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Integrated amplifier

Price: 2150 euro

Distribution: Hi-End Studio

Piotr Bednarski
Hi-End Studio
tel. 695 503 227


WWW: Tri

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Marek Dyba

Japanese manufacturer Triode Corporation, owner of Tri brand name is another, along with Leben and Oyaide, Japanese brand that I feel attached to bit more than to others. I feel like (regardless if that is the right or wrong feeling) its Godfather. Its product was presented for the first time in Poland and possibly also in Europe in „High Fidelity”, in particular in memorable issue called Made in Japan of September 2006 (No. 29). It was its Polish and probably also Europe's premiere. We had received the device directly from Japan from Mr Junichiro Yamazaki, owner and chief designer of Triode Corp. Along with this first review we had conducted also an interview with Mr Yamazaki – let me encourage you to read it if you haven't so far - HERE.

This time we have decided to take a look at sort of „basic” model, or in other words „classic” because of its design and tubes used. It is TRV-88SE with double triode 12AX7 at the input, two 12AU7 in phase reverse and working as drivers for power tubes - KT88. Power tubes work in classic push-pull configuration, in AB class, but they are working as triodes – kind of obligation if the company's name is Triode Corp. In my opinion all the tubes and also the enclosure are made in China. How else would it be possible to offer such price for Japanese product? I don't see any other way to achieve that – you have to look for savings somewhere. All the assembly, most passive elements, transformers come from Japan and very nice speaker's binding posts are made in USA. Audition was conducted in three stages – first was simple connection of amplifier to the speakers, second – device working as headphone amplifier and finally I rolled some tubes – both power and input tubes – I used the best I had at hand: KT88 from EAT – matched quarter from Diamond line and ECC803 with CoolDamper. The latter were used also for drivers.

So far we tested following TRI products:


Discs used for listening sessions:

  • Diary of Dreams, Freak Perfume, Accesion Records, EFA 03647-2, CD.
  • Stockfisch Records. Closer To The Music vol. , Stockfisch Records, SFR 357.4009.2, SACD/CD.
  • Mark Knopfler, The Trawlerman’s Song EP, Mercury Records, 9870986, CD.
  • The Beatles, 09.09.09 Sampler, EMI Records, Promo CD, 2 x CD; review HERE.
  • ELO, Time, Epic/Sony Music Direct (Japan), MHCP-1161, CD.
  • Thom Yorke, The Eraser, XL Records/Warner Music Japan, WPCB-10001, CD.
  • Martin L. Gore, Counterfeit2, Mute, 247725, CCD.
  • e.s.t., Viaticum, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 6001-2, 2 x CD; review HERE.
  • Ariel Ramirez, Misa Criolla, Navidad Nuestra, José Carreras, Philips/Lasting Impression Music, LIM K2HD 040, silver-CD; review HERE.
  • Hot Piano, featuring Mr. Marty Paich, Tampa Records/Muzak, MZCS-1178, CD.

As mentioned before I feel somehow connected to TRI. It is not that I am deeply in love (to continue this emotional language) but there is a small, warm spot in my heart reserved for it. Tri Corp created a great example – TRV-88SE to show how a manufacturer can reach out to Customers, adopt to budget limitations an so on, without sacrifying music. Already first few minutes spent listening to this amp will tell you it doesn't even try to sound neutral. We could always dispute what “neutral” means – is it a non-emotional “accuracy” of the sound?, or maybe rather to make an impression of live performance – which surely involves emotions? Anyhow some elements are common for both definitions and that is what I understand as “neutral”. Japanese amplifier offers warm, very rich sound. Its dynamics is attenuated so there is no chance for big band or orchestra to sound in a proper way. I mean it sounds properly if you consider richness and power but not the timbre. That could be easily verified when listening to Misa Criolla that was recorded in a big church. The size of its interior was only slightly marked and the distances between listener and chorus and José Carreras were almost the same. So I wouldn't count on ultra-precise presentation of interiors acoustics. But Tri has a virtue common among good devices (the ones that can catch you attention, intrigue you) – you don't want to change the CD, you don't feel like looking for some other recording that would better fit this device. As mentioned before – one of the methods of reaching to the customer is “seducing” him. The review hereby amplifier does it by offering warm sound and softening of the attack. So everything we hear is very … “human”, fitted exactly to what we need to hear.

Listening to more and more recordings with real pleasure I didn't “lack” anything. Yes, I could still hear what is described above but it absolutely wasn't disturbing. It was clearly showed by amazing record - Hot Piano. Featuring Marty Paich. It is an old recording with leading role of a piano, which was shown by Tri in a very accurate manner. The strike was bit softened but with long-lasting, full, rich and really nice sound . Pace in every recording was very good which is quite surprising considering not that great overall dynamics. But that great pace made me stay with electronic music for much longer than planned. For such music pace and rhythm and strike are substantial – you can't listen to electronic music without them because even the most interesting compositions would sound simply boring. I started with Counterfeit2 by Martina L. Gore. This particular recording comes from the “dark age” of EMI – time when they used copy-protection from company Cactus, the very one that hadn't stopped anybody from coping even one record but in most cases diminished sound quality significantly. Gore’s recording is no exception but in very good systems you have a chance to still “extract” music from it – with slow rhythm, mood and something more than just sounds. Tri is not a high-end device – it is relatively inexpensive amplifier but it played this CD amazingly well. Some irritating treble “spikes” and nervousness in the mid-range were still there but I simply knew that it was the recording not amplifier responsible and additionally I have some kind of allergic reaction for these particular flaws of sound. When I tried just to listen to the music without analyzing it, just feel the mood - I could do it without a problem. There was rhythm, depth, strong bass. My feeling was the same with the next recording - Freak Perfume by my favorite post-Gothic, post-DM (Dependent Mode), German band Diary of Dreams. Also here I was surprised positively by bass, but also by ability to present the depth and coherency of the sound.

I think that one of the reasons of me got “caught” was how TRV-88SE presents low frequencies. Tri stood on Base stand right after I took Struss Chopin MkIV of, so it was an easy comparison and I heard immediately that Japanese amplifier doesn't do as low as Polish solid-state amp and also resolution at low-end was as good. But the mid-bass presented by Tri was amazingly strong, rich and really “reaching to my guts” even more than Struss did. It is really an expression in my vocabulary but I see it often in Readers letters, so it obviously has its meaning. Electronic music sounded really strong and rich. Not just electronics, also Marta's Paich piano was that good partially because it was not “lean”, it was well “anchored” on the stage. I got exactly same impression from the new recording of the same piano from beautiful record called Viaticum e.s.t. The sound is by itself very rich and tangible but Tri managed to convey that even better. Or maybe it didn't convey anything, maybe just preserved in its original way. You might have a different opinion on that because that is not a perfect sound and it has its “Chinese-tube-amplifier-like” flaws. The biggest one is some simplification in upper mid-range – somewhere around 1 kHz. This frequency can be bumped up because we realize what I described above.

Taking it objectively this frequency is not really bumped up it is just as one perceives it. So to compensate that effect you have to bump up a bit lower mid-range. I think that is exactly what they did in TRV-88SE. This is of course a deviation from flat response throughout whole frequency approach. I've heard though so many “neutral” sounding devices that were made neutral by leveling of (measurable) range, that were absolutely unlistenable, so that I perfectly understand choices made when designing this amp. If the voice in the recording sounds bit lean – you will hear it. Diary of Dreams CD starts with Vin Diesel's monolog coming from Pitch Black movie (director David Twohy, 2000). Actor's voice sounds lean and Tri presents it in this exact manner. Rights after that comes electronic music and everything gets back to normal but you already know that quality of vocal recording on this CD is not the best one. But still Mark Knopfler's voice and warm voices from Stockfisch Records sampler Closer To The Music. Vol. 3 were presented bit lower than by my system. Already mentioned “plastic” debris on upper mid-range was audible (at least when comparing to more expensive amplifiers), but no bigger than in any other amp in a price range up to 10000 PLN. You know what you get and what you pay for.

The most important virtue of this amp is it's “commitment” or a good time it offers. Americans call it simply “fun”. And that's what it is about. What you get from Tri is music, not sounds. We listen to more and more recording to hear the music and not how particular instrument would sound like. It lacks a bit of strong dynamics, but it is possible that with given set of virtues and flaws bumping up dynamics might ruin the final effect. Usually when we mention tube amplifier we mean some stereotype – gentle trebles, strong, rich mid-range, and not too well controlled bass. And this is what you get if you buy this one. Only bass is better than in this stereotype description. This is a tube amp in the best meaning of this words. My Leben CS300 is also a tube device but offering totally different sound – more precise, faster and with much better resolution. It simply asks for best sources and speakers. Tri is the opposite – it offers complete, finished sound that should satisfy you here and now. It will pay off to pair it with some source offering clear, precise sound like Azur 840C Cambridge Audio, or Cyrus CD 8 SE. And that's it. Than all you have to do it buy more and more CDs. In a way that is in contrary to the audiophile's concept of striving for perfection. But it might be as close to that goal as many audiophiles would ever get.

Tube rolling was an important experience during this review. If you take cost-wise approach there is absolutely no justification for such a huge investment as tubes and CoolDampers cost just a bit less than the whole amplifier. But still I was a useful experience that showed me the route this project took from designer's computer screen to the final product. Thanks to those elements I could follow all pieces of this puzzle put to right places by the designer. To make long story short – tube rolling changed sound totally. Totally! And the changes were not necessarily only good ones as one might have expected. Sound became crystal clear with amazing resolution. The change was huge! But amp's limitations became obvious at the same time. It is relatively inexpensive device and you can't expect it to work as well as amplifiers costing 15000 PLN or more. TRV-88ES with its tubes was built to achieve balance between what it was supposed to achieve and what was really achievable. This is a great job done by designer. You can enjoy the music from this amp right out-of-the-box – this is an “instant” device, ready to use without any voodoo activities. When we get a clearer sound from tubes it will turn out that the mid-range is not so precisely presented as by more expensive amps. Most likely it is not only about the Tri but depending also on the loudspeakers hooked up. If you change tubes to EAT ones and connect Harbeths or Spendors effect should be amazing. But if your choice will be something more precise like Harpia Acoustic or Monitor Audio it might not work that well. So my suggestion – start with exchange of tubes in the first stage for EATs, than drivers for Siemens or Philips and finally power tubes for Genalex or Electro-Harmonix ones. Then you should have an amplifier that should keep you satisfied for many years. What about headphone amp? Well – it sound exactly the same way as with loudspeakers. In consequence if you use Chinese tube you should go for Grado not AKG. After tube rolling sound will be purer and you will gain lots of dynamics. In my opinion external headphone amp won't be needed. Leben CS300 offers bit wider sound-stage, and the sound is more sophisticated, but the differences should not give you a headache of course if the character of the Tri is what you are looking for.


TRV-88SE small, compact device with its characteristic feature – beautiful burgund lacquer finish. The front is trimmed out in a thick aluminum plate and side panels are wooden. At the front you will find a mechanical power mains switch with blue LED (red would look much better I think), an attenuator, input selector and additional RCA input. Right next to the latter you will find port for headphone jack (6.3mm).At the back there two more RCA inputs, "pre in" input and record out. IEC socket in the middle and next to it 2x3 speaker binding posts (for 6 and 8 Ω) – those comes from a very good source – American manufacturer Charming Music Conductor. There are “classic” tubes used – in the input stage double triode 12AX7, drivers are also double triodes 12AU7, power tubes are beam tetrodes KT88, working as triodes in AB class in push-pull circuit.

There a lot of quite precious elements used inside. All resistors are very precise Japanese products of KOA. Voltage from transformer goes to Pi filter, with a choking coil and two large Nichicon capacitors. We have same Nichicon capacitors also in the input stage. Individual inputs are coupled with PPMS type Real Cap capacitors. But by the output tubes we find already beautiful Vitamin-Q oil capacitors. Same ones as those used in Pink Faun preamplifier. There is a PCB in the preamplifier section but all the rest is hard-wired point to point. There is a mechanical open input selector and the potentiometer is a black Alps.

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
Output power: 45W+45W (8Ω)
Frequency response: 10Hz-100kHz (-1/-4dB)
S/N ratio: 90dB
Total harmonic distortion: < 0,1% (1kHz)
Input sensitivity: 0.7V
Power consumption: min. – 100W, max. – 220W
Dimensions (WxHxD): 340 x 185 x 315mm
Weight: 15kg

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  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime (tested HERE)
  • Phono preamp: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Preamp: Leben RS-28CX (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Polaris II, tested HERE)
  • Power amp: Luxman M-800A (tested HERE)
  • Integrated amp: Leben CS300 (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • headphones: AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • interconnects: CD-preamp: Wireworld Gold Eclipse 52 (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Velum NF-G SE (tested HERE)
  • speaker cable: Velum LS-G (tested HERE)
  • power cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9100 (CD; reviewed HERE) and 2 x Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC7100 (preamp, power amp (reviewed HERE)
  • power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • audio stand Base
  • resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE ) Turntables change continuously, as do cartridges. My dream setup: SME 30 with Series V tone-arm and Air Tight PC-1 cartridge (also in the PC-1 Mono version).