Here we are, with a spartan digital audio player that costs 840 Euros. Let’s take a look at the features:
- No screen display, only buttons.
- Only WAV support, nothing else.
- No EQ, no bass boost, no “sound enchancement” features of some sort.
- Tank-proof build quality.
- Exceptional sound quality (supposedly).
- Extra long battery life.
If you do a conversion rate, that €840 price tag equals to a staggering $1,099 price tag in the US dollars. Much protests have been thrown at the pricing of the Altmann Tera Player, which is reasonable given the features people are used to having with their lower priced DAPs. Obviously we all know that it’s entirely Charles’ right to charge whatever he wants on a product that he developed from scratch and hand build one by one. But still, the question is “how good is this $1,099” digital audio player really is?
It was really interesting to read through the process that he went through when developing the Tera player. The choice for an R2R D/A chip rather than the more common sigma-delta. How he went to write the instructions for the ARM controller chip in an assembly language (a really basic form of computer programming, and a very complicated one to learn). How he discovered jitter even when reading from a static SD card memory, and how he rewrote the instructions to eliminate that jitter.
This guy, in his frustration of not being able to find a good digital player, used all the know how he has and set out to create the very best player he’s capable of. And I’m pretty convinced that Charles is nothing short of a genius just by reading his websites. But is Charles’ best attempt good enough to take on the best players we have on the market?
The Tera is not a toy, nor a gimmick. No, it’s also not a scam. This tiny player impresses me as much as big dollar amplifiers such as the RSA Dark Star. Whilst portable DAC units like the CLAS and the Fostex HP-P1 are really nice, I think the Tera is in another step up. This player has got to have the lowest jitter number from all the other players I’ve reviewed. The background is very black, the sound totally unfatiguing. Details, instruments, vocals, are all distinct and real due to the super-black background. The sound is quite dark, but the frequency response is very linear from top to bottom. Something this good should be coming from a big desktop rig, not a pocket size player smaller than my wallet!
So, while everybody was out there posting why a player with such limited features can’t possibly worth $1,099, I just kept my mouth shut. When people asked, I told them that I’m loving the Tera and that they should wait until the formal review is published. Yes, it’s very expensive and personally my wallet is not thick enough to justify a purchase. But so are a lot of things in audio including $1K+ custom molded IEMs. And yet, people can justify those $1K IEMs because they know that the sound quality is real.
Or consider a typical iPod + outboard DAC solution like the CLAS or the Fostex HP-P1 stack. By the time you finish the package with a good amplifier, it’s easily over $1,000. Of course you get a far more powerful amplifier in the process, but at the same time that stack is barely portable anymore. With the Tera-Player, I have a true pocketable DAP with a source quality that makes the Fostex HP-P1 sound congested. I would definitely buy one if I can afford it.