FIRST REVIEW! The Sutherland TZ Direct is a brand new moving-coil cartridge preamplifier that is the result of Ron Sutherland’s exploration into the possibilities of transimpedance or current amplification. His earlier works with this technology – in contrast to the more common voltage-amplifying phono stages – include the Loco, Little Loco, and TZ Vibe. The TZ Direct – the “Z” denotes current – lists for $8,500 and arrives in two identical and fairly heavy boxes, one containing the preamplifier itself and the other box is for the power supply.
The power supply is packaged in a heavy chassis that matches the TZ Direct preamp, and the preamp can be stacked atop the power supply. The preamp includes long, hard-wired power connections, one for each channel, and can be placed well away from the power supply, if you choose. There is no power switch because the TZ Direct is designed to be left on continuously. There are no adjustments on either unit except for jumpers in the preamp to adjust overall gain to match the output of other sources in your system. The current-amplifying phono stage needs no adjustments for load resistance. It is truly a plug and play component.
Other components on hand during the audition and review include ZYX UNIverse Optimum, Miyajima Destiny, and Tzar DST moving coil phono cartridges; BMC MCCI Signature ULN, Aurorasound VIDA Supreme, and Simaudio Moon 810LP phono preamplifiers; Soulution 325 with phono and Benchmark HPA4 preamplifiers; digital is handled by a custom Windows 10 computer running JRiver Media Center with a USB-connected Audio-gd R7 Mk2 and Marantz SA-10 DACs, and RME ADI-Pro 2 Black Edition AD/DAC with external power supply; Valvet E2 SE and Benchmark AHB2 power amplifiers; Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2M and Magico S1 MkII speakers. The Magicos are lightly augmented in the low bass with a pair of JL Audio e110 subwoofers. The audio cabling is Audioquest WEL Signature and Mogami interconnects and speaker cables. USB cables are StraightWire USB-F. Power cords include my DIY power cord, and Straight Wire Pro Thunder. Power protection and purification are provided by a PS Audio Dectet for the preamplifiers and source components, and a PS Audio Quintet for the power amplifiers. The Quintet includes a standard 1/8″ trigger connection enabling remote turn-on and -off of power amplifiers that lack a 12V remote trigger, which is a feature that every modern component should include.
Only seconds after the phono cartridge stylus landed in the record groove, my listening room exploded. Not literally! The walls and ceiling seemed to recede and the sound stage grew far beyond its usual size. The full 3D aspect of the performance venue is delightfully apparent with ambiance filling the listening room. Whether concert hall or recording studio, or any size room in between, the performance space is readily perceivable. The TZ Direct delivers an excellent sense of the depth, which relies on accurate phase performance and micro-detail.
Musical crescendos can be thrilling and increase your heart rate and blood pressure. The dynamic performance of the TZ Direct is faultless regardless if the music is peaceful and relaxed or bombastic and drenched in powerful forward momentum. Where some phono stages seem more adept with a particular genre of music, the TZ Direct plays no favorites. All music is handled equally, and it matters not if there is a gentle pluck of a violin string or the explosive force of a tympani drum. Dynamic power, very wee small or huge thunderous impacts are delivered with seemingly perfect control. The upper frequencies are adept at impulsive, fast sounds to capture the onset and leading edge of every note. All percussion is delivered with the power and delicacy it deserves – whenever it is needed and for as long as needed. This indicates the presence of a very capable power supply.
Using mostly the Tzar DST moving coil phono cartridge, which has 10 Ohm DCR coils and a 0.25mV output, this listener is smiling at the outstanding resolution and deeply saturated acoustic presentation. The deep and powerful bass resonates your bones. Vocals, both male and female, or both or neither, have an “in the room” believability. “Air”, which is dependent on ultra-high resolution in the upper midrange and treble, is delivered beautifully as required by the recording and often extends the soundstage vertically. The TZ Direct also worked very well with the ZYX UNIverse Optimum, 1 Ohm and 0.15 mV, as we have come to expect that low DCR and low output work very well with current amplification. The fact that the Tzar DST worked well indicates that this preamplifier should be compatible with a wide range of moving coil cartridges.
The upper bass and lower midrange, below Middle C at 262 Hz, has a rich and resonant golden glow, highly reminiscent of tubes except that the TZ Direct “does” bass in a typically excellent solid-state fashion. This natural richness and sonic density continue perfectly into the midrange and lower treble. Listen to Mark Knopfler‘s On Every Street LP and you will hear the remarkably developed sound of his voice.
This is truly a reference quality component exactly because it appreciates an equally high-quality turntable, tonearm and cartridge, and amplifier and speakers, to really demonstrate the outstanding level of performance hiding in the two enclosures. This level of musical enjoyment is easily provided during every listening session by the TZ Direct.
The long-term reference phono stage, the BMC MCCI Signature ULN, $4690, was slightly outclassed by the more expensive unit due to a bit more warmth in the midrange and very slightly more extended upper treble. Near the very end of the audition a CH Precision P1 phono stage and X1 power supply arrived. The P1 also has current-amplifying inputs. As you might expect, the P1-X1 combo, at $54,000, was better, but not as dissimilar as one might expect. The TZ Direct was in good company and I felt little loss in going back to the Sutherland pre after spending some time with the CH Precision gear. There is a greater sense of transparency with current-amplifying phono preamps, and this was also true compared to the Aurorasound VIDA Supreme. This is exceptional performance. The upper frequencies were slightly more prominent from the TZ Direct which imbues all vocals with a feeling of direct connection to the singer – no microphone, mixers, or media in the way. The TZ Direct provides an instant transport to the recording venue. Very nice!
The Sutherland TZ Direct ends the debate between tube vs. solid-state sound. The TZ Direct delivers a full measure of the best of each technology with exceptional extension into the lowest bass and extreme upper treble, combined with a rich and human-sounding midrange. But this is just the starting point for what makes this phono preamplifier so, so special. It delivers music in a way that is both accurate and immensely entertaining.
Overall Rating: 10 LPs
Link to manufacturer: Sutherland Engineering
This review would not have been possible without the very kind support of Ron Sutherland. Thank you!