High-end audio is a fairly specialised field, but there are those within that field that show just how specialised this can get. Take Graham Tricker, for example – he’s the grande fromage at Tron, a super-specialised bespoke valve amplifier expert making the kind of amplifiers that appeal to the 1% of the 1%. That’s actually a good thing; Tron products are designed as low-power, single-ended triode designs for people who use high-efficiency loudspeakers and horns, and would never dream of using anything else.
Typically, Tron has focused primarily on separates audio electronics, and because they are absolutely hand-built, generally reasonably ‘spendy’ electronics at that. A few years ago, Tricker decided to introduce a more affordable line of products, starting with the Convergence phono stage. This small, £900 MM phono stage (£1,000 for the MC version) created a bit of a stir around turntable-and-tube aficionados, and this started a cry for more of the same. Tricker’s answer was the Atlantic, the cheapest Tron power amplifier to date; an 8W, 300B-based single-ended triode stereo amplifier. But there is no preamp in the Convergence line yet and the next most affordable line preamp from the brand pushes the cost of admission up by at least £3,500. However, by adding a three source rotary selector and a passive potentiometer to the basic Atlantic chassis, Tricker built the company’s first integrated amplifier.
The Atlantic integrated is a relatively minimalist affair. Three line RCA inputs, a volume pot, output taps for four and eight ohm loudspeakers, and a power-on button are the sum total of features on this integrated amp. It has a smaller footprint than most integrateds, but with five tubes and four transformers standing proud, it’s taller than many solid-state designs. In fact, it’s reminiscent of some of the classic British valve amps of the 1960s in layout, even if aspects of the circuit design hark back to a generation before that.
Cleverly, Tricker has designed Atlantic as a true ‘platform’ amplifier. Because of its open-ended design, it would be possible to modify the amplifier to accommodate 2A3 or even 45 power tubes in place of the pair of ElectroHarmonix 300B currently residing at the power amp section. That doesn’t mean users can ‘tube-roll’ their way into substituting those 300Bs for other power triodes, but it does mean Tron can come up with a broader range of ‘attainable’ power amps and integrated designs without starting afresh.
The great thing about the Atlantic is it’s about as ‘valve’ as it’s possible to get. Short of protesting outside of transistor factories, it be couldn’t any more purist about its hollow-state heritage. The amplifier uses a D3a valve in each input stage, a 300B in each output stage, and a single 5U4GB as the rectifier. That means the Atlantic is good for eight delicious single-ended Class A watts. The rectifier is hooked to a pi filter and the Atlantic has been designed with high quality C core output transformers and chokes, so the only noise you’ll hear from this is the sound of pitchforks being sharpened by the low-efficiency, solid-state brigade.
Eight watts does limit the number of loudspeakers that can be used with the Tron Atlantic. Nevertheless, the Atlantic does try its best with out-of-recommendation loudspeakers, in part because the way it distorts is so nice and creamy you aren’t too fussed about pushing the amp into distortion. But, if raising the roof with any loudspeaker you can think of is your goal, the Atlantic is not your amplifier: it commands and deserves more respect than that! Fortunately, Tricker also imports Cessaro horns and DeVore Fidelity, and the combination of Atlantic amp and DeVore’s Orangutan O/93 loudspeaker is a particularly good one.
There’s a bit of a stereotype (pun sort of intentional) surrounding single-ended triode designs; they sound inviting in a kind of lush, plummy, soft, and satisfying way. But that isn’t the kind of sound that is either ‘honest’ or ‘popular with the common man’. As with any good myth or stereotype, it’s based on mixing half-truths with complete nonsense. Yes, the Tron Atlantic is inviting sounding, and you would have to play something really ‘angular’ to make it sound harsh or brash (I’m thinking rough bootlegs of Devo or Dead Kennedys), but lush it is not. It is insightful and open sounding.
As a result, the Tron Atlantic is very much at odds with the ‘received wisdom’ about SET amps, and its sound and should be considered the audiophile equivalent of a shot across the musical bows. Moreover, if you exclude the usual single-ended triode demand that the loudspeaker and its cables be in place whenever the amplifier is powered up, the Atlantic is an absolutely unfussy design to use, and a very easy amp to love.
Given the oceanic product name, it would be so easy to slip into lots of tracks from something like Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, or Led Zep albums on Atlantic, but I’m going to try to resist. Who am I kidding… I played ‘Heartbreaker’ and then ‘Moby Dick’ by Led Zeppelin [Led Zeppelin II, Atlantic]. These showed the Atlantic amplifier at its best, and where it’s less capable. The sense of lyrical flow and interplay between crunching guitar riff and vocals on ‘Heartbreaker’ is very well portrayed, and the amplifier is superbly open in the mid-band – open enough to hear that’s actually a Fender Telecaster that Page is playing: people usually think of Jimmy Page playing a Gibson Les Paul or a two-headed SG because of his later work, but those early albums are recorded using a Tele into a Marshall amp, and that Telecaster ‘chime’ behind the Marshall’s ‘graunch’ is sometimes hard to determine, but not here. On the Atlantic, the sound is unmistakably classic Fender.
Moving over to ‘Moby Dick’ shows the Atlantic’s limits. It’s not in terms of scale or loudness or even dynamics. It’s in that sense of sheer power that John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham had behind the drum kit – the Atlantic lacks that tornado effect he was so good at delivering. Unlike ‘Heartbreaker’, this track is more about brute force than the flow from musical theme to theme, and the Atlantic concentrates on the whole rather than the onslaught. It still sounds good and far tauter than expected, but the visceral feel of Bonzo at full wig-out is lessened. However, having a music collection that suits the Atlantic gives a truly wonderful result – be honest with yourself, if the only time you play bombastic, powerful music is either when you are looking to buy a new piece of audio equipment, or are showing your audio equipment off to friends, family (or even yourself), the Atlantic’s charms are far deeper than the immediately impressive.
Try another recording from Atlantic’s back catalogue and suddenly the amplifier makes a lot more sense: John Coltrane’s Giant Steps from 1960. On the opening track of the same name, the amplifier’s ability to track this incredible piece of improvisation is lucid and coherent enough to hear just how much pianist Tommy Flanagan is struggling to keep up with Coltrane’s chord changes (in fairness, at times this track almost seems like Coltrane is reinventing musical harmony from first principles on the fly, and anyone this side of Lizst would have probably just given up). It’s a little difficult listening 56 years later to process precisely how revolutionary this was, but the key changes are quicksilver fast and perfectly related through the Atlantic, where many other amplifiers would simply gloss over them, making Giant Steps sound like yet another jazz album. The Atlantic amp portrays this through the use of effortless dynamics, a fine sense of foot-tapping fun, and a very deep (rather than wide) soundstage.
The Tron Atlantic is a cute little amplifier. It doesn’t have a lot of power in reserve and will never raise the roof. But that’s missing the point of the amplifier. It’s not meant to raise the roof – it is all about finesse and, frankly, lovely sound rather than headbanging. And those who appreciate such things will be appreciating them all the more through the Atlantic.
Type: Single-ended triode integrated amplifier
Input: RCA × 1 (Atlantic Integrated × 3 selected on front panel)
Output: 4mm binding posts × 2 channels
Valve Complement: D3a × 2, 300B x 2, 5U4GB × 1
Frequency Response: 20Hz–96kHz ± 3dB
Power Output: 8W Class A
Input Impedance: 100kOhms
Output Impedance: 8 or 16 Ohms Factory set (optional 4 or 8 Ohms)
Mains Supply: 115–240 volts AC (50–60Hz) Factory set
Fuse 115V/230V: 3Amp/2Amp anti-surge
Dimensions (H×W×D): 40×21×25cm
Price: £7,250 (including flight case)
Manufactured by: Tron Electric
Tel: +44(0)1895 833099
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