Sony TA-P9000ES Multi-Channel Pre-Amplifier
Review and information by Alan Rutlidge

This is the now not so elusive and much desired add-on for any Sony TA-E9000ES owner who wants to bypass the normal control pre-amplifier and hook into the power amplifiers but still needs input selection and control.   For those TA-E9000ES owners who want to get into high resolution audio formats such as DVD-Audio (DVD-A) or Super Audio CD (SACD) and still retain the use of their Sony TA-E9000ES AV Control Pre-amplifier for normal 2 channel decoding and surround sound this is the obvious answer.
 

The Hardware

The unit shown below is the 230 volt model available for the Asian, Australasian and European countries, with a black 110 volt version available to the US market.

The unit operates purely in the analogue domain and does not perform any decoding.
 

Front Panel Controls

Input selection / bypass mode can be selected from the front panel or via the supplied remote commander.

Volume control for the 5.1 inputs (INPUT 1 and INPUT 2) is via a large rotary control located on the right side of the front panel.   A small LED illuminates when either INPUT 1 or INPUT 2 is selected, indicating that any adjustment of this control will affect an adjustment in output level.   The volume can also be adjusted with the supplied romte commander. The volume control does not function on the BYPASS 5.1ch and BYPASS 2ch inputs.   A smaller rotary control located to the left side of the centre bank of control on the front panel allows the user to adjust the balance between the front left and right channels.

Four additional rotary controls allow for level adjustments to the Centre, Rear Left, Rear Right and Woofer channels.   These last four controls operate in conjunction with gain adjustment buttons on the front panel that allow for additional gain of 0, 6 and 12dB with respect to the front channels.  The loss adjustment range of the rotary controls is from 0dB to infinity dB with a calibration mark at 6dB.

A MUTING button is which illuminates when active is also located on the front panel.

The Power OFF / ON switch is a conventional push on / push off type.  Powering up and down of the unit is also possible using the supplied remote commander.  The unit can also be switched to STANDBY mode by double pressing the STANDBY button on the Sony TA-E9000ES remote control unit
 

Rear Panel

The rear panel of the TA-P9000ES has a bank of gold plated phono (RCA) connectors to facilitate the interconnections from the 5.1 and 2 channel inputs and the 5.1 channel outputs of the pre-amplifier.
 
Input
Channels
Notes
INPUT 1 FRONT L       FRONT R       REAR L      REAR R        CENTER        WOOFER All controls on front panel are operative
INPUT 2 FRONT L       FRONT R       REAR L      REAR R        CENTER        WOOFER All controls on front panel are operative
BYPASS 5.1ch FRONT L       FRONT R       REAR L      REAR R        CENTER        WOOFER Font panel and Master volume controls have no effect
BYPASS 2ch LEFT              RIGHT Front panel and Master volume controls have no effect

 The outputs from PRE OUT are FRONT L,  FRONT R,  REAR L,  REAR R,  CENTER (x2) and WOOFER (x2)

Automatic remote power up / down can be controlled by the supplied remote commander that comes with the Sony TA-E9000ES AV Control Pre-amplifier via Sony's A1 S-Link control cable system.  The CTRL-A1 socket can also be used to control the powering up and down of a suitable power amplifier such as the Sony TA-N9000ES or other Sony S-Link compatible product.


Performance Specifications

These are Sony's published performance specifications for the TA-P9000ES.
 
Parameter
Specification
Condition
Harmonic Distortion < 0.003% 20Hz ~ 20kHz, at 1 V output (A network)
Frequency Response 10Hz ~ 100kHz (+0 / -1dB) .
Signal to Noise Ratio 115dB 20kHz LPF, A weighted with respect to an input voltage level of 1.3 volts.
Input Sensitivity - Input 1 and Input 2 150mV 20 Kohms input impedance
Input Sensitivity 
Bypass 5.1ch and Bypass 2ch 
n/a Output will be the same level as the input as signal is not processed within the unit.
Output Level 1.0 V 100 ohms output impedance
Power Requirements 230 V AC, 50 / 60Hz
120 V AC, 60Hz
European model
US and Canadian model
Power Consumption 20 watts .

Review of the TA-P9000ES

This is simply a beautiful performer.  The sound is very neutral and clear, neither adding or subtracting from the source.  With a wide frequency response extending to 100kHz and only 1 dB down with reference to the gain at 1kHz this unit is most suitable as a control unit for high resolution audio sources such as DVD Audio and Super Audio Compact Disc.  The controls located on the front panel are placed in a logic and neat order.  The cosmetics are in complete harmony with the other amplification components in the 9000ES series.  As with the matching TA-E9000ES AV Control Pre-Amplifier and the TA-N9000ES Power Amplifier the controls are spartan to say the least.  The European minimilist approach to asthetics being highly evident offers a refreshing alternative to your typical Japanese gadget extravaganza.

Not surprising is the internals of this unit.  A well laid out and uncluttered design philosophy has been adopted.  As one might expect from the Sony ES range, only high quality components have been selected.  Shielding between each amplifier channel assures minimum crosstalk and is acheived by heavy gauge copper partitions mounted on the main printed wiring board assembly.  The rear panel which supports the gold plated RCA input and output sockets is also made of a heavy gauge metal that thas been generously copper plated to improve sheilding.

Internally, the amplifiying electronics is separated from the power supply area by a galvanised steel partition which runs the entire length of the chassis from from to back.  The power supply unit consists of a copper sheilded R core transformer of more than ample rating to support the current drain of the electronics.  The main audio power rails are filtered by two generously sized electroytic capacitors which provide voltage regulated differential power supply rails to each of the amplifiers which is comprised of ten discrete bi-polar transisistors and one dual FET in the input stage configured as a differential amplifier.  There are two large additional decoupling capacitors on the main amplifier board, with each amplifier amplifier channel having smaller power supply decoupling capacitors mounted very close to the output stages which is good design practice.

Even though the TA-P9000ES incorporates an on board microproccessor that accepts and interprets instructions from the remote commander and user inputs from the front panel controls, no audio signals actually pass through or are directly controlled by it.  All audio signals are switched by relays in the main printed wiring board.  This means that the audio signals are not likely to become distorted or have noise added to them by the use of transistor or integrated circuit switching that is so commonly employed in less expensive equipment.

Sony have opted for a single large printed wiring board to accommodate the amplifying electronics, with other boards playing minor roles in the signal chain.  The uncluttered approach to the board's design ensured that crosstalk between channels and inputs is kept to a minimum.  Sony don't quote a figure for this parameter in the specifications but with an unused input selected and a signal present at any of the other inputs, there is no audible interference even with the volume control fully advanced.

The bypass mode is completely passive.  When selected, no part of the electronics is in the signal path to influence or colour the sound.  Signals arriving via the BYPASS 5.1ch ir BYPASS 2ch inputs are routed directly from their respective input sockets to the output sockets via relay contacts.  In fact when the amplifier is switched off or in standby mode the BYPASS 5.1 input is automatically directed to the output sockets.  It isn't until the unit is switched on that signals can be passed from any of the active or BYPASS 2CH inputs to the output sockets.  This is a sensible approach as many Sony TA-E9000ES owners will not have to switch on the TA-P9000ES unit to enjoy signal sources processed by the former unit.

Interconnecting the TA-P9000ES with your other equipment should be very easy.  Sony include a large fold out sheet showing how to connect up the unit with your other components.  Extensive use of the TA-E9000ES and TA-N9000ES is used as examples, but that is to be expected.  The supplied S-Link cord allows you to switch the TA-N9000ES power amplifier off and one from the TA-P9000ES or via the supplied remote control.  Don't expect to receive any quality interconnection cables with your new TA-P9000ES.  The only cables normally suppled are a twin RCA phono to RCA phono lead and the S-Link cord.  I would suggest you don't opt to use the supplied leads and consider the purchase of some good quality interconnects to do justice to this amplifier.

Balancing levels for multichannel sound isn't an easy feat.  The TA-P9000ES has five small rotary controls and three push button switches on the front panel for this purpose.  The controls are only active when either INPUT 1 or INPUT 2 is selected.  From left to right the controls are :-

l FRONT BALANCE               l CENTER LEVEL               l REAR LEFT LEVEL               l REAR RIGHT LEVEL               l WOOFER LEVEL

Buttons above the CENTER LEVEL, REAR L / R LEVEL and WOOFER LEVEL controls allow the user to adjust the levels of these channels with respect to the gain of the front channels by +6 and +12dB respectively.  The rotary controls other than the FRONT BALANCE control have calibrations at 0, -6, -12 and infinity dB; giving enourmous range of adjustment for almost any sort of level adjustment required.

To balance my TA-P9000ES I used a series of test signals from a DVD Audio disc, played back on my Pioneer DV-S838A player which had the audio outputs set to "fixed level outputs" on all channels.  Playing back pink noise signals in each channel I first adjusted the balance between the left and right front channels.  Once these were correct I then proceeded to adjust the centre and rear channels to match.  To adjust the sub woofer channel I played back an 80Hz test tone and adjusted the woofer level to match the front channel outputs.  To simply the process of level matching I used an inexpensive Radio Shack (Tandy) sound level meter.  This takes the guesswork out of level matching and I would recommend that anyone setting up surround or home theatre systems invests in one.  The Radio Shack unit is not expensive, very easy to use and really takes the hassle out of setting up your system.

The Listening Test

I armed myself with a few DVD Audio discs and slumped into a comfortable position on the couch.  Switching the TA-P9000ES to INPUT 1 and an orange LED illuminates above the volume control and the input label on the front panel.  I placed a copy of Aaron Neville's - Devotion into the player and pushed the play button.  The opening track is a cover version of the Cat Steven's hit Morning Has Broken.  You are initially presented with the opening bars of the piece which include some powerful bass from the organ.  Aaron's voice comes across strong and exceptionally clear.  Between tracks the TA-P9000ES is exceptionally quiet.  Even with the volume control well advanced there isn't even a trace of hiss or hum.

I tried many other DVD-Audio discs in a effort to get an overall impression of thow this pre-amplifier handles different types of music, both surround and stereo formats.   The Sony handled everything from hard rock (Stone Temple Pilots) to classical (Beethoven's 9th Symphony - Berliner Staatskapelle / Barenboim) through to female vocal (Joni Mitchell - Both Sides Now) and jazz (Grover Washington Jr. - Winelight) with equal ease.  This pre-amplifier is pretty ruthless in exposing flaws in recordings and poor mixdowns.  Because the resolution is so high, any defects are not disguised in any manner.  DVD-A, albeit a high resolution medium does tend to show up the limitations of the original recording.  Take for instance Olivia Newton-John : One Woman's Live Journey.  This is a shocker of a recording.  The vocals are rife with sibilance and the top end very brassy to the point of being really objectionable.  Bad recordings aside, the TA-P9000ES is a brilliant performer easily rivalling pre-amplifiers may times the price.  Sony have done their homework with this baby.   Switching between different formats (CD to DVD-A) it is dead obvious to hear the difference with the same albums.  Clearly the bandwidth of the TA-P9000ES extends well above the 20kHz upper frequency limit and the dymanic range of Red Book CD.

Sony probably designed and marketed this pre-amplifier to cater for SACD, and those Sony owners who already had other ES components such as the TA-E9000ES and the TA-N9000ES.   In these terms the unit intergrates very well with these components in both asthetics and in audio fidelity.  If anything it probably out performs the TA-E and TA-N9000ES units.  Unlike some amplifiers, switching between used and unused inputs on the TA-P9000ES doesn't result in any nasty clicks or thumps through the reproduction chain.  Advancing or backing off of the volume is super quite and as the effect is achived in the analogue domain - no strange sudden jumps of level is experienced.

Conclusions

It may well be said that Sony have finally come out of the cold with the 9000ES series of amplifiers.  All are well constructed using quality components and careful craftsmanship.  The TA-P9000ES is no exception.  A quick look inside the cabinet says it all.  The product represents excellent value of money and has at least spared the consumer of the plethora of useless gimmicks found on so many other Asian hi-fi products.  If you are in the market for a six channel analogue pre-amplifier the TA-P9000ES may well be worth a serious audition.  Don't take my word for it - listen for yourself, I'm sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

 
 

Links:

   My review and general information page on the TA-E9000ES

    Review of the new V2.01 firmware upgrade.

    Technical information and pictures of the inside of the TA-E9000ES

    Frequently Asked Questions about the TA-E9000ES

    The Sony TA-N9000ES matching 5 channel power amplifier

     The Main Links and Index page

    About the Author
 

For comment, feedback and suggested improvements to this page you can contact me by e-mail at rutlidge@mail.iinet.net.au
 

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