One of the most impressive amplifier kits that I had the chance of listening during my student years in Italy came from Japanese legendary designer Kiyoaki Imai, founder of Audio Tekne. This is a very interesting brand, almost unique in what it offers. Imai-san promotes push-pull designs rather than single-ended triodes as the optimum way for achieving audio nirvana, winds in-house transformers with special ($$$) super-permaloy cores, and builds the most expensive phono stage in the market, the TEA 9501 PCS, a piece of equipment that all by itself managed to get me out of the High End Munich show to visit the HiFiDeluxe show, which was running in parallel during the same days. I even dragged Scot with me for this one.
Why would we waste half a day just for a phono stage? It is a very exclusive piece of gear, as it costs €155.000 (yes, that is $170k US, you got that right) and it is not just the price. The 9501 declares a frequency response of 20Hz up to … 15KHz!
You’re probably thinking that this is a joke, but I am only stating the facts here. Every ten grand buys you one kilohertz of frequency extension. The enormous 63kg/channel LCR phono equalizer, consists of 7 transformers per channel, plus a few tubes here and there. And none of these transformers are here for the power supply.
I hope you are sitting while reading this; do hang on tight as you might fall from that chair.
155.000 euros does not buy you a working phono stage. You have to combine it with the TFA-9501 pre-amplifier, which is the only piece of gear being made that can provide the necessary power to power the phono. Oh, and that pre-amp will set you back another €70.000. Not sure how many people ever bought this combo; my guess is that you could count them without using two hands.
The rest of the system included a Loricraft Garrard 601 mounted with the Origin Live tonearm and Lyra Atlas MC cartridge, Audio Tekne 9801 2x8Watt power amplifier and DC10 Kabuki speakers. I must admit being unfamiliar with the speakers, and their intriguing design consisting of a RAAL ribbon tweeter loaded in the bass horn along with two 12” woofers. Their 97db/1W sensitivity makes them a suitable match for the 8W amplifier but specifications are not important for this room. Actually the sound was not important either, I was so biased that describing how Cannonball Adderley’s Autumn Leaves sounded like really makes no sense. It was deeply emotional, pronounced in the all so important mid frequencies and it felt just right. Take all this with a bit of salt, after all I was listening to my dream phono stage.