Trigon Audio
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Analog
Corner
Michael
H
and-wringing audiophiles’ tales of equipment malfunctions
regularly litter my e-mail
box. “Why can’t this stuff be
more reliable?” It has been
my experience that most gear
is incredibly reliable — or
that was my experience until
April 2004.
It’s been a bad month. The
$350,000/pair Wavac amps
reviewed in this issue had
obviously been drop-kicked
somewhere during their trip
from Japan to New Jersey. I
suspect Jersey.
Then the Sil-Air compressor Franc Kuzma supplies
with his Air Line tonearm
(also reviewed in this issue)
spit compressor oil all over the floor
every time it pressurized the storage
tank and shut down. Obviously, that’s
not normal behavior, and the compressor is a high-quality product with a reputation of reliability. But because Kuzma
neither designed nor makes the compressor, I didn’t make a big deal of it.
More April woes: The transport on
my Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista SACD
player spun out of control and had to be
replaced. The Linn Kisto preampprocessor I’m reviewing for Stereophile
Ultimate AV had some software issues
that required it be returned for an upgrade. Then the logic board on my laptop went, and I almost lost this month’s
column and two equipment reviews.
That brings me to the Origin Live
Resolution Modern turntable. The
Origin didn’t malfunction during the
review period, but after I’d had the
’table for a while, the manufacturer sent
me a spare DC motor because a few in
a recent batch had exhibited “runaway”
problems — ie, they wouldn’t hold
speed — and he wanted me to have an
easy-to-replace spare in case mine went
south. It didn’t, until…
One day, toward the conclusion of the
review period, I tried to adjust the
Origin’s speed by tickling the speed-control potentiometer. When Clearaudio’s
super-accurate 300Hz strobe system
then showed that the motor was speed-
Origin Live Resolution Modern with Encounter
tonearm and Lyra Helikon SL.
ing up and running away, I immediately
replaced it, fired it up again, and —same
problem. Turns out the battery in the
Clearaudio strobe chose April to run
down. Figures.
Origin Live Resolution Modern
turntable and Encounter tonearm
British firm Origin Live maintains a low
profile Stateside, but its extensive line of
turntables and tonearms generates plenty of heat Over There (www.origin
live.com). Now, having spent a few
months with their midline ’table
($2970) and third-from-the-top tonearm ($1495), I know why.
While the instructions say they’re
“written for people with no previous
experience of turntables” and that the
Resolution Modern is “simple to set
up,” that’s being optimistic. Even I had
trouble, until I better understood certain aspects of Modern’s unique design,
which is the product of the brain of
designer Mark Baker.
The photos in the manual are dark
and the instructions are oddly ordered — especially if you do as you’re
told. For instance, at the end of the
“Fit the Arm” section, you’re told,
“Once the arm is in position, fit the
belt over the motor pulley and subplatter, then fit the platter.” That’s
what I did. Under the next heading,
“Fit the Sub-Platter & Platter,” it says,
Fremer
“With the syringe supplied,
run approx 5 drops of oil
into the top of the bearing
housing.” Guess what that
requires you to do. Right.
Such quibbles aside, the
Resolution Modern actually
was easy to set up…once I
understood its unique design
and gave the directions some
leeway. If Origin Live really
wants the ’table to be easy for
a novice to set up, they need
to revise the instructions.
The plinthless Resolution
Modern has a complex, singlespring, semi-suspended dual
subchassis. A single bolt connects a pivotable, boomerangshaped subchassis containing
the single compressed-spring
support and the two nonspring contact
pods. A second, oblong subchassis supports the main bearing housing on one
end, the armboard on the other. The two
nonspring contact pods are fitted with
small rounded points that sit in small
indents on the attractively sculpted base,
which is finished in piano-black lacquer
and sits on three damped feet. The single
spring is centered between bearing and
armboard, but because of a cutout and
the dual-subchassis design, the spring and
its adjuster mechanism are entirely isolated from the subchassis that holds the
bearing and armboard. Very compact,
very low-mass, and very ingenious.
Once the arm and platter assembly
were in place, I leveled the ’table by
adjusting the height of the single springsuspended point. Because both the freestanding motor assembly and the main
bearing assembly fit through holes in
the base, the subchassis sits low in the
saddle. The subplatter-and-bearingspindle assembly is made of relatively
low-mass plastic of some sort, fitted
with a long, narrow bearing of hardened
steel that superficially resembles the one
that comes with Pro-Ject’s Perspective
turntable. A precision-ground flat belt
drives the subplatter via a cogless DC
motor fitted with a crowned pulley of
nicely machined aluminum. A full-size
platter of ribbed acrylic sits on small
damping pads atop the subplatter. The
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Analog
Corner
“literal” and hard, especially in
speed is electronically adtheir less expensive incarnajustable; I had no trouble gettions. The moderately priced
ting the Resolution Modern
Origin Live rig integrated the
to run at precisely 331⁄3 and
best qualities of both designs.
45rpm . . . once I’d replaced
Resolution of inner detail and
the battery in the Clearaudio
the overall delicacy of the prestrobe light.
sentation were exceptional.
Origin Live’s least expenThe words that kept coming
sive tonearms are modificato mind were effervescent — fast
tions of Rega’s OEM RB250
without being edgy and hard,
model. But while the Engraceful and lush without
counter reminds me of a Rega,
being soft — and dead quiet.
and it’s possible the bearings
While the Yorke-Kuzmahave Rega origins, it appears to
Lyra setup was ultimately
be an original design. In any
more powerful and solid and
case, for the time being, Origin
Unique Resolution subchassis (with Expressimo Mongoose tonearm)
showing bearing housing and three point suspension.
had a richer midrange, the
Live and Rega tonearms are
Origin combo’s performance
the only drop-in arm options
utes combined to create one of the most was sufficiently dynamic, detailed, and
for Origin Live ’tables.
The Encounter features a large-diam- satisfying performances I’ve heard from quiet to keep me happy — permanently.
Music emerged from dead silence to
eter tapered armtube, milled from a bil- a turntable and tonearm.
The Origins combined the airy, light- create coherent, delicate sound.
let of aircraft aluminum alloy, that fits
I could happily live with this ’tableinto a sleeve near the bearing housing. on-their-feet performance of the best
The “decoupled” headshell appears to sprung designs with the rock-solid sta- arm combo because it had no obvious
be bolted to the tube. Wiring is one of bility of mass-loaded designs. Sprung weaknesses. It was especially fine rhythOrigin Live’s original claims to fame — ’tables can sound a bit soft and ill- mically, and bass pitch and definition
the Encounter has high-grade Teflon- focused compared to mass-loaded de- were excellent — perhaps a bit more lithe
insulated silver-plated Litz wire, and signs, and the latter can sound too than my reference, if not quite as solid.
When comparisons to a far more expenconnectors of gold-plated copper-berylsive front-end result in a balancing of sets
lium. There’s nothing radical or new
of tradeoffs, that’s saying something.
going on here, just attention to detail
In Heavy Rotation
When I played my usual LP suspects,
and the right combination of high-qualI was never disappointed. Nor did it
1) Ella Fitzgerald, The Duke
ity parts. VTA is continuously adhurt that the power amplifiers were the
Ellington Song Book, Verve/
justable, though not during play. The
$350,000 Wavacs, but that did nothing
Speakers Corner 180gm LPs
antiskating system is thread-and-weight.
to change the Origin’s impressive per(4)
Overall, the Encounter’s look, feel,
formance when compared to my refer2) Alison Krauss & Union
and fit’n’finish are exceptionally high for
ence analog setup. Particularly
Station, So Long So Wrong,
its modest price of $1495.
noteworthy was the naturalness of tranRounder/Mobile Fidelity
sient articulation: neither edgy and tight
180gm LPs (2)
Spectacular Sound: I’m a fan of
nor soft and obscured. Usually, moder3) John Fahey, +, Revenant Coplinthless turntables, unless the dampately priced analog front-ends err on
mpany/Runt limited-edition
ing is Herculean, as in the SME 30 or
one side or the other. But acoustic guiLP
Rockport System III Sirius. Less plinth
tars sounded natural, and cymbals had
4) Warren Zevon, The Wind,
equals reduced energy storage and
plenty of crunch and shimmer. When I
Artemis LP
release, and fewer opportunities for
played Classic Records’ 45rpm edition
5) Roy Orbison, The All Time
drum-like resonances. So I had high
of the Weavers’ Reunion at Carnegie Hall
Greatest Hits, S&P 180gm LPs
hopes when I began listening to the
1963, I was pleasantly surprised to hear
(2)
plinthless Origin Live Resolution
a clearly defined sense of space: the hall
6) Sonny Rollins, Saxophone
Modern and Encounter.
appeared well behind the singers, who
Colossus, Analogue ProduI was not disappointed. In fact, this
were presented with convincing delicactions 45rpm 180gm LPs (2)
$4465 arm-’table combo is one of the
cy and transparency.
7) Dolly Varden, The Dumbest
finest performers I’ve heard at any price.
There were negatives. Despite the
Magnets, Diverse 180gm LP
It was so good that, when I mounted a
spring suspension — which really isn’t a
8) Mission of Burma, ONoffON,
low-output Lyra Helikon SL cartridge
suspension and can’t possibly have a low
Matador LPs (2)
on the Encounter tonearm and comenough resonant frequency to provide
9) Roy Orbison, Crying, Monupared it to the combo of Simon Yorke
any real isolation — the outside world
ment/Classic 200gm LP
S7 turntable, Kuzma Air Line linearcan rather easily impinge on the Origin
(mono, stereo)
tracking arm, and Lyra Titan cartridge,
Live. Tapping on the Resolution
10) The Yardbirds, Live! Bluesall sitting atop my Sounds of Silence
Modern’s base, or on the shelf on which
wailing July ’64, Sundazed
Vibraplane active isolation platform, I
it rested, produced loud drumming
180gm LP
could make a case for preferring the
sounds through the speakers. If you
$4465 spread to the +$20,000 variety.
don’t have a good stand and a solid floor,
Visit www.musicangle.com for full
The Origin Live combo didn’t better
proceed with caution.
reviews.
the more expensive rig in any given
Origin Live’s Resolution Modern
parameter; instead, its synergy of attrib-
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Analog
turntable and Encounter tonearm were
designed by one man, who listened
carefully and fastidiously, tuned and tinkered, and came up with a truly original
design. Although some of that design is
unorthodox, the Resolution Modern
works brilliantly, is well-built, and its
price is right. But regardless of price, this
is one of the truly special products I’ve
reviewed in the past 18 years.
A less expensive tonearm option
I’ve been waiting for the right turntable
to use with Expressimo Audio’s
Mongoose tonearm (an OEM Rega
RB250), rewired with Cardas 33 AWG
tonearm cable, Wasatch Electrifying
phono interconnect, and specially
machined Wasatch phono plugs. I also
used their 2X-Treme stub (the shaft on
which the counterweight rides) and
Heavy Weight counterweight. (For
more details on the wiring and plugs, go
to www.expressimoaudio.com.) The
price is $575 for the rewired arm with
Heavy Weight and 2X-Treme.
The stock stub is a light piece of plastic; the 2X-Treme is a nicely machined
piece of aluminum that
screws into the back
of the bearing housing and locks on
tightly. Total cost is
about a third the
price of Origin Live’s
Encounter arm. I
broke in the cables
with a neat device sent
me by Origin Live.
Then, after listening to
the reference LPs I’d used to
review
the
Origin
Live
Resolution Modern, I dropped in the
Mongoose, installed the Lyra Helikon
SL cartridge, and listened again.
The Mongoose wasn’t as good as the
Encounter, but it was still a very goodsounding tonearm. Bass extension was
outstanding, if not quite as tightly controlled as the Encounter’s, and the overall tonal balance was somewhat darker
and drier, not as easy and airy. The
Mongoose’s soundstaging was comparable with the Encounter’s, however, and
its image focus was outstanding.
Though I didn’t have a stock Rega
RB250 with which to compare the
Mongoose, I’m sure the wiring change
makes a profound difference, and I
know from prior experience — see
“Analog Corner,” May 2003 — what the
counterweight contributes. If you don’t
have $1495 for the Encounter, you can
save $920 by putting Expressimo
Audio’s Mongoose on the Resolution
Modern and be a very happy analog
addict for quite some time.
Three modestly priced
phono preamplifiers
If these three phono preamps, which
range in price from $549 to $990, indicate the current state of phono-preamplifier design, then we’re in the midst of a
phono-preamp renaissance. It’s not surprising — with the resurgence of analog
technology, more engineering talent is
paying attention, and more new designs
are emerging. That creates competition,
and challenges busy minds to excel.
Pro-Ject Tube Box Special Edition
($549, distributed in the US by Sumiko,
www.sumikoaudio.net): The Tube Box
is based on the 12AX7 tube and is capable of 60dB of gain. A DIP-switch bank
on the chassis bottom lets you choose
gains of 40dB for moving-magnet cartridges (47k ohms), or 60dB for moving-coils (1k ohm, 220 ohms, or 100
ohms). While those options are few,
they’re intelligent choices, though some
of the higher low-output
MCs might be too hot for the MC settings. A subsonic filter (–18dB at 18Hz)
is in-circuit at all times. The discrete
dual-mono design is powered by a
16V/1A wall wart.
The Tube Box is sturdily built, attractive, and compact. Push the large
On/Off button and the two dual-triode
tubes glow through the front-panel
windows. When the Box had warmed
up for half an hour, it exhibited the lush,
smooth, honey-gold tonal balance
12AX7s are known for. This sweetsounding preamp has enough low-noise
gain to deal with the Lyra Helikon SL’s
ultra-low output (0.22mV) without
needing a step-up transformer.
The result was a relaxing, graceful
sound that was easy on the ears while
giving up a bit at the frequency ex-
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tremes. Bass was reasonably well extended but a bit soft, and the top end
wasn’t the last words in crystalline transparency and transient sparkle, but the
mids were seductive. The soundstaging
was decent, with a slightly forward projection that somewhat limited overall
image depth. The stage width was
somewhat compacted toward the middle, but the main attraction was more
about lush midband textures than pinpoint imaging and ultratransparency.
The dynamics at both ends of the scale
were only so-so, with a slight loss of
punch at the top end and a noticeable
loss of ultra-low-level delicacy and detail. With 12AX7s available from a variety of sources and NOS (new old stock)
tubes a reasonably priced option, customizing the sound should be easy. I listened only with the stock tubes.
Most of the shortcomings noted are
typical of phono preamps at or around
this price point, but the Tube Box
Special Edition’s rich, airy midband is
anything but. The Pro-Ject would be a
good companion for a slightly aggressive, perhaps zingy-sounding
cartridge in need of some enrichment; inexpensive, etchy
solid-state preamps and amps
might also benefit. The Tube
Box would be an excellent
choice for the classical music
lover on a budget.
Monolithic Sound PS-2
with HC-1B power supply: Pony up another $329,
and for a total of $878 you
can have the PS-2 phono
preamplifier ($599) and HC-1b
dual-mono power supply ($279)
from Monolithic Sound (www.monolithicsound.com). The PS-2 is an improved version of the PS-1 ($399),
which so impressed me back in the
October 2000 “Analog Corner.” It features upgraded internal components
and higher gain options to better serve
lower-output MCs. DIP switches let
you select among gain settings of 42dB,
48dB, 54dB, and 60dB (the PS-1
offered only 53dB), at loadings of 47k,
10k, 1k, or 100 ohms — as well as 100,
270, or 370pF capacitance. A 16V wallwart power supply is included, but it’s
well worth spending $279 for the HC1b dual-mono power supply, which features two 1.5A transformers.
Without being able to do a direct
comparison with the PS-1 and HC-1, I
can’t tell you exactly what sonic improvements may have been made since
October 2000. However, like the earlier
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combo, the PS-2 and HC-1b
had an immediately impressive musical grip. It began
with solid, tight, extended,
well-developed bass and fast,
detailed highs. Like the PS-1,
the PS-2 sounded slightly dry
overall; it didn’t produce
shimmering, airy, transparent
highs, but it did avoid brightness and “etch’’ — that’s a
tradeoff I’ll take every time.
And there was sufficient gain
for the very-low-output Lyra
Helikon SL. I was impressed
with the PS-1 and HC-1; I’m
even more taken with these
new models.
Like its predecessor, Monolithic Sound’s PS-2 was not the
ultimate in transparency and air,
and it lacked the lush midrange
of the less expensive Tube Box.
But it produced more solid, substantial, and well-focused images,
and noticeably superior bass
extension and, especially, control,
than the Tube Box. It were also
subjectively quieter and more
dynamic, with a better sense of
rhythm’n’pace. Most impressive,
though, was the overall coherence. Loose ends and obvious
weaknesses never stuck out,
which is why the Monolithic gear
kept me happy for a solid week
of use with far more expensive
associated ancillaries. An inexpensive, fine-sounding phono
preamp that’s competently designed and built.
Trigon Vanguard II with
Volcano II battery power
supply: The Trigon Vanguard II
phono preamp ($495) and
Volcano II battery power supply
($495), built in Germany by
Trigon and distributed in the US
by Immedia (www.immediasound.com), was the most expensive of the three, at a total of
$990. It was also the best-sounding. Unfortunately, the instructions are
written in impenetrable GermanEnglish that sorely needs re-translating.
The Vanguard II comes with an outboard power supply that’s more than
just a wall wart. Like other batterypowered phono preamps, however, it’s
best when listened to in that mode,
which is what I did. The Vanguard’s
DIP-switch banks offer a seemingly
infinite series of loading and gain
options. Four gain switches give you 16
Monolithic Sound PS-2/ HC-1b
Trigon Vanguard II/Volcano battery supply and power
Trigon Vanguard II insides: Op-Amps can sound good!
settings, from 42dB to 66.3dB. Eight
switches give you 64 choices of loading,
three of capacitance.
The Volcano II battery supply, which
can run two Vanguards, connects to the
Vanguard II via an Ethernet-like cable
(if not an actual Ethernet cable) and is
powered by an outboard supply connected via a screw-secured multi-pin
computer cable.
The Volcano II can run the Vanguard
II for about six hours on pure battery
Corner
power between charges. A
microprocessor control lets
you run on battery or mains,
or on one of a variety of other
LED-signaled options I won’t
go into here. (The instructions
are almost impossible to understand, and I don’t have the
space anyway.) I ran the
Vanguard II in pure battery
mode at all times (green LED).
Compared to the other
two preamps, the Trigon
Vanguard II offered the deepest, most expansive soundstage, the widest range of
dynamic contrasts — especially at the macrodynamic end of
the scale — and the greatest transparency, delicacy, and extension
in the highs. It sounded sweet on
top and free of grain, lucid in the
midrange, and solid and tight on
bottom. Thanks in part to deadsilent backgrounds, the Vanguard
II floated images on a threedimensional stage as effectively as
some far more expensive phono
sections I’ve auditioned.
Overall, the Vanguard II was
an outstanding performer. Its
only flaw was an occasional slight
raggedness on sibilants, but that’s
often the price to be paid when a
designer attempts to provide limitless high-frequency extension
and air at a moderate price. But I
think the tradeoff is worthwhile
in this design; that raggedness is
slight, and the Vanguard’s transparency and high-frequency extension are exceptionally good.
One of the tracks I relied on
while listening to these phono
preamps and the Origin Live
’table and arm was Classic
Records’ 45rpm edition of the
Weavers’ Reunion at Carnegie Hall
1963. The Trigon Vanguard II’s
rendering of this subtle sonic
spectacular was remarkably
assured. I haven’t kept all the
$1000 phono preamps I’ve reviewed over the years, so I can’t be
absolutely sure, but I’m pretty sure this is
the best one yet — and at that price
there are many fine contenders. But be
fore judging for yourself, give the
Vanguard II plenty of time to break in.
Postscript
During my last-minute tweaking of this
copy, the halogen bulb in my office
lamp blew out and left me in the dark.
It’s been that kind of month.
s
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