Right after I finished working on the Tavish Design Vintage 6SL7 phono preamplifier review I wanted to check out another Tavish, namely the Minotaur integrated stereo amplifier. It arrived here in Brooklyn in a huge cardboard box, and I tell you upfront the sound more than lived up to my expectations.
Tavish Design's Scott Reynolds holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, works for IBM and authored over 30 patents. He may be a whiz with digital tech, but when it comes to listening to music Reynolds prefers the sound of tubes over solid-state electronics and LPs over digital. In 2011, Reynolds set out to build an amp for a friend he was trying to convince that tube amps sound better than solid-state ones. It took a few tries before everything fell into place, and the Minotaur was born.
The Minotaur, like all of the other Tavish Design products is made by Reynolds' and his son's hands in Amawalk, New York. The amp is a rather complex build - so they make four at a time -- and it takes two weeks to finish and test the four amps.
The Minotaur is a "hybrid" tube/solid state design, but unlike most hybrids that just use a couple of tubes, the Minotaur has seven tubes, visible through a window on the front panel. Connectivity is limited to either five RCA inputs, or optionally two XLR balanced inputs plus three RCA inputs, and sturdy speaker cable binding posts. Minotaur is a Class AB design that produces 140 watts per channel for 8 ohm speakers, and 220 watts per channel for 4 ohm speakers. The amp performed flawlessly over the three weeks I used it, and build quality is first rate. It weighs 34 pounds and measures 17.2 inches x 17 inches x 6 inches.
The Minotaur's remote control deserves special mention, because instead of the usual infrared remote you'd have to point at the amp, the Minotaur's remote is a RF device, so it sends radio signals to the amp, no need to point or even be near the amp to control it. The remote worked in other rooms in my apartment (including outside my apartment) as well as down the hall about 20 feet from the front door!
The amp also sports a feature rarely seen on audiophile components -- auto turn-off. With it, the Minotaur can shut itself off when it doesn't detect signal for 30 minutes. You can deactivate the turn-off feature if you want it to stay on.
Paired with Bowers & Wilkins' 805 D3 speakers, the Minotaur's transparency came to the fore. In fact, I never once thought the Minotaur sounded like a tube amplifier. There was no added warmth or richness, or softened bass I associate with tube electronics. The Minotaur is neutral and clean, and the 805 D3s made that perfectly clear. It was also powerful and dynamics were uninhibited, so the Minotaur got out of the way while letting the music speak for itself.
Listening to high-res files of a few MA Recording albums -- including "Llama" and "La Segunda" -- the sheer transparency and clarity of the sound took my breath away.
Playing the new Radiohead album "A Moon Shaped Pool" sounded very decent, but a long way from the uber clarity I heard from the MA Recordings, so I was surprised by how the Minotaur brought Janis Joplin's "Cheap Thrills" SACD album roaring back to life! Joplin's abundant lung power, and her band's rough and ready support raised the hairs on the back of my neck!
Putting the 805 D3s aside and moving over to my Magnepan .7 flat panel speakers, the Minotaur's skill set again impressed. The .7 panels are nearly five feet tall, so they produced a bigger soundstage than the 805 D3s, but the .7s resolution/clarity and bass definition couldn't touch the 805 D3s. Even so, the .7s boogied with gusto with my Lee "Scratch" Perry dub reggae records.
Then I tried the Minotaur with my Zu Druid V speakers, which are more dynamically alive than the 805 D3 and .7 speakers. I love the Druid V's energy, but it lacks the refinement and transparency of the other two speakers. So they're all different, but the Druid Vs are the most rock and roll.
Since the Minotaur doesn't include a built-in phono preamplifier, I hooked up the Tavish Vintage 6SL7 preamp ($549), and listened to LPs over the system with my VPI turntable. I really like Black Uhuru's "Red" album, so I played it loud, much louder than usual for me, just because I was having so much fun.
The Minotaur is sold direct by Tavish Design for prices starting at $2,490 with a 30-day return policy and a 6-year warranty (coverage doesn't include the tubes).