky symphonies by the Russian National Orchestra/Plentev on Pentatone was pretty definitive to my ears. A real concert hall, dress-circle experience, especially the sixth symphony.
Interestingly, when I related my story of the warming-up experience to Struan, he had had experience of the T+A range sounding at their best after being on standby or on for a longish period. That's not a problem as the power consumption on standby is absolutely minimal, and the unit isn't even warm to the touch in this mode. Just be patient when it's delivered!
I thought SACD yielded the very best results but Hi-res streaming from Qobuz and Tidal was still extremely good, and that was over wireless LAN. You can probably expect wired LAN to be close to the SACD and I will borrow a lengthy cable and update my findings when I have tried the wired option. Likewise the front panel USB connection to a PC or Mac to play downloaded files. At this input, the MP 3100 HV accepts PCM signals with sampling rates in the range 44.1 – 384 ksps and digital DSD stereo signals from DSD 64 to DSD 512 (DSD 256 and DSD 512 only with PC) Bluetooth worked well and whilst not definitive of course, is useful to have as is the FM, DAB and Internet radio.
Is there anything to dislike. Not really. It's expensive but you do have a feature packed unit with genuine state of the art performance. This is precision engineering at its very best, with R&D by the spadeful to achieve this sound. The player will last and last as T+A take after-sales very seriously. I have first hand experience of this when I had difficulty playing audio files on my Deezer account. An e-mail to T+A yielded a solution as quickly as can be, and it involved a software re-write. T+A also carry extensive stocks of spares. It's rather heavy for a media player, so as always, you will require a stable, non-resonant supporting surface to allow for the best possible isolation. Although T+A have gone to great lengths to mitigate unwanted vibrations and resonances, economizing on support is not a good idea at this level.
The T+A MP 3100 HV Multi-Media Player is on demonstration at Hi-Fi Corner, along with other components from the T+A range. I have heard that the P 3100 HV pre-amplifier is an absolute stunner, and hopefully I can lay my mits on one of these to review next.
I can honestly say that, if you are lucky enough to have the budget for a top flight media player, without hesitation I urge you to take a listen to the MP 3100 HV. It will end up on your shortlist, probably on a list of one. I can't recommend it highly enough. Would I buy one? I have.