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In my mind EL84s offered sharp transients with a variable level of treble ringing depending on how well executed. Although this amplifier handles transients very naturally, there was no ringing whatsoever even with medieval string instruments or modern acoustic guitars. I also imagined that the amplifier would lack control way down because of its triode-strapped pentodes. There again I was proven completely wrong. Although the bass this amplifier was capable of won't go quite as deep as what you get from a FirstWatt F5, it was more fleshed out, impactful and 'acoustic' sounding than the solid-state amplifier. This gave upright bass and drum rolls a physical presence they did not have before.
If you've read my review of the Ocellia speakers you'll remember that upper bass slam was one of their few weaknesses. Here the EL84TT provided the perfect antidote, making the drum rolls at the end of Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony literally thunder as they should. I'd similarly expected a slightly forward midrange from the triode implementation and what I heard was actually a slightly recessed top vocal range, exactly the opposite of what the 45-based Yamamoto A08s sounds like. Interestingly this tendency to not project female voices as strongly did not necessarily translate as lesser resolution or presence thanks to the very low noise floor.
Everything was still there to be heard, just not thrown into the spotlight. Somebody looking for ultimate spotlighting à la 45 or 300Bs direct-heated power triodes will likely be disappointed about that specific aspect. On the other hand I found the microdynamic midrange capabilities of the Triode Lab amp second only to those very best triodes and superior to the F5 or the SP3.


With its goodly dose of upper bass punch and slight midrange dip, this isn't exactly a neutrally voiced amplifier yet the resultant mix of virtues is simply enjoyable to listen to with speakers that benefit from this personality. I asked the design team at Triode Lab about this small deviation from neutrality in their voicing and they candidly admitted designing the amplifier to maximize compatibility with small horns, Lowthers, Fostex and older Technics monitors which all are capable of amazing presence but in need of solid support in the upper bass whilst managing their potential shoutiness in the upper mid/treble transition.


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Based on what I was hearing this all made perfect sense. Readers simply must understand that whilst Triode Labs' voicing isn't heavy handed, the EL84TT very gently deviates from strict neutrality in a fashion that will make it a good partner for widebanders suffering from less than ideal response without precluding it from playing with far more refined partners. Case in point, I loved the EL84TT on the Ocellias which are far too demanding to suffer any amplifier that would strongly stray from realistic timbres. The Ocellias are ultimately transparent to tone and timbre and thus didn't hide the facts that the Triode Lab's upper midrange wasn't as holographic as Ocellia's own 300B SET yet did benefit from the punchier upper bass in trade.


To these ears the combo was more polyvalent than the association with a 300B amp which clearly shone on voices and small ensembles but fell behind on big orchestral and electronica whilst the FirstWatt F5 took a few step back on midrange microdynamics and tonal accuracy. The EL84TT split the difference in a fashion that met my omnivorous musical tastes perfectly. This humble integrated doesn't shy away from massive dynamic outburst which it handles with an aplomb unexpected from a 6-watt triode amplifier whilst raising the bar on tone and fluidity over the F5.


 
If I were to fault the EL84TT anywhere, it would be on ultimate transient sharpness. Readers with tastes similar to Srajan in this department would likely find the small integrated on the softer side, certainly softer than the same tube implementations in Trafomatic's Kaivalya monos or Premise integrated. Here one bears in mind that those models were designed to work with conventional speakers whilst the EL84TT and its flea-watt power rating is really intended for widebanders. The difference thus shouldn't surprise.
I would compare it to how the ASI Liveline cables handle transients versus the Ocellia Reference cables. The former emphasizes speed and attack to the extreme even if it means adding a tiny bit of contrast sharpening at times. The latter strive for a natural balance of attack and decay even if that sometimes sacrifices ultimate dynamic rush captured on a recording. Neither is right or wrong but a matter of preference one must be aware of. I found the balance of the EL84TT perfect for classical music and natural voices. With electronica where transients can be unnaturally sharp, the little amp at times showed some lag versus the F5.


Going back to the designers, I looked for hints as to why their design sounded significantly different from what I expected on 'EL84 theory'. As they repeatedly pointed to their single-ended input stage as the primary reason for their exceptional level of silence and superior linearity over typical EL84 triode designs, I asked for a little more detail. Here is what they had to say: "We wanted to come up with something new and fresh to our ears as well as those of the audience. So we asked ourselves, how about making a push-pull amp that would sound like a single-ended but combine most the benefits of either mode? In most conventional push-pull designs multi-stage drivers add phase shift, noise and distortion to create transient lag, slow down the beat and introduce a sense of compression which reduces the emotional intensity of the original recording."