Brent Butterworth | 13 Jul 2015
Listening to the new GoldenEar Technology Triton Five tower speaker took me back to a day about 24 years ago when I was an editor at Video magazine. Home theater was just starting to happen, and one of the most interesting of the half-dozen or so purpose-built home theater speaker systems available at that time came from Definitive Technology, a new company led by a guy named Sandy Gross. He’d come up with the idea of making a horizontally configured center speaker that would fit on top of a rear-projection TV, and he stopped by to demo his system for us.
Not only did we love the center speaker, but we were amazed at how much we enjoyed Definitive’s BP-10 tower speaker, which proved more versatile and enjoyable to listen to than most of the stuff we tried from the then-bigger names in audio.
As most audio enthusiasts know, Definitive succeeded wildly; and, after he sold it, Gross went on to found a new company called GoldenEar Technology. But his ethos remains the same: to make reasonably priced speakers that sound fantastic with any kind of music and with movies, too.
The new $999-each ($1,998/pair) Triton Five is the second-least expensive model in the Triton tower speaker line. It’s 4.5 inches taller than the $699-each Triton Seven, with dual six-inch midrange/woofers replacing the Seven’s 5.25-inch drivers, and four bass-reinforcing, eight-inch passive radiators instead of the Seven’s two radiators. The more expensive Triton One, Two, and Three all incorporate subwoofer sections with built-in subwoofer amplifiers.
All GoldenEar speakers made to date incorporate an HVFR (High-Velocity Folded Ribbon) tweeter, a design also referred to as AMT (Air Motion Transducer) and used by many other brands. Instead of moving forward and backward, the HVFR’s pleated ribbon squeezes to force air out, sort of like the pleats in an accordion do. While not every tweeter of this type is great, the better ones are revered for great treble detail and excellent dynamics.
The crossover is a moderately complex design with five large capacitors plus four inductors. It was pretty heavily covered in silicone caulk (to reduce vibration of the parts), and I would have had to scrape all that off to trace the circuit. But from my measurements and observations, I gathered that, while the crossover provides somewhat different filters for the top and bottom woofers, the close-miked acoustical response of the woofers measures the same, so it’s a two-way crossover rather than a 2.5-way design, as some speakers with dual midwoofers use.
GoldenEar also makes an extensive line of center and surround speakers, as well as powered subwoofers and in-wall/in-ceiling designs, so it’s easy to expand a pair of Triton Fives into any kind of surround system you want.
I didn’t find anything particularly challenging or interesting about the setup of the Triton Five. The slight downside of buying the lower-priced passive Tritons is that you have to tune the in-room bass response by adjusting the distance from the speaker to the wall behind it (more distance equals less bass), instead of simply turning a knob as you can with the powered Tritons. This proved no problem, though, because the Triton Five sounded just right with the back of the speaker 26 inches from the wall. That’s pretty close to where I usually put my Revel Performa3 F206 tower speakers.
Both speakers were toed in to point right at my listening chair; the tonal balance sounded just right that way, so I didn’t feel the need to experiment with other placements. The speakers have a sock-style grille cloth that covers all of the drivers, as well as the sides, front, and back of the speaker. It’s essentially non-removable; so, of course, I did all my listening with the sock grille in place.
For stereo listening, my test setup included a Class� Audio CA-2300 amp and CP-800 preamp/DAC, using a Toshiba laptop as a digital music file source. For movies, I used my Denon AVR-2809Ci AV receiver. I also used my Music Hall Ikura turntable as a source, feeding an NAD PP-3 phono preamp. For comparisons with other speakers, I used my Audio by Van Alstine AVA ABX switchbox, which permits precise level-matching and quick switching.
I did a couple of weeks of casual listening, mostly to TV shows and movies, with the Triton Five before I settled down to do a serious evaluation. It was obvious that the system sounded very good, not a whole lot different from what I’m used to hearing with my Revels.
The very first tune I listened to intently through the Triton Fives was “Who Cares?” from Cannonball Adderly’s Know What I Mean? CD, recorded with pianist Bill Evans. Through the Triton Fives, “Who Cares?” had an intimate sound, as if it were performed in a relatively small, not-very-reverberant space–i.e., like most of the places where jazz was recorded and performed back then. The Triton Five let me hear how drummer Connie Kay’s snare interacted with the room differently than Adderly’s alto sax and Evans’ piano did; the rim shots echoed off the walls, while the sax and piano did not (at least not audibly). Adderly sounded clear and colorless, and by that I mean I couldn’t detect any sonic coloration marring his awesome tone. Kay’s cymbals sounded extremely clear, yet without a trace of treble emphasis; in fact, they sounded a little soft, although that’s the way the cymbals sound in most jazz recordings of this era. (Was it the tape? The mics? The way they played? I don’t know.)
Percy Heath’s bass was perhaps the most impressive of all because it had the perfect mix of fullness and tightness. I’ve played in jazz groups with upright bass players, so I have a pretty good idea of what the instrument is supposed to sound like, and this is it. I have to admit, this surprised me, as I didn’t expect that the somewhat oddball combo of dual midwoofers and four passive radiators would sound so good.
One of my usual test tracks, a stereo version of James Taylor’s “Shower the People” taken from the Live at the Beacon Theatre DVD, confirmed that the Triton Five’s tonal balance is right on. “Shower the People” is a very different recording from “Who Cares?” It’s pop instead of jazz, live instead of studio, modern instead of classic. Yet the Triton Five sounded just right on this, too. The bass line dug really deep yet sounded perfectly tight and tuneful; the electric bass had character and tone, as it did when I’ve heard this recording on much more expensive systems. The glockenspiel–one of my favorite tests of tweeter response–also sounded unusually clear.
An even more striking example of the Triton Five’s impressive bass definition came from David Chesky’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Movement 1,” from String Theory. The timpani on this piece sounded remarkably dynamic; and, rather than an indistinct boom, I got a clear sense of the mallets striking the drumheads. The Triton Five had no problem handling the deep fundamentals of the drums (and what I think is a big orchestral bass drum in the mix, too). Meanwhile, the imaging on the soloist’s violin sounded amazingly lifelike for a speaker in this price range. If I’m not mistaken, I could actually hear the difference as the soloist’s body (and violin) moved slightly. The presentation of depth during the pizzicato sections also impressed me; unless the speakers or my ears were playing tricks on me, it was obvious that the other violins were sitting about 10 feet behind the soloist.
“These are just great,” I wrote when listening to Steely Dan’s classic “Aja.” “They really light up the listening room, and they make the music fun to listen to without coloring it.” The marimba on this tune, especially, came through with remarkable clarity; the Triton Fives delivered a realistic, wide sonic image of it, even though it’s mixed to hard left. Again, the bass sounded perfect in level, tightness, and tone.