After sitting on the shelf for the majority of the year (thank you Summer), I felt it was time to bring out one of my favorite pre-amps. I have long held Triode Lab in high regard for the beauty and simplicity (in design) of their equipment. When I first heard one of their integrated amps, I was floored. This was especially impressive considering it used my favorite little vacuum tube.
Strangely enough, I haven’t talked about Triode Lab here much, which is strange considering my general thoughts towards their gear. I’ll come out and say I think the prices asked are more than fair for what is received. Frank is a pleasure to work with and goes out of his way to customize where possible while still keeping prices reasonable. He is a true believer in the quality of his products. I’ve communicated back and forth with him fairly consistently over the last 6 years or so and my respect has only grown since.
Taking a Step Back into Vacuum Tubes
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the EL84 is my all-time favorite tube for a multitude of reasons.
First, cost and lifespan. These things are relatively cheap to acquire and can last on the order of 10k+ hours before needing to be replaced. I personally have over forty matched quad sets of EL84 NOS goodness that I’ve acquired over the last two decades. You read that right. So what if I’m a little fanatical about my tubes.
Second, vocals. Look, I get it. People claim that the true single-ended vacuum tubes have vocals that are to die for because of how “silky smooth” they can be. And I believe it. The 2A3 is sublime. But… when implemented right, the EL84 is where it’s at. What it gains over its bigger brethren is a sense of agility that goes a long way when listening to vocals – especially female.
Third and finally, that sweet sweet bass response. Yes, it’s true. While it may not have the punch that some of its bigger tetrode brothers have, with the right output transformer it can dig just as deep. My reference tube amps – also Triode Lab – output a mesmerizing 26 watts that will make you second guess the authority that such a little tube can have.
Okay, okay, back to the matter at hand.
What is the Au Pre?
The Au Pre is Triode Lab’s flagship (and only) pre-amplifier. Their sister company, Finale, also offers pre-amplifiers for those that are interested.
Back to the topic at hand, the au-pre is called such because it uses the venerable 12AU7, hence the AU in the pre-amp’s name. On the tube rectification and regulation side sits a 6CA4 and 12BH7, respectively. As I’ve had this pre-amp for some time now, I can safely say it represents the very best that Frank has to offer. Some may ask what “best” means in this case.
To me, it is simply allowing the vacuum tube to be the star of the show and getting out of the way of its performance. the tube rectification and regulation go a long way in achieving this goal.
Full Review to come
Well, I can’t give away too much. Some may be asking what amplification I’m using to drive the speakers. That will have to be a surprise when the review comes out. No, it isn’t my reference Triode Lab EL84M-FFX monoblocks. Those bad boys are still on the shelf upstairs until it cools down a little more.
Until next time!