: Frederic Beudot
Financial interests: click here
Digital source: Auraliti PK90 USB file player / SOtM sDP-1000EX
Analog source: VPI Scout 1.1, Lounge Audio LCR MkIII & Copla, Zu-DL103 MkII, Dynavector 10x5 mk5, Ortofon Quintet Black, Nagra VPS [in for review]
Preamplifier: SOtM sDP-1000EX, Burson Conductor
Amplifier: FirstWatt F5, Triode Labs EL84TT integrated
Speakers: Ocellia Calliope .21 Twin Signature, Rogers LS 3/5a, Zu Essence, Finalé Vivace mini [in for review]
Cables: Zu Varial, Ocellia RCA cables, Absolute Fidelity speaker cables, Zu Event MkII
Power cords: Zu Mother, Ocellia, Absolute Fidelity
Powerline conditioning: Isotek Nova
Sundry accessories: Isolpads under electronics
Room size: 16'x21'x12'
Review component retail: $4'999 as reviewed + tubes

Triode Lab and sister company Finalé should not be completely new discoveries for 6moons readers. I first ran into this Canadian outfit and group of audio enthusiasts behind it back in 2013 when I reviewed their entry-level tube integrated, the EL84TT. The article provides a lot of background information on the company and philosophy of their design team as great context for this review. They have grown somewhat since 2013 and gained many accolades over the years but still remain a small operation focused on quality, customer satisfaction and Canadian manufacture whilst maintaining very competitive pricing - a balancing act that requires a very committed and frugal team.

To me the EL84TT proved a revelation; and many others who heard it. Despite its puny 6 watts from EL84 tubes operated as triodes, it can drive a much broader range of speakers with aplomb and authority than would be anticipated. As long as you don't connect it to extremely demanding loads—which will get it to cry uncle, eventually—the EL84TT can drive surprisingly low efficiency speakers. It sounds stunning on my famously inefficient Rogers LS 3/5as while it handles the Zu Essence without breaking a sweat. All this to say that after more than three years, this amplifier remains my reference because nothing came close to its unique combination of gentle triode sweetness, pentode leading-edge sharpness and bass control, at least not in its price class. When it comes to recognition, nothing speaks louder than highly acclaimed peers choosing to partner with you on a regular basis. To this day, Triode Lab are the go-to reco for Ocellia's Samuel Furon when his customers can't quite step up to his own massive full-silver 300B integrated. Similarly, Robert Gaboury, formerly of Gemme Audio fame, has partnered with Finalé to bring a much updated version of the Vivace Mini speaker back to life. This speaker will briefly appear in this article but then feature in its own review.

So… the little Canadian operation is slowly growing up and spreading its wings to mean requests for higher-end amplifiers which clients want to partner with more refined transducers. Enter today's object of attention, their 2A3 integrated in $4'999 trim. It sits right between the entry-level base-trim Elegant at $3'999 and the all tricked-out FFX starting at $5'999 and possibly a lot more if the team are asked to source some esoteric parts which they will happily do to customize orders. As you progress through their trim levels, the circuit and design stay fixed but all critical parts get progressively upgraded, starting with the various transformers going from Hammond to James to Hashimoto as prices progress. Similarly caps go from Nichicon to Mundorf to Mundorf silver or gold-in-oil; connectors from CMC to Furutech Gold to Cardas and Furutech Rhodium. The most critical part of the job is not to progressively select more expensive parts but to actually know how to combine them to get exactly the sound the customer wants based on their speakers. Frank knows my Ocellia from hearing them in my house back when we lived in Canada; and from working with Samuel Furon since. The amplifier he sent my way was indeed customized to sound best with the Ocellia and within the budget of an S trim integrated. This treatment would obviously be objectionable if it weren't available to all customers but that's the beauty of working with Triode Lab. If you call them, they will work with you on whatever custom change might be required to give you the best results possible if their stock parts selection is not quite ideal for your unique situation. Despite their growing line, they still sit squarely on the boutique side of the audio industry. Customization is part of the service they offer gladly, knowing that their stock selections will be great in most setups.

Moving on to the 2A3i, the design philosophy is typical Triode Lab. It had to be ultra quiet, dynamic and offer tight bass as three characteristics one rarely associates with single-ended triodes of low power. Over the years and after dozens of different SET amps either owned or assessed in various systems, I can point at the Audio Note Ongaku and Tron Telstar which hit all those marks. A few more came close, including Samuel Furon's own 300B integrated and the Art Audio Carissa SE but both fell short to various degrees on bass control. Without making the unrealistic claim that the Triode Labs 2A3i is the equal of an Ongaku or Telstar, I will say that within its very strict power limitations, this integrated gave me the same goose bumps as when I heard the mighty Ongaku for the first time. It thus joins a very rarefied personal peer group comprising a few select amplifiers by Gryphon, Vitus, Kondo and Tron.