Sometimes it happens, that we discover a brand not as we probably should, going from the bottom of the catalog up, but aiming at the top of the line immediately. On one hand this methodology minimizes the time needed to assess the real capabilities and aspirations of the given manufacturer, but on the other hand, it makes the tests of devices placed lower in the catalog harder, as our expectations are set very high due to previous sessions with the more expensive brethren. Of course logic dictates to lower the threshold in a way adequate to the price, but the subconscious acts on its own, and usually escapes logic. But enough about the para-psychological digressions, as this theory is not always true in practice, what I found out a few times, and here we are facing such exactly this kind of situation. We started our adventure with the company Trilogy Audio founded by Nic Poulson from the top phonostage 907, followed by the super-integrated amp 925. So we could say this is enough and wait for another top model, for example a headphone amplifier; or just tell that we will not test anything below the 909 with the 990. The question would be why we would do that, as Nic is a very sympathetic guy, and in addition the things he does in Trilogy Audio he treats as a … hobby and pure pleasure, something he does to relax. So there is no problem with a too ambitious approach of the constructor to his products, and in addition, while talking to him, we operate based only on facts, not involving emotions. Due to this, and knowing our opinion about his more ambitious products, Nic, and the Polish distributor – the Wroclaw based Moje Audio – decided, that it would be good, if we would listen at our leisure, without the need to hurry, to the newest product, aimed at a broader public, the phonostage 906. So I invite you to read on.
The Trilogy 906 has impeccable good looks and timeless elegance, as it should have for being a British product. Its compact, rather small chassis makes a solid impression already at first sight, and further contact only strengthens this impression. On the front we do not have any switches or knobs, there is only the company name and model number on the top left, while to the right, in a milled depression a red LED was placed, indicating the device is powered on. The left side is made from a solid aluminum slab, decorated with three vertical cuts, which indicate that besides the visual aspects it also acts as a radiator for the single-ended, class A amplifier circuit. The back panels is made from one solid, blackened profile. Due to limited size of the panel, there is only a power socket, integrated with a fuse, a grounding terminal and a pair of RCA inputs and outputs. Adjustment of the gain for the MM and MC cartridges, as well as capacitance and impedance, is done using micro-switches on the bottom of the unit. The whole is supported upon four, rubber feet.
As you probably noticed, there is no power switch. This is the reason why the manufacturer recommends to make all kinds of signal connections first, and connect power as the last thing to be done. And please do not worry too much about your power bill, as this unit has a very modest consumption of 4W, and I dare to claim, that even the biggest eco-audiophiles will not be upset.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, for the 906 it cannot be hidden, that it is smaller and cheaper than the 907, not only in terms of size and price, but also in terms of sound. On one hand this should not be surprising, because what sense would make to pay almost 15 000 zlotys for the more expensive brethren, when you can have almost the same at 30% of the cost. Of course I am aware, that from medium levels of Hi-Fi you pay a premium for every smallest improvement, but here this small difference has a clearly noticeable dimension. If, after this introduction, you think I will be throwing thunders and beat-up this preamplifier, then … I am sorry, I never promised anything like that. I just placed the tested preamplifier in its proper place, and that is it. Please do keep in mind this small thing, that the 907 was capable of a head-to-head competition with devices from the 30-40 thousand zlotys level. It was, and still is, a kind of phenomenon existing on the market, and I probably do not need to make anybody aware, how rare this is. But ad rem. First of all, the 906 as a smaller scale of sound compared to the 907 and most competitors from 10-15 kPLN. But when we look at what similarly priced competition can offer, then the situation changes completely. Nobody buys a Golf GTI expecting similar levels of comfort, or performance, of a Maserati or Aston Martin. So it is worth going down to earth again, and then we will notice everything is right where it should be, or even better than it should. However before we decompose the sound into prime factors, I need to mention one thing about usage of the device. I am talking about the lack of gain adjustment, what automatically forces us, to compensate the lower volume of low level MC cartridges by turning the amplifier volume up. This of course does not influence owners of devices similar to the integrated amplifier Trilogy 925, where each of the inputs has individually adjustable sensitivity, and this can be set once an we can forget about the whole issue.
Let us start in an unusual way, from the top of the sound spectrum. Because the British phonostage has a very clean, and at the same time very open sound, nicely combining resolution and selectivity with deep timbre and velvety smoothness. Please find some time to ease down and play the “Aventime” Agnes Obel. On this, seemingly dark and airless album, there is a lot happening in the treble, as there not only the vocal of the artist can be found, but also the some registers of the accompanying piano. With the Triology, the depressive climate was there, but the upper registers gained on freedom and air, while at the same time the edges of the sibilants were not softened. This is why reaching for more mainstream climates I could not get around putting the true classic jazz disc on the Transrotor Dark star Silver Shadow platter, the album “Saxophone Colossus” Sonny Rollins. The timbre and palpability of the title instrument were reproduced brilliantly, but also the cymbals, actually the whole rhythm section, were reproduced similarly well. Each hit of the cymbal had its depth, it was not matted, or dull, and it is not uncommon, that even not so cheap phonostages have problems in doing that. And here? A true Versailles with its shine and shades of gold. Truly great.
And how does it fare with less well done recordings? To test this I took the last compilation of the late David Bowie “Nothing Has Changed (The Best of David Bowie)” with such hits like “Absolute Beginners” or “China Girl”, but besides the timeless musical value, we have to face quite some differences in recording quality. In general newer pieces sounded better, the older could not be helped even with re-mastering. Fortunately the Trilogy found its way, putting accents on musicality and emotionality. Pulsating rhythm and drive, efficiently turned the attention away from the mastering shortcomings, and many times a two-dimensional sound stage, without any depth. In addition it did not try to average anything or mask any of those shortcomings. It just did what it does best – it played music.
There is nothing we can blame on the midrange, this is the reason, that during the test of the small Trilogy in my system, I often reached for the music of Leonard Cohen, Jennifer Warnes, or turning to times passed, the velvet voice of Frank Sinatra. Due to the slight boost of saturation each time the vocal was heard, things got nicer, more pleasant. Maybe the contours of the virtual sources were not drawn as precisely, as with for example the Sensor 2, but let us be frank – on this price level this is world class, because similarly priced competitors tend to treat this aspect almost in a 0-1 way – so we either have contours and dryness, or timbre and lack of edge. And here we have both – there is timbre and at the same times the contours were not drawn with a paint roller.
It was similar with the bass. Both the “Ray of light” Madonna and “Rarities” Selah Sue the lowest octaves were spontaneously massaging my belly, and the slight loosening at the lowest low, in places where the inhabitants of Hades do not go too often, did not result in any monotone booming.
Introducing the tested phono preamplifier Trilogy 906 to the market showed, that at the price only slightly higher than the one asked by the “majors” we can count not only on refinement, but also perfect, far away from the stereotype of “garage manufacturing” of many micro-brands, build quality. So we get a device, that does not only sound great, but also splendidly made, and at the same time it shows, that it is worth going even further. Of course nothing will happen, if some of us decide, that the level represented by the 906 is more than enough, but Nic perfectly knows, as do we, that appetite grows while eating, and there will be time for everything…
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon CD-1sx
– Digital source selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Network Music Player: Dell Inspiron 1764 + JRiver Media Center
– Turntable: Transrotor Dark Star Silver Shadow + S.M.E M2 + Phasemation P-3G
– Phonostage: Abyssound ASV-1000
– Integrated amplifier: Electrocompaniet ECI5; Alluxity Int One; Accuphase E-470
– Speakers: Gauder Akustik Arcona 80 + spike extenders
– IC RCA: Antipodes Audio Katipo; Siltech Classic Anniversary 770i
– IC XLR: LessLoss Anchorwave; Organic Audio; Amare Musica
– Digital IC: Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB Cable: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver
– Speaker Cables: Organic Audio; Signal Projects Hydra
– Power Cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power; Acoustic Zen Gargantua II; Ardento Power
– Power distribution board: GigaWatt PF-2 + Furutech FP-3TS762 / Fi-50 NCF(R) /FI-50M NCF(R)
– Wall Socket: Furutech FT-SWS(R)
– Antivibration platform: Franc Audio Accessories Wood Block Slim Platform
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+
– Accessories: Sevenrods Dust-caps; Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; Albat Revolution Loudspeaker Chips
Some time ago, when I had the pleasure of expressing my very positive opinion about the first analog product of the company we are testing, I knew, that this is not the last word Nic Poulson has in this matter. Although this brand is an emanation of how you can creatively spend your spare time, as Nic’s main business is the ISOL-8 company, but his knowledge and devotion to each project allowed us to anticipate, that even this “side project” will become a serious player in the audio world. The only unknown was the direction, in which the catalog will be expanded. Anyway, I was very surprised, when after hearing some rumors about a new flagship model being developed, I received for testing a model, which is aimed at the broader market, with a price tag of around 5 thousand zlotys. This might still seem to be a lot, but if you look at what the market offers, you will find out, that in this price range there is not much space for good sound. So having an opportunity of learning, what is proposed in this popular market segment, I gladly accepted the offer of the distributor, Moje Audio, to have a closer look at the newest product from the Trilogy brand, the phonostage 906.
The 906 is not artificially big, with a small PCB mounted somewhere in the edge, but it is packed into a small sized aluminum box. The design is also not too distinct, but nice. We have a low, narrow and quite deep chassis, with the right edge rounded, just to break the monotony. The front is covered only with the printed company logo and model number and there is a red indicator LED in an oval deepening, close to the right edge. The back plate is not so big, but we have there inputs and outputs in the RCA standard, a grounding terminal and a power socket. The preamplifier is compatible with a range of cartridges, and the switches we need to manipulate are hidden on the bottom of the unit.
As you can imagine, going to lower price levels must result in some efficiencies. In this case the power supply was built into the main unit. This must not automatically mean, that the sound got degraded, but only skillful separating of the sensitive low signals from the cartridge from the PSU circuitry can allow the device to show its full potential. And I think, that this alone was another test of the skills of the constructor, besides the sound itself, as he is a known specialist in all things that deal with power supply.
Quite often, however this is not a standard, when I unplug the Theriaa from my test system, I need some time to re-set my point of view, to be able to assess the capabilities of the tested device as objectively as possible. And this is not only due to the quality of the sound, but also due to slightly different way the sound is delivered, and this is something we should know before we can give a verdict. Of course this case of re-set prepared me for a comparison, that I anticipated the tested component was going to lose, but if I would not follow the process, I would maybe not be able to detect things, that could be valuable for potential customers of the product. However I was very surprised, that the exchange brought expected shifts in the sound quality, but it was not perceived as any discomfort, only as some kind of loosening in certain frequencies. But let me get to the point. The main asset of the British phonostage is musicality, which determines the perception of the sound, as dense, with slightly heavier bass and clean, but not overly bright, treble. This has its consequences with how the virtual sources are drawn, but I do not see it as a flaw, but as a certain way of how cheaper devices sound. Somebody may ask, what I this way? Let me try to answer. Each device, even a High End one, has its sound signature. It is obvious, that it is perceived differently depending on the price level we talk about, but already at medium levels, not even mentioning the budget level, the sound signature described by the constructors, are nothing more, than the final result of the electrical circuitry used. This then needs to be skillfully applied, in a way we audiophiles call “searching for synergy”. And this is the case here. With the British product I must confess, that with all this extra weight on the bass, we do not have any monotone mudpool here, only a slight boost of their density and fleshiness. Entering the midrange we should not have any complaints, as the saturation without losing too much of information, as it is proposed by the 906, puts it really ahead of the competition from this price level. In addition, the treble, which is not getting ahead of the pack, consistently follows the path of displaying a lot of aliquots. Maybe we do not have a ruthless view of things happening at the upper part of the sound spectrum, but that what we here cannot be described as dull. Finishing the description of the 906 sound, please bear in mind, that I am comparing it to a device that costs ten times as much, which I am using normally, and you need to know this reference, as otherwise the conclusions could be falsifying the test, and the tested device does not deserve this.
As an example how the Trilogy phonostage fared during testing, I will now recall a few discs I listened to. This time I used Antonio Forcione “Tears of Joy” issued by the Naim Label as starter. Taking into account how my system plays timbre, I received a very coherent and even sound from the beginning. The guitar of the performer was maybe slightly heavier and warmer, but not enlarged, what often happens, if a constructor tries to enchant the listener with a common “wow”. Here everything was even and in colors appealing to the listener. When we are talking about how the sound stage was setup, then I must say, it was reproduced very well. What is important, this mentioned coherence of the sound allowed for easy positioning of the artists on the stage in both directions, in width and depth, what allowed me to easily become drowned in the vortex of things happening on that stage. The second strike may put some of the readers into stun, as the next disc placed on the SME platter was Madonna with the piece “Frozen” from “Ray of Light”. Yes, I confess, I have only one, but I have a disc from the queen of the pops. But only for that one piece and due to my wife asking for it. Finishing my confession, I must say, that although I more or less like that piece, this time the sibilants, which usually irritate me, gained some noble rounding, and the dose of juiciness of the midrange and bass, allowed to feel the low murmurs recorded on that disc. This showed clearly, that sometimes you can listen to pop in decent sound quality. Finally I proposed pure, concert free-jazz madness. The compilation of a few editions of the festival in Ljubliana (from the 70-ties), issued by the label ENJA, really showed the sound capabilities of the small phonostage from GB. As you know, older recordings, with their mastering phenomenon, often lack mass in their sound. Of course for the audiophile the truth about the recording should be most important, at least in theory, but if our system helps in adding some color to the old event, saturating important instruments, like the vibraphone, we will applause, rather than complain. And here I can say with full firmness, that despite trying to avoid such things with my system, being a reviewer, I had absolutely no problems accepting this added musicality, and I must see this as an asset of the tested construction.
Time came to return the unit to the distributor, and to be able to write a few meaningful sentences about the tested Trilogy 906 I had to reach into my memory, as I tested quite a few of similar analog products quite recently. This allows me to state, that the currently cheapest phonostage designed by Nic Poulson is able to compete with devices costing even twice as much. Of course the key to success will be the synergy between the individual components, but if you manage to find your “G”-spot, then you will be able to show the more expensive devices the door. The things I mentioned during the test are only accents of the sound, and not flaws. And if you think, I am wrong, the please show me a product costing around 5000 zlotys, which does not have any shortcomings in terms of sound. The truth? This would be an utopia. So if you are searching for a phonostage, or if the uncompromised force for tracing a sound nirvana urges you to make changes in your system, please do not wait, but take the tested device home, to give it a private listening. I promise that you will not be bored, and frankly, you will be amazed, how much spirit has this small device from the British Island.
Distributor: Moje Audio
Price: 5 490 PLN
Frequency response (to RIAA curve): +/- 0,25dB (20 – 20 000 Hz)
Power consumption: 4 W
Output impedance: 150 Ω
Input Impedance: 70 Ω – 47 000 Ω
Input Capacitance: 100 – 420 pF
Faza: Prawidłowa (nieodwrócona)
Size (W x H x D): 140 x 48 x 220 mm
Size including connectors (W x H x D): 140 x 48 x 230 mm
Weight: 1,7 kg
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Reimyo CDT – 777 + Reimyo DAP – 999 EX
– Preamplifier: Reimyo CAT – 777 MK II
– Power amplifier: Reimyo KAP – 777
– Loudspeakers: TRENNER & FRIEDL ISIS
– Speaker Cables: Harmonix HS 101-EXQ (mid-high section); Harmonix HS-101 SLC (bass section)
– IC RCA: Hiriji „Milion”
– Digital IC: Harmonix HS 102
– Power cables: Harmonix X-DC 350M2R Improved Version, X-DC SM Milion Maestro
– Table: SOLID BASE VI
– Accessories: Harmonix Beauty Tone Milion Maestro, Harmonix TU 505EX MK II, Stillpoints „ULTRA SS”, .Stillpoints ”ULTRA MINI”; Harmonix AC Enacom Improved for 100-240V; Harmonix Room Tuning Mini Disk RFA-80i; antivibration platform by SOLID TECH
– Power distribution board: POWER BASE HIGH END
Drive: SME 30/2
Arm: SME V
Cartridge: MIYAJIMA MADAKE
Phonostage: RCM THERIAA