GoldenEar has been with us for a little over a year now and, in that short time, Sandy Gross and company have released an impressive array of loudspeakers and subwoofers, many of which have garnered rave reviews, as well as a loyal customer base. To mark their one-year anniversary, GoldenEar released several new speakers, two bookshelf models (their first), as well as a new, more compact tower speaker called the Triton Three. If the Triton Three name sounds familiar, it should, for it belongs to the same family of products as the Triton Two, which I reviewed late in 2010. The Triton Two was and remains GoldenEar's flagship product, which at $1,499.99 or $3,000 per pair almost seems like a joke, for often a manufacturer's flagship effort is accompanied by a few more zeros. GoldenEar, like all of Gross' previous efforts, is aimed at the budget-conscious consumer; one who puts a premium on value and performance rather than prestige. However, GoldenEar understands that, in these turbulent economic times, even $3,000 for a pair of speakers may be cost-prohibitive, which is how the Triton Three came to be.
The Triton Three retails for $999.99 each or just under $2,000 per pair, and shares more than a passing resemblance to the larger, more expensive Triton Two. In fact, if you didn't have a Triton Two on hand for direct comparison, you might get the two loudspeakers confused. From the outside, they are identical in shape and style, with the Triton Three being shorter than the Two. The Triton Three measures five-and-a-quarter inches wide in the front by seven inches wide in the rear, due to its rounded triangular shape. The Three is 13 inches deep and 44 inches high, compared to the Triton Two's 48 inches of height. The included (and mandatory) base adds to the Triton Three's footprint a bit, measuring eleven-and-a-half inches wide by fifteen-and-a-quarter inches deep. The Triton Three weighs a manageable 45 pounds and is available in any color, so long as it's black.
The Triton Three differs from the Two in its driver complement as well, with the Three possessing a single High-Velocity Folded Ribbon Tweeter (HVFR) mated to a single four-and-a-half-inch mid/bass driver and a five-by-nine-inch long-throw subwoofer bass driver. There are also two six-and-three-quarter-inches by eight-inch Infrasonic Radiators, which help give the Triton Three its reported frequency response of 20Hz to 35kHz. The Triton Three has a stated efficiency of 90dB and is compatible with eight ohms. The included subwoofer is powered by an 800-watt ForceField Amplifier, not unlike what you'll find in GoldenEar's dedicated subwoofer offerings.
Connection options for the Triton Three include a single pair of five-way gold-plated binding posts, as well as an RCA-style LFE input. Connecting your AV receiver or amp to the speaker's binding posts will run them full range, with the subwoofer level being controlled via a large volume pot also located on the rear of the speaker next to its binding posts. Because the Triton Three features a powered subwoofer, you must plug it into a standard 15-amp power receptacle in order for the sub to work.
Unboxing the Triton Threes is easier to do by oneself, thanks to their slightly lighter weight and physical size. GoldenEar still packages their speakers differently than any other manufacturer I've encountered, in that they require you to lay the boxes down on their sides (like a coffin) and remove the speakers that way, which isn't the easiest way of doing things. Nevertheless, they're packaged to withstand a lot of abuse, so I'm sure some tradeoffs had to be made.
Once the Triton Threes are out of the boxes, you have to attach the included bases. Failure to do so will result in an unstable speaker and poor sonic performance. Attaching the base is simple and straightforward, requiring four small bolts, which GoldenEar again provides. Once the bases are in place, you can begin experimenting with placement. I went ahead and set them up where the Triton Twos once sat as a starting point. GoldenEar recommends toeing each speaker in so that the tweeters are aimed at the primary listening position. For me and in my room, this doesn't really work for I've found doing so causes some unique reflections to occur off of my fifty-inch Panasonic plasma. Instead, I kept the speakers nearly pointed straight ahead with minimal toe-in and found their performance in this type of an arrangement to be quite nice in my room. Obviously, no two rooms are alike, so feel free to experiment.
To do my rough placement, I simply powered the speakers full-range, using my DIY speaker cables made from bulk copper wire from SnapAV. Once I had the speakers in place and their toe-in to my liking, it was time to settle on how to handle the built-in subs.
I experimented with a wide variety of methods in order to extract the best performance from the Triton Threes. I even went so far as to inject an outboard EQ into the signal chain with some interesting results, though it's not what GoldenEar recommends or even encourages. GoldenEar designed the Triton series of speakers in part for music lovers, affording them the ability to include subwoofers in their systems, regardless of whether or not their two-channel preamps have subwoofer outs or not. Because of this, it is GoldenEar's recommendation that any and all Triton Series loudspeakers, such as the Triton Three, should be connected to any system exclusively via its binding posts. If your AV preamp or receiver has an LFE output, then you can utilize the speaker's LFE input as well, but for the majority of users, the speaker level ins will be sufficient. However, that still doesn't solve the mystery of how best to integrate volume of the internal subwoofers with the rest of the speaker.
There are a few ways of going about blending the sub with the rest of the speaker. The easiest way, if not altogether the most scientific, is to play a bass-heavy track and then adjust the subwoofer level until the sub is overly noticeable, and then back it down until the moment when it stops being overt and becomes blended. Depending on your room, this may be a level (at least on the dial) that appears lower than you might have thought; in my room, it was around 8 o'clock with 6 o'clock representing full off. Once you've done this, you can run an EQ program such as Audyssey, making sure to tell your AV preamp or receiver that your front left and right mains are full-range or large.
Another method for dialing in the subs, one that is a little more precise, requires the use of an SPL meter, preferably the tried and true Radio Shack one. You'll also need a long enough RCA cable to reach from your AV preamp or processor to the Triton Three itself. First, you'll want to turn both subs off, which you can accomplish by simply unplugging the speakers from the wall. This will ensure that only the top half of the speaker is operational. Using your AV preamp or receiver's tone generator, measure the output of each speaker from your primary listening position with the levels set at zero. You should get a number somewhere in the vicinity of 70 to maybe even 80dB. Whatever the number is, simply write it down, for that is the figure you'll be matching. Now, unplug both speakers from your preamp/receiver and connect them, one at a time, to your preamp/receiver's subwoofer out. With your SPL meter still in your primary listening space, use the level dial on the back of each speaker to bring each subwoofer up to the same SPL level as the rest of the speaker. In other words, if the top half of the right speaker measures 73dB on your SPL meter you need to adjust the level of the subwoofer until it too measures 73dB. Do this for each speaker. Once you're done, unplug the RCA cable from the back of the speaker, making doubly sure not to hit or jostle the subwoofer level control and reconnect each speaker to your system via the binding posts. At this point, feel free to run Audyssey or whichever auto-EQ software your system uses, making sure once again to let your AV preamp or receiver know your left and right mains are full range.
A third method, which GoldenEar does not recommend, is to connect the Triton Threes to your system as if they were a satellite subwoofer combo. This gets a bit "tweaky," but works nonetheless. Both Sandy Gross and GoldenEar state that because the Triton Three (and Two for that matter) have an internal crossover, one that cannot be adjusted by the user, the method I'm about to describe shouldn't work and/or will result in the speaker not performing at its peak. This is up for debate, for I have tried it and found the resulting performance to be similar to the above-mentioned options. Via this method, I can exercise more control over the speaker's subwoofers. Not wanting to get too technical, this third method requires the use of an outboard EQ, such as a Behringer Feedback Destroyer, Room EQ Wizard (REW), a USB audio interface and your SPL meter. I'm going to go ahead and assume that, if you're willing to go down this road, you know how to use these tools. If you don't, I urge you to head on over to our forum for a rundown and tutorial on how to use Room EQ Wizard. This method will require you to measure each sub and then create an EQ curve for each by treating the speaker's LFE input as if it were a subwoofer line-in. With your EQ curve uploaded to the Behringer or other compatible REW device, you then want to connect everything to the rest of your system; this means speakers via speaker cable and subs via individual runs of RCA cables. Tell your AV preamp or receiver that your left and right mains are small and set the crossover inside your preamp/receiver somewhere in the vicinity of 150Hz (feel free to experiment), since that is where the Triton Three's internal crossover lies. Send a tone to the subs and then to the top half of the speakers and level each so that they match. This means you'll use the Three's subwoofer level for the subs and your AV preamp or receiver's digital level control for the top half. Both should be configured to 75dB. You shouldn't have to run Audyssey at this point - in fact, I recommend you don't, for doing so would really complicate things.
Again, this third setup method is highly experimental and one I only include because I tried it myself and was pleased with many of the results. You do not have to go to such extremes, which is why, for my listening tests, I stuck to only GoldenEar's recommended setup option, which came via speaker level inputs.
The rest of my system was comprised of the usual suspects, Parasound's 5250 v2 amplifier and Cambridge Audio's Azur 751BD Universal player, which I used to play back not only music and movies, but also music via my home network.
Starting with music, I cued up the track "Hands" off Jewel's second album Spirit (Atlantic) from my home network. Right off the bat, I was struck by the intimacy the Triton Threes possessed at moderate volumes. The Triton Threes were musical and articulate, with a nicely defined and spacious soundstage. Bass was taut and rhythmical, with solid extension that was in no way excessive or bloated. The folded ribbon tweeter possessed copious amounts of detail, giving organic shimmer to elements such as the track's cymbals.
Read more about the performance of the Triton Three on Page 2.
When I started to inch the volume up more, with peaks hitting in the low 90dB range, there was some spatial flattening and harshness up top, which more or less took the form of subtle sibilance in the vocals. Also, when pushed, the separation between the subwoofer and the rest of the Triton Threes' drivers became a little more apparent. Backing things down to a more reasonable volume cured these minor shortcomings and led me to the conclusion that, despite possessing dedicated, powered subwoofer, the Triton Threes are aimed at those with slightly smaller rooms than my reference room, which measures 17 feet wide by 23 feet long, with nine-foot-high ceilings. At just under 400 square feet, my room proved to be a bit too large for the Triton Three's liking.
Moving the Triton Threes into my secondary system, which resides in a bedroom in my home, proved to be a better fit, for they could easily play into the 90s and even low 100s in terms of SPL output without it sounding strained. The room that my secondary system calls home is smaller, measuring 11 feet wide by 17 feet long - it's a nearly 200-square-foot difference between this and the room where my primary system resides. Using the same equipment in the smaller room, the few issues relating to the Triton Three's bass gap and top-end sibilance all but disappeared. The spatial flattening and slight "shoutyness" at volume also ceased to be an issue.
Moving on to Train's "Mississippi" from their album Drops of Jupiter (Columbia), the Triton Threes continued to impress. The track's bass guitar had a palpable presence, with strong texture and detail throughout. The acoustic guitar was delicate and articulate and sounded very natural. Despite my previous experience with folded ribbon tweeters, the vocals were a bit recessed, but not in a bad way. They had an ensemble-like configuration within the soundstage, which aided in the track's jam-band vibe. Speaking of soundstage, the depth was good, but it was trumped by the width, which at certain moments bordered on sounding more or less like a surround sound performance.
Wanting to kick things up a notch and test the Triton Threes' mettle a bit, I cued up Audioslave's "Show Me How to Live" off their self-titled debut album (Sony). With the volume set at reference, the opening kick drums were a little light on the impact, but not so much as to cause concern; they simply weren't able to outperform a true, dedicated subwoofer. The cymbal crashes were dynamic and extended, but at the extremes lacked a bit of what I refer to as analog or organic "roundness." The guitars were crunchy and well-placed, while the vocal track was laser-etched and focused dead center within the soundstage. There was some slight mid-bass leanness that kept the vocal track from feeling one hundred percent grounded, but for sub-$2,000 per pair speakers, the Triton Threes performed admirably. What grabbed me by the seat of the pants was the Triton Threes' dynamic prowess, as well as their seemingly wall to wall soundstage. Stepping the volume back off the ledge a bit again cured many of the maladies described above leading me to my second conclusion: the Triton Three is an ideal speaker for those happiest listening at between 50 and, say, 90 to 95dB. Those with a predisposition for THX-like levels should stick to the Triton Two.
Moving on to movies, I cued up Steven Spielberg's War of the Worlds, starring Tom Cruise, on DVD (Dreamworks). I skipped ahead to the scene where the machines first come out of the ground, which features an excellent bass track, followed by some high-frequency torture-test material. The bass via the Triton Three was not quite as low as what I've grown accustomed to, but solid nonetheless. The low rumble of the ground coming apart at the seams was textural and deep, with strong dynamics when it finally cracked and collapsed. The machine's emergence from the ground was mechanical in its sound, which meant it was violent around the edges, as per the sound designer's intent, something the Triton Threes captured brilliantly. The machine's death ray positively sizzled via the ribbon tweeter, with all the top-end texture and detail one could hope for. There was even enough headroom left over up top to resolve the other high-frequency nuances going on throughout the scene, such as shattering glass, vaporized bodies and twisting metal. At high volumes, this high-frequency energy could come off as a bit harsh, but again, stay within the Triton Three's comfort zone and you should be good to go.
I ended my evaluation of the Triton Three with David Fincher's Zodiac on Blu-ray (Paramount). Zodiac is my go-to disc for ambient and low-level surround sound performance, as it is one of the most nuanced mixes I've heard. The Triton Threes retained most, if not all, of the soundtrack's subtleties with tremendous deftness. Despite only having two speakers at my disposal, the pair conjured up near-surround sound levels of performance, a testament to their wide dispersion. The definition within the soundstage was also quite remarkable. Dialogue, as this is a dialogue-heavy film, was largely natural and free of boxy colorations, though vocals were a bit more forward-sounding, compared to how they are on my personal reference. The score was rendered with audiophile-like musicality, which was a nice touch, aiding the film's overall tone and helping to create increased tension.
At first glance, it may seem as if the Triton Three is ready to rock and roll and throw down with the best of 'em, thanks to its built-in powered subwoofers. Unlike the Triton Two, which I consider up for this challenge, the Three is a more delicate affair and as such should be placed in rooms that are small to medium in size, where peaks of 90 to 95dB are more appropriate than ones in excess of 100. If you overdrive the Triton Three, it will become harsh and flat, but within its "butter" zone, it's quite good.
Bass-heads or those hoping to maybe replace their stand-alone subs with the sub built into the Triton Three may want to exercise restraint, for while the subs inside the Three is good, larger, dedicated subwoofers are more than likely going to be a bit better. Not to mention that dedicated subs allow for more placement options, which may or may not yield better low bass results. On the flip side, those currently without subwoofers or floor-standing speakers could do worse than a pair of Triton Threes. Just understand that there are some tradeoffs when discussing a rather compact speaker's bass performance, regardless of whether or not it has subwoofers internally.
Also because of its powered subwoofer, the Triton Three needs to be installed near a power outlet, which may make it a little more difficult to place in a room.
Lastly, I know GoldenEar recommends toeing the Triton Threes in so that the tweeters are aimed at your primary listening position. I must respectfully disagree, for when on-axis, they can be a bit too much of a good thing. The folded ribbon tweeter has a wide enough dispersion that it needn't be aimed like the ribbon tweeters of yore, which helps curb some of its top-end harshness at louder volumes.
Competition and Comparison
There is no shortage of $2,000 per pair loudspeakers out there in the wild today. Some that come to mind are MartinLogan's ElectroMotion Loudspeakers, Aperion Audio's Grand Verus Towers and even Paradigm's Monitor and Studio Series of products. All are unique in their own rights and offer up two-channel and surround sound performances worthy of their asking prices, so it truly comes down to preference. Where the Triton Three has a leg up on the aforementioned competition is in the inclusion of its powered subwoofer, which does two things: it cuts down on the number of boxes strewn around your room and saves you money, for all of the other options named above are near $2,000 per pair in price before adding subwoofers.
For more on these speakers and others like them, please visit Home Theater Review's Floor-Standing Speaker page.
I must admit I quite liked GoldenEar's Triton Two loudspeaker. In fact, I voted for it as one of our products of the year. That said, and despite a slight dip in performance compared to the Triton Two, I think I actually like the Triton Three just a little better. I know that may seem hard to imagine, given that this review may have sounded a touch more critical of the Three than my previous review did of the Two, but nevertheless, it's how I feel. In all honesty, the Triton Two was such a watershed product that the Three is at a disadvantage, for I've now had ample time to curb my enthusiasm and approach it with a more level head. I know that may sound bad - I assure you it isn't - it's just the best way that I can describe how these two reviews can come across as different, with my personal pick going to the speaker I seem to have criticized more.
Bottom line, both the Triton Two and the Triton Three are wonderful. However, within its limits, I found the Three to be more refined, more delicate and focused; it is more the scalpel to the Two's sword. Both are phenomenal speakers, but I find the smaller size, lower price and still high performance of the Triton Three to be that much more appealing. For most people, especially those who have recently downsized, either by choice or necessity, the Triton Three should fit the bill quite nicely. Recommended.