Dan Worth takes a listen to the Goldenear Triton 5 floorstanding loudspeakers which for £2300 looks at face value to be a lot of speaker for the money.
The Goldenear Triton 5 is a slim, wholly passive floor-stander just over a metre tall, which sits in the brand’s flagship range between a smaller passive floor tower – the Triton 7 – and four larger semi-active systems equipped with powered subwoofer sections. Each is the lovechild of Sandy Gross, the founder and protagonist-in-chief of the Goldenear brand. I’ve never met him but having met the T5, I feel I know him. Not just by the complex way the T5 is engineered, but also how it behaves in-room and in different systems, and from reading the enormous amount of biographical/philosophical information on the web.
After 40 years of refining his formula through instrumental roles at Polk and Definitive Technology (many of whose speakers I’ve owned), the things that make a great sound for Sandy are obvious in every Goldenear speaker. I know he wants smooth detailed high frequencies, a wide even mid-band and low frequencies that belie the dimensions of the cabinet, and I realise that Sandy and his team have taken enormous trouble and skill to engineer these attributes into speakers you can live with at a price you can afford. There’s certainly great passion behind the brand, but does all this belief actually succeed in creating the ideal audiophile bargain?
For many, especially on Goldenear’s home turf in the US, the answer is yes. Across the pond in the UK and Europe however, the reaction has been mixed. Why does this brand so clearly divide opinion? My search for an answer led to Goldenear’s UK distributor Karma-AV, who provided the passive Triton 5s as the best introduction to the experience and it was certainly an experience – but more of that later.
On first encounter with the T5 it’s obvious you’re dealing with an unusual design. There’s nothing standard about a speaker covered head-to-toe in a stocking like a shroud, which conceals the drivers and their configuration completely. Unlike virtually every other speaker, it’s not easy to suss the architecture. You can’t remove the ‘grille’ because there isn’t one. Instead, you need to lift off the glossy plastic top cover, remove a grip clip securing the top of the stocking and then peel it back down the length of the speaker to the base. The manual that came with the T5s doesn’t even mention this enclosed grille design – it’s as if Goldenear doesn’t want you to meddle. However, rather than a pre-finished look, I discovered a sculpted polymer baffle beneath: obviously the brand has prepared for the possibility of sock removal. Weirdly, with the drivers on show, I felt happier and also a little less anxious about leaving them set up in my listening room with a marauding cat at large: the T5s could well be the most expensive scratching post on the market.
You can go the whole hog and remove the sock entirely by unscrewing the black plastic plinth at the base of each T5. Without the sock, they look fine, and you get a much clearer impression of the angular T5 cabinet, raked backward for optimum time alignment, and slimmer at the front than at the back. The non-parallel cabinet walls are designed to eliminate the internal standing waves that inhibit driver function.
As you’d expect with an audio design so rigorously prescribed, the drivers are clearly a cut above the norm. The tweeter, which Goldenear calls a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) design, is a proprietorially-tweaked Air Motion Transformer, invented by Oscar Heil. His revolutionary idea has been widely interpreted following the patent’s expiry and can be found on speakers such as Martin Logan and Monitor Audio (the Micro-Pleated Driver on MA’s Platinum II range is an AMT). Only this week I’ve received a pair of Mundorf’s AMT tweeters for a project I’m undertaking. Essentially the AMT comprises a voice coil etched onto a precisely folded diaphragm which is suspended in a strong magnetic field. When the current flows it causes the diaphragm to expand and contract like an accordion, squeezing the air outward.
The midband and bass from the T5 originate from the twin 6” drivers arranged either side of the AMT in an M-T-M configuration. Goldenear has opted for a more costly cast basket mid-bass driver design, providing greater stability for the suspension during long excursions. The motor combines a high temperature 1” Kapton former for the voice coil and a high-gauss magnet assembly, the entire caboodle is crafted to propel the radiating surface (which appears to be a doped polypropylene of some kind – Goldenear doesn’t specify) a long way very quickly. The benefits and drawbacks of the M-T-M (D’Appolito) array are well known: you get great timing and focus of frequencies on-axis, but the off-axis response is generally poorer than from a conventional tweeter/mid arrangement. This means you need to be more careful when positioning the T5s for optimum results – as I discovered.
Ultimately every speaker design is a compromise, you simply have to decide the mix of priorities and trade-offs that produce the result that pleases you the most. It’s clear to me that Goldenear’s checklist is very clearly defined and ticked all the way down to the four 8˝planar sub-bass radiators positioned just above the floor plinth on the outside of each side of the cabinet. The horizontally opposed motor free ‘radiators’ use the rear energy from the bass drivers to generate the lowest frequencies from the T5’s closed box system. They’re what Goldenear terms ‘inertially-balanced’, which I’m guessing means that they use the air spring most efficiently.
So what to make of this impressive mix of acoustic technologies at work in the same box. Have they been integrated well enough to create that completely coherent and believable sound that Sandy Gross is after? The answer is a qualified yes, but in my experience, it takes some effort and precise system matching to deliver it.Initially, I hooked up my reference disc player and Tidal playlist through my Gamut D3 pre and Gamut D200 mk3 power amp to the T5s straight from the box. They were cold, I was unmoved.
Yes, the HF sounded unusually detailed but mid-band lacked focus and the bass was soft and lumpy.
I just couldn’t detect the revelatory Goldenear imaging and accuracy I’d been reading about. So I let the system run for a few hours and returned to toe-in the speakers a little more for a narrower sweet spot. The sound improved. Listening to ‘Hey Now’ from London Grammar, the bass notes were fuller and richer but still the timing of dynamic low frequencies from, say, the snare skin, was out of kilter.
What I was getting though was a greater appreciation of the Goldenear AMT. The AMT design’s response is fast and its radiating area large compared with a typical dome tweeter, so it’s more sensitive and operates over a wider frequency range than is typical, providing much lower distortion, greater transparency, and dynamics. Goldenear’s successful application of AMT tech on the T5 means that with the correct toe-in you encounter sparklingly fluid detail from further down in the mix, which sort of jumps out at you like the icing on a cake, keeping your focus on the smaller sounds that end up defining the soundstage – just, I suspect, as Sandy and his team intended.
Working in tandem with the AMT, Goldenear’s 6” drivers are capable of producing bass with sufficient speed to keep up with the AMT for a startlingly coherent outcome. It’s clear that by specifying a D’Apolito array of this quality, Sandy’s objective is a most revealing sweet spot. But I played for many hours to find it.
After a great deal of experimentation I discovered that locating the closed-box T5s about 10 feet (3 metres) apart, just over a foot (300mm) away from the wall and toeing each 40 degrees in from the vertical, generated a very tightly defined sweet spot right in the middle of my sofa about 6 feet back (I’m now calling it the ‘Golden Zone’). Now I was getting what I assumed to be the fabled Goldenear experience – or something like it. I was bathed in a warm soup of frequencies laden with a powerfully flavoured midrange, punctuated by an almost holistic high-frequency detail. The effect was intoxicating.
Get the position of the T5s in your room correct and you will be rewarded with exceptional vocal quality, reproducing complex vocal textures beautifully within the mix. Loreena McKennit, for instance, took centre stage with excellent poise and clarity, and with all the venue acoustics attached.
Replacing the rubber feet with the supplied spikes improves the bass and lower-mid focus, cleaning up a little congestion and allowing cleaner and freer dynamics to emerge. Be sure to get some spike shoes even if you have hard floors, or to appreciate the differences simply place some pennies under the spikes and gauge for yourself. Even so it’s in the deepest bass that the T5 faces its greatest challenge in my opinion.
I realise that Sandy will have refined the passive bass radiator design during his years at Definitive Technology (they’re still using it). However, in my experience, the T5 still needs some tuning in this area. The configuration of four 8” radiators may be an extremely innovative means of producing deep bass from a slim box, but the T5’s deepest bass frequencies still lag a little behind the rest. Although the effect is not obvious enough to ruin the appreciation of the T5s warm rendering of other frequencies, it’s more pronounced when the T5s are out of sync with the room. I’ve never encountered a speaker that is quite as sensitive to room position. It’s almost as if Sandy and his team demand that you experiment as part of the joy of owning a Goldenear T5!
Sandy uses a wide range of amplifiers in voicing his speakers – Marantz, Rotel, Hegel, Denon (no looney toon esoteric gear), and is presumably happy with the T5’s compatibility with likely partnering equipment, but this is a speaker that demands sensitivity in system building because in my experience it’s so very transparent to any changes in the chain of command. Replacing the Gamut with an ATC P1 power amp and a Townshend Allegri+ preamp, for instance, brought a cleaner more agile balance to the upper bass, and greater width to the soundstage, but I lost some of the intimacy of the Gamut.
With everything in sync the Goldenear T5 speakers can be very special indeed, and great value. Hit the sweet-spot and you’ll have the ‘Eureka’ moment that Sandy Gross and his team want you to experience. Just like a new dish or fine wine the T5 could be an acquired taste, and the chances of you missing the flavour altogether quite high. This characteristic could explain why several reviewers on this side of the pond have failed to get on with the brand. The T5 is very obviously different in character from, say, an ATC monitor. The T5 has a softer, warmer balance with a loser bass response, but put the work into room positioning and partnering equipment and the result could prove addictive. Style-wise, they’re slim enough to blend with most rooms, and I’m sure you could have a sock dyed to match décor!
Having spent a long time with the T5s I know and understand why they have polarised opinion: if you’re not prepared to contribute, neither are they. So take your time and ensure that you discuss suitable system matching with your dealer. Experiment with several combos and take your current amplifier along for an informed audition – you could hit the jackpot, and isn’t that what Hifi is really all about?
AT A GLANCE
Build Quality: Very well constructed and implemented using high-quality components. Style is interesting and hinges on whether you can live with the sock. I would like to see options for colour of the sock
Sound Quality: Very coherent and communicative once matched with the correct amplifier and positioned responsibly in the listening space
Value For Money: Very convincing indeed once synergy is obtained
Pros: Very informative, smooth and detailed performance, high-quality components throughout, a real mainstream capable value for money speaker for those with high-end aspirations at a more realistic price point