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REVIEW: Trancendere Sweet-5 tube integrated amp/headphone amp with USB

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
For any of you who get Pacific Valve's email flyer, you might have noticed this Having purchased a Ming-Da MC84-07C from Pacific Valve and Electric, who imports a lot of Chinese tube audio gear and happens to be in the Chicago area (like I am), I get their email flier. And when I saw the TNS Sweet-2 I was immediately intrigued. The amp looks nice, is pretty feature-rich, and seemed like it might be am upgrade of the somewhat similar Sweet-2, which I also own. I thought the $300 Sweet-2, which like the Sweet-5 is headphone amp, integrated (speaker) amp, and USB-DAC was a very good value. For whatever reason, it was not imported for very long – I bought one from a Canadian importer, who stopped importing them shortly thereafter. Mine has worked very well (although it’s DAC relays are a bit loud).

PICS:






Product Info: Pacific Valve & Electric Company Transcendere S5 Amp, Head Amp, USB DAC, Preamp

DESIGN

The Sweet-5 uses almost the same tube complement – 5670/2C51 driver tubes and 6BQ5/EL-84 power tubes, with 6X4 AND OB2 rectifier tubes. Not sure what the reason for 3 rectifier tubes is (I know its one 6X4 per channel, but no clue on the use of the OB2, which is not a present on the Sweet-2). The OB2 is said to be used for “AC to DC conversion”. OK. The TNS-5 comes with Chinese tubes of course but as most of you know by now I don’t like and don’t use Chinese tubes. There is a DIP switch in the circuit board to allow the use of the US 6X4 rectifier tube (this was an actual wiring change in the Sweet-2). For the review, I used all Sylvania tubes – grey-plate 6BQ5 and 2C51 and black plate 6X4’s. The OB2 was an RCA that PV&E supplied with the unit.

The Sweet-5 has the nicer looking chassis, but does not have the remote control that the Sweet-2 did. There are 2 analog inputs, and the USB input. Headphone input on the front, speaker outputs on the back. The Sweet-5 also has preamp outputs which will make using a subwoofer easy if you are using the Sweet-5 as a speaker amp.

And about that – I did VERY briefly audition the Sweet-5 as a speaker amp, and it sounded good. Most of the comments I make about its sound as a headphone amp apply to it as a speaker amp. But this is head-fi, and I concentrated my review on the Sweet-5 as a headphone amplifier. Speaker output power is stated as 6 wpc, and I used it only with my small B&W bookshelf speakers (DM601) in a nearfield environment so power was not an issue in such a setting.

The Sweet-5 does have one thing I consider to be a major issue. It sells for $600. That is not cheap, and it faces some VERY stiff competition from the aforementioned Ming-Da MC84-07C, which PV&E now sells for $400. But more on such comparisons later.

SOUND

The Sweet-5 provides a warm, powerful, sound which is very typical of EL-84/6BQ5 designs, in my experience. The overall sound is rich, engaging, and highly enjoyable. If you are looking for an amp that is on the “tubey” side of things, and is the opposite of some of the more sterile, washed out solid state designs out there, then this is a good choice. Trebele is butter-smooth while having good extension. Mids are like your favorite easy chair – comfortable and relaxing. Bass is full and punchy, but lacks some definition and very bottom extension. The overall sonic presentation though is just incredibly easy-going, enjoyable, and engaging. I don’t like calling amps “musical”, but if there were ever an amp that deserved to be called that in the way most people use the term, this one is it. Music just flows out of the thing, and listening to music through it is a real pleasure.

For example, the simply stunning acoustic version of Porcupine Tree’s “Lazarus” (from “We Lost the Skyline”) had every bit of the goose-bump factor that I seem to get every time I spin it. Ditto the presentation of the astounding harmonies on Uncle Earl’s “The Last Goodbye” (From “Waterloo, Tennessee”).

That said, there are tube amps that are more transparent and more detailed. The Sweet-5 is reasonably transparent, and reasonably detailed, but does not excel in either dimension. My Single Power Extreme and Decware CSP-2 are both significantly more transparent and detailed than the Sweet-5 is, and while they are both notably more expensive, and have far fewer features, they beat the Sweet-5 easily in overall sound quality. If you are looking for the best tube headphone amp for under $1000, the Sweet-5 simply is NOT that amp. Things like the startlingly full-range sound of Epica’s “Never Enough” (from “The Divine Conspiracy”) just did not have the right level of impact. Nor did Iced Earth’s “10,000 String” (from “Framing Armageddon”). Either of my Single Power amps and the CSP-2 were better, as was the Darkvoice 337, which is very similar to the Sweet-5 in price.

Further, and maybe more problematically, the Ming-Da MC-84-07C also sounded better, and it costs $200 less than the Sweet-5. Yes, the Sweet-5 has a USB-DAC (about which, more later), but if you don’t want or need that, the Ming-Da (which is also sold by Pacific Valve) is the slightly better sounding amp, although the Sweet-5 did seem to handle low-impedance headphones better for some reason. I was able to use my 70 ohm JVC’s with no hum at all, whereas the Ming-Da sues hum with 70-80 ohm headphones. The Ming-Da is even quieter than the Sweet-5 with my 600 ohm Beyers, though.

Also, the Sweet-5 sounded better overall than the Darkvoice 336SE. The 336SE is about half the price, however, and if the user does not need a DAC or speaker-drive capability, then the 336SE represents the better value.

The USB DAC offered good sound. There was NO annoying mechanical clicking like with the Sweet-2. I do not get sound from ANY USB DAC that is better than my iMod iPod, but the sound from the Sweet-5’s USB DAC was certainly very, very good, and good enough to make this a valuable feature if you have an application to have a USB DAC built in to your headphone amp. In fact I would say that aside from the RWA Isabella, the USB DAC in the Sweet-5 is the best I have personally heard. I was pleasantly surprised by the DAC’s performance – it’s really very good.

CONCLUSION

So where does that leave the Sweet-5? Well, if you want a lovely sounding, warm/lush/tubey sounding headphone amp that includes speaker drive capability AND a USB DAC, the Sweet-5 is for you. But if you want just a headphone amp, or even a headphone/integrated amp with no DAC, I think the Sweet-5 isn’t the best alternative. And for just $150 more, the Decware CSP-2 is the far better stand alone tube headphone amp. But within its niche, the Sweet-5 is very sweet indeed.
post #2 of 18
I'm interested in this. Looks like it's well built and I'm in the market for something with a USB socket. It's also available here:

Welcome to Audiophilechina
post #3 of 18
Did you ever get this amp?
post #4 of 18
Thread Starter 
Not yet, but I should be fairly soon.
post #5 of 18
I would be interested in this as well.
post #6 of 18
Thread Starter 
I have the amp in my possession. Initial listening seems promising. More specifics in a couple weeks.
post #7 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skylab View Post
I have the amp in my possession. Initial listening seems promising. More specifics in a couple weeks.
Nice! Excited to hear your review!
post #8 of 18
Thread Starter 
The review is posted!
post #9 of 18
post #10 of 18
Thread Starter 
Cool, thanks.
post #11 of 18
How does it sound compare to the Jade? I was originally looking at the Trancendere 5!

Very well written review btw! Thanks!
post #12 of 18
Thread Starter 
I slightly prefer the Jade, actually. Of course the Sweet-5 has far more features, but in terms just a headphone amp - I prefer the Jade.
post #13 of 18
Really interested by this amp. How does it switch between headphone out and speaker out? Headphones plugged in then it cuts the speaker out? Also, that's an unusual (to me) looking usb cable. Does it come with an appropriate cable with 'standard' usb at the other end?
post #14 of 18
Thread Starter 
I'm sorry to say I don't remember how the headphones/speakers thing is handled (and I have had to return my loaner a long time ago). It uses a completely standard USB cable, though.
post #15 of 18
Good stuff,thanks for the review. Its a really nice looking amp,seems like a pretty decent for those wanting a decently priced amp with a DAC that actually works. Who remember the original somethingorothers that were based off of the Jasmine T-300's that had absolutely AWFUL DAC's?
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