Tangent Audio Amp-50 Integrated Amplifier
My first encounter with Tangent Audio was in
April 2007, when I attended the Festival Son & Image electronics show in Montreal. I
was writing a show report for GoodSound! and had been assigned to find anything new
and promising in affordable audio. Other than several inexpensive tube amplifiers from
China, my biggest discovery was the Tangent Audio display. Id never heard of
Tangent, and was attracted to the sea of colorful Evo speakers they were exhibiting.
Eventually, my gaze fell on a small stereo system that included the Amp-50 integrated
amplifier and CDP-50 CD player. When I was told that each retailed for $299 USD, I asked
about reviewing them.
Several months later, when the Amp-50 and CDP-50 finally
arrived at my home, each came bearing a new price tag: $259. I hadnt expected a $40
price drop for something that was already so inexpensive, and was now even more eager to
hear them in my own system.
Tangent Audio began designing loudspeakers in 1996, and has
since expanded its product line to include a complete suite of electronics. Owned by
Danish company Eltax, Tangent now designs and engineers everything in Denmark, while
production is completed in China.
The Amp-50 is part of Tangents Hi-Fi 50 system, which
also includes the CDP-50 CD player and DAB-50 tuner. Each component can be purchased
separately, but the Hi-Fi 50 is the entry-level offering for anyone who wants a complete
Tangent system. The next step up in quality and price is the Hi-Fi 100 system.
When I unpacked the Amp-50, I was surprised to note some
nice details that I havent seen from other companies. First, the box has a handle on
one side that allows it to be carried like a briefcase. Inside, the Amp-50 was tucked
neatly away inside a gray cloth bag printed with the companys name and obviously
intended to prevent scratches during shipping. The instruction manual is comprehensive,
with many diagrams and enough text to fully explain the Amp-50s operation. While
such small details in no way affect a products performance, they indicated that
Tangent wants its customers to enjoy the experience of owning and using their products.
Some companies selling far more expensive gear dont put this much thought into
presentation and packaging, so kudos to Tangent for doing it at a bargain-basement price.
The Amp-50 measures 17"W x 2.75"H x 11.25"D
and tips the scales at just under 12 pounds. As I noted in my Son & Image show report, Tangent
seems to have taken a page from Cambridge Audios style book -- not only does it
share Cambridges sleek faceplates of brushed aluminum, but their blue-backlit
displays as well. Although hardly audio jewelry, the Amp-50 looks pretty sharp, and should
fit almost as easily into a bedroom as a living room.
Around the back are five line-level inputs and a phono
input. Yes, you read that correctly: the Amp-50 has a moving-magnet phono stage. If
youre thinking (as I am) of climbing on the bandwagon of the vinyl resurgence, this
has got to be one of the most economical ways to do it. I dont yet own a turntable,
so I couldnt test the phono stage, but if its of the same quality as the rest
of the package, then the value of this integrated may rise even higher.
The Amp-50s tone controls provide ±14dB of bass and
treble adjustment. As you fine-tune the sound, you can monitor the settings via the
front-panel display. Speaking of which, as much as I liked the appearance of the display,
I had difficulty reading it from my listening chair (about 8 from the speakers).
Its not a big deal, but a larger display would have paid huge dividends in my
enjoyment in using the Amp-50. Theres also a headphone jack on the front -- another
nice feature. It all adds up to a surprisingly flexible package for a very modest
The Amp-50 is rated at 40Wpc into 8 ohms or 50Wpc into 4
ohms -- in short, a relatively low power output, which isnt surprising given the low
price. Id be suspicious if Tangent claimed much more. The Amp-50 could hold its own
at reasonable volume levels in my room, but I dont recommend it for large rooms if
you listen to your music really loud.
The Amp-50s remote control is made of cheap plastic,
but it worked flawlessly during the review period, and will also control all functions of
the CDP-50 CD player and DAB-50 tuner.
I used the Amp-50 in a system comprising an NAD C542 CD
player, PSB Platinum M2 speakers, Blue Circle BC6000 power-line conditioner, AudioQuest
Type 4 speaker cables, and Kimber Kable Tonik interconnects.
Off on a Tangent
The aspect of the Amp-50s sound that most surprised
me was its low noise floor -- I was impressed by the detail the Tangent was able to
retrieve from the quiet recesses of some of my favorite discs. Its not that I
hadnt heard these details before; I just didnt expect to hear them from
something priced almost low enough to be sold at Wal-Mart. But once the Tangent was in my
system, I found myself playing a lot of choral and other church-recorded music.
My most recent CD purchase was a disc of Christmas music, Yuletide
Fires, by Chor Leoni, a male choir based in Vancouver [CD, Cypress Choral Recordings
CCR0601]. The selection of works varies widely, ranging from Gregorian Chant and
traditional cantiques to Canadian and British carols. The beauty of the singing is
sublime, and matched by the excellent quality of the recording. The Amp-50 did a very good
job of conveying the expansiveness of the various churches in which these songs were
recorded. The sense of depth in the choir was most notable, with good center fill between
the speakers. On "Letabundus," the singers voices filled the rear left and
right corners of the stage, rather than simply occupying the center rear. As a church bell
chimed in the distance, I imagined myself sitting in a monastery witnessing this profound
act of rejoicing. Then I began thinking how remarkably involving this budget integrated
I then played another seasonal album, Loreena
McKennitts To Drive the Cold Winter Away [CD, Quinlan Road QRCD102]. Recorded
in churches in Ireland and Canada, the soundscapes permeating these songs are vast and
empty, a perfect aural metaphor for winters cold and desolation. (As I write this,
the temperature outside is 10°F and a winter storm watch predicts more than a foot of
snow.) The Amp-50s low noise floor was able to extract plenty of detail from
"In Praise of Christmas," including creaks and cracks that could be heard
throughout the churchs acoustic. However, when I turned up the volume,
McKennitts voice became a touch bright in its upper registers, so I backed off the
volume a bit. I might have reached the Amp-50s limits there -- at more comfortable
listening levels, McKennitts voice had an immediacy through the Amp-50 that drew my
full attention. I listened to the entire disc.
Having been impressed with how the Tangent acquitted itself
on these albums, I wasnt too surprised by how much I enjoyed a collection of the
music of Hildegard of Bingen, A Feather on the Breath of God: Sequences and Hymns,
recorded by Gothic Voices in 1981 [CD, Hyperion CDA66039]. The Amp-50 did a very
good job of reproducing this 12th-century vocal music, creating a big soundstage with a
good sense of height. As Id noticed with the McKennitt disc, however, soprano Emily
van Everas voice on "O Euchari, in leta via" was a bit closer than
Im accustomed to, and sounded a bit strident at high volumes.
I then popped Neil Youngs Live at Massey Hall 1971
[CD, Reprise CDW27] in the CD player and hit Play. If youre a fan of Neil Young,
particularly of this period in his career, you must hear this album. This legendary
concert is like a snapshot of an artist who, at age 25, captivates an audience with songs
that will establish him as one of the most important folk artists of his time.
Furthermore, the sound quality is exceptionally good, and the package includes a DVD of
the concert, as well as some home video taken at Youngs ranch. Through the Amp-50, I
was reminded that the concert took place during the cold Canadian winter by the sheer
number of audience members who coughed between songs. I dont mean to suggest that
the ability to hear people suffering from colds in a convincing manner is an attribute of
good hi-fi; however, creating a tangible sense of acoustic space is critical if ones
goal is to realistically reproduce a piece of music. I didnt expect that quality
from an integrated amplifier costing a fraction of what some audiophiles spend on speaker
cables, but thats exactly what I got from the Tangent Amp-50.
The Amp-50 wasnt without shortcomings, one of which
Ive already mentioned: its inability to sound composed at loud volumes. This
wasnt all that surprising, given its power rating; in their advertising, Tangent
even states that their Hi-Fi 50 system is intended for consumers who "arent
impressed by booms and bangs, but enjoy a quiet evening listening to your favorite
music." I dont think they meant that the Amp-50 shouldnt be played
loudly, but I thought it sounded best at normal listening levels. For the most part, I
wasnt conscious of its limited headroom, but found that I could push the
Amp-50s limits for only short periods of time before it began to sound unpleasant.
In the bass, the Amp-50 lacked the speed, tightness, and
sheer impact of some of the integrated amps from NAD and Bryston with which Im
familiar, and which are much more expensive and more powerful. Radioheads newest
album, In Rainbows, available only as a download at the time of writing, features
several songs with deep bass whose impact can really be felt if your system is up to the
task. With the Tangent, I could feel the bass energize the room, but the lowest octaves
sounded congested and out of focus. The clarity and tightness Im used to hearing
werent there. I heard the same thing when listening to Arthur Fiedler and the Boston
Pops Hi-Fi Fiedler [CD, RCA Living Stereo 67895-2]. While the soundstage was
wide and each section of the orchestra was easy to distinguish, I thought the percussion
lacked depth and control. Granted, the foundation was still solid, but the Amp-50
didnt have the vise-like grip on my speakers of other, admittedly far more
expensive, integrated amplifiers Ive heard.
I compared the Tangent Amp-50 to the NAD C372 ($899), which
is rated at 150Wpc. The C372 is an excellent reference for performance at what can still
be considered a reasonable asking price. No one should expect the Amp-50 to perform to
this level, but such a comparison can illustrate just how much of the NADs
performance the Amp-50 offers for less than a third of the price.
In terms of transparency, the Tangent fared extremely well
against the NAD at normal listening levels. The C372s warmer sound actually made it
a bit less transparent than the Amp-50 -- for late-night listening, Id be
just as happy with the Amp-50. However, I much preferred the C372 at higher SPLs, when its
150Wpc were more easily able to handle wide dynamic shifts in the music.
Not surprisingly, given its much higher power output, the
NADs bass performance bettered the Tangents, giving me a better-defined low
end with more slam and extension -- and I could play my speakers as loudly as I wanted.
Nor was the Amp-50 quite able to compete with the NAD in soundstaging; despite its warmer
sound, the C372 conveyed more of a sense of space. The Tangents soundstage was more
compressed, more confined to the space between the speakers. Still, I was impressed with
the Amp-50s refinement and resolution, particularly for the price.
For several years now, Ive had a dilemma: How do I
explain to someone assembling a first hi-fi system that he or she should expect to spend
$400 on the integrated amplifier alone? The integrated amp in question is always
NADs C320BEE ($399), and while I know
there are other integrated amps that compete with the C320BEE in the same price bracket,
the NAD is the one Im familiar with. I normally recommend it because I consider it
worth owning if youre serious about good sound. Most people I know consider $400 a lot
of money to spend on a stereo component (shocking, I know). But I just hadnt found a
less expensive alternative that I wouldnt feel guilty about suggesting in the
Until Tangent Audios Amp-50 came along. The Amp-50 is
a ridiculously good value -- although not without shortcomings, it has plenty of
strengths: good build quality, a rich feature set complete with phono stage, and good
overall sound quality with levels of transparency and resolution that I hadnt
expected for $259. I know of no other integrated amplifier at the price that can match it
in these areas -- the Amp-50 occupies a class of its own.
If youre thinking of building a first stereo system
-- or even a second system -- and dont want to spend a lot of cash, youd be
silly not to give the Amp-50 an audition. Pair it with some appropriately priced,
well-engineered speakers (the PSB Alpha B1s I
reviewed last February come to mind), and youll likely be surprised by how much more
there is to hear in your music collection. With the Tangent Amp-50, the price of entry to
good sound just got a little lower. Definitely a GoodSound! Great Buy! -- and then
Price of equipment reviewed