Anthem TLP 1 Preamplifier-Tuner and PVA 2
Ive always used integrated
amplifiers -- not only because I then needed to buy one less interconnect, but because
they also save space, which was always at a premium in my New York City apartment. Now
that Ive made the move from city slicker to suburban dad, Ive got space to
spare and can finally explore separates.
The TLP 1 preamplifier-tuner ($699 USD) and PVA 2
two-channel power amplifier ($649 USD) are the entry-level models in Anthems line.
The TLP 1 shares the good looks of Anthems AVM 20 multichannel
preamp-processor-tuner, but its features have been scaled down for a two-channel system.
The PVA 2 is the 125Wpc stereo sibling of the five-channel PVA 5 and
seven-channel PVA 7 amplifiers. But dont mistake "entry-level" with
compromised value, quality, or sound. The TLP 1 and PVA 2 delivered the goods in
a way that belied their sensible pricing.
Features and setup
The TLP 1 and PVA 2s beautiful
brushed-silver enclosures make them a pretty stylish couple. The TLP 1 comes with a
simple FM/AM antenna and a universal remote from which you can control all of its
features, as well as those of your DVD player, VCR, or satellite box. While the PVA 2
is pretty straightforward, the TLP 1 has several features that greatly increase its value
as a tuner and preamp.
The front of the TLP 1 has a large control knob, a
small display, a headphone jack, and several small buttons that control all of the
preamp-tuners functions. The display usually shows which source, volume setting, and
station frequency have been selected. The front-panel buttons are arranged logically,
although having larger buttons for the functions used most often would have been helpful.
Starting on the TLP 1s left side, there are two
rows of three buttons each for input selection, and a seventh for selecting the recording
path. The input buttons labels -- which include DVD, VCR, and Aux-Sat -- indicate
that Anthem expects the TLP 1 to be used in an audio/video system.
The next item to the left is the headphone jack, which
provided adequate power for my Grado SR60s. This is followed by the display, and under it,
two rows of buttons. The first row includes the tuners station presets and seek
function. The second row begins with one button for balance and display brightness, three
tone controls, and ends with the Mute and Contour buttons. At the end of the display are
two buttons for tuning the radio, and last is a large control knob, which can be used to
change volume, tune the radio, and set adjustments.
The TLP 1s tone and volume controls are rather
sophisticated. You can set the treble and bass for each of the six inputs and the
TLP 1 will remember them. This is convenient, particularly if one source (a cheap
VCR, perhaps) needs more tone-control help than the others. The Contour function helps set
the tone controls for low-level listening: Youve probably noticed that when you
listen at lower levels, youre less able to hear certain frequencies. This isnt
necessarily a problem with your hearing, its just how the human ear works. The TLP
1s Contour feature sets the treble and bass to compensate for this natural hearing
loss, and makes low-level listening more like what you hear at higher volumes. Purists can
defeat the tone controls so that the input signals bypass them. You can also set different
volume levels for all of your sources, so you dont have to worry about volume
fluctuations as you preview different sources.
The TLP 1s rear panel is almost as full of
features as the front. There are two 3.5mm mini-jack inputs (one for a relay trigger, one
for an infrared input), five inputs, two line-level outputs (for recording or sending the
signal to a second speaker zone), two subwoofer outputs (one full-range, one low-pass),
and two outputs for the power amplifier (one full-range, one high-pass). Dual outputs for
the subwoofer and amplifier means that the preamp is ready to be used with full-range
speakers, with or without a subwoofer -- or with smaller satellite speakers accompanied by
a sub. If you can use your subwoofer to set a crossover level, then send it the full-range
signal; if not, use the TLP 1s low-pass output.
PVA 2 has a single green LED on the bottom center of its faceplate and a power button
on the lower right. Its attractive as power amps go, but if you find an
out-of-the-way place for it, you wont miss it. Anthem says to make sure theres
at least 12" of space above the PVA 2 for proper heat dissipation, but I had it
running for hours at a time and it never got warm. The amps rear panel has left and
right inputs, two speaker binding posts, and a receptacle for a power cord. One thing to
note about the binding posts is that while theyre obviously of high quality, their
positive and negative terminals were too far apart for the speaker cables Ive been
using, which are terminated with dual banana plugs.
Theres also a switch to select between Manual turn-on
(requires you to turn the amp on from its face), Auto (the amp automatically detects when
a signal is present), and Trigger (you can connect the amp to a preamp via a 3.5mm
mini-jack, which will trigger the amp to turn on when the preamp is turned on). If you use
the Auto or Trigger settings, the LED on the faceplate will glow red when the amp is in
standby mode, green when its operating.
Setting up the TLP 1 and PVA 2 was a breeze: I
paired the combo with Axiom M3ti and Quad
21L speakers, a Sony SCE-775 SACD player, a Sony DVP-S360 DVD player, and a Rotel
RCD-1070 CD player. Add a pair of Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval interconnects and Kimber
speaker cables, and I was ready to go!
The TLP 1s tuner section was much better than
the tuner in my Harman Kardon AVR-100 home-theater receiver, pulling in more stations
clearly and sounding much better. The HK sounded shrill and anemic by comparison. I could
get more FM stations on my Rotel RA-02 tuner, and it picked up AM signals better, but the
difference was slight. Radio geeks might care that the Anthem lacks RDS, but that
wont be a sticking point for most. (When I first got the Rotel, I had fun checking
various stations text messages with RDS, but that quickly wore off.) The
Rotels richer sound made instruments and voices sound fuller, but if you, like most
people, use your radio for casual music listening or talk shows, then the TLP 1
should serve you well.
I tried the TLP 1 with both music and movies. I
usually send all audio signals from my DVD player to my receiver via a digital connection,
so I took out a spare pair of interconnects and connected the analog outputs to the
TLP 1. While I preferred the 5.1-channel mix to the Anthems two-channel
presentation, the TLP 1 and PVA 2 sounded better than my receiver by a long
shot. Dialogue, sound effects, and film scores were much less congested, and there was
much more air around all of the competing sounds than with the Harman Kardon. I sampled The
Matrix, and as I watched Neo and Trinity enter the building to save Morpheus (chapter
29, "Lobby Shooting Spree"), I could hear many more distinct gun, bullet, and
shell sound effects than with my receiver. If you dont have room or dont want
the hassle of six or more channels, the TLP 1 and PVA 2 make an excellent
two-channel home-theater alternative.
When I listened to the Tallis Scholars rendition of
Thomas Talliss Spem in Alium [CD, Gimell CDGIM 006], the Anthems crisp
presentation allowed me to hear each distinct voice as they interweave throughout the
piece. The Anthems did a good job in the imaging department as well, though the images
were slightly flat: I could place the voices in different locations, but they seemed to
all be the same distance from me. When I played more contemporary music, such as Erin
McKeowns fine new Grand [CD, nettwerk 30307 2], the Anthems seemed fast and
dry -- overall, a very enjoyable sound, but, as with the Tallis piece, there was a lack of
real three-dimensional heft. The baritone sax on McKeowns "The Taste of
You," for example, didnt seem to be the right size.
Overall, the Anthems gave a fast, clean, clear presentation
of whatever I threw at them. For their price and intended audience -- someone wanting a
flexible two-channel audio/video system -- the Anthems are hard to beat.
Along with my Harman Kardon home-theater receiver, which
the Anthems crushed handily, I had the Rotel RA-02 ($499) and
the Rogue Audio Tempest ($2195) integrated amplifiers. For its price, the Rotel is a good
buy, but it was easy to hear that spending the extra money for the Anthem combo would not
be in vain. The Rotel has no tuner, lacks the TLP 1s sophisticated volume and
tone controls, and the Anthems offered more resolution and crisper sound.
The Rogue Audio Tempest had a much fuller, warmer sound,
and was able to more convincingly project a three-dimensional soundstage. However, the
Rogue costs almost $1000 more than the Anthem combo, it has no tuner, and its really
a minimalists machine: no tone controls or fancy volume-control settings, and a
remote with only two buttons: volume up and volume down.
The Anthem products, on the other hand, can take on many
more tasks: They let you tailor the sound with tone controls, listen to the radio, control
your whole system from the remote, and listen through headphones. For most people, the
Anthems good sound and array of features will come up the winner.
This Anthem TLP 1 and PVA 2 could be the heart of
your audio/video system for a long time. They provided a sharply detailed and focused
presentation of whatever I sent to them, faltering only when compared to a product costing
much more. With all its features, the TLP 1 will deliver everything you could
possibly need to tailor your system just the way you want it, and the PVA 2 will give
you all the power you could reasonably want. The sound is enjoyable with music or movies.
If you want a two-channel audio/video system, check out the
Anthems. Ever since I sat down to listen to them, Ive been eyeing Anthems AVM
20 and PVA 5 for my home theater. Warning: Anthem gear may be addictive.
...Eric D. Hetherington
Prices of equipment reviewed