For a while there, triodes were the biggest craze to hit audio in a decade at least. After years of nothing more exciting than new digital formats, the single ended amplifier exploded onto the local marketplace and captivated the attention of audiophiles and industry gums. It was different, it was new, it was classic, and it was HIP. At first, triodes had the ultimate qualification for hipness going on — you couldn't buy the stuff even if you had the money. You either had to build ‘em yourself or import some exotic electronics from a foreign land.
What followed the revival of triodes did a lot to reaffirm my faith in the capitalist system. As predicted by the classical models, when there is demand some ambitious producer will rise to meet the challenges. Two years later, there are a dozen single ended amps that you can buy, a few real nice triode kits, and a number of exciting new tubes on the market. Everybody is involved in the triode enterprise: the mainstream magazines, the Chinese and Russian governments, and now even AT&T is getting in on the act. There ain't no "In Crowd" — everybody's in.
I always welcome heavy capital investment by mega-corporations and foreign ministries of trade destined to enhance my personal music listening pleasure. Let triodes take up the slack in a global economy shifting away from military and defense-related expenditures. If this is New World Order audio, bring it on!
Anyway, the absorption of triodes into the mainstream of international commerce and world audio institutions signals that the era of faddishness for the triode is past and events suggest that some permanence for the technology is guaranteed. Elsewhere on the planet, triodes have been around for a few decades and enjoy a faithful following. For an industry dependent on worldwide export sales for economies of scale and profitability, triodes are an ideal commodity. The language of triodes is today a lingua franca among the top few percent of audiomaniacs everywhere, as it has been for some years in certain pockets of esoteric activity, and I think it is safe to say that we will continue to see an expansion of the triode dialogue and growth in the market for triode-based music systems in corning decades.
Now that the whole issue of fashion is out of the way, maybe we can get down to learning the lessons which this timeless technology offers us. Hopefully, in another few years, we will have a sufficient knowledge and experience base to make good use of this tool. We will need to learn how to build whole systems which showcase the special talents of triode technology and meet its unique challenges. And most importantly, we have to be ready to adapt our ears and our aesthetic systems to measure progress in the new directions in sound that we are pursuing.
One undeniable benefit of the appearance of triode amps on the scene is that it shook up the "high end" where it needed to be shaken, at the level of unquestioned assumptions. For all the self-reflection of the Stateside audio press, they are a complacent bunch as far as the fundamental rectitude of their analytical program is concerned. They act as though they believe there really are absolutes in the experience of musical beauty and they know what they are. Single ended puts us back where we need to be, in an atmosphere of productive mystery, and it reminds us that we are still novices at reproducing music after only 100 years.
As triodes are being taken seriously by more and more people in the business these days, a few traditional industry figures are now calling triodes the "death of the high end." Funny that players in a movement whose philosophical strength derived from a bold willingness to question the supreme importance of specs and put music first are now assaulting SE because the specs are off the map. Triodes aren't the "death of the high end" — rather they provide us with an opportunity to continue in the pioneering spirit of the old high-enders of the 1970s, forcing a radical critique of existing technical and evaluative institutions with the goal of more perfect music reproduction ahead. Tunnel vision or blind adherence to fashion, whether old or new, is the death of the high end.
Get the entire collection of Sound