TAE9000es Pream/TAN9000es Amplifier
The Black Knight
in shining armor pays a visit
by Les Enser
Ah, the Black Knight
- all 82 pounds of him, along with the neatest looking sword for battle:
the back lit Sony LCD remote.
Yes, I had the pleasure
of uncrating and wiring up the new Sony TAE9000es preamplifier (The Black
Knight) and his obedient horse, the TAN9000es amplifier.
my reference system, I decided to do a little spring maintenance on the
audio display by cleaning up all sorts forgotten dust and bits of wire.
After all, I had a guest coming and I wanted to make sure everything was
fresh and clean.
As it turns out,
all the fuss was well worth it.
I first pulled the
handsome TAE9000es out of the box and eagerly went to work, hooking up
all the components and connecting all the speakers. The back of this unit
is loaded with enough inputs and outputs to choke a horse
Sir Galahad. The unit includes five optical inputs along with one optical
output and also sported three coax ins. Upon gazing a little further seven
S-inputs, four S-outputs and eight preamplifier outputs were also present.
Thats not all!
Look even further and you'll notice the AC3RF input for Laserdisc (needed
for Dolby Digital playback on LDs) was there, too.
One normally would
think enough already, but there are two more things worth mentioning:
Sony even included a RS232C multi-pin connector on the back of the TAE9000,
along with a microphone analyzer input.
Wow! Quite impressive.
One would think Sony is trying to cover all the bases against possible
The manual, strangely
enough, made no mention of the microphone analyzer input.
I found RS232C connector
an interesting concept, since Sony indicates that the units internal
software can be upgraded at any time in the near future. A great concept!
It has happened so often over the last few years that electronic gear
has become obsolete over night.
A good example of
this is the new DTS craze that all the manufacturers are offering on their
components. Im sure that there are some of you out there that are
a little perturbed by your recent investment over the last year or two,
only to find out that you need to upgrade to get DTS!
If Sony holds true
to its word with this software update then they deserve to gain some attention
with the TAE9000.
Of course this black
beauty sports all of the latest in surround technology, right from good
old Pro-Logic, Dolby Digital and of course ― DTS. Sony has also
incorporated its own Digital Cinema Sound as well as MPEG playback, used
a lot in European DVDs.
There are countless
of settings and enough surround parameters to intimidate the faint of
as this unit is, it is quite easy to use the front panel controls. Housed
there are four large rotary dials; one controls the menu for the various
settings, the second is a plus/minus control with emphasis or de-emphasis
of surround effect levels (such as delay, reverberation, wall absorption
etc). The third control is the input select switcher and of course the
fourth is for main volume control.All
these controls had a smooth and solid feel to them and were nice and quiet
when turned to a preferred setting.
Along with the dials
are small chrome buttons that control the parametric equalizer, the auto
format function (more on this later), again another plus/minus function
for frequency control, a two channel mode set, audio split setting, which
allows one to change the audio function from the video setting.
This is a handy feature,
which allows you to keep your video source while selecting, say the CD
sound or any other sound sources at the same time. There is a chrome button
to set either for digital or analogue mode, if for some reason you dont
trust the auto format setting.
I liked the auto format
function and not having to figure out or set the proper type of input,
such as Dolby Digital, DTS or plain optical signals. Setting the TAE9000
for auto format is a wonderful convenience and made its operation a lot
The units readout
display is large and easy to read from across the room. This is a blessing
since the unit did not appear to have an on screen (TV) display. The front
panel display also was helpful in the way it indicated what kind of signal,
especially a digital one, the preamp was decoding;, I found this rather
As for the processing
power available, Sonys preamp is second to none. There's so much
power I was surprised there was no cooling fan used like that in a PC.
There are no less than three 32 bit DSP (Digital Sound Processing) chips
used, each doing immense calculations, not only to provide excellent sound
quality, but also to enable a myriad of surround manipulations.
As I went through
some of the factory surround settings, it was a joy not to hear overly
emphasized and inaccurate ambience effects. The TAE9000ES even boasts
virtual surround settings for those who do not have rear speakers or if
one has a single pair of surrounds it can be virtually increased
to multi speakers, like that of a commercial theatre.
As for the horsepower,
the TAN9000ES came in on the weigh scale at 52 lbs and boasts 115 watts
x 5 channels RMS into four or eight ohms. The unit uses discrete channel
amplification and can be set in a few different configurations.
Among the choices
were 2,3,4 or 5 channel settings, which allows one to set up different
combinations depending on the number of amplifiers one wishes to use.
You can even bridge together four of the amps, for a total of 200 watts
x 2 and have the third amp left to pump out 120 watts to run either a
center channel speaker or a passive subwoofer.
I did find Sonys
specifications in the bridged mode surpising, however. The manual indicated
that the 200-watt rating x 2 channels was arrived at the 1KHz measurement,
and not at the flat out range of 20-20,000 Hz.
Sony even included
a warm up setting which puts the amp in idle mode but keeps
the amplifier circuits from cooling down. This way sound quality is maintained
when youre ready to put the system through its paces. I found that
it was easier to keep the amplifier on instead of having to manually keep
switching the unit into its warm-up mode. It could be a useful setting
if you were planning to leave the unit unattended longer periods of time.
The units rugged
build incorporates heavy-duty five-way binding posts for any type of speaker
connection. The chassis was designed with frame and beam construction
for rigidity and could withstand the pressure levels of the Titanic if
it sat on the TAN9000s top.
Now for the cool part
of the package, the nifty LCD remote! I have to admit I certainly like
the design behind this remote, it was straightforward to use, comfy to
hold and Sonys execution is just about perfect.
A couple of quibbles
surfaced though, especially when it comes to the remotes back light
display. In one word - D I M. I found it totally unreadable during the
day, since my home theatre setup does not have the luxury of controllable
lighting, I found this somewhat of an annoyance. Glare would consistently
wash away the display, no matter how much I tuned the contrast level on
Now dont get
me wrong; in a controlled lighting situation this would not be much of
a problem. The Sony ES combination would normally find its way into dedicated
home theatre rooms anyway and this will not be a big deal for most people.
I just felt that the remote back light display could have been brighter
since my other Sony RMAV2000 remote has enough illumination that it could
prevent ships from hitting the shoreline at night!
If it werent
for this weakness the remote would be perfect.
The TAE9000es remote
also included a touch pen for control if one prefers; unfortunately it
is one of those things that can mysteriously disappear.Fortunately
the remotes panel is touch sensitive and can be easily used by fingers.
I also liked the
units smart component menu that can operate other manufacturers
gear without doing the "head to head" training thing or having
to look up a bunch of codes. All you have to do is call up the device
you want to use and scroll for the correct manufacturer and ― Bingo!
- you're off to the races.
Now for the audition!
I was curious to hear how DTS would sound so I played Dragonheart on DVD,
a version of which was encoded for this forma,t and I found the introductory
logo for DTS impressive. Sounds swirled around the room to show off the
separation and detail of the DTS format and the 9000es series handles
it with aplomb.
As for the movie,
voices were well articulated and clean without the chestiness that sometimes
can be directed from the center channel. On chapter 9, where Draco the
Dragon (played by Sean Connery) battles the Knight (Dennis Quaid), one
could clearly hear the blast of fireballs bellowing from left, center,
right, rear right and left speakers. It was as if Draco were flying overhead
in my own living room while spitting fire balls towards me.
I was glad that I
wore my asbestos suit.
I noticed the Sony
amp kept up with the bass demands and kept things nice and tight without
any of the boominess of some home theatre systems.
As for Godzilla, which
I had in Dolby Digital, for kicks I chose the "Night Theatre"
setting on the TAE9000; since the night was getting on, it was interesting
to see if I could still enjoy reasonable sound pressure levels without
upsetting the neighbours.
The Night Theatre
setting compress sound levels so that one can still get good surround
without totally losing the dynamics. Well, I was impressed with this setting
and I did not even disturb the wife, who chose to turn in rather that
watch Godzilla as he (I guess its really as she) tromped on New York City.
Normally my wife would close the bedroom door to filter out the sound
pressure level, but this time she left the door open and didnt even
complain the next day. Marvelous!
Unfortunately I was
unable to test DTS or 5.1 surround music discs and could not conclude
the quality of reproduction, but from some of the regular music I was
able to play the Sony did a masterful job. I would have like to have been
able to match up different amplifiers with the TAE9000 but our test time
was very short indeed.
This is not to say
that the TAN9000 amplifier did not perform admirably, but its always
nice to hear the subtle differences between components.
All said, I would
highly recommend this Black Knight to save the day in the home theatre
arena, it not only can joust with the best of them but it can fence with
rapier-like precision in terms of sound quality. At $3499 Canadian the
Sony TAE900ES preamp is a bargain and may even hold its lustre a while
longer than most units, thanks to its upgradeable RS232 port. As long
as Sony makes the software upgrades available, then, this would be an
As for the $2999Cdn
price of the TAN9000ES amplifier, it too can deliver but it would be interesting
to match the preamp with other designs for comparison but that may jog
the price upwards somewhat.
The combination of
both units would do a Home Theatre room proud! My only regret is that
I would have liked the pleasure of his visit a little longer and had a
little more time to get acquainted.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think