When Pierre Tecon first approached us about reviewing the Tecon 55, I had my doubts about a product with what appeared to be such limited application and output, but then there are other “flea watt” amplifiers out there that sell for super high prices, so the Tecon fit our Mission of bringing to you products that are unknown or ignored by “the others” and present a potential good value.
The Tecon 55 is a very small, well built and very stylish integrated tube amplifier with a conservative output of 5.5 watts per channel but this is pure Class A power. At only 7 1/2" (W)x10"(D)x 7" (H), it has a very small footprint, but weighs about 14 pounds. The Model “55” uses two Chinese 6P14 output tubes, sometimes referred to as "EL84 on steroids". A distinctive 5755 tube based driver and no global negative feedback. Uniquely, the 5755 is a “new-old-stock” Raytheon, which tells you this unit is not just another cheesy Ipod amp. This amp has high-end intentions.
I asked Monsieur Tecon about his tube choices, to which he replied, "Selecting NOS Raytheon 5755 tubes was an early decision made when we worked with different breadboards. We knew that these would be quite costly and not so easy to find, however the sonic quality that we expected from them was outstanding. They also are a very well suited driver in our circuit for the EL84s. We also spent many hours testing different manufacturers of tubes. We argued about the sound of JJ, Sovtek, Eletro Harmonix and Shuguan EL84s, etc… But, at the end of the day, I decided that I did not want any of those. I liked the sound of the 6P14 from Beijing, even though they were hard to get and more expensive. Why? Because of their sound “body” and depth quality. I made the decision; after all, the amp bears my name!"
A very important feature of the Tecon is that it has a USB input that allows direct connection to an Ipod or similar device, or you can hook up directly from your computer, or any other USB source for that matter. Of course, it also has one pair of regular RCA ‘s for your CD player, tuner, etc. One small downside is that though there are 2 inputs, there is no selector by which to switch between the two. The USB input has priority. When using the auxiliary input source connected with RCA cables, you must unplug the USB connector, otherwise there will be no sound coming from the speakers. Of course, the lack of a switch means the signal path is that much cleaner and purer, so it may be a good trade off if you aren’t one who switches a lot or decides to use this as a dedicated output amp in a small auxiliary system. The 55 is designed to work with either 8 or 4 ohm speakers. Needless to say, speaker selection is critical as is room size. Pierre recommends a speaker with at least 90 dB efficiency, used in a small or medium room in a close or near field position.
Stereomojo loves to reveal some of the industry’s dirty little secrets, and there are a bunch of them. One of them is speaker efficiency ratings. They are mostly inaccurate and many are based on different measurement standards. In other words, never depend on a speaker’s published efficiency ratings, especially if your amp is low powered. Always try them out first in your room in your own system.
If you have read any of my other reviews, you will have picked up on one of my pet peeves – excessively bright lights on audio gear. Linda and I like to listen in the dark, so LED’s that are laser level bright can often illuminate the whole room. The 55 does not have any “power on” LED, but does have soft blue lights built into the base of the tube sockets which gives the bottles a VERY cool, soft blue glow along side the already sexy golden glow of the filaments. Okay, it’s a gimmick, but for us it’s a good one. It’s not bright enough to glare or be distracting, which is good because you can’t turn the lights off. We like!
Around back, you can see high quality, audiophile grade connectors. Since the AC cord is not captive, you can upgrade to an aftermarket power cable. Again, these are high-end quality features, not the Circuit City type stuff you usually see.
While Tecon is based in California, the 55 is made in China.
Pierre told me the unit needs 50 hours of burn in (the very well written manual specifies it, too), so I followed the instructions before serious listening.
I set up the Tecon in my small room with a pair of B&W bookshelf’s rated at 90dB. That’s probably a little high, but they are still moderately efficient. Using the Stereomojo Demo Disk, the first cut gauges soundstage. I was amazed at the huge, deep and wide image that was projected. The height reached the 9’ ceiling, well above the standmount monitors. This performance is on par with much more expensive amps. The next cut by Flim & the BB’s tests dynamics. There are 100dB dynamic swings. Here the Tecon showed its limitations. While the presentation was more than adequate, there is only so much limited watts can do. I got a good 80-85dB of volume with a little mild, soft saturation. Most people would find this plenty loud, especially with material that is not too complex.
The next cut from The Mission Soundtrack, tests just that. Pulling the volume down just a tad revealed that same big soundstage with a wealth of detail and air. Instrument timbers like the oboe solo that drifts over the complex choral, orchestral and African percussion backdrop were true.
Next up was Linda Ronstadt’s “Shattered”, a slow ballad in which her voice soars, unfettered by excessive studio compression and limiting. Vocals, especially the kind often found in audiophile recordings with minimal instrumental backup may be the Tecon’s biggest strength. Linda sounded big and outfront, just as she should here. There was a great deal of warmth that let her incredible vocal expression emerge. Male vocals fared equally well.
Big, dynamic orchestras such as those found on various releases on the great Reference Recordings label would be the weakest link, I believe, though it couldn’t be described as “weak”, just not it’s strongest suit.
I also played several of the same cuts (lossless AIFF files) via Itunes on my laptop using the USB input on the 55. There was no degradation of the sound and it might have been a little cleaner, but by all practical purposes the same was the same. That’s a good thing.
Next, just for fun and a little experimentation, I set up the miniature amp in the big room with a pair of massive, 4 ft. tall Cain & Cain Single Horn Ben’s reviewed here. As you can see, the big Ben’s are very big and very heavy. They are also very efficient; rated at 98dB. I must say that size wise, mating the 55 to the Cains was seemed like mating a mouse and an elephant, but there was nothing rodent-like about the sound of the amp. I should mention that this set up is not what Pierre recommends, per se. The room is large and the speakers are set up in a in a 10’ triangle – hardly near field. But, I thought the added 9 dB efficiency would make up for the difference.
The big Ben’s are far more revealing than the B&W’s, but what I heard was very much the same. There was even more detail and dynamic contrasts and the velvety tube sound was even more apparent. Still, even with this efficiency, dynamics are a bit limited, but again this was a bit of a misapplication. Again however, the little amp came across as very much an entry to mid-level high-end product. This is not a toy. It’s a serious piece of tube amp gear.
After the intial listening sessions using the Stereomojo test CD, I continued over a period of weeks to listen to many other recordings, especially in the vinyl LP format with my TW Acustic Raven One rig. Pierre's prize took never took a false step or misbehaved. Vinyl sounded marvelous through the Tecon, again within its limitations. Vocals, small jazz ensembles, small scale classical and the like all were very musical and listeneable for long periods of time. No fatigue unless it was pressed beyond its means.
I will say this; I think Pierre missed a good opportunity by not incorporating a headphone section. I think headfiers would love this thing, especially since most of them are younger types who appreciate a "cool" factor. Hey, I'm 55 and I love cool! And, there may be many more headfiers than there are people who might want this for it's intended purpose. I'm just sayin'...
If you want to explore the world of tubes or already are a tube aficionado and have or want to have a small system with very efficient speakers, the Tecon Audio 55 is a very inexpensive option.The USB input gives the Tecon much functionality. If you just want to improve the sound of your Ipod playback, this works. If you're looking to go with a server based computer system, this will do that, too. Most importantly, the Tecon 55 is a very musical little amp. If you stay within its designed limits, this is a very cool looking and solid piece of high end nirvana.