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Integrated amplifier + phonostage


Audio Tekne
TFM 2000 + TEA 2000

Manufacturer: Audio Tekne Incorporated
Price at the time of the review: 20 000 + 20 000 EUR

Contact: Audio Tekne Incorporated 596-4
Sanyu-town, Hachioji-city Tokyo
Japan 192-0012

Delivered for test by: NATURAL SOUND s.r.o.

t so, coincidentally, happened, that me and Wojtek, both love Japanese audio products. I, admittedly, prefer devices with tubes on board, but am also capable of appreciating also solid-state devices manufactured in this country. It seems to me that almost every Japanese product apart from certain technologies, solutions and so on, carries one more element that sets it apart from most made in other countries. I call this element: a “soul of the device”. Wait! That wasn't precisely what I meant. It is the music reproduced by Japanese audio devices that has a soul. That's what makes the presentation so live-like, so natural sounding, that it's easy to forget that what I listen to is just a reproduction, not live performance.

And to my surprise not only my favorite tube devices are capable of delivering such a stunning performance. I don't claim that only products Made in Japan can sound like that, but the percentage of such capable Japanese device is much, much higher than of ones coming from any other part of the world. In my humble opinion, of course. I believe that Wojtek also found something very special about Japanese audio products which was the reason for establishing May, as the Japanese month in HighFidelity – a tradition that's been kept in HighFidelity magazine for years now. It is not easy to find enough of Japanese product from various price ranges to fill both May issues of our magazine, and yet we somehow manage.

Two years ago I had a rare pleasure to review an outstanding and very expensive tube amplifier from a legendary Japanese company, Kondo, called Souga, and last year a relatively inexpensive, solid-state SoulNote integrated amp (today there is already a Polish distributor of this brand), and excellent Final Audio Design headphones. As you can see Japan is a homeland not only to very expensive audio, but to a reasonably priced, too. This year I am about to review two sets also from very different worlds. This is a review of entry level amplifier and phonostage of a Japanese company, with each device priced at... 20.000 EUR. Target group of customers for the second set I'll also review is surely very, very different, as the whole system costs just bit more than 2.000 EUR. Let's focus on the first of these two.

Every year during Audio Show in Warsaw there are dozens (in the last year even over a hundred) of presentations and the fact is, that only a few of them we can really remember after some some time. The one that was widely discussed already during the Show in 2013 and afterwards was a Slovenian distributor, Natural Sound debut with their presentation of Japanese brand, Audio Tekne, system. It took place in a small hotel Room in Sobieski and the setup included low power tube amplifiers and quite original, high sensitivity speakers, Despite such an “old-school” flavor room was packed with z crowd almost all the time. It was quite difficult to get to a proper listening position, which allowed the lucky ones to fully appreciate what this system had to offer. But even those, who weren't patient enough to wait a long time for such a sweet spot to be available, easily recognized the highest class of this presentation.

This was, most likely, the first presentation of Audio Tekne products in Poland despite the fact that this is one of the highly appreciated Japanese audio brands. Looking at their devices most people think about the golden age of tube devices – simple, though elegant designs, without any fancy elements, where form serves purpose and not the other way around. All Audio Tekne devices are finished with the same, hard to describe, color (kind of green -ish? - remember that most men are colorblind :-)). Anyway – it might not look very fancy (although in reality it does look better than on images) but it serves its main purpose very well – dust is almost invisible on this surface. I also always thought that these very fancy devices offered by some manufacturers distracted me from the music – Audio Tekne surely doesn't do that.

A side note – I don't know if you heard, but this year AudioShow will start already on Friday afternoon and last, as always, till Sunday evening! Also one of the hotels will be replaced by... our National Stadium. Hopefully both changes will make it even easier for a crowd of visiting audiophiles, to see all presentations they plan even if some of them won't be able to come already on Friday.

In 2014 Natural Sound prepared a different presentation of Audio Tekne system. They rented a separate apartment in Brystol Hotel, Mr Kiyoaki Imai, the owner/designer of Audio Tekne was present, and Japanese electronics was accompanied by American dc10Audio speakers – an adequate presentation for a truly high end brand. Also this time it wasn't to get into the room for a presentation, as there were so many people who wanted to get there. Fortunately (for me) there was also a closed presentation for press, so I had a chance to enjoy this presentation, including Mr Imai's speech, in comfortable conditions. And just as a year ago I left this presentation being convinced that Audio Tekne belongs to a very small group of the most remarkable Japanese audio brands, like: Kondo, AirTight, Wavac, or Robert Koda (yes, I do know the latter are not tube devices).

As I am a bit lazy guy let me quote myself covering Audio Tekne's presentation:

Audio Tekne system comprised of power amplifier TM-9801, TFA-8695 preamplifier and TEA-8695 phonostage, that were supported by dc10audio loudspeakers and SME 20 turntable. The presentation was conducted by owner of this Japanese brand, Mr Kiyoaki Imai. Story presented by Mr Imai reminded me some others like, for example, the story of Kondo-san I read about. Indeed the foundation of Audio Tekne was a result of a fascination, or even love for music, especially a classical one played live. They were created to recreate in listener's room this exulted emotional state man experiences while listening to a live concert. Whatever audio system we use at home what it delivers is usually far from what we remember from concerts we attended, but what Mr Imai achieved with his creations, as far as I can ascertain after two Audio Show presentations, brings listener closer, much closer to this live-like experience, delivering a lot of very real emotions. I would love to compare Audio Tekne's performance with the one I already experienced with Kondo amplifiers.

Please notice the last sentence from a quote above. Why should you? Well, because some time after this Show coverage was published Mr Hari Strukejl from Natural Sound contacted me asking if I'd be interested in reviewing an AT integrated amplifier. As you might imaging I could give but one answer. Some time later we met in Warsaw when Hari was visiting our capitol to meet his partner with whom he was planning to open a showroom for Audio Tekne and FM Acoustics systems. According to the latest information I received a grand opening of this showroom should happen still later this year. As it turned out when we actually met, Hari prepared a surprise for me – he brought me not only the “entry level” integrated amplifier, TFM 2000, but also an “entry level” phonostage, TEA 2000. I placed “entry level” inside quote marks as, despite each of them being the least expensive product in Audio Tekne line, each costs 20.000 EUR. That is not a level one would think of when hearing this sort of price. Anyway, given the opportunity I gladly accepted a new proposal of reviewing both devices together.


Before I even start to describe sound of this impressive set, let me shortly mention about Mr Imai's philosophy. On his web page Mr Imai explained that according to him audio system/device should not sound god or bad, it should sound right, accurate. Meaning how? Long story short - natural. Obviously to know natural sound of (acoustic) instruments one has to play them or go to live concerts, the more times the better. Even a person who does not attend live concerts regularly is able to tell the difference between natural and “unnatural” sound. How? Natural sound is never fatiguing, there is nothing that bothers listener, that distracts him from music itself, nothing that forces itself on to him, and at the same time music listener hears must involve him emotionally – these are “hard” proofs of sounds “naturalness”. Simple, right? Just to be clear – that's not a direct quote from Audio Tekne's web site, that's rather how I understand what I read there.

In one of the quite few reviews of Audio Tekne's equipment I came across I found also a description of company's sales philosophy, or what is required from company's dealers (see HERE). The main job of a distributor is not to maximize sales/turnover/profit, not to sale to anybody who can afford these products. Audio Tekne should be purchased by few customers (among those who can afford it, of course) who understand Mr Imai's philosophy of a natural sound and who concur with it. According to this article Mr Imai himself invites potential Japanese buyer to his home to present sound of his system and to explain his sound philosophy, to make sure they understand it and agree with it before they actually make a purchase. When it come to sales performed by dealers all over the world that should do the explaining part themselves and explain to the potential customer what: “Audio equipment is civilization and music is culture” means. One can not exist without the other, one complements the other. Today, when the single, most popular goal of audio manufacturers is to maximize gain, such an approach to sales is very unique. Somehow I am not surprised that this sales philosophy comes from a Japanese company.

OK, lets get to the point. As I already mentioned I received two devices for this review. The first one is TFM 2000, an integrated amplifier opening company's line of products. It is, of course, a tube amplifier, a push-pull to be exact, with a rarely seen double triodes 6AS7G that deliver 6 Wpc output. Mr Imai explained during his Audio Show presentation that the key elements of his devices were highest quality transformers winded with a copper wire, with Permalloy cores. Also the internal wiring is done with a copper wire.

Another important element of Audio Tekne devices are elements made of carbon, used for vibration damping. This material is used for device's feet (so one should be careful as these might leave some black marks

Obviously a Japanese tube high end brand can not escape comparisons to a famous Kondo brand. Some differences are obvious – Kondo makes (mostly) SET amplifiers, Audio Tekne prefers push-pulls, Kondo for most products uses silver wire, AT uses only copper, Kondo uses copper elements in their chassises as vibration damping material, AT uses carbon for the same purpose. As you can see there are significant differences between designing philosophy of these two high end brands.
Front panel of the TFM 2000 amplifier is pretty minimalist – one will find there, on the left an old-style on-off switch with a single, red LED that lights up when device is on, a small knob in the middle operating as an input selector (there are 5 RCA inputs) and a larger knob on the right that allows user to control volume. On the back panel, apart from already mentioned 5 pairs of gold-plated RCA inputs, there are speakers posts, grounding post and power inlet. All tubes are closed in metal cages. The amplifier, despite its deceivingly small size put on a significant weight of over 24 kg.

The TEA 2000 phonostage is another least expensive device in Audio Tekne's range. It is designed to work with MC (Moving Coil) cartridges. It sports separate inputs for low (10 Ω) and high (100 Ω) impedance pickups and also separate, corresponding outputs. It is also a push-pull design. It is based on three pairs of tubes: one 6072A (12AY7), and two E180CC. On the back panel there are already mentioned two pairs of RCA inputs and outputs plus a grounding pin and power inlet. That's it. There are no user selectable settings (apart from two inputs and outputs for low and high impedance carts).

As Hari told me, this phonostage, or at least its low impedance input/output was meant to work with Mr Imai's own cartridge, the MC-6310. This one should be called a very low signal one, as it delivers a 0,1 mV signal, and its 2 Ω impedance is also very low. I didn't have any cartridge with comparably low impedance, nor my idea to borrow some worked, so I had to use what I had at hand – my own Koetsu Black Goldline, and a Kiseki cartridge that I got for a review (that should be ready for July's issue of HighFidelity).

I divided my listening sessions into three groups. For the first one I used only the amplifier, for the second only the phonostage, and finally I listened to both devices together. I won't give you three separate descriptions though, as I concluded that there was no doubt, that both devices were created by the same man, with his very distinct sound philosophy. Also the best results were obtained when I listened to both devices together.

I should mention that both devices need some time to warm up before they start to perform to the full extend of their abilities. I'd say one needs to give them an hour t get the best possible sonic results, which, even for tube devices, is quite a long time. Surely one can start listening before that time but sound will keep opening up, will get richer and, to some extend, also smoother.

Recordings used for the test (a selection):

  • Natural jazz recordings, fonejazz, DSD64.
  • Arne Domnerus, Jazz at the Pawnshop, Proprius ATR 003, LP.
  • Cannonball Adderley, Somethin' else, Classic Records BST 1595-45, LP.
  • Dead Can Dance, Spiritchaser, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity MOFI 2-002, LP.
  • Isao Suzuki, Blow up, Three Blind Mice B000682FAE, CD/FLAC.
  • Keith Jarret, The Koeln Concert, ECM 1064/65 ST, LP.
  • Leszek Możdżer, Kaczmarek by Możdżer, Universal Music 273 643-7, CD/FLAC.
  • Lou Donaldson, LD+3, Blue Note MMBST-84012, LP.
  • McCoy Tyner, Solo: Live from San Francisco, Half Note Records B002F3BPSQ, CD/FLAC.
  • Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain, Columbia PC8271, LP.
  • Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones, Live At The Checkerboard Lounge. Chicago 1981, Eagle Rock Entertainment B0085KGHI6, CD/FLAC/LP.
  • Patricia Barber, Companion, Premonition/Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-45003, 180 g LP.
  • Pink Floyd, The Endless River, Parlophone Records 825646215478, LP.
  • Rachmaninow, Symphonic dances, Etudes-tableaux, Reference Recordings HRx, 24/176, WAV.
  • Renaud Garcia-Fons, Oriental bass, Enja B000005CD8, CD/FLAC.
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela, 11:11, EMI Music Poland 5651702, CD/FLAC.
  • The Ray Brown Trio, Summer Wind, Concord Jazz CCD-4426, CD/FLAC.
  • Vivaldi, Le Quatro Stagioni, Divox/Cisco CLP7057, LP.
Japanese issues available at

My first impression perceived when listening to this system (especially before first hour needed for warm-up passed by, but also to some extend after that) was that it sounded darker than what I was used to. And yet, not even for a second I thought that it was any sort of a flaw of this set. Other thing is that before I truly started to assess Audio Tekne gear a lot of time passed. Why? Because I was, from the very first played note, totally immersed in musical experience! OK., it wasn't exactly the same kind of experience as the one from live concerts – that's not possible no matter what audio system is used as listening to any of them we always know, at least in the back of our heads, that this is just a reproduction of a live event, not the event itself. The question is how real, how close to the live experience given presentation is. The better performance, to more realistic, more natural, the more immersive,involving it gets.

Despite my memory of such a good experience with Audio Tekne systems during Audio Shows, despite brand's reputation, I was a bit skeptic before first listening session in my room – after all it was “only” a push-pull system, and not so renown, so admired, even worshiped by me SET. And yet... listening, especially to both reviewed devices combined together, was as exciting, as immersive, as emotional experience as the one I remembered from my sessions with Kondo amplifiers. Some accents were placed differently in the presentation by it was as fantastic as I remembered from my encounters with Souga and Kagura. Each time stylus landed in the groove of a record the whole world around me ceased to exist. There was only the music presented in a very convincing way that helped me to ignore mu subconsciousness that remember it wasn't a live music, but only a playback performed by audio system.

One of the ways one could describe a job that audio system faces is to say that it is supposed to full listener into believing that he listens to live music, to make him forget that he's not sitting in a concert hall or in a club. Some elements that tell us we participate in a live event can not be reproduced by an audio system – there are no visual effects, no smells, no feeling of other people presence, room's acoustics can be reproduced fairly well, but never perfectly, and so on. But the better, the more natural, accurate reproduction not only of each instrument's sound, timbre, but of interactions between them, of their 3D image and size, of the space surrounding them, of the emotional layer of the music, the more involved listener gets, the more realistic feeling of participation.

And after crossing some line marking some level of realism, we tend to start really experiencing what we hear, just like we do when we actually are listening to a live concert. We don't think anymore whether sound of percussion comes from behind vocalist and guitarist, or whether distance between bass player and trombone guy is as it should be, of exactly 1,5 meters. All such details don't matter any more. What matters is only how realistic, how colorful is the picture painted in front of us by our system, whether there is this live-like abundance of tonal and dynamic shades, how many of those tiny details and subtleties combine together to create the big, convincing, immersive picture that keeps us on our toes until the very last note decays in a distance. All above exactly describes the way I perceived performance of a system combined of TFM-2000 amplifier and TEA-2000 phonostage, as it created a remarkable, musical spectacle of the most immersive kind.

Let me get back to the very first impression that Audio Tekne system offered me, that “it sounded darker than what I was used to”. The longer I listened to this system the more clear it was to me, that what contributed to such a perception of the sound was actually an immensely dense, rich, deep sound combined with a slight emphasis on lower midrange/upper bass. The longer I listened to it the more I appreciated how detailed, vibrant and airy treble actually was. And while so vibrant and detailed it was also very smooth, devoid of all annoying elements, any brightness or harshness and yet fully capable of reproducing aggressive elements of the sound if required.

Upper midrange and treble were surprisingly rich and saturated. Percussion's cymbals never were just thin, ringing, metal pieces but always seemed to have their proprietary weight, attack phase was fast and decay really long, never cut short. I could clearly hear a fast, powerful strike of a stick and then the Newton's third motion law (the one about action and re-action) enforced in practice. Another great example of purity and vibrancy of upper range was presented with a triangle that sounded very rich and clean surrounded with the whole, powerful symphonic orchestra, and again the decay phase of its sound was properly long.
One of the albums I often used during my tests is Patricia Barber's Companion. One of the elements of this recording that is a great indicators of audio system's abilities, are dozens of small percussion instruments, some of them made of wood, some of metal, that are not that easy to play properly, as it might seem. This time, with Audio Tekne system, these sounded absolutely naturally, beautifully presenting both, the fast leading edge and a nice decay, but also spacial effects, as these small instrument occupy quite some piece of a soundstage.

Obviously these tiny instruments aren't most important elements of this recording, but the point is that most audio devices present the key instruments of this (or any other) recording in a very nice manner, but some (quite many actually) fail when it come to presentation of these tiny, background elements, and without them music doesn't sound so real, isn't so involving. Audio Tekne set did proportional, fair job with them, made sure the presentation of every detail was accurate. The vocalist in the front, properly “taken care of” in order to deliver stunning performance with her powerful, deep, properly pitched voice. As one always expects midrange, that covers also human voices, is a strong suit also of these tube devices. It is amazingly rich, smooth, colorful, and detailed. But it is also delivered in a very energetic, lively, dynamic fashion. It was very clean, transparent but also warm (not warmed up!), sweet but never syrupy!

Bass performance will always be a sum of electronics' and loudspeakers' features – 6 Wpc is not too much power, so definitely some high sensitivity, friendly impedance speakers are recommended for Audio Tekne amplifier. Like my own Matterhorns for example. The large, 15 inch, paper cone woofer driven by TFM-2000 proved their value. One of the instruments that truly benefited from this combination was a double bass – powerful, with a lot of wood, wonderful decay and immensely tuneful. Dynamics was very accurate and so was the speed. The overwhelming feeling of this bass actually playing in my room was another feature of this presentation, that brought me to my knees. This level of performance encouraged me to play them all, bass players I mean, Ray Brown, Garcia Renaud-Fons, Isao Suzuki and many more. Outstanding performance even though mu speakers surely don't represent the same level of performance as Audio Tekne gear does.


The short version of the summary could go like that: this is a system for a music lover, for someone who expects a performance rich with emotions, who appreciates firstly substance of the performance, and less its form. There are no perfect devices/systems for music reproduction – that's what probably any experienced audiophile knows. The best systems/devices bring us closer to live music than others. And yet, it doesn't mean that all high-end systems sound alike. Each designer has his own sound philosophy, his opinion about how music should sound like, so he focuses his efforts on some, important to him, aspects of the sound, compromising when it come to those (in his opinion) less important ones.

Mr Imai's approach seems very reasonable – sound must be natural. Naturalness of the sound each of us has encoded in our brains due to live contacts with human voices and with sound of instruments. Obviously different copies of the same instrument might sound differently, but their sound always has enough common features so that we can recognized whether what we hear sound natural or not. Each time I listen to a live music, not necessarily performed by some famous musicians, always feel excited about this feeling of direct, intimate contact with music, and its emotional layer. It doesn't have to be world's best virtuoso, all it takes is a man with certain level of skills and commitment. The same feeling is exactly what I look for when I can't attend a live performance. I sit on my couch press start/drop stylus into a groove (although my expectations towards vinyl replay, since I don't posses a good reel-to-reel, are always higher, than towards digital sources) and I expect to... feel the music, the excitement, the emotions. Audio Tekne fulfilled this expectation in a very convincing, beautiful way. It delivers a beautiful, coherent, liquid performance, with a focus on a very accurate tonality reproduction for each instrument and voice. Sound is amazingly rich and organic. As one would expect from a high quality tube amplifier it creates large, multi-layer soundstage with big three-dimensional images on it. The illusion of witnessing live performance, of feeling musicians presence in the room is truly captivating.

And whole what Audio Tekne offers I described as a beautiful performance, these devices don't really try to make things nicer, more beautiful than they are. Having said that I will admit that the less perfect recordings, or records in less then perfect condition do sound better than when played on many other systems. It is not achieved by hiding recording's/record's flaws but rather by not emphasizing them. The very basic goal of Mr Imai – sound accuracy and tonal naturalness combined with low output power of this amplifier delivers fabulous performance of acoustic instruments. So if you, like me, listen to rock music only occasionally and also prefer acoustic music, you should not have any problem with trading of thumping bass for the amazing accuracy, tonal richness and palpability of the rest of the frequency range.

Given a chance Audio Tekne will take you for amazingly emotional, wonderful trip into the world of music. Mr Imai's philosophy of sound obviously works really well in practice!

Both, TFM-2000 integrated amplifier and TEA-2000 phonostage might be called Audio Tekne's entry level products as they are least expensive ones. The former uses not so popular (which makes them also relatively inexpensive) 6AS7G double triodes. Two of them work in each channel in push-pull configuration delivering 6Wpc. Four of these tubes sit in the front of the amplifier under a metal, removable grid (although removing it isn't so simple).

Near the side edge, also under a removable grid, sit a pair of input/driver tubes - E180CC/5965. On top of these tubes, but under metal grid, there is a small carbon block to damp vibrations.

Considering prices of these devices I didn't even try to get “under the hood”, so all I know about how they are build I took from Mr Imai's presentation on Audio Show. The key element of his amplifiers a Permalloy core transformers winded with copper wire. These are supposed to be a key to the natural, accurate performance of These Japanese devices. Internal wiring is also a copper one. Additionally, as already mentioned, carbon elements are widely used in Audio Tekne devices as a damping material. All devices sport carbon feet, also smaller and larger carbon blocks are used in different parts of amplifiers and phonostages to damp unwanted vibrations.

All Audio Tekne products look a lot alike – same simple, some would say, classic, style. The very characteristic color might not be particularly fancy but it is used in order to “hide” dust particles – it is a practical solution unlike most shiny finishes so popular today. Also, for whatever reason, this devices look better in real life, than they do on pictures.
A nice front panel holds a on/off switch accompanied with a red LED indicator, small knob that works as an input selector, and a bigger one for a stepped volume control. On the back there are 5 pairs of gold-plated RCA sockets, speaker binding posts, grounding post and power inlet. All sockets look very solid but none of them come from any of renown brands. The amplifier, although not very big, weights impressive 24 kg.

TEA-2000 phonostage is half the size of the amplifier – while width is the same, depth is half of that of the amp. It is designed to work with MC (Moving Coil) cartridges and it sports a separate inputs and outputs for low impedance (10 Ω) and high impedance (100 Ω) pickups. The former is dedicated mostly for Audio Tekne's own very low impedance cartridge (2 Ω) that delivers a very low output signal (0,1 mV).

TEA-2000 is a push-pull design, based on three pairs of tubes: 1 pair of 6072A (12AY7), and two pairs of E180CC. Each pair of tubes, under metal grid, sits between two carbon blocks that are responsible for damping of vibrations. On the front there is exactly the same on/off switch with a red LED indicator. On the back there are four pairs of gold-plated RCA sockets – two of them work as inputs, two as outputs. There is obviously also a ground post and power inlet. No user selectable settings, nor adjustments are available. Phonostage also uses a Permalloy core transformer.

Parameters (according to the manufacturer):


Vacuum Tube Stereo Pre-main amplifier
Power: 2x 6W
Harmonic distortion: less than 5%/6 W/1 kHz
Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz, +/- 3 dB
Residual noise < 1 mV/8 Ω
Winding Ratio Type ATT
Power consumption: 180 VA
Dimensions: 445 x 225 x 250 mm
Weight: 24,5 kg

Vacuum Tube Stereo Phono amplifier
Inputs: Phono: Only MC Low & High
Max input level: Phono: Low 25mVrms, High 85mVrms
Output level: EQ Out 1.6Vrms(std);11Vrms (max)
RIAA Accuracy: + / - 1.5dB (30Hz...15KHz)
Power consumption: 50 VA
Dimensions: 445 x 170 x 155 mm
Weight: 12 kg