Music in the Round #98: Trinnov Altitude 32 & Essence Evolve II-4K

As I wrote before in these pages, I have long been acquainted with French electronics manufacturer Trinnov. Years ago, at an Audio Engineering Society convention in New York, a Trinnov rep used a mastering console equipped with their processor to move, at will, the sounds of instruments around the 3D soundstage and left me thoroughly impressed. That was before my conversion from stereo to multichannel music listening, and before the blurring of borders between home theater and mainstream audio.

Subsequently, I reported on an AVR with a simplified version of Trinnov processing, and later still on a full-blown Trinnov MC Optimizer. The former was tantalizing but ultimately unsatisfying, while the latter was satisfying but too demanding, operationally and financially. But recently, Trinnov entered the home theater/domestic-audio market with their line of Altitude preamp-processors. These sit at the high end of such products in appearance, convenience, DSP potency—and price.

Earlier this year, I received for review the Trinnov Altitude 32—actually the Altitude 32-816, with optional 3D audio decoding package ($26,750), plus a Trinnov 3D microphone ($750). The “816” designation indicates 8-channel (actually 7.1) input capability, either digital or analog, as well as 16 channels of outputs; the optional 3D package enables Auro-3D, Dolby Atmos, and DTS:X, along with their respective upmixers for legacy material: Auro-3D, Dolby Surround, and Neural:X (footnote 1). The Trinnov Altitude 32 is the most prodigious HT pre-pro that I have ever used. Aside from DSD support, I cannot think of a single facility or function that’s missing, including the option to go beyond the number of built-in channels by adding cards and an external box.


Getting up to altitude
In my earlier experience with the Trinnov MC Optimizer—in that instance, a standalone signal processor, although the name also applies to the suite of DSP software inside the Altitude 32 and other products—I had to rely on a phone and VPN connection with a Trinnov technician to get it going. The Altitude 32 has a much friendlier user interface. But such is its complexity that new users won’t be able to follow a simple series of setup screens to use it. Trinnov strongly advises that users read the entire 167 pages of the User Guide—and I agree—but a printed copy is not included. Since I had some prior experience, I chose instead to sample my way through the PDF guide, consulting it throughout the process.

Weighing in at an impressive 32 lb, the Altitude 32 takes great physical effort to install, compared to a power amplifier of comparable weight, because it must go on a high enough shelf that its controls and its myriad connections can easily be accessed. I started by connecting a few HDMI sources, including my Mac mini-based JRiver server, and an expanded playback system that included my standard 5.2 setup plus two pairs of front and rear Dolby-enabled speakers: small upward-aimed speakers that reflect off the ceiling to emulate height sources. The resulting 5.2.4 system required 11 of the XLR output jacks for the power amps and subs, and I inserted them in what seemed a logical order based on experience. I turned on the Altitude 32 and, yes, stereo was excellent from the left and right speakers, but the outputs from the additional channels were strange and skewed. Clearly, my default was not congruent with that of the Altitude. I needed to face the setup procedures outlined in the guide. But how?


The Altitude 32’s front panel controls and display serve only for in-use functions—not configuration or calibration. There is also direct network access to the Altitude 32’s webpage, which is somewhat more detailed, but it doesn’t support setup operations, either. The only effective user interface for setup at this moment (footnote 2) is via VNC. My iPad made the connection quickly and dependably.

This makes great sense if one looks at the back of the Altitude 32 chassis and sees the characteristic I/O panel of an Intel-based motherboard poking through on the lower left of the main array of A/V I/O connections. There’s a PC in there: Consider it the Trinnov’s left hemisphere, in that you must communicate with it if you want to deal with the A/V operations in the right hemisphere. Of course, you’re welcome to connect a keyboard, mouse, and HDMI monitor to that PC to access it directly, but that entails more devices, more connectors, and more clutter. So VPN it is—and I have been won over by that approach’s ability to give me the most granular and global control from my seat on the sofa.

The basic setup tasks are defining and mapping the output channels; bass management; speaker measurement; target curve specification; and calibration/equalization. In addition, one is likely to have special preferences for different uses—eg, stereo music with or without bass management, single person vs group listening/viewing, etc. Trinnov lets you store individual sets of controls, calibrations, and settings as individual Presets, and you can have dozens to suit your needs.

Taken in order:

• The speaker-mapping page allows you to assign any physical speaker channel to any logical speaker output in any of the commonly used layouts or codecs. I discovered that I had connected my front subwoofers to jacks that Trinnov had assigned to SurroundR/SurroundL; as a result, the rest of the assignments were displaced as well. Rather than doing a lot of plugging and unplugging, I just reassigned the remaining outputs.


Channel assignments page for each codec and, in last column, speaker output.

On that page, one also enters room and screen dimensions to aid in visualizing speaker mapping. I saved Presets from this as 5.1 and as 5.2.4 so that I could use them as needed.

• The bass management page provides for setting the LFE low-pass (LP) frequency for each subwoofer and the high-pass frequency for each of the main channels. These settings can be global (applied to all channels) or individual (per speaker). I chose no LP filter for the LFE, 80Hz for every main speaker, and 110Hz for the Dolby-enabled speakers. I applied these to each of my Presets.

• Speaker/room measurements utilize the unique Trinnov 3D microphone—actually an array of four microphone elements, each fastened to the end of its own stem, with all four stems fastened to a cylindrical base. Three elements are on rather short stems, arranged in a triangle; just behind the triangle, the fourth element is fastened to a longer stem. With this array, the Trinnov processor can measure a speaker’s distance, level, and frequency response as would a single microphone, but it can also assess the angular position of the speaker in both the vertical and horizontal planes. It’s so effective that Trinnov says that just one measurement position can be used, although they recommend 4-5. I made five measurements, in front or below and left or right of the main spot. It took all of 15 minutes and, again, I applied the results to both Presets.

• Target curves are, of course, optional, but in this particular room, with these particular speakers, I have become comfortable with a target response that raises the bass just a little and gently rolls off the treble. My choice was a 3dB boost of frequencies below 100Hz, with a progressive down-slope to -4dB at 20KHz, applied to all the speakers. Since I had Presets for 5.1 and 5.2.4 with a flat target curve, I saved duplicates of each with my personal target.

• The calibration is a simple matter of clicking on a button, but you can also dig deeper to customize the outcome. You can, for example, add parametric EQs for each and every speaker, if you or the speaker manufacturer can provide the correction information. Another option is to adjust the resolution of the correction process beyond the 1/3-octave default, but my results were satisfyingly smooth and flat. I ran the Optimizer on each of my four presets as defined above.


From top, FR curves for all channels before and after correction filter. Note flatness and tight grouping.

Whew! All that may sound challenging—and I can’t deny that it’s more complex than is typical. However, the results are well worth the effort, whether you undertake it yourself or get your dealer/installer to do the job. I recommend the former, because that way, in the process, you gain the power to manage future changes and enhancements.

In flight with the Altitude 32
Turning on the Altitude 32 with the front-panel button is like turning on a desktop computer: It takes a minute or so to boot up. I’m impatient, so I left it on, muted, when it wasn’t in use.

The big knob to the left of its display is the volume control; just below that is the mute button. The knob to the right of the display and the three buttons that flank it control the menu operations and four buttons below the display select inputs. They and their labels are all as matte black as the panel and effectively invisible. Unless you need the exercise of getting off the sofa, you will find that remote control or smartphone/tablet access is friendlier.

From the moment the music began, it became apparent that this is not just another pre-pro. Stereo sounded nice, but that ain’t what we are here for: Multichannel music, as in 4.0, 5.0, or 5.1 discrete files, was simply amazing.

Footnote 1: Natively, the Altitude 32 handles Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD, DTS Digital Surround, and DTS HD Master Audio.

Footnote 2: The software version supplied on my Altitude is, but there is a new release candidate (late beta) called 4.2.11rc4+ that includes a setup wizard that walks the user through the configuration and calibration process. Unfortunately, it was not yet available in time for this review.

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