Tralucent Audio is a new, Hong Kong-based audio outfit that has been making waves in the portable audiophile world. The brainchild of Gavin Chiu, a longtime audiophile, Tralucent’s mission in audio is to deliver the visceral realism of full-sized speaker systems to the world of portable earphones. Tralucent currently has two products in its lineup; the first is the 1Plus2, a universal in-ear monitor configured with a dynamic moving coil driver seated within a tuned acoustic cavity and a tiny dual balanced armature driver at the very tip of the earphone — hence the name “one plus two“. A review will be coming shortly. The second product is a portable amplifier, the T1.
The Tralucent T1 is a little amplifier; its footprint is only about 75% the size of an iPod Touch (non-5th generation), though at nearly 2 cm thick, it’s a little portly. The two-piece brushed aluminum enclosure keeps the weight down, thankfully. I find the T1 great to hold in the hand, though I trouble to think of situations where I would have to hold it that way during actual usage. Included is also a thick and robust-looking 3.5mm interconnect, which is a rarity, since normally, included interconnects are quite flimsy and cheap-looking (as with the case of the Fireye HD), or that one isn’t included at all.
The entire look of the T1 is geared toward function. The silk-screened text clearly delineates the brand and the inputs. I couldn’t help but notice that some of the text was ever the least bit crooked, but I’m told that the next batches will have better control over the quality and precision of the lettering. Everything else does feel secure and well put together. Each unit is hand-marked with a serial number in the back for parts and quality control.
The front of the T1 is as minimal as it gets — one input and one output, segregated by a single, bright blue LED. Numerous people with the T1 have noted how bright this LED is, and my goodness, is it bright! The charge indicator LED in the back is also equally bright, but because the color is red, it feels less piercing than the blue of the front power LED.
Charging is simple through the mini-USB port. It’d be nice to have a DC input as well, but thankfully, because of the excellent battery life (over 20 hours on one charge that takes about five hours, but I haven’t needed to charge it ever since I received it), I can’t imagine that you’d need to charge it too often. There’s a charge indicator, as well as overcharge protection. All in all, operation doesn’t get any simpler: turn it on, plug in your source and headphones, and when the battery charge gets low, re-charge via USB.
I don’t know much about the architecture of the T1, but I do know that it sounds very nice, and it’s surely one of the better values at its price point. Clarity is very, very good; everything sounds crisp and detailed, without sounding “digital”. It also does a great job with vocals, too, with great centering and isolation, while not ignoring instrumental dynamics, either. It’s quite transparent, but not without emotion. There’s a slight undertone of warmth that bathes everything, but the T1 still maintains clarity. I don’t personally have the numbers, but people I trust say that the T1 measures very well, and I can definitely believe that. It simply sounds great. I do notice minor hissing with a sensitive earphone such as my custom Heir Audio 4.A, but it is negligible (unless at volumes that no one listens at). There’s also a distinct ON/OFF “pop” sound, though in general, I never plug in my stuff before I turn on the amplifier itself. Driving loads seems to be a complete non-issue for the T1; I didn’t run into any problems with it, not even with the Sennheiser HD650.
Basically, I have zero complaints with the sound, it does what is advertised, and I repeat: it sounds great. In fact, if I could help it, it’d be my personal preferred sound for an amplifier. However, what I do have a problem with is the fixed 3x gain and the small usable volume range; with sensitive IEMs, such as my 4.A, it was way too loud to use for more than 15 minutes at a time at the minimum volume past the expected L/R imbalance of the volume pot (around 7:30-8:00). Even the RE-262 plays at the upper end of acceptable room listening volumes. Given that Tralucent Audio primarily manufactures IEM-related products, I would say that the gain level is definitely set a little too high. I simply cannot imagine using the T1 when it is fed from a line-level source, driving a twenty-something ohm, ~100 dB sensitivity earphone for more than 15-20 minutes, tops. I’d be very, very worried about the dangers of overexposure to noise otherwise.
When I posed these concerns to Tralucent, I was told that the T1′s primary purpose was supposed to be a direct booster to a variable output source such as the iBasso DX100, and that they tried to implement a gain switch on the T1, but believed it degraded the sound. Certainly, that’s fair, but I think about all the people who use fixed output devices, including the many iPod users with LOD cables, and I would be concerned that if any of them are using the T1 to drive sensitive earphones or headphones, they’d simply not get enough usable play on their volume knob. I was personally working with about a half hour of twist on the pot, which is unacceptable in my view.
Luckily, I was also told that they were working on a revised version of the T1 with some critical changes, to both usage and cosmetic concerns, including a better volume pot with less volume imbalance issues, a less bright LED, and better durability. I’ve asked him also to entertain the possibility of a lower output version of the T1. As it stands, however, I find it difficult to find use of this amplifier with anything other than high-impedance, full-sized headphones (of which it has zero problems driving), and the hardest-to-drive insert earphones like the ER4S/B, Heir Audio Tzar 350, and the RE-262.
In the end, I can only state that I love the sound of the T1, but it plays at volumes that I just can’t accept. I am really hoping that Tralucent comes out with a low-output version of the T1. Fingers crossed.
- Engaging, Transparent Sound
- Low Output Impedance Good for Most Headphones/IEMs
- Good Driving Power
- Great Battery Life
- Lightweight, Small Size
- Gain of 3x is Too High for Sensitive IEMs and/or Fixed Outputs
- Overly Bright LED
- Loud ON/OFF “Pop”