Review: MFE Tube One SE Preamplifier & MFE TA 120 SE Tube amplifier Push-Pull 120W (Stereo) together, the components complement each other perfectly
Review: MFE Tube One SE Preamplifier & MFE TA 120 SE Tube amplifier Push-Pull 120W (Stereo): The contrast program could hardly be bigger than between these two classic tube amps and the fully digital SciFi integrated amplifier Technics SU-R1000 (7,500 euros), which the North Rhine-Westphalia are replacing in my rack, which is peppered with all imaginable high-tech tricks . With both MFE devices, there is no question of integrated or even digital: There is no D / A converter in the MFE Tube One SE, which costs 9,690 euros – the MFE Tube DAC SE is used for such tasksin the line-up we recently tested. And the MFE TA 120 SE stereo power amplifier, which weighs 28 kilograms and costs 14,690 euros, with its appetizingly arranged tubular trellis and bronze-tinted glass front does not look clearly “integrated” either. By the way, SE stands for “Signature Edition”, and according to MFE founder Michael Franken “where it matters, only selected components with tight tolerances based on our own measurements are used.”
Michael Franken is a real veteran of the high-end scene. For 30 years now he has been doing his thing with admirable rigor and doesn’t let fast-moving trends bother him. At MFE, technology and implementation are tested and refined over the years – and Franken is not only an engineer, but also an active musician: “As a musician, I know what a guitar, a violin or a piano really sounds like. I also like to listen with a live level like at a rock concert – I love dynamics, and that is why my amplifiers need a lot of power reserves. ”MFE also does not spoil when it comes to design. A look into the sight glass front of the power amplifier is enough – more on that in a moment.
Both amplifiers come as standard with a comparatively flexible power cable called MFE GAL 1.5, which is wrapped in a transparent PVC cover with a film shield underneath. Speaking of power cords: The MFE devices have a feature that should be standard with all high-quality hi-fi components: a phase control light directly next to the power socket glows gently red when the power cord is upside down in the socket. The tester says thank you very much, very practical!
Red light district
The phase control lamp is not the only thing that lights up red on the MFE Tube One SE and TA 120 SE. Not only the LED on the front of the preamplifier, but – clearly visible through the glass front – eight other diodes in the tube sockets of the output stage light up immediately after switching on. They are solely due to the optics and have no influence whatsoever on the circuits or even the sound, says Franken.
An interesting design feature of the MFE TA 120 SE is certainly the arrangement of said tubes. Instead of standing or lying down as usual, Michael Franken decided to install the mounting plate at a (approx.) 45-degree angle so that the tubes point upwards at an angle. That gives the power amplifier an unusual and dynamic note – an omen …? No, there are purely practical reasons, says Franken: “The angled arrangement was created to avoid building the device too high.”
The Balanced Audio Technology VK-76SE power amplifier (14,000 euros) with twice 75 watts has already proven that tube amplifiers don’t have to be divas when choosing speakers . The MFE TA 120 SE goes one better and delivers a whopping 120 watts per channel at 4 and 8 ohms. Responsible for this are the 550 VA transformer – a low-stray journeyman of the core cut type , which is mounted on vibration dampers – and four output stage tubes of the type EL509 (also known as 6P45, EL519; technically identical tubes such as the PL509 and PL519 can also be used) in push-pull circuit and with constant screen grid voltage. Because work is being carried out properly here, Franken uses a very slowly and quietly rotating axial fan below the power amplifier tubes, which is only noticeable acoustically after switching on with a faster rotating function test.
In the input of the fully symmetrically switched MFE TA 120 SE power amplifier there is an ECC83 for the purpose of phase reversal with a subsequent PCC88 driver stage. The pre-amplified signal comes in either via a pair of RCA or XLR sockets. At the other end there is equipment that is not often found: In addition to the high-quality, classic speaker cable terminal for bananas and fork shoes, there is also a duo of Speakon sockets.
To ensure that the signal arrives at the MFE TA 120 SE in as high a quality as possible, the processing in this case is the responsibility of the appropriate MFE Tube One SE pre-stage. The preamp has an asymmetrical structure, which is “harmoniously better for the small-signal behavior,” says Franken. It offers five line inputs, three of which are RCA and two are galvanically decoupled XLR sockets are executed. There is also an RCA phono input that accepts signals from MM and MC cartridges and can also be equipped with XLR sockets upon customer request. When it comes to standard termination, MFE is pragmatically covered, Franken says: “All MC cartridges with an internal resistance of up to 200 ohms can be connected without any problems, with each terminating resistor and higher gain for very quiet MCs or other capacitance values being implemented via a plug-in board at the customer’s request can be – even if this is usually not necessary. “
Of course, the phono branch also works with tubes, using a PCC88 in the input stage followed by a high-gain pentode stage with the PCF80 composite tube, which controls the frequency response via a counter-coupled equalizer network . The triode system is “connected as a cathode follower to ensure a low output resistance “.
I find the switchover between MM and MC amplification very convenient: Instead of fiddly mouse pianos, the MFE Tube One SE has a small toggle switch on the back left in the base plate – and you don’t even have to crawl on your knees and twist your head to get around the To ensure attitude. This is because the operating instructions show that MC amplification is switched on when “the rocker switch is pushed down towards the rear wall”. This also applies to another small rocker that is located below the volume control in the base plate. With that, the output voltage of the Tube One SE can be reduced by 13 decibels shut down when it points to the left – I find this setting very practical, by the way, because it allows you to use significantly more than the first quarter of the control travel and you can set the volume much more sensitively using the standard infrared remote control (only for volume control and mute) .
A third and final rocker switch in the base plate is located below the connection panel with the RCA and XLR output sockets, each of which has a pair. Here, too, the XLR connections are galvanically isolated and wired symmetrically. The switch turns the phase of the XLR output by 180 °, which could be necessary if both outputs are used – for example to connect a power amplifier and an active subwoofer, says Franken. Someone thinks pragmatically.
Some other goodies from MFE Tube One SE are also designed for high practicality. For example, the 6.3-millimeter jack socket for connecting headphones, which does not require a dedicated headphone amplifier , but should also do its job very well due to the low internal resistance of the preamp. And then there is the tape monitor and record-out connection (RCA) on the one hand and a whole range of sound influencing and comfort functions that can be activated via toggle and rotary switches on the front: a switch between stereo and Mono, a rumble filter (high pass filter) that works at 25 Hertz with a slope of 6 dB is used, a noise filter (lowpass filter), which is supposed to take the horror out of treble-heavy recordings and loudspeakers with 6 dB filtering at 12,000 Hertz, a balance and a sophisticated tone control, which of course also completely take off the signal path leaves.
Sound taste tuning
If the tone control is activated, it works purely passively with a loudness characteristic. What does that mean? Well, in order to achieve “aurally accurate” reproduction at low volumes, low and high frequencies have to be increased. Our hearing becomes less and less sensitive in these areas as the volume decreases. Instead of simply making the bass louder, which demands more power from the downstream power amplifier, turning the “Bass” knob to the right regulates the volume of the middle and high frequencies relative to the bass. The tweeter knob then works to compensate for the treble. Clever!
But the MFE Tube One SE can also be adjusted on the “time level”. The rise time of the output stages can be changed with two internal DIP switches – as far as I know, a unique feature, but I am happy to be taught better. In the factory setting “on”, the rise time is shorter and the sound more dynamic, while in the “off” setting it is somewhat lengthened in favor of a rounder sound, according to MFE.
Incidentally, a pleasant trait is Michael Franken’s personal assurance towards the end of the operating instructions that all devices were allowed to work in for around 100 hours and that he himself heard, measured and found to be good. Manufacturing quality can hardly be more authentic. And now let’s listen carefully.
MFE Tube One SE & MFE TA 120 SE: hearing test and comparisons
As already indicated, the two amps from North Rhine-Westphalia represent the antithesis of the highly computerized integrated amplifier Technics SU-R1000. This is a purely factual statement without evaluating the respective character. This is already noticeable when switching on the preamp: the user can enjoy his anticipation for a full 60 seconds before the tube pre adjusts the voltages and can start; the output stage, on the other hand, is ready after about ten seconds. The second clue for the technology built into the MFE duo is a subtle noise that can only be heard with the ear on the tweeter. That doesn’t matter at the listening position.
Because the two devices fit together so well, I’ll describe the sound of the combination below and then briefly explain which properties both bring into the mix.
Big, impressive, free: the MFE-Kombi conjures up a wide panorama from the loudspeakers, which, with the right music material, reaches almost unbelievably well beyond the limits of the loudspeaker base width and – towards the top – beyond the imaginary tweeter line. In addition, it builds the center of the virtual stage very variably in front of or behind the loudspeaker base, depending on what the recording requires. Individual sound events such as the full bass drum projected very deep back into the room in “This Boy” by Brendan Perry (album: Ark) makes the German tube combination larger and more impressive than most of the other amps that I have ever used was allowed to hear my chain.
The sharpness of the outline of the image of individual sound bodies is achieved on a good, if not on the outstanding level of the combination of Norma Audio SC-2 and Norma Audio PA 160 MR (from 19,400 euros). This also leads to the impression that the MFE-Vor-End-Kombi represents the space between the actors, despite the width of the stage, a little “less empty”, that is, it feels more densely and intensively filled with information. Mind you, the outlines of the individual actors are by no means blurred. The MFE amplifiers preserve the integrity of instruments and voices, but let them come a little closer to each other than other representatives of the genre.
The MFE amplifier team designed the bass range no less impressive than its opulent space. Powerful, lively, powerful, springy and with a good amount of oomph factor, the MFE TA 120 SE shakes deep and deepest frequencies out of the speakers, which suddenly seem to play a whole octave deeper in the bass cellar than before with my Norma combination ( instead of the mono PA 160 MR, the stereo power amplifier PA 150 (5,300 euros) is currently playing for me). The piano in “Room 29” by Chilly Gonzalez has a thrust and physical force with the MFE, especially in the lower bass, which brings a little more substance with it than would be strictly speaking neutral.
The MFE TA 120 SE still maintains control up to high volume levels, which – as well as its good definition of bass structures – it proves in the 1990 Pink Floyd live recording from Knebworth of “Wish You Were Here”. At high volumes, however, a gradual, slight softening of the bass contours can be heard. “No biggie”, the American would say, for whom this bass tuning usually fits well into the 900 square foot salon living room. For the sake of form, however, it should be noted that compared to established transistor power amplifiers such as the aforementioned Norma Audio PA 160 MR (14,000 euros) or the Bryston 7B3 (12,000 euros) the Sforzatos in Tchaikovsky “Danse Russe” thunder into the pit of the stomach with a similar vigor, but the stop-and-go behavior of the TA 120 SE does not quite reach the high level of the chaste transistor competitors.
But with cream, please
It may be a cliché, but clichés must come from somewhere: The combination of MFE Tube One SE and MFE TA 120 SE breathes a slight warmth into voices with strong timbres , melting and timbre – which does not prevent them from making them open and transparent to be placed in the room and to allow the necessary sharpness of the articulation to shine through with all the sounding solidity. Jarvis Cockers intones on the Chilly Gonzalez album Room 29 expressively, directly and dynamically unrestrained, and Jacintha’s organ in “Moon River” is both highly detailed and intimate. Also the strings of the piano in “Moonriver” with all their overtones The violin by Saténik Khourdoïan in the “Allegro moderato” from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D minor, op. 35 shines with lively, shimmering energy and with a warm, enamelled sheen at the same time. The MFE-Kombi traces even the smallest color shades of the intonation.
In summary, I can say with a clear conscience that the MFE Tube One SE and TA 120 SE deliver a great performance in terms of clarity, richness of detail and color in the mid-range. They clearly surpass what I know from my Norma combi in this regard and even trump my previous test reference, the Balanced Audio Technology tubes VK-53SE (15,200 euros) and VK-76SE (14,200 euros) in this discipline.
Dashing and fine
The combination of MFE Tube One SE and TA 120 SE follows the premise of faithfully reproducing musically relevant details without unduly emphasizing them. In the upper octaves, they tend to play with a delicate silence and, in the best sense of the word, unobtrusive. But high-frequency energy can be conveyed if necessary – this extremely dashing saxophone that shines right down to the lower high-frequency range in “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” (live) or the sparkling brilliance of the percussion plates in Camille Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre” from Album Mephisto & Co prove it. That the very highest fine resolution compared to the top Linnenbergs Georg Philipp Telemann (with DAC, 18,700 euros) and the power amplifier Linnenberg Widor (16,000 euros) is left out, can be described as “typical tube”.
As a listener who is less tonally focused than on coherent timing, I attach particular importance to convincing impulse reproduction. And this is precisely where the MFE Tube One SE and TA 120 SE deliver the second real blast in addition to their outstanding midrange reproduction. The short impulses in the midrange and presence range of the piano in “Moon River” by Jacintha and the transients of the acoustic guitar in “Wish You Were Here” (Live at Knebworth 1990), the snapping of the fingers in Tash Sultana’s “Musk” (album: Terra Firma) explode and have a physically noticeable projectile character. Awesome. Even the ultra-fast Technics SU-R1000 (7,500 euros) doesn’t do this feat quite as well, doesn’t give the jagged impulses this natural body, remains more ethereal.
However, when it comes to the fine dynamic shades in the further course of a tone (sustain / decay phase), then more expensive combinations such as the aforementioned Balanced Audio Technology or the Linnenberg Georg Philipp Telemann with the Widor can still have the one or the other at this high level work out other nuances of granulation more from the piano playing by Chilly Gonzalez on Room 29 .
All good things come in threes
On the other hand, the coarse dynamic capabilities of the MFE-Kombi are really outstanding. Gentlemen! What the two tube amps deliver in terms of loudspeakers that are not particularly talented in this regard is damn impressive – not only in the aforementioned steam hammer bass. The initial notes of Antonín Dvořák’s Dumky trio in the recording with Barnabás Kelemen , violin and Nicolas Altstaedt , violoncello (label: Alpha) hit the unprepared listener with full impact even in the mid-high range. Thanks to the power reserves of the MFE TA 120 SE, this is really fun at high levels, but even at low listening volumes, the MFE amplifiers are capable of unlimited and musically fascinating jumps in large amplitude jumps.
Quite simply and in a nutshell: The MFE Tube One SE pre-stage is responsible for transient speed and attack, the clear, perfectly articulated mids and the unpretentious, detailed resolution. The MFE TA 120 SE power amplifier passes these properties largely unimpaired, adds powerful pressure and coarse dynamic slam, expands the space again and thus turns up the fun factor – but at the same time softens the definition of the vocal and instrument projection a little. It also delivers more than enough juice to loudspeakers to bring them to life with extraordinary peppy style.
One more word about the integrated phono stage that I tested in MC mode with my MC system Transrotor Figaro (2,500 euros): Compared to the Linnenberg Bizet (5,999 euros), the integrated MFE solution holds up a little in terms of resolution and fine dynamics but otherwise embarks on the same richly colored, spatially wide and dynamic sound path of the line-level inputs. A comparison to the ASR Mini Basis is obvious – in terms of character as well as in terms of overall quality.
Conclusion : MFE Tube One SE Preamplifier & MFE TA 120 SE Tube amplifier Push-Pull 120W (Stereo)
Large orchestras, powerful, powerful guitar walls, epic live rock concerts, cinemascopic soundscapes – here the MFE Tube One SE and TA 120 SE surpass themselves. There are actually no genre restrictions. Okay, maybe half a “not so ideally suited” for music that is designed for maximum precision and really hard stop-and-go in the bass.
As far as the speaker pairing is concerned, I would recommend models that tend to be tight, concise or even slim as the ideal playing partner. Loudly bass-heavy speakers that are inherently softly tuned could be too much of a good thing. Thanks to the high output power of the MFE TA 120 SE power amplifier, it should drive most loudspeakers without any problems, even at higher volumes and dynamic requirements.
Even if both devices are very good amplifiers on their own – the MFE Tube One SE preamplifier offers an even better price-performance ratio in my opinion. And together, the components complement each other perfectly and are a hot tip for fun and pleasure-oriented listeners with a weakness for exclusive, hand-made quality.
The combination of MFE Tube One SE and TA 120 SE …
- is tonally more on the warm side – the powerful TA 120 SE power amplifier is a bit more pronounced than the Tube One SE preamp.
- balances their pressure and massive slam in the bass with a fascinating clarity in the midrange and a delicate, unobtrusive high tone.
- Doesn’t let the bass run on a short leash with hard impulses, but prefers swing and free breathing.
- resolves fine details in the treble range appropriately for its price range. Certainly there are specialists who let some more information through here – also with fine dynamics.
- conjures up a wide panorama from the loudspeakers, which, with the right music material, extends far beyond the limit of the base width and upwards over the tweeter line. The depth of the room is convincingly explored.
- draws the outlines of individual sound events with a slightly softer line.
- has an adrenaline-inducing coarse dynamic and an astonishing talent for transients.
- always sounds “creamy” and fluid, homogeneous and full-bodied in an inimitable way.
- has a phono stage, which would also be a recommendation as an external device with a four-digit price tag and which remains true to the character of the MFE-Kombi.
The output stage MFE TA 120SE …
- should handle almost every loudspeaker electrically, even at higher volumes.
- is the dynamic powerhouse of the duo and pushes the bass with a lot of energy, melting and elastic verve.
The MFE Tube One SE preliminary stage …
- is very well equipped and offers a high degree of flexibility and user-friendliness.
- is the “more analytical” part of the duo and provides space, air and more space.
MFE Tube One SE
- Concept: tube preamplifier
- Price: 9,690 euros
- Dimensions & weight: 483 x 105 x 335 mm (WxHxD), 8 kg
- Color: black, silver gray, champagne, special designs on request
- Inputs: 1 x phono (MM / MC), 5 x high level (2 x XLR, 3 x cinch), tape / monitor
- Outputs: balanced (XLR), unbalanced (Cinch / 180 °), tape / monitor direct, headphones 6.3 mm jack
- Other: remote control, absolute phase invertible, mono and mute switch, tone control, balance control, maximum output voltage adjustable, tape monitor, rumble filter, noise filter
- Idle power consumption: approx. 75 watts
- Warranty: 2 years (tubes: 6 months)
MFE TA 120 SE
- Concept: stereo power amplifier (tube)
- Price: 14,690 euros
- Dimensions & weight: 483 x 150 x 400 mm (WxHxD), 28 kg
- Color: silver gray, black, red or champagne
- Inputs: 1 x XLR, 1 x Cinch
- Outputs: 1 x pair of speaker outputs, universal or Speakon / Neutrik
- Other: Remote switch-on socket (12 V), phase glow lamp
- Power: 2 x 120 watts / 8 & 4 ohms
- Idle power consumption: approx. 130 watts
- Warranty: 2 years (tubes: 6 months)