GoldenEar Technology Triton Two loudspeaker
Visiting the high-end audio exhibits at a Consumer Electronics Show, it's easy to get desensitized to the price of equipment. A nice-looking, two-way, stand-mounted loudspeaker costing $10,000/pair. Yes, it sounds very good. Here's another one, for only $5000/pair. Seems like a bargain in comparison.
At the 2011 CES, I wander into the GoldenEar Technology room. Sandy Gross, cofounder of Polk Audio and Definitive Technology, who started up this new company with former Definitive partner Don Givogue, welcomes me. The speakers are the GoldenEar Triton Twos: slim floorstanders, their cabinets covered in black cloth, and somehow reminding me of the original DCM Time Windows.
Gross is about to play an excerpt from a recording of John Rutter's Requiem. It's a piece that challenges just about every aspect of sound reproduction: there's an orchestra, a soprano soloist, a chorus, a pipe organ, and the acoustics of a large concert hall. Wimpy speakers need not apply. I listen, expecting to be underwhelmed.
Whoa! The low bass of the organ so fills the room that I look for subwoofers in the corners. The orchestra and chorus have great presence. There's a believable sense of space. These are some speakers! How much?
$1249.99 each. $2499.98/pair. That includes built-in powered subwoofers.
I gotta review them.
Description and design
When it comes to the priority of a product's appearance in deciding on a purchase, audiophilesat least the male cohort that comprises the vast majority of those devoted to this hobbyare a strange lot. We like to say that the only thing that matters is sound quality; what a product looks like is relegated to the somewhat pejorative Wife Acceptance Factor. Yet more than one audio designer has told me that, whatever people may say, a product's appearance is of profound importance in determining its appealand not just because of "the little woman." One designer said, "If I somehow managed to design the perfect speaker but it was ugly, nobody would buy it, no matter how good it sounded." Contrast this with the "form follows function" principle of industrial design, and you have a potential conflict between appearance and functionality.
The GoldenEar Triton Two strikes me as representing an unusually felicitous combination of appearance and function. Eschewing the "fine furniture" look of some high-end speakers, and not likely to attract attention solely for its appearance, the Triton Two has an elegance of its own: streamlined, with a curved, tapered shape, a small footprint, and a base plinth and top plate finished in shiny piano black. The narrowness of its front baffle not only contributes to its slim appearance, but is functional in reducing the effects of diffraction. The sidewalls are nonparallel, to reduce internal standing waves. According to Sandy Gross, the cloth "sock" that covers the speaker is not just for appearance, and/or a cost-effective way of finishing the cabinet, but serves an acoustical purpose, providing additional damping of the cabinet walls. The cabinet itself is made of high-density Medite, a form of fiberboard, with considerable internal bracing, and features a separate subenclosure for the midrange drivers. This subenclosure is itself divided, by an angled board, into two sub-subenclosures of unequal size.
The Triton Two uses high-tech drivers of GolderEar's own design, made especially for them. The tweeter, which GoldenEar calls a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR), is a variation of an accordion-like ribbon transducer, the Air Motion Transformer, invented by Oscar Heil. The claimed advantages of such a design include a smooth, extended frequency response, extremely low distortion, superb dispersion characteristics, excellent dynamic range and detail, and superior impedance match of its diaphragm to the air. The tweeter is vertically flanked by two 4.5" midrange units, each of which has a Multi-Vaned Phase Plug (MVPP) and a proprietary computer-optimized cone topology. These drivers are crossed over to the tweeter at 3.5kHz, but the HVFR's frequency response is specified as extending to 35kHz. The midrange-to-tweeter crossover is basically 12dB/octave, but has additional components to provide phase alignment. There is also a Zobel network across the tweeter.
Then there's the bass section. Low on each side panel is what looks like a KEF B139 oval bass driver. These are actually 7" by 10" passive devices called Quadratic Planar Infrasonic Radiators, said to function like a transmission line but with superior transient performance and control. These subbass radiators, mounted low on the side panels, take advantage of floor coupling as well as acoustical coupling with each other.
The actual bass heavy lifting is carried out by the two 5" by 9", ultra-long-throw Quadratic Sub-Bass drivers mounted on the front baffle. These are driven by a 1200W class-D amplifier, also of GoldenEar's design. The intrinsic total harmonic distortion of the amplifier circuit before the application of negative feedback is said to be less than 0.1%. The crossover frequency to the subwoofer section is fixed at about 150Hz, with the low-pass itself and the subwoofer equalization done in the digital domain, allowing for greater accuracy of filter points compared to an analog crossover. The crossover parameters were developed through both measurement and critical listening. There's a knob on the back panel for setting the subwoofer level.
The design of the Triton Two was refined by an engineering team of nine in Arnprior, outside Ottawa, Ontario, utilizing a development facility with a full-sized calibrated anechoic chamber of the same size as the one at Canada's National Research Council, also in Ottawa. The speakers themselves are made in China.
The Triton Twos were delivered by Sandy Gross and Matt Grant, a member of the engineering staff at GoldenEar's development facility, and set up with their help. The base plinth comes separate from the speaker itself, to which it is attached with bolts. Spikes are supplied, but we first listened to the speakers without them, which eased the tweaking of the speaker positions.
Gross, Grant, and I spent a couple of hours listening to the speakers, measuring and adjusting the speaker-to-listener distance so that it was the same for each speaker, then adjusting the toe-in angles to get the smoothest lateral spread of sound and the most precise imaging. The final positions of the speakers turned out to be similar to what I've found optimal with other speakers in my listening room: a nearly perfect equilateral triangle formed by the speakers and the listening position. The speakers were toed in slightly, so that their tweeter axes pointed just a few inches to the sides of my head when I sat in the listening chair. Although the Triton Twos turned out not to be the sort of speakers with which the tiniest adjustment of position causes the soundstage to either collapse or come into perfect focus, they definitely benefited from careful adjustment of the setup parameters. Once all three of us were satisfied with the setup, we installed the spikes, which produced a worthwhile improvement in imaging focus.
A major advantage of having a built-in subwoofer with a level control is that you can set up the speakers for optimal imaging with no trade-off in bass response: If the sound with the speakers positioned for best imaging is somewhat bass-shy, you can just turn up the subwoofer levels, at least up to the point where the subs start to distort. But this still leaves the question of exactly how high the subwoofer level should be set. We listened to several CDs that provide not only a good test of bass extension but also the blend of the mid- and low bass. I let Sandy Gross, who of course has extensive experience with these speakers, set the subwoofer levels, and the results sounded fine to me. However, after he and Grant had left, I did some more of tweaking of the subwoofer levels, using the test tones on Stereophile's first Test CD (Stereophile STPH002-2) and the AudioTools app for the iPhone4. Adjusting the subwoofer level to produce a more nearly flat measured response down to 20Hz resulted in the Triton Twos' level controls being set at 12 o'clockconsiderably higher than Gross's 9 o'clock setting.
While the bass with these settings was certainly impressive, over time I came to feel that it was too generous, too bass-heavy. I then turned down the sub-level control a little at a time, each time listening for the change in sound, eventually ending up about halfway between the level that Gross had set and the one based on my measurements.
I used three amplifiers in my evaluation of the Triton Two: the Audiopax Model 88 Mk.II (30Wpc, tubed) and the Simaudio Moon Evolution W-7 (150Wpc, solid-state) power amplifiers, both paired with Convergent Audio Technology's SL-1 Renaissance tubed preamplifier; and, as a "real world" alternative, the PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium integrated amplifier (35Wpc, tubed; review in the works). My observations of the Triton Two's sound represent a sort of averaging of what I heard across the three amplifiers, with differences as noted.