Manufacturer: Triode Corporation
riode appears in "High Fidelity" quite regularly, but not too often. For as long as I can remember, a review of one of its products has always featured in our "Japanese" issue. It may have to do with the fact that Triode had its Polish and European premiere in the May 2006 issue of “High Fidelity”. The component that was reviewed was a small and inexpensive 300B amplifier, a really unusual combination. The TRV-300SE amplifier, then still sold under the name TRI – changed to TRIODE a few years later – was the work of Mr. Junichi Yamazaki who founded the company in 1996 in Koshigaya-shi Saitama. In a mini-interview, he said that he regarded the output transformers to be the most important component in tube amplifier design. Looking at the evolution of his products over the years, mechanical design and the type of tubes used have become equally important.
I'll start with the latter. In his 2006 amplifier, Mr. Yamazaki used tubes from Okaya, a Japanese company completely unknown to me (even today), which bore the logo TRI. The output stage featured a single directly heated 300B triode, slightly smaller than usual, driven by 6SN7 dual triode. The circuit was very simple, with small output transformers. This allowed to keep the unit’s price low while the amplifier was proudly labeled "Made in Japan" on the rear panel. The TRX-M300 under review today belongs to a different generation of Triode products. It is an expensive piece of equipment and there was no need to cut corners with the design, in order to find the best compromise between the target budget and sound quality. Where the TRV-300SE was an entry level amplifier, extremely pleasant but definitely a budget product, the TRX-M300 is a true reference component. This is clearly marked on the large golden plates with the model name mounted to massive power transformer cans, which say: "REFERENCE EDITION".
The amplifier was not created in a vacuum. The point of reference in its development was the legendary American design, the Western Electric EC 91A. This is not the first such attempt, just to mention the outstanding amplifiers from Reimyo http://www.highfidelity.pl/artykuly/0811/reimyo_cat_pat.html a>, Sophia Electric and others. The circuit is based on a single 300B output triode, here in the PSVANE WE300B version, a copy of the original Western Electric triode, which is driven by two 310A pentodes also used in the Reimyo PAT-777 amplifier mentioned above. Plate voltage rectification is handled by the 274B diode. The amplifier is massive and comes in two separate enclosures. The weight of each monoblock (22 kg) and its dimensions (420 mm x D 340 mm x H 210 mm) speak for themselves. This was necessitated by the use of large in-house made transformers and the desire to maintain the lowest possible crosstalk. The amplifier has automatic bias, 10 Hz – 50 kHz (-2 dB) frequency response and the output power of 8 W.
Albums auditioned during this review
Just like with the best audio components, by which I understand those that are involving and not merely the most expensive, the Triode amplifier "dictated" the music I was listening to. Of course, the auditions – like all tests in general – have their own methodology, carefully worked out by each reviewer. What’s important is to ensure that the methodology is reasonable and to stick to it unwaveringly. In the end, it all comes down to comparing audio components to the reference system, which requires repeatability. Having said that, there is room for improvisation outside the regular, fixed parts of the review. After all, we are talking about products that affect our feelings and this requires our adapting to the situation. In such case as the TRX-M300, the element of “free” prevails over "mandatory". Actually, it is "free" by name only; as I said before, it is insisted on by the component itself.
Triode creates its own clearly defined world, confined on each side but internally so rich as to be self-sufficient. Just like Japan itself. And while in July 1853 four black ships commanded by Commodore Matthew Perry, a U.S. naval officer, anchored at Edo Bay, ending the 200-year isolation of Nihon-koku, the country has since remained closed to a certain extent, mostly in terms of mentality. And absolutely self-sufficient, apart from natural resources. It might seem that Japan’s peculiar fascination or obsession with the American pop culture and European art, including Chopin’s music, tells a different story and reflects their openness. In fact, it's just another form of isolation as the interest is in the tangible and intangible objects of culture and not in the countries they originate from. This can also be “reversely” applied to the TRX-M300. It is a finished, beautiful and highly refined world.
The sound of Triode amplifiers can be best described as smooth. Silk or velvet smooth. Teflon is even smoother, but it is usually associated with something cold and impersonal. Here we are presented with something very, very personal and "human." In an objective analysis, taking into account individual sub-ranges, sonic aspects, etc., Mr. Yamazaki’s amplifier exhibits significant deviations from neutrality (and from the reference amplifier). There can be no doubt about that. Its modest power output additionally narrows down the circle of matching speakers, to a large extent "dictating" the sound of such system – high sensitivity speakers sound different than those of the average sensitivity (for better and worse). But hey, it's like a wedding ring – you put in on with a big smile on your face. And if you take a proper care of what happens LATER, you will stand behind that decision with your whole self for the rest of your life.
That’s why I feel uncomfortable writing about withdrawn top and bottom end. There is no deep bass or upper treble to speak about, no matter what source we use and what kind of speakers we listen on. We need neither the former nor the latter – as long as it is also OUR world. All albums sound warm and friendly. It makes no difference what kind of music we are talking about. I listened both to Clan of Xymox and Diary of Dreams, as well as to the refined vocal recordings of Handel’s Duetti da Camera, and quite a few jazz albums. Even more than a few. The sound that was defined by the amplifier helped any good music. It brought out its inner pulse and emotional tension. The better the recording, the closer the presentation to the listener; the worse the recording, the further the presentation. But if the basic requirement – the quality of music – is met, we will be sitting down captivated by the sound. Being aware of the limitations of music material and dreaming about how it would sound in a better world, where producers and music labels know what they are doing, we will wait for the next track, next part of the record, and then another album.
What stands out is a phenomenal resolution. It might seem nonsensical, if we already know about the limited frequency response, smoothness and low power output, and hence limited macro dynamics. Except that we are talking about a high-end component, with a sensitive designer behind it, a person whose world coincides with the world of those who have already grown out of the pursuit of hi-fi.
Along with warmth and resolution we also get a great three-dimensionality. These three aspects constitute the Japanese monoblocks under review and support each other. Three-dimensionality may be achieved in various ways, also in inexpensive audio components. This is usually done by withdrawing the top and bottom end and exposing the midrange. A lower resolution is helpful, too, as less information means that what is presented is reproduced more clearly. The Triode has an outstanding resolution, so there is nothing to worry about the amount of information. Its bass roll off probably helps with the output current capability but I would not pay too much attention to that. I think that the exceptional 3D spatial expanse is a direct extension of differentiation. As a result, we get a natural three-dimensionality of recordings, not its mere approximation.
This is why the vocals were so palpably close, both metaphorically and in terms of physical distance. The touching youthful voice of Chet Baker on his 1958 album It could happen to you was outstanding in its presence and density. It was truly three-dimensional and had a great texture. The smoothness of the sound did not hamper detail and soundstage layering.
This amplifier is particularly suited to those who listen to vocal music and small ensembles. Hence, I focused on jazz albums. Not because the amplifier is inherently "limited" and not capable of handling heavier music. It is more than capable and will sound great. I have already referred to dark wave climates along the lines of Clan of Xymox and Diary of Dreams, so let me add here some trip-hop from Portishead's debut Dummy and Mike Oldfield from his newest album Man On The Rock. And Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way for good measure, an album far from the acoustic performances from the days of Kind of Blue. There was no deepest bass like I said and there will never be. But the overall presentation was so coherent that what I could not hear was hinted at and added to the sound by means of higher harmonics. There may have been no low end grunt but the presentation was most satisfactory. All the recordings sounded honest and great, and showed the characteristics I mentioned above. Of course, it was impossible to play it loud; 8 watts of output power, even from a tube amp, is still only 8 watts. But I did not need anything more.
Therefore, the first choice must be to find a matching pair of speakers that will fit our favorite music, our habits and our listening room size. This much should be clear but it won’t do any harm to repeat it. Spendors from the Classic series, sold in Poland by the same distributor as Triode’s, Art Loudspeakers designs or the recently reviewed speakers from Trenner & Friedl (see HERE) should be your main trail. Harbeths too, of course, but rather smaller models than the M40.1 which require a more powerful amplifier.
The amplifier receives the RED Fingerprint award to express my personal appreciation for Triode and Mr. Junichi Yamazaki..
I do not know if you remember the first review of a component from Triode (then Tri) in "High Fidelity". The TRV-300SE amplifier had such distinctive looks that it could not be confused with any other product. The unit was surprisingly small, which was the first thing that caught the eye. We got used to the fact that tube amps are large or very large. The small size of the TRV-300SE was the result of its moderate power output (a single 300B) and clever use of the available space. Just after its dimensions, our attention riveted unusual color finish, with the side panels and transformers’ cups coated with bright, carmine-red metallic paint. While Tri was not the only Japanese manufacturer to use finish colors other than black and white, it was definitely leading the pack. I really loved it. And yet it was not an expensive component. It was obvious that the enclosure was sourced from one of the large scale manufacturers of such products - and scale means savings. This time the savings did not add to Mr. Yamazaki’s account but rather helped music lovers’ accounts. The TRV-300SE was a very affordable amplifier.
The TRX-M300 belongs to the third generation of Triode products. The monoblocks are huge and expensive. Also, the finish of the transformer cups and side panels is different and their color is much more subdued. What remained is the characteristic aluminum front panel. It now sports a power output and bias meter, a switch to turn off the meter backlight and another one to choose between the two modes of meter operation. The main power switch is mechanical and there is no option to switch on the unit remotely, for example by a trigger port.
The amplifier design is reminiscent of classic QUAD amplifiers, for example, QUAD II. Intensifier tubes placed in front of and next to a large can of transformer. Behind the tubes have two smaller cans - the output transformer and choke, part of the anode power lamps. In the back corner, hidden behind the cups, there is one lamp - rectifier PSVANE WE274B. As I said, in the output stage is working lamp 300B. There are no markings on it, and according to the manufacturer this is the PSVANE WE300B. It naturally operates in single-ended class A. The driver stage employs a rare 310A pentode, which we know from the Reimyo amplifier. Another 310A is used in the input. They have quite distinctive looks in that they sport top grid caps, ensuring low capacitance. The tubes are covered with protective "baskets" to comply with EU regulations. One covers the rectifier tube, and the other protects all other tubes. I took them off for the time of auditions.
An interesting comparison of the amplifier design can be found in Dick Olsher’s review in "The Absolute Sound" (Dick Olsher, Legend Reborn, "The Absolute Sound" 2013, October 8, see HERE). He suggests to look at Mr. Yamazaki’s design as a contemporary version of the legendary Western Electric EC 91A amplifier from 1936. What spurred its creation was the development of the 300A triode in the same year. Hardly anyone could have predicted that its follower, the 300B directly heated triode introduced by Western Electric two years later, in 1938, would become the icon of high-end audio. Or that it would still be in production 80 years later, like amplifiers using it.
The amplifier circuit is quite simple and most of the interior is taken by the power supply, as customary in good tube amps. Many Chinese manufacturers attempt to copy this style and build extremely simple components, but that is not the way to go. This type of minimalism as presented here is the result of a gradual reduction of the number of components over many years of testing. Amplifiers such as the Triode are not created in one instant, as finished designs, but are rather the final result of a lengthy development process. Each component less means hours upon hours of auditioning and testing, auditioning and testing… There are no shortcuts.
Technical Specification (according to the manufacturer)
Tube Complement: Output tube PSVANE WE300B x 1, Pre 310A x 1, Driver 310A x 1, Rectifier PSVANE WE274B x 1
- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE
- Multiformat Player: Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD
- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: fuse – power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m) – wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4
- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One