Speaker First or Last – Golden Ear Triton One First Listen

Back in January of 2013, I visited the new PQ Imports premises in Hamilton, primarily to see and hear the listening room that PQ’s Paul Quilter had designed to show off his high-end hi-fi products.

As recounted in this article, the room is as good as anything I’ve ever heard when it comes to a space designed to allow hi-fi gear to sound its absolute best. And the system that I heard in there was spectacular despite it not adhering to my “Speaker-First” approach to hi-fi. I’ve always believed that the speaker is the heart of any stereo system, and that’s where a majority of the money should be spent.

In Paul’s room, the system I heard had $12,000 of Magneplanar 3.7 speakers and a big Paradigm Signature Sub One worth $8,000. That’s $20,000 of speaker, which isn’t to be sneezed at, but there was well over six figures of VTL valve-based power amplification behind them, not to mention the VTL two-box preamp and a four-box Wadia CD player. That’s way over $200K of stereo components driving $20K of transducer. I muttered and moaned and clung ever more feverishly to my dogma, but Paul wasn’t too worried. The sound quality of that system forced me to reconsider just what could be done when things are done totally differently to the way I thought was optimum.

Time For An Update

Fast-forward to September 2016, and you’ll find that strangely enough, Editor Gary Steel still hadn’t seen the new PQ operation. It’s a huge place constructed with straw bales. Inside are the company’s warehouse, offices, two demo rooms and two suites for visiting dealers, clients and assorted dignitaries. Despite Steel and myself not falling into any of those categories, Paul and his lovely wife Joy invited us to pop down and spend the night so that Gaz could take his time and really get a handle on the room instead of trying to make a rush visit.

Magneplanar 3.7

Steel seemed unfazed by the idea of sharing a room with me, so we headed down a few days ago. I’m sure we’ll get some feedback from Gary but from my perspective, the room is exactly as impressive as it was back in 2013. The four-box Wadia Decoding Computer (aka CD player) has made way for one of T+A’s sizable MP3000HV HV Series universal player / DAC / streamers, while the single Paradigm sub has been swapped out for a pair of smaller REL S2 subwoofers, which Paul says load the room far better than a single sub.

Sonically, it’s hard to beat a set of planar speakers backed by good subs. You get all the fabled openness and transparency but you get the bottom end clout as well. We spent a lengthy afternoon and evening listening to all kinds of music ranging from Tool’s growlings to Melody Gardot’s retro stylings. Whether it was jazz, hard rock, mellow acoustics or electronica, the system just handled it with aplomb. Throw in piles of your favourite hi-fi clichés right here if you like but suffice to say, this is a system that you could live with for the rest of your lottery-winning life and never need to change a single thing.

The only glitch is that as expected, it mercilessly reveals limitations and inadequacies of any recording it’s fed. I tried a couple of CDs dating back to 1986 and 1988 and was rewarded with a thin and uncomfortable sound, but when we swapped the Tracy Chapman disk for an NZ vinyl pressing, things returned to normal. This was totally a software issue, and nothing to do with the hardware. The moral of the story is that many recordings from the early days of digital are absolute pants and should be avoided if your system can highlight what the engineers were smoking back then.

An Ulterior Motive

Much as I wanted to catch up with Paul and hear the system again, I had another reason to head to the Tron. Gary’s been telling me how good the Golden Ear Triton One floorstanding speakers are. In fact, they’re the only speakers that he’s ever seriously considered as replacements for his Martin Logan Purity hybrid electrostats.

I kid Gary a lot about his speakers, for example:

The only way to get the best from the Martin Logans is to lock your head in a tiny square of space to optimise the sound stage and imaging. Move an inch to the side and you may as well be listening in mono.

Then there’s the fact that no matter what amplifier you feed them with, you’re effectively listening to a pair of off the shelf ICEpower Class D amp modules.

Plus you have to consider the vinyl finish.

And they just look plain weird.

But all my whinging is a thinly veiled attempt to avoid having to admit just how bloody good those speakers are. At the price, they really do seem to be unbeatable. Hell, he replaced a set of MY BELOVED SPEAKERS with them, so yeah, I’m a little hurt.

Like me, he’s heard plenty of speakers over the years. And like me, he’s not keen on spending money on hi-fi gear for no reason other than “upgradeitis”. So the idea that he’d replace the Martin Logans with speakers that are substantially more expensive must make the potential replacements pretty damn impressive indeed. With piles of rave reviews behind them, the Triton Ones have a colossal reputation to uphold. I wanted a taste.

Golden Ear Triton One

When Paul whipped out the Maggies, unplugged the subwoofers and dropped a set of the tall, narrow, black Golden Ear towers into the system, my old speaker-first hackles started raising. Sub $10k speakers in this system? The speaker cables alone are worth a hell of a lot more than the speakers themselves. A travesty I tell you!

But no. The Golden Ears kicked my residual silliness into touch and then they just plain kicked ass. I know that theoretically, you could plonk the speakers from a $99 Transonic mini-system on the end of all that audio goodness and they’d sound good. But could the Tritons survive in the shadow of the Maggie/REL combination?

Not only could they survive, but they thrived. They sound bloody marvellous. Some slightly crazed but gifted individual decided to spend the majority of the money that went into these speakers on the bits that make the noise, and not on a fancy Zebrawood cabinet.

For those who don’t know the Triton series, they’re covered by a sock! Picture the kind of thin, dry-fit material that athletes wear to train in, and you know what I mean. Under the black material is a very cleverly designed cabinet, filled with state-of-the-art components.

Golden Ear Triton One

There are two 5-1/4″ cast-basket midrange/upper bass drivers, housed in their own discreet chambers. They flank a “High-Velocity Folded Ribbon” tweeter in a D’Appolito array.

Bass duties are handled by three 5″ x 9″ front-mounted oblong-shaped bass drivers which are coupled to two 7″ x 10″ oblong bass radiators per side. This lot is described as a “subwoofer”, which you might think is marketing speak for “makes a bit of bass” but it isn’t an exaggeration at all. That’s a lot of driver area, and it’s powered by a built-in 1,600 watt amplifier. Furthermore, the powered section benefits from the attentions of a 56 bit DSP (Digital Signal Processor) section which gives the Golden Ear engineers extraordinary control over the behaviour of the low frequencies and their integration with the mids and highs.

If there’s a word that describes the Triton Ones, it would be “complete”. There’s absolutely nothing missing here in sonic terms. From the very top of the frequency range to the shockingly deep and controlled bass, there’s just nothing to fault. Music, hi-fi and especially speakers are entirely subjective when it comes to enjoyment. The Triton Ones, and the entire system for that matter, might not float everyone’s boat, but they sure do get mine moving down the river at a great rate of knots.

I recognise that a few hours of listening are by no means enough to do anything approximating a full review. However, my initial impressions lead me to believe that all the statements about Golden Ear not just breaking the high-end value for money barrier but pretty much crushing it seem to be spot on!

I’ve heard speakers at $25K that didn’t make music quite as convincingly as these things. Again, I know, I know – the source, cables and amplification components not to mention the room, could likely make anything sound good but all the high-end gear in the world can’t make any speakers sound better than they are. These sound like a much more expensive set of speakers, which they basically are. I hate to imagine what they’d cost with a gorgeous cabinet instead of a sock.

But frankly, the sock rocks. Unless you buy speakers with your ego (and a great many people do), then you should in theory be prioritising sound above all other considerations. And these are the very definition of the sound, and the speaker itself, being the priority. They’re still an impressive, even imposing looking pair of speakers but they’re also quite attractive in their own understated way.

Throw in genuine subwoofer-like levels of bass, and superbly well-integrated bass at that, and then bundle in the ability to tune that bass to suit most listening rooms, and you’ve got something quite special here.

I’ve had my Theophany M5 Series 2 floorstanders since 2007 or so. I’ve often said that nothing I’ve heard in the sub $10K price range has convinced me that I absolutely have to upgrade them, which is why I still own them. But at first glance, the Triton Ones present a powerful argument that I need to consider. Or at least I’ll need to consider it at some point in the future when I’m settled in one place for more than a few months.

The Triton Ones can fill even the biggest listening rooms; so perhaps the smaller Triton Two+ model would be a better fit for many audiophiles and music lovers, myself included. They carry a nicer price and based on the specs, they don’t seem to give up a great deal against the bigger brothers. I’d like to hear both models in front of my own much more humbly priced source and amplifiers. I’d also like to hear them next to my own speakers but that might not happen on this trip. Until that happens, I can only say that the one part of my system that needed no upgrading at all is now looking a touch less securely placed. Very, very impressive speakers – nice work Golden Ear.

Staying In Hamilton

Here’s an unsolicited plug for Paul and Joy’s B&B. I really enjoyed my stay, even with Gary’s checkered flannel PJ’s scarring my eyeballs. They’ve got a neat setup down there that’s perfect for exploring Hamilton and surrounds. For the music nuts and audiophiles, I’m sure Paul wouldn’t mind showing you the room and spending some time over a beer playing some tunes. It’s likely to be a great experience.

So check out Bon Marie B&B – tell them the Witchdoctor team sent you.

One Comment

  1. I’m not at all surprised by this. I have had a set of Triton 7’s for just over a year and they do the same to the $5k+ speakers that the Triton ones do to $25K speakers. The 7’s use 5.25mm drivers and produce the some of the best bass that I have heard in any speakers under $10K. The tweeters are the same as the Triton 1’s so for around $2.7K the Triton 7’s are an absolute no brainer.

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