Beyond Frontiers Audio was founded in 2009 by a former senior designer of the Sonic Frontiers – now Anthem – of which I suggest this tasty vademecum about vacuum tubes. Click here for downloading (2,8Mb).
As you can easily understand we are talking of products that have been designed by music lovers and the outcome shows years of technical research and hours of listening tests. BFA High-End products are designed in Canada and assembled in Serbia. The philosophy that animates the development of a BFA product is to reproduce a sound with all the nuances and the original emotions, without any alteration in the recorded signal.
The object of our test is the BFA Tulip wDAC. It was presented for the first time in 2009 in Belgrade and then in Zagreb, Milan, Denver, Rome and Montreal, gaining lot of consent.
The Tulip is a hybrid project with a tube gain stage and a solid state output stage: for me the best combination. The pre stage offers the quality that can be assured by a serious tube design, while the transistor output stage delivers the adequate power with a lower price if compared to a tube realization.
On the elegant black faceplate is the display with all the information we need. Once switched on, the BFA logo appears and then starts a process of internal check of the circuitry which lasts around fifteen seconds. At the end a counter of the pre tubes utilization appears. The piece we have tested showed just 250h, nothing for a vacuum tube.
On the left side of the display, as soon as the control check is over, the sign Line1 or whatever input that has been selected before switching off the device will appear, while on the right side comes out the dB level of the output signal and a bit lower the position of the volume which goes from 00 to 96 digits. The display is well visible and can be turned off through the remote control.
Centred below the display is a multifunction led in three colours: the green indicates the connection to the mains and the standby state, the blue that the switching on and the functioning of the amp is regular and the red the mute mode, or any occurred anomaly or error (condition never verified during the tests I made).
On the frontal are also six small buttons which control input, standby, mute, and volume. Their serigraphy is engraved in the aluminium but, unfortunately, is not clearly readable due to the total black look. Some coloured enamel would help.
On the rear of the chassis are six pairs of Cardas Rhodium RCA jacks, four for analogue inputs, two for SP/DIF digital inputs, and a single Neutrik USB port for the 24bit/192kHz internal DAC. For the loudspeakers clamps is also available a pair of isolated WBT binding posts.
Maybe, what is missing for a product of this range, are the XLR in/out balanced inputs and a phono jack.
The unit's remote is in aluminium and it is very heavy. It offers the same controls of volume, switching on, input selection and a “CF” control to regulate the single input attenuation coefficient, in order to avoid sudden volume jumps while switching between the inputs. The IR sensor is too deep inserted in the amp front, so the remote control, to work properly, has to be pointed directly towards the source.
You will get the Tulip at home in a reassuring and heavy shockproof wooden box that protects its 34 kg from any mistreatments.
A journey together with sound
After the removal of the top cover, we have peered inside the Tulip and seen the pre stage with two vacuum tubes and the power supply in one only printed circuit.
The first tube is an ECC83 JJ Gold Pin ECC83. It amplifies the audio signal at the output of the passive volume control circuit, which is realized with micro relays and resistances. The signal, successively, comes into the second tube, a JJ Gold Pin E88CC.
The well done board is placed on the top metallic plate and it is isolated and separated by the end supply part and by the soft start circuit. Then it comes to the solid state stage composed of five Toshiba 2SA1943 and five Toshiba 2SC5200 mosfets per channel with no counter reaction at all.
BFA claims 200 watts on 8 Ohms and 400 on 4 Ohms. Not so few indeed, and the Tulip can drive loudspeakers up to 2 Ohms.
The internal parts are all first class. On the output stage, realized in dual mono, are two 47.000 uF 80 volt Mundorf M-Lytic HC capacitor per channel. All the printed circuits are realized with thick golden tracks to guarantee a better conductibility.
First class also for the pre stage. The Mundorf Supreme Silver Gold Oil and Wima MKS4 capacitors make the best impression together with the two JJ Gold Pin vacuum tubes and other Nichicon capacitors in the power supply stage of the pre.
The entire system is powered by a powerful and massive 1600W toroidal transformer.
The chassis is in aluminium and the panels have been realized at a constant temperature to dispose of the heat. The 10mm frontal, upturned in the middle, is very fine and elegant.
The first impression is that the Tulip has a very balanced sound, with the mid-high range well defined and the bass frequencies present and never obtrusive.
I have tried to overdriven it pumping up the volume but I did not succeed. On the contrary, it seemed that the supplied power was not the one claimed by the manufacturer, but much less. Considering that my speakers were not so hard, I thought that the power had to be present and quite a lot. So I called the manufacturer and he answered: “Turn up the volume as much as you like, you will never hear any distortion and you won’t damage any kind of loudspeakers, not even the small and delicate ones”! Intrigued more and more, I asked him how an amp, with 200W in name, could not damage any loudspeakers, not even those with little power.
The answer was that I will never hear any distortion and I won’t damage my loudspeakers because of a sophisticated system which adapts the output level depending on the loads it sees.
Practically, at every volume regulation, the Tulip recalculates the output signal and if not required, it won’t supply its 200 watts ever. It will supply only the watts that the speaker in use can withstand. I made another test, this time by connecting the Tulip to a pair of mini loudspeakers with more or less twenty watts…same result!
The speakers were safe…The Tulip system can, on one hand, make happy those audiophiles who do not want to take any risk with the volume. On the other hand this feature can be seen as a limitation. Not yet happy, I called again the BFA asking this time if it would be possible to exclude the system and exaggerate with the volume without any limitation.
This time the answer was as follows: “With the volume set to 96 points and zero dB of attenuation and connecting on Line 1 whatever preamplifier, tube or solid state, you can use the Tulip at the maximum power as it was a normal power amp bypassing the controlled volume”. I made this test but I couldn’t pump up the volume at its peak. For the lovers of the hard and pure watts the Tulip is served! Not bad and bravo to the Beyond Frontiers Audio.
Back to the sound. After a listening period I have noticed a very wide and well defined soundstage. One day, while I was listening to the Pink Floyd’s album “The Wall”, it seemed that the helicopter was landing on my head. The sound pressure and the spatiality were in my room. Only the wind generated by the blades was missing: otherwise it would have been like a live event. The emotion was big; I have never felt it before with this precision.
The Tulip is very sweet with voices. I love to listen to Rachelle Ferrell and her high-pitch notes. A voice really biting and unique in style. I have listened with pleasure to the albums Live in Montreux and Individuality at high volume and no one has come to interrupt or disturb my relaxing and involving listening test.
I carried on with jazz, rock, pop and classical music and the Tulip has never given up. I would call it an amp for every kind of music and for every kind of loudspeakers with a unique musicality and a unique character.
I was forgotten one thing… the USB input for the internal DAC. We have tested also this one. It is useful to have internal converter whit good performances, although without reaching the absolute quality top.
To keep into consideration the fact that the 24/192 fixed conversion module is present also on emblazoned converters. Better than nothing, of course!
In conclusion, I have been very impressed by this amplifier for many reasons: the technique of the volume control, the manufacture, the materials but also for the great sound that only few integrated amps can offer.
In just a few words the BFA Tulip is an amp of great musicality and timbric balance.
Official technical specifications:
gold plated PCB
tubes JJ Tesla 1x ECC83S and 1x E88CC Gold pins, cryogenically treated
silver-gold-oil capacitors (2x) and electrolytic 4 x 47000uF Mundorf
dual-mono, current output amplifier with Sanken bipolar transistors
100% tube gain with servo control of operation
pure silver Mundorf and Kimber wire PTFE insulation
output terminals WBT and input Cardas, Neutrik USB
built-in 24bit/192kHz resampling DAC (all audio data always plays on 24bit/192kHz)
accepts both COAX (SPDIF) and USB digital signal transport
click-less (in sound path) Relay Volume Control Patent Pending
vfd display by Noritake, Japan
full remote control, in house patented remote protocol, 100% stable operation
toroidal transformer 1600W
inputs: 4 x LINE, 2 x COAX and 1 x USB
output: 2 x 200W/8ohm, 2 x 400W/4ohm, capable to drive speakers down to 2ohm
For the User manual.pdf click here
Official Italian dealer: to the Armonia Loudspeakers website
Official current price in Italy: 12,000.00 EUR
DIRECTOR’S CUT | INQUIRY SUPPLEMENT
Bosko Pjescic, Zdenko Zivkovic - Sonic Frontiers’ ex-designer - and the digital designer Andria Sabolcki are the men behind Beyond Frontiers Audio. I wish to thank all the three of them for their Tulip. It has been a long time I would have listen to such a solid state amp. You know, it is funny hearing all that patter of relays when you vary inputs or volume. But behind that mechanical calculating there is a volume control waiting for the patent. A concrete, audible innovation designed by Sabolcki. I try to report: “ the volume control takes place in current, but once you have set the volume there is no more current in the relays”. For us, who are keen of listening, these are the mysteries of the faith. But at the listening, this turns into a lack of distortion or virtually limitless listening fatigue. The same thing that push you to pump up the volume because you want “to hear the blow”: that is the annoyance. Or distortion. That does not come. The best definition I can give of the BFA Tulip is, therefore, “composure”. Like a king or a nobleman, it moves quickly, it does not run. Refined and dynamic, it keeps everything under control and you forget the desire of turning up or down the volume. Faults? Listened through its innovative volume control, the “emotion” parameter puzzles me, but just a bit. Employed as a pure power amp, without any factory attenuation, it seems to regain that bit.
We will find out when we test a new BFA device. And we will. I would like to have it since now as a reference of one of the most worthwhile and modern interpretations of the solid state.