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TEO Audio Liquid Pre preamplifier Review

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Scientifically obscure

The TEO Audio Liquid Pre is scientifically obscure, which is not to say scientifically bogus. Audiophiles in the know can pull up webpages of suspect audio products, such as shells, travel clocks, or the like quickly. The term “obscure” means the full effects of the product are not known, which is quite a difference from quack products that only offer placebo effects draining the wallet. To date precisely how the Liquid Pre works its magic is not understood fully, even by Taras and Ken! Though I am told it has been subjected to analysis by, “a scientist who works for a major electronics manufacturer,” which sounds rather cloak and dagger, results have been inconclusive. To date it is believed that the liquid conductor is optimized in terms of impedance; it seems to confer to any component associated with it an ideal impedance match!

TEO Audio Liquid Pre preamplifier

Here the reader should appreciate one of the last great fields of esoterica in building High End audio systems, that of impedance matching. Some hardcore hobbyists pay attention to the output impedance of a source and how it relates to the input impedance of the component receiving the signal. However, we live in a time when electronics are so good, the designs so stable under a myriad of real world conditions, such that at least average performance is nearly assured, and thus most listeners fully ignore impedance. While not the sine qua non in terms of sound quality, impedance matching is important, and one does a disservice to the system and sound to ignore it altogether.

But, what if you could ignore it completely? What if you could get perfect impedance matching for any two components and be assured they were optimized in terms of impedance? That seems to be the effective operating advantage of TEO Audio liquid cable products. Put a TEO Audio product in the rig and you will effortlessly impedance match your system! To give you some idea of how efficacious this can be, typically manufacturers of High End interdependent audio components pay close attention to impedance matching. However, with the TEO Audio Liquid Cable and Liquid Pre theoretically it is done for you!

Do I believe it? Perhaps a distinction between soft science and applied science is in order. Just this week a professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill announced that Black Holes do not exist! Alas, just in time for the anticipated blockbuster Interstellar, which Time magazine suggested was based on reality. What a pity, then, that when a concept is received as so obvious that it becomes a subject of a SciFi epic, someone comes along and ruins the party with an infusion of common sense and math! It seems that all the cosmological types failed to note that when stars shrink, theoretically at times into a Singularity of ultimate density and gravity resulting in a Black Hole, they lose mass, which prevents them from ever becoming Black Holes. In other words, as Steven Hawking recently admitted, they can only exist in theory. No Black Holes, no Singularities, no Big Bang. It’s been well understood that for decades these scientists broke the rules of math by introducing fixes to promote the existence of such things, but in the end their efforts ended in a singularly spectacular failure.

However, a liquid metal conductor, while seeming like science fiction, is far from the soft science of Black Holes. It is a product, works sensationally well, and measurably seems to be all things impedance-wise to all components. In my world of more practical, system building adventures the TEO Audio Liquid Pre seems to match up brilliantly with every source, DAC and amp I throw at it. Is it due to impedance omnipotence? I’m not sure, but the preamp sidles up to components with far more compatibility than other preamps I have reviewed.

 

Taking a deep breath

Taras gets a little over-the-top for me when he appeals to, “chaos in the nervous system at the level of global brain activity,” an illustration involving an iron slab with electrons oriented in different directions, each with its own magnetic influence. The “critical regime,” is the state in which the spin of each electron influences its neighbor most profoundly. Purportedly, in the state of critical regime, “impedance (the value we usually test for and call impedance) doesn’t really operate as we generally understand it.” In other words, it seems the liquid cable reaches into the realm of quantum physics.

When I encounter such talk I step back, reassure myself that I’m not hyperventilating with audiophile euphoria over a new toy, and revisit my bottom line, does it actually sound dramatically superior to standard technology? I am not enamored of the drivel produced by Depak Chopra, and I don’t have a strong desire to chase down every scientific thread of liquid cable technology, but I can tell you unequivocally, it works, and it seems to work a lot better than all the solid conductor cables I have ever used. I say, “Seems to work a lot better,” because I have not revisited all the cables I have ever used in comparison to the liquid cable. I have, however, compared a TEO Audio liquid XLR cable to some of the finest solid conductor cables I use today, including the Silent Source’s “The Music Reference,” interconnect, the Clarity Cable Organic IC, and Silnote’s Anniversary reference interconnect, and the liquid cable sculpted the most holistically natural sound experience. All three of these others vie for best sounding wire I have used in one fashion or another, but the one instance of comparison between the single set of TEO Audio balanced interconnects and the others put the TEO Audio on the winner’s podium. The downside is that it’s wickedly expensive, which makes TEO Audio cable difficult to attain but for the most deep-pocketed listener. If you can sniff at obnoxiously high costs for radical technology, then Taras will be happy to bend your ear.

What, then, is a person to make from Taras’s comment on the cables, “a balanced option may become available (I was testing a balanced version!), though we are not real fans of the idea of balanced for use in audio.” Perhaps you feel that is a heretical statement. I can hear the murmuring, “What does he mean, that balanced isn’t better?” All I can tell you definitively is that if you slap a balanced liquid IC into a rig you will almost assuredly obtain better results than the solid core IC you compared it to. Perhaps in the future I will be able to explore this aspect of TEO Audio’s products more thoroughly.

 

Vibration control bugaboo

Liquids shake, they vibrate, they do the Jell-O thing. Is the liquid cable conductor unstable and ultra-sensitive to vibration, thus a problem? Or, is it so exquisitely superior that even if it shakes like a Polaroid picture it trounces the crude result obtained from using a solid conductor? When vibration control is addressed through a specialized chassis and foam footers does the liquid cable perform categorically superior to all solid conductors? That is the bottom line question, one for which I have no definitive answer, but have strong evidence pointing in that direction based on the systems I have set up.

It did seem bizarre to be tweaking a state of the art wired device with foam discs of varying density! Really, foam discs? I was tempted to think, “If this thing is soooo good, then why would foam discs impact its performance?” We have all been there, at the point of ultimate skepticism in regards to a tweak. That is the point I was at in regard to using circular foam discs the size of a quarter and the thickness of a beef patty under the TEO Audio Liquid Pre.

However, I do not subscribe to the superior design, higher insensitivity school of thought. I find it absurd to suggest that the more an audio component is finely tuned, the less sensitive it is to changes. It makes as much sense as suggesting that the more finely tuned a racecar is, the less sensitive it becomes to road conditions. It should make sense, then, that if the TEO Audio Liquid Pre was sensitive to vibrations, more so than a traditionally wired preamp, the difference in density of a foam pad, thus effecting the stillness of the liquid wire inside should be noticeable to the ear. This may have been the ultimate test of my Law of Efficacy, involving a component purportedly improved by a tweak.

 

Working with the TEO Audio Liquid Pre

The unit which I took home from the show seemed perfect in every respect, until I attempted to use INPUTS 2 through 4; phhhht, dead. Obviously there was a wire loose somewhere. I thought perhaps it was an unfinished showpiece; such things are done with some regularity. Taras didn’t explain it away, but rather matter-of-factly said Ken would look at it and another would be on its way. A few days later the replacement did show up, having a very slight adjustment to the construction of the cabinet, which Taras said was not likely audible if not compared side by side. Even when I did compare them side-by-side, the change did not pass my Law of Efficacy; the difference was not immediately and profoundly notable. Taras was correct when he said that if a person were to walk out of the room, have the units switched, and re-enter the difference would likely not be noticeable.

The other items which came with the TEO Audio Liquid Preamp are along the lines of what one might be tempted to call accessories or tweaks, if they were not associated with a liquid preamp. These were a set of differing density foam circles placed underneath the center (5th) foot of the preamp. According to Taras, the foam pieces subtly influence the preamp’s sound. I also received some orange diamond shaped foam pieces as samples to be used for isolation with other gear. It was suggested that a business card or similar be placed underneath the center foam disc for, “extra physical loading.” The alternative is to place a heavy weight on top of the unit, as Taras said, “…for instance, a Shakti Stone is a good place to start.”

I spent some time swapping the foam circles under the fifth footer, but the result was inconclusive. There was no obvious, large change, which was leading me to a negative conclusion in regards to the varying densities of foam discs, when something unexpected happened. Most components I review, or have owned, have been fairly insensitive to placement. Often when I first receive a component for review I have a quick listen prior to establishing official review systems to be discussed. In some cases there are components across the length of my low lying shelving, and the easiest way to deal with yet another component is to piggy back by placing the new one atop one of the components already situated. Typically there is no significant change gained by placing the component on a proper shelf.

Taras is likely cringing as he reads this part of the review, given that his specialty is vibration control. One of the more unique products TEO makes is a component stand featuring shelving made of aluminum foam. During the years Taras was conducting research for the Aluminum Company of Canada, or Alcan, he was introduced to this novel material. He found it to be exceptional for vibration control in audiophile stands! Perhaps he will trust me someday to give them a fair shake in a review. One would certainly be able to say that I would not enter such a review with a favorable bias.

Once moved, the TEO Audio Liquid Pre was different, quite different! I had initially placed it atop another preamp for a couple days, but when I moved it to the shelf the change was starting, the most dramatic change associated with placement of a component I have heard in my room. The sound tightened and cleaned up nicely, the bottom-end losing flab. The degree of improvement reinforced for me the exquisite nature of the liquid conductor, which deserves the best platform one can muster.

5 Responses to TEO Audio Liquid Pre preamplifier Review


  1. André says:

    I have read this review with grest interest, because I owned S&B TVC’s (same as Music First) for years. Then a friend came up with tiny avc trannies made by Dave Slagle. There was a huge difference between the two, and they are even better than the famous ultra expensive Audio Consulting Silver TVC.
    My conclusion is, that you cannot use the “pars pro toto” principle here, the Music First is simply not good enough. Probably you gets the chance to compare it to a really good AVC, means autoformers with just one winding, the English Townsend Allegri is also very good.

  2. Greetings,
    God’s Joy to you,

    I recently received further confirmation of the exceptional nature of the liquid conductor as TEO Audio has sent me their liquid cable interconnect for assessment. My ear tells me that the liquid metallic conductor is quite different than solid core conductors, seemingly regardless of the application.

    That is not to say I will not seek competing technologies and products to assess! I appreciate your recommendation.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

  3. Bill U says:

    Impedance matching is only an issue if the match is too low, say < 10:1 ratio.

    Curious, has the company documented any objective measurements for their claims?

  4. Oscar Schmeckenpepper says:

    My Teo cables perform well but are very stiff, especially near their terminations, however, they are way over hyped (like this review of their pre) and way over priced. What else is new in the high end? I don’t see the value proposition, even for purchasing their gear in like new used condition. This pre is priced at 3 to 4 times its true worth in terms of R&D, design and parts. But, you’ll have a solidly built, nice piece if you spring for one.

    In talking with Taras in person and on the phone, he is a nice, straight up, intelligent guy who may know his acoustic trade but the production side of Teo leaves much to be desired. Patience and DEEP pockets are recommended.

  5. Oscar,
    God’s Peace to you,

    I find your complaints and comments a bit strange. The terminations on the cables seemingly must be stiff, as the conductor is a liquid, and one cannot have flexible or easily bent terminations such that the fluid might escape. The article points out the obvious disparity in price of the interconnects versus the speaker cables. It is inaccurate to generalize as you have done about all TEO products requiring deep pockets.

    The Liquid Pre is a passive design, and as such is simpler than most. As such it is closer to the ideal of a straight wire with gain, something that audiophiles seeking extreme performance find attractive. I point out in the article another passive preamp which is double the price, more complex, and was outperformed by the Liquid Pre (I returned it and kept the Liquid Pre). If you bought that preamp, perhaps it is only twice the price of its R&D, design and parts, but you will have paid twice as much as the Liquid Pre for worse performance.

    Your criteria for assessment seem skewed. Seeing as I have used active preamps with price tags more than twice that of the Liquid Pre, it doesn’t seem a bad deal to me. It doesn’t seem fair to me to downgrade the proprietary technology of the liquid conductor simply because the overall design is simple.

    From your comments it seems you have no experience with the Liquid Pre.

    Blessings,
    Douglas Schroeder

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