Triode TRV-88SER Integrated Amplifier Review
Just like the recent resurgence of vinyl records and players, the valve amplifier, with their romantic glow and oft-attributed “musical” and “organic” sound signature, is seeing a new-found surge in popularity among music lovers.
The Humble Valve
First patented in 1907 as a gas-filled tube and then fundamentally improved in 1915 as a vacuum tube, the three element tube, or valve, was the cornerstone of signal amplification for nearly half a century. With the mass commercial introduction of the transistor in the 1960s, bringing advantages such as lower cost, smaller size and greater reliability, the popularity of the humble valve amplifier started to decline.
Yet while audio enthusiasts are still divided between valve, solid-state and even hybrid variations of amplifier design, more than 100 years after its inception, the valve amplifier is here to stay and is increasingly common-place among the product offerings from many high-end brands.
Triode Corporation Ltd, Japan, celebrating their 21st year of foundation in 2015 ought to know a thing or two about vacuum tubes, or ‘valves’.
Triode Corporation’s headquarters are situated in Koshigaya, a city located in the Saitama Prefecture, about 30kms from Tokyo along the banks of the Motoarakawa River. It is here that company founder and CEO Mr. Jun-ichi Yamazaki laid the roots for what would become a highly successful brand that seemingly flies under the radar in the Hi-Fi world. This is surprising, given that Triode is exported and distributed to more than 35 countries around the world.
Represented in Australia by Absolute Hi End, the Triode TRV-88SER was offered for review as one of the best-selling amplifiers from the range.
The compact TRV-88SER integrated amplifier features KT88 valves (Triode branded) as the model number suggests, operating in class AB mode and ‘push-pull’ operation. A double triode 12AX7 operates the input stage, while two 12AU7 tubes drive the KT88 valves.
Hand assembled with beautiful timber flanks, the high quality finish across the whole Triode range is immediately obvious. Dropping the cover of the TRV-88SER, there’s a number of individual circuit boards connected in point-to-point fashion; no mass production here.
A steel mesh valve cover is included preventing inquisitive hands from getting into the glowing candy. It is quite resonant by design however, so that remained in the box given our demo room is safely off-limits to kiddies.
INS & OUTS
The TRV-88SER is well placed to serve as the heart and soul of a Hi-Fi system. With the inclusion of an MM phono pre-amp, along with a headphone output conveniently located on the aluminium front face, one could simply connect a turntable and a set of high quality headphones and be up and running. Armed with a pair of OPPO PM-2 headphones, a quick test revealed the TRV-88SER is certainly up to the task of driving them very nicely and with absolute ease.
In addition to the phono input, there are two additional single-ended inputs located on the rear and another pair on the front. The front location is another convenience for connecting music on the go – from a smartphone or tablet, for example.
There’s also a pair of outputs labelled ‘Rec Out’ which are fixed gain in case you’d want to use the amplifier as a power amp or in ‘HT Bypass’ fashion.
Speaker outputs include 6ohm and 8ohm taps, and all terminals feel very rigid and high quality, noted by Triode as being of USA origin.
Kicking over the TRV-88SER is as easy as pressing the switch on the front panel (I loathe delving deep into a rack to turn on rear-located switches).
‘Choirgirl’ from Ian Moss’ – ‘Let’s All Get Together’ (2007) album, is an acoustic recording of an Aussie classic from 1979. Contrary to the cheery, drunken sing-a-longs at the end of the night in local bars, Choirgirl is actually quite a dark track.
This rendition conveys a somewhat more accurate sense of the topic the track was written about and the TRV-88SER exhibits a great sense of ambience and depth of soundstage in the recording.
The guitar harmonics at the beginning of another iconic track, ‘When the War is Over’ (Cold Chisel, Circus Animals - 1982) exhibit brilliant decay and again, the ambience of the recording really comes through on the TRV-88SER. The lower acoustic guitar notes present with stunning tone and depth.
For a completely different pace, Safri Duo is a Danish electronic percussion duo. Samb-Adagio from the ‘Episode II’ (2001) album features fast-paced bass and percussion that the TRV-88SER had no trouble keeping pace with.
I found myself coming back to tracks prominently featuring percussion. In my experience many valve amplifiers I’ve listened to often display weakness or lack of control in the lower frequencies. If I had to highlight one area of strength, the TRV-88SER continued to impress me in this area.
Similarly, vocals also really shine on this amplifier. Hans Theesink’s voice combined with the textures of the tuba in ‘Mississipi’ get the foot-tapping right away. The instruments are clearly separated across the soundstage with rock solid placement.
Another Aussie that needs more recognition is Juzzie Smith, an immensely talented independent musician from Byron Bay, NSW, performing as a one-man-band.
‘Bluesberry Jam’ from the Happy Daze (2006) album showcases Smith’s harmonica skills and creates a real sense of presence, as in right there in the living room with the listener.
After quite a cross-section of musical genres, the Triode TRV-88SER is a real musical performer. If there were a weakness it may be in the upper frequency ranges, lacking a little detail and ‘sparkle’ for want of a better word, and only if I was being very critical. It more than makes up for this however with its performance across the whole frequency spectrum, particularly the tonality, presence and control of the lower frequency region.
For many, the TRV-88SER with its built-in phono stage, headphone output and priced at just $3,200 RRP, is an excellent choice and would serve well at the heart of a Hi-Fi system.
Triode is distributed in Australia by Absolute Hi End.
- Tubes: 4 x KT88, 1 x 12AX7, 2 x 12AU7
- Output power: 45W+45W at 8 ohms
- Frequency response: 10Hz-100kHz(-1,-4dB)
- S/N ratio: 90dB
- Input sensitivity: LINE 400mV , MM 2.5mV
- Input impedance: LINE 100k ohm , MM 47k ohm
- Input terminals: 3 x RCA unbalanced (LINE1-3), 1 x MM Phono
- Output terminals: 1 x REC OUT
- Speaker output terminals: 6 - 8 ohms
- Headphone output: 6.3mm stereo jack
- Equipped components: KOA high precision resistors (Japan), High quality coupling capacitors, High quality speaker terminal (USA)
- Other functions: Remote control (Volume, Mute)
- Dimensions: W345mm x D320mm x H185mm
- Weight: 17kg