Trigon Exxceed

Hardware Review

Trigon Exxceed
Monday, February 17, 2020
integrated amplifier/DAC
Trevor Butler

With audio just part of their electronics portfolio, Trigon is a German brand with top engineering credentials. Trevor Butler takes a look at the latest design, the heavyweight Exxceed integrated amplifier. Having relied on Trigon monoblock amplification in my main system for several years now I was interested to see the release in Munich last year of a new line-up from this high-end German brand, renowned for solid and reliable engineering over more than 20 years.

Hi-fi products are but a small part of this manufacturer’s output which produces electronics for a wide range of applications from an enviable workforce of hardware and software engineers. The new Exxceed integrated (their spelling, and a pun on the amp ‘exceeding’ one’s expectations) is part of a range which has grown rapidly to include pre- and power amps as well as a network server and streamer. With a clear digital-ready design, and user convenience to the fore centred around a futuristic central touch-screen display, the 170W/ch model is no slouch and will drive even the most power hungry of loudspeakers.

Technology
The user is presented with a selection of digital and analogue inputs with speaker outputs on chunky binding posts as well as a pre-out and full fat quarter inch headphone socket on the front panel. A heavyweight in many ways, the Exxceed is built around a solid aluminium and steel case in a sandwich construction, sans any visible screws. Finish options are anodised, Nextel-coated or chrome-plated to taste. Vibration-absorbing feet are included in an attempt to combat the effects of microphony.

Controls are arranged symmetrically to the rather elegant and almost infinitely-configurable TFT display (showing all operating states and functions), with source selection to the left and volume on the right, although in practice one uses the comprehensive Director infra-red remote which handles all the essentials. It is here that the filter behaviour of the D/A converter can be changed and a AV bypass function selected for use in a home theatre system. The display also has brightness options, time-controlled shutdown and no fewer than 24 different colours to assign to the various displays, plus the ability to give individual names to each of the nine inputs.

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I was delighted to be able to engage in discussion with Rainer Reddemann, the hardware developer of all of Trigon’s audio designs who was able to elaborate on various technical features of the Exxceed. He explained how the new amplifier includes a pure analogue section with some digital inputs and, apart from the signals from these inputs, the complete signal-path is analogue. The Exxceed has four analogue inputs, four SPDIF inputs and an optional USB input for computer-derived audio (PCM 384kHz 32bit and DSD up to 128k). 

For the analogue preamplification Trigon has opted to use ADA4898 op-amps from Texas Instruments. I am told that these are ideal for high-end audio, because they have little noise and very low distortion, while their sonics are excellent. But every good op-amp needs a good DC power supply and to achieve best sound quality the designer tried several different power supplies for the preamp section. In his opinion the version with a shunt power supply was the best; even though the efficiency of a shunt regulator is not the best, sonic results are more important. 

For the optional USB DAC the Exxceed uses an AK4490 chip which together with the XMOS interface can handle high-resolution digital audio. After the conversation into analogue, all signals are switched with relays to the main preamp section. For volume Trigon use a PGA2311, a tried-and-tested controller which was found to work very well in this application. Trigon build in a preamp output in both balanced and unbalanced forms; the unbalanced output can be with or without volume control.  

After the volume control the signal arrives at the headphone- and power amplifier. The headphone amplifier comprises an op-amp and some additional transistors while the power amplifier has a cascode voltage amplifier at the input and four power transistors at the current output stage. Each power amplifier has its own power transformer (it’s a double mono power supply), with the power capacitors very close to the output transistors to assist in delivering punch and deep bass. 

The complete amplifier is controlled by a single microprocessor located directly behind the front panel. All digital circuits have their own power supplies to screen the analogue sections against digital noise in the amplifier stages. The software used in Exxceed was created in-house by Trigon’s specialist team and is responsible for all the special functions of the amp, including the comprehensive menu selection. 

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Certainly build quality appears high, from a quick glimpse under the case, with high-quality components on sturdy circuit boards and solid construction to a good standard. Now down to the all-important part of any review – plug-in and switch-on.  

Sound quality
I began with the Exxceed coupled to my trusty Harbeth M30.1 Anniversary monitors but since it will not stream (by itself) from my usual sources (Tidal, Spotify and Apple Music) I borrowed a Tascam CD transport as well as using a USB connection to my MacBook.

So blown away was I from the first few notes of Phil Collins’ ‘Another Day in Paradise’ (live) that I couldn’t believe my ears. Never before had I heard quite so much through these speakers: the bass seemed deeper and more penetrating than usual, the sheer attack of the music greater and the midrange so deliciously detailed. If this is how things were going to continue, I was in for a treat. Never let it be said that mid-sized Harbeths can’t do bass: they can, and in abundance.

Indeed, through several weeks of listening I was not disappointed. My only frustration was having to either change discs in the CD transport or get up to select another track on my laptop, connected via a one metre USB lead. I have become used to using my iPhone to control my music library and was missing the convenience. Nevertheless, sonically the Exxceed was out of this world. Track after track, genre after genre, it produced the goods. I found myself exploring CDs I had not listened to in ages (such is the downfall of playlists). 

Among the discs I dusted off was a 2003 Naxos recording of Stanford’s Services in C by St John’s Cambridge under Christopher Robinson. I was absorbed by the soundstage created before me, as convincing and realistic as I can recall. While I had already experienced how the Exxceed exceled when it came to powerful passages, on the pianissimos as well it was sublime. The choir’s spirit and conviction is conveyed to the listening room as we revel in the acoustic and the well-judged tempo which reinforces the rhythmic energy.

Over to Lucrezia Borgia (WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln/Yurkevych) on Nightingale Classics and the Trigon reproduced this live performance of one the most beautiful and important operas with consummate ease. We are treated to Gruberova’s amazing vocal technique and legendary ability to reach those upper notes in an emotionally powerful way as the atmosphere of the Köln venue is brought home. The Exxceed demonstrates its capacity for a huge dynamic range, immense inner detail and well-controlled yet deep lower register.

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Whatever I threw at this amplifier, it took on the chin and handled it with aplomb. For vocal rendition the capability to reproduce Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah (ASMF and Chorus/Marriner) on Philips from 1992 with such masterful realism won me over. The sheer dynamic range produced, the dramatic contrasts within the work rekindled, while the diction and magical flexibility of the chorus (notably the delicate nuances of ‘He, watching over Israel’) was an extraordinary attainment. 

Before re-packing the unit and shipping it back to Germany, I connected my satellite receiver (optically) and sat back to enjoy some BBC Radio 3 transmissions of live concerts. The first delight was a late-night recital from Paris of the French National Orchestra performing Berlioz's L’Enfance du Christ. The spacious acoustic of the venue was re-created in my listening room with endearing realism, with the spectacle of the oratorio depicting Jesus’s birth and his family journey across Egypt brought home [literally] in a thoroughly entertaining way by the Trigon. 

There was subsequent delight with Missa Solemnis from Berlin as the majesty of this choral masterpiece proved easy pickings for the Exxceed’s circuits. Likewise with a lunchtime recital from closer to home and Bach up close with the LSO members at St Luke’s. We were treated to three of the composer’s sonatas for violin and harpsichord which revealed the amp’s ability to dig deep and unveil the inner magic of music from a digital signal. There’s no doubt that the DAC section is equally as competent as the amplifier stages. 

Conclusion
There’s no doubting Trigon’s ability with both analogue and digital electronics if the new Exxceed integrated is anything to go by. Here is a very capable amplifier, producing more oomph than most will ever need (great for headroom) and versatile in the extreme. Inputs cater for all (although a streaming option would have been the icing on the cake for me) and the package is competently designed and adeptly engineered. Sonically it is almost impossible to fault and produced everything I wanted, more than I expected, and a great deal more than I could have hoped for. Superlatives come at a price, but this is no thrown-together in China box but rather a hand-built, expertly-engineered design. All-in-all, an audio masterpiece from a brand we need to hear more about.

Specifications: 

Type: integrated amplifier and DAC
Analogue inputs : 4x single ended RCA, balanced XLR 
Digital inputs: 2x optical, 2x coax. Optional USB-HiRes Audio PCM/DSD    
Input Impedance: analogue 47 kOhm
Input Sensitivity: 0,5V (analogue) 
Output Power:2x 100 / 170 W at 8/4 Ohm 
Damping Factor: >100 (at 8 Ohm 1KHz)
Distortion   ( THD + N): < 0.015%
Outputs: speakers, 6.3mm headphone jack, : unbalanced line  out/rec out,: balanced XLR pre out
Bandwidth: digital Inputs 20 Hz – 22kHz (-3dB): analogue Inputs  5Hz – 250kHz (-3dB)
Signal Noise: > -86 dB at 1 Watt at 4 Ohm
Noise (A-filtered): > -92 dB at 1 Watt at 4 Ohm
Weight: 18.3Kg
Dimensions (HxWxD): 440 x 110 x 380mm

Price: 
£4,060
USB DAC: £495
Director remote control: £170
Manufacturer Details: 

Trigon Elektronik GmbH
T +49 (0) 561/20753880
www.trigon-audio.de

Distributor Details: 

Audio Emotion Ltd
T 01333 425 999
www.audioemotion.co.uk