Sutherland TZ Vibe
Trans- Impedance Input Phono Pre-amplifier
“Sutherland has the advantage of many model designs over the years. Every so often there is an opportunity to do some ‘design splicing’. All of that valuable knowledge and experience is combined into the TZ VIBE.”
Ron Sutherland has been making phono preamps for a very long time. By focusing almost exclusively on phono preamps, his design and circuitry has benefited from continued refinement and improvement over the years. All of those designs were based upon voltage amplification. The cartridge delivers a small voltage to the phono preamp input. This voltage is then multiplied to create a larger output voltage (along with RIAA EQ). A typical voltage multiplier of 1,000 can also be expressed as 60dB. One millivolt in → one volt out.
In recent times you may have noticed a new kind of phono preamp design, usually referred to as ‘current input’ or ‘trans-impedance’. Until recently, that approach has been very much in the background. However, many audiophiles are now switching over to this style of phono preamplification because it offers some serious benefits. The first trans-impedance phono preamp released by Sutherland Engineering was the PHONO LOCO, which is an ‘all-out’ very high-performance design. Following the immediate success of the PHONO LOCO, there naturally followed a challenge to bring a big measure of that performance to a lower priced model. Sutherland launched the LITTLE LOCO but in recent times, Ron responded to a call to create a trans-impedance phono preamp at an even more accessible price point – the TZ VIBE! The design has combined elements from two of their well established and highly regarded products. The KC VIBE provides the foundation and second gain stage. The little LOCO Mk2 provides the transimpedance (TZ) input gain stage.
According to a rapidly growing number of music lovers around the world, these new ‘current input’ or ‘trans-impedance’ design phono preamplifiers are attracting a lot of attention and respect because they have a unique ability to ‘dig deep into the music’ and ‘bring it to life’. They are dead quiet and very dynamic. The TZ VIBE has most of the magic that has made the LITTLE LOCO an instant classic but at a much -reduced pricing level. As long as you use exclusively MC phono cartridges, the TZ VIBE will not only enthral you… it is a true giant killer.
What is Current Input?
In short, the input signal comes from the current flowing through the cartridge, NOT the voltage from the cartridge. That current information is the input for a transimpedance gain stage (the input signal is current and the output signal is voltage). The connections on the back panel of the TZ VIBE appear to be totally conventional. There is a ground screw for grounding the turntable, two RCA jacks for the input signal from the turntable and two RCA jacks deliver an output signal to your line-level preamp. There is, however, a requirement that both coil connections float with respect to ground. Turntable grounds and cable shields need to go to a separate ground wire. There must be no direct connection from either coil side to chassis ground.
The TZ VIBE presents a virtual short as the cartridge load. Instead of voltage being the input parameter, it is the current generated by the cartridge that conveys musical content. The endless worry about finding the ‘best’ load value is obviated. The cartridge must be the moving coil type. Those with low output will be embraced. Not compatible with moving magnet or moving iron or step-up transformers. Thanks to the new little LOCO Mk2 circuit, the shell of the RCA input jack is now at ground. There are no special TT cable requirements.
There are no loading adjustments in the TZ VIBE. Your cartridge will see a load of zero Ohms. The input signal will be the current your cartridge produces into that virtual short. No need to worry about or fuss around with loading choices.
Your TZ VIBE is factory-set to medium gain. That should work very well in most situations. The usual concerns about cartridge output voltage do not apply here. Cartridges of varied output voltage specs tend to supply about the same level of drive current into a short. i.e. higher output voltages usually have an associated higher internal resistance. Lower output voltages usually have an associated lower internal resistance.
If your particular situation would benefit from a gain adjustment, you can change it. Inside, on the red circuit board, you will see movable shunts for gain setting. From the factory, they are set to MED GAIN. You can boost the output voltage by 6dB when the shunts are moved to HIGH GAIN. You can reduce the output voltage by 6dB when the shunts are moved to LOW GAIN.
“I was saying to my wife this week, the Graham Slee is good. It’d be an amazing feat to better it at this price point. Boy, the TZ Vibe did not disappoint. I put my ear right up to the speakers with the phono on with no music playing, no hum, very minimal background noise. Even more impressive given the gain setting I presume, is at the default middle setting. It has more gain at this level than the Graham Slee! But the extra microdetails picked up is the magic bit.”
|Operating Voltage||86 to 260 volts AC, 5 Watts
Universal, no adjustment required
|Dimensions||229mm (wide) x 279mm (deep) x 51mm (high)|
|Shipping Box Dimensions||318mm (wide) x 368mm (deep) x 165mm (high)|
|Shipping Weight||4.3kg (9.5lbs)|
|Warranty||5 years parts and labour. Transferable. Only valid for units that have not been modified or abused.|