Trinnov Audio Altitude16 16 Channel AV Processor Review
Tony O'Brien is completely surrounded by this high-end home cinema box…
Altitude16 Home Cinema Processor
Microphone and Cable US$750 (additional)
Trinnov became a force to be reckoned with in 2014 with the release of its Altitude32 home cinema processor. While the home cinema world was grappling with the introduction of Dolby Atmos, Trinnov shattered the eleven-channel barrier with the 32 channel Altitude.
Its genesis goes back much further, with founders Arnaud Laborie, Remy Bruno and Sébastien Montoya joining forces in 2000 to research 3D sound. The collaboration led to the creation of the company's Optimizer technology, designed to optimise both room and loudspeaker performance. Embraced by pro-audio industries and used in everything from film production, radio, TV, post-production and music, the rest – as they say – is history. It's this very same technology that Trinnov's Altitude32 and Altitude16 processors are built upon.
I was keen to understand how the Altitude processors could surpass the seemingly insurmountable channel count. Trinnov explained that format restrictions aside, the Digital Signal Processing (DSP) chip is often the limiting factor. The number of channels a DSP can produce is effectively hard-baked into the chip. Therefore, higher channel counts necessitate a new DSP chip – assuming that one is available.
The Altitude16 is a software-based processor with an Intel Multi-Core processor with 2Gb of RAM and a highly customised Linux operating system. More than coincidence, I suspect, Dolby, DTS and Auro's codecs are also coded within a Linux environment. Having been granted access to all three codecs, the only limitation on the number of channels is that which is built into the code.
The Altitude16 can decode and up-mix Dolby Atmos and DTS:X Pro on all sixteen of its channels. It supports discrete Auro 3D (13.1) and IMAX Enhanced (12.0) with upmixing to all sixteen channels available. The Altitude16 supports sampling rates of up to 96kHz (192kHz for the Altitude32) and is Roon ready. The other benefit of a software-based approach is that format changes can be accommodated via simple software updates, significantly reducing the chance of your hardware becoming redundant every few years.
The Altitude's HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 inputs offer 18Gbps bandwidth with 4K UHD, HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision on all of its HDMI inputs and ARC/eARC on its HDMI outputs. HDMI 2.1 is slated for 2022 and will utilise the Panasonic chipset, Trinnov tells us. Where current implementation is often limited to 40Gbps, we are going to wait until we can provide the full 48Gbps bandwidth, Trinnov ventures.
The company's 3D Sound Optimizer is built directly into the Altitude16 and provides options for both manual and automatic calibration. Where most room correction systems focus only on room EQ, Trinnov's approach also optimises loudspeaker behaviour within the room. In addition to speaker-to-speaker variations (cabinet size, driver size, etc.), the speaker's location within the room also affects its behaviour. To achieve correct imaging, the speakers need to be optimised to sound the same regardless of size and location.
Matt black and standing 139mm high, the Altitude16 cuts a rather svelte, if somewhat retro appearance. In large, this is due to the relative placement and size of the volume and source selection dial and choice of font, which gives off a somewhat eighties vibe. A large LCD display dominates the front, with three small buttons for menu navigation flanking the source selection dial with power and mute buttons located on the left. At 11.3kg, it's a refreshingly easy lift, but its 438x430x139mm dimensions mean the unit is more suited to a rack (3RU).
Move to the rear, and the Altitude's computer origins are clear – a PC connectivity module allows a mouse, keyboard and monitor to be connected directly. It's here you'll find sixteen balanced XLR outputs, an XLR calibration mic input and two XLR stereo inputs and unbalanced stereo inputs. Digital connections consist of dual coaxial and S/PDIF inputs and a single coaxial and S/PDIF output. Dual audio network ports are also provided, in addition to eight HDMI inputs that support 4K UHD 24/25/30/50/60 fps.
The first of the Altitude's HDMI outputs support both ARC and eARC and 4K to 1080p scaling, whereas the second HDMI output supports 4K HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2. Other connections consist of five 12v triggers (four in and one out), an Ethernet port, USB inputs and an RS-232 port.
The Altitude16 comes held securely in its packaging with non-shedding foam, and covered in a calico bag that's somewhat reminiscent of the now-defunct Oppo players. The package also contains rack ears, a power cord, remote control, user manual. Also available as an optional extra is the unique and proprietary calibration microphone. The latter is formidable, to say the least. Crafted from aluminium and standing 160mm tall, perched atop are no less than four individual microphone capsules. This lets speakers be accurately pin-pointed within a room to +/-1◦ and 10mm. Each microphone is factory calibrated and supplied with the file on a USB thumb drive.
While the remote is somewhat basic in functionality and appearance, it is a welcome inclusion for installers. Most, of course, will control the Altitude with an automation system. Drivers are available for Control 4, Crestron, Elan, RTI, Savant and AMX.
As well laid out as the manual is, the Altitude16 is a comprehensive piece of equipment. Therefore, it's best to arrange an installer to set up and calibrate the unit. If you consider yourself an AV guru, there is no reason why you can't undertake such an endeavour, but expect a steep learning curve.
Set up of the Altitude is accomplished by a computer running VNC for a direct connection or by connecting a keyboard, mouse and monitor directly to the unit. Entering the IP address into a web browser also provides limited control. Using VNC unlocks the full suite of controls – and Trinnov engineers and installers can also remotely login via VNC to perform updates and changes.
The Altitude is fundamentally configured around one of its 29 presets. A name is chosen for the preset, and then a speaker template is selected and customised to suit the speaker layout of the room. This opens many interesting possibilities, including designating templates for stereo listening using only the front speakers and even speakers in other parts of the house. After naming the preset, a speaker template is selected and customised to suit the room's layout. Trinnov has also created a format-agnostic speaker template compatible with Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro 3D configurations. Channels are fully assignable and 'mappable', so it's here that speakers are assigned to inputs (e.g. channel one left front, etc.).
The 'Optimizer Wizard' is surprisingly painless, guiding the user through the calibration process. There's no limit to the number of measurements that can be taken, and the Optimizer will work with a single measurement – although Trinnov advises taking a handful of measurements. As these are taken, the Optimizer creates a 3D model of the speakers within the room. Surprisingly accurate, it was able to identify my front left speaker was slightly lower than the listening plane of the centre and right speaker.
The Optimizer cross-references actual speaker locations against Dolby, DTS and Auro's recommendations. There's also an option to have the Optimizer virtually remap speakers to the correct location by using the nearest speakers to create a phantom image so that sound emanates from the correct position in space.
The Optimizer analyses measurements in the time domain to determine early reflection points. Based on the amplitude, frequency and arrival time, the Optimizer determines if it's possible to mitigate early reflections. Trinnov, of course, advocates the physical treatment of reflections first; nonetheless, it's a powerful tool. Phase correction is then applied to correct any issues created by the room and loudspeakers. Trinnov claims this will improve many of the problems often encountered with speech intelligibility and enhance the image of the soundstage.
Once measurements are completed, the user can weight the correction to specific seating positions. For instance, the primary listening position could receive the full 100% correction or tune for even placement across several positions. While these tasks are performed automatically by the Optimizer, advanced users can also tailor functions as they see fit. For instance, the 3D Mapping tool can be turned off, and you can opt to apply EQ or just level and distance measurements to the speakers.
In the Professional's Toolbox, you'll find a myriad of controls, including the option to create a new tone curve – by default, the Optimizer uses a flat EQ curve. Bass management is extremely flexible, allowing users to – among other things – determine if subs are identified as a single entity, or level and distance matched seperately.
An exciting feature is the ability to route bass between speakers. For example, in-ceiling Atmos speakers with higher-roll offs can be directed to route bass to a nearby speaker, with everything below 80Hz directed to the subs. AV boffins like me will be suitably impressed by the recently introduced Atmos Object Tracker that's located in the web interface. Using the 3D model of my room, the tracker visually plots objects during playback as they make their way around the room.
For the period of the review, the Altitude16 was married to Elektra and Yamaha power amplifiers. In turn, these were connected to VAF Research Signature i91 front and centre speakers and four VAF i90s for surround and Atmos. I used custom VAF Veritas 10” subs for bass and LFE creating a 5.2.2 Atmos layout. Video sources consisted of Panasonic UB9000 and Apple TV, connected directly to a Lumagen Radiance Pro. Images were projected onto a Severtson 100” Cinegray 16.9 screen from a Sony VPL-VW270ES 4K Projector.
The Altitude16 creates an enormous sound field that engulfs the viewer. Imaging is extraordinary, sounds seemingly emanating from fixed points of space around the viewer, rather than the loudspeakers. There's a cleanness and clarity to the performance that's really rather special, plus an uncanny sense of transparency. Low-frequency articulation is excellent, producing tight and impactful bass that's never too polite.
For example, the Wrong Turn (2020) on Blu-ray gave the Altitude plenty of opportunity to flex its processing muscle. Despite the film's 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack, it delivered a huge sound field that enveloped the viewer. As the hikers descended into the Appalachian forest, the Trinnov created an airy acoustic with a great sense of space. Its phenomenal imaging abilities made for an exciting and, in this case, scary listen. Insects buzzed around seemingly oblivious to the location of the speakers and the confines of the room, placing the viewer in the middle of the forest with the hikers.
There's a clean, unadulterated quality to the sound with a background devoid of interference or hiss, but sometimes it comes across as a little too polished, lacking the sparkle of my reference JBL Synthesis SDR-35. I suspect however, that altering and refining the target curve would allow more fine-tuning to my preference.
Switching to the superb Dolby Atmos track on Blade Runner 2049, and the Altitude16 produced a sonic whirlwind. With the added height layer, the bubble of sound it created was all the more enveloping. Where some room correction systems can make bass too polite, the Optimizer successfully walks the fine line between tight, fast low notes and brute force strength. As K's craft flew over in the opening scene, the bottom end was tight – avoiding the flabby mess that I've heard made of this scene. As Sapper Morton slammed K through the wall of his home, the full impact was not only heard but felt at the listening position.
With the Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack of Love and Monsters on Netflix, the Altitude did an excellent job with this fun little flick. The Optimizer seamlessly blended the front and rear speakers, the sound making its way smoothly from front to back. Vocals are convincing too. Never did they get lost amongst the mix, nor did I need to boost the level of the centre channel. Here the Altitude made it challenging to determine if the voices were coming from the centre speaker or emanating from the screen itself.
Turn the Optimizer off, and the benefits it adds are very apparent. Not only was the Altitude's ability to image all but lost, but vocal intelligibility suffered too. One more point worth mentioning, in my experience with the Altitude16, you will likely need a recalibration of your own ears to fully appreciate what a truly optimised home cinema should sound like.
Trinnov's Altitude16 is a force to be reckoned with. Exhibiting a level of flexibility that I would not have thought possible, I doubt there's a system the Altitude couldn't tame and further improve. The sound quality is where the proverbial rubber hits the road, and here it shines.
The Altitude16 distinguishes itself with first-class imaging, wrapping the viewer in a seamless bubble of sound. Indeed what really sets it apart is its ability to make sound seemingly emanate from fixed points in space around the viewer rather than from the speakers themselves. Of course, the cost of admission to this spatial wonderland comes at a gold-class price. However, if you can afford a seat, I would strongly suggest you try it for size.
As the owner of Adelaide based ‘Clarity Audio & Video Calibration’, Tony is a certified ISF Calibrator. Tony is an accomplished Audio-Visual reviewer specialising in theatre and visual products.
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