Review: Bent Audio Tap Linestage

Category: Preamps

Before, I get to the details of reviewing the Bent Audio Tap Linestage, I first would like to give a context regarding what my linestage reference of the last three years has been in order to "set the stage" so this review would be the most helpful to the members reading it.

My reference over the last three years has been the Placette Audio Dual Mono Active Linestage. It replaced a ML-32 reference preamp in my system. I had auditioned six different preamps/linestages, half were tubed - half were solid state ranging in price from $6000.00 to $16000.00, until I finally heard the Placette Active in my system and found what I was looking for sonically. It offered, compared with the other pieces in my home auditions, the following sonic virtues:

1) No noise floor at all. Music just "floated" out of a totally black background.
2) A great soundstage, front to back - side to side, with the best center fill and layering I ever had in my system.
3) Precise microdynamics and details without being what I would call "dry" or "etched" at all.
4) Excellent extension on both the top and bottom with great slam in the lower bass.
5) Natural tone/timbres, very important to me because I listen almost totally to acoustic jazz.

Not bad stuff! However, being the curious audiophile that I am, I had read about a few new linestages that had come out the last couple of years and decided to listen to what some of the best designers were up to now. This time around I auditioned a highly regarded solid state,tubed, and transformer based units. Even though the solid state ant tubed pieces were almost twice as expensive as my Placette, and they have their virtues, I did not find them to better the Placette in the above mentioned areas. Different but not better for my ear's and personnal taste.

That's the context, now on to the review. The Bent Tap Linestage is the child of John Chapman and his company Bent Audio out of Canada. I would like to share John is one of the great gentleman/designers of high end gear and is a true pleasure to talk and to do business with. His pieces are purchased direct, with a 30 day trail period with full refund if one is completely not satisfied.

At this point in time there has been a full review on the Tap Linestage on POSTITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE website by Bruce Kinch and on SIX MOONS website there is what they call a "pre-view", along with one of SIX MOONS reviewers, Les Turoczi, who considers the Tap Linestage one of the "favorite discoveries of 2006" and has made it his new reference linestage in his system.

The above mentioned reviews, along with information on the Bent Audio website, will provide excellent background information on the topic of passive preamps/linestages and specificly on the issue of transformer based passives compared to Vishay resister based approachs. By the way, the Placette Active is a Buffered Vishay based passive linestage that gives no gain, but eliminates any concerns with impedance matching the front end with the down stream amps.

I never get into lengthy details regarding engineering or parts, that is all provided by the Bent Audio website, however I always comment on build quality and looks before I get to the the most important part the sonic performance. The Tap Linestage has a "cool modern" look to it, but it will never be the "eye candy" that my Pass Labs or Accustic Arts pieces are to me. The front has angled sides and sits atop a 1" slab of clear acrylic which has been routed out to securely mount the twin transformers. Inside high quality Arlon circuit boards, ribbon cables, and custom OCC copper wire sourced from Neotech speak highly of the construction of this piece.

Now, to the most important part of any review, the sonic performance of the piece being evaluated. In the following areas the Tap and PLacette active were, at least for me in my system, indistinguishable:
1) Total black background, no noise floor, music just "oozes" out of the system.
2) Both provide the best soundstage and layering of any linestage I have ever had in my system.
3)Macrodynamics are present and powerful, but intergrated in the overall "fabric" of the music.

Were the two linestages start to part sonic company is revolving around to key sonic areas, tone/timbres and image density of players in the sound stage.

I find that the Tap to be slightly "warmer/fuller" then the Placette Active in overall timbres, what many listeners would refer to as the "magic of tubes", mind you, not "fat/euphonic" but more "velvety" then the "silkyness" of the Placette. It reminded me when I went from an Edge NL-10 to a pair of Pass Labs XA-100's, both great amps, but I found the XA-100's to be subtly more what I call "organic/musical". Another verbal stab at it would be to say that the Placette Active has "razor sharp" leading edges and the Tap is a little more "rounded off" but has more body and decay then the Placette Active.
The Placette Active never sounds "etched, dry, or overly analytical, but a little less "sweet" then the Tap. They both offer beautiful sonic pictures and what you would like would be very much decided by your personnal taste and what type of system synergy you would end up with in your rig.

The other sonic difference that I noticed was in the area of image density. The Tap kicked it up a notch in comparsion to the Placette Active regarding the density of images, not the size or air around the individual players, but how "real" they sounded in the stage. Again, both linestages are quite terrific regading this sonic aspect, but the Tap gives more in this area then the Placette Active.

So, is there a winner or loser between this linestages, I don't think so, there both reference level in their performance. As I always say at this level of gear it comes down to personnal taste and system synergy. There's always very small but real differences in gear, but the final voicing of any system finally comes done to matching this tiny sonic bits together to get what we are listening for in the pleasure of the music we care about.

The Bent Tap is my new reference linestage for the reasons stated above. Both the Tap and Placette Active are great performers, terrific bargains for what they sell for, the Tap $3000.00, the Placette Active $5000.00, when you think they compete with any linestage on the market today and both John Chapman and Guy Hammel are great gentleman to work with, you might put both on your audition list if your seeking out a new linestage. Which one you would like better truly would come down to personnal taste/system synergy, so really won't know till your try it in the context of your own rig.
Very nice review...and welcome to the world of TVCs! You nailed the sound of a TVC quite well! My units are no where near as pretty as your Bent but offers similar sound. Glad to read of another convert. IMO the Bents are very well built and will compete with anything out there. So much for the transformer ringing certain active preamp manufactures try to point out as a negative.;-)

Good listening
I am evaluating the TAP right now and at one time owned the Placette Active (and currently have a Placette passive). Two comments I would like to add to your fine review. First, the TAP includes first-rate functionality: channel balance, phase inversion, and both RCA and XLR inputs and outputs. Second, it has a superb remote: compact, feels good in your hand, minimal buttons, but lets you control every function, including direct access to each of the 6 inputs and "display off". Oh, and even though the unit has only 34 volume steps, they seem entirely adequate to the task. None of the jumps seem too large, or large at all. In fact, the transitions are wonderfully smooth and subtle. And although the TAP is passive, it offers +6 db gain, which kicks in at level 29 (I believe).

As I understand it, this is almost identical to the Music First unit that has been getting a lot of reviews lately, except that it looks different and includes remote control.
FWIW..the Bent,Audio Zone,Music First and K&K TVCs all use the exact same S&B trannies. Only differences are in the aesthetics and usability. It would be hard pressed to hear any significant differences in sound between these units if not impossible.
Gmood1, I could be wrong without a doubt, but I think John Chapmen has the S&B trannies customized to a certain extent compared to the stock transformers. Also, he uses Arlon Boards and ribbon wiring which could, in a very subtle way, influence the Taps voicing compared with the other units you mention. It would be fun to see/hear if there are any sonic differences at all and what they be if they exist.
Teajay maybe right about that. It would be nice to compare. Since I've had a Bent here to compare to my TVC, which doesn't use the same trannies. I had an extremely tough time hearing a difference between the two.]

I read the same from others comparing the Music First and the Audio Zone to the Promitheus. This leads me to believe..if one can't hear a discernable difference with totally different trannies. How easy would it be to hear differences using trannies made by the same company?

If I'm not mistaken didn't Music First buy out Bent? The trannies in these units should be identical.
Gmood1, if you go to SIX MOONS website and look at what is called a "Pre-view" of the Bent Tap it will explain that Chapman's Bent Audio was never part of Music First, but they work together and yes both use the same transformers, but John does use either different wire or winds them a little bit differently then what's in the Music First passive.

Also, if you go into the archives regarding reviewer Les Turoczi experiences with at least two other transformer based passives, he found sonic differences that were slight but significant enough to make a difference in his system. I have a hunch that the type of boards and internal wiring that Chapman uses in the Tap could also make a small sonic change.
Teajay..I remember seeing one of the reviews you pointed out. I gather from my own experience,the differences this reviewer heard or thought he heard, had more to do with the actual gain of the TVC than anything else. Those are the differences I heard between the units I compared. As far as timbre, imaging, bass..etc they are more a like than different. It was the gain of each unit that distinguished the two. Some are fooled by the gain, it leads one into thinking one unit gives more musical attributes than another.

Once you get a chance to try two of these TVCs in your system. I think you'll understand what mean.
Now if one unit is copper and the other is silver, there will also be slight differences.There will still be nothing conclusive to say one truly sounds better than the other. You would find yourself running in circles to find a real difference in sound. Trust me..I already went down that road as countless others have.

I have two TVCs by the same builder. Even they have different gain settings because of the different transformers used. I still can't honestly say one is better than the other though.
Wow! teajay and Gmoodl, what gentlemen audiophiles you both are. A feather in the caps of you both. How refreshing. I happen to have just purchased the mfa, so far, better than direct in, in my opinion. I have also just purchased the latest Supratek sauvignon, unfortunately, it just arrived, and I am out of town. Hence, I cannot compare them. I have a sneaking suspicion that I will prefer the mfa. mearly conjecture. I had considered selling my Sauvignon sealed, and going for the cabernet, but the cost of shipping and customs is weighing against that. I am now using the Esoteric p03/d03 as my front end. just So you may have an idea as to what I am doing. However your denotations are very much appreciated. Chears,
Audioezra, I would appreciate a review of the 2 preamps. I am in the market for a preamp and am looking very seriously at the Supratek line and the Bent passive. I have a CJ 2500A amp now and wanted to put a tube pre with it to see how tubes sounded with it. However i read of one poster who left the supratek line for the Bent. An interesting development since the Supratek has a committed following that has lasted for a long time.
"Wow" is an understatement, getting Placette owners to even consider anything else is something short of magical.(just joking)

Now, to throw a new curveball into the mix, there are a few reports that the newer Supermalloy and Amorphous TVC/Autoformers from the likes of Diy HiFi Supply and SAC Thailand's SILK have greater tonal density and richness than the S&B.

I've got an S&B TVC and that would be pretty amazing.
Sure, now everybody's gonna want one. Here was this quiet little secret for people who did their homework and were willing to step out of the mainstream while accolades slowly leaked out the underground. Next thing you know, Bent Audio will be on Stereophile's 'A' list. Yuck!

The funny part is, before he tried them, even John Chapman didn't think these things should work. I had a respected audio designer (my brother) tell me exactly why they don't work but he didn't say much after he heard it.
Is there a way to demo the Bent?
Dbld, John Chapman, just like Guy Hammel of Placette, allows a 30 day home audition period to see if the Tap will work in your system and give the sonic signature your looking for.
Great review Teajay. I have gone thru both the preamps and have Bent Noh (earlier version of TAP). Placette Active and Bent comparison was a preference than a performance issue...I thought both were so close and excellent (you change interconnects and you can extract different sonics). I kept Bent since it offered better value :).

I have been itching to get TAP with addnl 6 Ch input & well reviewed Dodd battery pre.

Gmood1, just wanted to share that the information regarding the type of wire that John Chapman uses in the Tap's transformers is not the stock wire of the standard Stevens&Billington transformers, is correct on my part.

John uses a special OCC copper wire(oxygen-free coninuous cast)that he believes offers more of a "natural/musical" sonic perspective then the standard/stock wire of the off the shelve S&B transformers.

So, does this different wire make a "real" sonic change, I don't know, however John Chapman had shared with me that he did experiement with silver wire, and different copper wires and found the OCC to sound the best to his ear's and taste.
Thanks for the info Teajay. What ever he does or S&B does..the sound is darn good with the Bent's! If it weren't for already owning two TVCs I would be lusting after the Bent.;-)
Chances are.. I'm done buying preamps for a looong time. Although those trannies out of Thailand do look interesting.

Good listening and enjoy the TVC!
Just wanted to share as the Bent burns in the sonic virtues I mentioned in the review, such as microdynamics, tonal vividness/image density, and macrodynamics have just gotten better as the hours go by. I would also add to this list rhythmic drive, my whole system just seems more "alive", but without edge or glare of any kind.

I have also become aware of something unique regarding the noise floor or "blackness" that the Tap offers that my old reference linestage did not. Both have no noise floor as far as I can tell in my system. Each floats the music out of total and complete silence, yet something was different which made the overall sonic picture more "pure/real" to my ear's. Well, I came across an older review of another Stevens and Billington transformer based passive, the AVTAC Pasiphae which is no longer in production by Ross Mantle writing for Ultra Audio website. He beautifully describes what I'm hearing, so I quote:

"This transformer based preamp retains all low-level information down to the threshold of hearing, with no artificial blackness to the background. As the unit is passive, it generates no noise of its own. The result is that you can hear the atmosphere of the hall even when the music is not playing. The transients never pop out of nowhere. Rather, they develop and decay in a natural, believable way without being cut off abruptly when they reach the noise floor. At the same time, the superb low-level retrieval results in rich details at all levels.

In his Preamplifier Cookbook, Allan Wright of Vacuum State Electronics coined the term downward dynamic range. According to Wright, downward dynamic range is one of those qualities that separate the preamp men from the preamp boys. I believe it. Another term that nicely sums up these effects would be Harry Pearson's continuousness, which the Pasiphae has in spades. To resort to a tired but apt comparison, the organic effect of the Pasiphae gave CDs a sense of the pleasant continuousness and wholeness associated with vinyl records."

Mr. Mantle really "nails" what I have been experiencing with the Bent, but struggling to put into words.
Nice review, Teajay !
I'm using a Bent NOH, and this wonderful machine made me forget my Sonic Frontiers Line 3 completely....
During the time I was going through the auditioning of the Bent Tap linestage in my system, I also had the pleasure of listening to two other very highly regarded preamps in my system. One was tubed and the other solid state.

I personally do not like the term "shoot out" because it implies an either/or orientation which disregards system synergy, personnal taste and how subtle the real sonic differences are between reference pieces of gear.

Now that I have had time to "digest" what each linestage had to offer I have come to the conclusion that the Tap would be a great linestage, and a great financial bargain at it's price of $3000.00, for those seeking what most audiophiles would refer to as the "magic of tubes" without some of the hassles that goes with tube gear. I understand if someone enjoys "tube-rolling" does not mind having to re-tube as time goes on that tube gear is not a hassle for them. If your the type that just wants to leave your system on and play music, without having to wait for things to have to warm up or concerns over the sound of your system as the tubes age, then the Tap could really be your sonic/pragmatic alternative.

Of all the linestages I have auditioned over the last three years, which now totals over nine preamps, the Tap really does offer a great synthesis of tube warmth/image density/decay trails with the speed/slam/details of solid state. When you also add to the mix that all the other linestages cost at least $2000.00 to $12000.00 more, the Tap is a great bargain.

A final note, I must be becoming a old lazy audiophile because I realized that I will not live with a linestage that does not offer a remote control. Some of the linestages I audtioned designer's believe that a remote would damage the sonics of their piece. I found it quite a hassle to have to get up, often times different cuts on the same CD have different "sweet spots" regarding volume levels, when I just wanted to relax and enjoy the music.
Teajay, your last post reads as though you may have actually preferred one of the other linestages sonically over the Tap, but the Tap "won" on convenience and price. Is this the case?
Drubin, if somehow what I wrote implied that I liked one of the linestages more then the Tap, but just could not be without remote or that price factors ultimately lead to my decision to purchase it, then I did not communicate clearly my intent.

I do believe the Tap is a "killer" regarding price for performance compared to everything else I auditioned. I used to have the same viewpoint regarding my Placette Active, however the Placette now costs $2000,00 more then the Tap. Both offer unbelievable sonic performance for what they cost. The most expensive preamp I auditioned was $20 grand, I won't say either the Bent or the Placette were better, but I would take either of them over the much more expensive piece because the sonic performance was at least as good for ALOT less money.

If during my audition process a linestage, without remote, had offered me some kind of sonic virtue(s) that I would not want to be without in my system, I would put up with the pain in the ass hassle of manual volume control for the sonic pleasure. However, the Tap's sonics out performed greatly the linestages without remote so this had no bearing on my decision at all.
Thanks for clarifying that.

I haven't had any $20K preamps in my system (or $5K for that matter), so perhaps I know not of what I speak, but I do agree the Tap is killer. :-)
Just got through with experimenting/auditioning with four different types of isolation devices to see if the Bent Tap's sonics could be improved on when compared to its stock feet.

The four types of isolation devices were:

1) Sorbothane 2) ceramic 3) Goldmund cones 4) carbon fiber

Well, I heard no difference or improvement at all. So either the stock feet are optimumized for the design or the Tap's case and acrylic base are immune to vibration to begin with, so after market cones or feet, regardless of the material, are pretty much irrelevant to improve its performance. I also wonder if transformer based passives by nature are more immune to vibrations then either resister based passives or active resister/tube preamps.

Excellent review. You hit it right on regarding the quality of the Tap's "image density" and resistor-based units having leading edges that are "razor sharp."

However, you failed to mention whether you have copper or silver xfrmr windings. (Silver xfrmr units have blue LED's.)

I have a unit with silver xfrmrs (and the Nextgen RCA's). This may help to sharpen up those leading edges, as I do not find them to lean toward being rounded off. However, I do not have the luxury of direct comparison with such an excellent unit as the Placette, or a copper Tap, for that matter.

You may have read that silver xfrmr passive units tend to sound leaner than the copper versions.

This may be the case, as I have experimented with two sets of footers to add a touch of body to the sound without slowing or dulling the transients or losing detail. I hear clear differences between my Black Diamond 4 cones point up or down. Point down moves the sound in the direction I don't want to go, point up moves it too far. Right now, I am using Cardas myrtle blocks (logo facing up). That seems to do the trick. For the hell of it I wrapped the AC supply cord near the unit around one of those old JVC ferrite snap-on filters (because I had it and all of my daughter's portable electronics use them).

I am using a Mana rack with an extra Soundstage underneath. Perhaps the rack you are using mitigates the effects of isolation devices.

I would like to add to your review the tremendous amount of detail presented by the Tap at low volume levels. Because I have young children, I do most of my listening at a level of 10-15.

John Chapman is definitely one of the good guys in audio. Shortly after I sent him a check for the unit, John had to leave on a business trip. Because he didn't want me to wait for his return to ship my unit, John sent the unit out BEFORE he received my check. Kudos, John, kudos.

Again, nice review.
John mentioned recently that has no near-term plan for silver transformers in the TAP. For the TAP, S&B makes special unpotted copper transformers with relay switching on a PCB integrated with the traffo housing. This eliminates the rat's nest wiring normally associated with TVC layout, and presumably improves RFI rejection & presents shorter, cleaner signal paths. I'm intrigued by his move away from potted traffos (as used in other S&B-based and earlier Bent TVCs). Some transformer designers prefer Mu metal shields (S&B, Slagle), and others think that Mu and just about any other dielectric shield kills the sound (Audio Consulting).
Does anyone know what the output impedance is on the TAP? The difference between the sound of two amps I have (Gamut and Nuforce) when used with the TAP is about as day and night as can be, so I wonder if there is a matching thing going on.
The output impedance varies depending on the detent selected. If I'm not mistaken the output should be around 1/4 the sources input impedance...So if your source is 100 ohms the rough guess is 25 Ohms on the output of the TAP. But again it varies depending on the detent.

The difference you hear may have more to do with the input sensitivty of each amplifier..I think? One may need only 1 volt to full power the other 2 volts. So your detent settings will be different for each amplifier. This will also change the voltage and impedance output of the TVC.
Teacherman, my Tap's transformers are wound with copper wire, not silver. When I was discussing this topic with John Chapman, because I was curious regarding the copper vs. silver sonic differences regardless of the price difference, he had experimented with both and came to the conclusion, in a blindfold, that the sonic signatures were so close he could not distinguish one from the other. He decided that the extra cost of silver wire was not worth the cost sonicly to the average costumer. I believe he will wind silver transformers as a special order, if someone wants it that way.

As I stated in my review the Placette Active offered more razor sharp leading edges then the Bent Tap, however I have never listened to a Transformer based linestage with silver transformers, so you might know alot more regarding the sonic difference(s) between copper/silver based passives. Finally, I find it quite interesting you got different sonic effects with different isolation devices, when I found no difference at all in my system.
Teajay - what kind of rack are you using, or where is the TAP placed?
Dbld, I use a off brand, don't remember the manufacturer's name, that cost around $500.00 per rack that have three shelves. The frame is composed of very thick steel posts filled with sand and the shelves are medium density particle broad. Each shelve sits on steel pinpoints at it's four corners. The Tap sits on the top shelve that rests on the longest spikes of all, a full inch. So, I think the Tap is well protected from acoustic vibration in my system.
I found the following information, gained by further reading and discussions with DIYer's, very interesting regarding why the transformers in different transformer based passives offer different sonic signatures.

1) "To Pot or not to Pot" that is the question! In the Tap, John Chapman does not use potted transformers. Unlike the Music First passive that uses Mu-Metal canisters, the Tap's transformers are not encased or "potted" but are mounted by a pair of aluminum brackets that sandwich the core laminations and bolt to the bottom plate. Not only does this offer better vibration control, many believe that unpotted transformers have a overall sonic signature that is different then potted transformers.

2) That the type of expoxy used to seal the transformers, I guess different kinds can be used, also effects the sonics of the different transformers.

One of my discussions was with an electrical engineer who builds his own transformer based linestages and is always experiementing with different expoxies/resins and different types of metal/wood enclosures for his devices and swears that each factor can dramatically influence the overall sonic signature of the transformers. So, these among other factors might explain why you get subtle sonic differences between the passives that all use the S&B transformers.
Teajay checkout the review of the TAP on 6moons. The reviewer also had the Music First for comparison. He claims the units use the same Trannies and the sound was the same with either unit. Like I stated earlier, hearing a difference really isn't that easy between these units.

Good reading
As I stated on AudioCircle this morning (gave John a congrats there, his forum) I was disappointed to see Srajan doing the review. He spent half of it telling the reader that he liked his new Supratek Cab Dual active pre better. Although he spent quite a bit of real estate to explain his position, and his newfound love of what the Supratek does right for him (much more #2 as teajay would put it), I though the left-handed compliment that the TAP is the best passive pre was lost opportunity. I'd really like to hear comments from Les Turoczi of his staff; Les replaced his long-running ARC Ref 1 with the TAP.

John is sending me a brand new 6-input TAP for eval this week. I'm very much looking forward to hearing it, and I'll compare it to my Modwright SWL 9.0SE. If it doesn't fit my ear and system, then Dan's new LS36 or Mick's Dual would come next...

Teajay, thanks for the review and renewing my interest in this pre. It even has remote phase (absolute) inversion and input switching, and has clearly marked volume references!!! yes! BTW, I have an email into you to ask about a few nuances in my newly-evolving system (i.e it's been stagnant for a few years and I'm about to make major changes). My RSA Sason's are the new centerpiece, and as stated in other threads, my electron microscope into the music (maybe another analogy would work better as this one portends analysis and clinical behavior, which is not exactly the point). They are very revealing, and the same time musical, and I bet the TAP will live nicely in this environment.
Thanks Gmoodl, I had already read Mr Ebran's review when I came to your post this morning. I had two responses to his opinion:

1) That I have tried on numerous occasions different and highly regarded tube preamps, and unlike Mr. Ebran, found them not to lend to the overall "musicality" of my system that he describes that he loses when going to a passive like the Tap. Notice, he did not discuss a lack of dynamics or bass, but what he subjectively refers as something not being as "real" in the music that his tube preamp offers to his ear's. Well, I think this really does revolve around personnal taste and system synergy, and to be fair Mr. Ebran does mention this as so.

2) I think you are quite right that transformer based passives sound more alike then different, but talking to other owners/designers there are slight differences sonicly regarding type of wires, enclosures, the type of expoxy used that do make a very slight change in the overall sonics of this linestages.

Well, Six Moons gave the Tap a "Blue Moon" award so that speaks for itself.
Sure does..Srajan is known to be a tube nut..nothing wrong with that. I figured the review would come out exactly the way he stated it because of this. No biggie for me..I have no intentions of trading my TVC in for a tube preamp anytime soon.

Good listening
Tedmbrady, I totally agree that I would rather have read a formal review by Les Turoczi then Ebran because I believe that Ebran is quite the type #2 flavor type and therefore is enamored towards tubes.

I would like to share what took place this last thursday at my house with another Audiogon member regarding the sonics of my system.

A fellow Gon member asked if he could come over to my house because he was very interested in the performance of the Accustic Arts Drive 1 MK2 and Dac1 MK4 that I use in my system. Of course he was welcomed, it was a real pleasure to meet Bob, and spend a couple hours listening to music and discussing all things audio.

His wife is a professional opera singer and he has a CD of her performing different pieces with piano recorded in a large natural acoustic environment. She really has a beautiful voice. He uses this CD to evaluate new pieces of gear or the overall sonics of a system, because he knows what the live reference really is.

I asked him to be totally honest and diplomatic regarding my rig's overall sonic performance, ruling out him just acting like a kind gentleman, he shared that this was the best his wife's voice had ever sounded on any system, including his own. What a great compliment!

Now, why am I sharing this in the context of Ebran's Six Moons review on the Tap? Because the preamp that he uses in his own home system is one of Mick's very good and highly regarded Supratek tube preamps. So, when Ebran talks about things like, "reduction of textures and image density" with the Tap compared to the active tube preamp in his system, Bob and I did not hear in my system. For a matter of fact, in my review of the Tap image density and textures were not only better then my reference Placette Active linestage, but significantly better then a highly regarded Shindo Labs tube preamp that I had on loan to do a home audition.

It just proves again how important personnal taste and system synergy are regarding everyone's experience of music and the gear that produces it in their own systems.
One of these days I need to try a TVC in my system as well. There is just so much variability in reviewers' opinions of these. Stereophile currently steals thunder by rating the Music First as a Class B (borderline Class A) component. The variability of the reviews may be due to an unwillingness to select sources & amps with impedance and drive characteristics that bring out the best in a passive.

Currently I'm building an optocoupler-based volume control for my Atma-Sphere MP-1 pre that will have the virtues of constant impedance across the range of the volume control, no mechanical switch contacts, and just two resistive elements in the signal path. If this improves the active tube amp, then I'll progress to a standalone passive based on optocouplers. Then I'll compare that to a friend's Promitheus TVC.
Well, my TAP showed up today. I just installed it in my system; it will replace a Modwright SWL9.0SE during the evaluation. So far, though, it sounds just like Teajay predicted, with no noise whatsoever, dynamics and layering in spades, and a great sense of microdynamics too. As with most pre's I assume I can burn this in by simply leaving it on and a signal going though it to the amp (amp turned off)? Any idea of the addtl hours (John Chapman pre-burns them in back in British Columbia)required to take this thing to its next levels? Thx
P.S. No owners manual so I'm gonna play with the bypass capabilities tmrw; looks like you set an input and its volume level, then press "bypass" on the back panel. Should I assume unity gain level (31) for the bypass preset volume?
>As with most pre's I assume I can burn this in by simply leaving it on and a >signal going though it to the amp (amp turned off)?

Since it's passive, you can't turn it off, of course, so you are correct: run signal through it.
Unfortunately, TVC's have separate windings for each volume setting, so you have burn it in at each setting you are most likely to use.

Just wit, it gets much, much, better.
OK, so I should find a good volume setting for my Modwright tubed universal (redbook, SACD, DVD-A 2 channel) and then burn that input (input 1) it in at that volume (I use an fm tuner with interstation as not to burn out the tubes on my Modwright). What's troublesome is that discs are recorded at vastly different levels so I could range from 20-25 easily (but nowhere near unity gain 31). Then when my modded SB3 comes back, I'll use it in input 2. Does that input need a separate burn-in or just a separate volume level (assuming the SB3 is different output)?
First, I would like to wish a happy B-day to Ted and congratulate him on his new Bent Tap. Then on to the serious questions on hand.

1) Since you have the great luxury of having both the Tap and another excellent preamp which is a highly regarded tube piece to compare in your system, does the Tap lack any of what could be called the "body/texture" or "bloom" that many believe can only be attained by tube linestages?

2) Do you believe that the Tap offers more/better air around individuals in the sound stage compared to your tube reference?

3) Do you believe that the Tap throws a bigger, wider, or deeper sound stage with excellent layering in the soundstage then compared to your tube reference.

Ted, it would be great if you would share on this thread some of the information regarding the above stated areas, because I'm oftened asked by audiophiles who love what they call tube "bloom/richness/easyness" that to get the great microdynamics, lack of noise floor, extension, etc. of a passive, they would have to give up those other virtues that tubes offer. That has not been my experience but I have only auditioned tube linestages, I believe long enough to get a handle on their sonic signature, however your long term reference has been a tube linestage, so your impression of the Tap's warmth/timbres/liquidity compared to tubes will be quite interesting.
Thanks for the B-day wishes. I will report back on the new TAP in the next few days, once I get a better understanding of what I'm hearing (and let it break in slightly longer). My reference tube pre, the Modwright SWL 9.0SE is going to be an interesting comparison because it is an enigma amongst tube pres. Most would say it sounds more like ss than tubes, or at least would say it is a very "neutral-sounding" tube preamp (which may be a minor reason Dan is offering a tube rectified power supply appease the tube fans).

Out of the box the TAP clearly (pun intended) sounds like a more pure signal path, like a process has been removed, and I'm allowed to hear the source more directly. I am quite surprised by this, and need to get acclimated to that effect before I render any long-term opinions. It's not as if the music got leaner, less body, anything like that. It's just as if the eyeglasses got a lot cleaner, and I'm not used to the new view...even though colors are likely more vibrant, and lights are likely brighter (but with less ringing). For the short-term, it's quite a change, and I'm trying to understand whether I like it because it's new, or I like it because it's better.

Any background hiss or slight tube noise is, of course, gone. Gone! Even a slight electrical noise (my room is not the best electrically...I stupidly installed remote dimmers a few years ago...this is a home theater environment too)) has been wiped away by the TAP's ability to float ground at the inputs (a simple switch on the back panel). This blackness adds to the new sonic experience, and although theoretically this lack of noise could never be called a liability, it is nonetheless a new experience. I mean, I liked salty foods, and when that salt is gone, the flavors of the true food spices can shine through...but it takes a little time to get used to it.

I will say that the TAP has already changed my idea of what a preamp needs to accomplish. The remote input switching, the remote phase inversion, the tremendous grounding and output flexibility...hell, even the remote balance controls, they all define for me what a preamp really needs to do to add value to my signal path. In some ways, this passive device plays a more active role than ever before.
Great review Teajay, I had an early model Bent TVC for a while, fantastic component!...John knows his stuff.

I was just wondering if Tedbrady had come any closer to has final impressions of what the Tap has to offer in the context of his system?

I totally agree with Ted's last post when he stated that since the Tap was quite a change to what he's used to, he had not decided if liked it better then his old reference because it was new/different sounding or he likes it better because it offers more sonic virtues and leads to a qualitative improvement towards the reference of real music. It really does take some time to be able to distinguish between new/different vs. real improvements when the gear involved is all pretty damn good, like his Modwright preamp, to begin with.

So, Ted it will be fun to see what's happened in the last week with your on-going experiement with the Tap. Look forward to your response.
Any updates from Ted?

I've had a single input TAP here for a while. I am hating that I have to send it back now. I really like it for all the reasons already mentioned above. It is very real sounding.
Hey guys, sorry but I've been traveling a lot (work and long weekend getaway with wife) and not put any more mileage on the TAP. But this week will be interesting. I just finished dragging my 300lb ATC SCM150ASL's (active huge monitors) out and set them up in fully balanced mode with the TAP (first balanced pre I've had). I'm worried I'll love the dynamic ballsy direct (no speaker wires, no sub augmenting) sound, cuz I also love the Sason delicate transparent sound too. I will report back asap (so far the flexible grounding nature of the TAP is producing a completely silent background to the ATC's...a first). Also waiting on my new RWA modded (ac only) SB3 to return, to hear that thing through the mighty TAP/ATC set up.

I know, I know...too many variables. But I want to test the TAP in all my possible configs.
I've noticed with my TAP that volume levels are lower using balanced connections, the opposite of the way it usually works. Those of you with TAPs (or TVCs in general I suppose), has this also been your experience? ATCs and you also have Sasons? Holy cow, what choices you have!
Hi Guys
I've been following this thread with great interest! I have a heavily modified McCormack ALD-1 Rev A Gold and recently upgraded my Bent NOH to the TAP (silver). The best way to burn-in the TAP is to crank the volume to level 31 (unity) - of course, don't do this with your amplifier ON - and then to run a source (CD track or tuner). I have a SB3 with an Ultra-Burn In track on repeat. I have found that the TAP needs a lot of hours to burn in and should sound better with time. Levels 32 to 34 are for the 6 dB gain (+ 2dB increments). I have noticed that I am playing my volume between 20 to 30 and with some CD and DVD tracks I am running close to maximum!! My amplifiers are Channel Islands D*200 Monos (26 dB).
I have been gravitating between the active and the TAP, initially wondering if the TAP was a little "lean" by comparison. I think that the TAP will simply voice out what the source really is. So, if the music lacks a bit of bass or ommph, I think the source is the culprit. The transparency is truly beguiling and addictive. Everytime I switch back to the active, I just feel that I am missing something. As for isolation footers, I would second the above thread that the Cardas myrtle blocks seem to make the TAP sound best. I have tried the TAP with Black Diamond Racing Cones (can't remember which iteration) but somehow the Cardas blocks seem to work best!

Keep enjoying the TAP!

Best Regards
Actually, I think TVC's have seperate windings(taps) for each volume level and need to burned in on each one or at least the ones you use most often.