World Premiere Review!
The first orders of business after I received the two monoblock amplifiers designed and manufactured by the California company Triangle Art was unpacking them, and then I had to make plans to get them upstairs to my main listening room. The two very heavy boxes containing the monoblocks were shipped from California, first by train across the country, then once they arrived at a station on the East Coast, by truck to my home. The amplifiers were carefully packed into two cardboard boxes, their interiors fitted with foam which was specially formed to safely secure each amplifier. I would have thought that because of their weight (and more likely their price) these amplifiers they would have been shipped in wooden crates. But since they arrived in one piece, undamaged, and have operated flawlessly since I set them up in my system, I suppose wooden crates would have been nice.
Apparently, they were unnecessary (I later learned that Triangle Art uses wooden crates only when shipping internationally). Getting the pair of these 135-pound amplifiers out of their containers and upstairs was definitely a two-person job, not only because of their weight, but because of their size, which once they were upstairs made me wish we had turned this into a three-person job. These amps operate in Class A, which means that most of their power is lost as heat, and so this means large and plentiful heatsinks are necessary. Which translates to heavy amplifiers.
The "heavy-duty specially designed" heatsinks of the TA-200M amplifiers are obviously what make up a large part of each amplifier's case. Of course, what's inside is most important and so what most audiophiles should find quite impressive is that the amps are each designed with 20 pairs (10 pairs per channel) of "carefully selected" bipolar transistors. These provide 200 Watts of power into 8 Ohms for each monoblock (the power doubles at 4 Ohms). These are beautiful looking, large, handcrafted amplifiers which Triangle Art claims are made "with the use of the highest quality parts and components", using a custom-wound, audio-grade toroidal transformer in each amp, with separate winding for the left and right channels.
Tom Vu, along with his chief engineer Dr. Khoi Tran both feel that because of their combined love for both music and technology, it has led them to, in their words, "set new standards and are able to set the bar higher every day". They added that in order to achieve the best "lifelike sound" their research and development into different aerospace-grade alloys and materials enabled them to discover how to mix brass, copper and stainless-steel alloys to use not only in Triangle Art turntables but also their electronics to reproduce this lifelike audio playback. Also, their measurement equipment makes them ensure the highest quality standards as they design and build their products in their Anaheim, California factory.
During their stay, most of the time I preferred the Triangle Art TA-200Ms being fed a signal by a Mark Levinson No 523 preamplifier. Those familiar with my recent reviews will know that this preamplifier is extremely transparent, and therefore would almost certainly guarantee not to color the sound that is amplified. I also had on hand the recently reviewed and quite revealing Nagra Classic Preamp and Merrill Audio Christina Reference preamplifiers, but the Mark Levinson matched so well that I left it in my system for the entire review period. My front-end still consists of a Tri-Planar 6 tonearm mounted on a Basis Debut V turntable. A PS Audio P300 Power Plant acts as a power supply and speed controller for the turntable. The phono cartridge for this review was usually a Etsuro Urushi Carbon Blue, which by a hardwired tonearm wire that terminates with RCAs connects to a Chord Symphonic MC phono stage that I reviewed last month.
I also listened through my reference Pass Laboratories XP-15 phono preamplifier (which was recently replaced in Pass Lab's line by the XP-17. I'm working on it), for some of the review, but most of the time the Chord unit. When listening to digital in this system, the majority of the time it was through my computer-based music server which is connected via a Furutech USB cable to an EMM Labs DA2 digital-to-analog converter. Occasionally I'll spin a silver disc on OPPO's top Blu-Ray/universal UDP-203 connected to the DA2 DAC with a coax digital cable. My reference speakers are Sound Lab Majestic 545 electrostatics, augmented by a pair of 15", 1250-Watt Velodyne subwoofers. For the second half of the review period the front-end's power cables were connected to a Goal Zero Yeti 400 battery power supply, and all other cable, such as those coming from the speaker's transformers and the subwoofers were connected to a Chang Lightspeed ISO 9300 power conditioner.
All the interconnects and speaker cable used during the review was Accusound Cable's XD line, which I also recently reviewed, and were kind enough to let me use long enough to review the Triangle Art TA-200Ms. These cables have been in my system since I reviewed them in December, and I can think of no other cable that would be more suited for use with these upper-echelon monoblocks under review than these upper-echelon cables. I fear that if I used anything less, I wouldn't hear the full sonic potential of the monoblocks. Most of the equipment rested on an Arcici Suspense equipment rack, the monoblocks rested on the floor in front of them. My listening room has two dedicated power lines, one of which powered the amplifiers, the others the rest of the gear, at least the gear that wasn't powered by the Goal Zero unit once it made its entrance into the system. The room has acoustic treatment panels on its walls, which are painted with a calming Sherwin Williams "Sky Fall" blue indoor acrylic-latex paint.
I've had other amps in my system during the last few years made by various manufacturers, some of them more expensive than my reference – in fact some of them were much costlier than my reference – but at best all of the amps that sounded "better" than my reference were variations on the same theme. They simply gave me more of what I liked about my reference. This included but was not limited to a fantastic, drawn to scale soundstage, separation of instruments and groups of instruments, a very extended frequency range, micro-dynamics that were finely calibrated and macro-dynamics that were enormously varied, etc. The reason I now felt cheated was because with the Triangle Art TA-200M Class A monoblock power amplifiers in my system on the floor in front of the Arcici Equipment rack, was because these amps didn't sound much like what I was used to hearing, these amps were better than simply a variation on the same theme but better. I thought that this wasn't fair.
Pricier, more technologically advanced amplifiers are supposed to sound the same, but better. It sounded better, but also different. In a good way. I know, there are going to be more than a few audiophiles that are going to claim that since this amplifier varies from the standard Class A/B, or even Class D, it is distortion that I'm hearing, that is "fooling" me into thinking that this amp sounds much better than what I've become accustomed to. Firstly, I've heard "euphonic" sounding equipment. This sound I was now hearing was not altered by euphonia. Plus, I don't care much about specifications. Still, when I read the specifications that came with the TA-200M they didn't read much different than the specs that came with many of the other amplifiers I've had in my system of late. Sure, there were amplifiers that had better specs than the TA-200M. But not much better than what some might call "acceptable", and some that are much better than that. I'm not going to claim "ignorance is bliss" when it comes to specifications, but it is obvious to me that what I was hearing with this pair of TA-200M monoblocks is not pleasing to the ear second order harmonic distortions, or any other sonic sweetener that was causing me to listen with sonic blinders. This was the real thing, folks.
In the past when I was in my listening seat I was accustomed to music "enveloping" me. But when listening to the TA-200Ms in my system they did this in a way that I've never experienced before. It was as if I was sitting within the music, observing the sounds as almost as they were physical objects that I could reach out and touch. There wasn't separation of instruments and groups of instruments as before, because now the sound created a three-dimensional sonic diorama in front of me. And to the sides of me, and above and below me. I realize that I might be exaggerating a bit for effect. But the best I could explain this phenomenon was to compare it to being enveloped in sound like when attending a live event. Although what I was hearing was not a live event, and when listening to music that never was intended to be performed, it didn't matter. When listening to music through the TA-200M monoblocks, I considered it the ultimate in discovering the intensions of the musicians, engineers and producers who made their work in the first place.
As I got further into the review period, and the amps began to break in further I started to think that using "ordinary" audiophile terms were quite useless, since these monoblocks sounded so much better than just about any equipment I've ever had in my system. When I played any album that I thought I was familiar with, whether it was one that I've been playing for only a few weeks, or one that I've been listening to all my adult life, the music on the record or digital file sounded new. Yes, that's a cliché. But I think it's a safe bet that any other experienced audiophile would say the same thing who had the pleasure of hearing their favorite music played through the Triangle Art TA-200M Class A monoblocks connected to an admittedly very nice pair of electrostatic speakers supported by two 15" subwoofers, being fed by a finely tuned digital and analog front-ends.
When I played my favorites I had a sonic epiphany of sorts which each album, which included but was not limited to selections such the records Genesis Selling England By The Pound pressed by Classic Records, a Japanese pressing of Kraftwerk's The Man Machine, an early 1960s RCA pressing of Poulenc's Concerto For Organ, Strings And Tympany, the amazing Classic Records pressing of Led Zeppelin III, and the DSD (SACD) files of Dead Can Dance Towards The Within and Charles Mingus The Saint And The Sinner Lady.
When I played them what I heard of course was music that I've probably played hundreds of times before. But when attempting to analyze what I've heard using familiar audiophile terms, words failed me. First of all, the music was quite distracting. In a good way. And so, it was either difficult to take many notes or I would just forget to take them until the album or the side of the record was finished. It was also a bit funny, because every time I'd scribble some traits of the music into my notebook, I'd sometimes add phrases such as "on steroids". "The music coming through the TA-200M monoblocks was so enveloping, it was like it produced a soundstage on steroids". This is not standard audiophile terminology, at least not as far as I'm concerned, and so I'm not sure how much help that would have been in understanding what I heard when I had these monoblocks were in my system. The best I can do is characterize the sound of the TA-200M monoblocks as if they were high powered tube amplifiers without any of the disadvantages of tubes.
These Triangle Art amps have the dynamic distance of tube amps, each instrument, each sound, and each group of instruments and sounds were separated from the others, realistically scaled, placed in different sections of a soundstage that filled my room. In addition to this spectacular characteristic, I can't imagine getting anywhere near this kind of tight, very pitch specific, thunderingly deep bass out of any tube amp no matter how powerful it is, especially when using electrostatic speakers that have challenging impedance characteristics. No matter how loud high the volume, the Triangle Art TA-200M monoblocks never complained. I heard no overload whatsoever. I thought 200 Watts might not be enough power for my rather large electrostatic speakers. It was plenty. I was also expecting these amplifiers to give off prestigious amounts of heat. Nope. I expected this because supposedly one of the disadvantages of Class A amplifiers is that their overall conversion efficiency is very low.
A considerable amount of their power when converting current to the musical signal is lost in the form of heat. Yes, the amplifiers became warm, but they never got too hot to touch with my fingers, and I could even lay my arm across the bow of the amplifier and leave it there for as long as I wanted. Score one for the TA-200Ms' heat sinks. In the past I've had some amps in my listening room that could have doubled as space heaters. Not these amplifiers.
There's a good chance, at least I hope so, that as time goes by there might be other high-priced, very ambitious amplifiers that I'm sent for review, as these days there seem to be many others on the market. If any of them come anywhere close to sounding like the Triangle Art TA-200M Class A monoblocks I can understand why some purchase these amplifiers, regardless of their cost. Every time I would play music through the TA-200M's I would utter statements such as "this is the best I've ever heard this music sound". This wouldn't occur only with audiophile favorites, but just about any music I played through the Triangle Art amplifiers, because these amplifiers let me hear exactly what is on the recording like no other amp that has ever done before in my system.