Review: CypherLabs Trio – The Tube Portable


First up was Sennheiser HD650, I love using this as a first headphone as I know (and love it) 100%. On top of that it’s a headphone that performs very differently based on the amp used. The high impedance Sennheisers loves tubes, and mostly full sized OTL tube amps. The Trio manages to drive it even on low gain but driving it isn’t everything. First thing you notice is the clarity, especially for the HD650 as in “the lifted veil” backed with a tight bass that has reasonable punch. Bass is fast but not the biggest, the mids are very clear and detailed and the treble is soft. To me however it isn’t how I like to hear my HD650.I really like the bigger slightly looser bass and warm smooth romantic mids the HD650 is so famous for. That also means a lot of people will love the HD650 on the Trio as not everyone loves the smooth and warmish sound it can produce. That’s the beauty of the HD650, it can do it all.

The brand new reference headphone from Hifiman, the HE1000, sounds it very best connected to my V281 in balanced mode. The Trio, in contrast to the Duet and Theorem, doesn’t have a balanced headphone out and it can’t get the best out of the HE1000. No surprise there really, as this is the HE1000 but still I expected it to perform a little bit better. My faith in CypherLabs was restored (it wasn’t gone though) when I hooked up the LCD2.1: lovely bass, big mids, good speed and lively treble. Even in low gain, the Trio & LCD2 combo really sounds good. The closed LCD-XC is a tad easier to drive than the original Audeze and as the original one sounds good, the XC for sure sounds good. You get good deep bass with good body and the lovely rich XC mids really come through. I do find the Theorem and Audeze pairing for both these headphones more special though, the Theorem is really magical for the LCD series and the HD650 for that matter. The latest “budget” Audeze EL-8s (the open version will be reviewed next week) are pretty easy to drive but they are rather amp and style picky in my experience. I really have a love/hate relationship with the Audeze EL-8s but more on that in my next review. The pairing with the Trio wasn’t always the best but I blame the EL-8s for that and not the Trio amp.

After the HE-1000 experience I didn’t really know what to expect from the pairing with the Hifiman HE-560 and HE-400i. Turns out I had nothing to worry about really and the pairing with both these headphones even is the best I’ve had with this amplifier so far. The HE-400i gets good bass, good detail, good speed and a good sound stage. The touch of warmth from the Thomson 6111 makes it sound very musical and detailed at the same time. The best result was at low volume on high gain and with that setting I have to say the HE-400i sounds extremely engaging. With all the headphones available to me I hardly ever pick out the HE-400i but this combo really puts the HE-400i back on the my map. The HE-560 with its even larger and deeper sound stage did even better on the Trio than its little brother and it performs at its best: huge sound stage, lots of room between instruments, very high detail level and great extension. All that combined with the tube touch of the Trio makes the sound not only very detailed but very musical as well. I immensely enjoyed this pairing with a lot of different musical styles and I’m convinced you’ll love it too. In fact, I liked the Hifiman pairing so much I dug out the good old discontinued HE-500. Again, Trio performed with excellence and the HE-500 at high gain sounded sublime. I do hope Hifiman would bring out a more comfortable headphone with the HE-500 tuning, I’d order it right away. The brand new HE-400s arrived just in time for me to give it a listen before finishing this review but as I don’t know the headphone’s sound yet, it’s hard to comment on how the Trio performs with it. Everything seems to confirm the “Hifiman love” though.

The Beyer DT770 AE is a superb headphone that hardly needs any amplification at all, we’ve recommended it to readers hundreds of times and we haven’t had any complaints just yet. The Trio ads a bit of bass body and gives the DT770’s good body. I expected this to be a great combo but I was less sure about the 250Ohm T90. Unfortunately I was right, Trio + T90 doesn’t sound that good. Trio plus high impedance headphones isn’t the best setup it seems. It does ok with the Massdrop AKG 7XX edition but I’m not too fond of that headphone’s sound and I doubt I’ll be keeping it. The on ear T51P, Vmoda XS and HD25 all sounded really good on the Trio in case you wonder but those are all very easy to drive.

A lot of my custom monitors are very sensitive and they pick up the floor noise from the Trio. That makes them less interesting to use with custpoms, except if you listen at higher volumes, in that case you’ll hardly notice it. The Lime Ears Aether is a superb sounding new 5 BA driver with a bass toggle and it sounds sublime with the Trio if you can look past the floor noise during silent passages. CustomArt’s new Ei3 also picks up the noise but in a lesser degree and it isn’t audible during music play back. Cosmic Ears‘ newest CE5P (together with the Legend R) picks up most off the hiss but it’s not audible when you’re listening, except during quiet passages. All my monitors sound really good on the Trio. The universal dynamic IEMs hardly pick up any of the noise and the RHA T10 and T20 sound enormously good on the Trio. Same thing goes for the Eterna Rev 1 and the recently reviewed Rock jaw: good sound – no hiss. The universal 3 BA driver C6IEM from CypherLabs themselves picks up a very light background noise that isn’t audible at all when music is playing.

Other amps

One of the obvious amps to compare the Trio with is the Duet. That one still has more detail, more clarity and shows more depth/layering than the Trio, to me it’s CL’s best portable amp. The JDSlabs C5 is a fair bit cheaper and doesn’t reach the level of the Trio which shows more detail, space and depth than theC5. The C5 can however produce more bass with the bass boost switched on.

The Bakoon HPA-01M is a fair bit upmarket and you can almost get a double Trio setup for it. The Bakoon amp does have a bigger sound stage, more detail and timbre. The current out of this amp is very special and if you ever get a chance to listen to it, take it. Fiio’s E12 is also cheaper and sounds more aggressive than the smoother sounding Trio. Trio also clearly has more depth and scores better in space, detail and layering. In a way the Trio reminds me of the ALO Continental V2 which I don’t have at hand here anymore (the Continental has been discontinued)

There are so many portable amps on the market it simply is impossible to compare the Trio to all of them but if you have a specific request you can post it in the comments section and I’ll reply to it as good as I can.


All in all I’m happy with how the Trio sounds. Agreed, it’s not the ultimate sound like the Duet or the Vorzuge amps have but you get a very good and smooth sound at a correct price and that means a lot.

Trio produces a pretty addictive and qualitative sound with a whole lot of headphones. Most special to me is the Trio – Hifiman pairing and I secretly wonder if the Hifiman’s were used to tune it. Do watch out with sensitive customs though if you’re allergic to floor noise and hiss. That however won’t be an issue for a lot of people and it’s no issue at all with dynamic IEMs.

It’s another good product from CypherLabs but I do believe there still is margin for a V2. At $599 it isn’t the cheapest of amps but it’s a correct price for what you’re getting. It’s available from the dealer network or directly from their online shop.


Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.


  • Reply August 1, 2015


    I think Nathan did the headfonia review for the Fostex HPV1, but do you happen to know how the two compare?

  • Reply August 6, 2015


    Hey L…new audiophile here. I have a couple of pairs of phones I’ve put together over the years, but finally jumped up to the Hifiman HE-560. Loving them, but I am looking to put together a more substantial setup. Wanted to do separate Dac and Headphone amp and wanted it to be a stay at home setup. Any recommendations? I am not looking to buy a $5000 headphone amp or anything (maybe in a few years), but I would be lying if I said I had a “budget” for what I am looking to put together. Thanks in advance.

    • Reply October 19, 2015


      Never saw this question, sorry. Can you give more detail on what you’re looking for exactly, what the other components are, etc.

  • Reply October 18, 2015

    Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

    How compared with CL Picolo?

    • Reply October 19, 2015


      Picollo is the perfect IEM amp, completely silent. Trio is not silent for IEMs.
      Trio do is wider sounding but they share the same house sound characteristics

      • Reply May 22, 2016

        Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

        And How compared with Cloud Nine?

        • Reply May 22, 2016


          cloud nine is awesome but runs on 9Vs and is big. CN does work very well with full sized headphones too though. Picollo is still more silent

          • Reply June 7, 2016

            Juan Luis Quiroz Guevara

            I meant the CL Trio as compared with CN = ​​)

  • Reply December 9, 2015


    How do you compare it with the Continental Dual Mono ?

    • Reply December 9, 2015


      It’s in my CDM Review I think. The part 2 of the series

  • Reply June 9, 2016

    Mateo Ocaña Guevara

    How perform with He400s?

    • Reply June 10, 2016


      Very well 🙂

      • Reply June 11, 2016

        Mateo Ocaña

        Is the trio would make a good match with the x5ii? For the money , I had thought of the chord Mojo also , ¿what do you think?

        • Reply June 11, 2016


          It al depends whet you will be using it with and how you will be using it.

  • Reply June 23, 2016

    Alexandru Trutiu

    Trio have enough power to drive HD600/650? Have good synergy? Thanks

  • Reply August 14, 2017


    Hi Lieven.

    Any chance you paired the TRIO with the SONY MDR Z7’s ?? I just love those headphones and I think there nominal impedance 70ohms) May be a great fit with the trio? I would also pair my AK Jr with the trio and Z7’s.

    Your thoughts are welcome. I am currently using a budget fiio e 17, so I know TRIO would be a great leg up and smoother.


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