The ever evolving world of audio and home entertainment continues to bring pleasant surprises to even the most jaded enthusiast. Despite word to the contrary, there is still significant demand for two channel audio, as the iPod and PC audio fall firmly in that domain, albeit not in the high-end domain. Hence when I was advised that I would be provided the opportunity to review an internet-radio stereo receiver and a matching CD player from TEAC’s Reference Series 2010 my curiosity was piqued.
TEAC Corp. is a Japanese company known for its TASCAM pro audio gear and ultra high-end Esoteric line of digital players, digital to analogue converters and digital accessories as well as several different performance levels of “basic” TEAC branded audio equipment. TEAC’s reputation is one of unrelenting desire for top notch parts and build-quality which translate into state of the art audio/video playback from its Esoteric and TASCAM product line-ups. I am a proud owner of the award winning Esoteric X-05 SACD/CD player so I have first-hand experience as to the levels of performance one can expect from a TEAC designed piece of equipment.
The AG-H600NT internet-radio stereo receiver and PD-H600 CD player under review here both represent the top of the line available from the TEAC branded line-up of audio gear. Priced at $1499 for the receiver and $899 for the CD player, these components may seem a little pricey but from the moment I started unpacking them, it became clear that these are not just “average” TEAC components. Both units are double boxed for safe transport across the ocean and once I got my hands on the equipment I was quite astonished at what I encountered. The build quality, fit and finish of these units is quite simply incredible at these price points. The beautiful design aspects are obviously influenced by the aesthetics of the superb Esoteric line-up, with gently rounded corners and an engraved TEAC logo on the top plate of each unit. Attention to all important resonance control is evident by the hefty chassis’ solid, quarter-inch thick, brushed aluminum plates. There is not a screw to be seen anywhere, giving the components a clean minimalist look. The front panel buttons whose functions are duplicated on the remote controls are small, but ergonomic, again contributing to the elegant appearance.
Both units measure 11.4” wide by 4” high and just over 12” deep – or about two thirds the size of conventional home audio gear. Their size makes them ideal for rooms where space is a premium and their looks are difficult to compete with when compared to most full-sized components.
The design and build quality may have raised my expectations as to how these two TEAC units will perform, although their relative diminutive size did generate some doubt. Robust power supplies are the foundation on which all good AV gear starts from and I was concerned that the small chassis may not provide enough space for proper power supplies. Both components employ a toroidal transformer which helps to achieve a deep and accurate bottom-end response. The CD player appears to be most influenced by the Esoteric lineage with a resonance-free disc tray that slides effortlessly in and out of the chassis and Burr Brown 24-bit 192 kHz Delta-sigma DACs handling the data stream.
Connections on the back of both units are high quality RCA jacks, IEC inputs and the speaker connections on the receiver are well spaced, robust 5-way binding posts. The CD player has a coaxial digital out for outboard D/A conversion as well as a system control connector which when connected to the matching connector on the receiver allows for both components to be controlled with the receiver remote.
The AG-H600NT internet receiver has a remarkable set of contemporary features which one can ascertain from the connectors on the back panel. In addition to the standard AM/FM tuner section, the receiver can also play internet radio stations and stream music from a PC, when connected to a home network. The AG-H600NT can be hard wired to a home network using its Ethernet port but also has a wireless LAN card built into the unit. Given that there are in excess of 12,000 internet radio stations covering any genre you could imagine, internet radio playback opens up a whole new universe of music from all corners of the world. Finally an iPod port on the back of the receiver can accommodate TEAC’s optional iPod dock ($49) which if deployed can send a composite/S-video signal to a monitor to allow visual selection of iPod playlists. Tone controls on the front panel allow for adjusting of bass, mid and treble frequencies. A CD Direct option is also available. The AG-H600NT offers five RCA audio inputs, which includes one MM phono input for a turntable. The output power of the AG-H600NT is rated at 75 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 90 watts per channel into 4 ohms. The supplied manual is very comprehensive and provides all the setup protocols for both Windows and Mac operating systems.
The all important determination is of course how these units sound, independently and as a pair? My initial speculation about inadequate power supplies was stopped dead in its tracks when I first began listening to these components. Let me clarify something right from the start – both these units perform much like full-sized gear, and are capable of outperforming many entry-level full-sized receivers.
I started off with the AG-H600NT receiver and my Esoteric X-05 as the source and was pleasantly surprised to find that the class D amp section of the AG-H600NT was capable of driving my ELAC 208 Anniversary floorstanding speakers (4 ohm, 80 dB efficient) with ease. The deep bottom end that the X-05 produces was clearly evident through the receiver when playing the challenging Radiohead “Kid A” album on CD. I was very pleased with the AG-H600NT’s tonality and ability to sort out the dense mixes of this album. Next I tried my Marantz DV9600 disc player as I wished to create a little bit more of a level playing field when comparing the TEAC PD-H600 CD player. The Band’s “Brown Album” had all the detail and rhythmic structure I am used to hearing from my reference system. The RCA Living Stereo “Mahler Symphony No. 4” sounded expansive and detailed, although the soundstage was not quite as big as I’m used to hearing from my Red Wine Audio Class T battery powered amps.
Finally I arrived with both the AG-H600NT receiver and the TEAC PD-H600 CD player in the system. Introducing the TEAC PD-H600 CD player into the system turned out to be the biggest eye opener during this review. This CD player has a phenomenal attack and overall musicality, and its bottom-end performance is similar to the $7200 X-05 player. The TEAC player easily outperformed the Marantz DV9600 which originally retailed for $2700. The PD-H600 tackled the “Kid A” album effortlessly, sorting out the music and providing a great rhythmic drive. The well recorded “Brown Album”, with classics like Up On Cripple Creek and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, sounded spectacular and faithfully reproduced the small recording environment in which this album was created. The Band sounded like they were very much in my living room. I was pleasantly surprised that there was no great disparity in the performance compared to my reference system. Listening to the “Mahler Symphony No. 4”, the TEAC duo effectively reproduced the atmosphere of the hall in which this piece was recorded, with a truly realistic sense of decay. Finally I popped in the recent remaster of the Rolling Stones “Exile On Main Street” to ascertain if the TEAC combo could reproduce the grungy, but gospel and soul inspired, tracks that represent the peak of the Stones’ output. The result was nothing short of incredible. Horns had the brassy edge to them that I’m used to hearing through my X-05 player and the hard driving guitars had the requisite bite with the proper balance between Mick’s vocals and the instruments. During this review, I realized that both these TEAC components like to work together in tandem and bring out each other’s design strengths.
The TEAC AG-H600NT internet-radio stereo receiver and the matching PD-H600 CD player caught me completely off guard with their excellent performance. This pair sounds wonderful and has the looks to match. The $1499 AG-H600NT receiver will play just about anything under the sun, including AM/FM radio, internet radio, music from a PC or Mac, and of course an iPod/iPhone. At $899 for the CD player, I dare say that it’s an absolute steal and one of the best I’ve heard in a long time. Combined, this pair will reward you with a taste of high-end performance at a very reasonable price point.
TEAC AG-H600NT Internet-radio Stereo Receiver
Price: $1499 CAD
TEAC PD-H600 CD Player
Price: $899 CAD