A Visit To Memory Alpha

edited May 2013 in Other hi-fi gear
Last Friday, I went over to Somerset to see our resident tame audio designer, Col ( @Brain_Dead ). I had a poorly amp to deliver to him, and the promise of something new to listen to. I was anticipating great things from the new TQ amps - we have been joking for a while on 'Chews about wanting to hear the new Claymore, for one. Well, it alone was worth the 3.5 hour drive each way... (If you haven't already, click on Brain_Dead s name, and view his profile page, to see a selection of his previous products, including the largest single ended class A (SECA) amps ever built.)

Having opened up my little amp, we found the problem quickly. What wasn't so quick was the fix, so Col will send my baby back at a later time. However, the new amp I was to hear is a beautiful little SECA amp, about 10 - 15w. It's a design Col has been playing about with for years, and it sounds quite lovely. This is now keeping me happy at home while my little amp is having surgery. It has a real 'reach out and touch' element to the way it sounds (but you'd better not unless you have oven gloves on!), I never heard an amp sound so real before. It does have a subtle softness to the bass in my system, but given it's so low powered that isn't surprising. My speakers are 83db/1w sensitivity, and used to make a pair of 40watt, high current transistor amps clip, so that fact it drives them so well (with a passive pre as well) is simply amazing.

The little SECA (or "Baby Blob", as Dave has christened it) was a real treat to listen to, but the other amps in Col's den demanded some attention as well. First up was the lovely SECA 20w, as reviewed in 6 Moons recently. This is the beastie Dave fell in love and I got to see why. If I feel like waxing lyrical about the little 10W SECA, the TQ Iridium 20 was probably a whole street or two ahead. It has such presence and drive, and urgency, yet a beautiful tone about it and truly holographic imaging. Honestly, it goes beyond what I considered was possible from a single component in a hifi system. I am really astonished by it - it just connects you so well with musical reality, in terms of timing, tone, speed, detail (more detail than I ever heard) - really it brings the emotion of the music out to meet you.

There are plans for monoblock versions too, I think - they weren't quite ready when I visited. What was ready though, albeit without casework, was the Claymore. Col seems unduly pleased with the Claymore, given his previous achievements, so I was interested to see why. It apparently shares quite a bit of its DNA with the early Claymore, but is now able to reach the potential Col always saw in the original. It does this because of what modern electronic components are able to do, at lower cost and at a smaller size than was possible 20 years ago, and of course, a few new ideas also. ;)

Looking at the feature set on the new Claymore, it obviously going to give Naim's successful SuperNait a hard time. It is a similar product, but a good deal more powerful. As for sound quality, I cannot see for the life of me what the Supernait could do that the Claymore doesn't do better, but, to be fair I haven't heard one. (However, I know a man who has. ;) ) More to the point, if the SuperNait was as good as the Claymore is, it would be just about the last amplifier anyone would ever need, and for all it's reported strengths, it just doesn't seem to be regarded in that way. It looks like the Claymore will be the product that puts TQ 'on the map' for amplifiers, not just cables. For all their strengths, the big SECA amps will always be a niche product, one that builds reputation for audio excellence. The Claymore, though, ought to sell by the lorryload. Especially as it looks like being a good deal more affordable than the SN.

It sounds rather like the SECA in many ways, huge 3d imagining, great tone (very slightly on the warmer side), but it goes one better than the SECA in terms of power, and grip in the bass. It goes so low, and is so clean - if ever an amplifier could pin you to the opposite wall, this is it. I reckon this amplifier is an absolute thug - I haven't heard this level of grip and slam before, such utter control even at very high volume. It really does the concert hall scale thing very well too. Yet it does have a softer side, the power is just a first impression. For a start, because of that power, it plays really really well at low volumes, even through low sensitivity speakers. It was truly beautiful playing some choral material, really quite an emotional experience. Col reckons that although it is capable of playing anything, however complex, it really shines with Rock and Opera because of its outright speed. I have heard muscle amps before, even detailed ones, but they have never managed the subtlety at the same time. Not like this.

I can't decide whether the Claymore is a muscle amp or a subtle, detailed one. It does both things so convincingly at the same time. Neither quality dominates, yet both really define this outstanding amplifier. I think I now know why Col is developing bigger and bigger A class designs - he wants this same level of bass control (thuggery), the ability to drive any loudspeaker (and a brick wall) as the Claymore, along with the absolutely sublime tonal qualities and other worldly finesse of the SECA. Both designs are iron fists in velvet gloves, it's just the SECA wears much softer gloves than the Claymore.

He is doing other things as well, which look like truly groundbreaking achievements that will have impact far beyond the world of audio. I hadn't better say anything about that, but these things are probably even more exciting. Having spent time with Col on several occasions now, I feel that recent debates about his work with TQ (on other forums) are nothing more that hot air. His development process is rooted in physics, chemistry, and lateral thinking, Some components are even made from the ground up for his applications (even the alloy for the cables - it is not at all 'off the shelf'). Debates will always rage where there is no understanding (TBH - it's also far beyond my understanding, so I claim no great insight for myself). Maybe the fact that TQ product is (apparently necessarily) expensive puts people off - that's fair enough. Maybe, the fact that Col won't disclose what his ideas are in order to prevent them being stolen, causes speculation that TQ's claims are all smoke and mirrors, just marketing. Well, that may be understandable, but it's not justifiable. The proof is in the equipment. Listen to it, then decide for yourself. You don't have to be a genius then.


  • Just one correction, sir. The Baby Blob was Col's name for the SECA.
  • Ah, I didn't realise that. You were the first I heard call it that.

    I should have said above, the best part of the day was spending time with Col. It's always a pleasure to be with a friend.
  • How's your brain? :-D
  • There was a small clanging noise followed by a deep grin as the head aches stopped.

  • There was a small clanging noise followed by a deep grin as the head aches stopped.

    As above, it seems it is pitiably small and inadequate! Glad those headaches have stopped though.
  • I find time with Colin fun, inspirational and often boggling.

    Must get to see him again soon.
  • "Boggling"  me !!!!! :-O
  • Yup. You :-)
  • Crap me. I have to go to the Acrylic Side and join there gang.
  • 50Hz or 100Hz Hum?
  • I had a friend over on Friday, we played 'baby blob' (the 10w SECA) and had a really smashing time. I hadn't had much opportunity to listen for over a week, so it was quite refreshing for me - and in getting to know the 'blob' better it was also surprising.

    We played all manner of stuff, but particularly enjoyed several older recordings (Free - 'Fire & Water' and Fleetwood Mac - 'Rumours'). My friend observed it was as if the amp somehow especially suited this era of recording, though that wasn't to say they were the only things that sounded great.

    A couple of times we stopped the music and started tracks again, as we heard something so vividly that we were caught by surprise. Not like hearing a little detail that we hadn't previously noticed - it was more 'in your face' than that. It was several steps closer to reality, on songs we we knew well! On one particular track I stopped the server and restarted it, there was something so surprising about the tone of that guitar, and the texture of the slide on the guitar strings that we thought there was some other, solo guitar track, bleeding into it. There wasn't - but it sounded like the bloke was standing in the room, rather than buried on a 37 year old mix.

    It was pretty spooky at times, I'd just love to hear a bigger SECA on some electrostatics!! :D Or the Claymore, which is almost as 'real' as the SECAs, but with the power of a Kenworth. Well done Col, 'Blob' is pretty special!  ^:)^
  • edited May 2013
    How really strange. I'm not sure I agree with you - at least with the Green Goddess.

    Some 70s recordings I've played - Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti comes to mind - sound just awful. I've put down to the problems with the recording/mix/mastering being shown up, something that I've had to live with since getting the TQ Ultra Black speaker cables.

    Good modern recordings such as my pile of ECMs and any number of simple jazz recordings put out on musician-owned labels generally sound fantastic. Again, I'd say this was down to the system showing the recordings for what they are.

    However, there are some anomalies - of course there are, it's hi-fi we're talking about! I've never been much of a fan of classic Blue Note recordings (and even less the RVG Remasters of a few years back), but I was really enjoying a Dexter Gordon album the other night (Dexter Calling). I feel a Blue Note period coming on, just to see if that applies with others from the label.
  • Could be recording specific mate. I, for one, never thought the Zep recordings were up to much (and those awful RVGs even less).

    I'm not suggesting the SECAs favour certain recordings in particular, just that some records are obviously much better than I previously thought. The good ones still sound good, better than ever, in fact.

    It's just the old 'I'm hearing details that I never heard before' syndrome, which most of us experience when we carefully listen though newly acquired gear - except this time it was far more than new detail, the differences were gross. That's what surprised me.
  • Yep. I'll go along with all that.

    The experience of listening through these SECAs is something else!
  • Trudat. MOS FETs rule OK!
  • So they are that bad then Dave, OK I will not have one.
  • We'll soon be scoring FleaBay for Classic FETs :-O
Sign In or Register to comment.