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TRULIFE AUDIO ‘ATHENA’ LINE PREAMP

TLA ATHENA-FRONT

By Manos Bitsakakis

The first contact…

I was felt lucky when first time auditioned in a friend’s place, the new ATHENA preamp from Greek Company TLA, accompanied with pair of old Dynaco ST-35 power amps and a pair of small BBC LS3/5A monitors…

The sound was so clear, involving and musical that I immediately decided to ask the manufacturer let me hear the preamp in my place and my system for some time, under more controlled conditions…

ATHENA-FRONT_2

The face plate

TLA responded positively and in a couple of weeks I had placed on my rack the brand new black and austere machine ready for auditioning…

ATHENA-BACK

The back plate of the Athena

It is a kind of strange, when a reference machine exists in the system chain, to pull it off and replace it, even temporarily with another and here we talk about Audio Research REF3 Pre… but it is also a challenge…

Some history and some facts…

If someone reads the philosophy of TruLife Audio (TLA) Company in their site will understand many things…

TruLife Audio is a Greek Company specialized for a very long time (about 40 years!) in transformers design and construction… During the last 20 years TLA also designs pure, SET tube based high class audio equipment, based in and equipped with those handmade transformers, which are used in power supplies, in all coupling stages and of course in the output… It is difficult to find in the market transformers approaching the characteristics of those TLA builds…

The bandwidth exceeds 2 Megahertz for interstage, and 80 Kilohertz for output, with completely flat response(+/-0.1db) and without the slightest negative feedback…

The Concept…

ATHENA is the ‘line’ version of the new ‘HERMES’, an extreme minimal and purist construction preamp, designed from the beginning and based on that miraculous Russian tube 6H30, the so called supertube… The circuit design of the double triode output tube is distinct and uncommon, thus is the only thing kept secret from the company…

TLA Inner_left_side

Athena's inner from the side

Preamp has tube rectification (EZ81), separate dual mono Power Supplies, where of course the very fine handmade TLA chokes and transformers are adopted… Also, passive components of very high quality are widely used, selected strictly one by one after detailed and careful auditioning by the designer and head man of TLA Velissarios Georgiadis, who is a musician too… This pre is one single stage active device, that’s why is phase reversed, so the phase of the speakers must also be reversed, for the system to be in phase…

Inner_from_above

In the listening both 1986 6H30 DR’s and new production Sovteks were used, with the DR’s performing much better... In the first 72 hours some ringing and hardness was present, but after 100 hours the thing begun to swing…Burn in period is about 400 hours as I was told from TLA…

Due to ‘purist’ and ‘minimal’ design, that is a very important thing to sound quality, ATHENA has no remote, no pause, no protections, no standby mode, no relays or any kind of breaks in circuit path…

General Auditioning Impressions…

There are many good things coming out when someone starts to discover ATHENA, first good thing is the Silence… The system even with my 1,8 meters long unshielded interconnects was very silent, so I had to change input to line2 where phono stage was connected and rise enough the volume pot for hearing some hiss and understand that the machine works!

6H30_P_DR

It is a very important thing, especially when we talk about preamplifiers that are equipment which handles very low signal levels, to be quiet… If no, any presence of hum and the noise will be amplified in a big scale from the next power stages and will be present in the output, causing very big amounts of distortion in what we hear... So, that dead silence was partially responsible for the huge analysis and the ability of the system to brink in air details never heard before…

ATHENA gave exceptional performance and matched perfectly with the huge 211 tube power Monoblocks, but also with the 550K Musical Fidelity solid state 550 watts rms little monsters… Let’s simply say that sound was keeping all of its delights with both setups, been somewhat more musical with tubes and somewhat more dynamic with transistors…

Comparing ATHENA with passive attenuator, there was no convergence in any field… I know that sounds impossible but it is absolutely true …

More specific…

George-Sharing-&-Mel-TormeDue to dark background with ATHENA you can not only hear the initial notes, but every single repeat of the echoes produced by the physical room or by electronic devices, till it completely fades… Also you can hear every one of the lowest level whispers of the audience which is waiting for the concert to begin, understanding exactly the position of each single person in the room (George Sharing & Mel Torme – an Evening With)… All of the above detailed information is given crystal clear with an exceptional clarity and considering the rich gain and dynamics, make the preamp’s performance to shine in every aspect… The so involving result makes the listener to concentrate deeply in music performance and get surprised when a small tick from the vinyl is heard…

Thomas-Dolby Music spreads like waving, occasionally and distinctly, sometimes in dark and roughness and other times in the calmness and sun shining, with the volumes of pulsing power bathing the listener (Van Morrison – Astral Weeks)… The gain is provided in huge amounts in the output (x10) that is able to drive almost every power stage that follows…

ATHENA produces absolute stable like nailed images with instruments and voices placed exactly in a wide 3 dimensional scene and seem like coming out of the dark with the channel separation and room information about instrument placing approaching perfection (Thomas Dolby – Flat Earth)…

Music…

Male and female Voices with clarity lyricism and air, coming in life separately from instruments, but also joined with them in a sensual combo (Catie Webster – Two Fisted Mama)…

Catie-Webster-–-Two-Fisted-Mama Oscar-Peterson-–-Tracks

The piano brilliant but also dark where it needed to be, like the real piano sounds… fast, glorious, instant and massive, with rich harmonic content… Pedals with breathtaking control, stopping the individual notes and the chords like light, or sustaining them like lazy waves… (Oscar Peterson – Tracks)

The drum kicks, cymbals and crashes have all the ADSR parameters right… volume, attack, decay, duration timing and fading (Gong – You)… Bass also deep and controlled with no looseness or fattening…

In symphonic works the brass, woodwinds and strings with tonal and waving balance, voiced exactly like in real life with exceptional musicality and feeling… (Albinoni – oboe concert in D minor – Erato)

And more Hi End…

Having the days passed and as the time was reaching where the preamp had to be returned back to the company, I stood and wondered if I could hear in another system, what I’ve heard in my system all those days before, for one more step in verification and evaluating 'ATHENA'... That second system must be of an ultimate top class… So I called Kyriakos, a friend of mine, member of ACA (Audiophile Club of Athens), who is one of very few lucky people having in their listening room the gorgeous Wilson Alexandria II and we arranged the meeting…

Athena-at-Kyriakos-system

I will not refer much more things from this audition… the hearing alone of such miraculous sound devices is any audiophile’s dream… I will just say that with the exceptional Wilsons, all the things mentioned above were more obvious and clearer, with 'ATHENA' not only matching perfectly with the advanced system, but driving its performance to an upper hi-end class…

Athena-with-Micro

Conclusion…

Greeks had always the ability to act even in difficult circumstances with a strange, but smart and positive way…

Greek TruLife Audio (TLA) and its lead man, with ATHENA preamp, have pushed the small & strange 6H30 tube very close to its limits, combining the absolute pureness and naturalness of the pioneer circuit design and handmade transformers, with the warmth and the musicality of an electron tube…

ATHENA is a very reasonably priced machine and worth every penny, sounding much better from many luxurious 2x and 3x costing machines…

ATHENA is the name of the Greek Goddess of wisdom, who with her frugal beauty and strictness was able to surpass all the others…same is the way this austere machine acts; it is able to outperform much more expensive and fancy machines…

But after the short living with that goddess and even if ATHENA is a fine and proper name, If I was called to baptize it I would have chosen between something like ‘Shining’ or even ‘Libido’…

Specifications…

Input impedance: 100 K Ohm
Output impedance: 50 Ohm
Out Gain: X10
Freq Response: 8 Hz – 95 KHz / 0db
Price: Contact TLA
Phase Reversing Output

The System

Mpitsakakis audio system

  • Power Amplifier: DIY 211 PSET 70W Monoblocks (based on Kondo Gakuons), Musical Fidelity 550K’s
  • Preamplifier: Audio Research Reference 3 (line), Tsakiridis Passive with Alps Attenuator (rewired), Bluenote De Medici (phono)
  • Analogue Source: Nottingham Analogue Space 294, ACE-Space 294 arm, Shelter 5000 cartridge
  • Digital Source: SONY XA5400ES
  • Speakers: KEF Reference 205/06
  • Interconnects: DIY 7N / 18AWG Solid Uni Crystal UPOCC Silver
  • Speaker cables: DIY 7N / 12AWG Solid Uni Crystal UPOCC Silver
  • Power cables: DIY 7N / 14AWG Solid Uni Crystal UPOCC copper

Athena on rack

Athena on rack

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