Although Eastern European brands are growing in number, to the best of our knowledge, Edgar is the only hi-fi company that designs and builds its products in Slovakia.
Edgar produces a small but distinctive range of valve-powered components. These include an all-valve phono stage with Lundahl step-up transformers for moving coil cartridges, a CD player and an open-chassis integrated amplifier with a higher (50 watt) output power than the TP105VR here, but without the remote volume control.
Being an all-tube design, the glowing cherry exterior of the TP105VR is neatly complimented by the warm tones produced inside. The amp runs pretty hot, thanks to full valve rectification and four EL34 pentode output tubes operating in ultralinear (push-pull) mode. Valve purists won't need any other source of heat in the listening room while this is running!
The Edgar's classic configuration reminds us of the Audio Innovations Series 500 from the late 1980s, even though its roots go back a generation further - to the 1950s, when the pentode came to pre-eminence as the output device that offered the most power and least distortion of its time.
In the Edgar, the input signal is sent to the volume control and then to the first gain-stage, a 12AX7 triode. The second stage is an ECC81 valve, which inverts phase before the final and most powerful gain stage; a pair of EL34s in push-pull configuration. Between here and the output taps is an output transformer that reduces the high output impedance of the valves to something that can drive loudspeakers.
In the realm of reasonably priced integrated valve amps, full thermionic power supply rectification is quite a rarity. This is because the job can be done rather more economically with solid-state devices. For the purist, however, this approach is the only true way.
The TP105VR comes equipped with a remote control that also incorporates cherry wood and is more attractive than the usual mass-produced plastic variety, although its appeal lessened when it stopped working shortly after delivery!
The speaker terminals come in four and eight ohm versions, which represent alternative tappings from the output transformer. As speakers rarely have a fixed impedance it's best to experiment with these to see which gives the highest output level.
We didn't find a big difference between the two when using the Living Voice OBX-R speaker, but this isn't always the case. Inputs include five line-level phono pairs, plus a tape output.
Having failed to fix the remote handset, we went back to basics and got off the couch to use the TP105VR, which seemed entirely appropriate given that the product is based on 1950s technology.
The first speaker we gave the amp to drive was a slightly unusual one: the Piega TC70X. It's unusual in part because it costs a lot more than the amplifier (£8,500), but in the main because it has a coaxial ribbon tweeter and midrange driver. The Piega is specified as being 92dB at four ohms, however, and thus not too bad a load.
In fact, the Edgar seems quite at home with the Piega, delivering an appealingly quiet background against which it painted some highly articulate sounds. It seems a little rolled off at high frequencies - or perhaps it's just soft - but this doesn't stop it recreating the full body of a piano or the power of a singer's voice.
This is a familiar characteristic of good valve amps and something that you simply don't get in the same way with solid-state. Here, the people and instruments take up a definite place in the listening room and you sense a genuine presence.
The amplifier doesn't have particularly sharp imaging - probably as a result of that smoothed top end - but the solidity of sound is just as effective and just as true a version of stereo as something that is sharply etched, but lacking depth.
It also delivers extremely natural sounding tonality. Voices have harmonics aplenty and the resolve of a note's decay is wonderful.
This could be because valve amps distort in a harmonic fashion, but nonetheless, it sounds very convincing and perhaps adds in an extra element that the recording and mastering process cuts out.
It does this more clearly than Class A transistor designs, such as the Sugden A21SE, which has more definition on leading edges (and thus greater speed), but does not offer the fullness of tubes - even when they are tubes operating in Class AB.
The only area where the Edgar is found wanting is that old Achilles heel of valve amplification when there isn't a high sensitivity loudspeaker to drive: bass. It's all but impossible to beat solid-state when it comes to the lower registers.
The ultralinear approach does come a lot closer than many, however, and what it lacks in crunch, it makes up for in timbral shading and fullness. Just don't expect those Prodigy albums to deliver their full weight.
With a more valve-friendly speaker in the form of Living Voice's OBX-R, the Edgar can deliver more than enough energy to
enliven Ornette Coleman's saxophone on Change of the Century, a job it does without making the instrument sound too abrasive. Something that will appeal to some more than others, but which suits these ageing ears rather well.
The pairing also gets into the musical groove brilliantly, letting the interplay between musicians and their superb sense of timing come through loud and clear, despite what is intrinsically, a laid-back balance from the amplifier and the speaker.
A pair of ATC SCM19s were also used, in an attempt to find a better tonal partner. Now, at 85dB, this is not a sensible partner for a 40 watt amplifier on paper, but in practice its benign impedance curve is sufficient to allow playback at medium levels with ease.
The pairing also keeps time extremely well, which is always a good sign. The speaker's relatively analytical balance also helps even things out, bringing edge definition into sharper relief. We imagine that something from Triangle's catalogue of high-sensitivity, fast-sounding speakers would be an even better partner for the Edgar, but it gets on with the ATC remarkably well.
The Edgar is as warm-sounding as the cherry veneer on its front panel suggests, however, this doesn't stop it from delivering a highly engaging and superbly timed result. Pick your ancillaries with care, handle the remote with even greater care and it will deliver many hours of cosy musical fun.