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Amplifier Sony TA-F540E review

So the TA-F540E is a more powerful, ‘higher performance’ and generally more refined version of the TA-F440E. Well, not entirely. The only visible difference between the two models is an MM/MC selector and, of course, an extra ?50 slapped on the retail price. Otherwise you get the same casework, heatsinking, circuit boards and speaker selection facility. They even share the same service manual.

According to this manual the TA-F540 uses an alternative mains toroid and power supply caps, even though their basic specification is the same. The analogy here, of course, is with Marantz’s PM-40 and its SE relative. The output devices have been changed too, for higher-current Sanken transistors (2SA1215 and 2SC2921) first seen in Sony’s TA-F530ES amplifier.

Nevertheless the driver and supply rails remain unchanged, as does the disc network which simply switches gain to accommodate low-output MC cartridges (there are minor revisions to the phono power supply too). Both amps use the same discrete two-transistor headamp for either MM or MC followed by a ‘4560 op-amp for RIAA equalisation. All good, tried-and-tested stuff with new, no-frills packaging.

Sound quality

Compared with the TA-F440, this ‘upgraded’ version offered a more consistent sound between inputs, even if there was some dissension over the merit of its performance. The majority liked it, saying that it had a slightly recessed upper bass that tended to throw mid and treble detail forward, adding a little extra sparkle. Nevertheless in ‘real terms’ they thought it less ‘genuine’, precise or detailed as the best in our survey.

Certainly there were listeners who found its quick and lean balance fairly attractive, especially as it was free of cloying colorations. Yet others disagreed, finding it consistent but also rather dark, slow and, well, boring. The vibes sounded as if they were ‘covered in moss’ said one, while another suggested its sound was ‘the audio equivalent of a hyped-up Sony Trinitron’. The irony of that statement had to be left to the conclusion of the ‘blind’ listening!

Conclusion

So the extra ?50 buys you an MC disc input plus a fancier power supply and chunkier output transistors. Yet this confers absolutely no advantage over the TA-F440 in terms of power output, tolerance of awkward speakers, noise or distortion. Both amps are equally impressive in all these respects even if their subjective performance is rather less thrilling.

Neither amplifier is a new ‘budget wonder’ but the cheaper version surely represents the better value.

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