Altmann Micro Machines Tera-Player Review
The listening tests were so impressive that at one time I asked myself: “I don’t remember hearing live piano sounding this good!” You know when you go to a concert, your seating position affects the quality of the sound that you hear? Well, the bad news is that regardless of what VIP ticket you hold, your seating position will never be as good as the position of the recording microphone. So, unless you get to sit next to the pianist on a live concert, chances are you’ll miss all that tiny details from the hammer striking the strings.
With a great quality recording, a superb source, and a highly transparent IEM, indeed a lot of details from the piano are reproduced brilliantly, details that you don’t hear even on the live session. The sound of that hammer hitting the strings, the breath of the pianist (yes, no exaggeration there). Of course the live ambiance would never be as clear as a live concert, but those tiny details, the Tera-Player really did an awesome job with them. Non fatiguing detail with crystal clear clarity from the super black background.
I didn’t really do a comparison to the HM-60X series players. I know that it would take the HM-801′s PCM1704 to take on the tiny Tera’s sound quality. And this is what I found: The HM-801 is still the best in recreating a live recording ambiance, and in that aspect it’s much better than the Tera-Player. It’s really good at painting the picture of the whole soundscape, but for some reason instruments and vocals weren’t as distinct nor as weighty as on the Tera-Player. Moving to the Tera-Player, I gained that body in the instruments and vocals, that black background that I get from higher up set ups desktop set ups.
I’d consider the comparison roughly a tie, though obviously I’m not taking into account the size and the battery life of the HM-801 here. However, I also know that the Philips D/A chip used in the Tera is far less potent than the PCM1704 used in the HM-801 (is there anything better than the PCM1704?). And so I went to ask Charles why he couldn’t make a version of the Tera with a PCM1704? After all, he’s used it in the past with his Superlative DAC (check out the picture of the Superlative on the Gallery on the last page). And so I asked him: “Charles, would it be too much work to make a Tera-player with PCM1704?”
And he replied: “the PCM1704 requires 20 times the board space and 10 times the current supply, it needs 4 different voltages, so you would end up in a rather bulky and heavy device with limited playtime and long charge-time. Please take a look at the attached pic: if it would be exercised correctly in order to unleash the full potential of the PCM1704, it would look like this With the Tera-Player, I wanted to create a pocket-size player with super-fidelity sound quality and for accomplishing this, I think I have chosen the very best parts available.”
I guess there won’t be a PCM1704 Tera-Player.
Now, continuing the comparison. As I’ve mentioned above, the Fostex HP-P1 and the CLAS Ipod DACs were brilliant DACs, but again it was just not as good as the Tera. For sure, if Charles discovered jitter even when reading from a direct flash memory, all that data transmission out from the Ipod and into the HP-P1/CLAS’s D/A chip would presents a whole new level of jitter sources. From these two DACs, the CLAS had a similar sound to the Tera-Player. It had a good black background and instruments were very distinct. The Fostex on the other hand had a more airier sound, but also lacked weight and the black background.
Day to Day Usability
The lack of features may look bad on a product page, but in reality, I’ve never found a player as enjoyable to use as the Tera-Player.
Have you seen how people carry their HM-801, ipod+CLAS stack or iPod+Fostex stack? Small bags are mandatory, but even then you still have the risk of bumping, dropping the bag, or scratching the players. The spartan build of the Tera doesn’t make for a beautiful photograph. But in real life, it was pure joy to use. I mean, put this next to the likes of a Hifiman HM-801 or a typical Ipod+CLAS+ALO Rx stack, or an Ipod+Fostex HP-P1 stack and you’ll get an idea of why it’s so enjoyable to use. Finally, an audiophile player that fits in my pocket. Personally this was a very big deal to me, since now I always carry the Tera Player anywhere, to places that I normally wouldn’t be able to carry my other audiophile players.
Another aspect that is a killer with the Tera is battery life. You know that the moment you start playing WAV files on your iPod, battery life drops down to merely a few hours? And even if the iPod lasts longer, the Fostex HP-P1 and the CLAS would usually max out at 8 hours. Likewise the Hifiman HM-801. Not so with the Tera. One charge and the Tera plays for 15 hours. And whenever battery is low, USB charging makes it easy to get a recharge.
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