The Lisa Labs 3 by Triad Audio
OK so I lied a bit, it’s technically the Lisa Labs 3 with the Lisa Lab Power PSU slapped underneath the rather transportable but slightly large portable Lisa Labs 3 black utilitarian amp. I will of course make up for that lie by telling you this is perhaps one of the best portable amps I have ever tested but then quietly stop you in your tracks by saying the L3 with the LLP will set you back a cool $1125.00 combined or $800 alone for the L3. That is some serious money but then it is some serious, if slightly understated, audio amperage that quite frankly I have no idea why this is not more popular. I can only presume the price but then the LCD-2 is priced even higher and that has not stopped it flying off the shelves around the world. Amp’s can be sexy, amps can be flavor of the month but when the dust settles they have to do the job and do it well and the L3 (with the LLP) is to me one of those headphone portable/transportable solutions that could lay claim to being one of the best.
High accolades indeed for me but when your coming down in portable solutions you tend to get a bit jaded with the latest ‘this and that’ to power your headphone so meeting the guys from Triad, hearing why they built it and what it can do and hearing it for myself I felt kind of reborn, just like those days after buying my first serious headphone, the Grado SR80i.
Of course the price demands we nit pick just a little to be fair since the L3 is not the most ergonomic or portable amp out the in the market today and by no means the cheapest. The black monolithic like encasing is really old school and the slightly recessed 3.5mm with the oversized IN and OUT labeling could do with a bit more spacing and are mighty close to the large Bass and Volume pot dials reminiscent of the RX3 form factor from ALO Audio. The back is slightly more revealing of Triad Audio’s intent and positioning with RCA outs allowing a mini desktop setup to a DAC of your choice, a gain switch and the power link the the Lisa Lab Power brick. The power brick is fairly simple looking like a slightly elongated L3 with a DC on, a few blinking LED lights. The L3 sits nicely enough on top of the Power supply and the heat dissipation is pretty minimal actually from both.
You can run the L3 through the LLP as a main generated powered amp or simply leave it on for charging. Both have a heavy duty decal on top just in case you forget who made it. It wont win on looks but both the L3 and LLP are very solid and extremely well constructed and from another viewpoint a very neat and tidy desktop setup if you pair it with an equally portable DAC setup. The gain setting does give it a bit of flexibility for IEM’s but I am not 100% sold this is the best setup for IEM’s. The Bass boost for this amp is more of a “feature” than anything essential and to be honest works really nice at the low settings but bleeds a little on higher levels. I got a feeling that anything beyond 12 noon on the bass boost dial took away from what was already a very nicely balanced tonality.
As a standalone setup the L3 is comparable to some pretty good desktop setups. The L3 in no way short changes you for clarity, impact or slam. I brought this to a few meets already and the consensus is pricey but very musical and impactful and addictive. I have to agree it makes most sterile cans come alive and even the harder to drive ones very articulate and engaging. The K501 is not known for its fuss free matching but in the hands of the L3 the bottom end extended by many more notches, the mids were oh so clean and the tonality just right. The L3 has a beautifully balanced quality to it that whilst isn’t the last word on detail is certainly at the forefront of musicality and excitement for me personally.
Of course at $800 you might find a desktop class A is obtainable and matched with a high end DAC it might put into question as to why buy a portable with a power pack strapped on it’s backside for good measure. That is indeed a question that I keep coming back to. The L3 is just too big and the battery too weak to be an unquestionable king of the portable amp market. But sound quality is unmatched for me on just about any portable solution out in the market today if you are looking for pure attention grabbing impact. I still have a slight lean to the mellow bassy analog tones of the uHA-120 matched with cans such as the K550 but the L3 trounces it on slam, sound stage and speed on more demanding headphones such as the LCD-2.
On which input output setup to use I found the L3 combined with the LLP using the RCA inputs to be superior over the single 3.5mm line input at the front of the L3; better dynamics, bigger sound stage and greater extension. This of course makes it a mini-desktop but the only comparable portable solution I can think of that comes close is the Ibasso DX100 strapped to the L3 and to be frank as beautiful the combination might sound you would be lucky to get half a day out of that setup.
The L3 has the wow factor, combined with the LLP power pack even more so. Unfortunately it has a little bit of wow factor in the price point also which gives it a slightly niche sitting in the general audiophile market. For those on the hunt for a high end miniature headphone amp setup though the L3 is peerless. Combine it with a similar DAC such as the KingRex UD384 and the clarity goes to an insane level. The L3 is built to last, its old school, it wont fall apart and will appeal to die-hards of which there are plenty scowling around looking for audiophile ‘hits’ such as these. The consumer market will be less enamored to be honest and some with $800 might prefer a full on Burson or Woo but if you have the time do please test them against the L3 and LLP and see if that little black box can convince you to part with your hard earned cash.