The Tri TK-2 has been very kindly loaned to me as part of a European Tour which was organized for this unit. To be totally honest, I wasn’t even part of the tour, however, my fellow reviewer Cqtek, of hiendportable.com, spoke with the organizers and arranged for me to get to try out this device while it is in Spain. I am very grateful to both Cqtek for sorting this out, as I am towards the organizers of the tour for letting him include me.
As I have had no contact with the actual organizers, I have obviously not received any requests from them, so I will leave the two links that Cqtek published in his review in the version of this review posted on my blog.
I will also leave this link to the review of the TK-2 by Cqtek (available in English and Spanish) here: TRI TK-2 English Review - Hi End Portable
Obviously, all of this means that I will aim to be, as always, unbiased and honest in my review, but it is always good to factor in that it hasn’t cost me anything to try out this device.
I honestly know absolutely nothing about this device. Before I received it, I hadn’t even seen pictures, so I can’t say of the packaging and contents are any different due to it being a tour unit, but my guess is that it is the retail packaging and contents.
The TH-2 arrives inside a black rectangular box, showing an image and logo on the front, with plenty of specs on the back. I was surprised at some of the stated specs (as I said, I knew nothing about this device) and also learned that it is in fact a collaboration between TRI and KAEI. The reading of the box actually made my interest grow before opening it.
Anyways, inside the box we get the TK-2, a short USB-C to USB-C cable with 90º connectors (always appreciated!), a longer USB-A to USB-C cable, a couple of rubber rings to attach it to another device, a USB-C to Lightning adapter and a microfiber cloth. I have never been so happy to receive a microfiber cloth with a device, but more on that in a moment.
So, a simple presentation with not a huge amount of contents but certainly enough to enjoy the product out of the box.
Build and aesthetics…
Let me start by saying that the aesthetics are beautiful, until you touch the device. This is the biggest fingerprint magnet I have ever had in my hands, this being the reason for me being extremely happy to receive the microfiber cloth I just mentioned. Just to take a few photos of the TK-2, I must have cleaned it 30 times, and there are still fingerprints in the photos
However, when it is clean, it does look amazing. The top is a black glass finish with the Tri logo in a mirrored finish, as are the sides and bottom. The volume wheel and connector surrounds are in a gold colour and they just all work well together. As I always say, aesthetics are a very personal thing, and I am not usually one for gold, but it does work well with the aesthetics of the device.
Along the top there are 5 status lights that indicate the Hz of the signal, along the front we get a 2.5, 4.4 and 3.5mm outputs, along with the volume wheel. At the back of the unit there are two USB-C ports (one for charge and one for data) which are slightly recessed, along with a line out/phones out selector, and the rest of the unit is just one big flawless mirror, with nicely bevelled corners and in gener, a very good build quality.
I will say though that this device is big and heavy. It is not the biggest (or heaviest) portable device I have used, I think that still belongs to the Diablo, but it is bigger than the Gryphon, in width, depth, length and weight.
I would certainly class the TK-2 as transportable rather than portable, I don’t think you would want this in your pocket along with whatever source you are using, in fact, unless you are wearing cargo pants, I doubt you could even fit it in your pocket.
So, it is big, heavy and a fingerprint magnet… but I love it
There really isn’t much to explain here, you connect whatever your source is to the USB-C port on the back, you connect your headphones of choice on the front, you turn it on and you listen.
The TK-2 is a fairly powerful unit, in fact, it’s a very powerful unit if we consider it portable, using a class A/B amplifier that can push 1250mw @32Ohms. This is obviously not on par with something like the Diablo (which is just crazy) but is more than the Gryphon puts out.
It is also not terrible on battery life. The specs claim 9 hours and I haven’t really managed to deplete it, even when running it almost all day at the office (around 6 or 7 hours of listening), so I guess it is true. It will obviously depend on what headphones you are using and what levels you listen at, I have mainly been using easy to drive headphones and my listening levels are not high.
There really isn’t much more that I can say about the functionality, its simple, it works, and it works well. It supports all kinds of PCM and also native & DOP DSD up to 256. So it should cover most of your files, unless you are someone into MQA.
My dreaded section of any DAC or amp review, how does it sound?
Well, it sounds good but… it doesn’t pair well with everything. I’ll get to why in just a moment.
When I first got the device, I was obviously at my office and the headphones I had on hand were the HD6XX, which have been living here recently. As you may already know, based on previous comments, the HD6XX can go from excellent to terrible depending on my mood. Well, I must have been in a good mood as I plugged them in to the TK-2, opened Foobar and just enjoyed music for the rest of the day. I listened to a lot of blues, jazz, instrumental and acoustic music and I really couldn’t have asked for enjoyment. I really enjoyed things like the Cooltrane Quartet, Nick Cage and the Bad Seeds, B.B.King, Clapton, Genevive Leclerc and many other bands and artists. With the HD6XX, it reminded me quite a bit of the Asgard 3 when I am in a good mood
I was a bit surprised to find that to reach my usual listening levels with the HD6XX, I was above 50% on the volume knob but a bit of investigation informed me that the unit automatically switches to high gain when going above 60% and I must say that the difference between 55% and 65% is fairly large and there is a little bit of a digital click when it happens but I only actually did this for tests as I never needed to go that high for my usual listening (and I dropped the volume on the PC before managing to hit the gain change over). A little thing to mention is that 60% is actually where you would expect 75% to be on the knob, so when I was thinking I was above 50% for my usual listening levels, I was actually probably around 40%.
I also noticed no channel imbalance at low levels, although I did notice that the first 10% of the volume wheel doesn’t produce any sound at all. This is actually not a bad thing as you hit silence quite a bit before you hit the “off” part of the knob, avoiding accidental disconnects when reducing the volume.
So, my next test was to move away from the dynamic drivers and 300 Ohms of the HD6XX and try something planar. As I still have the Edition XS and the Arya v3 in my office from when I recently reviewed the CMA15, my first choice was the Edition XS (only because the box was on top of the other one). I only had balanced cables on hand so I proceeded to connect the Edition XS to the 4.4mm output of the TK-2.
My first surprise came when I realised I needed the same level on the dial to achieve similar listening levels as with the HD6XX. This is just an estimate as I did not measure the volume but usually I do find that I need a little more power with the HD6XX than the Edition XS.
I proceeded to listen for a while and there was something about the headphones that just didn’t sound right. The usual clarity and separation of the low end was not as good as I am used to with these headphones. It sounded a little congested and even a little bloated on occasions, while on other occasions it just sounded like there was something missing. As I didn’t have an unbalanced cable on hand, I couldn’t A/B with the Atom, which is usually a quick reference point for me, so I decided to swap headphones instead.
I unplugged the Edition XS and moved over to the Arya V3, again running balanced from the 4.4mm output. The Arya sounded much better, cleaner in the low end, but still did not sound as good as they usually do. There was still a hint of that bloated sensation with certain tracks and the detail in the low end just wasn’t as separated as it usually is. Now, the Edition XS are not headphones that I listen to everyday, I mean, they are great headphones, but when I get chance to pick something up for pleasure, it is usually the Arya (not always, but a lot of the time), so I know the sound of these headphones pretty well, especially with my test tracks, songs that I have listened to thousands of times.
Listening to “The Room” by Ostura, a track which can get quite busy in the lower mids and midbass, I found that these low notes of the guitar and bass were not as easy to separate as they usually are but still sounded decent. I moved back to the Edition XS and there it was, the same track became less defined in the low end and again exhibited a bit of bloat in certain parts of the tracks.
Later in the day I moved on to the DT1990 Pro, a set of headphones that are very rarely affected by the source and sure enough, they sounded just like they always do.
The next day, I brought in the Gryphon in order to A/B it with the TK-2 and sure enough, with the two Hifiman headphones, the bottom end just sounded cleaner and better represented on the Gryphon. At first I was thinking that maybe the TK-2 didn’t have enough current to keep up with the planars but I then skimmed the review by Cqtek, who presents measurements of sources, and there was my answer, the TK-2 has an output impedance of 20 Ohms when using balanced. This doesn’t play well with the Arya (35 Ohms) and even less with the Edition XS (18 Ohms), which seems to have been causing the issues that I was experiencing.
Then I decided to move on to IEMs, starting off with a cheap set of IEMs that I had just finished reviewing, the Moondrop Chu. Now, the Chu aren’t exactly a set of IEMs that I would choose to determine the qualities of an amp and DAC but they happened to be on my desk and also happen to be 18 Ohms.
With the Chu, which I had just recently reviewed so I had them fresh in my mind, I really didn’t notice any difference that I could put my finger on. At least nothing that stood out that couldn’t be attributed to my expectations now that I had looked at the output impedance (one of the reasons that I try to avoid reading anything about a product before reviewing, if possible).
So, I moved to the Letshuoer S12, another set of IEMs that I have fresh in my mind as I have been using them a lot lately. These are planar IEMs and have an impedance of 14.8 Ohms. Once again, from the balanced output, I noticed what seemed like bloat on a lot of music and while the low end didn’t sound as congested as it did on the Arya, they were certainly not as clean as I expect them to be after using them on many other devices.
Moving through a few other IEMs, I didn’t really notice any issues with any of the ones that I use the most, which are actually all dynamic drivers for the bass. I do have a few hybrids, such as the Dusk, that I use regularly, but they all use DD for bass. The few IEMs that I do have that use BA’s for the low end are not models that I use enough to be able to make a sensible comparison without spending much more time with the IEMs and the TK-2. Yes, I could probably A/B the quickly against other set ups, but I feel that expectation bias would interfere a lot in such short comparisons.
The Tri TK-2 is a very interesting piece of equipment. It has a lot of good things going on and a few not so good things also.
As far as build and aesthetics, absolutely no complaints. Yes, it is heavy, large and you will need to clean it each time you touch anything more than the volume wheel, but when it is clean, it looks great. It is well built and honestly looks like something of high quality. A quick search online brough back results starting at just over 250€, which is not exactly cheap for a portable DAC/Amp, but is a lot cheaper than things like the Gryphon that come in at around 600€. Admittedly the Gryphon has everything you could wish for and a bit more, whereas the TK-2 is a simple DAC/Amp, but I still expected a price that was a little higher based on the spec and build.
As far as functionality, it is pretty basic, it is, as I just said, a simple DAC/Amp. The major benefits are the power ratings, the A/B class amp and the ESS DAC chips, which obviously offer far more performance than something like a dongle set up.
As far as sound, well it seems to depend on what you are planning on using it with. With dynamic driver headphones, it sounds very nice, very reminiscent of the Asgard in some ways, with that slight smoothness to the sound. With planar magnetic headphones, at least the ones that I tried, it doesn’t do so well. The same can be said for planar magnetic IEMs, or at least the S12. That 20 Ohms output impedance doesn’t work well with them.
With DD IEMs, it also works well, with no real issues at all, even with low impedance IEMs (or at least the ones that I tried didn’t seem to suffer). I did sometimes get the impression that the bass was a little bloated but I am going to chalk that up to my expectation bias after finding out the output impedance.
For example, with the HD6XX, I think the TK-2 would be something that would make 95% of people happy with the sound and performance, with a great sounding system that comes in at around 500€ for the whole set, and allows you to move around freely from the sofa, to the office to the front porch.
Personally I wouldn’t choose this over the portable set ups I already have, the Go Blu and the Gryphon, but even the tiny Go Blu is already nearly the price of the TK-2, so it really isn’t a fair comparison.
(As always, this review is also available in Spanish both on www.achoreviews.com and on www.youtube.com/achoreviews)