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CES 2015: Acoustic Zen and Triode Corp crack space, let in the monsters

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ces-logoI am entirely suspicious of Twin Audio‘s Santy Oropel and Acoustic Zen‘s Robert Lee. Neither gentleman is exactly sporting Incredible Hulk physiques, yet someone had to move those massive speakers and equally massive amplifiers both into and out of that demo room at the Venetian Hotel. Given that each of the four components is on the far side of 200 lbs, I’m guessing either they’ve been eating their Wheaties (with a side dose of some serious Captain America “supplements”), or they had an army tucked away in the hotel room’s bathroom. Like I said, it’s suspicious either way. It all felt a bit too … neat. And those grins didn’t fool me for a second.

I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen or heard Lee’s flagship loudspeakers, the Maestro ($42k/pair) as he tends to cart around the more affordable, but still massive, Crescendo loudspeakers ($18k/pair). The two speakers are rather similar — the driver units and layout are similar, except for the size (10″ vs 8″) and the placement of a “mid-low” woofer at the very top of the stack. Both are transmission-line designs and both have a top-to-bottom coherence that is remarkable, almost disregarding the position of the listener. The Maestro, for the record, is a 4-way with a ±3db frequency range of 20 Hz – 40 kHz, 6Ω, and 87dB.

The Maestros were obviously too much for the not-exactly-tiny hotel room. With placement far into the room, the bass loading was explosive and threatening, but with that said, it was still tuneful. Yeah, there was a bit extra going on down there, but it was so very obviously due to the room, overlooking it was part of the course. Moving up past the mid-bass, I could very much see why Robert spent all his time grinning. Holy smokes. Deep tone, gorgeous textures, and some wacky-detail retrieval were all presented as if that kind of majesty happened every day. No fuss. No muss. No greasy aftertaste. If the room had let me drag that seat about 3′ back, I might have stayed all day. As it was, the looming Maestros were just a bit visually overwhelming, and the only super-hero I was able to channel was Ant Man. Me so tiny!

Anyway, no — they’re not cheap. But given that the only speaker that came to my mind while I was ensnared there was the Focal Grande Utopia, the idea of a super-speakers for $43k (instead of $200k+) seems like a value-play to me. But when you find yourself wondering — aloud, apparently — whether your kids really need to go to college, it really is time to go. If Admiral Ackbar hadn’t walked by, shouting “It’s a trap!”, bad things would have happened.

And then, I took a really good look at those amps. I’m pretty sure both Santy and Robert started cackling at this point.

You see, I’m a fan of Triode Corp. They make tube amplifiers that over-perform at their price point and generally look like they’re worth the money — that is, with that signature “red lacquer” finish and clean metal accents, the products actually look like they should cost the (relatively modest) pile of money that they do. I dig the sound, too — an emphasis on the tone instead of the speed may put it a bit out of step with “modern audiophilia”, but I’m down with that. This is my kinda groove.

That said, the higher up the food chain you go with Triode, the more “audiophile” the sound — more refinement, more air, more detail and mo’ betta’ bass. The TRX-M845 mono block amplifiers, at 130 lbs each, were alarmingly robust in the “down low”, for example. But here, with the Reference M-212, things just got dialed up to monstrous. First, the tube-chain is just silly — you have 310 inputs going to 300b, thence to 845 and thence to the ultra-massive 212 for output. And boy-howdy, we’re talking output — 100 watts of pure Class A in a (paralleled) single-ended triode circuit. Holy mega-tube, Batman. This thing is insane. Yes, it’s 200 lbs per side. And yes, it is $43k/pair. But I have never seen an amp this big, offering this much SET glory, so while I am taken aback by the price, I’m gobsmacked by the whole package. This would be hilarious to use on just about any loudspeaker out there. Just … whoa.

In the rack, almost hiding behind the wall of kaiju in the front row, was a “matching” Reference One preamplifier ($20k). This fully-balanced pre is tubed, like just about everything from Triode Corp, and fully dual-mono. The power supply is also separate, and also dual-mono. ALPS volume control and Silver/Gold Mundorf caps are featured, as are a vintage quartet of Raytheon 6KZ8 tubes, a pair of vintage RCA 22DE4 tubes, and a pair of EH 6DJ8 tubes. Two XLR and 4 RCA inputs are paired with three RCA and one XLR output. It’s a bit of a lightweight, at a mere 60 lbs. Ha!

There were some very pretty turntables from Triangle Art tucked into that rack, too. Perhaps I was overawed by the rest of the room, but I failed to get any information on them.

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About Scot Hull (979 Articles)

Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.