The Amp That Makes Me Feel So Powerful: Triad Audio L3
The successor to the Lisa 3 “portable” amplifier is here, and they decided to call it the L3. For some reason, Triad Audio has always been into oversized “portable” amplifiers. The quote-unquote is there because for
most people everyone, the Lisa 3 never counted as a portable amp. It was barely portable to start with, and by the time you add in the battery pack option, it’s pretty close to the size of a brick. It’s the same with the L3. The good news is that it’s smaller than the Lisa 3, but the bad news is that it’s still a quote-unquote, portable. Anyway, I really wouldn’t worry about the size, as long as it gives me all the power I need.
The L3 drives headphones with such a convincing impact, slam, and dynamics that’s unheard of from other portable amps. In fact this is such an addictive part of its sound quality that keeps me going back to it over and over again. Clean, fast, impactful dynamics that never disappoints. It’s pretty amazing how the L3 manages to do it over and over again, seemingly never running out of steam. The level of dynamics found in the L3 is so unheard of in the realm of portables, and even a lot of mid-level desktop amps, that I gotten so enthusiastic as to compare it directly to a Burson amp! Well, that was a little too ambitious of me, as the comparison would reveal, but the idea here is that with the L3 in my hand, I feel that I am not holding a portable amp. Though the $800 price tag seems steep, but I do wish I have the money in my bank account right now because the L3 is the portable amp that makes me feel invincible. I can take this amp to any local meet and impress people. The tank-like, all business build, added with that head-slamming impact, it would really improve my social standings in the headphone circle. With this amp in my hand, whenever I speak, people will listen.
This amplifier has it all. Both power and sound quality. The sound is clean and clear, smooth from top to bottom, and the soundstage is wide and spacious. It is not quite as clear sounding as the ALO Continental, maybe two steps behind the ALO in overall clarity, but what it lacks there it makes up with that head-slamming impact. But without the ALO next to it, I never feel the L3 to lack clarity. The bass is full, tight, weighty, and simply delicious. The sound has such a body to it that makes vocal oh-so-sweet with the L3 (even more than the ALO Continental). This amp has got such an addictive sound to it, that’s it’s going to be stealing thunders from bigger amps in a headphone meet. It’s a fast-paced, meaty, weighty, clear and smooth sounding solid state with killer dynamics. It’s going to be tough to match the performance of the L3 as long as you’re stuck in tiny slim enclosures.
Build Quality and Features
The L3 is cased in a solid 5mm thick metal enclosure. It’s a beautiful build with strong lines, but at the same time also very heavy and probably is not very practical for mobile listening. Not only that, but I’d also hate to see the sleek matte finish scratched because you happen to have some coins in the pocket. Again, beautiful build, but not pocketable. You really should treat it as a compact desktop amp that happens to run on batteries.
The L3 comes with two analog inputs: 3.5mm for your typical Ipod device, and a pair of RCAs in the back. Again, the pair of RCAs really hints that it really is more of a battery powered, compact desktop amp. Another thing to remember is that the two 3.5mm jacks on the front for input and output is placed in a very cramped slot (please refer to the picture), so if you happen to have big diameter 3.5mm jack (hello Viablue, Switcraft), you probably won’t be able to use them here.
A convenient feature is the gain lever at the back panel. This means you can use the L3 with IEMs. I personally wouldn’t buy the L3 just for an IEM (the amplifier shines with a full size — HD650, HD800, LCD-2 and so on), but if you want to do it, you can. With my Shure SE215, I listen at the 9 O’clock mark on low gain setting.
Another feature that may be good for some people is the bass boost, adjustable by one of the knobs in the front panel (the other is volume). Personally, I like the boost level to be on the low side, though not turned off totally. It’ll give a nice added low end body, but turn the knob too high and you get the same effect you get with any bass boost: a less clear midrange. And I certainly want the midrange on the L3 to remain superb as it is.
The battery is rechargeable, so that’s nice. I’m sorry but I don’t have the number on how long the amplifier will run on a single charge.
It’s a pity that I couldn’t find the original Lisa 3 for a comparison (I had one before, but sold it), but it doesn’t matter because the L3 simply rocks the house and I really doubt the original stood a chance against this one. The next best thing I can find is the ALO Continental, and although it’s receive plenty of praises from me as easily being the best portable amp in the market, the dynamics on the L3 is simply unmatched even by the ALO. Yes, it’s a “portable” and it costs $800. But if you can afford one, I swear it’ll make you feel so powerful just holding it.
Special thanks to Sem for the L3 loaner.