Just posted this over on Gearheads, might be of interest to some of you folks ...
I’ve been doing a lot of A/B listening to the Trio and the Twin the last couple of weeks. I did run both rigs at our last gig, but the board tape was terrible (could barely hear the guitar on it), and the audience not much better, so it wasn’t worth the effort.
However, I set up the whole beast in my house and I’ve been playing through both, unplugging the guitar from one and into the other, etc. As follows:
Early 70s Twin head modified by Joe Martin
Mid-90s Trio preamp, unmodified
ART SLA-2 200W power amp
Two JBL E-120 8-ohm speakers in Hard Trucker’s cab
Lefty Resurrection Tiger with DiMarzio Super IIs and CAE buffer
Onboard reverb from the Twin
Holy Grail reverb pedal
Peavey Valverb tube rack unit
1) Twin preamp and Twin power amp: Nice, warm tone ... very loud ... but hissy and quite noisy, even with no signal going through it. (Bass on 3, mids dimed, treble on 8, volume on 3).
2) Twin preamp and ART power amp: Not quite as warm, but much cleaner sounding than using the Twin power section. Not as hissy. (Bass on 3, mids dimed, treble on 8, volume on 10.
3) Trio preamp and ART power amp: More sterile sounding, not nearly as much “round” low end to the guitar. Very clear and clean tone. (Bass on 7, mids on 9, treble on 9, gain and volume dimed.)
Overall, the Trio and Twin are quite similar, with the Twin having more low end to it than the Trio does; the Trio is a little cleaner. (I suspect switching out the tubes in the Clean channel would bring them closer together.)
The Trio has no bright switch on it; switching on the bright switch on the Twin adds a ton of hiss to the signal and makes the guitar really, really bright. I frequently use the bright switch at gigs, but I’m rethinking that now, it’s really brittle and noisy.
Anyone know if Garcia used the bright switch? I may add one to the Trio just to have it.
As far as the reverbs, the tube Peavey Valverb is very, very close to the reverb on the Twin head. The Holy Grail, in comparison, is a little “springier” but much, much noisier. (I am running the Valverb through the Trio’s effects loop.)
Another interesting observation is that turning on my Q-Tron throught the guitar effects loops seems to overdrive both the Trio and Twin preamps when used with the power amp, but sounds fine through the Twin’s own power section. Not sure what’s up with that; could be something with the ART power amp although it’s not really cranked up or anything (though at the gig I had it cranked and did notice that using the Q-Tron would light the clipping LEDs on it, so I wonder if it’s just too much transient attack or something for the ART to handle).
Either rig would be just fine to use live, these differences are not all that noticeable and would probably disappear within the context of the band onstage. I’m still torn between selling the modded Twin head and moving to the rack system to gig with, or sticking with the Twin and selling the Trio and Valverb.
The one fantastic thing about the Trio is the other channels on it; the Mean channel is really terrific, and the Scream channel is just over-the-top gain and sustain. Completely unusable for Grateful Dead music, but if you ever wanted to start a Metallica band that covered Dead tunes, this is definitely the preamp for you. That’s the one knock on the modded Twin ... it sounds great for Grateful Dead music but it’s pretty much just THAT sound. I think you can cover just about anything with a Trio and power amp.
Since I handle my own gear (i.e., move it) I don’t want both a rack/poweramp/Twin head setup, it’s too much stuff for me. So, it’s either run the Trio and poweramp, or just the Twin itself.
If I opt for the Trio, I will pick up a bigger power amp, probably a Crown XLS 402. No 150 pound Mac in my future