The Amp That Makes Me Feel So Powerful: Triad Audio L3

triad_l3_13

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 Triad Audio 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.

End Words

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.

triad_l3_02 triad_l3_03 triad_l3_04 triad_l3_05 triad_l3_06 triad_l3_07 triad_l3_08 triad_l3_09 triad_l3_10 triad_l3_11

 

 

  • http://twitter.com/ontheedgeaustin Austin Morrow

    That thing looks absolutely delicious…

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      It does have that look..

  • jeff

    How does the Triad compare to the amp section of the Fostex HP-P1? 

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Jeff,
      The HP-P1′s amplifier is just okay, nothing special there. The HP-P1 is about quality source.

  • Kylebloss

    get your O2 yet?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Should be here this week. 

  • Earfonia

    Cool stuff!  No internal pictures?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I didn’t want to open it since it was not a manufacturer’s sample. 

  • Mampus

    Works well with Beyers if you feel the Beyers is lacking impact :D

  • Andy Smith

    Interesting review as ever Mike. I took a prototype of the L3 to last years head-fi meet in London (Brad loaned me a wooden case version) and the consensus from listeners was that it didn’t sound appreciably `better’ than the Lisa in comparative auditions. But it was a pre-production prototype and the electronics may have been revised since then. Anyhow, I’d hold fire purchasing an L3 until the ALO Rx MKIII has been released, as it’s cheaper at $650, has a smaller footprint and early indications suggests that it sounds appreciably `better’ than the ALO Continental.  

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Interesting.

  • http://twitter.com/Brian_K3 Brian Fu

    Wait, I thought the L3 has a wooden enclosure? 

    • http://www.facebook.com/Ahokzyasha Edward Elric

      the L3 have wooden and steel enclosure

  • Steve F

    Hi Mike,
    How does the L3 compare with the Just Audio AHA-120?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Steve,
      The AHA-120 is warmer and mellower. The L3 more impactful and dynamic. 

      • Dookie182

        I guess a maybe closer call would be , how does the L3 compared to the just audio uha 120 as it is described as beeing a real dynamic amp with excellent prat, full and impactfull bass…
        kindest regards

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I’ve never listened to the UHA120 but I can’t imagine it being better than the AHA120, in which in my opinion the L3 is still far more dynamic.

  • Huang Peter S

    Hi, do you know how the L3 compares to the Ray Samuels Audio SR-71B?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Peter, 
      Even though the SR-71B has a very high power output level, I never felt the same impact and dynamics that I feel coming out of the L3 amp. Likewise with Ibasso’s PB-2 amp. 

  • Anonymous

    I feel powerful simply viewing the pictures.  That thing looking crazy.  I’ll have to try to get my hands on one.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Quinn you can email me if you need Triad Audio’s contacts.

  • Sickdrummer182

    Hey Mike,  is the Triad Audio L3 powerful enough to drive the HE-6 loudly without clipping?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Nope, still need speaker amps for the HE-6. Or the RSA Dark Star.

      http://www.headfonia.com/voltage-monster-ray-samuels-dark-star/

      • Sickdrummer182

        I thought you said some inexpensive amps like the Matrix M-Stage (if put onto high gain) could drive the HE-6? Have you changed your mind about that?

        What other inexpensive amps, in your opinion can drive the HE-6?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Not the M-Stage, it’s not bad, but not too powerful. The easiest way is to find some speaker amps. They don’t have to be expensive, just rated for speakers.
          Please continue the discussion here: http://www.headfonia.com/hifiman-he-6-first-impression/

  • Ekstac

    What’s your thoughts on using this for CIEMs, Mike?

    (JH16, Heir Audio 8.A and a few lower-end ones)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think you’ll be better off using smaller amps since that extra power is not needed with IEMs. 

      • Ekstac

        You’re probably right. I’m having a hard time finding something though.

        Currently I’m looking at the Auditor and the V200. Are there any other alternatives I should be looking at? I’m quite new to “non-portable” amps, so any suggestions are welcome.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Well there are a lot of desktop amps in the market.. what are you looking for specifically? What headphones?
          If you want to wait till next week I can probably help narrow down the list as I plan to update the Amp recommendations page.

          • Ekstac

            Yes, and the fact that there are this many makes the market such a jungle! :-)

            Well, I’m an IEM guy. Currently I own the JH16, Heir Audio 8.A, UE TripleFi 10 and the Turbine Coppers. I don’t plan on getting any full-size headsets, so I won’t need alot of power.

            Was hoping I could get an amp that’s somewhat analytical. I figured if I take my IEM collection which is all pretty warm and bassy and matched it with a warm sounding amp, the whole thing might become a bit too much.

            I have no problem waiting for next week. I appreciate you taking the time to help me out here :-)

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              With the JH16, the Pico Slim is best. No need to go with the big desktop amps they won’t necessarily be better.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ajkun Arturo Lazaro Jr.

      while you probably don’t need the power i remember meeting qusp one time in brisbane a few years back, he was running iriverH100->ibasso->lisaIII->JH-13s as his transportable rig. it looked real mean.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rūdolfs-Putniņš/100001284307683 Rūdolfs Putniņš

    Great review! I especially liked the “With this amp in my hand, whenever I speak, people will listen” part! Just don’t forget to use the head slamming impact!

    Any comments on how it compares to the AHA-120?

  • almuts

    Are you sure about 5 mm enclosure thicckness? It’s too thin for the enclosure thickness but too thick for plate thickness

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry not 5mm, I think I’ve gotten that part wrong. I will try to get the correct measurement.

  • Alep

    hye mike..i owned hd650 and i’m really looking forward for L3, but i still confuse which one is the best to choose since meier stepdance v2 also a good pair to hd650.. i’ve read alot about both amp..what do you think about both amps and its compatiblity if i wanna pair it with hd650??

  • Laurencewayne

    Ah Mike…need to ask a “toughy”.  I did the digiZoid2 based on your rec and love it.  But it seems the AL3 might be spot on for me (base boost, clarity etc.) Am I duplicating for my HD800 and Shure 535?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      So you are thinking about getting the L3 for your HD800 and Shure SE535?
      Well if you need it to be portable then the L3 will be great for the HD800 — best there is. It may not be that special for the 535.
      If you don’t need it to be portable then I’d get a desktop amp.

      • Laurencewayne

        Mike- Thanks so much for the reply.  I guess I’m really asking for the difference between the L3 and digizoid2 for overall enjoyment.  Would the L3 be that much different?  

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          For the HD800, yes the L3 is going to be much better than the Zo.

          • Laurencewayne

            Mike- Just one more (I promise!) I’m currently using a RS “Raptor” amp.  Would the L3 improve or just give me portability?  I do appreciate your insights!

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Oh, the Raptor is supposed to be very nice. It’s an OTL and it’s one on my to-listen list.
              Don’t know, not sure if it’ll be an upgrade to be honest.

  • A.H

    mike, T1 and L3, how do you think for this combination?
    i already tried T1 with GS solo II, burson 160D, corda concerto, and none of them in my taste..
    all pair with fostex hp a3 of course..

    thanks for your time..

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think it has the potential to be a good pairing, but I haven’t tried it personally.

  • Mba1999

    So how does the L3 compare to Dacport?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The amplifier section is better on the L3, but the DACport is a DAC/amp. 

  • NedKelly

    @dookie182, Mike’s friend Lieven wrote the Headfonia review of the uHA-120, but the sentiments expressed were immediately attributed to Mike by certain scallywags on Head-Fi. I own the 120 – its a good amp, but you simply wouldnt bother trying to run the HE-6 with *any* portable, per Mike’s suggestion, and I’m stumped if I can think of a reason for doing so. I expect that you are the kind of person who wants to see a VW bug tow a houseboat ;)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, Ned.

  • http://twitter.com/Currawong Currawong (Amos)

    What impressed me about the Continental was that it works well with just an iPhone or iPod, whereas the L3 doesn’t. I use mine with a Fostex HP-P1 and there is a distinct improvement over the Fostex’s built-in headphone amp., especially with high-impedance headphones.

  • Marc_D26

    Hi Mike,
    Do you think the L3 is on the same level as the TTVJ Slim sound-quality-wise? (refinement/technicalities, dynamic & midrange).
    Yes it’s a bit thicker enclosure and not as slim.
    Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Did you read the review?

      • Marc_D26

        Yeah I did, and I didn’t find you mention any TTVJ Slim on the review above, that’s why I asked. Or maybe you can put it this way, if any, what’s the sound quality difference between the TTVJ Slim and the L3?
        Please pardon my english.
        Cheers!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Marc, 
          This is what I wrote: 

          “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! “Basically that paragraph covered it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Victor-Halgaard/1269871108 Victor Halgaard

    Hey there, I currently own the SR-71B and I am wondering if the improvements of this amp will be worth its size to carry around on a daily basis? (I would make some sort of leather belt bag/pouch for it).
    And what would the most significant improvements be? Just to sum up what i love from an amp: A huge, but well defined/precise soundstage, deep bass response, strong and clear mids+treble etc.
    Keep in mind I only own one amp at a time, so it also serves as my desktop amp at the same time, and the headphones i use portably are things such as T1 and D7000. I cant seem to find out what the best amp for me would be :p

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Victor,
      I think the improvements are in almost all aspects. I would totally trade the SR-71B for the L3, if not for the size concern.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      By the way, Victor. The part on you carrying it around on a daily basis, if that’s the intention I would just go with either the SR-71A or the ALO Continental. Both are excellent sounding and they more closely resemble a true portable amp. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Victor-Halgaard/1269871108 Victor Halgaard

        Hmm, I’ve considered trying the Continental, but the low frequency roll off its sort of keeping me from doing so as I dont think I could live with not having the bass below 40hz for a lot of genres…

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          What genres do you listen to?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Victor-Halgaard/1269871108 Victor Halgaard

            A lot: all types of metal, all the way to where it’s purely classical/ symphonic. I listen to ambient, electronica and some house. A little jazz and a lot of ‘world’ music too (ie Australian, african, Celtic folk, irish and so on).

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            It would be good for your classical & symphonic metal, jazz, and world music. 

            Electronica and house would need a different amp.. perhaps the head stage arrow 3G. 

  • http://openid.anonymity.com/t475ay Guest

    Urgh, another “three channel” design? I suppose it could be OK in spite of this, but I thought that particular design myth had died?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Who said it’s a myth?

      • masterasia

        Hi Mike, 

        like to point you to this comment by nwavguy about Headfonia:
        http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2012/02/feb-1-update.html?showComment=1330016032573#c8522916825604865516

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Interesting.

          Just curious, why did you feel the need to point out that comment from him?

      • http://openid.anonymity.com/olwhv Guest

         There seem to be quite a lot of major disadvantages to the topology (interchannel IMD anyone?) and all the advantages claimed that I’ve seen are either provably gibberish (an amplifier being more linear than a wire? Come again?) or hide behind meaningless claims of “adding musicality” or something like that.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I understand what you’re saying, but all these talk about “there seems to be quite a lot of major disadvantages…” are mostly one-sided as well. It just happens that the camp against the idea of a three channel design is more vocal than the pro-camp.
          I’m not trying to make a personal attack here, but from the language of your post it also sounds like most of your belief on three channel design being false are a result of you reading somebody else’s word on the topic (“there seem”, “probably”). So perhaps you should take a step back and re-evaluate that belief. After all it’s very easy to make a post on the internet.
          I’ve listened to both amps, the L3 and the O2 and definitely the L3 is a better amp, but you don’t have to take my word for it.

          • http://openid.anonymity.com/olwhv Guest

            Don’t mistake politeness for uncertainty.

            It may surprise you to learn that I was originally planning, when I first looked into headphone hi-fi, to build a three-channel M^3. I had the parts list set up on Mouser, ready to order. You can find me arguing in favour of AMB when his three-channel designs were attacked based on what seemed at the time pretty heavy criticism out of nowhere: in the end I stepped back, re-evaluated my beliefs and realised that the advantages of the topology that I was so desperately clinging to simply didn’t exist.

            Keeping NwAvGuy and his designs out of it…I admit the former is difficult, but only because NwAvGuy has written extensively on the flaws of the topology, so any point I could make NwAvGuy will have made first. If you are of the opinion that NwAvGuy is a raving lunatic, then by all means head over to the DIYAudio thread he started – there is a total of one person who doesn’t agree with his engineering, and his line of argument centred roughly upon the sophisticated angle that NwAvGuy was stupid. He later received a temporary ban for refusing to stop attacking him in his O2 thread.

            I’m not interested in how X sounds compared with Y: the advantages of the amplifier topology have been defined in technical terms and simply don’t make any sense. This isn’t really very subjective: the arguments of the “pro” side only address a very small proportion of the criticism and that which they do address is addressed in completely nonsensical terms.There are various little disadvantages, such as doubled output impedance (incontestable) and the ground amp being stressed from having to sink twice as much current (also incontestable). The big issue is the nonlinearity of any given ground channel amp compared with a wire (incontestable again) creating a particularly nasty type of interchannel intermodular distortion. If you don’t accept the theory, there are measurements showing this occurring in two completely unrelated channel designs, as you would expect from their topology.

            The given reasons for using a three channel design either make no sense at all (how exactly can you achieve lower distortion by replacing something linear with something less linear?) or are better solved by standard, competent design practises. There are some scary-looking simulations from three-channel advocate AMB talking about “ground contamination.” Miraculously, the hugely detrimental effects of this contamination are mysteriously absent in any well-designed two channel amplifier, the reason being that this “contamination” prettymuch disappears when you have a competent designer who deals with grounding correctly on their PCB. Leaving engineering aside for a moment, do you really believe that if standard two-channel amplifiers had this huge inherent design flaw that nobody apart from a handful of very niche designers would care?

            So, to summarise, we have a design choice with a crapload of disadvantages for which you are likely paying a premium (3 channel designs being more expensive to manufacture than their 2 channel counterparts.) As I said earlier, it is entirely possible that the amplifier sounds great in spite of this, but that doesn’t make the design choice a good one!

            NB: Please note that I am not neccessarily attacking the use of an “active ground” in all portable amps – rail splitters and the like are useful in portable amps you want to run off a single battery, although I would expect a more elegant solution for $800! Once you get into a whole third-channel amplifier, however, any advantages quickly fly out of the window and the disadvantages become overwhelming.

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            That was very well written, thanks.

            By the way I would appreciate it if you would post not using a Guest account. 

  • masterasia

    As I don’t see any kind of hifi advertisements on your site and as an avid reader of your site, I am also curious to know what’s your take on his claims, and if you can put his claim to rest.

    ps: I put alot of trust into your reviews as I have owned some of the equipment you have reviewed and find them to be very helpful in purchasing new gears.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Fair enough. But what do you expect me to reply to that sort of comment anyway? If you read his entire blog, it’s clear that it’s impossible for him to be wrong. ;)

      • masterasia

        I just didn’t want to see Headfonia’s  good reputation to be tarnished by unfounded claims that’s all. :)

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Ah, we’re all only human. :)

  • spkrs01

    I have the L3 and use it as bedside table solution. I have it permanently powered off the mains via a Firestone Audio Supplier PS. I have found that running off batteries doesn’t do real justice to the Triad.

    Having only been in this hobby for 9months now, I am still at the IEM stage with the regular W4 that I had cracked and a Shure compatible socket installed, I have a silver/gold hybrid cable attached. A SE535 with a silver cable. Plus many other IEMs that are on the way.

    I must say that the Triad does a truly stunning job taking both the above IEMs to new heights of realism.

    What is your opinion of the L3 compared to the RSA71b in balance mode as I was just informed you have listened to both….

    Huge thanks and great reviews!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I’ve never thought too highly of the SR-71B. It has gobs of power, but the overall sound quality is quite mediocre.

      • spkrs01

        Ouch. That’s pretty strongly worded!

        Also I would like to add the Triad via the RCA inputs is considerably better than the 3.5mm at the front after having a silver/gold cable custom made for it. I was using the same cable as a 3.5mm i/c.

        OK, strike that SR71B off the list.

        I bought the Corda 2Stepdance, good as it is for a portable solution, it really is in a different league compared to the L3. I just don’t understand why the Triad L3 is sold in a jiffy bag, no power supply or anything else? Doesn’t make sense to me.

        Again thanks Mike

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Well I actually said the same thing on the Usual Suspects article:

          http://www.headfonia.com/the-usual-suspects-12-portable-amps-compared/

          As for the power supply, I’m quite certain that the amp loaned to me comes with the proper PSU. I don’t know if the PSU actually comes from Triad Audio as it was just a loaner from a friend. 

          • spkrs01

            I think your friend sourced and bought it…..as even on their website they clearly state no power supply and one needs to buy 24v 500 mAh 2.1 center pin positive. I am in Hong Kong and it took me 4 hours to locate an exactly according to spec. It was like a mobile phone one and heated up really bad. I then bought a MITEC one which is the same but 1amp which I was told was acceptable. Sounded terrible, hence the Firestone Audio Supplier 3 days later…….

            So lots of time and effort to make the L3 work and sound properly!

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            They really need to include a proper PSU considering even $100 amps come with one. 

  • http://www.audioexcursions.com/ Austin Morrow

    Very thorough review, Mike. I have the Triad Audio L3 coming in a few weeks and am very excited to try it out.

  • Craig Olson

    Random question, but if you had an RWA iMod could you use this without the Cyberlabs Solo and not notice a tremendous difference since the amp is so good?

  • Gordon

    If anyone has found a better sounding portable amp than the L3 I’d love to hear about it. I’ve tried the RS Intruder, ALO MK3-B, iBasso PB2 + DB2 and many others and the L3 still wins hands down. The battery pack that comes with the L3 is pathetic, it takes about 3 hours to charge and lasts about 2.5 hours with full size cans. Best best way around this is to remove the two 9v batteries and replace them with two HiTech 9v 600mAh Lithium-ion which charge quickly and last around 10 hours. The only catch being you have to remove the batteries to charge them on a Lithium-ion charger.
    Cheers, Gordon.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes the L3 is quite phenomenal.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eyal1983 Eyal Sade

    how is it against Portaphile 627 ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Mohammaduf Mohammad Ashraf

    Would you recommend this over the portaphile?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The character is different, the L3 more dynamic, the Portaphile mellower

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      But the two are comparable, yes.