LYNGDORF TDAI-1120 integrated amplifier/DAC/streamer
+ Clean, highly resolved, sonically engaging presentation, virtually free from audible smear and edge; good bass definition, agile with strong temporal acuity.
– Leanness in presentation may not suit all tastes and systems; not a powerhouse; no headphone outlet; in terms of looks, it’s just a simple little black box.
Value: 8/10 (assessed without its room correction and bass management capabilities)
THIS is a review with a limited scope and focus. The object of scrutiny is Lyngdorf Audio’s TDAI-1120, which is the lowest priced offering by the brand so far. It may be described as a “true digital” integrated amplifier (hence the “TDAI” in its name) with ability to stream music, and comes complete with the company’s proprietary RoomPerfect room correction technology.
I suspect the brand may not have been in hardcore audiophiles’ consciousness, at least locally, as I believe it had been marketed more to the affluent as a premium home music solution than aimed at us nutters. I was keyed into the brand’s then local availability some time back by an ex-colleague who was into selling super-expensive (well, to me) designer handbags and luxury yachts.
Change in local distribution, and direction by the company itself in bringing out this entry-level model, seems to have taken place. I saw it being sold on a local audio store’s website and asked if we could procure a review sample. The local dealers were due to be closed for the Chinese New Year break and generously made a unit available, but could only spare it for a week. All this while many parts of the country were facing movement restrictions as well as a period of national emergency!
I felt this would be too short a time for me to confidently get to grips with its various capabilities, so I decided to approach the review by evaluating just its sonic abilities as a potential traditional amplifier acquisition or replacement unit. The argument goes: if the company’s little baby amp turns out to suck on account of not engaging its room correction technology, should anyone want to acquire it exclusively just for that feature? Let’s see if it can put in a good case for itself going about its most basic task.
The TDAI-1120 is a compact anodised aluminium black box measuring all of 10.1 x 30 x 26 cm h/w/d, including connectors) with a weight of 3.3 kg. About half of the fascia is a glass plate through which its lit display allows the user to see what is going on with the unit after switch-on. It conforms to the brand’s somewhat understated house look for its electronics, though smaller in stature, indicating Lyngdorf obviously aren’t feeling the need to rival fellow Dane’s Bang & Olufsen’s seen-as-much-as-heard approach to entice potential owners.
The TDAI-1120 has connections for MM phono (RIAA / 47kOhm 100pF) and a single line-level input, both via RCA jack pairs. If you’re looking to downsize but still hang on to more than one non-turntable legacy analogue component, this may not be the best choice. It may well be perfect for a secondary system, though. On the digital side, there are two coaxial and two optical inputs and if you’re intending to connect your television to the unit, there is an HDMI-ARC input with CEC capabilities. There is an XLR input but it is specifically for the microphone to be used in setting up the amp’s RoomPerfect capabilities.
The single pair of RCA output jacks is configurable to enable connection to an external power amplifier, subwoofer or tape recorder, bypassing the room correction voicings as per case of need. The manual curiously warns that one should not connect a subwoofer to the speaker terminals. Considering that the speaker outputs may be run at full range without engaging any crossover settings, the amp should be no different from any traditional amplifier and the impedance of a typical subwoofer’s high level inputs should not cause any problems to it. I took a conservative position and did not use my usual James EMB1000 subwoofer during the review period – I didn’t fancy needing to awkwardly explain how the review unit got damaged to the local dealer on account of my not following the user’s manual.
The unit does however provide onboard electronic adjustments for integrating a subwoofer for use, whether one uses Lyngdorf’s own subwoofer models (the company also markets loudpeakers) or otherwise, and the bass management capability is also one of its technological selling points. I did not resort to using it in keeping with my approach of testing it as a “traditional” amplifier equivalent.
One can place the amp virtually anywhere, and it does fit into an IKEA Kallax compartment. Though it is a Class D amplifier and does not generate much heat, the unit does run slightly warm. The controls feel firm and are comfortably weighted to the touch, if one is not acquiring the TDAI-1120’s optional infrared remote control unit or using the company’s downloadable app to control the amp from one’s smart device.
The onboard display is nice and clear, there being no elaborate graphics display with the user seeing little white icons against a black backdrop informing about network connection status and the selected input. Unless one is hopelessly short sighted, it does the job well enough.
In terms of power, the amp is rated at 2 x 120 Watts RMS at 4 ohms or 2 x 60W RMS at 8 ohms. While not commented on as part of this review, its impressive media player capabilities include Internet radio (vTuner), Spotify Connect, and has Chromecast, AirPlay2 and Bluetooth connectivity as well as file playback via a USB Type A inlet. It does not function as a USB DAC though, and there is no headphone jack.
We had requested that the local dealer give the review unit a good workout at the shop so that we wouldn’t be dealing with a fresh out-of-the-box unit for the time we could have it. I checked to ensure that whatever customised settings or RoomPerfect “room learning” they had input to the unit (and there are many voicings and tonal adjustments to play with to keep any new owner busy) were disengaged, so that I heard its natural voice, so to speak.
Lyngdorf’s amplification technology apparently goes through fewer conversion stages where a PCM digital signal gets converted into PWM, which then controls the output switches of the power section of the amplifier that drives the loudspeakers. I’ve heard Class D amps before, and they don’t all sound the same (even those that use common third-party power modules), but I have to say it was still something of a surprise to hear an amp that seemed to get waaaay out of the way of the music in the way the TDAI-1120 did at this price level.
Initial observations were that the amp was no powerhouse – it didn’t drive my Apogee Centaurus Minors with any feeling of heft even in a relatively small room. When paired with the higher efficiency Spatial Audio M3 Turbo S, the volume had to be turned up to where the LED indicators moved into the red before it was felt to feel “loud, but not to the point of insensibility”. This was partially due to the fact the amp stayed clean and never seemed to strain, causing one to just want to turn the level up. It seemed to run out of gain more than any indication of starting to distort when overdriven like more traditional amplifiers, but I kept things in check for fear of causing any damage to the amp or my loudspeakers.
There is a purity and freedom from smear and edge to the performance that was just very enticing. It had the ability to let one hear into recordings at a level that reminded me of much more expensive amps and gave some of the clearest digital playback I had heard, reminiscent of the BMC Pure Amp-Pure DAC pairing which costs significantly more than the little Lyngdorf.
Its transparency and ease of relaying subtlety and precision is such that it easily elicits appreciation of the musical abilities of different artistes and why good falls short of great, sometimes by the minutest of differences in choices the artiste makes in emphasis, restraint and little nuances produced. Solo and small ensemble string instrument detail, especially how trailing ends of notes faded out, kept me captivated.
Separation of instruments in space, individual contributions to harmonies without losing the overall result, the sound of hammers striking strings in an open lid piano… you get it, warts and all, yet never to the point one would feel the amp was clinical, bright or putting its own emphasis on any particular part of the audio spectrum to achieve this level of communication.
Treble was airy and gave a good sense of extension and if Class D amps have a reputation for brittle, chalky top end, I did not hear any hint of it with this particular amp. The bass, while a little lean, was well defined, fairly well extended and had fine timing – in fact one easily reacts to jazz rhythms and syncopations played through the amp.
Everything seemed to sound quite organic and timbrally correct, dynamics and speed also being strong points, though this is where I felt it differed in presentation from the in-house amps – I used class AB monoblocks, single-ended tube and tube-solid state hybrids for comparison.
For all its abilities, I could see the Lyngdorf being the wrong component for the wrong listener, especially in a system where the other components have a dryer, leaner propensity. I really liked what the Lyngdorf amp did but felt that, if we took hi-fi to be a portal, the amp seemed to approach proceedings from the perspective of letting the listener peer more into the recording session than attempt to bring the performance into the space of the listener, ie a more “you are there” than “they are here” orientation, though please appreciate this is not being spoken in any absolute sense.
There was a feeling of lesser tonal heft and density and when it came to live rock recordings, the sense of atmosphere was just different; good but still not how one would have recalled live rock gigs to have sounded like – old chestnuts like Frampton’s Do You Feel Like We Do, and Clapton’s Lay Down Sally felt a little less exuberant and more sanitised. This is obviously a subjective opinion, but I just felt that if it could keep its abilities and also get more into the areas of strengths demonstrated by say, a Naim Supernait, in terms of tangibility of presentation, I could imagine many a buyer (for example, me!) going bonkers over it.
On the MM phono input, I don’t know if the TDAI-1120 applies RIAA equalisation in the analogue domain or via DSP after an ADC before passing it on to the next stage in its internal digital path but, in keeping with the results from the amp generally, I did get some of the cleanest, quietest LP playback beyond what I could have expected for an integrated amp in this price bracket. I mostly used an old-school Thorens TD124-SME 3012-Denon 103R into a step up transformer direct to the TDAI-1120’s MM phono input. Results were satisfying but, somewhat predictably, I did prefer the performance of the turntable combi into a Parasound JC3 into the line inputs of the Lyngdorf amp. The flavour of vinyl is still there with the onboard phono stage but not in the way I was used to.
Strangely, I also preferred the performance of CD via my Micromega Stage 3 into the line inputs of the amp than connecting the Micromega as a transport via RCA coaxial through to its internal DACs. The digital connection was in many ways better, but I just found the line connection to be a little more musically satisfying, even if it did seem less detailed sonically.
THE LAST WORD
If your idea of good hi-fi sound is of the warm and rounded variety like vintage Sansui, or like older Conrad Johnson gear, this amp may not be for you. If you crave Krell or Levinson style ability to plumb the depths, it probably isn’t for you either. If there was an amp that came close to being all things to all men, we would not have so many different makes with differing applied technologies.
The TDAI-1120 presents a problem for me, but a good one. Because it is priced somewhat within my reach, I found myself contemplating how to acquire one for myself, even if I had to live with its power limitations. What I am trying to say here is I would seriously consider this amp on its strong sonic merits if I were a buyer in this price range.
Now, add in the potential jump in performance if the room correction and bass management abilities were exploited and looking at its impressive streaming options, I’d say this little Lyngdorf looks to be a high-value proposition, even if not cheap. It demands to be considered and should be on any shortlist for audition.
Sources: Thorens TD124 Mk II-SME3012 ii-Denon DL103R and Roksan Xerxes-RB251-Denon DL110 for vinyl, Micromega Stage 3 as CD player and transport, Nakamichi Cassette Deck 2, Apple iPad and Oppo Reno cellphone / Amplification: Parasound JC-3 and Audio Image AIME phono stages, Crayon CIA-1 integrated amp, Naim 122X
line preamp with Teddycap power supply or ER ATT-600 passive controller into Euphonic Research Amp80, Odyssey Khartago monoblock pair and custom single-ended 300B tube based power amps / Loudspeakers: Triangle Ikoto, Apogee Centaurus Minor, Spatial M3 Turbo S / Assorted cables including Tara Labs Prism and Western Electric interconnects, XLO Reference Type 1A and diyparadise Whitesnake SPDIF coaxial, Symo LS5-SX, Supra Classic 4.0 speaker cables, various DIY wires