As mentioned in a previous post, late last year I spent quite some time trying to figure out a good stack to support a turntable. When it came to amplifiers, I had three choices: Marantz PM6006, Cambridge Topaz SR20 and Emotiva TA-100. After asking around forums and social media, it was apparent that all three were equally well received; the main differentiator being the brand name in many instances with the Emotiva being perhaps being the lesser known. Instead of laboring about this decision for days, given all three are, on paper, mostly equivalent, I decided to add all three to my amazon cart and simply wait until the turntable shipped and then place the order based on stock, price, etc. When push came to shove, turned out the Marantz price had increased about $100, the Cambirdge was only available from a couple of third-party vendors who had a few negative dings in the last 90 days; the Emotiva was the only one available directly from amazon, in stock and same price it always was. And so that’s how it worked out.
Audition stack: MacBook Pro (Tidal), FM Radio and U-Turn Orbit turntable as sources. KEF Q150 and Focal Elegia as outputs.
Unboxing: simple and straight forward. Nothing fancy, but again, not every product and customer needs Apple-like unboxing experience.
Aesthetics: very elegant and minimal. The front end has an electronic display, a 2.5mm headphone jack (why not 3.5, which is the standard?), two small and understated input-selection buttons, the volume nob and the power button. The back is packed with all sorts of inputs and outputs galore. The aluminum chassis an box are smooth and free of any gaudy logos. The heat vents are understated and visually unintrusive.
Build quality: in one word, excellent. All buttons work seamlessly, the volume nob has a really nice and smooth feel to it, the barrage of inputs and outputs in the back are solidly anchored and well placed.
Specs: the TA-100 packs so many great features and high quality components to please every hi-fi enthusiast save the few super high-end folks who would drop twenty thousand dollars on an amplifier and pay the electric company thousands of dollars to have their own dedicated electricity path — but I digress. The primary use and reason is for me was two-fold: phono inputs, and able to drive the Q150 (~50W into 8 Ohm) cleanly and with ease. Everything else was icing on the cake. Here are some notables:
- USB input (it comes with a really wonderful DAC!)
- Phono inputs with ground post
- Plethora of inputs and outputs
- 50 watts RMS per channel (20 Hz — 20 kHz; THD < 0.02%; into 8 Ohms).
- Remote control
For more gritty details and the whole spec list — which is substantial, check out the product page (Specs and Downloads tab).
Audio: we’ve been using this amp fairly consistently for 4–5 hours a day. Lots of Tidal (played from the MBP), quite a bit of turntable time with all sorts of music genres and even some local FM radio time, for good measure. For careful and critical listening I only used Tidal master-quality music (MQA), however.
- General: The TA-100 delivers pristine, uncolored and faithful power through both speakers and headphones. It operates at a fairly low temperature even when playing at 50%-plus volume for hours. Great channel separation which helps to produce an intimate yet well defined sound stage (speakers and heaphones having doing the heavy-lifting here, of course).
- Self-noise: Zero. I tried every trick on the book and was always pleased the amp handled them perfectly.
- Volume: the sweet spot for the Q150s is between 45 and 50% volume depending on music genre and input type. At that volume it was nicely loud (enough to overshadow speaking voices) but very pleasant. No discernible distortion and full faithfulness throughout the frequency range. For the Elegia about 30% volume was ideal anything above would be the danger zone for hearing. Much like the case with speakers, headphone amplification was superb: super clean, smooth and punchy.
Conclusions: the TA-100 was a happy accident for me. I could as well be reviewing the Marantz or Cambridge, but by coincidence and demand for the two better-known ones I ended up with the Emotiva. It does everything I wanted and much more. For example, the FM tuner can come handy when you just don’t feel like logging in into your computer or setting the turntable up. Works with both kinds of turntable cartridges, and the ground post is specially necessary for phono inputs. The USB/DAC functionality wasn’t in my original wish list, but so very glad this integrated amplifier comes with a very decent one. Being able to hook a computer up, without needing drivers, and just play whatever tunes you want is a wonderful feature.
That having been said there are few minor annoyances worth mentioning. For one the menu-remote navigation can be incomprehensible at times. Finding specific settings in the labyrinthine maze of a menu was a challenge: figuring out how to boost or cut back on bass/mids/treble as well as working the radio tuner was a frustrating learning experience. The it’s entirely too easy to change inputs accidentally which can be both jarring and frustrating.
But, again, I consider those to be minor in the greater scheme of things. Overall, the TA-100 is an excellent value and a top notch performer. I would happily recommend for anyone looking to get into the hi-fi home audio setup without spending an arm and a leg.