ECP AUDIO TORPEDO III - REVIEW

MSRP: $1325 USD

  • TONAL BALANCE / NEUTRALITY 90%
  • PERFORMANCE FOR THE PRICE 96%
  • SOUND FIDELITY 90%
  • MUSICALITY 95%

PROS

  • Excellent balance
  • Expressive performance
  • Bang for buck
  • Small size

CONS

  • Limited power
  • Availability

INTRO 

This version of the Torpedo III has all of the upgrades found on the Beezar website which includes:

  • Cinemag nickel-core output transformers
  • Mundorf MCap Aluminum-Silver Parafeed Capacitors
  • Tube CCS boards
  • Output CCS boards

This unit was a personal purchase I made from the for sale forums on Head-fi. It’s not hard to tell via a quick browse of Earphiles that I am fond of tube amplifiers. After trying so many different solid state amps, planars, and dynamics, I have found I simply can’t resist the combination of a good ol’ dynamic drivers and hot glass. Obviously this appreciation may not be something that is universally shared amongst headphone enthusiasts but to each his own right? I still enjoy solid state amps but if forced to pick only one then tube it will be. 

I have been reviewing a few here lately and I personally felt that a lot of the amplifiers I have been reviewing have no real reputation. To be transparent, I began to doubt myself as well as my enthusiasm of these products. I felt like I was being overly positive about the tube amps that landed on my desk. I have always wanted to hear the Torpedo III and one of the reasons being was so that I could establish my bearings to see if my enthusiasm was legit. You see the Torpedo III is probably the most reputable tube amplifier under 1500 USD and has been praised by a lot of people as one of the best ‘bangs for buck’ amps out there; some even calling it ‘end game’.

So here I am with the TIII; pitting it against all of my memory, experience, and impressions of previously reviewed, and currently owned tube amps. 

 SPECS

  • Frequency Response: + or – 0.3dB from 20 – 15KHz, -1dB at 20KHz
  • S/N Ratio: greater than 95dB with 32 ohm loads
  • THD, %: Less than 0.037% with 300 ohm load, less than 0.06% with 32 ohm load
  • Crosstalk: better than 95dB with 32 ohm load, 86dB with 32 ohm load

BUILD/DESIGN

Finish and looks

This is a DIY amplifier, make no mistakes about it. If you want something fancy looking then maybe the Auris is more up your alley. This is one of those ‘all about the sound’ pieces of gear. The form factor is practical though and even as it a DIY amp it looks and feels better than the Neurochrome HP-1. It doesn’t take up much desktop real-estate at all with its long but slender shape.

Volume control

The volume pot on the Torpedo has a smooth and easy dial with slightly less than average resistance but it’s fairly easy to get your ideal volume, especially since it’s not such a powerful amplifier. 

Impedance Selector

I have tried both the high impedance selector and the low impedance selector with various headphones and the differences are very noticeable. For the most part with the Utopia I actually toggled between the two and found the high impedance to boost the bass (very slightly in the sub bass) but and open up the mids where as the low impedance option was less open but a little more delineated and tactile. For the Atticus and HD650 it stayed on high impedance where it was simply better all around to my ears. I actually was too busy comparing to my Auris and enjoying the music at other times to try it with any other low impedance headphones besides my Odin. 

Tubes

You can tube roll the Torpedo III by unscrewing the chassis top. I only used the Electro Harmonix 12AY7s and the pair of Triple Mica black plates. The EH tubes were kind of U shaped, a little less smooth sounding, and not as open and rich in the mids as the Triple Micas so I barely used them. I imagine there are even better tubes out there that can enable the end user to fully exploit the TIII’s potential as it is fairly responsive to tube rolling. 

Noise

My unit has no noise, hum, microphonics or any other issues. 

Power/Drive

Not really meant to drive orthos. The Kennerton Odin is efficient for a planar but definitely sounds compressed out of the Torpedo amp, as does my T50 mod. At this point I believe even efficient planars love power except for something like the Hifiman Edition Xv2 or LCD X which may sound marvelous from the Torpedo but I wouldn’t know. Something like an Ether I wouldn’t know, everything else I would just leave alone and stick with dynamic drivers. 

SOUND

  • BASS EXTENSION 92%
  • BASS BALANCE 91%
  • LOWER MIDRANGE BALANCE 96%
  • MIDRANGE PROPER BALANCE 96%
  • UPPER MIDRANGE BALANCE 96%
  • TREBLE BALANCE 97%
  • TREBLE EXTENSION 92%
  • BASS CONTROL 90%
  • TIMBRE 87%
  • MACRO DYNAMICS (SOFTS TO LOUDS) 96%
  • MICRO DYNAMICS (SMALL GRADATIONS OF VOLUME) 89%
  • SOUND STAGE WIDTH 79%
  • SOUND STAGE DEPTH 89%
  • BLACKNESS OF BACKGROUND 92%
  • CLARITY 93%

The Torpedo III has good tonality, and while not super lush it is a very organic and sweet sounding amplifier. I find it to sound fairly bold and expressive yet not thick or hard and visceral. 

BASS

The TIII bass with both tubes has a slight warmth in the mid-upper bass. I was actually expecting a weightier presentation down low after reading some impressions here and there but that is not what I am hearing. The bass quantity itself is neutral to my ears with good extension and control. I believe the T3 to be an excellent amplifier for making certain headphones sound more punchy and engaging in the bass compared to a lot of offerings but not the amp to warm them up and give the bass of a thin sounding headphone extra weight and presence. Sure you may plug in an HD800 and find the bass stronger but I would say that has more to do with synergy than the amp itself being weighty or extra warm down low.  My modded 650 responds very well to the T3 with good punch and solidity yet it is not as meaty as my Mogwai or hard and dense as my Auris HA2SE. When it comes to solidity and focus though, the T3 gives little if any grounds to other even more expensive tube amps. All on its own I really do enjoy it though and have no real complaints at all. It never sounds slow, mushy, or bloated but has good speed. It is not as fast and controlled as something like the Cayin iHA-6 solid state amplifier,  but it most definitely is faster than most tube amps I have heard. 

MIDRANGE

The midrange of the T3 is warm, expressive,  but forward without being thick and overly heavy. The balance in the midrange is practically even throughout with just the right amount of bloom and tube glow to give it that melodious sound that is instantly agreeable. I feel like instruments in the midrange have excellent dimension and attack as well. When a singer sings or a trumpet blows, it cuts through the surrounding instruments with good intensity; consistently sounding more expressive and ‘center-stage’ than some of the other amplifiers I have in memory and on deck. If someone said this amplifier sounded boring I would immediately assume they had a faulty unit. The only amplifier I have reviewed on Earphiles to sound undisputably better in every area of the midrange is the Kenzie, as other amps around the T3’s price bracket and even above offer mostly tradeoffs; some simply not being as good. The music definitely flows on the Torpedo III without making the music sound hampered or weighed down and syrupy. It does all of this while being very resolving as well. 

TREBLE

Treble on the T3 still carries on the energetic nature of the midrange in how it handles transients but the balance is fairly even. The T3 keeps the treble present without rolling it off but slightly tints this frequency segment. I find the treble of the ECP amp to be pretty much my ideal in quantity as well as giving enough bite and allowing sparkle to come through without smoothing it over too much. Treble extension is good and the attacks have decent snap and bite. I find that the treble of the T3 is resolving and controlled but a little less resolving than some of the amplifiers I have reviewed here making it’s midrange and bass seem like the showcase segments of its frequency response.

PERFORMANCE

Like pointed out above, what makes the T3 special it’s ability to bring out the intensity of the recording. The T3 does this without any weird hashiness and abrasive accentuations of the frequency range. The dynamic range of the T3 is actually, and in my opinion, exceptional. This is one of the reasons people often leave solid states for tube amps is because a lot of them tend to leave the raw music and it’s contrasts of volume better exposed. The T3 does this aspect for sure and even better than some of the other tube amps.

Microdynamics are pretty good but I actually didn’t find them exceptional even if I hear the amplifier as resolving and detailed. I felt like I was more captivated by the dynamics of the macro scale more than the micro scale even when intentionally listening for nuance.

Soundstage on the Torpedo amplifier is forward and deep but not wide. It’s very fun to hear the main vocalist sound so strong and intimately sensible in position in front of all of the background noises. Sometimes though, the effect is that the lead singer or instrument sounds a little less integrated with the venue they performed at and I feel less ‘there’. A wider soundstage would be a little more appreciated but this seems to be made more dramatic by the forward nature of the midrange and center image.

The Torpedo’s performance is clear and clean sounding with a clean background and effortless musicality. It’s impressive for sure and especially for the price.

COMPARISONS

vs AURIS HA2 SE

  • the Auris is a bit more solid in the bass with a more visceral slam and more girth. It is also just as tight but sounds slightly, very slightly slower than the Torpedo III. The Auris definitely does bass better than the Torpedo.
  • The midrange is less forward on the Auris and better integrated with the venue. The timbre is slightly more dense. It is just as resolving but less open. The clarity is similar but the Torpedo makes voices sound more expressive and intense. The Torpedo does the midrange with better realism than the Auris.
  • The Torpedo has better dynamic range than the Auris
  • The treble of the Auris and Torpedo are extremely similar in balance. The Torpedo gives a little better punch but the Auris is better controlled, snappy, and resolving. However, I find the Auris treble to sound just a little hazy in it’s harmonics compared to the Torpedo at times. 
  • Soundstage on the Auris is just a little wider, the imaging is just bit better, and the same goes for separation. 
  • Microdynamics are just a hair better on the Auris and the transients have harder more defined edges than the T3.
  • It’s obvious that the Auris is better looking, comes with a remote, has more power, more inputs, and more tubes to roll. 

vs. Mogwai w/ Upgraded Auricaps

  • The first thing I notice when switching from the Torpedo III to the Mogwai is that the Mogwai is slower and thicker.
  • The Mogwai takes the images and gives them more meat on their bones. It is as if the Torpedo is not fully developing the music in comparison. The Torpedo gives a forward and center image whereas the Mogwai gives a more realistic image.
  • The Torpedo is not a thin amplifier but the timbre is better on the Mogwai for sure.
  • The Mogwai is more resolving of texture and instrument details and at it’s price of around 1K(with the auricaps) more than T3 it ought to be.
  • The bass is more textured and full on the Mogwai but less tight. However, it does slam harder than the Torpedo and makes cellos and bass guitars sound larger/beefier.
  • Microdynamics are very similar with the Mogwai slightly ahead.
  • On the Macro level the Torpedo even sounds slightly more opened up than the Mogwai which sits in between the Auris and Torpedo for dynamic range.
  • Soundstage, layering and the likes most definitely goes to the Mogwai which is wider, more spacious, and better layered.
  • The Mogwai is more refined and detailed in the treble, but also a little more raw. Treble detail is better on the Mogwai than w/upgraded caps over all of the mentioned amps besides the Kenzie. 
  • Clarity is about the same.
  • The Mogwai is much much more powerful and handles planars decently well.

vs Cayin HA1A-MKII

  • The Cayin amplifier is less punchy but just as open in the midrange. In fact the Cayin amplifier, for my personal unrecommended tastes, is my preference in the midrange.
  • It is not as resolving, or clear (almost) or as well separated but it sounds more lush, bloomed,
  • The Cayin has a sweeter timbre as tones sound more velvety yet it also sounds forward like the T3. It is also pretty fast sounding despite it’s more flattering nature. 
  • Another area the Cayin is competitive is the treble. The MKII has that tube warmth and is a little darker but the treble is slightly more crisp and sharp than the Torpedo.
  • For other areas, besides power, the T3 pretty much wins as it is faster, more dynamic, more controlled, and more holographic.

vs Kenzie

  • I feel the Kenzie has the better midrange that sounds more open and airy. The tonality of the Kenzie is very tough to beat. The Kenzie midrange is also more resolving as well while not being as thick as the Mogwai but with better timbre than the Torpedo. 
  • The bass is similar overall with the heavier bass being on the Kenzie but the Kenzie bass is tighter than the Mogwai so it doesn’t share the same issues.
  • Soundstage is very similar but slightly wider on the Kenzie by just a hair. Although memory could have it that way due to its less forward center image.
  • The treble on the Kenzie is excellent and is a little less punchy than the Torpedo III but more resolving.
  • These amps are more directly competitive as they have the same powering limitations and work best with the same headphones. The Kenzie costs more but it is worth it to me over the Torpedo III. 

CONCLUSION

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In the comparisons above, one can easily see how the less expensive Torpedo III offers good value. I believe it’s reputation is well deserved but also can see how other products out there stack up to such a supposed ‘giant killer’. It is an excellent amplifier, one that is easier to recommend than some of the others I have enjoyed recently because it is a little more agreeable with hardly any areas to fault. Definitely a great amp! The beezar site has them up every so often so I recommend keeping an eye out for one or in the FS forums because they are not readily available. 

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