GoldenEar TritonCinema Two 5-Channel Surround System - Part 1 (TPV 101)

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GoldenEar TritonCinema Two 5-Channel Surround System - Part 1 (TPV 101)

In the early 1970’s Sandy Gross helped co-found Polk Audio and then teamed with Don Givogue in 1990 to found Definitive Technology. Now, Sandy Gross and Don Givogue have joined forces once again to create a third loudspeaker company: GoldenEar Technology. To say that these guys have speaker manufacturing in their blood would be, if you’ll pardon the pun, a gross understatement. But look deeper and you’ll see a common conceptual thread that links all three of these firms across the decades: namely, a passionate commitment to the idea that high-end audio should be accessible to the vast majority of music and movie lovers—not just to an elite few with the deepest of deep pockets.

I would say that Sandy Gross and Don Givogue have consciously taken a pragmatic approach to high-end audio, which might seem like a contradiction in terms to some, but that is a concept that Gross and Givogue have, over the years, turned into an art form. In practice this means several things. For starters, it means that Sandy and Don understand, appreciate, and enjoy legitimately great high-end audio components—the kind that deliver no-excuses performance first and last, and that reach that elusive place where science and art merge, yielding no small amount of sonic magic. It also means, however, that Gross and Givogue are painfully aware that relatively few would-be enthusiasts can actually afford the top-shelf components whose sound they so deeply admire (spirits are willing, but wallets are not). Faced with this dilemma, and never being ones to accept the status quo, Gross and Givogue have made it their near-lifelong mission to figure out ways and means of building speakers that deliver genuine high-end performance, yet can profitably be sold at Everyman prices (thus providing what I call, “high-end sound for the rest of us”).

This is not, of course, a new idea, but the truth is that while many speaker makers have learned to talk the talk, few can actually walk the walk, which is a shame. The road to hell, as the old saying goes, is paved with good intentions, and in the loudspeaker universe I think it is also paved by ostensibly good product designs that are crippled by inadequate engineering resources and a lack of manufacturing know-how, or that fall prey to half-baked business plans.

What’s really needed in order to get the job done, and what Gross and Givogue are uniquely well qualified to provide, is the elusive combination of vision, experience, genuinely keen and discerning ears, a restless and inventive streak that won’t settle for mediocre solutions, pure technical know-how and lots of it, and, importantly, proven business and customer service models that have stood the test of time. Put all these ingredients together and what you get is GoldenEar Technology.

GoldenEar’s first product was the flagship Triton Two floorstanding loudspeaker ($2449.98/pair), which has been winning friends, blowing minds, and influencing people since the moment it debuted last fall at CEDIA 2010. Now, we have a chance to audition GoldenEar’s TritonCinema Two 5-channel surround system ($3499.95), which consists of a pair of Triton Two floorstanders used as left/right main speakers, a SuperSat 50C center channel speaker, and a pair of SuperSat 3 satellites used as surround speakers.

Interestingly, the system neither specifies nor requires standalone subwoofers, since both of the Triton Two floorstanders contain highly capable, built-in powered subwoofers of their own. All elements of the system are precisely voice-matched to one another with the sonic results that are, as you’ll learn in a moment, breathtakingly good. As a result, the TritonCinema Two system not only offers stunning value for money, but is exceedingly good when judged by any standard (meaning the attractive pricetag seems, well, like extra icing on the cake).

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Important note: while this may not be the first review you read of the TritonCinema Two system, we believe it may be one of the first to cover the final production version of the system (just like the ones enthusiasts will be able to buy). The fact is that early GoldenEar press samples of the Triton Two’s (including the ones sent to The Perfect Vision) were identical to the pilot production models first demonstrated at CEDIA 2010. The Perfect Vision learned, however, that GoldenEar had made small but significant improvements in the control circuit for the Triton Two subwoofer amplifier—changes that have been incorporated in all production model Triton Two’s shipped to GoldenEar dealers. Accordingly, TPV elected to delay its review until its Triton Two review samples could be retrofitted with final production-version amplifier control boards, which proved to be a good decision. The change essentially redefines the neutral tonal balance point for the user-adjustable subwoofer amp, giving the production Triton Two’s an even clearer, better balanced sound than the CEDIA demo units exhibited (plus a more usable real-world range of amplifier adjustments).
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OVERVIEW

Consider this system if: You have always wanted a serious, high-end, high-performance home theater speaker system, but couldn’t afford the cost of entry (often up in the high four-figure to five-figure range). This system will take you where you want to go on a performance level, but at a far more manageable price than you might have thought possible. In particular, consider the TritonCinema Two system if, at heart, you are both a home theater enthusiast and a dyed-in-the-wool, music-minded audiophile. Either way, the GoldenEar system has your needs well covered. Finally, note that this system is relatively easy to drive, meaning you won’t have to drop a bundle on associated electronics (unless you wish to do so).

Look further if: You like listening to vigorous action film soundtracks at ear-bleed volume levels; the Triton Two system has plenty of dynamic clout for most applications, but when pushed really hard the Triton Two subwoofers will exhibit audible signs of compression. Also note that the Triton Two system does not offer quite the same levels of “see-through” sonic transparency that some planar magnetic and electrostatic systems do. But having said that let me add that nothing I’ve heard at or near the TritonCinema Two system’s price can touch its performance.

Ratings (relative to comparably-priced surround speaker systems)

Transparency and Focus: 10
Imaging and Soundstaging: 10 (imaging so good it makes us wish our 10-point rating scale went up to “11”—or possibly beyond)
Tonal Balance: 9
Dynamics: 9
Bass Extension: 10
Bass Pitch Definition: 9.5
Bass Dynamics: 9.5
Value: 10 (the phrase “off the charts” comes to mind)

FEATURES

Triton Two: The Triton Two is a 3-way, five-driver, dual passive radiator-equipped, floorstanding loudspeaker with a built-in powered subwoofer. Among audiophiles, the Triton Two has already begun to earn a reputation as a radical overachiever that delivers shocking performance for the money. Happily, some of the same qualities that endear the Triton Two to music lovers also make it a great platform upon which to base a home theater system. Design highlights include:

•An HVFR High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter whose design is patterned after the pioneering work done by Dr. Oskar Heil on what he called the “Heil Air Motion Transformer.” GoldenEar says, “The HVFR tweeter propagates sound waves and moves the air by squeezing it with its accordion-like pleated diaphragm, rather than pushing it as conventional drivers do.” The result is a high-frequency driver with exceptional frequency extension and transient speed, but with essentially no (obviously unwanted) “ringing” distortions as with metal dome tweeters. The tweeter is also capable of high output levels with very low distortion.

•The Triton Two incorporates dual, cast-basket, MVPP Multi-Vaned Phase Plug-equipped 4 ½-inch mid-bass drivers with “a computer optimized cone design.” These mid-bass drivers are arranged as a D’Appolito-type array, with the MVPP mid-bass drivers flanking the HVFR tweeter mentioned above. Significantly, the MVPP mid-bass drivers are said to “achieve smooth linear frequency response extending above 20kHz” (a frequency far above the driver’s actual operating range as used in the Triton Two). The upshot of this extended-range response is that the mid-bass driver is said to offer sufficient transient speed to keep up with the lightning-fast HVFR tweeter.

•The lower, “subwoofer” section of the Triton Two’s enclosure houses dual “quadratic” 5-inch x 9-inch “subwoofers” that couple with dual 7-inch x 10-inch planar passive radiators (GoldenEar calls these “infrasonic radiators”). The oblong shape of the drivers and passive radiators is said to help break up or forestall certain types of diaphragm resonances that can occur with traditional circular woofers. Together, the subwoofers and passive radiators give the Triton Two bass that extends down to a claimed lower limit of 16 Hz.

•A 1200-watt, DSP-controlled digital amplifier powers the subwoofer section of the Triton Two. GoldenEar says, “the amp has a Programmable Logic Device (PLD) based state machine with a nearly instantaneous 278nS update time to perfectly manage a myriad of functions including soft-clipping, DC offset control, output-stage anti-saturation protection and discrete multi-band limiting.”

•Under most circumstances the subwoofer amplifier draws its input signals directly from the Triton Two’s speaker taps, though a separate LFE input jack is also provided for enthusiasts who wish to supply separate LFE signal feeds from an AVR or A/V controller. The amp turns on automatically when it senses that audio signals are present, remaining on until signals are absent for a prolonged period of time (in which case the amp reverts back to a “standby” mode). A rear-panel mounted amp level control knob provides suggested neutral tonal balance marking, while providing an ample upward and downward range of adjustment so that users can tune the speaker’s woofer output levels for most any room.

•Note that one benefit of basing a surround system on the Triton Two floorstanders is that you wind up with two powered subwoofers—not just one as in most home theater systems, which tends to foster noticeably smoother and more evenly balanced in-room bass response.

•The Triton Two’s, like Henry Ford’s famous Model T, are offered in “any color you want as long as it’s black.” The entire speaker enclosure, whose airfoil-like shape is a sculptural delight, is covered by a sleek, stretchy black fabric grille “sock,” which looks great while also saving buyers the cost of expensive lacquered or veneered cabinet surfaces.

•As a subtle but very pleasing visual touch, GoldenEar provides a gloss black upper trim panel that clips to the top rear surface of the speaker and that covers over the seams of the grille sock, giving the fabric covering a delightfully organic and literally seamless appearance. A matching gloss black mounting plate helps steady the tower-type enclosure, making it resistant to potential tip-over accidents. The speaker is supplied with threaded floor spikes.

SuperSat 50C: The SuperSat 50 and 50C are the larger of two series of satellite or LCR-type speakers offered by GoldenEar (with the 50C moniker denoting the center-channel version). The SuperSat 50 is a slim, 2-way, three-driver, dual passive radiator-equipped design that borrows driver technology directly from the Triton Two. Design highlights:

•The SuperSat 50C uses the same HVFR tweeter and dual MVPP 4 ½-inch mid-bass drivers similar to those found in the Triton Two (though the 50C’s tweeter is rotated 90 degrees to accommodate its expected horizontal mounting orientation).

•The SuperSat 50C incorporates dual 4-inch x 7-inch passive radiators conceptually similar to, but smaller than, the 7-inch x 10-inch passive radiators used in the Triton Two. The passive radiators help extend the SuperSat 50 C’s bass response down to a claimed roll-off point of 60Hz.

•The SuperSat 50C enclosure is made of “aerospace-grade aluminum” and finished in gloss black. The enclosure is suitable either for tabletop or wall-mount applications. Note: the SuperSat 50 can also be used with optional floor stands.

•To accommodate wall-mount applications the speaker features a pair of keyhole-type mounting slots in its rear panel, as well as threaded inserts for use with third-party mounts.

•To support tabletop (or shelf-mount) applications, GoldenEar supplies a pair of ingeniously designed, user-adjustable, tilt-back mounting feet that bolt into the threaded inserts on the rear of the SuperSat 50C enclosure. The tilt feature is extremely helpful for angling the speaker either upward or downward toward the main listening area, as necessary. The adjustable feet are finished in gloss black to match the 50C enclosure.

•As an alternative, GoldenEar will offer optional, extra-cost floor stands for the SuperSat 50.

SuperSat 3: The SuperSat 3 and 3C are the smaller of GoldenEar’s two series of satellite or LCR-type speakers (where the 3C would be the center-channel version). The SuperSat 3 is an extremely compact, 2-way, three-driver speaker that, like the larger SuperSat 50/50C, borrows driver technology from the Triton Two. Design highlights:

•The SuperSat 3 uses the same HVFR tweeter and dual MVPP 4 ½-inch mid-bass drivers similar to those found in the Triton Two.

•Unlike the SuperSat 50C, the SuperSat 3 enclosure is constructed “from a rigid, non-resonant marble-powder infused polymer” and finished in gloss black. The enclosure is suitable for tabletop, floor stand-mount, or wall-mount applications (as explained below).

•To accommodate wall-mount applications the speaker features a pair of keyhole-type mounting holes in its rear panel, as well as threaded inserts for use with third-party mounts.

•To support tabletop (or shelf-mount) applications, GoldenEar ships each SuperSat3 with a clever matching stand that fastens into the keyhole slot in the rear of the SuperSat 3 enclosure. The adjustable stand is finished in gloss black to match the SuperSat 3 enclosure.

•As an alternative, GoldenEar will offer optional, extra-cost floor stands for the SuperSat 3.

This is Part 1 of the GoldenEar TritonCinema Two 5-Channel Surround System review; click here to continue to Part 2.

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