Is TRIPATH Class "T" Outdated Performance - Or Not?

Is TRIPATH Class "T" Performance Outdated - Or Not?

Way back in the dark ages, I bought one of those cheap-azz Sonic Impact, battery-powered Tripath 2024 amps at the dare of a friend. He told me get ready to be humbled. WELL! I was pretty blown away from the unexpected, good sound that it produced. And I'm a guy that listens to some rather fine, single-ended tube amplifiers.

I purchased three very high-quality, Tripath kits from the now-defunct company "41 Hz" in Sweden: a 20 watt per channel, a 100 w/pc and a 4-channel amp for HT use. I built the 20 watt (TA2020 chip) amp about 12 years ago, and am still reasonably impressed with it's natural, very single-ended "tube-like" quality. The Tripath patents specifically addressed sound quality, in particular the clipping characteristics - to make their chips sound like typical "Class A" circuitry. Have you read their patents? Pretty brilliant, actually...

Fast forward to now. Of course, Tripath is sadly out of business and very few of their chips or amp boards are left in the marketplace. But I've still got two more 41Hz, Tripath amp kits left to build, and a bunch of spare Tripath chips in case I lose one to a failure.

Curious, I came on here to see what the latest and greatest in Class D technology is. Of course, nobody discusses Tripath anymore because the product is basically unavailable. I do see the primary hot tickets are Hypex modules (relatively expensive, I think) and the TPA3116D2 and its many variants. My personal experience with them is zero. Never heard one.

My question regards a few posts that have trashed the Tripath sonic performance as being vastly inferior to the latest and greatest Class D. Knowing human nature, I always wonder if this is just confirmation bias at work, and whether or not the Tripath bashers have actually owned a well-executed example of the Tripath technology? Other people simply parrot what others have said. So...is the Tripath now a truly outdated technology, with relatively inferior performance?

Before I delve into building yet even more possibly "outdated" Tripath amplifiers - is there anybody out there who owns a Tripath, plus one or both of the other technologies (Hypex or TPA3116) - and is willing to offer up an honest, unbiased description of the relative differences in sound quality?

My own suspicions lead me to believe that any possible improvements in the later Class D technologies will be subtle at best. When I have compared the little Tripath 2020 amp to numerous very high quality, "audiophile approved" amplifiers...it always held it's head up. It might sound different, yes...but vastly inferior? No way.

Can I please get some opinions based on actual listening experience?

Many thanks!
 
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Faux French...THANK YOU for your first-hand experience! Specs basically mean little to me, with the exception of maximum power out, and what the waveform looks like when the amp clips. A good example of "specs" fooling the ear is ANY single-ended tube amplifier, which is rated at 0.5% THD @ 1 Watt, and often is operating in the 1% - 2% THD range - yet, can sound fantastically clear and distortion-free. Conversely, mid-1980's Japanese receivers boasted 0.001% THD - yet sounded irritating, strident and artificial.

The Tripath white papers mention they were attempting to reproduce a warm, "tube" sound by making the amp clip softly, just like a tube would. I think they have succeeded. I happen to love all tube sound, and that is probably why I was immediately attracted to the Tripath.

If the TI chips are a "colder" or more "sterile" sound...I probably would not like them. I listen to horn-loaded, full range driver speakers - and the warm characteristic of Tripath seems to be a nice match.

Any other first-hand opinions out there?
 
As far as I know Tripath was problematic because they had a habit of radiating to much high frequency dirt over the speaker wires for commercial products. They did not want (or know) to fix it and so the company went bust. AFAIK the chips where continued in ASIA with another name.
Their sound was really OK, compared to their price even very, very good at that time.
Please don´t get me wrong: "valve guys" in most cases have a very special idea of amps and their "sound", a bit biased and subjective. If you preferred the Tripath to your valves, there would have been lots of good transistor or MosFet amps at that time, that also would have sounded better than your valved amps. Objective better, but without the warm glow... and very expensive.
For me the good D-amps have made this premium sound of very expensive, older high end stuff, very cheap. That is all. D-amps have have not made good amps sound worse. If you already have an amp that does nothing wrong with any loudspeaker, you will not find a better one. Perfect is perfect, 100% equals 100%. The best sound is no sound at all.
Only, the D-amp is cheaper, lighter and uses much less energy...
For people that had the best transistor amps in the past, they are oft just as good as these. So they are not impressed.
For most "normal" people, that had just "normal" consumer gear, they are sensational. Just like a high end 5000$ transistor amp of the past would have impressed ("blown away" is the usual description) them, compared to their 400$ Sony, Technics, Rotel or HK whatever amp.

If you are undecided, maybe just order a cheap D-amp and SMPS and try it to compare with your gear. Will not set you back more than 20-40$, if you go for very good stuff, maybe $150.
If your old Tripath implementation is a really good one, they will be just as good. If not, you will be happy to have tried the newer amp.

Horn speaker are usually very easy on amps. Even pretty loud listening levels only need less than one watt. That is why they run well on weak valve amps, that don´t even start to distort with such low load. So the 5% at 10 watt of the valve amp are no problem (which are of 2nd order usually and don´t bother too much anyway).
So maybe you will not see a very huge difference with the horns.
 
Thanks, Turbowatch. I did not say that I liked the sound of my Tripath better than my valve amps; I only was pleasantly surprised at how similar the Tripath sounded to my valves - and for so little money! And yes, because I like the "sound" of valves, I also liked the Tripath.

Tripath went out of business not because of EMI problems. If implemented properly, their chips radiate and conduct no more RF than any other Class D chip running at similar clock frequencies. Their demise was due to business pressures. Tripath was the first company to deliver a Class "D" (Class "T" is their own marketing) product that actually sounded good - like a Class A or AB analog. The BIG electronics firms Philips, Motorola and TI were not going to let a small firm like Tripath take away a huge market share of thiers, namely car stereos and other mobile devices. Once they saw the technical success of Tripath, the "BIG" firms rapidly caught up and brought similar products to the market. Tripath could then not get their foot into a door that was slammed shut by the big companies. And since the BIG companies had now developed their own chips, they were not interested to purchase the Tripath technology. Run out of working capital...death of a business.

It's sad to see they didn't survive. I like to see small companies with great ideas become successful.
 
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My question regards a few posts that have trashed the Tripath sonic performance as being vastly inferior to the latest and greatest Class D. Knowing human nature, I always wonder if this is just confirmation bias at work, and whether or not the Tripath bashers have actually owned a well-executed example of the Tripath technology? Other people simply parrot what others have said. So...is the Tripath now a truly outdated technology, with relatively inferior performance?

I use a Muse M20 which is the original Tripath 2020 chip on my desktop and have several TPA3116d2 based amplifiers, one of which is my main amplifier for my stereo system.

There is a lot of confirmation bias going around these days. I wonder if it's contageous?

In my judgement the M20 and TPA3116 amps, when played at the same volume on the same speakers are nearly indistinguishable in sound quality, except the 3116s give you a fair bit more power to play with.

If you stay away from the $3.00 boards, EBay and AliExpress, the TPA3116d2 is pretty much the amp of choice right now. There are variations galore on Amazon and most of them are pretty good. About $30.00 will get you a decent board, $60 will get you a proper amplifier, ready to use.
 
Curious, I came on here to see what the latest and greatest in Class D technology is. Of course, nobody discusses Tripath anymore because the product is basically unavailable. I do see the primary hot tickets are Hypex modules (relatively expensive, I think) and the TPA3116D2 and its many variants. My personal experience with them is zero. Never heard one.

Based on my listening experience, the latest and greatest certainly isn't the TPA3116, that's long past its prime unless you really can't afford more than single digit $$. TDA8932 has much better bass and if you modify the standard application with an extra cap on the analog signal rail it has better HF too. TPA325X is definitely worth a listen, as is TPA322X. I've not heard any of the Hypex modules so can't give comparisons with the chips I've mentioned.
 
Measurable performance wise, the higher performance Tripath chips are still in first class, in comparison with those open-loop high-noise high-THD high-output-impedance peaky boom box chips such as the lower range from companies like TI, ST, etc. The failure of Tripath as a company wasn't due to the technology being overvalued with respect to other technologies (but maybe due to the inability of the company to size itself properly).
 

ah693973

Member
2007-05-27 6:18 am
I have 2 Truepath boards using the 3020 and a TPA3255EVM. The Truepath is much better in my opinion.

Truepath is just much better in the midrange, it is alive, detailed, engaging. It's only negative was a lack of bass compared to the 3255 and when I changed to using a preamp instead of driving directly from the TPA Opus that was cured.

The 3255 is in the son's room driving some cheap Dayton DIY speakers. The Truepaths are in the front room, where I can use them.
 

Neil Davis

Member
Paid Member
2004-12-07 3:23 am
Reston, Virginia
Tripath blazed some new territory in amplifier design starting in the late 1990's, along with Apogee. Both of these companies leveraged the new BCD process from ST semiconductor that allowed combining analog (Bipolar), digital control (CMOS) and power stages (DMOS) on same die. At the time, these products were revolutionary and they are still somewhat competitive with modern implementations of similar designs. However, the newer mixed signal processes can provide much lower noise in the analog stages, more extensive digital processing and lower resistance in the output devices, along with greater power handling capability. As you might expect, there are more modern class D chips that are quieter, provide lower distortion and greater output. And yes, you can hear the difference...see this thread.

Tripath's business problems had nothing to do with RFI/EMI control or large manufacturers attempting to squeeze them out. As noted in their SEC 10-K report of 2005, their largest target end product was the LCD TV, and they were hampered by having a solution that wasn't as cost-effective as traditional analog amplifiers:

We face difficulties in persuading manufacturers to adopt our products using our new amplifier technology…[discussion of design challenges]… In addition, our amplifiers are often more expensive as components than traditional amplifiers.

Tripath incurred a host of legal difficulties around 2004 by miscalculating demand and over-producing about $4M worth of chips. These chips were returned by distributors, but still accounted for as sales, prompting an SEC investigation and 4 class action suits. Many of those low cost Tripath chips sold today are from this excess inventory.

In 2004, Tripath attempted to launch a more cost-effective series of chips that used what they called their "Godzilla" architecture, but didn't have the financial resources to follow-through.

Also, the company never made money:

We have incurred substantial losses and have experienced negative cash flow since inception and had an accumulated deficit of $191.2 million at September 30, 2004 and $201.2 million at September 30, 2005. Beginning in August 2001, we instituted programs to reduce expenses including reducing headcount from 144 employees at the end of July 2001 to 56 employees at the end of December 2003 and reducing employee salaries by 10 percent.

So with no new design wins and mounting debt, Tripath declared bankruptcy in 2007. It would be interesting to read about "the rise and fall" of both Tripath and Apogee with more insights from those with first-hand knowledge--seems like it would make a fascinating movie plot, and not just for audiophiles.
 
Excellent post, Neil! I'd like to add my interpretation as to why Tripath
"had difficulties persuading manufacturers to adopt their technology." It was likely due to commercial pressures from the larger manufacturers, who were already providing analog chips to the market, and busy developing their own commercially-viable Class D chips to replace the analog ones. The big guys undoubtedly helped dig Tripath's grave - either directly or indirectly. That's how it works in Silicon Valley tech - either buy the startup, or pressure them out.

I read your link with great interest. That was a very interesting test you performed. Aside from the Tripath chip being a bit more noisy on the measuring bench, (not a practical concern for me, a lover of "hissy" tube equipment!) your comments seem to indicate that the Tripath vs the Apogee modulators was a tossup, depending on one's personal preference and source material.

That was then, and my original post specifically refers to now, and the current Class D state of the art. The Hypex and TI seem to be the two dominant technologies that people are playing with. Do they clearly eliminate the older Tripath from current consideration, or yet again...do these merely provide a subtle variation in perceived sonic quality?

The "Tripath sound" is repeatedly characterized as being warm. Perhaps that is why I have enjoyed it. But then again, I'm completely open to newer approaches if there is significant improvement to be had.
 
Neil, also I will praise your recent posting. Tripath is a legend but a legend that is about to be forgotten. You seem to remember that legend very well.
Also the TA20XX chips have been stated in the general discussion of "genuine" or "fake" to be fake (a copy design). Is it your impression that anyone would invest in making a copy-design and run a copy-production of a rather particular design (housing, under-voltage and over-voltage detection etc.) from a company that already had severe problems selling their products? Do you know if Tripath produced in "KOREA" (marking on many of the chips) before the bankruptcy?
I have TA2020/TA2022/TA2030 ICs on stock for a rainy day. More of them seem to have metal-surfaces that are a bit oxidized. That fits with supply from an old excess inventory.

I have seen that Dr. Tripathi is now involved in combustion engine control, but not as part of commercial and financial management. At least I regret he could not continue in class D/T development as he, though a very small player in the chip market, had exceptional ideas.
 

john65b

Member
Paid Member
2005-01-09 2:32 am
Chicago
I was an early investor of Tripath (yes it was traded on the NASDAQ - TRPH). Lost all of it when they went bust. Dr Tripathi was a brilliant electrical engineer, but as a businessman, not so much.....

I was excited when Cirrus Logic bought all the Tripath IP after they went belly up....luckily all my TRPH losses were returned to me and then some buying Cirrus Logic (thanks to Apple, not Tripath).

There were a few Class D's in the mid 2000's along with Tripath - ICEpower, Hypex, ZapPulse were a few. I latched onto ICEPower and Hypex, as the Tripath I really liked TA3020 had a bad history of flaking out on the slightest upset...

Still have a few ICEpower and UCD / NCores....although I did find an old TA2020 and TA2024 in a drawer the other day...

Recently discovered the NXP TDA8954 based amps - totally dirt - dirt cheap and sound very nice....
 
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Just checked. It is TA3020, not TA2030. Mixed the number up with TDA2030.

Unfortunately, I can't say how the Tripath chips sound compared to the more recent devices. However, can say that I built my own TP3020 years ago and still use it as my primary power amplifier. I constructed it with bridged the outputs, and so, have one whole TP3020 dedicated to each channel. I configured it to deliver 200W/ch. in to 8 ohms, which gives something like 650W in to 2 ohms, as my speaker's impedance dips down to near 2 ohms.

I discovered the already good sound became significantly better after two particular component upgrades from those specified by Tripath in their TA3020 reference design documentation. Perhaps, the most obvious of these was to better the 4.7uF electrolytic input coupling capacitor. The PCB layout from Tripath has a footprint for a small e-lytic here, so the clean options were limited. Luckily, BlackGate had a 4.7uF non-polar e-lytic which fit and exhibited better sound than a film ClarityCap I temporarily wired in for trial.

The less obvious upgrade, which I judged to have a significant effect on sonic clarity/transparency was to change the specified single-metallized 220nF mylar capacitors, which are connected in shunt across the speaker outputs and forms half of the 2nd order low-pass LC output filter, with double-metallized 220nF film devices, which are specifically designed for steep pulse duty (meaning, switched-mode power supplies). I was surprised by the subjective improvement this change made.

I would suggest that anyone looking to improve the sound of their current Tripath based amplifier replace any single-metalized capacitors in the LC output filter with double-metallized units.
 
The less obvious upgrade, which I judged to have a significant effect on sonic clarity/transparency was to change the specified single-metallized 220nF mylar capacitors, which are connected in shunt across the speaker outputs and forms half of the 2nd order low-pass LC output filter, with double-metallized 220nF film devices, which are specifically designed for steep pulse duty (meaning, switched-mode power supplies). I was surprised by the subjective improvement this change made.

I would suggest that anyone looking to improve the sound of their current Tripath based amplifier replace any single-metalized capacitors in the LC output filter with double-metallized units.

Ken, I have never heard of "double metallized" film caps, I only know of metallized film caps or film and foil construction.

Can you please provide more information, perhaps a manufacturer type number or even a Digi-Key or Mouser part number for me to look at?

Glad you are still enjoying the Tripath after all these years!