Triode Wire Labs, run by the eponymous “Triode Pete” (aka Pete Grzybowski) was a company recommended to me very highly by my fellow PTA staff members. That included both Scot Hull and Marc Phillips, who had nothing but praise for both man and company. When the opportunity came up to review some cables that praise stuck with me, and after a look through the Triode Wire Labs website, I was excited.
Words and Photos by Grover Neville
“Affordable & ‘Audiophile’ Should Not Be An Oxymoron!” the About Us page on the website proudly declares. Now you’re speaking my language. Not only is Triode Pete an insanely nice guy, he’s an insanely well-credentialed one as well, with degrees in Bachelors and Masters of Science, and a professional engineering license. Furthermore, Triode Wire Labs utilizes Litzendraht-style braiding of its cables, a technique pioneered by Western Electric in the 1930s.
Readers familiar with my tastes know that classic hi-fi and Western Electric are up my alley, and I have had very positive experiences with all the litz and litz-braid style cables I’ve encountered. I won’t even mention the word triode is right there in the name. Furthermore, while I can appreciate the costs associated with running a business, cables ranging into the many thousands or tens of thousands of dollars are fairly far outside my tax bracket. Triode Wire Labs is, by contrast, a breath of fresh air–unpretentious but undeniably excellent cables at prices that startled me only for being reasonable in the world of high-end wire.
Triode Wire Labs, and Pete
Before I qualify my comment about these cables being undeniably excellent, I’d like to note that Pete’s generosity more than lived up to his reputation. I was sent an absolute pile of cables, including Spirit XLRs and Phono to use with the Mola Mola Makua, as well American Speaker wire and pretty much the entire line of different power cables, from Digital to Ten and Seven Plus and even an Obsession Statement cable. There was even a USB cable included that I hadn’t requested as the folks over at Triode Wire Labs noticed that I was using a USB DAC, a very thoughtful and nice touch.
Pete included a detailed note on what gear to pair with each cable, as well as some interesting tidbits about his use of Alan Kafton’s audiodharma High Power Cable Cooker. No detail goes missed over at Triode Wire Labs.
In unboxing the cables, I was treated to an immaculate packing job as well as several thoughtfully supplied cable bags. This ranks up as one of my nicest unboxing experiences, not because the packing was fancy or ornate, but because everything felt unpretentious and thoughtfully done. A bit like receiving those rare commission pieces from small, old-world craftsmen. There’s nothing quite like it, when that classic shoe or fitted jacket slip on and you can move just a little more effortlessly.
Much like a bespoke clothing item, the Triode Wire Labs products make everything just a little easier, a little more like sinking into a warm bath. The flexibility of the cables is second to none, and by far the best I’ve ever used in my personal system. Even the power cables with their large plugs slid right into place with just the right balance of flexibility and stiffness. I didn’t have to struggle to plug anything in, but it never moved once I placed it there either. The braiding on all the cables gave a classiness to their feel and use that I came to appreciate as well. There’s no good way to really hide the cables in my system, but the Triode Wire Labs loom didn’t need hiding.
I find audio companies sometimes tend to reflect the personalities of their owners, and in this case the cables are as classy and understated as Pete himself.
The Triode Wire Labs Sound
The final benchmark was, of course, the sound. I’ll just say that I do hear cables make a difference in my system, and certainly feel some solid cables are a worthy investment that can take a well sorted out system to a higher level. In this case, after some extensive listening to my system as it was, I wired up everything from the power cables, to interconnects to speaker wire.
The first thing I noticed surprised me a bit. In my experiences, when I’ve heard noticeable differences with cables the result has generally been additive in the sense that I heard a little extra resolution in a frequency band, or a slightly different presentation of bass, or maybe sharper transients. The Triode Wire Labs, by contrast, felt subtractive, as if it were sucking out small annoyances or incongruities in the sound which I’d noticed before but had not been bothersome. A tiny bit of forwardness at 7khz, a little flab around 60hz, a slight fuzziness to imaging in the midrange, and other idiosyncrasies were suddenly tweezed away. Though the effects were subtle taken individually, the result as a whole was definitely noticeable, and even my decidedly non-audiophile roommate commented on the change. “Those shiny cables are pretty cool.”
Determined to drill down into the causality of it all, I sat down with said roommate for a session of Who’s on First cable swapping. First we removed all the new cables and installed only the power cables, then only the speaker wire, then only the interconnects. While such A/B swapping is a good way to make your head spin, I repeated these sessions, much to my roommate’s chagrin, a few times over a period of several weeks and started to triangulate on some specifics.
My expectation from the outset was that the power cables might make some difference in the bass regions, most likely on the amplifiers, my Manley Snappers. The interconnects, I figured, would do their work in the treble and the speaker wire would be somewhere in between, perhaps taking most effect in the midrange. I was pretty much dead wrong except on the very last count.
The power cables, contrary to my expectations, seemed to affect the midrange and treble. Many audiophiles talk about a black, quieter backgrounds, and in this case the background noise did seem quieter, sounds emerging with more contrast from the spatial background. Treble also seemed smoother and more damped, less hazy and just generally less hashy.
The interconnects were a similar story, again surpassing my expectations. They seemed to clean up the bass a little, trimming a bit of fat here and there for an overall cleaner, tighter experience. While cleaner can sometimes mean more antiseptic, the Triode Wire Labs cables were nothing of the sort. Instead, it was the organic, invisible kind of clean that one often hears when bass is neither over nor underdamped, but instead liquid smooth, adapting to the music like a chameleon.
I went into the speaker cable tests with some hesitancy, anticipating my expectations would once again be totally wrong and my status as a golden-ear professional would be wrecked. My friends would all know I was a hack…
Just kidding. I’ve been fooled by enough bypass switches in pro audio to know better than that. Sometimes you just swear that 800hz eq knob is cranked, and then you look down and see that nothing is in the signal path. So it goes. In this case however, my expectations were a little more in line with the results.
The American speaker cables added some extra perceptual extension at the frequency extremes and generally seemed to make things sharper, smoother and with more dynamic contrast. Imaging tightened up a little in the center, and pushed a little further at the sides of the speakers, creating a more enveloping sonic soundstage. I’d like to also note here that the banana plugs used on these cables were really cool, using a twist-tighten mechanism that made swapping and seating cables a total cinch. No worries of bananas falling out, and no fighting with ultra tight bananas on the way in or out.
Triode Wire Labs, As a Loom
The sum total effect of all the Triode Wire Labs cables was what I would call noticeable. Yes, it was more subtle than changing speakers or an amplifier from a technical point of view. The frequency response and fundamental character of the Focal Kanta and ProAc D30RS speakers on my Manley Snappers were intact.
However the effect on the listening experience, especially with the entire loom, was one that was decidedly not subtle. Though the changes in perceived smoothness, lack of harshness, resolution and imaging were all individually small, the aggregate pulled me deeper into the music, let me notice more minute details and broadly scraped away at the veil between listener and recording that is the stereo hi-fi system. Not only did the perceptual transparency increase, it felt like the elements that clued me into this being a stereo system were also blurred, softened and less noticeable.
If that’s slightly fuzzy language, it’s because the changes the Triode Wire Labs made in my system connected me to the music in a somewhat more emotional than analytical manner.
If I had to describe the sound of Triode Wire Labs cable, at least in my system, I would not use the words bright or warm. There really was no drastic change in the frequency balance or character of my system’s frequency. What it did before the Triode Wire Labs cables, it could do after. However, the standout feature for me was an enhancement of the coherence and integrity of the musical soundscape, a liquid smoothness around micro-detail and an increase in contrast around macro-detail. This series of small additions made the entire picture pop just a little more in a way that asked me to relax into the music when it was relaxing, dance when it was groovy and head-bang when it thrashed.
There’s an elusive shimmer to audio plankton and micro-detail when things in a system are playing right, that causes them to dance just at the edge of perception. Not too forward, not absent, but just present enough to make you lean in and want to hear more. For me, the Triode Wire Labs cables collection of little improvements all drove towards this point.
If one is looking for some pocket-friendly ways to up the game of a well-tuned system, I can heartily recommend listening to some Triode Wire Labs cables. My personal recommendation would be to try the power cables first, as those seemed to provide the most obvious differences, but I was pleased as punch with all of Pete’s wire.
Going forward, Triode Wire Labs will be my first and very possibly last stop for any of my cable needs.