Well, the Torii Mk. 2 I ordered came in Friday.  It's still breaking in and I haven't had as much time to listen as I would like, but I thought I should post some initial reactions, since not many people have heard it yet.  (I can post a followup in a few weeks, after it has done most of the break-in, if there is interest.)  
 
For reference, a little background (skip down a couple of paragraphs for the Torii info):
 
I ordered the Decware RL-3 speakers back early in the year (coming from Magnepan 3.6's with a hefty SS amp).  Unfortunately, I got one of the ones with bad drivers, but after shipping them back to Ziggy and then later getting the updated radial driver from him this summer, I have what I think is equivalent to the currently shipping model.  (It took a long time, but Ziggy and Steve were great to deal with, really exceptional customer service.)  These speakers sound great now.
 
This summer, I ordered the Taboo amp with the CSP preamp.  I had that combo in my system with the RL-3's for about a month.  I REALLY liked the sound of this combo a lot, especially with the "lucid mode".  However, this combo seemed to always skirt the edge of clipping for me.  I don't listen terribly loud, but the type of music I listen to, especially orchestral and early music, tends to have peaks that are significantly higher than the general volume level, so it wasn't unusual to get clipping/distortion on those peaks.  I could easily fix that by turning the volume down a bit further, but it was always a bit of a crap shoot on a particular piece whether it would do this at a normal volume level (pure soprano voice was particularly dangerous...).  Also, it seemed to run out of steam and compress just a bit on louder, more complex orchestral pieces.  Things like jazz and pop music sounded great, however.  So, I was trying to decide whether the great sound/tone and imaging was an acceptable trade-off for the really annoying clipping limitation (it was especially annoying to be in the middle of a piece and discover you needed to drop the volume even more, especially on pieces recorded very low).  My timing was good, though, since I called Steve just as he was finishing the design of the new Torii.  He was really enthusiastic about it and told me he thought it would be just as good in the things I liked, fix the problem with clipping, and have better detail.  (I appreciate the time he spent on the phone discussing this and other stuff with me.)  When he also mentioned the introductory price for the first 10 ordered, I jumped on it.  It also helped that he said he didn't think I really needed a preamp with it (unlike the Taboo), so that made the price difference easier to swallow.  So, I regretfully boxed up the Taboo and CSP and sent them back.
 
Taboo disclaimer:  I make some comparisons here to the Taboo/CSP combo, since that is the best I have had in my system prior to this.  However, I last had the Taboo/CSP in my system almost 2 months ago, so I am relying on my aural memory.  (I did have it in my system for about a month and listened to it a LOT during that time, though, so while I wouldn't put any money on it, I do feel my comparisons are basically fair.)  Also, I am running things into the Decware RL-3 speakers, so this might not be true for different/more efficient speakers.
 
So, let's cut to the chase:  Is this amp better than the Taboo?  In my system, absolutely.  Don't get me wrong, I loved the sound and imaging of the Taboo, but the clipping problem would have driven me crazy eventually.  However, there's more to it than just the power:
 
Bass - Torii is very noticeably bigger and more authoritative.  If anything, it is a bit much right now, but that could be break-in (it seems to be changing over time).  I didn't really feel I was missing anything with the Taboo, but then I'm not a big bass fiend anyway.  (The Taboo did seem to wimp out on organ music a friend brought over.  When I get a chance, I'm going to try that with the Torii later.)
 
Imaging - Hmmm, this one's much harder.  The Torii is noticeably better than the Taboo in non-lucid mode.  In lucid mode, the Taboo is competitive, though different.  The Torii seems a bit broader and more connected.  The Taboo in lucid mode hangs in space (kind of floating) in a way that is entirely different.  (I always thought of it as a bit psychedelic, in a good way...)  I would say the Taboo is perhaps more enjoyable (at least on some things), though I think the Torii is more "realistic", very natural.
 
Tone - Well, they are both really good here, though in different ways.  I would describe the Taboo as more "seductive", while I think of the Torii as more "natural".  It's kind of the difference between looking at a portrait vs. a photograph.  In a way, the portrait is more attractive, thought the photograph is more true to life.  They both have their place, but it's really a matter of taste which you prefer.  The only thing that disappointed me about the Taboo (other than the clipping) was that I was never quite as happy listening to early music on it as I wanted to be (unfortunately, that's one of my favorite genres); I could never pin down what I felt was missing or out of whack or whatever and it wasn't a big lack, just something subtle.  I don't have that feeling at all on the Torii; something about the tone color just seems more right to me on it.  (I didn't feel that with anything else on the Taboo, just early music. It was strange...)  
 
High frequency extension - This seems quite good on both.  The Torii is still breaking in, so we'll see where it winds up at.  It is perhaps a bit more extended, but I wouldn't swear to it.
 
Transparency - Again, they are both quite good here.  I give the nod to the Torii on this one, especially on string transients.  Even without much break-in, plucked strings sound particularly  real on it.  Of course, keep in mind that I am going directly into the Torii, while I had a CSP on the Taboo.  (I did try the Taboo without the CSP briefly, but it just needed the extra gain on too many things.  It did seem more transparent that way, though.)
 
Ease - I'm not sure exactly what to call this, but one of the things that really impresses me about the Torii is the incredible ease with which it does everything; I think that's what helps it seem so natural, you never feel a strain.  At lower volumes, the Taboo had some of this, though in a different way.  I kind of think of the Taboo as "floating" while the Torii is "flowing".  (How much that helps anyone else, I can't say, but it's the image I get.)
 
Energy - I find the Torii more energetic, with more drive.  The Taboo was more relaxed and mellow (though not too much so).  Basically a matter of taste...

Ergonomics (not really a comparison, just some comments):  I'm glad that, even though the amp is basically "dual mono", Steve decided on a single volume pot for everything (I don't like separate left/right controls).  I have had the treble "tone controls" all the way up all the time.  The power cord sticking straight up could be a problem if your cord isn't very flexible (for aftermarket powercords).  I wish he offered this with 2 switchable inputs.  I'm going to have to decide whether to stick my passive preamp in the circuit (a very high quality one) for source control or just bite the bullet and plug/unplug the interconnects each time.  (I decided to start by going straight into the amp, however.  I'll try the preamp later to see if I hear a difference.)  This is certainly a very attractive amp, though it does get pretty hot.  
 
Warning:  The headphone output that Steve mentions in his white paper seems to have disappeared.  Since they aren't mentioned in the specs page, I suspect they are no longer part of the design (Steve?).  Not a big deal for me, since I'm not very big on headphone listening, but be sure to ask Steve about it if that is important to you.  
 
Is it worth the significant price difference with the Taboo?  Well, that depends on your needs.  For me, it definitely is (even if I hadn't gotten the intro discount).  Coming from the high power/low efficiency end of things where clipping and power is seldom a problem, perhaps I haven't developed the listening habits necessary to truly get into the low power amp mindset.  I think if the RL-3's were a bit more efficient, I would have had a harder choice.  I think overall I still like the Torii better, even if clipping weren't a problem with the Taboo.  The Torii is clearly WAY more expensive to build.  The only other tube amp I have compared it to in my system is the Prima Luna integrated amp, which I believe is somewhere in between the Taboo and Torii in terms of price.  However, there just isn't any comparison there; both the Taboo and the Torii are far better amps than the Prima Luna (not even close).  While I doubt the Torii would be quite hefty enough to drive my Magnepans, it does give me more flexibility on speakers down the road as well (though I am quite happy with the RL-3's).
 

Marc McGuff


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