This week I’m taking a look at a piece of kit which I think falls into the “kitchen sink” audio category. That’s to say, it has just about everything onboard except for the proverbial kitchen sink. The T+A Caruso is named for the famous Italian tenor from the early part of the 20th Century who could belt out a tune without the aid of any amplification whatsoever, even in a full auditorium. The man had a pair of lungs like a blacksmith’s bellows and the same goes for T+A’s Caruso. It has 200 W of amplification and a plethora of speaker drivers that can deliver enough sound to fill a large room.
The T+A Caruso wireless speaker has a slight passing resemblance to the Naim Mu-so Qb, except it’s larger and possibly not quite as good looking. It’s also quite a bit pricier. The Caruso 2020 looks a bit like a Mu-so Qb that’s been pumped with steroids and whey protein. If the Naim Mu-so Qb is the iPhone of the wireless speaker world, then the Caruso must be the Android. It’s built like a tank and feels as solid as a 12kg lump of granite. It’s a 300 x 300 mm cube and has a brushed-silver finish on top with black sides.
The T+A Caruso is hand-built in Germany by T+A (Theory + Application) and offers a slot-loading CD player (remember those?) plus FM and DAB+ tuners, using an F-Connector for attaching an external antenna or there’s a telescopic aerial included in the box. The Caruso has both WiFi and Bluetooth built-in with support for AAC and aptX audio codecs as well as Apple AirPlay 2. In addition to being able to use WiFi to connect to network, there are also two Ethernet ports enabling the Caruso to be hard-wired to a network and have a NAS storage device attached for super-fast access to a library of digital music.
Other input possibilities include optical and coaxial digital inputs, two sets of analog stereo RCA Phono plugs, a USB port, plus an analog output for sending sound to a more powerful amplifier should you feel that 200 W is insufficient for your needs. The only thing T+A left off the Caruso was a vinyl turntable, a cassette deck and an HDMI connection, although the optical port will be fine for TV use.
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The DAC inside the Caruso can handle a wide range of files but won’t work with AIFF or DSD files. To be honest, I’ve never listened to those formats except when they’ve been provided by an audio company to test a piece of gear. I don’t think most people will miss that little omission by T+A. For users of the most popular streaming services, there are embedded native apps for accessing TIDAL, Deezer, Qobuz, Amazon and Spotify. This is handy because it enables the user to stream without the need for a smartphone. There’s also get an Internet Radio app using the excellent Airable service and the Caruso can store loads of presets. It’s hard to think of anything that’s been left out.
The speakers built into the Caruso consist of two soft-dome tweeters, a couple of 40 mm midrange drivers, a pair of 100mm drivers, plus a 170 mm subwoofer and a brace of passive radiators to give it some oomph. The upper ranges have a 50 W amplifier per channel while the other 100W goes to the lower frequencies in a mono channel. The mid and upper frequencies get direct sound from the sides of the Caruso while the bass end of the business creates the lower sounds with mono since it’s very hard to discern stereo with bass frequencies. That’s why our home theater setups only use one sub. If the bass doesn’t go low enough for some people’s tastes, there’s even output for a sub with a customizable crossover setting in the Caruso’s menu. Frankly, this monster pumps out enough bass to please King Kong, so a separate sub would probably be overkill.
For those of us who like listening to music with our headphones, there’s a 3.5mm stereo jack at the rear, which is a little odd as the superb T+A Solitaire P headphones that I reviewed a while back only have a 6.3 mm plug. Someone in the Caruso development team didn’t speak to their colleagues in the headphone department. No matter: that’s what adapters are for.
On the front of the Caruso is one of the largest LCD touch screens I have ever seen on a piece of audio equipment. It essentially mirrors the controls available in the T+A Caruso app so that people without a smartphone can use the Caruso. There’s also a small remote control supplied for doing most of the things you need to do without using the touchscreen or app. The menus on the portrait style touchscreen are a bit clunky for people with big fingers, but the remote can be used as a cursor control to move around the screen and make choices.
The settings section of the screen includes a control for adjusting the brightness level of the LCD but there’s no dimmer button on the remote control to dim or turn off the screen. Similarly, there’s no way of turning off the ghostly LED that’s hidden in the underside of the Caruso. I’d like to see easier controls for taming this light-show as I sometimes listen to music in total darkness in a bid to quell my other senses.
Connecting the Caruso to a WiFi network is a fairly easy process and there are so many settings available for customizing the sound with sliders for tone and loudness controls. There are settings also for auto-tuning FM, DAB/DAB+ and Internet Radio stations and transferring them to presets. It’s easy to get the hang of things but the interface isn’t up there with Apple’s elegant standards. One thing I did miss is a physical volume control like the one found on the Naim Mu-so range. Yes, you can use the remote to turn the volume up and down as well as muting, but we all know how easy it is to mislay a remote and sometimes you need to turn the volume down quickly, such as when Michael Bublé comes on the radio or when the telephone rings. Only joking.
The sound produced by the T+A Caruso is stunningly impressive. There’s a lot of volume available and the tone is exquisite. The Caruso can easily give Naim a run for its money and, if you like a lot of volume, you may prefer the Caruso because it sounds louder. The output is anchored and wide without a hint of vibration thanks to an extruded aluminum chassis that holds everything in place so firmly and tightly that even a mouse would have trouble squeezing in.
One my current favorite tracks at the moment is “Lágrima”, from the Mariza Canta Amalia album. The Caruso starts playing this with a low rumble from a cello and rises to a crescendo that can shake the room while the top frequencies are played with such clarity and precision that hairs will stand up on the back of your neck. This is one capable performer that can pump up the volume but not in a brash or uncontrolled way. If the Caruso was a car, it would be a top-of-the-range BMW 7-Series… maybe with a diesel engine.
Obviously, for the cost of the T+A Caruso, you should expect to get a lot for your money. You could certainly put a separates system together for the same type of money and get better results but you wouldn’t have everything in a relatively compact box that lacks a spaghetti network of interconnects and mains cables.
In terms of price, the Caruso is more than three times the cost of a Naim Mu-so Qb Second Generation, but it does have a CD player and loads of extra inputs and outputs. This is a system that can have more sources or more outputs. The inclusion of Apple AirPlay 2 means it can work as a multi-room system and will sync with other AirPlay 2 equipment around the home.
If I have any criticisms of the Caruso it is for the lights. They are nice at first but after a while, I just wanted to be able to turn them off with the press of a remote button and then bring them back to life in the same way if I wanted to. It’s all a bit clunky and needs more thought on the user interface. However, having worked for a German engineering company, many years ago, I can imagine most of the effort went into making the Caruso sound as best as it possibly could and usability came a bit further down the list. That’s not to say that the Caruso is difficult to use, it just isn’t quite as sophisticated and elegant as the Naim Mu-so system. But what the Caruso lacks in usability it more than makes up for in muscle and audio finesse.
Verdict: The T+A Caruso is a stunning piece of kit that provides almost anything a HiFi buff could want in a single box… and then some. It can be a bit Teutonic in its interface but everything you need is included plus the app is very stable. The sound quality is impeccable and can rattle the teacups when cranked up. There’s enough amplification for large spaces without the sound getting lost. It’s even loud enough for parties, should we ever be allowed those again. The T+A Caruso is already a success in Germany where the brand is better known. However, T+A has a good dealer network in the UK so there’s no excuse for not going out and giving the Caruso a listen. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.
Pricing and availability: The T+A Caruso 2020 is available now and costs £3,000 / $3,990 / €2,700.
More info: www.ta-hifi.de
- Product: T+A Caruso 2020 Wireless Speaker
- Radio: FM/DAB/DAB+ tuners
- Wi-Fi: 2.4 GHz
- Ethernet LAN ports: 2
- Bluetooth: 5.0 SBC/AAC/aptX
- Internet Radio: Airable
- Apple AIrPlay 2: Yes
- Amazon Alexa: Yes
- Streaming Services: TIDAL, Deezer, Amazon, Spotify, Qobuz
- Digital inputs: Optical, Coaxial, USB
- Headphone output: 1 x 3.5mm stereo TRS
- Amplification: Three power amplifiers (100W sub and 2 x 50W for mids and tweeters)
- Power amplifier: 200W (Continuous) 300W (Peak)
- Analog RCA phono stereo inputs: Two pairs
- Analog audio RCA phono outputs: 1 stereo pair plus 1 for a sub
- Dimensions: 290 x 290 270mm (WxDxH)
- Weight: 12kg