BFA Tulip wDac integrated amp

05.06.2012..

Senior designers of the former Sonic Frontiers, now Anthem, founded Beyond Frontiers Audio in 2009. I suggest reading its tasty vademecum on the vacuum tubes.  Click here for downloading (2,8Mb).

As you can easily understand, we are talking of products 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 that lasts around fifteen seconds. There is also a counter to tell you how many hours the tubes of the preamp have worked. 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 selected input will appear, while on the right side comes out the dB level of the output signal and a bit lower the volume, which follows a scale that 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 are regular and the red the mute mode or any anomaly or error (condition never verified during the tests I made).

On the frontal are also six small buttons that 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 24 bit/192 kHz internal DAC. For the loudspeakers clamps are also available two isolated WBT binding posts.

What is missing for a product of this range, are the XLR in/out balanced inputs and a phono jack.

The remote control is in aluminium and it is very heavy. It offers the same controls of volume, switching on, and input selection. Besides there is a “CF” control to regulate the coefficient of the single input attenuation and to avoid sudden volume jumps while switching between the inputs. The IR sensor is too deep in the amp front so, to work properly, you have to point the remote control 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 with the sound

After the removal of the top cover, we have peered inside the Tulip and seen the preamp stage with two vacuum tubes and the power supply in only one printed circuit.

The first tube is an ECC83 JJ Gold Pin ECC83. It amplifies the audio signal at the output of the control circuit of the passive volume, which is realized with micro relays and resistances. The signal, successively, comes into the second tube, a JJ Gold Pin E88CC.

Everything is assembled on a well-done board. It is placed on the top metallic plate and it is isolated and separated from the power supply stage and from the soft start circuit.

The solid state stage has five Toshiba 2SA1943 and five Toshiba 2SC5200 mosfets per channel with no counter reaction.

BFA claims 200 watts into 8 Ohms and 400 into 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 have thick golden tracks to guarantee a better conductibility.

First class also for the preamp 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 preamp.

A powerful and massive 1600W toroidal transformer powers the entire system.

The chassis is in aluminium and the panels have a constant temperature to make the best use of the chimney effect. The 10mm frontal, upturned in the middle, is very fine and elegant.

 

Listening impressions

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 overdrive it by 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 there was a lot of power. 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 will not damage any kind of loudspeakers, not even the small and delicate ones”! Intrigued more and more, I asked him how an amp, with 200 W 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 will not damage my loudspeakers because of a sophisticated system that 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 will not 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 a limitation. Not yet happy, I called again 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 could not 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 top quality.

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, and the materials but also for the great sound that only few integrated amps can offer.

In few words, the BFA Tulip is an amp of great musicality and tonal 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 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. I was dreaming to 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.

 

G.C.

 

 
by Gianluca Polidoro
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