GoldenEar Triton Five loudspeaker

With each review I've written for Stereophile, I've redoubled my efforts to choose my adjectives prudently—to curb my penchant for overstatement. I've been feeling a need to speak more concisely and maturely about what my ears, mind, and heart experience while listening to music through a component that's new to me. So today, at the start of this review, I ask myself: What adjectives must I use to describe the character of GoldenEar Technology's new Triton Five tower loudspeaker ($1999.98/pair)? Which words will best use our shared audiophile lexicon to give you a working vision of what I experienced?

As I type, I'm listening to a mad, hypnotic, avant-garde classical/Neolithic jazzphonic album—Moondog's The Viking of Sixth Avenue (2 LPs, Honest Jon's HJRLP18)—and trying to nail the gestalt of the sound of GoldenEar's Triton Five loudspeaker. The Five has a difficult-to-pinpoint GoldenEar Triton sound that affects every record I play in an extremely subtle but similar fashion, and I will consider myself a failure if I can't describe it to you. I mean, what do I need to say? "It has a velvety midband"? Or it has "silky highs" and "great low-level dynamic performance"? The Triton Five has all of those! I want to describe the sound as relaxed—but when I change amps, that description no longer fits; what I hear is instantly more "strained." I could pick another word—soft—but when I change records, that adjective becomes harder to justify. I could say forgiving—but maybe if I change DACs, forgiving would turn into wrathful. Do you sense my dilemma?

There are three drivers in each 40lb GoldenEar Triton Five: two 6" cast-basket woofers, plus what GoldenEar calls a High Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter. Mounted on the speaker's sides are four 8" "Planar Sub-Bass Radiators," which are passive and reflex-load the woofers. The Triton Five is 44.25" high by 6.625" wide (front) by 8.125" wide (rear) by 12.375" deep, and is really a sealed box in a sock: A polyester sleeve is stretched to cover the entire speaker, except for the top and base—just like the old Vandersteen 2, DCM Time Window, and Quad ESL-63, all of which I thought looked très moderne in a wide range of domestic environments. The whole sock idea appeals to me: I think it makes all of those speakers look timeless (even a bit genderless?), while avoiding the dings and scratches inherent to wood-clad boxes. The Triton Five is a big tower speaker, but without the polished giant-robot look I find so immature and obtrusive. Obviously, GoldenEar doesn't feel the need to show off all their drivers and radiators to prove the speaker's worth.

The first time I peeled down a Triton's stocking, I spied that sexy-looking ribbon-esque tweeter . . . and the ghost of Dr. Oskar Heil. In the 1970s, Heil was the physicist behind a clever variation on the ribbon, planar, and electrostatic technologies that were flourishing at the time. Heil's innovative design employed a thin, ultralight, conductive membrane of polyethylene, folded like an accordion bellows and radiating sound from its entire surface area. The accordion-like folds were pure genius—they allowed Heil's Air Motion Transformer (AMT) to move a lot more air more quickly, and with less nonlinear motion, than could flat or domed tweeters.1 Heil's clever design was the aesthetic and engineering cornerstone of the ElectroStatic Sound Company's (ESS) AMT1 speaker. I remember the AMT1 as sounding exceptionally smooth and easy-flowing.

I also remember the first tightly spaced, midrange-treble-midrange (MTM) driver-array designs developed by Joseph D'Appolito and published in Speaker Builder magazine. The Triton Five's upper section comprises just such a D'Appolito array, which, when used with a properly implemented third-order crossover, is intended to deliver a more coherent and vertically symmetrical wave launch centered directly on the tweeter's axis. I've listened to a lot of MTM speakers—even built one myself—but to my bewilderment, I usually experienced an incoherence that suggested irregularities in phase or dispersion.

The GoldenEar Triton Fives have been in and out of my system for months now. I've listened critically and uncritically, with and without the sock. (Actually, they look pretty smart and sound more lively and detailed when they're stripped nude.) But until now, I hadn't interrupted my listening to think about the Triton Five's dispersion, which always seemed okay. The tweeters are 36" above the floor; my ears are 35"–37" high when I sit in my main listening seat, and 44" when I'm at my desk, to the right of the right speaker. Moving my head from side to side and up and down while sitting at either place produced an unstressed evenness of response that I associated with an absence of obvious peaks or dips. But when I sat down to write this review, recollections of my earlier MTM experiences caused me not to believe my ears.

Curious, I hauled out my trusty copy of Editor's Choice Sampler & Test CD (Stereophile STPH016-2) and listened to "Dual-Mono Pink Noise." Now, when I moved my ears up and down about 14" from the front baffle, everything sounded surprisingly clear and even—except for a tiny dip just above the tweeter axis. At my main listening position, about 8' from the Triton Fives, which were toed in to fire directly at my ears, moving my head right, left, up, and down revealed nothing unusual. It would seem that Sandy Gross—GoldenEar's founder, CEO, and resident golden ear—and chief engineer Bob Johnston have conquered what I believe to be the D'Appolito array's propensity toward unpredictable dispersion behavior.

With the Line Magnetic LM-518 IA: I first met Sandy Gross only about a year ago, and liked him right away. He's an aesthete: a connoisseur of world art, diverse music, fine wines, exotic beauty. These traits have given him the ability to connect the dots between the ancient and the modern as well as between the quotidian and the sublime. Gross's wide-ranging connoisseurship has allowed him to study high-level art and still get his hands dirty designing speakers and starting one successful audio business after another. (GoldenEar Technology was preceded by Polk Audio and Definitive Technology.) When I grasped this, I guessed that it was Gross's discriminating taste and worldliness that had made the Triton Five exactly what it is; when he told me he'd used a Line Magnetic LM-219IA as his reference integrated amplifier while voicing the Five, I felt certain that guess was correct.

For the record: The LM-219IA is a more deluxe version of my own reference integrated, the LM-518IA ($4450), which I reviewed in the October issue. During my listening, the single-ended, 845-tube LM-518IA had driven the Triton Fives with extraordinary precision, charm, and grace. The trump cards of this combination were more saturated instrumental and vocal colors. These speakers liked the fiery kiln of a tube amp behind them—even if it was only 22W.

This was the beguiling amp-speaker combo that spurred my rediscovery of Moondog (Louis Thomas Hardin, 1916–1999). Moondog's Neolithic rhythms, Arapaho Sun Dance beats, homemade drums, 25-string harps, swing-bop saxophones, seven-stringed zithers, homemade keyboards, metal cans, traffic sounds, chanting, and singing propelled me daily through this review process. (Be a hobo and go with me / from Hoboken to the sea.) Before he left New York, in 1973, Moondog performed regularly on the sidewalks of Sixth Avenue, near 53rd Street, close to Carnegie Hall. His compositions inspired John Cage and Charlie Parker. Charles Mingus touted him as an innovator; minimalist composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich recorded with him. He shared the stage with Ravi Shankar and William Burroughs. Arturo Toscanini championed him.

The Viking of Sixth Avenue defined my experience with the Triton Fives. They showed me everything, letting me sense Moondog's considerable height and unique energy. They showed me his spirit. His instruments seemed tangible and real—positioned right there on the concrete in front of me. The Triton Five was a perfect match with the Line Magnetic 845-based amps.

Footnote 1: The ratio between the total surface area of the AMT tweeter and that of its aperture is 5 to 1.
GoldenEar Technology
PO Box 141
Stevenson, MD 21153
(410) 998-9134

eriks's picture

From my own auditions of Golden Ear Tritons, and what I read on the web here and elsewhere, I wonder if these speakers are actually pretty finnicky for placing or amplifiers? For instance, the big rise in the tweeter indicates a speaker that should be listened to off-axis. I wonder how many know this? Often these little details of speaker alignment don't make it to dealers or listeners. Focal is another line that can be like this.

otaku's picture

I have a question about that 'sock". I own a pair of Infinity Primus 360 speakers, which JA found to have a very lively cabinet. Would their sound be improved by such a sock, or did Infinity take those resonances into account when tuning the speaker? Ignore the aesthetic issues, since the speakers are in my listening room.

John Atkinson's picture
otaku wrote:
I own a pair of Infinity Primus 360 speakers, which JA found to have a very lively cabinet. Would their sound be improved by such a sock, or did Infinity take those resonances into account when tuning the speaker?

Try it. But is there something about the sound of the Primus 360s that is bothering you?

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

otaku's picture

I gave it a try. My son (who has very good ears) agrees with me that it is better without the cover. In general I like the sound of the 360's very much. Voices are a little congested at high volumes, but that might be my room. I am always trying to improve the sound of my system, but I usually rely on your reviews (the Jitterbug, the polarity of the Bel Canto C7r)

TheAnalogkid's picture

I have the Triton Ones as mains and am getting the 5's for side and rears (I've listened to them a LOT). The Triton Ones are very sensitive to amps in the aspect that you can hear the differences of each amp and/or preamp. I have a lot more amp than really necessary for the Ones but it sounds amazing (an old Cinepro 1k2SE, 375wpc). I tried my McIntosh 75w and a Bryston 150w and the Cinepro sounded the most dynamic and musical. The 5's are sensitive to amps as well to a lesser degree (based on my listening). I thought it would be the opposite! As sides/rears the 5's will be getting my Cinepro 3k6SE (so sad that Eric Abraham died so many years ago and Cinepro kind of withered away). I'll use some GE Aeons for the Auro heights and GE's in ceiling for Voice of God above. I will need to get an amp for them; I'm not sure yet how much amp they'll need or how they are affected by different amps. But hey, it will be the last system I build for many, many years (processor/4k disc will change, of course).

bdaddy60's picture

HR is becoming a favourite with his writing style....I'm impressed that HR refused to blab on and on with superlatives and boring information about Sandy Gross...frankly I'm a bit weary of reading about this guy in every review of GE products in particular the Triton series. I own a pair of Triton 7's and appreciate Herb's hint that the Triton's can punch above their price level (last comments)but most importantly, the use of a synergistic amp...and most likely an amp that costs more than the Triton's do. I really don't think Sandy Gross was being forthright when he suggested on youtube that these speakers can be used with inexpensive receiver's and perform up to their potential...if there ever were speakers that benefit from top flight amplification these are them...........

rmeyer52's picture

I auditioned these speakers at my local audio store and was not impressed at all. I was expecting them to knock me off my chair given the review here but I found the sound to be lacking depth. Frankly it all depends on the listener, the room and the music