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.

Very well written review. Kudos to you.
Thanks for the review. I've always wondered if the new Distinction series would not only measure up but catch on as well. The TEAC PD-H600 that I have is considered 'Esoteric Lite' and with the intervening years it sounds like some more of that Esoteric sound is filtering down to TEACs more affordable lines.

All the best,
I see you posted your review 1.5 years ago. I like to read a follow up after you've had it for quite awhile...if you still have it and not sold it after the initial honeymoon stage. Looking forward to your further comments.
I just picked up the smaller brother piece to this a few days ago (Teac AI-2000) at a local hifi shop and I am shocked on how good it sounds! Best purchase in the last 10 years as the sonic performance comes pretty darn close to my Musical Fidelity KW-500 at a fraction of the cost. Nice to see Gibson Guitars and now bought 2 Japanese companies over the last couple of years Onkyo/Teac and hopefully we will see more pieces that sound this good in the future as well!
@ Gandalf, I was also interested in the AI-2000, my main concern with this amp is does the amp have enough power to drive less efficient speakers? Mine are rated at 4 ohm 84 dBs, and played at moderate levels. Thanks
Maxboy00: Ah never saw this reply, but it runs my Dynaudio C2s without a problem, the dual power supply for each channel sure helps. I think it even sounds a tad better than my Musical Fidelity A3.5.
This is, in my opinion, the best deal and most over looked amplifier in high end audio. The AI-3000 absolutely stomps on many amplifiers costing 3 times as much, and every amp I've ever heard in it's original $3,000 price range don't even come close.

Incredibly clean and detailed, superb timing, throws a huge stage, has a tube/class A finesse to it. Not to mention, this level of build quality is few and far between these days.

It's also in another league compared to the AI-1000 and AI-2000 below it. 
smoothfidelity: I would agree as I have owned both and currently have my AI-2000 in a separate office system. The AI-3000 had more head room power all depends on what size room etc.. But the AI-2000 and AI-3000 sonically sounded very close.  The level of build quality is that of Esoteric their sister company, which says a lot of what these units sound like and build quality! 
Would you please comment on the sound of the 2000 and if you have compared it to other units you may have had?  I ask this because it seems the trend now is for much gear to have a thin detailed and sometimes even thin and warm sound.  I guess ears have changed  I want the things to have somewhat of a rich neutral to slightly warm sound with some body to it. Like a real instrument has. As an example I tried a Yamaha AS 2000 best thing since sliced bread.  Not to my ears.  Sounded thin in the mids and top  and almost bright. REALLY wanted to like it but preffered the smaller 801 and 700 I tried.  Thanks
Gandalf: I have owned and compared the 2000 and 3000 side by side many times over and the differences are large between the two. They do NOT sound the same. The only similarity they have is the clarity to the midrange. The 3000 throws a wider stage, digs WAY deeper in the low end, and has a more balanced overall smoother sound.

As good as the 2000 is for the money, the 3000 walks all over it. 
smoothfidelity: I have never had them side by side, I do see the 3000 online for decent prices, and I use the AI-2000 as a backup and with a decent dac it sounds great, but running a CD player into it directly a tad bright for my ears, hence my backup. I did have a chance to use several Hegel H100/H160 and H360 units and compared them to AI-2000 and AI-3000 before I sold it. And your statement "Walks all over it" applies when comparing these units, the Hegel sounded superior in every way. But that’s my ears. There are several units on Ebay selling for the $1200 range, not bad for a decent performer. Another great performer that doesn’t get much press is Belles! I see your a Sony HAP user as well, that's my main unit that is currently feeding my AI-2000 I am getting a H160 shortly and will most likely keep that unit.