Equipment Review No. 3   March 2002

Tri Luminous 1.0 Digital to Analog Converter
$2000

US Distributor:
Yama’s Enterprises Inc.
16617 S. Normandie Ave., Suite C
Gardena, CA 90247
310-327-3913 (voice)
310-324-7422 (fax)
http://www.yamasinc.com/Tri_Home5.htm


Basic Description

D/A converter with 96kHz/ 24 bit decoding; HDCD; 4 inputs (2 coaxial via RCA, 2 optical via toslink); 2 simultaneous outputs (FET via RCA, Vacuum tube via RCA); accepts 16/20/24 bit data with sampling rate of 32k/44.1k/48k/88.2k/96kHz; uses 2 12AU7A tubes; RGB illumination with each color adjustable in 16 different steps including mixing colors; 3 kg; 20 W x 20 D x 10 H cm. (1 cm ~ .4”)


Equipment

Krell KAV-300iL integrated amplifier, B&W CDM9NT speakers, Krell KAV-280cd CD player (for comparison and transport), Audioquest cabling.


Setup

I left the Tri unit on for at least a week to make sure it was properly burned in (even though my unit was supposedly used by other reviewers/ and/or it was a show demo). For evaluation, I connected a digital cable from a Krell KAV-280cd CD player to the Tri converter, and ran two identical sets of cable into the Krell KAV-300iL integrated amplifier. In addition, I ran a third set of cabling directly from the Krell CD player into a third input on the amplifier. This allowed me to do fairly quick comparisons with the amplifier’s remote control. The two different outputs on the converter were approximately the same in level. However, the Krell CD player was lower in volume. I measured the difference with a test tone, and was able to adjust the level on the amplifier to match within a reasonable tolerance. With material where I compared all three outputs, I usually compared the outputs from the converter first, and then the better sounding one to the Krell.

The unit was set to varying color combinations during my listening tests. The unit always locked to the signal without any difficulty, and with no strange sounds (ie popping, clicking). HDCD lit up and functioned like expected with HDCD titles, but I did not have an opportunity to try DAD titles from DVD, as I had none to try. The manual is well written, although I don’t think you will need to refer to it for any reason.


Listening

I began the (tube output) listening with track 6, “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” from Sting’s Mercury Falling. First off, the Luminous 1.0 does not sound like a Single-Ended tube amp with skewed frequency response. And, it also does not sound like an old vintage piece of tube gear. What it does give you is a slightly warmer, bigger, and more up front sound in the midrange that is especially pleasant on voice. There is more layering in the soundstage and instruments tend to stand out more from one another. The elements and images also tend to have more presence and impact in the mix. I’m not sure whether you’d say that the texture of the sound is changed, or rather that the true texture of the sound is now discernible. The upper bass is more pronounced from the tube output as well. Switching to the FET output was somewhat enlightening. The differences were subtle at first, but I clearly preferred the sound of the tube outputs. The FET output gave the cymbal more hash, and there was an extra bit of high-frequency content that didn’t really add air, but did add a slight edge to the sound. Certain instruments fell back more into the mix, and the overall sound was less balanced top to bottom in comparison with the tube output. You could say the sound took on a more metallic character. When I switched to the Krell, the upper bass lightened noticeably, and sounded more like the FET outputs. But the Krell sounded better on the voice, and had better overall balance than the FET outputs. The tube output was an entirely different animal. There was more drive, impact, and presence, and everyone who happened to hear was very impressed. One listener clearly stated his preference for the Tri hands down.

Next, I put on track 5, “Easy Money,” off Rickie Lee Jones self-titled album. The output from the tube section trimmed off what most people refer to as the edge or harshness that many attribute to CD sound, and otherwise left the music intact. There was less “ssss” on certain sibilants, and voice was decidedly more appealing than from the FET outputs. Again, the FET output had a hashier and more metallic sound. On this track there was an elevated sense of high frequency as before, but not an added sense of space or increased air or depth. Bass was generally less powerful, or thin by comparison to the tube outputs. While listening to the Krell, I felt that I could hear more recording hiss. The finger plucks were well defined and almost exacting, but there was less richness in the voice compared to the tube outputs.

In the mood for a little jazz meant the next stop on the listening train was track 1, “I See Your Face Before Me,” from John Coltrane’s Settin’ The Pace. The tube output produced a sound that was more up front and lively. The FET output had more sizzle and the recording hiss was more offensive. In comparison to the FET output, the Krell offered more delicacy and beauty to the music, especially the horn. The sound was a bit toned down in comparison with the tube output, but clearly better than the FET output.

Track 10 from a Deutsche Grammophon Sampler (439597-2)—Beethoven’s Cello Sonata op. 102 no. 2 1st movement: Allegro con brio helped to illuminate (pun intended) the differences between the different output stages. With the tube output, the cellist was brought forward into the mix and made the entire performance more enjoyable. The FET output had slightly more top-end extension, but it didn’t add anything to the music. The tube output produced a sound that was more enticing. The Krell offered a more polite presentation. The instruments themselves did not have as distinct a character from each other as with the tube output on the Tri.

From this point on I found no reason to continue to listen to the FET output, as I preferred the sound of the tube output on every recording I tried. It is possible that with a different combination of equipment and/or speakers that this would not be the case. However, I felt that the tube output had a better overall sound, and continued to compare it with the output of the Krell CD player. I put on track 1, “When My Lady Danced,” from Terry Callier’s Lifetime record. The Tri had more impact, the voice was much larger and more present in the room—in effect, a more musical presentation. The Krell was polite, a little restrained, but the word “accurate” comes to mind.

I switched gears and put on track 2, “Silicone,” from Mono’s Formica Blues. This recording is sampled and scratchy but has excellent spatial rendition, wispy vocals that are contagious, as well as a lot of deep bass. The tube output on the Tri offered more pound in the bass, and more palpable presence in the voice. There was more dimension to individual instruments and added warmth. The Krell was thinner in the voice. Sound was a bit reticent—it was there, but not as thrown out at you like with the Luminous 1.0.

With track 6, “The Borgia Stick,” from a compilation of George Benson tunes called This is Jazz 9, I found the sound of the Tri converter more vibrant and colorful. It was hard to say if it was just letting the music come through or euphonically altering the sound to make it sound better, but it sure did sound good! The Krell gave the guitar a remoter feeling. There was a little more sizzle on cymbals and overall you could characterize the sound as controlled, but not as dynamic a feel, and a little cooler than the Tri.

For the last of the critical listening, I chose Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1, movement IV from a Delos Sampler (DE 3087). The Tri produced a brilliant sound with lots of power and deep bass. The Krell had an edgier sound across the board, and was not as smooth as the Tri. Bass was powerful and had tremendous control in the low end. With the Tri the natural edginess of the instruments was still there, but an extra edge around theentire soundscape seemed to be gone.

If I had to quantify the difference between the two converters, it was probably in the 5% range. It would make more sense to use a dedicated transport with the Tri rather than a player like the KAV-280cd. However, the Krell is what I had available at the time, so that is what was used, and its analog section provided a good performance comparison.


Conclusion

Up to this time I’ve made little mention of one of the most impressive aspects of the Tri Luminous 1.0—its looks! You can change the color that the unit illuminates to match your mood or your décor. It was the coolness of the design that attracted me to the unit at the CES, and it was the sound that finally sold me. The FET output is usable, but not nearly as impressive as the tube output. The unit has 4 digital inputs that should allow connection of all digital gear, and handles 24 bit/ 96kHz data that should assure its compatibility with a variety of sources. The sound of the Tri Luminous 1.0 was infectious, and if you can find a dealer I would definitely give it a look and a listen.

- Brian Bloom       big_brian_b@hotmail.com

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