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- Written by Erich Wetzel Erich Wetzel
- Category: Full-Length Equipment Reviews Full-Length Equipment Reviews
- Created: 15 January 2019 15 January 2019
T+A Elektroakustik has applied scientific rigor to its formulation of audio equipment since the company was founded in 1978, in Herford, Germany. The 40-year-old, family-owned business designs and manufactures all of their equipment locally and ships worldwide. T+A’s product lines span nearly all aspects of the audio reproduction chain, from wall outlet to the listener’s ears. Their Series 8 range includes the MP 8 Multi Source Player ($4750 USD), the DAC 8 DSD digital-to-analog converter ($4450), and the AMP 8 amplifier ($3150).
How many types of digital source do you use or have access to? Can you easily play them all? T+A’s answer to these questions is their MP 8 Multi Source Player. This device has the possibly unique ability to play or process any digital source you can provide it, other than DVD-As and SACDs. T+A has designed the MP 8 to essentially serve as the digital hub of a system that uses multiple digital sources. While it can be used with any DAC that has a coaxial S/PDIF input, the MP 8 integrates particularly well with T+A’s own DAC 8 DSD -- when paired in a system, the two act as a single device. With that in mind, this review, like the MP 8 itself, is an extension of my review in September 2018 of the DAC 8 DSD.
I love the contrasting black-and-silver finishes of T+A’s Series 8 gear. Not only do the components look great, they feel sturdy, with virtually no gaps where their various parts are joined, and no flex as I extricated each from its substantial shipping container. At 11 pounds, the MP 8 doesn’t have the usual lightweight feel of digital gear, and never seemed in danger of throwing itself off the back of my rack under the weight of the cables I connected to it. At 10.7”W x 3.6”H x 10.7”D, dimensions it shares with the other Series 8 models, the MP 8 is roughly half the width of most standard audio components. Thick top and bottom plates of silvery brushed aluminum with nicely rounded corners sandwich the case’s side, rear, and front panels of black brushed aluminum. A bit of flash is added by the polished bands on the four conical feet and the chromed machine screws holding it all together.
As on the DAC 8 DSD, a white OLED screen centered on the front panel displays settings and menus. The first time you press the Eject button, what appears to be the bottom half of the display is revealed to be the disc drawer. That and the On buttons flank the display. In the lower left corner is a USB Type-A input, and at far right is a diamond array of four directional buttons and an Enter button for navigating the MP 8’s menus. In a row across the bottom center of the faceplate are the various direct source selectors and general playback controls.
The rear of the MP 8 is loaded with connections. A standard 75-ohm coaxial antenna input provides for over-the-air (OTA) radio reception. A smaller coaxial connecter is provided for the included 802.11 b/g/n-compatible Wi-Fi antenna. S/PDIF connections are possible through two coaxial inputs and one output jack, and one TosLink optical input. The rest of the ports look as if they’d be more at home on the back of a computer: 10/100 Ethernet for a wired LAN; USB Type-A for a hard drive or USB stick, flash drive, or disk drive; USB Type-B for a computer; USB Type-A for passing audio data to T+A’s DAC 8 DSD; Ethernet system output for connection to and control of a DAC 8 DSD; and an RJ-11 connection for a home integration system. The MP 8 also boasts an aptX Bluetooth input. Mains power enters via the IEC inlet and, like all Series 8 gear, allows for global use without concern for where in the world the MP 8 happens to be.
Detail-oriented readers will have noted that S/PDIF coaxial digital output. Unfortunately for those expecting a multitude of outputs to match the inputs, this is the MP 8’s only digital output. You could certainly connect the MP 8 to any non-T+A DAC via this output, but T+A has designed the MP 8 to be used as a companion to their DAC 8 DSD, as I did for this review.
I followed the Series 8 setup recommendations from T+A’s comprehensive manual. My Apple iMac was connected to the MP 8 with a Nordost Blue Heaven LS USB link, which made all of my digital sources available for the MP 8 to distribute. To receive OTA signals, I plugged my ancient Parsec LS4 powered 75-ohm FM antenna into the Ant port. I hooked up the Wi-Fi antenna, and ran an Ethernet cable from my router to the MP 8’s LAN port to establish network connectivity. After testing that the Wi-Fi connection was functional, I instead mostly used the Ethernet connection, to maximize throughput and reduce bandwidth competition from all the other Wi-Fi devices around here. The short, included Ethernet link between the MP 8 and DAC 8 DSD enabled broad control of both units as a single device. Finally, I ran the included USB Type-A-to-B link from the MP 8’s DAC 8 Link port to the USB input on the rear of the DAC 8 DSD.
Now I was ready to connect to the rest of my system in the usual way. The DAC 8 DSD sent its analog outputs to my Audio Research D300 amplifier via Dynamique Audio Shadow balanced (XLR) interconnects. The amp drove KEF R900 speakers through Transparent Audio MusicWave Ultra speaker cables. To keep things as simple as possible with the sophisticated T+A components, I ran the DAC 8 DSD using its Bezier 2 and Clean filters for all formal listening. I also updated the firmware in both T+A devices.
Initial network setup, general control, and playback selections were made using the controls on the MP 8’s front panel. This will be entertaining for anyone who enjoys setting up electronic and computer hardware, but if you’re not particularly tech oriented you may have some trouble with the process. Fortunately, T+A’s manual is easy enough to follow when trouble surfaces.
The MP 8 has a multitude of general setting options, including: custom naming of input source names and the MP 8 itself, seven levels of display brightness, language in use, display on/off/time-delay-off, energy saver on/off, comprehensive wired and wireless network settings, music service log-ins, and bandwidth limiting (None, 2000kbps, 500kbps). I set bandwidth limiting to None to maximize the sound quality. The MP 8’s screen displayed all of these settings, but is so small that, once I’d got the MP 8 running, I didn’t want to use it again. Fortunately, you have the option of displaying the current operating settings in a larger size that can be read from across the room by anyone with good vision. The MP 8 accommodates a variety of file formats, including compressed MP3, AAC, OGG Vorbis, and lossless FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, and WAV. The MP 8 does not support MQA.
I and my brother Hans, a fellow SoundStage! Network writer, have often discussed where digital audio is going, and I’ve frequently bemoaned the fact that we still have too many devices to touch to play music. I’ve long wished for an app that I could use on all of my portable devices that would manage my main sources on my iMac music server, including my iTunes content and Tidal HiFi. T+A’s Music Navigator app -- which I downloaded from Apple’s App Store to my iPhone and iPad (a version for Android devices is available from Google’s Play store) -- goes a long way toward fulfilling that wish. Post-setup, I used only Music Navigator to operate the MP 8, including the changing of sources, tracks, volume, and settings. Nice! The interface is image-based to select sources, with a menu tree for selecting content. Navigator also displayed the cover art, when available, of the album being played.
Having used Navigator for a while, I believe it’s an indicator that we’ve reached one of those points at which change creates new problems even as it simplifies. The one drawback to software-driven audio gear is that everything becomes a work in progress, in the way computer software so often is. Most of my problems with Navigator related to connectivity. They ranged from mildly annoying network issues to burst-blood-vessel-annoying dropping of Tidal play queues in the middle of a listening session. Periodically, Navigator couldn’t find the MP 8. Then, once connected, it would occasionally drop the connection. A couple of times I had trouble changing the output volume from the app, even though, otherwise, everything seemed to be working fine. [T+A has stated that these issues have been fixed via an app update.]
Features and playback
The T+A’s radio options seem to be the obvious place to start, as FM reception is the OTA exception to the otherwise fully digital services the MP 8 provides. Two options are available for receiving OTA radio: Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), and FM. Because the DAB format isn’t used in the US, the MP 8 found no DAB signals, though it did pull in 15 FM stations. Obviously, FM signals still have some static and interference, but the stronger ones sounded good. One odd aspect of the MP 8’s FM-tuner design was that I was unable to manually select a station by scanning up and down the FM bandwidth or directly entering the station’s broadcast frequency and listening to whatever was available there. The MP 8 scans the FM range and seems to present only the strongest available signals -- if you like a distant or low-power OTA station, you may be out of luck. The tuner decodes RDS content and displays it onscreen if you wish, and also allows a station to be presented in mono if desired. A list of up to 99 favorite stations can be saved for FM (and another 99 for DAB, where that is possible).
Internet Radio services and podcasts: If the MP 8 has an Internet connection, it can search for Internet Radio stations and podcasts for you. Using the Navigator app was a huge benefit in such searches. The app can display a long list of stations and podcasts matching any search criteria, and it allowed for easy scrolling and selection by tapping, rather than showing, only a few lines at a time on the MP 8’s comparatively small display. I easily found local and international options and interesting podcasts. After using Navigator, using the remote to enter keywords was possible but challenging: Each letter must be selected one at a time from a list, as with texting on an old cell phone. But the results came back quickly, regardless of how they were entered, and playback was straightforward once the desired stream was selected. A list of 99 favorites can be stored for these digital sources.
At the time of review the MP 8 was compatible with several Internet music-streaming services, including Tidal, Deezer, and Qobuz. The client software for each service is already built in -- as a Tidal subscriber, all I had to do was enter my credentials via the MP 8 directly (laborious) or via Navigator (much easier). Getting to the various preset genres and playlists and searching Tidal’s content was similar to using their app on my iMac music server. Navigator showed image-augmented menu trees that made searches easy; the MP 8’s display showed text-only menus. Playback control was handled with the same controls and ease as with all other sources. Once I’d familiarized myself with the T+A’s menu system, using Tidal was simple.
UPnP/DLNA with the MP 8 was my first foray into streaming clients. These protocols let users play music tracks and other content stored on a computer or network attached storage (NAS) with an appropriate client. The MP 8 connects with the source, finds tracks, and displays them in a typical file tree. From serviio.org I downloaded a copy of Serviio, a free media server, then spent a fairly short time setting it up on my local network. After pouring some content into my test setup, I confirmed that the MP 8 had found the server I’d set up and had presented me with the track list I’d made available.
Roon takes a slightly different approach: All aspects of file hosting, serving, and playback through the client are controlled by Roon’s software rather than needing to be managed as separate systems, as with UPnP/DLNA via the MP 8. I was able to score a 30-day demo from Roon’s website, roonlabs.com, and to get Roon going I followed a process similar to setting up Serviio. The major difference with Roon is that it’s also able to integrate Tidal into its music stores; Roon was able to “see” the Roon Ready MP 8 as a streaming client on the network and manage music sent to it directly. Roon’s ability, via the Roon app, to control everything from serving local files to managing remote Tidal content and system output for recognized clients sure makes it appealing to this computer aficionado.
Additional input options for the MP 8 include USB connection via front or rear ports. The system can power devices that fall within USB standards for port power, including most flash drives and typical low-power 2.5” disk drives. Formatting of the external device’s file system must use the FAT16, FAT32, NTFS, ext2, ext3, or ext4 format. As a Mac guy, I had no devices that met the file-system requirements, but was able to reformat drives I had on hand to test. Like all the other input options mentioned so far, the MP 8 was able to quickly pull a file tree from the attached USB drives and easily find and play the music tracks. Nor did playing from nested directories pose any problem.
The MP 8’s Bluetooth input was easy to get up and running. I quickly paired my iPhone with the MP 8 and then could stream local content, Tidal, and Internet Radio to the MP 8. Bluetooth being a lossy protocol, however, T+A recommends that users stick with streaming connections or USB-connected devices for the best sound quality.
The last of the built-in options was the single-disc CD transport, which has the usual sliding drawer for feeding discs to the MP 8. The same set of controls used for all other playback sources are used for CDs as well. I ripped all my CDs to digital files long ago but still have the discs, though I hadn’t played any of them in years. It was fun to scan the titles and have the albums in my hands again. The MP 8’s disc transport is built to T+A’s specs, and is just a small step down from the models T+A builds itself for their higher-priced hardware.
The final option for playing music is to use the computer as a controlled source and the MP 8 as a pass-through to the DAC. My Mac was able to “see” the DAC 8 DSD when it was connected to the MP 8’s USB input. With the computer set to use the DAC 8 DSD as its output, I could send any content I could access on the computer through to the amplifier and speakers. Using the T+As this way, I could play CDs directly from the computer, access Tidal, and play my collection of ripped CDs from iTunes. Of course, there’d be no need for the MP 8 if this were the only use for it. But even if I were using only the other source options to access music, this choice is a nice side benefit that’s available without my having to rewire my system.
That was all quite a mouthful, and a lot of information to take in all at once -- all those options, so little review time. As I got down to critical listening, it became clear that one very important test needed to be run to assess the MP 8’s sound as separate from the combo of MP 8 plus DAC 8 DSD. I needed to run the same content, at the same resolution, through the system from as many of the available sources as possible, to hear if the MP 8 affected the sound. Getting to that point required still more copying of files and preparing of discs. For the sourcing that would allow it, I ripped some tracks from their original CDs as AIFF 16/44.1 files and placed them around the various file-based sources.
After listening to the entire album one night, I selected “Love Reign O’er Me,” from the Who’s Quadrophenia (CD, 16-bit/44.1kHz AIFF, MCA), to be the multi-source test. This 1973 recording has a lot of variety, including strings, piano, and rain, along with the Who’s usual lead guitar, bass, and drums. I hoped the combination would help me hear any change in sound from source to source. Tidal was left out of this test, due to my inability to be 100% sure that their version of “Love Reign O’er Me” was precisely the same as mine. I copied the 16/44.1 AIFF file to a USB hard drive and a USB flash drive, and plugged both into the two USB ports on the MP 8. I also dropped the file into my iTunes library, and my iMac’s local Serviio and Roon sources. I played the disc itself in the CD drives of my computer and the MP 8.
The sound was outstanding. I loved the rain splattering all over the wide soundstage as the introduction builds. Roger Daltrey’s voice was positioned in the center, but with a presence out to the edges. There was a subtle, strained raspiness in his singing that I enjoyed through the T+A pair. Pete Townsend’s guitar was set deeply on the soundstage with a fabulous fatness to its sound, without its upper ranges sounding strident. Keith Moon’s frenzied drumming demonstrated appropriate slam without being too aggressively forward, and John Entwistle’s bass methodically thrummed along with good force and no bloat.
The soundstage was excellent, and the voices were well reproduced, including small details; the bass slam of was impactful, without bloat or brightness -- overall, the sound was clean, clear, and neutral. Despite the variety of ways in which I played this track, I was unable to hear clear evidence of the MP 8 changing my system’s sound in any way. Indeed, not only could I hear no difference between the MP 8’s various inputs, I also heard none between the MP 8 and my iMac music server. Overall, though, the T+A music player produced great sound.
FM stations sounded compressed, as most FM stations do. Talk radio was better -- voices had better depth, and had a more analog feel than some of the flat, digital sounds of music over Internet Radio. I would guess that the purchaser of a system like the T+A MP 8 with DAC 8 DSD will look on the MP 8’s FM radio features like the inclusion of the DAC 8 DSD’s headphone output: handy, but not the main reason for purchase.
As I see it, the MP 8’s job is to simplify the use of the litany of music options available to play music. The T+A Elektroakustik MP 8 allows you to consolidate all of your digital music sources and radio into a single, unified app that you can use to control and access all of them from your listening seat. My computer can play all of these sources (save FM), but it does so without an app. Each source requires changing a variety of settings to get the computer to send data to the DAC, and each source usually has its own unique interface. At a package price of $9200, it’s difficult to discern where value lies, but from a usage standpoint, the MP 8 and DAC 8 DSD combo dramatically simplified my system. To that end, it easily beats out my constant fiddling with my computer. This pair may be unique in their ability to play and control what appear to be every digital source available short of DVD-A and SACD, and with uniform centralized control interfaces.
Last September, I concluded my review of T+A Elektroakustik’s DAC 8 DSD with this statement: “Science and engineering can exist in the service of music!” I still feel that way. T+A’s technical prowess has made interfacing with today’s digital music-playback options a uniquely coherent experience. Using T+A’s MP 8 with their DAC 8 DSD let me bring a variety of disparate sources under my command and get back to what’s most important: playing music.
. . . Erich Wetzel
- Loudspeakers -- KEF R900
- Preamplifier -- Hegel Music Systems P20
- Amplifier -- Audio Research D300
- Source -- Apple iMac running Mac OS 10.11.6, iTunes, Tidal HiFi music-streaming service, Serviio and Roon softwares
- Digital-to-analog converters -- Benchmark Media Systems DAC2 HGC, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil, T+A Elektroakustik DAC 8 DSD
- Speaker cables -- Transparent Audio MusicWave Ultra
- Analog interconnects -- Dynamique Audio Shadow XLR, Transparent Audio MusicLink Super RCA
- USB cable -- Nordost Blue Heaven LS
T+A Elektroakustik MP 8 Multi Source Player
Price: $4750 USD.
Warranty: Three years parts and labor.
T+A Elektroakustik GmbH & Co. KG
Phone: +49 (0) 5221-7676-0