AUDIO FORUMS >> General Discussion and Support >> Torii, Harbeth and phono stages

Message started by raferx on 03/07/14 at 02:17:18

Title: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by raferx on 03/07/14 at 02:17:18

Hi all,

New to the Decware forums, but after reading about their products for a while now and I'm very interested in the Torii MK III or IV amplifier.

I'm looking at running the amp in a two-channel vinyl system with a Sutherland Ph3D battery-powered phono stage. This stage has no controls other than internal jumpers to adjust gain and impedance, so I'd be reliant on the Torii's "volume" control.
Is anyone else using a Torii without a traditional preamp per se?
I've read that most prefer the sound straight out of the amp, so would I be OK with this set up?
Also, I bought an audiophile iPod 30-pin to RCA cable so my girlfriend can play ALAC files. Would this be OK in the system as well?
Also, I'm running Harbeth P3ESR speakers that have a 83.5 dB rating, but present a very easy 6-ohm load, and since I know that even 10w SET amps (Audio Note Oto) have driven this speaker to very respectable volume levels, I'm hoping the Torii's 25 watts would fare even better?
Any feedback would be greatly appreciated, TIA.

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by tom collins on 03/07/14 at 20:33:00

I don't know about the Harbeths, but I run my Decware Phono Pre through SUT directly into the amp.  I used to use a preamp, but sold it after I was convinced that it was not needed back when I was using 90 db. efficient Dali 800 Helicons.  However, I had to have the volume at around 80% to make those speakers sing.  They sounded good, but, I think they were dynamically compressed because it took so much wattage just to run at a normal volume. I now use Decware ERR speakers, so 94 db efficient.  Very synergistic.  No higher than 25% volume and that is pushing it.  Dynamics with 2 subs are all there.  Hint:  KT66 tubes will really smooth out the overall response.  EL34s are gorgeous, but the midrange tends to be highlighted at the expense of the extremes.  Could be a good alternative for your Harbeths.  Sounds like a totally different amp.  I used to have a Cary 120S with 60 watts triode and 120 ultralinear.  The 66 vs. 34 is very much like that amp, much more muscular with 66, very little sacrifice in delicacy and layering.  Of course, if I feel like a female singer-songwriter night, I just pop the vintage Mullard 34s back in and sonic heaven pours forth.  Torii 3 by the way.  Get one, you won't look back.

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by Lin on 03/07/14 at 22:22:22

What size is your room?
Have you ever checked spl levels with a meter when listening?

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by raferx on 03/08/14 at 02:04:38

Thanks for responses guys. I appreciate the feedback.
My room is about 12' x 17', I've never used anything to measure the sound levels.
I just know what sounds "right." I like it loud, but not fatiguing, if that makes sense.
I need to hear every nuance of the song, which is why I love the Harbeths, not very efficient, but what sound!
The P3s I'm running now are 83.5 dB, and the plan is to jump up the chain to the Harbeth M30.1s, only marginally better at 85 dB, but an improved frequency range due to their size.
I'd love more efficient speakers for tubes, but I've not heard anything as good as the Harbeth line so far, and I've done a fair amount of listening to kit.
That said, I'm always open to have my hair blown back by something new.

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by Lon on 03/08/14 at 02:53:11

R, welcome! We were talking about this on another forum.

I think the Torii may struggle with speakers of that efficiency, but one never know do one? (as Fats Waller used to say).

My best advice? Give Steve Deckert a call. He loves to talk to potential customers and customers and he knows more than we'll ever know about these amps and what they can do with what. . . .

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by Lin on 03/08/14 at 02:58:56

If that is your system and the Sonneteer Champion provided enough power, the Torii will be fine.
Whether or not you have enough gain to drive the Torii depends on the Sutherland and cartridge you are using, you should be okay.
My guess is that the i-pod will not work very well without an additional gain stage (preamp).

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by raferx on 03/08/14 at 03:21:37

Hi guys,

Yes, that is my system.
As for carts I'm looking at the Audio Technica AT33-EV, the Sutherland will do 60 dB of gain.
The Sonneteer is only 33 watts, but it is a very sweet, transparent and well-controlled 33 watts (44 into 6 ohms, which is what my Harbeths are).
I have some hardcore audiophile friends running the Harbeth P3s with the Audio Note Oto SE and PP (10 watts) and swear by it, which is why I was thinking the Torii might really have the juice at 25 watts.
I'm really looking to get into the glorious 3D tube sound (did quite a bit of listening to Harbeth M40.1s with an Audio Note M8 preamp – HEAVEN!) and from everything I'm hearing in various audiophile forums I frequent, the Torii should have the mustard.
IS the sound stage, imaging and bass control all that I'm reading?

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by Lon on 03/08/14 at 11:47:23

Good news! I think you would really enjoy a Torii Mk III or Mk IV.

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by seikosha on 03/08/14 at 14:31:28

Raferx fwiw, I'm a harbeth fan.  I have a set of p3ESR's and as much as I like them, in my room, I greatly prefer my Decware and Omega setup.  There is a real synergy between low watt set amps and high efficiency speakers that I just haven't been able to match using conventional components.  I could be wrong, but I do wonder if the Torii would be the way to go if you really want to stick with Harbeths.

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by raferx on 03/08/14 at 20:49:02

Could you describe how the sound of the two speakers differs?
Not easy, I know, but I'm always interested in someone who has Harbeth and ends up preferring something else.
Is it merely because of the amp? If the amp is that good than it must really be something special to prefer higher-efficiency speaker just to keep the amp.
Owning the P3s, you know what amazing timbral accuracy they have, and how true they are in voicing instruments and reproducing the human voice.
I've yet to hear another speaker do it better, with the M40.1 being the best I've heard. I love the P3s, but they are my entry into Harbeth as the M30.1 seems to strike the best price/performance ratio in the lineup for me, having demoed every Harbeth for at least several hours.
The Omegas look very lovely, but I'm not yet familiar with full-range speakers that possess no crossover, I'm guessing they have a very unique sound.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts/impressions.
Thanks man!

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by seikosha on 03/09/14 at 00:02:59

Hi Raferx,

First, here's some thoughts I posted on another forum:

I converted to a Single Drive Low Watt setup last year. Mentally it was a big step and truthfully, I don't think I could have done it if I hadn't gotten a chance to hear this approach before I took the plunge. After having lived with my setup now, I'm a total convert.

What I get with my SET and single driver setup is a speed, coherency and a very unbox like sound with the best soundstaging and imaging capabilities of any speakers I've owned. I have two systems set up, besides my Omega Decware system, I have another that I rotate Kef LS50's and Harbeth P3ESR's in and out of. I have to say, it's hard to listen to the Kefs and Harbeths after listening to the Omegas. Both sound slow, boxy and very discontinuous. It's like you can hear the transition from the midrange to the tweeter and I sometimes hear an odd phasiness (for lack of a better word) with those speakers that the Omegas don't have. It's common for two way speakers to have the tweeters wired out of phase with the woofers and both the Kefs and Harbeths are designed this way. It's possible that I can now hear this after living with the Omegas. Before I owned the Omegas, I NEVER  heard these colorations on the Kefs or Harbeths and if someone told me these speakers had them, I'd think that they had their systems set up wrong.  Now they jump out at me instantly. When listening to the Omegas I am often reminded of the sound I used to get with some Magnepans I used to have.  It's a very open sound.

That said, I can understand where the single driver concept isn't for everyone. Shortcomings of my system and I can easily live with them is that the sound ultimately isn't as big or with the impact of traditional speakers. After all, this is a single small driver and at the end of the day, it's not going to move as much air as a big multi way system. For me, it's not an issue, but for others, I could understand how it could be. I know some people play their music quite loud and for those folks, I'm sure some of them would miss some of the big sound you get from multiple driver setups.

Also, ultimate bass response is limited. According to my SPL meter, in my room, my Omega's start to roll off right at 60hz. I'm not a bass freak so it's not a big deal and there are other single driver speakers with larger drivers so as you move up in driver size, this could become less of an issue.

Don't get me wrong, my system will play loud and with impact, but if you are the type of person that blasts Midnight Oil with 100db+ peaks, you'll notice that they don't have the slam that a comparable well designed two way with bigger drivers has.

As far as music styles, I'm all over the place. Basically everything except for hardcore rap and heavy metal.

Okay, now to try and give some comparisons to the P3's.  First of all, this is in a room that's relatively small at 12x11 feet.  The room is treated with panels and bass traps.  Like most small speakers the Harbeths have the typical bass hump in the 100 -200 range.  At the same time, the Omegas are actually a little depressed in the same range so this is what you'd first notice.  I've confirmed this with SPL measurements.  Remember though, the room is as important as a component as anything and if your room is different than mine, things won't be the same.

Ultimately, the Harbeths probably will play louder and I'd say that when you get up in the top of the high frequency range, the Harbeths are better.  I've always thought that the tweeter in the Harbeths was exceptionally refined sounding.  At the end of the day, what will really tip you one way or the other will be how your ear reacts to that midbass area between 100 -200hz.

For me, it's much easier going from the room I have my Harbeths in to my SET system.  When I turn the SET system on, I feel like my ears are relaxing and it just sounds right.  When I go from the SET system to the Harbeths, the sound just feels heavier and slower.  It can take an hour or two before my ears kind of readjust but I still always feel like they just aren't doing things as well as the Omegas.

Harbeths are nice though and I've heard some of their bigger speakers as well.  There definitely is a house sound to them and out of all the small conventional speakers I've owned, they are my favorites.  My favorite amp with them was  Musical Fidelity M3i, but I never heard them with a tube amp more powerful than a few watts, so I'm just not sure what that kind of combination would tease out of the system.  FWIW, I've spoken to the guy (Louis) who makes Omegas and he's actually met Allan Shaw, the Harbeth designer.  Louis has told me that he admires the P3 and it's actually his favorite of the Harbeth designs.  

Last thing...their is some sort of magic synergy between these low watt amps and high efficiency speakers.  If I put the Omegas in the system that I run the Harbeths in, it's a toss up.  The magic of the Omegas is diminished and they lose some of their dimensionality and refinement so if you go to something like a high efficiency speaker, you really should take a system approach to it.

Good luck with your decision!

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by raferx on 03/09/14 at 10:23:25

Hey Lin,
Thanks for the advice regarding the iPod, as far as preamps go, do most recommend Decware? Are many using SS preamps, or is it best to go tube/tube for synergy?


Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by raferx on 03/09/14 at 10:26:46

Hi Lon,

I think giving Steve a call is great advice, many thanks :)


Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by raferx on 03/09/14 at 10:39:00

Thanks so much for the detailed response Seikosha, I'll reply at length tomorrow.

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by raferx on 03/10/14 at 02:13:46

Hey Seikosha,

Very interesting, and well thought-out response, thanks for that man.
Also interesting that you are running Harbeths and LS50s, as my father runs the KEFs and we sometimes swap them out for listening sessions on our respective amps/sources (he's a CD/FLAC guy), I'm all vinyl.

While I really like the LS50s, I find them fatiguing compared to the P3s (YMMV), so I'm quite curious to hear a very efficient speaker again (I used to have Klipsch Heresy IIs) but it's been a couple years and I didn't really have my ears "trained" or "broken-in" to what true hi fi sound was. Since then I've spent a lot of time listening to a fair number of high-end systems with either audiophile LP remasters or 24/192 high-res FLAC recordings... always a work in progress, but at least I can say my ears have taste up to this point, and I'm hoping to improve.

The Decware gear is fascinating to me as I've never taken a hard look at tube amps and 90dB+ speakers with a critical eye, so it's quite an awakening to consider the synergy between the two and the state of mind/philosophy behind it.

The P3s are really amazing me, and the M30.1s really put my hair straight back (want them next), so I'm hesitant, because to think that if I go the tube route that Harbeth might not work really puts a kink in my upgrade path... that said, the road less travelled, etc.

If my friends running Audio Note SETs into P3s swear by them, I think I need to make the trip (several hours by car and ferry) and hear their systems for myself before I commit to anything.

If a 10w Oto SE can make the Harbeth's sing, then I owe it to myself to hear it, because the Torii at 25w should really knock me out.

Since I listen mostly to jazz and vocal (90 per cent), folk, folk-rock (Wizz Jones!) some classic rock, a pinch of electronic and classical, the Harbeth's really hit it out of the park for me, so I don't know if I could forfeit their timbral accuracy for speed, and transient attack.

I'm also actively looking at Audio Note & Croft gear, (which is tube/SS hybrid) and very well reviewed. I love my Sonneteer, but a little more "oomph" is called for I believe, and my tube friends in Victoria at Soundhounds say SET is the way to go for huge sound stage, 3D/timbral accuracy and real bass.

I love the look and vibe of the Decware gear, and this forum is great. Just seems like a real laid back company and attitude where the sound comes first, and that's what it's all about for me.

Time for a glass of wine.


Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by jsm71 on 03/11/14 at 18:27:03

Rafe, the mental math that you are wrestling with in regard to speaker sensitivity and amp power is the same exercise I've been through.   I have a Torii MK IV and my speakers' sensitivity is 87dB.   I get all the volume I need in my small room, but I am buying a ZMA becuase I expect to have a bigger room some day and I'll want the extra oomph.

Let's do some math for your Harbeths and assume a worst case scenario.  Each 3dB of extra volume requires that you double the wattage.  Sensitivity is the volume your speaker puts out measured from 1 meter away with 1 watt.  You should get 83dB of output volume with 1 watt of steady signal.  Volume falls off from 3 to 6dB for each meter further away you sit.

Let's say you sit 3 meters away which even in the worst case should give you about 71dB of volume with a steady 1 watt.  Music isn't steady, but the math makes for an interesting exercise.  
01 watts - 71dB
02 watts - 74dB  Decware Super Zen Triode
04 watts - 77dB  Decware Mini Torii
08 watts - 80dB
16 watts - 83dB  The Torii gives at least this level but not quite the next level
32 watts - 86dB  The ZMA gives at least this level but not quite the next level
64 watts - 89dB  Decware Monos

I listen at levels no higher than 80dB on average.  Higher levels don't sound any better, but gets me yelled at to turn it down.  Even with your Harbeth's tough sensitivity you should be able to get at least 83dB of volume output with the Torii.  I was applying worst case with volume fall off to your listening seat, and you may in fact get 3-6 more dB at full output.  Is that loud enough?  Like me, you may want to consider the ZMA if your budget allows.

Edit:  I forgot that you get about 3dB back by having two speakers.

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by Lin on 03/11/14 at 22:05:25

IME the "math" never works out.

Rafe has used a 33 watt amp with good results, so the Torii with 25 watts should be fine.

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by raferx on 03/12/14 at 03:20:29

Great stuff, thanks for all the math :)
I'm terrible at that stuff because I don't ever know the formulas.
Yes, my Campion is 33 watts (44 into 6ohms) of solid state British goodness, and I've been told it's very "tubey" sounding.
Do you guys find the Torii (and tubes in general) to convey bass much more realistically than solid state?
Thanks so much!

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by jsm71 on 03/12/14 at 21:43:56

I'll be the first to admit that the "math" is nothing more than allowing you to get a feel for the listening levels one could achieve, and not to be used as absolute.  So many variables.  If you know you will want to crank 100+dB sound levels and the chart suggests you're more in the 85dB realm, you may need to rethink.  The relationship of volume to wattage is a fact you can't get around however.  Jumping up another 3dB of volume does require you to double the wattage.  Achieving another 10dB requires 10 times the wattage.  This is why 1000 watt amps aren't as massive as they might seem.  They will only push 10dB more than a 100 watt amp.  The real value of extra wattage overhead has more to do with covering dynamic spikes than steady listening levels.

The first time I heard a Torii MK III (a friend's amp) on my system I was floored by how good the bass was.  The Torii MK IV that I have doesn't have the range of bass control the III allowed, but the bass is very high quality, better than two different $5k SS amps I've had in the past.  I've never read any account from Torii owners of bass dissapointment.  

Tube choice plays quite a roll as well as to the quality of bass.  The stock 6922 tubes shipped with my Torii actually produce more bass output, but thicker sounding than NOS Telefunkens that I run normally.  I prefer the Teles for the cleaner sound top to bottom.  It's great to be able to tailor the sound to your liking.

Title: Re: Torii, Harbeth and phono stages
Post by raferx on 03/15/14 at 19:48:51

Thanks again for the great, thoughtful and helpful replies everyone :)
My listening position is in the sweet spot of an equilateral triangle about 7-8' away from my speakers. I play with the speakers toe-in and positioning every week or two for fine tuning in the room as it is now, but I know that with a new rug coming that will probably change too.
As I've said, I like it loud, solid, realistic – like I'm there with the musicians – perhaps is a better description? (but not fatiguing)
So, from looking at the chart and estimating roughly what SPL I like (I've never measured it), I'd say around 85dB is probably my max, but that's only a guess, and I'm sure some careful acoustic treatment of the room will also help.
Bass seems to be the area that I'm most critical about in listening, perhaps because of the P3s bass roll off. They don't produce a lot of bass, but what is there is very defined and controlled and often sounds/feels like more than what is there, and I feel a bit spoiled at how well they manage to do this compared to many other speakers rated far lower in output, but that just don't sound nearly as realistic.
I'm still researching amps; the Torii remains in the top-three mix and is the only pure-tube choice for me. The Croft Micro is also up there, but is a tube/SS hybrid and the LFD is the lone SS contender.
If anyone reading this had a choice between a Torii MK III and the MK IV, could you comment why you would prefer one over the other?
Many thanks, Mahalo from Hawaii.

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