TEAC AI-3000 Integrated Amp Review
A few days back I posted looking for impressions from anyone who had heard the TEAC Distinction Series of integrated amplifiers. Not many shops in my area carry the line - even those that are TEAC dealers, so I wasn't surprised that there was no response to the thread.
I have owned the TEAC A-1D integrated amplifier and used it in my second system for nearly 10 years now, and for the $300 I paid, I consider it one of the best audio values I've come across. It's not a reference grade amp by any stretch, but it's a great little integrated for beginning or a second system. This being said, I was already a fan of the TEAC products, which both piqued my interest in the new larger Distinction series and gave me reason to believe that the products may provide a great value... my suspicions were certainly correct.
I picked up the AI-3000 yesterday from a dealer a couple hours away from my house (the only one in the state that carried the Distinction line in store). My first impression was that this is a statement piece - meaning that its size, styling and bright blue indicator lights will not go unnoticed in a rack. At 20" deep and weighing in at nearly 70 lbs with large heat sinks running down both sides it's sure to garner a great deal of attention for its appearance. The very thick aluminum clad exterior is befitting of an amplifier at its price point - and price points much higher. The "fit" of the unit is exceptional - all seems are tight and perfectly machined suggesting fine craftsmanship and attention to detail in the manufacturing and assembly process. The finish work on the aluminum is quite nice - brushed on the face and top plate and smooth black on the heatsinks. The metallurgy is not quite to the stratospheric standards that you see on some uber-expensive products like Ayre, but leaves nothing to be desired. The volume knob it a solid piece of aluminum that feels substantive when turned, and the selector buttons, haloed by glowing blue light when selected, feel well crafted and sturdy when pushed.
The remote is made of a combination of materials - plastic for the lower portion and brushed black aluminum for the faceplate. The remote is substantive, but does not feel like a brick or billy-club in your hand - thinking of Bryston and Plinius respectively. At the push of each rubber button the remote gives a slight clicking sound, and as you adjust volume up and down, the aforementioned blue light on the amp, indicating the source, flashes. I presume this is intended to be a non-audible cue that the signal was received - which is unnecessary but not a distraction. The power on/off cannot be performed from the remote. As with many amps, you will have to turn the unit on and off by depressing the power button below the volume dial.
Regarding the sound... I ended up purchasing the display model, as I wanted the silver faceplate with silver top and black heatsinks, and the only one in this style they had was the display. Obviously this mitigates any chance (real or imaginary) that "break in" would impact the initial sound of the unit in my system:
1) AAD 2001 Monitors & matching stands
2) Pro-ject Expression III TT with Black Pearl cartridge
3) Ballari VP129 with stock tube (I have not yet tried the TEAC's internal phono stage)
After 3 or 4 hours of listening with everything from Elvis Costello to Citizen Cope I'm very impressed with the sound this unit is producing in my system and feel confident that it could stand its own against competitors in its price range and much higher. The amp displays incredible control of the AAD 2001s, producing prodigious tight bass and a dynamism and crispness in the mids and highs that I had never had with prior amplifiers. Percussion sounds seem to rise and disappear nearly instantaneously. The soundstage it produces is extremely wide with precise definition around each instrument and plenty of air between them on properly recorded tracks. The amp is just warm enough to curb some of the brighter characteristics of metal tweeters. I would describe the sound as "effortless". The amp never seems to strain or let the sound get muddy on complex recordings - there is always enough power on reserve.
As with any review, these are my impression, in my system, in my room, but I can say with some confidence that if you're shopping in the $3,000 range this integrated is well worth looking into.