Triangle Art L-200 MK2 Stereo Vacuum Tube
The fascinating thing about reviewing Triangle Art's L-200 MK2 vacuum tube preamplifier is that it's a tube pre-amp… and that I know, when I agree to review it, that this review will not get half the readership to click on it because it has the word "tube" in it. And I will lose even more because Triangle Art is not a mainstream name and many do not recognize it. So, for the 20% to 30%-ish of our readership that made it this far, you will be rewarded by learning about a pre-amp that everyone should know about!
The Triangle Art L-200 MK2 is a $25,000 tube preamp that can compete with a $40,000 preamp (tube or solid-state), built by a company that has a creative philosophy similar to Porsche. Take a design and just keep making it better (think 911 of the 1980s and today); they call it, "Think it out." Yes, they are best known for their world-class Turntables. But their electronics follow the same principals and utilize the same materials innovations and "Think it out" engineering methods. This is an all-analog kit, with no microprocessors or digital bits to be seen inside or out. They have a complete product range, meaning that they make everything from turntables to phono stages, preamps, amps, and loudspeakers plus all the cabling needed to bring it together. As an added bonus, it is all built within Anaheim, California. The good old U.S. of A.
Tom Vu is the CEO and chief designer, and Dr. Khoi Tran is his engineering right-hand man. On the team is also Gustavo Gonzales, the programmer engineer, and Robert Lambert, the machinist. Having a metal lathe at home and tinkering (if you could even call it that), I have developed a massive respect for machinists and programmers. They make one-thousandth of an inch fabrication look easy, and it most certainly is not.
The Ins & Outs
It is a two-module component, with the power supply isolated in a separate enclosure connected to the main preamp with an umbilical. Once in the main preamp enclosure, the power is separated into a dual mono configuration which feeds two isolated line amplification stages. Each power supply filter incorporates proprietary chokes and Mundorf capacitors. The line stage amp incorporates more Mundorf caps, AMRG resistors, and custom output transformers in a single-ended output transformer design.
I happen to be a fan of this design concept and believe it to result in improved harmonic structure and a more engaging rendering of what is output to the amplifiers. Each channel utilizes only a single gain stage, zero feedback design passing on 8dB of gain to the amplifiers with 1500 Ohm output impedance. Those figures suggest you will not struggle with system matching depending on what amps you will be driving (if not the M-100 Triangle Art tube mono blocks). The preamp sang with both a top-tier Class A Krell amp I was reviewing and my resident Pilium Achilles amps (both solid-state by the way).
In fact, the Triangle Art L200 MK2 preamplifier with the Krell KSA-i400 stereo amp (~ $35,000, review pending in our partner publication The Absolute Sound) was a match made in heaven! I attribute some of that magic to the implementation of one 6SN7 per channel in dual triode with slightly more optimized operating points and biasing then the previous Gen 1 version. I am admittedly a huge fan of the 6SN7 tube and find that I gravitate towards preamp tube gear utilizing this tube, and the 6C33C in amps. I value a combination of dynamics, timbre, presentation, and stage that these tubes seam to excel at.
The L-200's small external power supply matches the heft and finish of the primary preamp chassis, which is built beautifully and exudes luxury fabrication like a Vacheron Constantin timepiece. The front panel is elegant and rich; with a passive ELMA 64-step switched attenuator and an ELMA 5 input selector, along with a small light above the input selector indicating power status. In the center is an applied gold triangle with the company logo etched on; its got to be 1/8" thick.
The back panel features a simple layout. Five inputs consisting of 1, 2, and 3 are single-ended/unbalanced RCA. Inputs 4 and 5 are balanced XLR. There are three outputs: two pairs of RCA and one pair of XLR. There's also a power umbilical input. The preamp is fully balanced input to output. To give you an idea of the quality of parts and production, the power supply weighs an impressive 17 pounds(!), and the main unit weighs a hefty 90 pounds! The clicks of the volume knob and input selector are crisp and purposeful, and unlike many other stepped volume knobs I never felt like I was in between too loud and too quiet while listening; I was always able to get right where I wanted to be.
Does it have a remote? No, but neither does a Jaguar XKE. You already need to get up to flip your vinyl every 20 minutes or so. I had no problem getting up to adjust the volume as needed, and I am confident you won't either. And let's be honest, if you look anything like me you probably also need the exercise. Just saying....
Did I have any issues? You need to be aware that the power supply needs some breathing room. It did not like my very well-shielded music server and made noisy noise come through my speakers and I didn't like it. A quick reposition of the power supply another foot further away (the umbilical is quit long), and I was back to my black background.
Lets crank it up, a lot! I had to listen to Infected Mushroom's "Vicious Delicious" [Vicious Delicious, MOON Records B015NKJ9NU in 44.1kHz/16-bit] about three times after my gentle lullaby to adjust my ears and psyche to the dynamic swing I just inflicted upon myself. But man this thing can rock! Forget ethereal, this synthesizer orgasm boarders on offensive (I have seen this song clear a room of audiophiles and reviewers at a demo. No joke.). But as a reviewers tool it excels. Tops and bottoms were penetrating, fierce, and energetic. Pace was fast and clean. Dynamics were bold, although never bravado.
The pre-amp tilted a single click to the red with this track, avoiding the stridency a more meticulous and analytical preamp can impart. Please don't interpret that as it's a typical tube warm component; it is not. But it unquestionably impassions the signal path with tube magic and emotional grip to justify and make the listener aware of the 6SN7's presence; and make you happy it is there doing what it is. It was both Vicious and Delicious!
Back down in my seat to chill'ax with a bit of Aaron Neville's "Everybody Plays the Fool" (Warm Your Heart, A&M, 44.1kHz/16-bit). Another vocal texture masterpiece, this track blossoms spatially and dynamically. The placement of the vocals shifts in the first few notes and allows precise placement of Aaron's voice from front stage left to center mid-stage, along with a reverberating back and forth of percussion that paints a wide and deep image. My Wilson Alexx V's project a holographic image that washes the walls away, and the L200MK2 really took advantage of them!
Again, not quite as detailed and resolving, not quite as solidly and meticulously placed as my Alexander; but so close as to seriously impress considering the L200 is 50% of the retail. That being said, when I connected the L200MK2 with the also in-review Krell KSA-i400 Class A stereo amp, the delta shrank by a significant margin. Component matching and system integration is real my friends; don't ignore it! The overall soundscape widened, the depth became both more and more palpable. My Alexander didn't make the Krell sound this good. Dynamics thwacked harder and the floor and ceiling of that scale expanded. I have heard this track a lot, and this was in the top 5 reproductions I have ever heard, anywhere. Kudo's to Triangle Art and to Krell!
I got my groove on with a bit of John Campbell's "Down in the Hole" [Howlin Mercy, Rhino-Elektra in 44.1kHz/16-bit]. That opening base riff can show so many weaknesses in a system. The L200MK2 gave me the extension I wanted and kept it nice, clean, and tidy. There is an openness to that instrument when done right and I got just that. The guitar tension that followed as John's gravelly voice blossomed through presented leading and trailing edges that were quick and precise. Nice. Very nice. The presence of this track fills my room, and this replay was no exception. It was on this, and only this, track that I noted the slightest restriction in the vertical dimension of the presentation. With my Alexander the stage goes floor to ceiling on this tune, and it just wasn't quite as big and bold as my juggernaut Pilium preamp. But I was dragged way down in the hole as the music flowed, and that's what it's all about.
Let's change gears and dress for a night at the symphony, shall we? Saint Saens' "Danse Macabre" [Witches' Brew, Blue Moon Imports, B0098YTXAC in 44/1kHz/16-bit] is one of my favorite pieces of music; this recording particularly. From the first string pluck, the door opens and invites me in to watch the devil collecting his prey and dragging them to the underworld (at least that's what I see). There is passion, there is soul, plus there's sadness and longing. This piece is about breadth and timbre plus presence and harmonic integrity. It's a bitch on a bad system and glorious on a good one. There was almost a sense of tenderness underlying the macabre that I sensed, and it was a bit disturbing and exciting. Oh that's good....
Finally I threw on Mussorgsky's "On Bald Mountain: Tuileries" [Russian Showpieces, Sony Classical, B000003FMY in 44.1kHz/16-bit]. This piece conveys more anxiety and tension than the Macabre Dance, but also more excitement, energy, and bravado. The piece is structured with more complexity and takes advantage of the scale a full orchestra can convey. The Triangle Art preamp handled it beautifully and expertly. As with the previous track, there was a sense of being both emotionally engaged in the mental image conveyed by the composer and in being physically engaged within the venue by the performance. And in the end, isn't that the point of all this obsession and expenditure?
Tom built a little black box and a big black box. He made his box from the best magic bits he could acquire on his quest and hired Dr. Tram, Gustavo, and Robert as his magicians and Force wielders to stuff the box with magic wands and Holocrons. What resulted bridges worlds; the world that exists in your recoding and the world of your listening room. Triangle Art's L-200 MK2 stereo preamplifier renders music without obstruction or imposition, in a way that adds and subtracts everything and nothing. It adds silence while subtracting the intrusion of the outside world.
It is utterly engaging and musical while never distracting. In many ways, the Triangle Art L-200 MK2 preamp just is and does, which is about the best compliment I can reward a top-tier unit. Truly magic of the grandest type! It is a simple luxury and makes no effort to be more than that.
If you're looking for an end-game stereo preamplifier with no unnecessary bells, whistles, or screens.... No digi'bits. There's no remote either (get over it!)... fabricated by the Dwarves of Moria and imbued with the power of Merlin, then look no further. It will make the world disappear around you.