Review: Thor Audio TA 1000 MK II Tube preamp
Experience has shown me in this life, there are keepers and there are weepers…. This article is how easy it is to wind up with both at the same time without knowing it.
Life is filled with incongruities. Exceptional good and devastatingly poor events. High end audio does not escape these elements however subjectively they are received. Each aspect, device, design effort, and comprised system build by those who subscribe to this devotion comes at least by some expense, and experience. Among these experiences are the sublime and sensational. Littered here, and there also are the foibles and foolish as well. Anyone who has spent anytime whatsoever in this arena can attest to the pitfalls, and passion which are the facets of manufacturers and devotees alike.
Every now and then there comes down the high end turnpike something special. Something alluring. Something which when heard suspends time and dispels belief. It is to those episodes which the audiophile strives. Attending to details. Obsssessing over minutia. Researching a prospect with extreme due diligence. Combining this and that to hopefully attain the mystical and mesmirising. To catch lightehning in a bottle. Searching far and wide out those special devices when combined that will weave a spell which envelopes them in musical nirvana from the synergy they have conjured up with their audio system match making.
It’s a far easier task to attain this end with substantially over the top components. We all know the ones… those which lay beyond the reach of the majority… the items laden with gobs of ‘unobtainum’ or ‘can’taffordium’. Usually items that carry a huge application fee for obtaining them.
AS years pass by new tacts on how a system is made manifest begin to take on greater prominence and gain a tidal wave of popularity. As with the digital file selection, PC based music servers are now growing up about the high end audio industry like weeds. Some however adhere to more conservative tenants and follow tried and tested lines of thought. Still others subscribe to still older mainstream ideals, forgoeing even the advantages of transistors and chips, for the gleam of glass.
The thor Audio designs used both the old and new in the effort to catch up wizardry in wineglasses, using vacuum tubes in the design topology. Something old, something new… might could still work, huh?
The physical presence of the Thor TA 1000 MK II preamp is arguably the most unique in the high end industry with it’s circular donut like assembly. Both the preamp and it’s power supply are round.
The preamps donut hole contains two 12AX7, and two 12AT7 tubes. The smallish, round, no hole in the middle, power supply attaches to the main body via an umbilical cord and DIN connection. The power switch is a single toggle switch adjacent to the IEC power connector slot and a single timy light is illuminated when the supply is powered up. Three compliant Black diamond racing footers support the circular frame.
The front of the main control center is outfitted with three selector knobs. Volume, Balance, and a source selector which chooses any of four inputs. There is also another likewise tiny light set in the middle of the preamp above the controls serving as further evidence the unit is on or off.
On the rear are two banks of RCA connections. Facing the rear, the left most array show three sets to the left and again to the right. The left most are all inputs. On the right at the top is one more input, and below it is a line (buffered) output, and below that at the bottom most pair, are the active outputs. Again, supporting the control section are three cone shaped black Diamond racing footers set equidistances apart. Underneath the unit is a small hole from which peeks out the receiver for the infrared remote controlled volume sensor.
Simple. Splendid…. And elegant. The uncommon cosmetics do give a clue to the insightful, about it’s sonic acumen. This eye catching esthetic is also a head turning audio component whose voice captivates and satisfies with it’s involvingly natural harmonics and quick footed sonic nimbleness.
This is no “One Trick” pony. Whatever the owner of this preamp wishes to play with it the TA 1000 MK II is willing to oblige, and it obliges most handily any choice of audio selections with ease.
With 20db of splendid single ended .gain, and a near nothing output impedance of 400 ohms, it’s not hard to find an amp that can be driven by the MK II. The broad amplifier choices allow an owner to seek out either solid state or other hollow state signal developers ad infinitum.
The very first time I heard Thor Audio products was on accident, a mere oh, by the way, occurrence. I had never heard them, or of them in fact. I was auditioning some speakers hoping to find a suitable step up from my Monitor gold 60s and was perusing a pair of VSA VR4 Gen IIIs. Being not too impressed with them I sought out the dealer to sign off and end the session, conveying my regrets and goodbyes, when he offered me one other pair to listen to. I was tired but as the trip there was lengthy, I felt killing two birds with one trip a bonus and agreed.
Into a another smaller room we went and he sat me down in the sweet spot, handing me a tiny remote and cued up the CD I had brung alon as my ‘Test disc’. Finishing, he turned to me as he left the room and said, “Enjoy”. …as I turned up the volume from what I heard enjoyment was the least of my then thoughts. Remarkable. Incredible. Wow. Wow. And a few other non verbal assignments were noted as I recall
The mere fact that you can recall a sound event is a pretty good assignment of that event. That sound was generated by the predecessor to the MK II, the TA 1000, a pair of Thor PA 30s, and a pair of VSA VR4 JRs. When I heard what I was listening to was being propelled by a miniscule thirty watss, I was yet further stunned. I had for some time been a major proponent of the “lot’s of watts” only camp…. And tubes were for old folks or those who couldn’t afford the good new stuff. Needless to say, from that point going forward, my whole world was changed.
The sound that billowed out of those little red speakers were gorgeous golden bubbles of sonic majestry. Nothing I had experienced prior to that sitting had even come close. My mind had been made or changed on at least two items I heard that day, the VR4 JRs, and the Thor Audio gear. After hearing the prices of the power train supplying the tunes, and with some assistance, recovering my jaw from the floor of the showroom, the Thor gear became only something I would never be able to acquire… and thus just a haunting memory. 89Db speakers & 30wpc. Wow.
Things change. Time passes, and now and then fortune smiles on a person. About a year ago or so I bought a preowned TA 1000 MK II, sight and sound unknown.
When it arrived I was still adhering to the lot’s of watts remedy for audio applications, with a BAT VK500 SS amp, and had by then as well, the VR 4JRs. I had sold the BAT VK 5i to fund the TA 1000 MK II affair.
Quickly acquiring a new set of NOS tubes for the unit, I began to reacquaint myself with the new pre, and a lot of my previous disc collection… again… and yep, it was like for the first time.
Pace, rhythm, inner detail, low level detail, and a gloriously spatial audio landscape was woven before me. Each and every item in the ‘whatever’ musical choice being played were easily detected and discernable. No longer was there any question if that was a sax or a clarinet. A stand up bass, or an amplified one. Symbols glistened and shimmered. Strings both metal and fibrous were not a trouble to separate any more. Bass gained in extension, resolution, and prominence. Musicians and instruments gained body and delineation in space and relative position to each other in no marginal way.
The MK II was quicker and more transparent than it’s predecessor, the TA 1000. The older siblings quality was more the wet and lush sort. A tad slower, warmer and more golden. The newfound speed soon became a welcome addition and in short now, a necessity, and remains a continuing preference.
Large busy cuts were so easily dispensed big band jazz and blues fast became the favored genre. I spent a lot of time buying and listening to large jazz ensembles from all eras of creativity. The powers of the MK III never broke a sweat recreating the recording disallowing artifacts and generating timberal accuracy in abundance.
Vocalists appeared as if out of thin air so often I began to keep a pad close by for the occasional autograph I might secure. It was no You are there thing… it was a Hi … Love your work… could you make this out to Jim?, they are here thing.
At that point I had come to the belief the best of both worlds had been visited upon me… mega wattage and tube magic. So I naturally sold the BAT amp. I sold the VR4 JRs too… and had absolutely no idea what I would get to replace either with. Yep. It wouldn’t be much of a reach to consider me a card carrying audio nut then, and that a soothing voice and leather couch were going to be a big part of my future routines.
Somewhere, deep within me I was still able to recall that 30 watt audio orgasmic affair I had a few years earlier, and thought to now, finally, venture into the glistening world of glass entirely. The initial thoughts were to acquire the same PA 30’s I had heard yet better the speakerage by some margin along the way too…. Well…. I was half right.
My sojourn into an all thor power line was curtailed by the inexplicable untimely, and questionable exodus of Mr. Marks, chief cook and bottle washer of Thor Audio. This exit was unannounced, unwarranted, and without an apparent pang of conscience. Too, there seemed no regard to the client base he had obligations to by way of authentic assurances… or warranties. All of those obligatory, and supportive avenues suddenly became dreadful dead ends… and all without one word of warning, consolation, or of told mitigating circumstance. It was not a gracious bowing out… but a take the money and run affair. Now, nearly a year later there has been no dispensation, reimbursement, or distribution of information allowing those then or now, owners of thor gear the means to support themselves… eg., schematics, parts lists, vendors, etc.
“A cottage industry at it’s finest” can sum up high end audios real world structure. Fueled by genius, and supported by devotion. Much of the manufacturing is comprised by sole entities whose drive and ardor provide us the stuff dreams are made of wrapped in gossamer fabrics. Many are not large conglomerates, or peopled with abundance. Yet this bungalow business at it’s best strides forward. Intent on creating or re-creating the epitome of electronic paradise for those with the itch to acquire it. I for one am exstatic they prevail and press on in their deeds, and pray for their well being now and then.
Timely or untimely exits although not often done, aren’t without precedence. Mr. Marks was not the first and likely won’t be the last to leave their following holding the proverbial bag.
In this instance, the bag, as it were or the Thor Audio TA 1000 MK II, yet contains much good and little grief. The build quality being superb, and festooned with over the top components, is sure and steadfast in it’s continued ability to perform. Truth be told I didn’t have the heart to tell the MK II the poor news. Consequently, it’s running along as if nothing untoward has occurred. Of that I am immensely grateful.
I’d not wish to convey bad news and create a possible need for therapeutic aftercare in the doing… and just how would that look after all, myself and the TA 1000 MK III on the same couch? Two couches are beyond my means entirely.
I simply settle in, warm up the MK II, and allow myself to be transported by the MK IIs ability to create and weave elaborate sublime tapestries of melodious fare which defy description, and suspend reality… and for a while as I sit listening late at night, the world and all within it are just fine.
So for now, and for a time, capturing some moments of fascination are within my grasp… when it is no more for the thor… the memory will remain…. And that IS what it’s all about.
Great build quality
Incredible sound quality
Eye catching appearance
Only 4 tubes
Outboard power supply
Great pricing currently
IR receiver can get easily pushed up into the preamps body preventing or hampering remote volume control
It would be a good idea to find some tech who knows his stuff, as no one knows where Mr. Marks is these days… or AT LEAST, they ain’t telling.
My current stereo system
(… and a few other associated p[ieces I own)
Thor Audio TA 1000 MK II Tube preamp
2 Dodd Audio 1 0 MK II Tube mono block amps
Odyssey Audio Stratos SE stereo Amplifier
Bel Canto e one DAC III DA converter
Silverline Audio Sonata III Speaker
Silverline Audio SR 15s
Silverline Audio Center Stage
Phase Tech PC 10.5 towers
Phase Tech PC 6.5 floor standing two ways
Canton 220 boodshelfs
Velodyne DD 15 THX Ultra Subwoofer
Velodyne CT 10 subwoofer
Sony SCD- XA 777es CD Player
Sony 400 CDP MEGA CHANGER
Sony combo DVD/VCR player
Oppo DV 980H universal player
Running Springs Audio Halley AC filter
2 PS Audio Duet AC filter
PS Audio UPC 00 AC filter
Sound Anchor 6 shelf Stand
2 Sound Anchor amp stands
2 Sound Anchor Tall Monitor spkr std. Stand
Synergistic Research Tesla Acoustic Ref IC RCA 1M
Synergistic Research Resolution Refference X Activve RCA 1M
Nirvana SX Ltd 1m RCA IC
Harmonic Tech Magic II 1m RCA
MIT Shotgun S2 1.5m RCA IC
Audio Art IC 3 Interconnect RCA 1.5M
Alpha Core Micro Pearl Interconnect RCA 1.5M
Elrod Power Systems Signature 3 Power cord 6 ft 0A
Shunyata Research Taipan helix Alpha Power cord 6ft. 15A
Shunyata Python VX Power cord 6 ft 15A
VooDoo cable Tesla Power cord 5ft 0A
2 VooDoo Cable Gold Dragon Power cord 6 ft 15A
VooDoo Cable Black Dragon Power cord 6 ft 15A
Nirvana power cable
Virtual Dynamics power III
Synergistic Research Signature 10 X2 active Bi wire Speaker cable 21ft.
Synergistic Research Alpha Quad X series Active Speaker cable 15 ft
Synergistic Research Alpha Quad X 2 10ft.
Bright Star iso nodes
6 Herbie's Audio Lab Iso Cups Tweak
Herbie's Audio Lab Peak Tube Damper Rings Tweak
Mother Nature Wood block footers Tweak
2 VooDoo Cable IEC power 0A > 15A adapter
Onkyo TX SR 805 Multi ch receiver
Sony 444es 5.1 AV receiver
BenQ PE 7700 Video
Sony TV model s 30 Rear Pro. 61 inch
CJ, LEVINSON, bat, aDCOM, aYRE, CARY aUDIO dESIGNS