Trinnov Audio Altitude16 AV Processor Review

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Sixteen channels of heaven

by Steve Withers Jul 10, 2018 at 9:21 AM

  • SRP: £13,000.00

    What is the Trinnov Audio Altitude16?

    The Trinnov Audio Altitude16 is a 16-channel AV preamp processor that supports Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D. That single sentence encompasses what the Alititude16 essentially is, but in no way conveys the sheer flexibility and sophistication of what is the most impressive AV processor I have ever experienced. So it not only decodes all three immersive audio formats, but applies the kind of room equalisation that is usually only seen in professional environments.

    In part that's because the Altitude16's heritage is professional, developing out of the audio side of the French national broadcasters. The processor itself is entirely bespoke, using a software-based platform rather than the off-the-shelf DSPs. This allows for regular upgrades to the processor via internet firmware updates, something that is vitally important in our ever-changing digital world. Naturally such state-of-the-art processing isn't cheap, and the Altitude16 will set you back £13,000 before you've even added any amplification.

    This level of high-end performance is always going to be expensive, but does it deliver a big enough upgrade to justify the hefty price tag? Let's find out.

    Design

    Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Design
    The Trinnov Audio Altitude16 looks like the quintessential high-end product, with a minimalist appearance and a decidedly industrial design. The overall construction is very solid, and there's a thick aluminium front plate with a brushed metal effect. The processor has a simple matte black finish, and some other nice design touches that result in a very attractive piece of kit. There are rack mounts if you need them, and the pre-amp measures 438 x 439 x 138mm (WxDxH) and weighs 11.3kg.
    Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Design
    There’s a large volume dial on the left that not only has a pleasingly smooth feel, but also offers highly granular volume adjustments. On the right is a second dial that doubles as an input selector and a control for navigating the menu system. In keeping with Trinnov's minimalist aesthetic, the only other controls on the front are the power, mute, back, select and menu buttons. In the middle there is a large and well designed display, that shows the volume, chosen input, audio format, and extensive feedback information during both setup and operation.

    It has the industrial design and solid build quality you expect from a high-end product

    Connections

    Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Connections
    Unsurprisingly the Trinnov Audio Altitude16 rear panel is dominated by the 16 channels of outputs, all of which use XLR balanced connectors. There are no RCA outputs, so bear that in mind when choosing matching amplification and subwoofers. There are 8 HDMI inputs, with the first three using HDMI 1.4, and the remaining five using HDMI 2.0b: these are the ones you’ll want to use for 4K/60p, high dynamic range (HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision), BT.2020 and HDCP 2.2. There are also two HDMI outputs, and again one is HDMI 1.4 and the other is HDMI 2.0b.

    In terms of other connections, you'll find Ethernet ports, coaxial and optical digital inputs and outputs, and analogue inputs using RCA and XLR connectors. Since the processor is squarely aimed at the custom install market, you'll also find a host of features like 12V triggers and an RS232 serial port for system control. The are also connections more commonly found on the back of a PC, which explains the scalable processing platform found on the Altitude16. This is essentially a highly-specified computer with audio capabilities, which is what makes it so flexible in terms of set-up, powerful in terms of processing and easily upgradable.

    There's an extensive set of connections with HDMI inputs and balanced XLR outputs

    Control

    Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Control
    When you consider the price point, the Trinnov Audio Altitude16 comes with a rather basic remote that is well-made but simple in terms of its layout. It works reasonably well but the reality is that most of these processors will form part of a custom installation with an entirely separate control system, so the chances are the provided remote will never actually be used.

    It's certainly true that once the processor has been set-up, you would only need the remote for a basic level of control. The chances are you'll actually be using some other form of control and the Trinnov supports AMX, Control4, Crestron, Savant and RTI. The processor also supports automation via IP and RS232 protocols, and has a built-in UPnP/DLNA compliant digital media renderer.
    Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Control
    You can use the cool-looking screen on the front of the Altitude16 and the provided remote control to access to a basic menu system, which allows simple tasks like selecting different decoders and presets. A far more detailed level of control and set-up is available via a graphical user interface that can either be accessed directly using a display, mouse and keyboard connected to the Trinnov, or remotely using a VNC client. You can also control the processor remotely using an internet browser, but this only offers a light version with limited access and control.

    There's a simple remote for basic control but all the serious stuff is done via a laptop

    Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Features

    Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Features
    The main feature of the Trinnov Audio Altitude16 is it's ability to process up to sixteen discrete channels using any of the three immersive audio formats. Exactly how you decide to allocate these channels will depend on your specific set-up, but theoretically you can process 9.1.6 Dolby Atmos, 7.1.4 DTS:X (the current limit of the format), or 13.1 Auro-3D.

    Of course the Altitude16 is so ridiculously flexible that you can also run any other variation within the limit of the 16 channels, plus utilise any spare channels for additional subwoofers such as 7.5.4 or 13.3.

    Processing aside, the other big feature of the Altitude16 is the inclusion of Trinnov's Speaker/Room Optimiser. This bespoke system uses a dedicated 3D measurement microphone which allows for highly accurate equalisation of the room, as well as the speakers themselves, to ensure tonal balance.
    Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Features
    You can set the layout and height of the speakers in three-dimensional space, and even re-map speaker configurations to virtually match one specific layout with another. There's also multi-subwoofer management and active crossover calibration to ensure the smoothest bass response in even the most troublesome room.

    Despite the inherent sophistication and complexity of the Altitude16, Trinnov includes a handy set-up and calibration wizard that takes you through the entire process. As already mentioned, there is VNC remote control and software-based upgrades over the internet. If you get really stuck, someone from Trinnov in Paris can even remotely access your Altitude16 and address any issues you may be having for you.

    Other features include 24-bit/96kHz native processing, and high performance AD/DA converters. There's a UPnP/DLNA renderer, and the Altitude16 is also Roon ready for high performance streaming.

    The level of flexibility in terms of set-up is quite simply mind-boggling

    Set-up and Operation

    Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Set-up and Operation
    As I mentioned previously in this review, you can set-up and control the Trinnov Audio Altitude16 using a VCN client link. So I connected the processor to my home network via an Ethernet cable, and then had total control using a VCN client link on my MacBook Pro; although you could also use a tablet or smartphone.

    Thanks to this method of remotely controlling the processor, I didn't even need to be in the room whilst setting it up and running the EQ measurements; so there was no chance of me getting in the way of a measurement or accidentally adversely affecting the acoustics of the room.

    The user interface is actually surprisingly easy to follow considering the complexity of the Altitude16, with plenty of helpful sidebars that explain what to do and why. There's also the set-up wizard, that takes you through the entire process, although I suspect in most cases the dealer will install and set-up this processor.

    Of course for the purposes of this review I set up the Altitude16 myself, and once I'd got used to a few GUI idiosyncrasies the processor is surprisingly straightforward. Of course, such is the nature of the Trinnov that you can quickly go down a rabbit hole, but for the majority of systems all the settings you need are based on the default options, with you choosing the speaker layout and relevant crossovers.

    My dedicated home cinema has a 7.2.4 speaker layout, so I was only using 13 of the available channels but that should be enough to evaluate the Altitude16. One of the big advantages of an AV processor is the opportunity to choose separate amplification, with all the power and headroom necessary to deliver the best possible experience.

    For this review I used an Amplitude8M 8-channel power amplifier kindly provided by Trinnov for the front, centre, side and rear speakers. I used my own Arcam P429 4-channel power amp to drive the overhead speakers, a role it normally plays as part of my reference 7.2.4 system in conjunction with the Arcam AVR850 7-channel AV receiver. I also have two active subwoofers at the front of the room, and all thirteen channels were connected using XLR cables.
    Trinnov Audio Altitude16 Set-up and Operation
    The optimisation process itself involves initially placing the 3D microphone (which is a weird-looking instrument) at the ‘reference point’ (sweet spot), ensuring that it’s completely level and aiming the LED light on the front at the centre speaker like a gunsight. Using the setup wizard, you initially select your chosen layout and allocate each of the XLR outputs you're using to the relevant speaker or subwoofer.

    Once you've done that, you input the actual measurements of your room, which the processor shows as a three dimensional image with speaker and sub placements. You can then set the crossovers using Trinnov’s comprehensive bass management system, which allows separate crossovers for each individual speaker.

    After that you just run the Optimiser, which takes spatial measurements of your speakers, subs and the room itself using the 3D microphone. After you've taken the measurements at the reference point, you move the mic to a different position, ensuring that it remains level and is still aimed at the centre speaker. You then take a second set of measurements and so on. The more measurements you take, the more accurate a spatial representation of your system the Trinnov can calculate.

    The strength of Trinnov's Optimiser is its ability to create a seamless 3D sound field, where the speakers are well-matched in terms of their amplitude and time domains. The Optimiser ensures that the effect of the room and any acoustical quirks in the speaker have been completely removed from the system. As a result the bass should be perfectly integrated and the speakers tonally-balanced.

    The Altitude16 can also re-map your speakers by virtually placing them in their ideal positions, which means that you don't necessarily have to compromise because of other factors like an inconvenient door.

    The Optimiser shows all the results graphically, including three-dimensional representations of the positions and heights of all the speakers and subs in the system. There are also graphs showing the response, amplitude, reflections, phase and impulse measurements. You can create different presets for different speaker configurations, seating positions and audio formats, and you can save up to 29 presets.

    The room EQ is incredibly sophisticated and the results it can get are breathtaking

    Performance

    I've been lucky enough to test many different AV processors and receivers over the years, and as a result I've experienced every room equalisation system currently available. After spending a few weeks with the Trinnov Audio Altitude16, I can vouch for the superiority of the company's Optimiser. I would say its closest competitor is Dirac Live but whilst that takes a similar approach, I feel the Optimiser offers far greater flexibility in every conceivable respect, delivering an experience that is both subtler and more nuanced.

    However Dirac Live remains an impressive system, and given you can buy the Arcam AV860 for £3,999, is the Altitude16 more than three times as good? I'm sure many of you reading will be wondering if a high-end AV processor can make that much of a difference, and whether it can possibly justify the additional cost?

    It probably depends on your budget. If you 'only' have £4,000 to spend then the superb AV860 is the ideal choice, but if you're looking at the £10-15,000 price range then the Altitude16 offers another level of performance. I've heard some incredible systems in my time, but the Trinnov amazed me with its transparent and utterly cohesive soundstage.

    To be fair, any half decent AV processor is going to sound good when partnered with the Trinnov Audio Amplitude8 and Arcam P429. However put that power and precision into the hands of the Altitude16 and the results were often breathaking. I didn't even have to turn the Optimiser on to know that this processor is a cut above the rest. There was already a precision to the steering that made effects come alive. Once the Optimiser was engaged, the results were astonishing as the speakers blended into a seamless hemisphere of sound.

    I always like to start a Dolby Atmos test with the company's Amaze trailer, partly because I'm very familiar with it and partly because I've actually heard it in Dolby's own screening rooms in London and San Francisco. The Altitude16 did a superb job of rendering all the carefully layered effects, and birds flew around the room, thunder rolled overhead, and rain fell down all around me. The room had gone and I was simply immersed in the deluge. As far as I could remember, the experience was identical to the one I had in Dolby's screening rooms... yes it's that good.

    One of the key benefits of Trinnov's Optimiser is its ability to tonally match all your speakers, so that regardless of the brand, model or location, they all sound the same. There's no better disc to test this claim than the Dolby Atmos Blu-ray of Gravity. The sound design often steers voices and effects around the room, making this highly directional soundtrack ideal for checking the tonal balance of a system. The Altitude16 performed admirably in this test, seamlessly moving objects around the room with no difference as they moved from speaker to speaker.

    Another area where the Optimiser promises to deliver is in terms of bass management, with a smooth low frequency response and precisely delivered crossovers. My current go-to choice when it comes to testing bass performance is the 4K disc of Blade Runner 2049, which is something of a low-end monster. The bass in this film is quite exceptional, and many a system has struggled to deliver it with the kind of control needed. Needless to say the Trinnov had no problems with the massive bass notes at the start of the film, delivering them with a controlled precision that you could feel.

    A recent Ultra HD Blu-ray purchase is Fury, which has a wonderful Dolby Atmos soundtrack that really delivers everything you would expect from a film about a tank crew in World War II. The rumble of the Tiger tank in the main battle is suitably subterranean, while the high frequency whiz of passing ordinance adds a realistic tone. The use of the overhead channels helps to immerse you inside the tank, giving you an idea of what it must have been like for the crews during combat. Gunfire, explosions and the general chaos of war are all delivered with a visceral sense of realism, but amongst all this the dialogue remains clear, except where the actors are deliberately mumbling.

    So far I've only mentioned movies that used Dolby Atmos, but there are some excellent DTS:X soundtracks as well, such as Apollo 13. The Saturn V launch is a brilliant example of what the Trinnov is capable of doing in terms of transients and dynamic range. There's the silence as the astronauts await the countdown, the swoosh as the fuel lines are withdrawn outside the command module, and then the sudden explosion of energy as all the speakers and subs deliver the awesome sound of largest object man has ever lifted off the ground. Just like Gravity, the weightless environment of the story (much of which was actually done for real) allows the mixers to move audio objects around in a 360 degree hemisphere of sound. The Altitude16 delivered all this with an impressive ease, retaining a complex but completely cohesive soundstage.

    Although I don’t have many Auro-3D discs, three to be precise, since the Altitude16 can decode the format I created a second preset that remapped my speakers to create an appropriate configuration. Auro-3D uses height, rather than overhead speakers, but after some realignment and the application of the Optimiser's remapping feature, I was able to approximate the ideal Auro-3D set-up (apart from the overhead 'Voice of God' speaker). I put on the Blu-ray of Pixels and was immediately impressed by the processor's ability to use the height speakers to create a realistic feeling of layers to the audio. The same was true when using various test sequences on the Auro-3D demo disc.

    The Altitude16 offers all three up-mixers: Dolby Surround, DTS Neural:X and the Auto-3D Auro-Matic. I decided to use Dolby Surround for testing because that uses the most channels when upmixing normal 5.1- and 7.1-channel soundtracks. I put the 4K Blu-ray of Dunkirk into my player, and was immediately impressed by the Trinnov's ability to create the sensation of overhead channels, even though I know the 5.1 soundtrack doesn't have any. Spitfires flew overhead, water came from all around during the sinking of the troop carrier, and the explosions and gunfire were wonderfully real.

    The performance is exceptional with the best multi-channel sound I've ever head

    Conclusion

    10
    AVForumsSCORE
    OUT OF
    10

    Pros

    • Exceptional sound quality
    • State-of-the-art room EQ
    • Incredibly flexibility in set-up
    • Dolby Atmos, DTS:X & Auro-3D
    • Attractive design & solid build

    Cons

    • It ain't cheap
    You own this Total 0
    You want this Total 7
    You had this Total 0

    Trinnov Audio Altitude16 AV Processor Review

    Let's be honest most people can't afford the Trinnov Audio Altitude16, it's one of those aspirational products that we love to read about but realistically know we can never actually buy. However, if that lottery ticket ever does come good then at least you know which AV processor to get when you start building your dream system.

    It’s quite simply the most sophisticated and flexible processor I’ve ever experienced, and Trinnov's background in immersive 3D audio is very evident. The Altitude16 obviously isn't cheap but is definitely worth every penny, delivering a superb and completely seamless immersive audio experience thanks to its sixteen channels of processing.

    If the Altitude16 is in your price range but you're thinking of alternatives, then your options are obviously limited. There are few brands competing in this rarefied sector of the market, but the obvious choices are the Acurus ACT 4 (£12,300) and the Datasat LS10 (£14,399). The former can deliver up to 16 channels of processing for Atmos and DTS:X with room for four more subs, while the latter is limited to 15 channels but adds Auro-3D and Dirac Live.

    Although both are superb, in my opinion neither is as good as the Altitude16. Mind you, if we're talking dream systems then why not just pay the extra £3,000 and get the Altitude32 instead. It's the only processor better than its sibling and if you're going to immersive yourself in speakers, you may as well go all the way.


    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £13,000.00

    The Rundown

    Sound Quality

    10

    Features

    10

    Connectivity

    9

    Build Quality

    10

    Value For Money

    8

    Verdict

    10

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