Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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Reviewers' ChoiceSensaSound USA, which has been around for seven years or so, specializes in making THX-certified speakers and amplifiers. On their website, SensaSound says that their products, designed and engineered at their headquarters in Warren, New Jersey, and manufactured in China, are designed to provide best-in-class performance at affordable prices. Their two amplifier models are the five-channel TPO-5300 and the subject of this review, the seven-channel TPO-7300, each specified to deliver 200Wpc. I was surprised to learn that these amps are respectively priced at $3900 and $4900 USD -- not inexpensive, and well above the prices of entry-level multichannel amplifiers. In fact, those prices put the SensaSounds in the company of some excellent amplifiers from some long-established manufacturers, and makes their claim of best-in-class performance a bold statement.

SensaSound

Description

The dimensions specified on SensaSound’s website had already told me that the TPO-7300 is a big, heavy amp: It measures 17.3”W x 9.4”H x 19.7”D and weighs 99.2 pounds. What pleasantly surprised me, when I removed it from its substantial shipping box, was its solid construction and clean look. The TPO-7300 has a thick faceplate of black, brushed aluminum, a blue LED for each channel as well as the amp’s power status, and an On/Standby button. The top and side panels are finished in matte black and are not of a particularly heavy gauge, but are well braced and relatively sturdy. Overall, the TPO-7300’s looks and quality of construction are quite good -- a little better than that of, say, NAD’s standard models, if not quite as good as NAD’s Masters Series components.

SensaSound isn’t all that forthcoming about describing the TPO-7300, but it seems to be a well-designed, well-built, class-AB amplifier. Peeking through the many ventilation slots in the top panel, I could see clean, well-laid-out circuit boards, and heavy-duty heatsinks for each channel. The power supply is at the front of the amp, with additional internal metal shielding and a large, donut-shaped (toroidal) transformer. The TPO-7300’s published specifications include: power outputs of 200Wpc, all channels driven, into 8 ohms or 280Wpc into 4 ohms; or 450W into 4 ohms, one channel driven; all with a total harmonic distortion (THD) of ≤0.08% at 1kHz. The gain is 28dB, the frequency response 20Hz-75kHz, +1/-3dB, and the signal/noise ratios ≥112dB unbalanced, ≥107dB balanced.

SensaSound

Silk-screened on the front panel are the logos of SensaSound, THX, and THX Ultra. In their advertising SensaSound makes a big deal of their products being THX certified, but such certification guarantees only that a product meets THX’s standards for specific, measurable tests. Although THX testing procedures are proprietary, for amplifiers they include testing for output and distortion levels and volume gain -- but THX certification makes no guarantee of sound quality, which of course can’t be objectively measured and thus is always subjective, even if perceived sound quality can to some degree be correlated to certain measurements for most component types. Although the THX certification program was relatively popular for home-theater components ten or 15 years ago, few of today’s products are so certified; other than the SensaSound amps, I can think of very few recent audio components that have been THX certified.

The TPO-7300’s rear panel is cleanly laid out, with plenty of space between the unbalanced (RCA) and balanced (XLR) input jacks. Each channel’s pair of large speaker binding posts are oriented vertically, the positive and negative terminals slightly offset for ease of access, and each channel has a small toggle switch for selecting between balanced and unbalanced operation. At far left are a switch and the input and output jacks for using a 12V automatic-turn-on trigger, and at far right are the main power rocker and an IEC AC inlet for the power cord (provided). The TPO-7300 detects whether the input voltage is 110 or 220V, automatically switches between them, then indicates the actual voltage with an appropriately labeled red LED.

SensaSound

The quality of the TPO-7300’s fit and finish were on a par with those of other amplifiers in its price range -- i.e., quite good. That the TPO-7300 is made in China is not surprising. Many high-end audio companies now do this, such as Parasound, whose handsome and spectacular-sounding Halo JC 5 power amplifier I recently reviewed, and Cambridge Audio, whose gorgeous Edge A integrated is in for review. Although I was impressed by the apparent quality of the SensaSound TPO-7300’s design and manufacture, I’m disappointed that it’s warranted for only a year. Granted, well-built amplifiers are relatively bulletproof, so it should be of little concern to the buyer -- but you never know. And if the TPO-7300 actually is as solid and reliable as it looks, extending the warranty by a few years probably wouldn’t cost SensaSound much.

Setup

The SensaSound TPO-7300 replaced the Anthem M1 monoblocks that I use in my main system for the left and right front channels, as well as the NuPrime Audio MCH-K38 I use for the center, two surround, and two height channels -- all channels controlled by an Anthem AVM 60 surround-sound processor. I also used the SensaSound with my Anthem STR and the Cambridge Audio Edge A, both used as preamplifier-DACs to evaluate the SensaSound’s performance as a two-channel power amp.

My loudspeaker array comprised MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 mains right/left speakers and ElectroMotion ESL C center speakers, Definitive Technology BP9080x surround and height speakers, and two JL Audio E-Sub e112 powered subwoofers. Preamplification devices were the Anthem AVM 60 and STR and the Cambridge Edge A, and source components were an Oppo Digital UDP-205 4K UHD universal BD player and a Lenovo IdeaPad laptop computer running Windows 10, Roon, and foobar2000. Linking all of this together was an assortment of wires from Analysis Plus, AudioQuest, and Nordost; I used power conditioners and power cords from Blue Circle Audio, ESP, and Zero Surge.

Getting a sense of SensaSound

Although the TPO-7300’s beefy construction and simple, understated appearance give it the look of a very high-quality multichannel amplifier, I of course had no idea how it would sound. So when I first listened to it and could hear no strong, defining characteristic of its sound, I was a bit perplexed. However, as I continued listening, it quickly became obvious that the neutrality and lack of character of the SensaSound’s sound was a very good thing.

Playing two-channel recordings of music through only two of the TPO-7300’s seven channels, I heard what always felt like a confident and faultless sound. No matter what I played, at whatever volume, from very soft to very loud, I never felt I was not hearing everything on the recording. I could always turn down the volume a little more and still hear things deep within the recording -- or turn it up a lot more and continue to enjoy the music without worrying that the peak levels would be harsh or distorted.

Dido’s Still On My Mind (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, BMG) is another well-produced recording from this singer-songwriter that highlights her moody singing and uncomplicated synth-pop arrangements, the latter sounding almost acoustic in their simplicity. Through the TPO-7300, her breathy voice in “Hurricanes” had a sparkling clarity, as did her vocal overdubs, which were remarkably crisp and well layered -- along with the lightly strummed guitar and gentle electronic reverb, the sound was mesmerizing. Not only could the TPO-7300 handle the gently swaying rhythms of this track and “Give You Up,” it deftly transitioned to the up-tempo electronic beat of “Hell After This.” Dido’s voice still sounded graceful and ethereal, but this track’s more densely layered rhythms were deeper and tighter, with excellent pace and timing. The more lushly recorded title track was warm and enveloping, with a rich, liquid sound. In short, with two-channel recordings, the TPO-7300’s sound was fast and incisive when required, but could also, with apparently no effort, be gentler and more nuanced in a way that often made me forget I was hearing a high-powered multichannel amplifier.

SensaSound

But when I listened to film soundtracks, there was no way to forget that the SensaSound TPO-7300 is, indeed, a high-powered multichannel amp, and an extremely capable one. There’s something to be said for having equally robust, high-quality power going to every channel of a surround-sound system -- such a well-balanced sound can create a sphere of aural ambience that entirely envelops the listener-viewer.

In the shoot-out scene in the catacombs in John Wick: Chapter 2 (BD, Dolby Atmos), the TPO-7300 pounded out the retort of the many firearms from my MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 main speakers, but it was the equally precise and detailed echoes and music from the other speakers that really drew me into the scene to make it a wholly involving experience. With seven channels of equally matched, high-fidelity, high-powered amplification in my system, there was an incredible sense of balance throughout the soundfield. The underwater scenes in Aquaman (BD, Dolby Atmos) make prodigious use of the surround and height channels for the sounds of rushing water and various directional effects, which the TPO-7300 reproduced with startling realism. The SensaSound never ran out of gas, no matter how raucous the onscreen action and/or the amount of power demanded by the front channels; there was always plenty of juice available for the rest of my surround array.

The TPO-7300 breathed life into multichannel DVD-Audio discs that I’d long forgotten I had. The 5.1-channel edition of In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988–2003 (24/96 MLP, Warner) still holds up as one of the best collections of pop songs ever mixed in surround sound, with a consistent 360° soundfield. In “Everybody Hurts,” Michael Stipe’s voice imaged high and far back on the soundstage, while some of the percussion and an acoustic guitar imaged to the sides and rear of the room with equal specificity and fidelity as the sounds in the front of the soundstage. “Nightswimming” has a more forward-centric mix, with primarily Stipe’s focused voice and the piano up front and center. There was some subtle and effective surround envelopment that made the piano seem quite large, solidly occupying most of the space between the front L/R speakers, while its aural image remained precisely outlined. The string section was spread even more widely across the front hemisphere of the soundstage and to the sides of the room while a solitary oboe was placed as precisely as Stipe’s voice, dead center between the front speakers.

SensaSound

Well-recorded 5.1-channel releases with simpler arrangements, such as Seal’s Best 1991-2004 (24/88.2 MLP, DVD-A, Warner), sounded even richer, with greater surround envelopment. The sounds of thunder and rain at the beginning of “Love’s Divine” completely surrounded me, followed by Seal’s voice mixed into all three front channels, which resulted in a stunningly palpable image. While Seal’s striking singing was featured prominently in the front channels, there were plenty of vocal overdubs and lush guitar arrangements in the surround channels to fill the room.

Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms (SACD/CD, Vertigo/Universal) sounded just as impressive. Mark Knopfler’s voice wasn’t as crystal clear and present as Seal’s, but his signature guitar style was on full display -- I could almost see his fingers plucking the strings and moving across the frets, so precise was the SensaSounds’s presentation of it. There was even greater use of the surrounds for ambience in such cuts as “Ride Across the River” and “Your Latest Trick.” The TPO-7300 did a wonderful job of making multichannel recordings sound as natural and coherent in all channels as it did with stereo recordings in two channels. Not an easy feat.

Comparison

At its price point, few amplifiers can compete with the SensaSound TPO-7300. There are certainly better-sounding multichannel amps out there -- e.g., Bryston’s Cubed series, which sounds a bit smoother and even more transparent -- but they cost a lot more, and aren’t available in seven-channel versions (Bryston’s 9B3, specified to output 200Wx5, costs $10,995). Parasound’s somewhat more expensive Halo A1 series are powerful multichannel amplifiers with an ever-so-slightly warm sound that some may prefer (the five-channel A 51 costs $4795), and that I really enjoyed, but I’d have to give the edge to the TPO-7300 for being just as effortlessly powerful while sounding more neutral.

SensaSound

NAD’s Masters Series M27 has seven channels and costs only $3999, but its specified power output is 180Wpc and it sounds to me less powerful than the Bryston, Parasound, or SensaSound. The M27 looks great and offers excellent value at the price, with a transparent, ultraclean sound that uncovers plenty of detail in recordings -- but it lacks the authoritative control of the other amps, especially in the bass. It couldn’t assert its control over my MartinLogan ESL 9 speakers as did the SensaSound, especially in the lows and at very high volumes. This made the TPO-7300 the richer and more musical sounding with two-channel and multichannel music recordings, and gave film soundtracks a more solid foundation, with greater punch when required.

Making sense of it all

Not everyone needs seven or even five channels of power amplification, but those who do can often realize significant savings by buying all of those channels in a single amp -- such as SensaSound’s TPO-7300. (Those who need only five channels are also covered by SensaSound in their five-channel model, the TPO-5300, for $3900.) Just as important, the TPO-7300’s exceptional sound quality is better than anything else I’ve heard in its price range, and makes it suitable for use in top-flight home theater and music systems without your having to break the bank. If you need a multichannel amp, give the SensaSound TPO-7300 a listen.

. . . Roger Kanno
rogerk@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 (mains) and Motion ESL C (center), Definitive Technology BP9080x (surrounds, height)
  • Subwoofers -- JL Audio E-Sub e112 (2)
  • Amplifiers -- Anthem M1 (monos), NuPrime Audio MCH-K38 (five-channel)
  • Sources -- Lenovo IdeaPad computer running Windows 10, foobar2000, Roon; AudioQuest JitterBug; Oppo Digital UDP-205 4K Ultra HD universal BD player
  • USB link -- AudioQuest Carbon
  • Speaker cables -- Analysis Plus: Silver Apex, Black Oval 12, and Blue Oval
  • Interconnects -- Analysis Plus: Silver Apex, Chocolate Oval-In, Digital Crystal
  • Power cords -- Essential Sound Products MusicCord-Pro ES
  • Power conditioners -- Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee FX-2 with X0e low-frequency filter module, Zero Surge 1MOD15WI

SensaSound TPO-7300 Multichannel Amplifier
Price: $4900 USD.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.

SensaSound USA, LLC
PO Box 4137
Warren, NJ 07059
USA

Website: www.sensasound.com