Interview with mr. Tsvetan Tsenko & mr. Ivaylo Ratzov of:
R.T. Audio Design – Bulgaria
…They are back and battery-powered !
Back in August 2014, hiendnews.gr first introduced in our country a Bulgarian audio company called “RT Audio Design”, winning first place award in the “Sonics” category at Sofia’s HiFi EXPO 2013. The company was unknown to us back then, operating in Sofia that -by that time- was not in the main map of the High-End highlands, an intriguing combination for a greyhound like our teammates & reviewers. Me and the editor mr. Demos, soon engaged in a very interesting conversation with mr. Tsvetan Tsenkov, the electronics engineer of the company, who sent us their Orpheus MK III DAC as the first of their devices for evaluation and presentation. Fate had determined that a serious evaluation of the DAC was meant to take place only after the arrival of the second of their products, the terrific sounding Orpheus 50W/channel class A push-pull, solid-state power amp, which took all of us by a big surprise for the level of performance it was delivering for a retail price of about 3.200€. This ‘David’ of an amplifier soon proved to us that it will stand its ground against many ‘Goliaths’ of any kind and at any price, in regard to sound quality, even driving notoriously difficult loads like the planar speakers MG 20.1 of Magnepan (!) at low to mid sound pressure levels, with the comparisons ending up to be mainly a matter of personal taste. We also soon discovered that, back then, the Orpheus named digital to analog from Sofia’s RT Audio Design was a perfect match to the amp, making us to think that for many demanding audiophiles this could be a true love they could live with forever. The end of the quest at an unexpected price. A true love I could live with forever. Now, they returned with their newer Orpheus Hi-Res USB DAC [under review on hiendnews.gr] and also took us by storm, delivering truly terrific sound quality for around 1.200€. It was time to ask Tsvetan for an interview.
for hiendnews.gr George Chatzakos & D.Dravopoulos
Q: What is your first memory of falling in love with music & how did you first get introduced to high-fidelity audio gear?
A: My first meeting with high end audio and audiophile music, was in 1999 when we together with Vladimir Gudim created High end Show room Balkan Audio. We started distributing dinosaurs to the audio industry at the time like Dynaudio ,Densen , Audio Note, SME, Holfi, 47Laboratory, Border Patrol and Chord. I had the honor to hear amazing models like: Densen DM 10, Dynaudio Contour 3.3 ,3.0 ,1.3 special edition Evidence Temptation or Audio Note Gaku-On amplifier. In this temple of music was a pleasure to listen Diana Krall or Patricia Barber!
Q: When did you decide to start a high-end audio company? Tell us about RT Design history, members/designers and goals.
A: After long auditions of audiophile concepts, the team of Balkan Audio decided to start their own development based on their own concept. So in 2004 it was created Outsider line consisting of D/A converter based of TDA1543 with battery power supply and power amplifier with battery power supply. In 2012 we created RT audio design in staff Tsvetan Tsencov audio,electronic and PCB engineer and Ivaelo Ratzov industrial designer. During all these years of research and experiments we managed to build our own concept of sound.We choose to design our D/A converters only with output transformers and battery power supply.All our amplifiers are separate power supply models, no capacitors in signal path and audiophile audio grade components.
Q: We really admire the excellent performance and value of your power amplification and battery powered Digital To Analog Converters. Is there a chance to see new products in the near future ?
A: Yes, this year we will present to our fans the new MM/MC Passive RIAA preamplifier Orpheus with separate battery power supply and the new CFA power amplifier class A Orpheus 25W with separate power supply rectified with SIC Schottky diodes!
Q: What is your ‘relation’ with tubes ? Is there also a chance to see new tube-based models or dacs, or even hybrid ones ?
A: I had several projects based on a class A tube amplifier, but I gave up. The reason is that the tube has too many distortions THD (over 10 %) plus there are also problems in the high frequencies such as the sand effect. In our DACs we don’t use active components in output stage like tubes or op-amps. The new BJT transistors are more linear than valves. It is for this reason that we choose to work only with solid state components.
Q: What challenges did you face during those early years, trying to ‘shape’ the RT design performance of both amplification and digital converters ?
A: When we created our company we were faced with the challenge of establishing ourselves as a producer among the many audio producers. Many people are prejudiced to the emergence of new market players. But we impressed them with our philosophy. Another challenge is that people are listening to music from Smart Phones or Notebooks as the transport.
Q: What is your favorite piece of hi-fi, vintage or relative new one and why? More specific, some of your all-time favorite speakers and amplification.
A: Let me start with my favorite piece… of music! It is “Temptation” – Diana Krall. When I first heard this song on LP, I fell in love with jazz and started listening to more female jazz vocals and today I always play this track for tests and demonstrations. My favorite speakers are fullrange loudspeakers. They are so easy to drive and deliver very natural sound. In this conception: no crossover and no phase and timing shift. The sound stage is deep and focused. My favorite loudspeakers are Tannoy, Sonido Horns and PHY-HP. My favorite amplifier is Gain Card from 47 laboratory (47 Labs).
Q: What are your personal criteria when listening to a higher end system? The most important aspects of performance?
A: When I listen to a system, I focus on the naturalness of the instruments and the vocals. The soundstage must be wide and focused. The bass must be deep and with punch. I especially emphasize the coherence between high and low frequencies. The midrange also, must be balanced.
Q: Back in 2015, you won the first place in category of quality/price at Sophia’s HiFi Show. Do you strongly believe that low-powered amplification and relative easy-to-drive speakers are a match made in heaven and also the success story of your company ?
A: Yes, I believe that low-powered amplifiers sound much better then higher output ones (like class A/B powerhouses or class-D, etc.) . Mr. Pitter Qortrup from Audio Note shared in an interview that the first watt is important. If your amplifier doesn’t sound gorgeous with and within its 1st Watt, it doesn’t also with 30 Watts. An amplifier with low output power has low THD and intermediation distortions. For higher sensitivity loudspeakers we recommend strongly Class A amplifiers up to 50 Watts output power. For lower sensitivity loudspeakers we recommend amplifiers that operate in class A/B up to 120 Watts.
Q: We currently audition and reviewing your battery powered digital to analog converter, with the price tag of 1000,- euros +VAT (!). I have to admit, I had never auditioned a battery powered DAC that sounded less superior than I imagined. Tell us more about this new hi-resolution digital source of RT Audio Design.
A: The Hi-Res Usb Dac Orpheus was created on the basis of the amazing and musical flagship dac chip from Burr-Brown version PCM 1794 A.This DAC works in delta-sigma modulation with current output. As I/V converter we use Sowter output transformer 4383 OCC wire. This digital converter plays amazing vocals and classical music. In unison with our philosophy, our RT Audio Design DAC works with batteries without noises and hums. This allows you to enjoy even the finest musical details. Of course, we paid a lot of attention to the chassis. We choose them from Japan manufacture.
Thank you for welcoming us into your sonic repertoire and your new line of products. As for the first hours of auditioning the newest version of Orpheus called ‘hi-res’ battery powered digital to analog converter, of course we need to do more listening. But when something sounds this good right out of the box, cold, it’s a winner. Already stole our hearts for its smoothness, overall liquidity and upper harmonics rightness, without breaking the bank.