Tri is a brand of Triode Corporation of Japan. In its name we will find everything that describes its priorities and identity. And those are: interest only in devices working with vacuum tubes, of the triode or pentode type, but only in triode mode (with both grids shorted) and that this is a Japanese company. For the regular readers of “HIGH Fidelity OnLine” this brand should not be unknown. The amplifier TRV-300SE was on the cover of one of our first theme editions (Nr 26) of our magazine from September 2006. One and a half years have passed since “Made in Japan” described all the tests in an issue. It turned out, that the Tri amplifier, despite its modest price tag, was very pleasing and was a big surprise for me, being accustomed to the fact, that if something is Japanese and does not come from one of the mass production giants (Sony, Denon, Yamaha, Marantz) then it has to be expensive. Even very expensive. Mr. Junichi Yamazaki, the owner and chief constructor of Tri turned out to be a very interesting interlocutor, open for other people. Our short conversation can be read in the introduction to our mentioned test (test HERE). I thought, that such an interesting brand from Japan, with acceptable prizes will immediately create the need to have it in its portfolio of one of Polish distributors of audio equipment. I would cheer on somebody that would do this, because the brand is worth it. And – nothing happened. This is interesting, but sometimes something like this happens, a wall, a mental blockade, that throws some things, impressions or feelings outside of our perception. And this mechanism must have acted here. This is not a unique thing. About a week ago, in the American Internet magazine “Positive-Feedback” (this is a splendid magazine – I recommend it! It has a special history, as it appeared in paper form for years, and then it changed the place of publication to the web…) I read a splendid review of the amplifier from the company Fi, model X 2A3 (test HERE) by Danny Kaey. Because I heard about that company earlier, I grabbed the keyboard and wrote to the owner of the company, asking if he would be interested in a test in HFOL. The discussion is ongoing, we’ll see what will come out of them (the amplifiers are built on demand), but one thing surprised me – it turned out, that I am the first person from outside USA and third overall that wrote an email after the test. Incredible! Inexpensive product, made with passion, and no interest. That was the case with Tri.
Fortunately the situation is changing slowly. This thanks to Mr. Piotr Bednarski (Hi-End Studio), who at first, and from pure love only, as he is dealing with something completely different on a business basis, brought the Scottish loudspeakers Art Loudspeakers to Poland (we wrote about them warmly during the reportage from the Audio Show 2007 - HERE and we tested the model Stiletto 6 – HERE), and later found electronics to accompany them – the amplifiers Art Audio directly from USA, and later Tri. The devices came for testing directly from the Cargo terminal, just after customs clearance. I was thinking that only an amplifier will be tested, and it turned out, that the courier brought two packages. One contained an integrated amplifier based on EL34 tubes, the TRV-35SE, and the other a CD player, a novelty I never heard about before, the TRV-CD4SE. I unpacked them and looked at the burgundy (metallic) colored enclosures. I forgot, how much I liked the TRV-300SE… Those two devices, due to their distinctive colors, gained personality and stand out from other tube devices by miles. I have the same thing with the products of Yamamoto Sound Craft Corp. and Shindo Laboratory. This is the same attention to detail like there, and the price is a few times lower.
Testing the TRV-300SE I wondered many times, how it was possible to reduce the costs in a country as expensive as Japan, with such an expensive work costs, with all the engineering that had to be put inside. And this still with the Made in Japan label. I had some ideas, but no point I could attach to. With the TRV-CD4SE, besides the tons of music, came a message: some elements, mainly the chassis and front, are made in a factory in China. Because the Tri player has an identically crafted front, buttons and even the same display as another new product, the Luxman DN-100 player. Many details are also shared with CEC, for example the player TL-53Z. Luxman is „Made in Japan”, and the CEC „Made in China”. All depends on the percentage of the manufacturing done in the shadow of the Great Wall compared to the percentage done under the Blossom Cherry. It seems, that Tri is well rooted on the Japanese Islands
Before the main listening session the devices worked for some time in “sleep” mode, meaning they were placed to the side of the main system. They had to work for some time, as they were delivered directly from the factory. And although the company claims their devices are initially burned-in, still in tube devices the process takes a long time. In case of the Tri the “burn-in” was different than usual. Because I had at my disposal a player and an amplifier with a headphone output, I placed the system close to my computer, where I spend much time writing the tests, and I used my headphones. The first tries were not bad, but also not overwhelming. It was momentarily clear, that the sound is smooth, full and colorful, with what I mean saturated with harmonics. Because I was busy then to complete the listening sessions of the discs for the Music section, most of all Seventh Tree Goldfrapp (Mute Records, CDSTUMM280, CD) and Goodbye of the duo Anita Lipnicka and John Porter (Pomaton/EMI Music Poland, 5224642, CD). Both discs are productions meant for the broad public and are in no way audiophile pressings. But they can sound very nice. With the Tri system and the headphones Ultrasone PROLine2500 it could be heard, that we have something really nice here, but in the sound the edges of the frequency range dominated, meaning the bass and the upper midrange, what made the sound too edgy. Anyway, despite those limitations, I did not want to go back to my usual system located at that place. The change came, as usual, with a specific disc. Actually two discs. I think that there is something like an emotional layer in music, which influences the evaluation of the quality of sound as well as the recording itself. Although the elements, that can be described as the “hi-fi analysis” are incredibly important, as they allow us to define the general boundaries we work in, still the emotional element, that something, that fills this skeleton, is key, and it defines if we like the reproduction or not. Only this and as far as this. So most of the time the trigger, that makes us understand a device, makes a specific vision of reproducing music appeal to us or not, is something emotional in a recording. And that was the situation here. When one of the evenings I sat down at my computer I did not anticipate that I will spend upcoming hours in such a nice way. And this due to two discs, both from the label Alpha: Guillaume Du Fay (c 1400 - 1474) Missa se la face ay pale (Alpha, 908, CD) and Frienze 1616 La Poème Harmonique (Alpha, 120, CD), that I listened to a few times over. This label is famous for its brilliant masterings, resembling classic Decca and Philips recordings with their natural sound. This is also the case here, although both discs differ from each other. The second disc is better, with an incredible depth and dynamics. The Tri system showed the difference between the discs instantly, but it did also show the similarities: dense atmosphere and incredibly silky, but also detailed drawing of the instruments.
With loudspeakers Tri was quite similar in character with what I heard on headphones. This is strong sound with fantasy. It does not have much in common with romantic sound, attributed to the EL34 tubes, meaning there is no mudding of the midrange. If I had to compare it with something, I would say it is a sound going in the direction of Manley Snappers or Linear Audio Research AI-45. So we have strong, really powerful bass and an open treble. But first about the lower frequencies. It does not go as far down as with my Luxman M-800A, but this is natural. At a certain point, the Japanese integrated amp just stops transmitting. This is even good, because nothing drones, seethes or hauls. We have an agile and fleshy bass. The lowest frequencies, like the bass drum from the Japanese re-master of the disc Nevermind Nirvana (Geffen/Universal Music Japan, UICY-93358, CD) is not especially audible, but already the bass from the Japanese version of Thriller Michael Jackson (25th Anniversary, Epic/Sony Music Japan, EICP, CD+DVD) or the low, fleshy synth from the disc Seventh Tree Goldfrapp (Mute, CDSTUMM280, CD) was how it should be. I think, that with smaller speakers than the Harpia Dobermann I use, it will be even less noticeable. To be sure is checked also the disc Magnetic Fields J.M. Jarre (Dreyfus/Sony Music, 488138, CD) and everything was OK. The latter disc showed especially well the characteristic thing for the system: the stage is created near to the listener, in a palpable, intensive way. This is an effect of the quite strong, edgy fragment of the midrange and treble. It makes the amplifier sound in a very fresh way, although – in an absolute scale – is a deviation from neutrality. This accent is in a place, where the noise of the tape sounds like a vacuum cleaner noise (but on a different volume level). That was the case with the piece Clowns opening the Goldfrapp disc, where the vocal is recorded with strong noise. With the Tri everything was clear, but the noise was not fully connected to the sound and had a lowered tone. I complain a bit, but mostly because all other devices in this issue are expensive or very expensive. And those were the ones I compared this system to. But if we place it next to devices of the same price level, then everything will fade. The mentioned shortcomings will remain, but will be covered by the assets.
Two things make the discs like Nevermind Nirvana not sound vivid and a bit too light – the lack of lower bass and the mentioned upping of a part of the midrange. This means, that the system is not fully universal. But if we stick to jazz, classics and good pop, then everything would be OK. With more aggressive music the element of chaos that is there changes in hellish noise. And this is not what we would like to happen… I mentioned classical music, but I just confirm this based on the example of the disc I listened to at the very end, the beautiful Codex Santiago de Murcia (Auvidis/Naïve, E8661, CD), as the stage was very broad, deep and the instruments had a very deep and resonant timbre. Equally attractive was the mentioned jazz. Pyramid The Modern Jazz Quartet (Atlantic/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-25125, CD) sounded strong, expansive, just like it was recorded.
When I split the two components then it turned out, that the amplifier is mostly responsible for such hard playing. The CD sounds with a deeper, more balanced sound. But as a system they have a certain appeal. If I would search for a partner for them, then a natural choice would be the loudspeakers Stiletto 6 Art Loudspeakers (it is the same distributor). The amplifier is strong and dynamic enough so that you do not have to fear any loudspeaker construction (within common sense). And there are two designs that can easily be paired with the Tri: the Finnish Penaudio Alba and Italian Chario Constellation Pegasus. If those should be stand mount speakers then again I would choose Chario, this time Academy Sonnet, or - and this should be considered as one of more attractive options – Harbeth, models HL-P3ES2 or HL-Compact 7ES3. The amplifier will handle those without problems. And let us not forget about the fact, that this is also a very nice headphone amplifier – I would chose headphones like Sennheiser HD650.
Both devices are smaller than “regular” products with 430mm width (Tri has width of 340mm). Both were also varnished in a beautiful burgundy color (I mean the top covers) with a metallic finish. The amplifier is equipped with wooden side panels and the player is from top and sides painted in burgundy. This looks very nice, and actually the wooden elements could have been omitted what would result in a stylistically coherent project. The fronts of both devices are from thick plates of scratched aluminum. And like I mentioned before this element is made in China.
First the drive. This is a Sony unit with the KSS-213 pickup, exactly the same model that was used on the Ayon CD-1 player, albeit without the tray elements. The drive is screwed tight to a very rigid and heavy plate, where, in a cut-out the servo PCB is placed. The main microcontroller is placed on the separate, main PCB to the side. This PCB covers the half of the insides. The signal from the drive goes to the large Philips SAA7824 IC, that decodes the data stream and acts like a digital servo. Later the signal goes to the D/A converter Burr-Brown PCM1792. This is a delta/sigma 24/192 converter with integrated upsampler, active in this configuration. Behind the converter we have a nice analog section, almost fully balanced. In the I/U conversion and in filters popular NE5532 chips were used, and in the amplifying section the LME49710. All ICs are placed on sockets. I mentioned that until now, all the circuitry is balanced. So I do not really understand, why the output buffer is made using only one single tube (the double triode 6922EH Electro Harmonix) meaning that it is unbalanced. The tube circuit is based on very good passive elements, eg. very nice capacitors Mundorf RealCap, and the output is coupled by very large WIMA capacitors shunted with the same Mudorfs.
The amplifier has a classic setup for this group of devices, meaning the tubes in the front and a big shielding box in the back. On the aluminum front we have the input selector and volume control. And something more – gold plated RCA sockets. This is a third line input, for example for mp3 players. This is fantastic that the designers resigned from the shaggy mini-jack. There is also a trick related to the placement of this input. Usually the signal from the mini-jack runs to the back with a long cable and there it can be selected by the input selector dial. In the Tri amplifier this is different – the inputs on the back are cable connected with the mechanical selector at the front, and then directly to the 12AX7 tube. And so the line input 3 has a very short cable as it is just next to the selector. So if you like experiments then it is worth to plug the player to this input… On the back we have two line inputs, a record out and an input labeled ‘pre in”, that is an input directly to the power amplifier. We get also very solid speaker terminals from the American company CMC - Charming Music Conductor. The topology is based fully on tubes – two double triodes 12AX7 working in class A on the input and 12AU7 in the role of phase splitters and output tube drivers. The output tubes are power pentodes EL34 in push-pull setting, working in class AB. Both those things are a departure from the Tri Company’s roots. The tubes have no markings, but look like Chinese products.
The inside is very tasty. The power section is mounted on small PCBs, separately for each channel, and the preamplifier is mounted in point-to-point technology. In the preamplifier very good Japanese resistors from Kiwame were used, actually distributed by Tri, and the Mundorf RealCap capacitors. The input selector is open, and the potentiometer is a black Alps. It turned out that the ‘pre in’ input has an additional small PCB with a relay that excludes the mentioned potentiometer from the sound path. So when we have a player with variable output we can use it. In the power section very expensive and rare oil capacitors Vitamin-Q were applied, branded by the Japanese company Tone Factory Toshi. The power supply uses an EI transformer (although the manual describes a toroidal one), a choking coil and two large Nichicon capacitors. There is no possibility for remote volume control. The tubes are protected by a nicely looking metal cover that can easily be dismounted.
CD FROM JAPAN
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