One of the last things I worked on for Robert Harley, editor of The Absolute Sound, was his coffee-table opus, The Illustrated History of High-End Audio. My bit was a chapter on Sandy Gross, co-founder of Polk Audio and founder of Definitive Technologies and GoldenEar. That article was ultimately excluded from the book, sadly, due to legal complications from “concerned parties”. On whole, I think that whole infuriating affair was a damn shame.
Because truth told, Sandy is a fascinating dude.
Aside from being a revolutionary loudspeaker designer, he was also absurdly gifted with the business of audio’s high-end. He told me stories about how he packed up his station wagon with Polk loudspeakers and spent his summers during the ’70’s touring the country and signing up dealers. Sounds equally charming, quaint and claustrophobic, but if you have any reason to doubt why GoldenEar, his third audio venture, was profitable pretty much out of the gate, it was those summers you can look to. And that’s not even the interesting stuff.
I’m not sure you could really say it was a high-end audio start, per se, but Sandy was into slot-cars. Really into them. A car of his own design revolutionized the slot-car industry and he himself was a multi-championship racer. And did you know he was a Hollywood producer? You know. Between gigs designing loudspeakers. For fun.
It doesn’t take long, chatting with Sandy, that you get the slowly dawning realization that the Most Interesting Man in the World was based on Sandy Gross.
I was lucky enough to get to know him through the autobiographical attempt, so when I heard local dealer Gramophone was having him swing by to launch his big new Triton flagship (September 4th, 2014), I dropped my schedule.
GoldenEar Triton One
The new Triton One, which retails for $5k/pair, is a stunner. There’s the narrow-baffle design, pulled directly from his days at Definitive, with a pair of 5-and-¼” spider-leg cast-basket mid range drivers in an MTM array, surrounding a “High Velocity Folded Ribbon” tweeter (aka, an AMT derived from the work of Dr. Heil). Three “Quadratic” sub drivers (again, think “Definitive”) are on display, here powered (again, think “Definitive”) by a 1.6kW DSP-controlled Class D amp and mated to four passive radiators (again, think “Definitive”). Total frequency range covered: 14Hz-35kHz.
The Triton series, like all the GoldenEar products, is designed in the US, tested in their labs in Canada, and made in China. The result is one of the most impressive, and affordable, loudspeaker brands on the market today.
Gramophone had Sandy presenting in a very pretty room, with lots of color and room treatments. I’ll get to the matching electronics shortly, but I will tell you that this system had absolutely no problems rattling the fixtures. It was a bit like being squeezed in the Hulk’s fist, actually, and there was absolutely no hope of containing the sound. The music was explosively dynamic, delicately detailed, seamlessly coherent and about as “audiophile” as you could ask. In fact, I’m having a hard time thinking of a loudspeaker that sounds this good anywhere near this price point. I would love to have a pair of these.
There was some talk about the Dolby Atmos announcement, and suitable products launching shortly — the Triton series can certainly figure in to such a system, but don’t expect any off-the-ceiling bounce shenanigans, like what Pioneer is planning. Here, the recommendation is to actually get some in-ceiling speakers (like what Atmos actually calls for), such as those found in the GoldenEar Invisa lineup.
In the photos, the new Triton One is the larger, outside, speaker. The smaller Triton Three sits between them and the rack.
Now, about the electronics….
NAD Masters Series
Lenbrook was demoing their three brands here at Gramophone, including PSB loudspeakers and Blue Sound wireless systems, but the real focus was on the NAD Masters Series electronics. To wit, we were treated to the new styling and models topping out the range.
The new $3,499 M12 preamplifier has a laundry-list of features now listed on the website, so I won’t repeat them here. The bits I found interesting were around the modularity — yes, like most recent NAD gear, the M12 is fully modular.
The first module is a $449 plug-in for their Blue Sound system, the DD-BluOS. As you’d guess, this allows the M12 to be a fully participating node in the Blue Sound network (think “Sonos”, but “audiophile”, with high-res streaming capabilities). Wi-Fi and wired are supported, with up to 24/192 file support (no DSD). But there’s more: there’s integration with most Internet services (except Pandora, which is “coming”, but as a low-fidelity service, the timing seems to be back-burnered), NAS streaming support, and the aptX codec for direct Bluetooth connections.
The second module is around video — if all you want is two-channel for your TV, you’re good. $299 will net you the DD-HDM-1, a HDMI pass-through card with 3 inputs and 1 output, supporting 1080p/60 video and 24/192 audio.
On the multi-channel side, the M12 is joined by the $5,499 M17. This rather imposing pre/pro includes “24/192 DACs for all channels”, and all buyers will receive (for free) the newest VM-300 4k video module when it comes out in Spring. Current video is with the VM-150, a 3D-capable 6 HDMI input and 2 output card. The NM-BluOS module comes with the unit, as does Audyssey MultiEQ XT/Pro room correction.
Pairing up with these two new preamps are some new matching amplifiers, too, each building off the new nCore digital amplifiers coming from Hypex. The $2,999 M22 is the two-channel version, with 250wpc into 8Ω and 4Ω, with “dynamic power” delivery in excess of 350w into 8Ω/600w into 4Ω and 2Ω. The $3,999 M27 leverages the same nCore technology, with slightly downscaled but still healthy specs. 180w into 7 channels continuous for 8/4Ω and “burstable” to over 300w for 8/4/2Ω loads. Both amps provide balanced and single-ened connections.
Playback in this demo was from a pair of Imagine T2 loudspeakers ($3,849.98/pair). I should note that the new flagship loudspeakers, the T3, will see a debut this month at RMAF 2014. The T3 will be replacing one of my all-time favorite speakers, the Synchrony One.
As for the sound, well, in the crowded room, the music I heard was very extended, clear and open. In fact, the typical sound I associate with NAD and PSB — smooth, rich, and non-fatiguing — was really not in evidence. This … well, this was a new thing, and given my exposure and experience with the new nCore amps, I’m thinking that the new sound signature may well be because of this upgrade. Smoothness is taking a step back to allow more detail through, and the overall warmth is taking a step back into “invisible”.
On the whole, I think this is a “good thing”, and I think home theater buffs will be hard pressed to do better than this. In point of fact, this home theater buff would love to see this kind of upgrade in his home theater … but that’s beside the point. Perhaps. Whatever. I liked it. But it is a bit of a sonic departure.
Last, but not least, Audioquest was on hand to do cable demos, walking through the benefits of their isolation and biasing circuits. Though there was nothing precisely new on hand, the demos were instructive. Sometimes, differences in cable are subtle. At best. And sometimes, they’re not — the demos here was a great case in point. No, no DBT models were harmed this evening, but for those with an open mind (or, at least, not openly hostile set of ears), there was quite a lot to explore with ever-increasing levels of refinement, sophistication and ease as the technologies were layered in. Yes, really. The demos were pretty convincing actually, and the crowd seemed tickled by the option to quiz-and-hear. Got doubts? Audioquest has demos and viable stops for most checkbooks. Check it.
Okay, that’s it. No reviews here, just teasers. All in all, Gramophone is to be congratulated for pulling together a fine evening, punctuated with plentiful wine, cheese and chocolate — all from local purveyors at The Wine Bin. I had a fine time — and so too did everyone I stumbled into, stepped on, and inadvertently blinded with my flash (sorry about all that).
Quite frankly, the home theater segment is getting a bit stale and wandering ever-farther from its high-fidelity roots. If you ask me, I’ll happily tell you that I think sound bar technology has pretty much killed off this segment in much the same way that the iPod killed off consumer audio — it’s “good enough”, and with that as an average baseline, “good enough” quickly became “crappy” as we lose track of the old baselines which used to be quite a bit higher. With most consumers more focused on the size of the bezel than the size of the speaker cones, it’s clear that sound doesn’t really rate very high for the average big screen enthusiast. And the industry, chasing the consumer — instead of establishing and maintaining the value of the entire experience — has shown that they don’t care either. Not surprising that the segment is … stalled …. And I’m being generous.
So it was something of a surprise for me that Atmos, from Dolby, was getting as much attention from the crowd at Gramophone that it was. It was certainly more than I had expected. For me, anything that excites the consumer is exciting. To wit, I may have some Atmos-ready gear coming my way later this month, so I should have more to report on that soon.
Last thought — the party. This event at Gramophone was really well attended. I counted — there were easily 60+ folks sitting attentively in the demos at any given moment, with another 20 wandering about sampling tasty adult beverages. That’s fantastic, for Gramophone for sure. Even better? The chance to see and connect with local audiophiles. Guess what? There are a lot more than I thought there were. Any excuse to get them together, to talk and visit and play as a group, has got to be considered a win-win. Audio, as a hobby, is far too often a closed-door adventure. But events like these pull the rug out from such habits — and for that, I’m grateful.