Triton Integrated Amplifier
as reviewed by Gary Lea
Hi! I'm Ayon
Last year I had the extreme pleasure of reviewing the Ayon Typhon monobloc amplifiers and the Polaris twin chassis pre-amp. These units were easily some of the best electronics I have had in my home. The Polaris came with two world class MC phono stages and so much flexibility it was like having the Olga Korbet of audio gear in my system. (Ok, so I just dated myself with that reference. It still fits!) Needless to say I was excited to be offered the chance to live with the Triton Integrated amp albeit for all too short a period of time.
If you are not familiar with this brand then let me pass along the usual propaganda from the company's own literature. This will give you a brief introduction.
"Ayon Audio offers a complete line of high performance audio components.
Ayon components combine premium design, new construction principles, advanced technologies and profound musicality.
Ayon components offer explosive dynamics, purity of tone, neutrality, finesse, emotional realism and stable sound stage projection.
Our engineers are established leaders in their respective fields of high-end audio expertise. Our range of activities covers the development of high performance vacuum triode power tubes, the design of sonically outstanding tube preamps, triode tube power amplifiers, CD-Players with vacuum tube output stage and advanced technology speaker systems.
Ayon components are designed with future
upgrades in mind, providing for emerging new technologies, up-to-date
performance and preservation of investment.
Ayon products reward music lovers with an authentic and excitingly realistic reproduction of music as a real live event. All these activities are guided by a singular idea: the perfect reproduction of recorded music."
To Tell the Truth
Having read all this, by the time the Triton was delivered I was certainly flowing with excitement and anticipation. The interesting thing that I found with these comments from Ayon was that at the end of the whole affair I could not argue a single point that they stated! By the time I was through listening to the Triton I was hugely disappointed. Yes, disappointed. Why? Simple! It was going away and I did not want to say goodbye!
Heavy Weight in Fighting Shape
This unit is quite heavy for a single chassis integrated. This theme seems to run through every Ayon product that I have had my hands on. The build quality is quite exemplary. The cases are stout and the face, side, and back plates are 3/8 inch (or around one centimeter) thick, machined aluminum and they are nicely anodized a rich black color. All the lighting is red, which offers a nice compliment to the lovely glow of the eight exposed KT 88 tubes driving the amp. Four tubes a side produce 125 watts per channel in pentode mode, or 80 watts per channel in triode, and enough heat to warm a small room on a cold winter's night. Ayon also pays extremely close attention to the aesthetic details of their products. The names of the inputs, labeling, etc. are not merely painted on; they are machined into the aluminum. All knobs are very solid in feel and work very smoothly. There is one little quirk, if you might call it that, and that is the placement of the on/off switch. As I said when I reviewed the Typhon/Polaris combo, "There is a real quirk regarding the Ayon components and that is that all the on/off switches are on the bottom of the component, roughly an eighth of an inch back from the front edge of the component. If you do not read the nicely done manuals that come with the components (...and what manly man would ever cop to reading instructions? I mean really… come on!). I could see how someone who might think they know so much and who did not read the manuals first would find themselves frustrated in short order, if they did not read the manuals, at least I would imagine that could happen to someone, maybe. The end result of all the work on the cabinets is that these components are simply as enjoyable to look at as they are to listen to."
When Charlie Harrison of Ayon USA asked me to review this unit I thought I was finally getting an amplifier that I could wrestle into my rack without an install party of friends and the resulting back pain I have been aggravating by moving around monster amps and huge speakers. Turns out, not so much! The Triton weighed a trim 96.8 pounds. Even at that it did not feel all that heavy compared to most of what I have been dealing with lately—300 pound amplifiers and speakers.
There is one thing that Ayon does with it's amplifiers that I find somewhat unique. They match each tube to its socket and label each tube box accordingly. When the amp arrives you simply put the tubes in their assigned sockets and fire her up. Other notable features of this particular integrated amp are that it is switchable between pentode and triode mode, it has a timer warm up circuit for all tubes (intended to extend tube life), it has a dual choke filtered power supply and a single choke for pre and driver stage, it offers an automatic power tube protection circuit system and it has 0dB Negative feedback.
Employing two separate power transformers (anode - high voltage and filament - low voltage), they are both encased, damped, and RFI/EMI shielded. It is populated with ceramic precision tube sockets using beryllium spring contacts (custom-made), gold-plated industrial grade PCBs, Teflon isolated internal wiring, and silver matrix internal signal cable. It offers four line inputs, one pre out and one direct in—for pure stereo power amp operation. Binding posts and input jacks are heavy duty and gold-plated.
Specs are as follows:
How Does it Rate?
So how well does it work? Quite well as it turns out! This is an exquisite example of what a set of KT88 tubes can do when used in an amplifier built to draw the maximum performance out of them. Not as powerful as a set of 211's, nor as sweet as a set of 300Bs, but rather an intoxicating mixture of textures and musicality that emulates both of those tubes. In other words it takes some of the best of the extremes and mixes them in a way that pulls you straight into the music.
I have owned KT88 based amps with before, most notably the Quicksilver KT88 monoblocs, and I have always enjoyed them. The Quicksilvers are now doing duty with my best friend from college and my younger brother, Kevin, powering his system much to his delight. We have spent many hours comparing the sound of various tube amps over the years and for sheer practicality, grunt, great midrange, and some astonishing highs, the KT88 is probably the best overall selection to offer as little compromise as possible. Besides which they can create some interesting colors when they glow and provide Fourth of July fireworks when they decide to blow up!
Not long ago I lived with the Cary Audio SLI-80 integrated tube amp for an extended period. The SLI-80 is a Push Pull Ultra Linear Pure Class AB-1 integrated amp. It will produce 80 watts per channel in Ultra Linear mode, but at the flip of a very solid switch on top of the chassis, it would move into Triode mode at a rated 40 watts per channel. Although it utilizes four 6550 driver tubes pre-driven by 6SN7 tubes, it shares some similarities in sound reproduction thanks to the close proximity of sound and the inter-changeability of 6550 and KT88 tubes. As the most recent reference point in powerful integrated amps the Cary is a tough one to beat. The SLI-80 cured me of my perception of limp noodle integrated amps. After all, I am a separate monoblocs man! In much the same way the Cary opened my eyes to how good a tube integrated amp could be, the Ayon made my eyes jump out of their sockets and clearly surpassed the performance of the Cary unit. Not an easy thing to do, and certainly a testimony to the caliber of integrated amp we are talking about!
The Triton did not disappoint me at all during its stay but rather impressed me to the point that I felt it outperformed not only the Cary, but the also the Quicksilver amps. In triode mode, midrange was simply exquisite. The human voice rendered in real time with depth and breadth. During the majority of its visit I ran it in triode mode. Its delivery was just too sweet with music from Chet Baker, Art Pepper, and voices like those from Jane Monheit and Iona Knopfler.
That is not to say that in pentode mode it was not as good. It was quite the opposite actually. It was just as good but different. In pentode mode it has enough grunt to push enough air that you can actually feel a kick drum as well as hear it. I would switch it to this mode for rock, big band, large orchestral pieces or any music that required extra push and punch.
The Triton emulates some of the Polaris/Typhon's ability to deliver gobs and gobs of information with clarity and detail that rarely comes with an all tube systems. Not razor sharp or analytical to the hilt with exaggerated highs, but rather, it brings you into the music more so than it delivers music out to you.
Attack and decay are more immediate, as if you are sitting with the musicians. This is something I know a bit about. When playing with a band, at a reasonable volume, the leading edge of the attack of guitar strings is rather sharp and can be subtly manipulated creating very fine nuance changes. Just take a listen to Hank Marvin of the Shadows sometime. This will give you a bit of insight to this phenomenon. It is easier to hear when you are right on top of it, a bit harder when removed from the instruments. With the Polaris/Typhon, I was hearing all those minute changes. Harmonic picking presented not only the octave overtone, but the faint sound and feel of the combination of both flesh and pick striking the string simultaneously. That is pretty detailed in my article on those units. The Triton came amazingly close to emulating those same feelings.
There are two things that I would have to say that I found to complain about the Triton, if you can really call it that. One would be the operation of the remote. It is a bit busy and difficult to navigate in dimly lit or dark rooms. This remote is a universal Ayon unit that works with any number of different Ayon components. The second was the absence of one of the phono stages that the Polaris had. It would be a great convenience and a wonderful added feature. It would go the extra step to create a one stop shop for a fully integrated solution.
Does it Sound Good?
In the review of the Typhon/Polaris combo I had used Keiko Matsui as a one of my reference recordings and thought it might be nice to use it again to compare the delivery through the Triton. From that review, "On Keiko Matsui's No Borders CD, the track "Mover" combines the vocal musings of former Santana singer Greg Walker with Keiko on keyboards. Some call this album over produced, and perhaps in comparison to minimalist recordings it is; but the sound is rich, liquid and it paints very beautiful images in the mind. Greg has one of the finest male voices I have heard in the last 40 years. Many people found him to be the best Santana vocalist ever."
Listening to the track on Typhon/Polaris combination made me want to get up and dance. That is something that I rarely do. Once again I felt like getting up and dancing about the room. As I have often said, I dance with all the grace, finesse, and moves of an ostrich on one leg, with its head buried! In other words it is one of those things best not witnessed, especially by young children who may be traumatized for life.
Rhythm and pace are great! It has the dynamics that provide the sense of musicians in the room. It is the stuff that sends chills down your spine or makes the hair on your arms, and other places, stand at attention like a platoon of marines saluting a general as he inspects the troops. This is when you know you are close to entering audio nirvana.
Lately I have been listening to older recordings from folks like Chet Baker and Art Pepper. These two gentlemen are arguably in the top five musicians their day, if not for all time, and Chet's trumpet style and Art's sax virtuosity are heavily emulated to this very day.
On Chet's album, Chet is Back (PML10307), the song "Pent Up House" plays through the Triton with pinpoint accuracy in regards to the musician's placement on the stage. They're in their own space and in proper proximity to one another. You can even sense the slight movement between passages as Chet moves slightly from left of center to center, then back again. Rene Thomas' guitar work is as good as you'll find, and Amedeo Tommasi's piano and the rythym section, driven by Daniel Humairon drums and Benoit Quersin's bass, augment the other three with perfect balance. Each takes their turn at a bit of soloing and each time one steps out for their bit you just feel the energy build and subside as they fade back to their place in the group. It is that kind of articulation from an amp that makes the music so much more believable.
When it comes to the human voice I cannot think of an amplifier that delivers it any better than one driven by B300 tubes. That being said the Triton does a damn fine job of it with its eight KT88 tubes, especially when in the triode mode. On Andrea Bocelli's Vivere Live in Tuscany, the song "La Voce De Silenzio", his duet with Italian pop star Elisa is a great display of two very different voices, both intensely strong, working together on the edge of knocking each other out of the song without quite hitting that mark. The Triton's ability to deliver both voices, in equal measure, simultaneously with a sweet separation, allows you to hear and feel both singers. You get the depth, projection and weight of Bocelli versus the range and delicacy of Elisa in absolute harmony.
About the time I was finishing the review period I stumbled upon Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band and their CD Act Your Age, (Immergent 281147-2). This disc offers big band jazz with a bit of modern flair. The lead in track, "Hit the Ground Running," is one lesson in how to crank up the vibe and channel the best of Tower of Power and Doc Severinsen. I went with Pentode for this track and the Triton just opened up the soundstage and let the band blow my socks off. Talk about moving air! The horn section rages and can nearly spilt your eardrums at volume while the drumming of Bernie Dressel just about knocks you out of your chair! I say in my best Jeremy Clarkson, English accent, "More of that! More of that!"
For a really shocking switch in gears, I went to Drowning Pool's "Bodies" from the CD Sinner. (Wind Up Records) Talk about raw energy. The late Dave Williams (why is it that we lose so many of these talented musicians to drug overdoses?) vocal delivery runs the gamut from soft and pleading to a downright full on frontal assault of guttural, wrenching screaming. Clean and melodic vocals in the song's bridge provide a rather stark and pointed contrast from the many shouted and screamed vocals that affect you in the nether regions like a proctoscope. In total contrast is drummer Mike Luce's faint chant "Here we go, here we go, here we go now!" all set against the driving work of the bassist Stevie Benton and guitarist C.J. Pierce in full wah-wah swirl. It is an incredible transition back and forth. It takes an amplifier of exceptional quality to pull all this out. The Triton has the delicacy required to produce the melodic bridge and the raw energy and speed to throw the bombastic attack right straight into your groin like a well placed kick!
There are definitely amps that do voices a bit better. There are amps that do hard rock and alternative better. There are amps that deliver the huge dynamics of large orchestral pieces better and there are amps that deliver the subtle nuances of jazz a bit better. That being said, I have not come across one that provides a better compromise and allows you to get a great presentation of all those genres in one integrated amplifier.
In the end, integrated amps often seem to be a compromise and beg the question, "Can I find happiness with just one chassis?" Much like a lover, audio equipment often causes an audiophile to begin asking thought provoking questions like "Will I grow tired of it?" "Will it lose its sex appeal and cause me to go looking elsewhere?" On the other hand if you find the right integrated it can lead to a long and lovely life together, a life with a great deal of satisfaction. It is a compromise to be sure, yet one that can give you 90% of what you're after and in such an exquisite fashion that you forget about missing the other 10%. Ultimately, what really blew me away about the Ayon Triton was its ability to be so flexible from one genre to another in extremes without being phased in the slightest. It moved between each of the selections mentioned here with an ease that was almost unsettling. It is almost like a con man who can easily take one persona at the drop of a hat and then turn around and change it 180 degrees a moment later.
And in the End... (Sorry Paul and John)
If you are in the market for an integrated solution to your Hi-Fi amplification question, you could look for a much better and much more expensive amplifier. You could find a much more expensive one, but I don't see how you could find one that was so much better than the Ayon that it would justify the price! Check this one out and you may well find your answer. Gary Lea
Triton Integrated Amplifier