ECP Torpedo III Review

Thanks to Furiousipaduser for making this loaner tour possible and for allowing me to take part.  It’s very difficult for us to get gear to review without the support of the community and I appreciate the opportunities it’s afforded me to try things I might never have gotten a chance to audition otherwise.

Pictures

Background

The Torpedo III is a recently discontinued kit amp that was designed by the folks at ECP audio and sold through Beezar.  The amp is no longer sold as a DIY kit for people to build themselves, and I believe no units are currently available for sale due to availability of certain parts (and rumors of Torpedo IV).  The Torpedo III is a tube and solid state hybrid amplifier.  To my understanding it’s an output transformer coupled parafeed topology gain stage with a solid state no global feedback output stage acting mainly as a current buffer for the output.  My previous experiences with ECP Audio products was at the NY Head-Fi Meet in June 2016, where I was given the opportunity to try two of their amps, what I believe was the Black Diamond amplifier and another amplifier that was a solid state design.  Having heard the reputation of the Torpedo DIY kits, I was very much looking forward to trying the Torpedo III for myself.

Sound Impressions

For this trial, I used the Sennheiser HD580 and HD800 primarily to test the amp.  I used the single-ended outputs of my Audio-GD 27H DAC into the Torpedo III.  The Torpedo III is upgraded with Cinemag transfomers and is using 6072 Black Plate Triple Mica tubes which are supposed to have properties similar to a GE 5 Star tube. Overall I feel the Torpedo III is quite an excellent amp when paired with either of the Sennheisers.  I found the Torpedo III to lean to the warm side tonally but retained detail, punch and texture despite the somewhat warmer tuning.  While I found that the Torpedo III did not have the blackest background, it still maintained the speed and decay of instruments well.

While some tube amps seem to somewhat soften and roll off the deepest bass, the Torpedo III does not.  It maintains excellent bass extension, speed and punch.  I do find that bass texture doesn’t have the sort of “snap” or “click” that I hear out of other sources.  Small impactful sounds like those from the small vibrations of a guitar string seemed a bit softened.  While it may give up just a little bit of texture, what it retains in extension and punch is excellent.  Bass never sounds muddy or bloated coming out of this amp, what is there is smooth, coherent and full sounding.  A note here on the gain/output impedance switch.  Overall I found the bass region affected the most by this switch, though the changes do carry over to the rest of the tonal spectrum.  I found that the output impedance and gain switch seems to give the amp a weightier, thicker sort of sound.  It doesn’t seem to lose any ground in its other technicalities when flipping this switch, just lending a pleasing sense of weight that some may prefer.  I generally preferred the amp in the low output impedance and gain setting, but can certainly see the appeal of a fatter, sweeter sound that adds to the punch and thickness of the sound without making it seeming clumsy or woolly sounding.

The mids, as might be expected, are very well represented here.  The mids is where that sense of slight warmth in the amp really starts to kick in and gives a laid back presentation that takes the edge off of the music without seeming to overly color the tone and timbre of the music.  Instruments still retain their natural sparkle and “snap”, just slightly softened in a way that works extremely well especially for a more brightly tuned headphone like the HD800.  Overall I find the mids have a very slightly forward presentation that may be an effect of the staging of this particular amp, but never does it get to the point of being too forward, harsh or shouty.  This is possibly due to the slightly warmer sound of the amp but works to its advantage.

Treble maintains the performance of the mids here, showing a bit more of that warm sound but still retaining some sparkle for brass instruments and cymbals.  There isn’t a lot to remark on here, treble maintains good extension with a touch of warmth that takes the edge off of some headphones and seems to maintain very good control of the driver.

One of the unique aspects of this amplifier is its staging.  In listening I found that the front center image comes just slightly forward from the rest of the stage which creates a slightly more intimate and engaging presentation for vocals.  The effect sort of reminds me of a TV stretch a 4:3 image to 16:9 and lending that sort of “coke bottle” effect where the images seem a bit concentrated at the front center and then stretching to the sides.  The overall presentation of the stage seems to actually sacrifice some width as well, but that may be due to this more concentrated front center presentation and not actually due to a contraction in stage width.  I don’t find there are any issues with speed here, separation of instruments doesn’t appear to have any serious compromise.  Depth seems to be fairly well represented here, mainly presenting two levels, one for the more forward center presentation and then a further back presentation of the rest of the music.  Other than this unique presentation of staging, the imaging seems quite good and allows me to place instruments with relation to one another on the stage well.

Conclusion

Tube amplifiers have a lot of stereotypes associated to them.  People tend to think of them warm, thick and in some ways “romantic” sounding with lots of pleasing distortion.  The Torpedo III just barely leans in that direction, maintaining excellent clarity and detail.  While I’ve always appreciated a good tube amplifier, one that doesn’t share any of the stereotypical traits usually attributed to one, I’ve never found one that I felt really matched my particular tastes.  Before my current setup, I actually owned a tube hybrid amplifier, the Schiit Lyr 2, and over the course of my journey of exploring audio gear, I grew to really dislike tube hybrid amplifiers based on my experience with that particularly bad example.  It makes me very happy to find a really excellent example of the tube hybrid design in the Torpedo III, and if Beezar decided to build and sell more of these, I’d be happy to recommend what I think is an excellent product.  While I ultimately wouldn’t replace my current setup with this amp, I really appreciate the technicalities and balance that it brings to the table, something that I previously only heard in tube amps costing many times the price of the Torpedo III.  Overall I find this to be a really great contender in the market if you’re searching for a tube amp in general, not just in its price range.