The key question I wanted to answer was whether or not the Triton Reference could deliver sound quality competitive with that of loudspeakers several times its price. The answer is that it could and did in very many respects, though I think there are a few areas where certain high-priced speakers still enjoy a narrow performance edge. But even in those few areas the Triton Reference did not miss the mark by much at all, which is astonishing when you consider that we are comparing a sub-£10,000/pair speaker to models that start in the mid-£20,000/pair range and climbing upwards from there! With all factors considered, the Triton Reference offers performance likely to surprise and delight its owners. Let me start by describing some of the performance factors that impressed me most favourably.
First, the Triton Reference proved to be an extremely wide bandwidth loudspeaker that offered essentially unlimited low-end extension and plenty of top octave ‘air’ and ‘sparkle’. You don’t realise how much music you may be missing until hear a speaker such as the Triton Reference, which addresses both the top and bottom octaves of the audio spectrum with equal parts of authority, swagger, and finesse. For example, listen to the massive concert bass drum thwacks as heard on the O-Zone Percussion Ensemble’s ‘Jazz Variants’ [Klavier, 16/44.1] and notice how the Triton References deliver the high-impact notes with enough raw power to shake the walls and windows of your listening room, yet with enough speed and delicacy for listeners to hear the subtle ‘skin sounds’ of the giant drum heads flexing.
Up high, the Triton Reference also offers excellent extension, neatly rendering the high-frequency harmonics of treble instruments as well as the elusive sense of ‘air’ surrounding them. A great example would be the track ‘Stank’ from Jamey Haddad, Mark Sherman, and Lenny White’s Explorations in Space & Time [Chesky, SACD], which features a variegated mix of percussion instruments as heard in a natural, three-dimensional recording space. Through the References, each of the instruments—and especially the higher-pitched ones—sounded harmonically rich and complete, with high frequency harmonics that seemed to soar upwards beyond the range of hearing—floating delicately on the open air. What is more, the speaker also captured the subtle reverberations and echoes that made the space itself seem palpable and real.
Second, the ‘T Refs’ (as Sandy Gross is fond of calling them) are exceptionally easy to drive, while providing superb resolution of low-level ‘microdynamics’ along with abundant amounts of dynamic headroom. As a result, the speaker sounds effortlessly expressive and alive, whether playing loudly, softly, or somewhere in between. Few speakers I have heard at any price convey such a vivid impression of freedom from dynamic constraints—a quality that pays huge dividends in terms of musical satisfaction. Stated simply, the speaker invites you to play whatever material you wish, from the quietest to the most bombastic recordings in your collection, without fear that loudspeaker limitations will get in the way. Similarly, the speaker lets you choose whatever playback levels you wish, since in most rooms the speaker will prove to have more dynamic headroom than your ears do—even on loud rock or other forms of power music. The theme is one of liberation; the Triton References free you to make whatever musical choices you wish, secure in the knowledge that the speaker will back your decisions every step of the way.
For me this point about dynamic freedom was driven home as I listened to the Yuri Honing Trio’s cover of The Police song ‘Walking On the Moon’ from Star Tracks [Bonzzaj Recordings, 16/44.1]. The track is in many ways a quiet one driven forward through an insistent, earthy groove established by percussion and bass, but at certain points key accent notes or solo statements fairly explode into the foreground. One such moment occurs early in the song when a particularly hard, sharp pattern is played on a snare drum as if to draw the listener to attention. The GoldenEars brilliantly captured the almost hyper-sharp attack of the snare and the sheer energy of its notes, complete with the delicate after-ring of the snares vibrating against the lower drumhead. Later on, though, as the song unfolded—its earthy groove still churning away—we come to a passage where there is big, full-bodied sax solo whose dynamics expand almost exponentially to fill the stage and, naturally, the listening room. What caught my ear was not just the realism of the sax solo, but the powerful and dramatic way the solo expanded and stretched out to fill the entire room with sound—something the Triton Reference conveyed with serious power and effortless grace.
Third, the Triton References offer plenty of resolution from top to bottom, but with particular strengths from the low bass region right on up through the heart of the midrange. With that resolution comes an almost uncanny quality of three-dimensionality that—on the right recording—can make a stereo system sound almost like a state-of-the-art surround sound system. A great example would be the track ‘Lazarus’ from the late David Bowie’s final album Blackstar [Columbia, 24/96], which—apart from having lyrics that eerily foreshadowed Bowie’s death—presents elaborate and complicated swirls of acoustic and electronic background sounds that the speaker captured in vivid textural detail, with a presentation that at times made sounds seem to emanate from beside or even slightly behind the listener. Significantly, the Triton Reference is not one of those speakers that capture musical detail for its own sake (or for audiophile bragging rights), but rather one that renders detail in the service of the music.