Perhaps because she is of French descent, my wife takes delight in reminding me that many of life's sweetest pleasures come from France: dry champagne, delicate brie, the world's best omelettes, the music of Berlioz, Chopin, Debussy, and Saint-Saëns, and speaker systems that convey a quintessentially Gallic joie de vivre. Good examples would be speakers from Triangle Electroacoustique (one of France's three largest speaker manufacturers), whose Celius floorstanders have consistently impressed me with their "aliveness" and their natural, "organic" warmth. At CES 2005 I saw a new speaker system I had been hoping Triangle might build—the Odyssey Major 5.1-channel surround system, reviewed here. In simple terms, Triangle intends the Odyssey as a surround speaker system that delivers near Celius-level performance (which is saying a mouthful).
The Odyssey system features three basic building blocks: the Odyssey Minor satellite/center channel (a three-driver, two-way speaker that can be positioned vertically or horizontally, and mounted on tabletops, stands, or walls), the Odyssey Major (a floorstanding version of the Minor whose extra-long cabinet serves as a built-in speaker stand), and the Meteor 0.1 powered subwoofer (a simple 100- watt bass-reflex design housing an 8.3" woofer). The Odyssey components can be mixed and matched to create a variety of systems, but Triangle offers its five most popular combinations as special discountpriced packages. The package reviewed here is the $3799 Odyssey Major system comprising two Majors as L/R main speakers, three Minors as L/R surround and center-channel speakers, and the Meteor 0.1 subwoofer. With this background in mind, let's focus on how the system sounds. From the start, let me say the Odyssey Major system possesses the same qualities of "aliveness" and natural warmth that so impressed me in Triangle's Celiuses.
The Odysseys' "aliveness" hinges on two things: resolution and dynamics. The Odyssey driver array (midrange-tweeter-midrange) is capable of really exceptional resolution, tracking the inner details of audio waveforms with greater acuity than most competing designs do. You hear more information from favorite recordings and films—especially those finegrained details many other speakers miss or obscure. Second, the Triangle drive units, especially the horn-loaded, controlled-directivity titanium dome tweeters, are unusually responsive to large- and small-scale dynamic shifts. This responsiveness may be due to the speakers' relatively high sensitivity (90dB, 1W/1m) or to the sophisticated motor and diaphragm structures of Triangle's drive units1, but in any event the Odysseys recreate the dynamic envelopes of instruments and voices in a way that sounds realistically energetic and alive. The only price you pay for all this resolution and dynamic prowess is an occasional faint trace of edginess (or perhaps cabinet diffraction?) on very loud passages or hard transients. But this flaw appears so infrequently that it doesn't really undercut the Odysseys' overall sound.
The Odysseys' "organic" warmth results from the close attention Triangle has given to tonal balance in two important frequency bands. First, in the tricky crossover region between the Odyssey satellites and subwoofer, Triangle avoids the perils of mid-bass dips and peaks, instead finding a "justright" middle path where the subwoofer blends beautifully with its satellites, producing mid- and upper bass with ample weight and warmth, and with good pitch definition and transient speed. These qualities help the system sound great on acoustic basses, cellos, low brass and winds, and the like. One word of advice: Take your time with setup and use plenty of experimentation to achieve optimal satellite/subwoofer integration (careless setup can result in slightly thickened bass textures).
What is even more important is the way the Odysseys handle the midrange to treble transition. Unlike systems that rely on artificial upper midrange "presence" peaks to create the illusion of clarity, the Odysseys are wonderfully and evenly balanced from the midrange up. Thus, they come by their clarity and definition honestly, first by keeping fundamentals and harmonics in proportion, and second, by reproducing textural and transient details with unforced accuracy. Much of the credit for this goes to an impressive tweeter, which delivers a delicious combination of treble extension, dynamic snap, lightning-fast transient response, and smoothness. For best results, plan on removing the grille frames (if left on, they slightly muffle the sound), and allow 50-100 hours of break-in for optimal lucidity to develop. As break-in progresses, the Odyssey system begins to convey an almost supernatural naturalism.
In practice, the system brings film soundtracks to life in ways lesser systems cannot. A great example occurs in the spectacular "Echo Game" scene from Zhang Yimou's House of Flying Daggers [Sony]. In that scene, an ostensibly blind dancer poses in the center of a ring of stand-mounted drums, waiting for a challenger to fling hardened beans against first one, and later more, of the drumheads. After the drums sound, a team of percussionists starts to play, and the dancer's challenge is to improvise a dance in which she uses the weighted sleeves of her costume to slap precisely those drumheads struck by the challenger's initial throw. The sound design of this scene is extraordinary, using almost every sonic trick in the book to suggest the difference between the dancer's and the audience's point of view. Because the blind dancer depends upon hyperacute hearing to "see" her surroundings, she hears the start of the game with a heightened sense of timbre, dynamics, and especially spatial localization— all of which are captured in the sound design. Here, the Odyssey Major system does a stunning job, revealing the difference between the dancer's and the audience's soundscapes— and leaving many listeners wide-eyed with astonishment. Lesser systems won't reproduce all the subtleties this scene offers, and once you hear a soundtrack this sophisticated through a speaker system this good, you won't want to settle for less.
But what about Triangle's claim that the Odyssey system serves music lovers, too? Does that hold up? I certainly thought so when I listened to some favorite multichannel (and stereo) music recordings through the system. On Babatunde Olatunji's aptly named Circle of Drums [Chesky, Multichannel SACD], the Odysseys delineated the distinct timbres of each of the drums within Olatunji's ensemble, placing each instrument in a precise location within a broad soundstage encircling the listener. In fact, this "disappear-and-let-the-imaginghappen" quality—more than perhaps any other—drew favorable comments from impressed guest listeners. And this system also appealed in much the same way that fine stereo systems do. On the classic Heifetz/Chicago/Hendl recording of the Sibelius Violin Concerto [RCA/Living Stereo SACD], the Odysseys reproduced the tone of Heifetz's violin with great clarity yet almost heartbreaking sweetness, and placed the orchestra (whose sound was beautifully weighted and balanced) on a broad, deep stage behind the soloist; the sound reminded me of listening to LPs through a good stereo system. My point is that the Odyssey Major really is a credible music sys-tem, not just a system for films.
Indeed, I found myself comparing the Odyssey Major to Von Schweikert Audio's similarly-priced award-winning System 12 (which I consider a valuefor- money champ in this price range). The comparison was instructive, because the systems offered contrasting sets of virtues. In general, the Odyssey sounded slightly more vivid and well defined (but with those infrequent hints of edginess), while the Von Schweikert system sounded smoother and offered wider dispersion, yet could have used a little more resolution. Down low, the Triangle subwoofer produced marginally clearer mid-bass than the Von Schweikert subwoofer, but overall the Von Schweikert sub offered greater power, control, and extension. I do think a system in this price class deserves a subwoofer with more power and bass extension than Triangle's Meteor 0.1 offers (might Triangle someday substitute its larger Meteor 0.1.5 sub without a price increase?). Finally, Von Schweikert's robust, wood-veneered speaker enclosures seemed better finished than Triangle's, but the Odyssey enclosures were nevertheless attractive (featuring piano-black end caps with wood-grain vinyl-clad side panels) and allowed for wall-mounting (which Von Schweikert's rear-vented L/R/C speakers do not). You could build a strong case for either, but the best news is that Triangle is finally offering Von Schweikert (and others) serious competition at this price.
For those building "convergence" systems that must perform well on music and films, Triangle's Odyssey Major system stands as a "must hear before you buy something else" option. Its warm, lively sound serves music faithfully, and brings film soundtracks to life as few others in this price range can