As I recall, it was last year at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2006 in Denver when I first saw the TRI tube amplifiers in room 1121 it was the third weekend of October. This past January at the CES 2007 in Las Vegas I stopped by their room at the Venetian Hotel. I will have to admit even though I know you can't tell a component by its cover these little amplifiers certainly caught my eye, they were so damn pretty looking. I can easily imagine waking up some Christmas morning to find these Chrome and Candy Apple red beauties under my Christmas tree. Of the six TRI components on display it was the KT88 powered TRV-M88SE that I wanted to get my hot little audiophile paws on. To my way of thinking if I was going go the tube route then I wanted the most muscle they had and these pretty 60 watts per side power pushers filled the need. In my opinion there is a dichotomy concerning the name of this company. It lends the impression that the Triode Company makes only triode tube amplifiers and that is certainly not the case. The products they manufacture consist of an integrated amp and a preamp that can be paired with the company's mono or stereo amplifiers. They use KT88, 300B and EL34, power tubes in push/pull AB mode also in parallel single ended circuit configurations. So to be exact the TRI amplifiers of the Triode Corporation are not all triode. This is probably why the amplifiers only have only the first three letters TRI on the front panel. A lot of the metal fabrication is made in China. But the Triode Corporation is a Japanese company that like many others has some parts made in the Peoples Republic of China however the wiring and final assembly are done in Japan.
The Nut's & Bolts Below
The TRV-M88SE Monoblock Amplifiers operate in Class AB 1 Push Pull mode using two KT88 pentodes; like I said they are rated at 60 watts per side. During the time that I had them I did my usual product homework and I found some contradictions with the amplifiers specifications. For example one specific item on the web site lists the Triode TRV-M88SE power rating at 60 watts. But in the 6-page manual I received with the amplifiers they are rated at 50 watts. One other thing to scratch your head about, the owner's manual said the amplifiers power stage uses a toroidal transformer but those transformers are shaped like a doughnut, the TRV-M88SE amps have square transformer enclosures. O.K. so I guess you can put a doughnut transformer in any shape can if it's big enough. More than likely this dichotomy of descriptions is a result of translation problems into our English language. And so at the end of this review I will need to list both sets of specifications. Up front the amplifier uses one 12AX7 and one 12AU7 each of these are dual triode tubes. The 12AX7 is classified as a Hi-Mu tube and the 12AU7 is a medium Mu tube. The Greek letter Mu is used to specify tube efficiency.
Like I said these attractive chrome plated twin amplifiers are long on good looks. Even the black wire cage covering the tubes are stylishly good looking and these are held in place with very practical banana plugs. More importantly those candy apple red lacquer transformers are unusually large for a two-tube 60 Watt amplifier. These transformers are made with high quality 6N copper wire over a Shinnittetsu Orient core made in Japan. With these transformers the mono amp's weigh in at a hefty 33 pounds apiece. Keep in mind the single most expensive part of an amplifier is usually the transformers. Just by virtue of their size I would normally expect better sound. Think of it this way, the output transformers can be a bottleneck for music. They are at the last stage of the amplification process and can and do determine the bandwidth of the signals that pass through them. The design of transformers is indeed a complex process but we can say that generally you would need large current capable transformers to produce good bass. Now if you look at the amplifiers front panel you will see the power switch on the left side and just above that a small blue LED for power indication.
The right side has a knob for the non-detented Alps volume control. Lets turn the amplifiers around and take a look at the business end. The rear chassis has a mini toggle switch labeled balance select. This switch configures the amplifier for balanced XLR input or an unbalanced coaxial single ended RCA connection. Directly on the right side of this switch is the female RCA and just below that is the balanced XLR input connection. The rear panel has four WBT style binding posts for speaker cables; you can connect 16-, 8- and 6-Ohm speakers. These are arranged three side by side with the fourth negative post positioned above the middle 8-Ohm post. And on the right side is a receptacle for an IEC style power cord. Every thing that I have seen including all the external metalwork the wire tube cages the switches the tube sockets and all the connectors are first quality I don't see any signs of cost cutting.
A few days after that society meeting and back at my place I put the TRV-M88SE amplifiers on the floor between my Strata Mini speakers and in front of my equipment rack. Allowed the amplifiers cook for a day or two playing free HD radio captured by my intriguing new toy, a Sangean HDT-1 component tuner. Most of the time listening to the amplifiers was when they were hooked up to my Strata Mini speakers and they proved to be a tough nut to crack. By that I mean they were transparent like some mega buck solid-state amplifier. Surprisingly clean and clear to the point that I struggled to find a hook to hang a description on. Decided to run the amps with my little Aurum Cantus Leisure 2SE speakers and once again they helped to fill in many of the answers I searched for.
These are Chinese two-way speakers that use a 80mm Aurum Cantus G2 ribbon tweeter (Price for the tweeter $200) this is a super revealing and super fast speaker that has extension out to 35K Hertz and clean bass down to 65 hertz. Utilizing my Rives test disc and a Radio Shack SPL Meter at my listening position I measured a 40Hz signal at -7dB, lower than at a midband 1kHz reference point. Now that's still fair bass output. Originally I purchased the speakers to review cables reasoning that any small nonlinear response would be easy to hear. I powered up this pairing and all quite suddenly the TRI TRV M88SE and the Aurum Cantus were seemingly made for each other. Nothing is hidden save the last octave of bass. From the mid bass on up to the limits of my hearing they are fast detailed and sing with a natural harmonic totality that lets you hear deep into the performance. Just recently I bought a used CD; it was Paul Simon and the album Graceland (Warner 9-25447-2). My two favorite tracks are 5 and 6, "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes" and "You Can Call Me Al." At four minuets into the track of Diamonds you can hear the accompanying Ladysmith Black Mambazo as a deep background rumble growing louder underneath a complex layering way back in the center image. I love the way the electric bass lines of these two songs threads the music and the arrangement together it's much more than simply establishing a tempo. The midrange has the vitality and speed that can breath life into the performance. What a nice match these two make it was hard to stop my toes from tapping along.
At this point you might be thinking that's fine and dandy but I don't have your ribbon-equipped speakers. That maybe true, but the point is the Hi-Def Aurum Cantus speakers would most certainly reveal any amplifier related weaknesses if they had any. Let me put this another way, my experience with these TRI amplifiers shows the faster and more revealing your system is the better. It doesn't absolutely have to include ribbon drivers. The Krell LAT-1 speaker immediately comes to mind as an example of a highly detailed conventional piston driver system with extremely fast reflexes.
The TRI Monoblock Amplifiers, if matched with efficient high-resolution loudspeakers, honor the sound of music with a crystal clear view of the performance. Lest I forget, I place great value on a components ability to portray a detailed realistic stage comprised of depth, width and height. As you should expect a 60-watt tube amplifier will not have the same low frequency transient speed or impact at bass frequencies like some large solid-state amplifiers. But I do not consider this to be a problem since my reference is the human voice or smaller scale ensemble music. I listen primarily to the sound of the human voice because this is what I know best. Am not concerned much about the very deepest of bass notes. What I do want is something tonally accurate with a perfectly integrated frequency spanning continuous balance.
For me the TRI TRV-M88SE amplifiers would form the heart of a high-quality second system. Unfortunately for me I live in a very space-limited apartment. They look wonderful and the price is justified by high quality construction specifically the inclusion of first-rate components, materials and workmanship. I expect that this will translate into increased reliability and long life. This is certainly not the euphonic sound of an old style classic amplifier. Rather this is a very modern example of a mid power AB1 tube design by Junichi Yamasaki pushing the limits of what is possible with today's technology. Beautiful amps beautifully made they sound great and they certainly merit your audition. Wish I had room for them. Semper Hi-Fi