I was fortunate enough to be the first on Todd's Teton loaner list. Here is my take on the Teton. Conclusion is at the end if you want to jump down.
Headphones: I tried the Teton with LCD-X, HD800, HE-500, and FitEar ToGo 334. I used the LCD-X the most because I had them for only a few weeks and it has hogged the Teton. Most of my impressions will be based on using the LCD-X unless otherwise noted.
Sources: Linn Klimax Renew DS. I only tried my Ayre QB-9 for a few minutes so I'm not going to comment on that.
Tubes: The Teton came with a few extra tubes to roll but I only tried what I believe was the stock tubes (except I used the Sylvania 6SN7GT and I think the Tung Sol is stock). I'm sure others will comment on how the amp responds to tube rolling.
Music: I listened mostly to indie rock and electronic, with some R&B/rap, ambient, and acoustic music.
As I was unpacking it, the first thing I realized was how beastly the thing is. Solid, heavy, nice sturdy chasis. The volume pot has a nice feel to it. Look-wise I really like it and it's a bonus for me that the power supply and amp section is all in one chasis. It isn't huge, not tall (with the tubes), not that deep, and not crazy wide. It does heat up my personal space somewhat. There are 4 blue LEDs on the front and they aren't blindingly bright. I assume they are similar to other TTVJ amps. The switches on the front have a nice click to them. The large volume knob travels very smooth and is very easy to get the right volume - it's sensitive (with my headphones) and responds nicely and as expected with small adjustments/movement. I have to admit that over time I really enjoyed the volume control. It feels like quality and is well implemented and surprisingly became one of my favorite things about this amp.
It is unbalanced. Has 3 unbalanced inputs and one unbalance headphone jack. I like the headphone jack - plugs slide in and out in a nice easy manner. One set of loop outs. I like how simple the front panel controls are. Left knob is for Standby or On. Middle knob is input selector. Right knob is for IEM, Unbalanced, or Preamp mode. More on the IEM mode later. I did not use it as a preamp and I probably wouldn't for the lack of a remote (I'm lazy and I have a serviceable preamp with remote in my speaker rig). I really like that there is a standby switch and that it is in the front. I like to keep my primary gear in standby mode if possible since I listen to it every day. All in all, the build is high quality and makes you feel like you have a statement product.
The first thing I noticed about the Teton is how detailed and resolving it is. I was able to hear things in recordings that I haven't heard before. The nuances in voices and instruments were all there without invading my attention too much. It was a clear notch above the resolving capabilities of my Eddie Current Balancing Act (ECBA) but not by magnitudes. It has great extension on both ends - the best I've heard other than the Pinnacle. The edges seem sharp (not in a bad way) and clearly articulated. The highs especially seemed to soar. The bass is very tight and controlled and seems to go as deep as possible.
I think this adds to how fast the amp sounds, especially since the decay sounds more correct than almost all other amps I've tried. It sounds aggressive and in attack mode, rather than laid back and relaxed. But it is not aggressive in terms of overly bright (or overly anything) or too in-your-face. It sounds aggressive because it keeps pace with the most demanding music and still sounds like it can take more. Not sure if PRAT is the right term. If the music is relaxing then it can sound relaxing but it always has this 'fast' quality about it that I can't shake.
I feel like the Teton is the best of solid state and tubes. It has that musical liquid flow and dynamic layering but it also has that resolution and speed of the best solid states. The layering is dynamic and integrated so that everything flows well together and retains the soul of the music. The soundstage is immersive and very large when it is called for. Even with the HD800 the large soundstage never sounded too diffuse like it can with other amps. With both the LCD-X and HD800 it sounded very 3D and holographic and it even spooked me a few times. In my opinion the space that the Teton creates is one of its best qualities. I'm not a huge soundstage freak especially when it comes at the expense of being able to easily follow and get lost in the musical flow but the Teton is doing it right.
It has a very clean sound but it does not seem lean to me. I can see people with the HD800 thinking it can be somewhat lean because even though the bass sounds fully extended, accurate, and fast - it is not prominent. I do not think the Teton is lacking throughout any frequency range but if you like your bass a bit more pronounced, perhaps you'll be able to tune it with different tubes. I think the bass was just about right, blending nicely with the rest of the spectrum. The only headphone that I felt could use a bit more bass presence was the HD800 (unmodded and with Silver Dragon cable). The stock configuration is good enough for me but I would likely try other tubes to see if I could bring out the bass just a tiny bit while keeping the response of the rest of the spectrum relatively the same. In comparison I thought the LCD-X bass sounded great.
When listening to well recorded live acoustic music like The Eagle's and Alison Krauss & Union Station, it's easy to hear when Alison pulls away from the mic a bit and I can't remember hearing this effect so distinctly. The instruments sound so real, the audience sounds like an actual part of the performance (debatable whether this is a good thing for you), and the voices cut right through with detail and presence. Everything sounds like a live performance with the energy and interplay that you expect. Nothing gets lost.
A few notes about the HD800 combo. The Teton won't transform it. I still have to listen to it at lower volumes than other headphones (except for PS1000) because the treble is a bit sharp. I have a Silver Dragon cable so I'm sure that doesn't help tame the treble. Before the LCD-X arrived the HD800 was my most used headphone, but I got my LCD-X a few weeks ago and I always go through a honeymoon/burn-in phase so I rarely switch to my other headphones for a while. I sometimes think the HD800 can have a plasticy type sound but other times I think it is perfect. I can pick out the differences between gear the best with them so I figured I'd use them as much as possible. With the Teton, the bass is just fine, accurate, deep but is not as an integral part of the overall sound as with my other headphones. To me this is the nature of the HD800 and it has this quality to some degree on all the other amps I tried it with. If you upgrade to a good source it will help a lot in this area. But what the Teton does really well with the HD800 is soundstaging, imaging, and resolution - which are strengths of the HD800. It creates a huge sense of space with accurate imaging and never sounded diffuse to me. On certain recordings it's almost scary the way it sounds with its holographic effect. There are times when too large of a headphone soundstage becomes distracting to me. It brings me further away from the musicality and makes me pay attention to the pieces and technicalities rather than the whole. But the soundstaging here is immersive and does not detract from the emotional connection to the music. It flows effortlessly - a phrase often used to mean probably nothing special but I'm using it anyways. When there are two voices singing at the same time (The XX is a good example) it sounds very pleasing and voices are both clear and in their own sense of space. Ambient music is also very enjoyable. There are probably people wondering if the HD800 and Teton are the ultimate combo. The HD800 never sounded better to me except maybe on the Pinnacle. But I've also heard the HD800 sound almost just as good or about even (depending on your preferences) on different amps in the same general price range.
Volume and Noise:
No hum, no hiss, even with my highly sensitive headphones/IEMs. It's very close to completely dead quiet and this is important for me. I plugged in some of my sensitive full sized headphones to test this out further. The TH-900 and W3000Anv were dead quiet. The combination of a black silent background with a great volume control (not stepped) makes this a very versatile amp. Some people may not care too much for this but I find this to be one of the best qualities of this amp - it allows you to quickly get the perfect volume, with no background noise, no matter the sensitivity of the headphone.
IEMs - FitEar ToGo 334:
I normally don't use IEMs at home unless I really need to block out background noise. My closed headphones don't block out everything. So I was happy to see the Teton with an IEM mode. Previously it always sounded like there was a slight haze when using my IEMs in almost all my setups. Background noise is obvious straight from the DX100 and even more so from the ALO RXMK3. First thing I realized with the Teton was that it sounds dead quiet with music or no music playing. Then I realized how easy it was to get correct balance between the channels and the desired volume without fiddling with the volume knob. Sound-wise I enjoyed the bass and impact. Listening to Drake's new album when it went from quiet to loud thumping passages, I really felt those little buggers shake inside my ears. The space created was about as good as I think it gets with IEMs. I went into this review thinking I would just test out the IEM mode quickly to report how it worked in terms of noise and achieving the desired volume. I got drawn into the music and ended up using the 334s a lot. I think because it sounds somewhat neutral and fun at the same time, while being technically capable of achieving what most full size headphones can. It may sound silly to use IEMs on such an expensive big home amp but I assure you it's not. Hearing IEMs on my reference home source and the Teton rather than on my portable setup was a new discovery for me. For anyone wishing to use IEMs in their home setup, this is a great choice. I also tried the JH16 briefly and had similar thoughts.
I never thought I'd think the ECBA is slow. I still don't think it is but the Teton is incredibly fast and clean in comparison. Things seem lively, dynamic, and in a more up-front sort of way where the ECBA seems a little more laid back. Both are extremely musical. Keep in mind the tubes I'm using with the ECBA are the EML 300B Mesh and TSRP 6SN7. I still love the ECBA but I have to give the nod to the Teton for detail/resolution and soundstaging. For me the ECBA is just as versatile as the Teton in that it sounds good with just about every headphone I own but the Teton has an added IEM mode, standby mode, and more juice. The ECBA has noticeably more pronounced bass (not better) but that probably has a lot to do with the EML Mesh tubes.
I had the Liquid Glass for a month and enjoyed it but I enjoyed the Teton more. I've had some issues with Cavalli but the LG was a fun amp as I was able to roll in different tubes and tailor the sound to my headphones. It's sound changes a lot based on the tubes. With that said, I would rather pay the extra money for the Teton. It just seems more true to the source but then again you probably shouldn't buy the LG to be exactly true to the source. I also didn't like the limited amount of travel on the volume knob on the LG. The Teton allows for better volume control so I can easily use my sensitive headphones and not worry about fidgeting with the knob too much. The LG will not work well with very sensitive headphones and IEMs unless you get an adaptor with resistors. The one headphone that I really thought shined with the LG was the HD800. The HE-500 was pretty good but it is on most other amps I've had or tried. The LG was not a good match with the TH900. Since I don't have the LG anymore I won't comment much further. I also have the Liquid Fire and the Teton outclasses it easily as expected.
If you're after detail and speed above all else, this is a great choice. Really extended and clean without being bright. You can hear all the little nuances in voices and instruments but it's not distracting like trying to blast hyperdetail into your brain. The natural layering and soul/flow of the music is still intact. Even in complex passages you can hear everything in its own space and imaging is accurate. The soundstage is both holographic and immense when it should. The bass is not lacking to me but it is not as prominent as with other amps and I can see this not being the best match for some depending on preference. I bet different tubes would change this.
And if you own the LCD-X you should try this amp. It was my favorite combo. I really enjoyed my time with the Teton and miss it. It's not cheap and I can't afford it right now but I'll probably be saving up for it soon. Pete and Todd - thanks for bringing this to market. It deserves serious attention from anyone looking for an unbalanced dynamic amp in this price range.