Triode Corporation Ltd. celebrated the company’s 15th anniversary last year. Triode specializes in the manufacture of high-end tube electronics including CD players, digital/analog converters, pre- amplifiers, amplifiers, and integrated amplifiers. They claim that their products are amongst the top selling in Japan. Junichi Yamazaki, the former Japan National Railway engineer, founded the company in Koshigaya-shi, Saitama, Japan. According to Mr. Yamazaki, his first and foremost design philosophy is to reproduce real life music at its best in a beautiful and affordable way. He says that “Happiness in listening to music is not fulfilled if not shared with many.”
The TRX-M845s are physically imposing monoblock amps, each of which weighs over 100 pounds. The casework is gorgeous. The amps accept RCAs as well as XLRs. They will accept either 211 or 845 output tubes and in each instance, a switch makes the choice. Feedback is selectable via a rotary switch on the rear of each amp. Construction is by hand without printed circuit boards. Everything is hard-wired point to point in a very neat way. Components are chosen with great care, and include Koa resistors and Toichi capacitors. The tube sockets are nice ceramic and gold specimens that accommodate easy tube swaps, being neither too tight nor loose. The circuit has three stages of gain using a 12AU7 and 6SN7 as the initial stage into an 845, which in turn drives paralleled 211/845 outputs producing either 40 watts with the 211’s or 50 watts with the 845’s.
Reviews tend to be the result of repeated evenings of listening, alone or with friends. If the product is really good, you find yourself, as was the case here, forgetting to take notes and instead listening to the music. While the review period stretched over several months, I have chosen for the purposes of this article to compress that period in notes from three evenings which occurred at different points during this period.
The first evening: I began my first listening session in factory supplied tubes with Steely Dan’s Gaucho, Side 1, an early MCA pressing. Comparing the Triode monoblocks to the Audio Note UK Balanced Kegon monoblocks, my long term reference running on 300B tubes and priced at $95,000 the pair, the Triode seemed made for the enhancement of pop music listening. With the feedback setting on “1”, the bass was tight and the drums had muscle and punch to spare. The Triode did not provide much air between the instruments, nor as much delicacy and nuance as did the Balanced Kegon, yet the upper instruments and voices were very clean and centered, with no smear or hash. I was tempted to think of the 845-based Triode as providing a smart, satisfying and just plain “fun” sound, probably not unlike an enhanced version of what the engineers and players heard during mix-down. Compared to the way some high-end gear can sometimes seem too revealing, the Triode in feedback position “1” were somewhat forgiving and easy to listen to, if lacking the last word in detail, nuance and delicacy.
Next on the playlist was the Blue Nile’s Hats, a late 80’s digital recording in which many of the instruments, including percussion, are synthesized. Even on vinyl, this recording can easily suffer from “digititis,” and frankly, had not been entirely satisfying via the Balanced Kegon — mainly because the ears were never for a moment fooled by the digital or synthetic tomfoolery.
With the TRX-M845, I was “back to the future.” The Blue Nile’s second outing — a brilliant effort — sounded as fresh, new and exciting as it did years ago — only with placement, punch, clarity and intensity at a new level. But it was here that I began to notice that some color was missing. That could be a side effect of early digital, or synthesizers…or could it be an artifact of the Chinese Shugang tubes? The Balanced Kegon was initially provided with Shugang 300B output tubes which, in comparison to Western Electric 300Bs, were almost painfully bland and “white.”
The acid test for color, and many other things, would be the early EMI/ Columbia (SAX 2548) pressing of Debussy’s Jeux, with Andre Cluytens and the Paris Conservatory Orchestra , one of the great recordings — and great pressings — of its day. With the feedback still set at “1”, I listened with eager anticipation. Everything was there — some shimmer in the cymbals, smooth, almost lush strings, and astringent oboe…Everything, except…the longer I listened, the more restless I became. It was like gluten-free, chain-grocery-store vanilla cake made with artificial sweetener…or the “free sirloin” they serve in the open steam table at the topless clubs…no real flavor, no real color.
I slipped back behind the amps and switched the feedback knobs to “0”. The soundstage immediately opened up, and an orchestra emerged. Not the same orchestra as with the Balanced Kegon — there still seemed to be a light layer of haze blocking the view — a result of the more complex circuitry, perhaps? But this was largely more satisfying…except for the climaxes. There, I still had a sense, as I could sometimes get with the Balanced Kegon, that the whole system of sound reproduction could not quite handle all of the information it was receiving. What was I hearing? Was this one of the drawbacks of zero-feedback? The purpose of feedback, at least in theory is to ensure that the output more closely resembles the signal coming into the amp and reduces distortion which result from the amp’s circuitry. At least with the Triode TRX-M845, adding feedback generally reduced noise and improves bass, making it tighter and increasing the slam. On the other hand, it definitely decreases air and dimensionality, reduces subtle detail and to some extent destroys that sense of hearing real instruments in a real space on classical music.
The next evening, listening during these sessions was with the feedback set at “0”.
I spent much of the next evening listening to various recordings of Rossini overtures, all on the Triode. At this point, it began coming into its own. Its funny, once you get your ears out of A/B mode, enjoying the music is not hard. I continued to get the impression that there is, accompanying the strong dynamics of large orchestral surges, an unfulfilled anticipation from the mid-range ….either a degree of inability to differentiate the instruments or a failure to capture a bit of the airy leading edge of the strings, thereby conveying an awareness that something is missing. There seemed to be an elevation of the upper grouped strings, a heightened impression of detail that may not actually be there.
The listening session included multiple versions of Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra Overture, the William Tell Overture, and the Semiramide Overture. I chose these primarily because they include numerous passages containing multiple single instruments, especially percussion, rising above the other grouped instruments. The characteristic quiet-to-loud transitions with full orchestral dynamics, and delicate passages of strings reveal virtually all aspects of a full symphonic orchestra and, depending on the orchestra, conductor, and recording venue, and quality of recording, lay out for the listener a large resonating hall, a symphonic band sound versus a full Reiner/Stokowski type of sound and ample opportunity to evaluate full bass, be it from the pizzicato of the basses, the large kettle drums, or merely the opening measures of William Tell. Staying with the William Tell, which horns and how prominent they are during the initial surge several minutes into the piece or the treatment of the “Lone Ranger” melody as the piece comes to its rousing conclusion reveal much about the strengths and weaknesses of the amps and the remainder of the system. This is an amp that has abundant dynamics, coupled with an almost iron fisted control of the bass. Where it is lacking, at least with the stock tubes, is in delivering that last bit of detail, nuance and delicacy which are the strong suit of the Balanced Kegon. The iron-fisted control of the bass may also be at the price of some detail in the bass – but then I think back to the Boz Scaggs, in which the bass had a lot of nuance.
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