The Triode TRV-35SE is a 45 watt per channel tube integrated amplifier
Price - $1,695
Who is Triode?
Confucius ask, “When is Triode not Triode but sound like Triode”? Triode is a Japan based company that specializes in value priced tube amplifiers created by Junichi Yamazaki. Junichi san has been building and selling his designs in Japan for ten years, but has recently inked a deal with importer Santy Oropel of Twin Audio to distribute his products in the US. The Triode line consists of six different amps; four integrated and two monoblocs, each featuring different tube sets such as KT88s, EL34s and 300Bs.
The first thing one notices about the TRV-35SE and all Triode amps is the candy-apple red finish that would make a Lexus paint job proud. It is so glossy the paint still looks wet. Not ostentatious, it looks very classy and rich; contemporary, but also classic. A nice application of Feng Shui, perhaps. On each side is a dark walnut-colored wood panel that is very complimentary and ads a more upscale look.
The tube compliment is 4-EL34s, 1-12AX7(ECC83) and 2-12AU7s (EC82) producing an output of 45 watts per channel at 8 ohms in an AB push-pull class. Frequency response is said to be 10Hz- 100 kHz (+/- 4dB). The 35SE is no lightweight, tipping the scales at about 34 pounds. It comes with a black tube cage that can be switched around to provide protection via narrow rail grid or a less dense pattern that allows a better window for the glowing tubes. Or, it can be removed altogether. Very nice.
There are 4 inputs; 3 in the rear and one placed conveniently on the front, all gold plated and selectable by a nice sized knob. Another controls the volume and it is the only way to do so – there is no remote. A very nice surprise was to find a headphone jack on the front as well. Insert your ¼” jack and the speakers are automatically muted.
The rear panel is simple and well laid out. There is a pre-out available and the power chord is not captive if you wish to upgrade. There is a choice of 6 or 8 ohm speaker outs via WBT style posts on the rear to complete the design. Again, even the rear panel exudes an aire of class and quality not usually found at this price point of $1,695.
Turntable owners will need a phono preamp as none is provided on this model.
The Triode TRV-35SE has an expensive look and feel that belies its modest price.
There is no doubt that its jewel-like appearance, quality build and finish is impressive, but how it performs is what counts. Reference speakers were the incredible granite enclosed Sason LTD-IS by Ridge Street Audio, bi-wired by Kimber Select BiFocal cables in the large room and the Stereomojo Maximum Mojo Award winning LSA Monitor 1s in the small room. Analog source was the TW Acustic Raven One with a Dynavector XX2 MK II MC cart running into a Roksan Reference phono pre. Digital was provided by a Pioneer DV47 universal player, heavily modified by Stereo Dave’s Audio Alternative. ICs were again Ray Kimber’s Selects. I also used the magnificent Halcro preamp to drive the power section of the Triode for a bit, just for the fun of it.
The first thing I always ask the designer of the product under review is, “What was your design goal for this product”? That comes from many conversations with manufacturers and distributors who have told me horror stories about reviewers who have arbitrarily set their own expectations for a component with little regard for what the piece was actually designed to do, resulting in a rather unfair and inaccurate review. That is not good for the maker, the consumer or the audio press in general. When I asked this important question of Mr. Yamazaki, he said, “The design goal is to reproduce music at its best using good components at affordable price. The looks was also considered carefully to be pleasant to the eyes of many”.
I also asked, “Were you aiming for a certain type of sound or voicing”? This question was critical, I thought, because the Triode’s voice does have a definite accent. He replied, “To reproduce music that is real and pleasing to the ears”. A bit generic, but fair enough.
Although the sample I received was a demo unit, I let the amp get settled in the system for about 40 hours. The first thing I had to determine was whether to use the 6 or 8 Ohm speaker outs. It did not take long to determine that the 8 ohm taps sounded better in this instance. In the large room, I was a bit concerned about the Triode’s 45 wpc ability to power the 89dB efficient Sasons. Even though I know from experience that 45 tube watts usually equates to more power than a solid state equivalent, I was surprised at how robust the output was. Listening to my dynamics testing cut from Flim & the BB’s Tricycle CD, the Triode provided very adequate volume, but as to be expected, huge dynamics were a bit compressed. This cut has 100dB peaks, so in a large room with full range not-that-efficient speakers, the Triode actually did very well. In the smaller room with smaller, restricted range monitors with much less power needed, dynamics were very good, though still not this amp’s strong suit.
Bass was a standout. Low frequencies were firm and well controlled; not a bit sloppy or loose. And even in the large room, there was plenty of it.
In both instances, turning the amp up to full volume with no input resulted in dead quiet – no noise. I know some much more expensive amps that won’t do that. That contributed to the excellent soundstage which was nicely deep and wide, but not as tall as usual.
To me, if a component can’t do vocals, it is a non-starter for me. A deal breaker. The 35SE adores male and female singers. Linda Ronstadt and Karen Carpenter on vinyl, KT Turnstall, Lara Fabian, Randy Crawford (yes, a female) and Rebekka Bakken all sounded wonderful. Sam Moore on his hot, funky R&B CD “Overnight Sensational” was just that. If you have heard this recent collection of duets with people like Sting, Steve Winwood, Wynonna, Eric Clapton and several other living artists, among them the last ever recording by Billy Preston, you are missing a treat. There is one painfully bad train wreck of an effort with Mariah Carey and Vince Gill, but the rest are flat out great, the Winwood being the standout. Very “up, feel good” songs and spirit. If your wife or girlfriend don’t shake her money maker to this, it’s broke!
Rebekka Bakken? If Nora Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Diana Krall and the like leave you wanting more, check her out on her “I Keep My Cool” release. Let me know what you think. Excellent sonics, too.
Ennio Morricone’s “The Mission” soundtrack has very beautiful, very complex tracks, which is why I use it to test how well a component can delineate instruments in a complex, multifarious sound field.I was able to pick out and follow different lines and phrases of the multiple choirs, drums, African percussion, oboe, strings and others fairly easily. The space around individual instruments is not as clean as pricier integrateds such as the $3,000 LSA Reference 1 (which sounds much better than $3k), but those are the things one sacrifices to stay in budget – both the designer and a consumer. Recall what Yamazaki said: “Good components at affordable price”. So far, I would say he has done what he said.
Here is where things get interesting. Earlier I said, “The Triode’s voice has a definite accent”. I know this is going to sound strange, but the 35SE is partial to things of a more organic composition such as wood, voices and acoustic rather than things made of metal or amplified electronically. For example, string sections sound more convincing than brass sections and acoustic bass fares better than electric bass. Acoustic guitars are beautifully rendered, rich and vibrant, where electric guitars come off a bit thin and pale. Now, a bit of a disclaimer here: The Sason LTDs are extremely revealing and honest and listening through them was where this trait was most apparent. The LSAs were not as critical, but once I heard it on the Sasons (spronounced Sa-sahns) it was more evident on everything else. What I am saying is, I would bet that with the vast majority of systems this personality would go unnoticed.
But, another question I always ask myself is, “Does it rock”? Here I would suggest that the 35SE does not, at least compared to other amps in this category. I believe this amp has been voiced to stress a transcendental type beauty over other characteristics, and that it does very, very well.
What could possibly cause this characteristic? I cannot say for sure, but it probably has something to do with the harmonic structure of the instruments and/or the first or third order of the amp design.
Is this characteristic bad? Depends on what your listening preferences are. If you primarily dig rock music laden with heavy, fuzz-distorted guitars and processed vocals, or if Kraftwerk is at the top of your playlist, you would probably be better off elsewhere. If you prefer orchestral that leans more towards Mozart rather than Mahler, Heifetz rather than Hendrix and Michael McDonald over Megadeath, you will be ecstatic.
Pavarotti is a great tenor, but I wouldn’t want to hear him sing Led Zep’s “Whollotta Love”. Do you think Jimi would have had the impact he did on the rock world if his instrument had been the tuba? Everything has its strong points and there are no perfect audio components. This Triode is much more of a beauty than a beast.
Here’s what convinced me I was right. One of my audiophile buddies (let’s call him Stereo Mario) who occasionally serves as a listening partner, brought over a pristine, special edition collector’s version LP on the JEM label of “Court of the Crimson King”. Listening through the 35SE, “21st Century Schizoid Man” and the title cut were not that impressive, where the rest of the LP was stunningly beautiful. Most of this LP is soft music with flutes, soft muted drums and such. The contrast was not hard to hear on the Sasons.
The next week, I took the Triode over to Stereo Mario’s house and stuck it in his system, replacing his other tube amp. It’s not a big room, has hardwood floors a Cal Labs CD player and Rogers speakers. He had just gotten the new Beatle’s “Love” remix CD. It starts out a capella with the boys singing “Because”. Breathtaking. Mario was dumbfounded.
He began pulling out CDs and LPs one after the other. Cat Stevens, sixties Blue Note jazz LPs, Shaded Dogs, The Triode had more power, more bass punch and more detail than his current amp. Everything sounded so musical.
Stereo Mario asked cautiously, “How much is this marvelous amp”? When I told him, he was shocked. “You’re kidding! Can I buy it’? “I don’t know, Mario. That would be up to Santy, the distributor”. “Please. Ask him.”
I left the Triode with him. Santy agreed to the sale. The amp now belongs to Stereo Mario. What amp did the Triode replace? A Conrad Johnson. I think that probably says more than anything I could write in a review.
Running the Halcro into the Triode via pre-in improved things a little bit, mainly in the area of quiet background and increased soundstage. However, the improvement was not that significant, leading me to believe that Mr. Yamazaki’s design balance was well conceived.
The headphone amp section is no afterthought. Listening through AKG – 240s and Ultrasone HFI-2000s revealed a high quality level of listening enjoyment. The sound was full and richly detailed. This addition alone is probably worth about $500 in overall value compared to a separate head amp.
The last question I asked of the designer was, “Can the sound be improved by upgrading tubes? Do you have any tube suggestions for buyers”?
His reply was, “Current tubes are same quality, if there is a difference it is very little that will be very hard to tell. Upgrading pre tubes 12AX7 and 12AU7 to NOS would be nice”. Tube rollers take note.
The Triode TRV 35SE looks as good as it sounds and provides willing power within its 45 watts per channel limits. It more than meets its designer’s goal of reproducing music at its best using good components at an affordable price. About the only downside is that it does not come with a remote control or phono preamp. The inclusion of a good quality headphone circuit is a definite plus. Recommended for those whose main appetites do not include lots of heavy metal rock or electronica. The 35SE excels at reproducing acoustic music in real spaces; classical, vocals and jazz in particular. It does so at a very accommodating price of $1,695.
Back to HOMEPAGE