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Integrated Amplifier/DACbr> Beyond Frontiers Audio (BFA) TULIP

Price: 12 000 Euro

Manufacturer: Beyond Frontiers Audio (BFA)

Contact: Rade Smiljanov 5, 21000 Novi Sad, SERBIA
tel./fax: +381/11/2632021 | tel. kom.: +381/63/326980
CEO: Zdenko Zivkovic

WWW: Beyond Frontiers Audio

Distribution in Poland : Studio VanderBrug

Country of origin: Canada/Serbia

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photographs: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

Beyond Frontiers Audio (BFA) is an absolutely new brand on the market, registered in 2009 and Tulip is their first product. Shortly new products will be introduced: a preamplifier, monoblocs and a DAC, but all will be based on the Tulip integrated amp.
If you associate the name with Sonic Frontiers then you are right. This brand went bankrupt in 2001 and was bought by Paradigm, interested due to its sub-brand Anthem. The latter is working in the home cinema area. Anthem is still on the market, but the part related to SF was “toned down” by Paradigm. BFA was founded by two main engineers from SF, Mr. Zdenko Zivkovic and Glenn Dolick, which were aided by Matt Brazeau, as a marketing man, who worked earlier for Globe Audio.
Now the BFA has an interesting status – similar to Antelope Audio, a Bulgarian company, manufacturing elements in different countries, BFA escapes a unified categorization. The company has its offices in Serbia, the home country of Zdenko Zivkovic. There the unit is also manufactured, but by another specialist located there, the known and valued Karan Acoustics. Here is the source of the similarity in external design of those two brands. The R&D department, as well the place where the engineers live, is Canada. As we can read in a “Stereophile” note (HERE), the company plans on moving production to Canada, as soon, as it fixes all the technological challenges. So where is this company from? If we are talking about the place of registration – then it is a Serbian company, there the units are also manufactured. But if we think about the place where research is done as most important, then it is Canadian. You have to choose yourself.

Like I said, the Tulip is their first, and to date, the only product of BFA. This is an integrated amplifier, with an integrated (sorry for the repetition) DAC. It has an output power of 200W (at 8Ω) and is a hybrid device. The power stage is based on bipolar Sanken transistors, while the preamplifier is tube based – very good, special versions of ECC83S and E88CC JJ/Tesla. As it turns out, “hybrid” is only half the truth. Although it is not stated clearly, the Tulip is a tube voltage amplifier connected to a solid state current follower – the whole voltage amplification is done in the tubes, while on the transistors we have only current amplification. This is how for example the amplifier Tenor Audio 175S, also coming from Canada.
The enclosure is brilliant, made from thick aluminum plates – a noble version of the Swedish material used in the aerial industry. The remote is also a metal one. The unit has a big display, where we can read the chosen input, volume (in dB and classic units) and synchronization with the digital input. Unfortunately the digital input parameters are not displayed. The DAC section has two digital inputs and one USD. The latter is limited to the mere 16 bits and 48kHz. In such a device? And what about hi-res files? The DAC has a modular build-up, so I believe, that a better receiver will be available and will be easy to be exchanged. The volume is controlled is a discrete damper with relays and a resistor ladder.

Mr. Zdenko Zivkovic send me a short resume of the most important characteristics of the device, which I quote below:
- Gold plated PCBs
- Tubes JJ Tesla 1xECC83S and 1xE88CC Gold with gold pins, cryogenically treated
- Silver-gold oil capacitors (2x) and electrolytic ones (4x47000µF) from Mundorf
- Power stage of the dual-mono type with Sanken bipolar transistors
- 100% amplification on tubes with servo control
- Internal cabling from pure silver in isolation from foamed Teflon (PTFE) from Mundorf and Kimber
- Cardas RCA sockets and WBT loudspeaker terminals; USB socket from Neutrik
- Integrated DAC 24 bits/192kHz with 24/192 upsampling
- Digital coaxial S/PDIF inputs and USB input
- Volume control using relays without clicks in loudspeakers (patented)
- VFD display from the Japanese company Noritake
- Remote control with a patented data transfer protocol
- Toroidal transformer 1600W
- Inputs: 4xLine, 2xCoax and 1xUSB
- Output power: 2x200W @ 8Ω, 2x400W @ 4Ω


A selection of recordings used in the test:

Compact Disc:

  • Bill Evans, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Riverside/JVC, JVCXR-0020-2, XRCD.
  • Clifford Brown, Memorial, Prestige/JVC, VICJ-41562, K2 CD.
  • Jonas Knutsson+Johan Norberg, Skaren: Norrland III, ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9474-2, CD.
  • Kings of Leon, Only By The Night, RCA/BMJ Japan, BVCP-40058, CD.
  • Laurie Anderson, Big Science. 25th Anniversary, Nonesuch, 79988-5, CD.
  • Leszek Możdżer, Komeda, ACT Music + Vision, ACT 9516-2, CD.
  • Lisa Gerrard & Pieter Bourke, Duality, 4AD/Sonic, SON 139, CD.
  • Max Roach & Clifford Brown, Daahoud, Mainstream Records/Mobile Fidelity, MFCD826, CD.
  • Monteverdi, Ottavo Libro dei Madrigali, Concerto Italiano, Opus 111, OPS 30-187, CD.
  • Muse, The Resistance, Warner Music Japan, WPZR-30355-6, CD+DVD.
  • Nina Simone, Silk&Soul, RCA/BMG, 596202, CD.
  • Stina Nordenstam, The World Is Saved, A Walk In The Park/P-Vine Records, PVCP-8769. CD.
Super Audio CD
  • Stereo Sound Reference Record. Jazz&Vocal, Stereo Sound, SSRR4, SACD/CD.
  • Stereo Sound Reference Record. Popular Selection, Stereo Sound, SSRR5, SACD/CD.
  • Art Pepper, “…the way it was!”, Contemporary Records/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2034, SACD/CD;
  • Kazumi Watanabe, Jazz Impression, Eve Records, EWSA 0163, SACD/CD.
  • Michael Schlierf, Clouds And Silver Linings, Stockfisch, SFR 357.4070.2, SACD/CD.
  • Sonny Rollins, Plus 4, Prestige/Mobile Fidelity, UDSACD 2006, SACD/CD.
Audio files
  • Brian Eno, Craft On A Milk Sea, Warp Records, WARPCDD207, 2 x 180 g LP + 2 x CD + 24/44,1 WAV;
  • Charlie Haden & Antonio Forcione, Heartplay, Naim Label, 24/96 FLAC.
  • Kankawa, Organist, T-TOC Records, UMVD-0001-0004, Ultimate Master Vinyl, 4 x 45 rpm 180 g LP + CD-RIIα + 24/192 WAV;
  • Mikołaj Bugajak, Strange Sounds and Inconceivable Deeds, Nowe Nagrania 001, 45 rpm LP+CD+WAV 24/44,1;
  • Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Verve, 24/96 FLAC.

Japanese versions of the recordings available on CD Japan.

The Canadian amplifier shows a completely different world than my Soulution 710 – much warmer, more rounded, just plain different. It would be simplest to say, that this is a “tubey” sound, if the who categories – I mean the trans-impedance amplifiers (this is how the Tulip sounds) and the tube amplifiers (of course I am generalizing, for what I apologize) – would not differ so much.
In short we could say, that in the “tubey” sound we have a warming, softening of the sound and an increase in size of the virtual sources in the first plane. I mean – I do not know, if this is intentional, or a result of certain solutions used, but the result is just like I said. On the other hand, current followers, especially with tubes amplifying the voltage, while still quite warm, are much more differentiated timbre wise, much more open to what we supply them. That was the case with the Polish power amplifier tested long ago, Audia Flight 100 (full solid state), as with the Polish Nowe Audio mono3.5 (one transistor in the sound path) and with the hybrid Tenor Audio 175S. And it is the latter, that seems to me to be the closest reference point to the BFA. Is it due to the very similar technology – voltage amplification done in tubes, and the current follower on transistors - or due to the country of origin, or similar accompanying equipment used while designing, most of all the loudspeakers, but I think, that those two amplifiers are very close together, they share a closely related DNA.

The Tulip sounds warm. No question about that. But this warmth is not “imposed on” it, so to say, in an arbitrary way, this no put on the sound like a hat on the head, but rather injected between the elements of the sound. It does not cover the whole, but it does define it. I hope you understand – this is like putting a half-translucent color on a picture (tube) or shine this color on device photographed (Tulip). It seems to be the same, we get a color distorted picture, but the second method is much nobler, and in the end much closer to the “truth”, regardless if we mean photography or audio with that.
This is why BFA beautifully combined with the tested last month Avalon Transcendent. Because I tested the Tulip after writing the text about the Avalon, in their test I only mentioned the direction of search, in terms of amplification, suggesting looking towards tube amplifiers. Or warm solid state ones. The first of the paths is rather obvious and simpler. It’s just that with the BFA (or Tenor) we get something more, and it will not only be about the softening the quite bright midrange, but also, on equal rights, exploiting the incredible resolution of that subrange in the Avalon. With one word – driving the Transcendent with an amplifier like the Tulip we will have cake and eat it – a model situation.

Yes, the Candian-Serbian amplifier sounds warm. It was clearly audible, when I switched between the BFA and my system, composed of the preamplifier Ayon Audio Polaris III and the power amplifier Soulution 710. And I do not even talk about how much those systems differ in price – and finally – in quality. I am only talking about showing you the contrast between those two ways of presenting sound. Those are so different, that we could – following the example set by one of “Stereophile’s” covers, that when one is right, then the other is wrong. It is only – I think that is clear – that both are wrong, no amplifier in the world can reproduce reality, because this is technologically impossible, and the listening at home differs much from the live listening – for example with the size of the listening room, but also with lack of the visual element, which in fact defines many elements of the sound. This is why the sound for listening at home must be prepared differently. But returning to the main theme – my system and the BFA show the world differently. I do not know, which way is more right, because I can find elements, that are necessary to create a facsimile of the live event (with the restrictions I mentioned above) in both.

The Tulip shows a more relaxed sound, with the virtual sources more fused into the background. But not always. For example playing the disc Silk&Soul Nina Simone with the Serbian (yes, it is in fact a Serbian device, I think) amplifier, I got a fuller and bigger sound than with the Soulution. The voice of the soul vocalist in The Look of Love was intimate, close and warm. But the next track from this disc, Go To Hell showed it differently, pointing to a completely different approach of the sound engineer. This was good differentiation. The Soulution did it even better, it showed not only the differences between the recordings, but also the recordings themselves, and yet with the Tulip it seemed, that the sound is smoother and even more pleasant.

The “pleasance” category is not sharp, and absolutely subjective, but in its deepest, supportive layer, it seems quite easy to capture. And with the tested device it seems, that it gives and almost “primal” pleasure, receiving sound without going into analyzing it. Knowing many better devices I know, that this is not all, because it is also good, if the sound surprises, if not everything is so smooth in it. But because the Tulip is – in fact – not so stellar expensive, I understand the choices Zdenko Zivkovic has to make during its design. Because this sound can enchant. This is why I used the Tenor Audio 175S for so long (almost a year) and this sound got far into my subconscious. Now I almost always search for similar attributes, even when I think, that there should be something more. Let’s listen to vocal music of Monteverdi, like from the disc Ottavo Libri dei Madrigali performed by Concerto Italiano, or the vocal pieces from the disc Skaren: Norrland III of the duo Jonas Knutsson and Johan Norberg – we’ll get a close projection, nicely shown flavors, brilliantly shown elements of space, not only behind the loudspeakers, but also around us.
In this context – minimalist, acoustical music, based on voices – surprising was the listening to the latest disc of Muse, called The Reistance. I have it in the Japanese version, but it does not help much – the sound is quite compresses, and the voice aggressive due to the underlining and sharpening of the sibilants. This is why I do not listen to it too often, and even if, then from the laptop, with the DAC Musica Ibuki. I got a similar view on those recordings with the Tulip. It was a very pleasant listen. Really great! It seems, that dynamics got a little evened, the bass was not as well controlled as with the Soulution, but for the first time I heard many details – in arrangement and composition – which escaped me with more detailed, more rough playing devices, covered by the flaws of the recording. And with this the Tulip works in an “active” way, I mean it does average the recordings. If the sound is better, like in the vocal pieces I mentioned earlier, then it plays them nice, closer, better; if it is wore, like on Duality Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke, then the sound is a bit back, we do not get that many information about the space or the structure of the instruments. It’s as if the device would benefit the better recorded music. The more it was a surprise, that the Muse and later Kings of Leon and Stina Nordenstam sounded in such a way, that you wanted to listen to them, and with a very resolving and transparent system, this is not always the case.

Very interesting was also the session of the built-in DAC. I resigned from testing the USB – I refuse to test USB inputs in devices of that class, when they do not accept the high resolution signal. So I used the RCA S/PDIF inputs – sending the digital signal from the CD-Pro 2 in my CD player Ancient Audio Air, as well as from my laptop using the USB/SPDIF converter KingRex UC 192/32. The sound had a smaller volume as from my Ancient Audio Air CD, and was much skinnier than from the Soulution 540 SACD player. It is just that the DAC in the Tulip we get for free, as I understand it is mostly an integrated amplifier costing 12000 euro, and as such I value it high. The DAC in the BFA will replace us players costing up to 30000 PLN. Yes, it is that good. It is slightly warm and this imposes on the sound of the amplifier itself. It is also not as resolving as the Air. But it gives a very coherent, understandable sound, which seems very intriguing without direct, AB, comparisons.

I assume than you know the test of the loudspeakers Avalon Transcendent. I wrote there, that it is not my sound (for what I received a lot of feedback, and got labeled as a lover of warm, and sluggish sound). Please believe me: that what I will write now is not an attempt to purify myself. I support everything I wrote there. This is just that – in the end – BFA is also not the sound I am searching for. It is not as resolving, the lower frequencies are not as well controlled and not reaching that far as I would like them to. The upper midrange and the treble are clearly rounded, what makes the sound seem warm. It’s just, that similar to the Avalon, which showed something, what you can get only in a very, many times even stellar, expensive loudspeaker, and now the BFA shows the sound in a way, that we – more or less consciously – dream about at night. A way, that I sometimes miss in my system. I mean the way of playing each kind of music, the way of showing the voices in an intimate way, the absolute internal coherence.
As always, this is only one of the methods of transmitting the communication, that is on the discs (about the transmission of the communication of a live event is the domain of the sound engineers – we just need to reproduce that, what is on the discs in a possibly truthful way!). It is very attractive. The Tulip sounds like a trans-impedance amplifier, although we will not find such an information written directly in the company materials. Such constructions have their assets and their shortcomings. And you have to decide what is more important for you. But everyone should listen to the Tulip, because we will find things in its sound, we will be longing for, despite knowing about its flaws. Is this how you describe love? Maybe, maybe…


The device presents itself splendidly from the outside. I remember well, how with blushed cheeks I saw the photographs of the amplifiers from Karan Acoustics, reproduced in the British magazine “HiFi+”. The fact, that the device comes from Serbia is its asset, because not many companies of the world produce such well made units. Maybe a few from Switzerland, like Soulution or Nagra or the Danish Vitus. Karan Acoustics is in the same league.
The BFA was made in the same factory. This is the reason for the characteristic shape of its cabinet – very think aluminum plates making the enclosure and an additional element in the middle of the front making it thicker and giving it extra character. The whole is ascetic, although it has some macho element in it – an interesting combination. On the front we have a big display and six buttons to operate the unit. All the lettering – on the front and the back – were engraved deeply. This is why we know from the very beginning, that the device was equipped with a “24bit/192kHz USB DAC”. Well – Sonic Frontiers, the predecessor of BFA, was a company, that specialized in digital designs.
The back plate is equally big – I did not mention that, but the amplifier is not deep, however it is very high. We have four unbalanced, analog RCA inputs, two RCA digital inputs and USB inputs with a type B socket. The RCA sockets are special – the grounding is rhodium plated, while the hot pin is gold plated – those sockets were supplied from Cardas. We have also two pairs, one for each channel, of gold plated loudspeaker terminals WBT 0765.
Most interesting are the heat sinks – those are not the classic, ribbed type, but flat, with holes drilled in it. The same shape was presented lately in the Momentum amplifier by Dan D’Agostino.

The unit is very modern. The inside is separated in two parts. On the bottom there is the power supply for the power stage and the stage itself, on the top the preamplifier and DAC. Those are connected by the four Mundorf capacitors of the power supply, that go through the separator plate. Those are the biggest capacitors I saw in my life – even those in the Vitus Audio SS-101 were smaller.
The preamplifier was mounted on a few PCBs, mounted stacked near the back panel. The inputs are soldered directly to the selector PCB, made using relays. Another PCB with even more relays was mounted atop of it – this is the volume controller, made using resistors and relays.
Another PCB is the DAC. On its input there is a big Cirrus Logic receiver. After it there was the Burr-Brown SRC4192 upsampler, changing all signals to the 24bits/192kHz format. Such signal went to the DAC chip Burr-Brown PCM1794. In the I/V converter and buffer OPA2134 were used. On the output we have bigger transistors. And the final PCB was the USB receiver. This is a Burr-Brown PCM2707. I was really surprised with that, because looking at the front I was expecting a DSP with a dedicated driver. And here we have an “adapted isochronous” chip, with USB 1.1 input, accepting signals only up to 16bits and 48kHz. What a flaw! And although I can accept this chip in inexpensive, stand alone DACs, in such a device, this is a mistake. I know, that it is needed to be on the same level as the competition, but adding forcibly an USB input, is disqualifying. And the 24/192 comes only from upsampling the USB signal.

The signal coming from this block of PCBs to a large PCB with the preamplifier section. Like I wrote in the beginning, the Tulip was a hybrid amplifier, with tube input and transistor power stage. After a passive volume controller we have the first tube – it is the E83CC JJ/Tesla with gold pins. The whole amplification is done here – this tube amplifies the signal up to 115V (peak-to-peak). Behind it there is another tube, the E88CC, also JJ/Tesla, with a dark, not the red logo, working as a reference to the virtual mass. Coupling with the power stage is done via very nice, expensive oil capacitors, the silver-gold Mundorf SuperCap. Most part of the PCB is taken by the power supply – separate for each channel. The anode current is rectified by quick Shottky diodes (lower switching noise) and stabilized in the transistors. There are also many capacitors filtering the current. On this PCB, under a metal shield, there is also a part, that looks like the microprocessor section. It has the writing on it, that it was designed in Canada, and next to it is the name of Zdenko Zivkovic. Interesting thing – all chips have their markings removed, while they are clearly described on the PCB itself.
The power transformer, mounted below, has 1600W power, and the 10 bipolar transistors in the power stage come from Sanken. In the amplifier there is no feedback loop.
The unit comes in a very solid, wooden, shod chest.

Technical data (according to manufacturer):

Maximum power: 200W (8Ω)/ 400W (4 Ω)
Frequency response: 2Hz – 200kHz
SNR: >106dB („A” weighted)
THD: <0.05%
Power consumption (max): 1200W
Dimensions: 432x192x354mm (WxHxD)
Weight: 51kg

Distribution in Poland:
Studio VanderBrug

os. Parkowe Wzgórze 26
32-031 Mogilany

tel.: +48 66 88 21 021



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