Altmann Micro Machines Tera-Player Review

altmann_tera_07

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.

Comparisons

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.

 

Continue to the next page…

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1063825347 Rian Kurniawan

    I was discussing abut this during a local gathering and the simplest explaination we came up with is: It is not meant to be sold, Charles wanted to make a simple, small and good-sounding DAP without carrying bulky setup. He achieved it thru Altman Terra and would like to share it with the world.

    other than this, one of us mentioned about modern art, where a simple blue and black squares are worth thousands of dollar and still there are people buying them.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, Rian.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rudolfs.verdins Rudolfs Verdins

    I was looking for a DAP for a while, and yesterday I finally ordered Tera Player.
    Why this one?
    I ruled out QLS QA350 as not portable + difficult/ limited warranty, left HiFiMan as last resort for the bulk (+warranty), — which left me with iPods. Closed devices with limited (and expensive) memory. Or a micro HDD… I thought I’d rather stick to my Sansa Fuses.
    It was a bit annoying to know the introductory price, which I obviously missed – but Charles was kind enough to offer some discount.
    I will report back on my impressions (let’s see whether PortaPro will indeed prove to be better than V6, HD 25-1 II, DT 1350, T5P or Edition 8).

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rūdolfs-Putniņš/100001284307683 Rūdolfs Putniņš

      Es skatos, ka neesmu vienīgais Dievzemītes austiņu cienītājs.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rudolfs.verdins Rudolfs Verdins

        Nē, nēesi vis ;-)
        Bet es jau bezmaz 8 gadus pamatā mītu ārpus Latvijas (pēdējie 7 gadi Briselē). Trimdā… nu, toties varu atļauties nopirkt austiņas ;-)))

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rūdolfs-Putniņš/100001284307683 Rūdolfs Putniņš

          Nū… Arī šeit nav tik traki, ja esi pareizajā robā. Bet līdz Ed 8 vēl tālu, hehe. Man HD25-II ir pilnīgi pietiekami sēdēšanai autobusā, varbūt augstāk pakāptos nopērkot kādu labu IEM.

          Nu žēl, ka Briselē. Domāju jau vienubrīd rīkot kaut kādu LV austiņu audio tikšanos. Gan jau tāpat vairāk par pieciem cilvēkiem nesavāktu.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rudolfs.verdins Rudolfs Verdins

    I have it for some 6 days now.
    It is capable to drive Ultrasone Edition 8, beyerdynamic Tesla T5P and DT 1350, as well as Sennheiser HD 25 Adidas. Or Denon D-2000, and even Sennheiser HD 600. It cannot drive AKG K 701, and I did not even try beyerdynamic DT 880 which I have in 600 Ohm version. In a word sound is very good. I’m still getting used to it and forming my opinion.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

       Great! Keep us posted :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ieva-Verdina/100003527944654 Ieva Verdina

        DEL

      • http://www.facebook.com/rudolfs.verdins Rudolfs Verdins

        Time is ticking, and I use my Tera-Player daily. I mainly use it with Ultrasone Edition 8, occasionally I go back to beyer T5P, which definitely is better with classical, — but as I stick to Ed. 8, I listen more to rock and pop. I listen to quite a few things which I did not find very exciting on my speakers (e.g., Queen and Queen II – great records, just somewhat boring on Lowthers). I do prefer speakers, but I must admit that Tera-Player + Ed. 8 gives the best overall quality that I have ever experienced with most of the material. I tried HD 25 Originals and PortaPro with Tera-Player, and [again] Ed. 8 with Fuze; that is passable, even fine, but it seems pointless to go back once you have heard something which is clearly better…
         I remain thoroughly satisfied with the player.

  • Anthony Tumiwa

    Mike, Sem said that there are 2 version of altmann player, one with green bolt/screw, and the other one is red bolt/screw, can u give us more information regarding the difference between these 2?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Just difference on gain levels, nothing more.

      • http://www.facebook.com/rudolfs.verdins Rudolfs Verdins

        When you order one, you can ask Charles for V0 or V1 – regular gain or high gain. Charles said that there is noticeable difference with ~300 Ohm cans, but almost none at all with 32 Ohm cans. That made me wonder about output impedance of Vo and V1 (If gain is adjusted by feedback in the end stage, I would expect VO to have less output impedance), and I ordered V0.
        V0 is barely loud enough for HD 600, and just a bit better with D-2000 (although its control of the usually booming bass registers of D-2000 is remarkable), but it drives Edition 8, HD 25, DT 1350 and T5P loudly and proudly.

  • vertskyline

    There’s definitely an ease + effortlessness to playback on this DAP, that I assume is due to lack of jitter and distortion. I’m not thrilled with the navigation, but it’s similar to playing USB sticks on the Naim DAC – another very low jitter setup.

    • vertskyline

      In fact, it’s easy just to kick back, relax, and enjoy the music. Many times I forget the music’s playing because there isn’t distortion capturing my attention.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Roderigo/100003302462063 Mike Roderigo

    Mike, I hope you still have your tera player on hand as I’m really looking forward to you impression on how the tera player+hd700 combo sounds like ;-)
    Kindest regards.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I didn’t pair it directly as I find the Tera to lack punch when driving full size headphones. However I often use the Tera player as a high quality source with a good headphone amp.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Roderigo/100003302462063 Mike Roderigo

         thanks mike but there is something I might be missing. If the standard Ipod drives the hd700 fine, can’t the tera player do much better?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Mike,
          The portable players can drive the HD700 to sufficient loudness, but they can’t deliver sufficient impact.
          Rule #5 from A Guide To Headphones: http://www.headfonia.com/a-guide-to-headphones/
          “The rule that I use is that the bigger the size of the headphone, the bigger the need for amplification. Of course factors like driver sensitivity and impedance will matter, but the general rule of thumb is, use a dedicated headphone amplifier for a full size headphone. Even a portable amplifier can be enough, depending on the type of the headphones. Also remember that open back headphones usually require more amplification power.”

          • mike roderigo

            thanks for the clarification mike
            I guess something like the forthcoming amperior will be a better fit?
            kindest regards.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Sorry for the confusion, mike. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Roderigo/100003302462063 Mike Roderigo

    ps: what are those on picture 5/6

  • mike roderigo

    One more thing mike,  what kind/level of desktop dac would you compare the dac part of the tera player? sometinhg like fiios (e10 -e17) of more like centrance dacport lx/hrt streamer II+? or above ? burson / audio-gd higher models?
    I’m asking it cause I was wondering if I could use the tera as a high quality source with my speaker amp ?
    kindest regards

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Okay perhaps better than the $300 DACs but not quite $1,000 DACs level.

    • http://twitter.com/vertskyline vince h

      The Tera is in a league of it’s own. Don’t even compare it to the portable DACs you mentioned. In fact, it’s so unfatiguing and enjoyable that I was surprised it replaced my home setup.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        The Tera is just so nice.

        • http://twitter.com/vertskyline vince h

          It is very nice. It still surprises me everyday how good it is.

  • mike roderigo

    hey mike, did you prefer the shure se215 over the jh5pro with the tera player?
    kindest regards

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The JH5Pro is more impressive overall, but there are things about how a dynamic driver that I just can’t get with a BA. :)

      • mike roderigo

        coherence maybe ;-)
        thanks for the reply
        kindest regards

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1105093041 Ronizam Idderis

    Mike, I own a Hifiman 801, would the Tera player be something of an upgrade or should I just wait for the hM-901?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I wrote a brief comparison to the HM-801 and it was a plus-minus situation in terms of sound quality.

      However, the real difference is in the day to day use. The Altmann Tera is very small and is build very tough, you never worry about it getting scratched in your pocket and such.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mohammaduf Mohammad Ashraf

    Everyone needs to realize this is Mikes view of the product and that is all, he has the right to express them and you guys should be thankful for his services.

    Would I buy this, no simply because it lacks many features that i am accustom to, for the very reason I never bought any ipod shuffle this product at this price range is not going be suitable for me. However having said that who is to say it cannot sound Good?

    I am sure if the people who made this unit had an effective way to mass produce this the price would be considerably lower.

    I never thought of myself buying a hisound DAP 2 years ago! I actually laughed at anyone who bought it, but now I actually own their BA Hisound and respect it greatly.

    Wish the price margin was lower so I could give them ago, but as far as the price goes I dont think I will ever risk buying something with this design, this amount of feature with that price tag.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks Mohammad.

      Some products are not meant to be mainstream and this is one of it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mohammaduf Mohammad Ashraf

    My view is that if this unit was to be mass produced its cost would be way cheaper. Lets not forget guys the high cost is mostly to a)create prestige to this and b)has to do with the fact that Mr Altmann is hand assembling it. So we are paying for the product design, cost, and hand production from the designer.

    It is just a shame that he is not mass producing his unit, I dont think I will ever be able to try it at this price tag. Not even if I had the money as the risk is too high, and sometimes the convince of lack of UI would make the SQ excellent not worth while.

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  • Андрей Фалеев

    it is so strange situation in Measurementes of tera player desribed below from head-fi.org member “Skamp”:

    “I contacted several TP owners in private a while ago. One of them (who shall remain anonymous) seemed quite motivated to have the Tera Player measured, to satisfy me and the other sceptics. I asked if he would publish the measurements even if they turned out to be bad. He assured me that he would, as he believed it wouldn’t mean anything to the TP owners, who know “how good it really sounds”.

    Several weeks passed without any news, so I inquired about it. The TP owner dismissed my inquiry without any explanation.”

  • hic, nihil verum est

    Just to keep everybody happy. Whenever you review ‘audiophile’ DAPs such as this one, why don’t you simply do a blind test. Say use a clip as a comparison point as it graphs amazingly! If the Tera comes out on top, then nobody can really complain can they?

    Erwin’s comments are indeed vitriolic but one can never discount the incredibly powerful effects of placebo in audio.

  • nbarnard36

    Mike, I own a pair of UE 10 custom iems and their impedence is rated at 13 ohms. Do you think there is a good chance that these headphones would sound great with the Tera? Or do you think that the impedence would be too little to match up well?

  • STARSTERN

    mike; you reviewed the tera player in light and shadow of the hifiman 801
    but we have two more top end colleague to these two ;
    the meizu
    the sony

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry I haven’t listened to either, but the Altmann and the 801 are still better than the ak120

  • STARSTERN

    how about the HM -901 ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Likewise. I think rhe 9 is a step down from the 801. Pcm1704 is still the best chip in the market

  • STARSTERN

    pcm1704 is the best now adays ?

    I see sony is using something else ;

    Further, can you please confirm what type of DA converter is used inside the sonyPCM-M10? Is it a mutlibit, R2R ladder DAC (like PCM1704) or delta-sigma design (like CS4382)?

    –> PCM-M10 is using “delta-sigma design” DA converter.