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RMAF 2018: ListenUp, GoldenEar, Hegel, Audioquest and Shut Up and Take My Money

KEF R Series

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I don’t have a lot of experience with GoldenEar speakers, although plenty of audiophiles, not to mention most my old dealers, have given me an earful—they offer outstanding value, they’re incredibly dynamic, and whatever I’m representing better be able to compete with these products from audio legends Sandy Gross, Don Givogue and Bob Johnston.

Keeping It Simple

When I walked into the darkened ListenUp/Hegel/GoldenEar room at the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I was taken aback by the simplicity of the set-up which consisted of just the GoldenEar Triton Reference loudspeakers ($8500/pair), a Hegel Mohican CD player ($5000) and a Hegel H590 integrated amplifier/DAC ($11,000), all wired up with Audioquest cabling. This was a black-on-black system, designed to disappear into the room and just provide the listener with nothing other than glorious music for a reasonable price.

That idea of unparalleled value hit home again and again as I heard these big, dark and seemingly domineering monoliths produce a sound that I found simple, elegant and very easy to like. The Triton References made a very compelling argument for themselves—“for the price of a pair of premium two-way monitors that your grandma can carry around, you can have all this!” And when I say this, that includes lows that go down to 20Hz…flat.

As Seen on TV?

Yes, these are big speakers with plenty of drivers, but as they say in the late-night TV commercials, “That’s not all!” The Triton References include active sub-bass drivers, a new ribbon tweeter that goes up to 35 kHz, a fully balanced crossover and a 56-bit DSP control unit. The 6” by 10” active low-frequency drivers help to keep these towers slim, with a relatively small footprint. GoldenEar has even updated the Triton line with a hand-rubbed gloss piano black lacquer finish, so up close it looks like a much more expensive speaker than it is. It’s amazing how much speaker you get for just $8500, which is exactly what everyone has been telling me the last few years. I get it now.

I listened to most of Beck’s Morning Phase through this system and it was just as warm and expansive as it needed to be, which is a lot. As I said, the sound is simple and elegant with an almost limitless soundstage that instantly knocked down the room boundaries. I know firsthand that the high-end speaker market is notoriously competitive, and there are thousands of great speakers out there that are worth your hard-earned cash, but GoldenEar has obviously made it difficult for everyone else at this price point.

3 Comments on RMAF 2018: ListenUp, GoldenEar, Hegel, Audioquest and Shut Up and Take My Money

  1. Look, I get it…different people have different ideas of what represents good value. And I have no doubt at all that this system sounds amazing! But for goodness sakes, stop pretending that a system that runs $24 THOUSAND DOLLARS is some sort of bargain price! That premise, on its face, is just ridiculous!

    • Yes … and even so.

      Look, if I told you that you could go to the Moon for 1 billion dollars, you’d say “ha ha ha ha”.

      If I then told you that you could go the Moon for a 10 million dollars, you’d (probably) still say “ha ha ha ha”.

      But that second price is a bargain … compared to the first. Same experience. 1/100th the price. That’s a bargain.

      Take a Porsche 911 Turbo S. Amazing car. Goes zero to sixty in next-to-nothing. But the asking price for one starts at just under $200k. If that Turbo S became available to you at half the price, that would be a bargain.

      Where the judgment comes in is precisely where an analogy makes sense.

      If I told you that you could have “an experience very, very similar” to the moon trip for $100, you’d be dubious. Curious, perhaps, but certainly dubious. If I told you that you could have the 911 Turbo S experience for $25k, you be likewise curious/dubious. But if “the experience” is what’s being costed out, not the object, then we have a lot of room to interpret, to play, and the value of expert opinion increases dramatically.

      So, when a professional reviewer says “bargain”, you’re free to be dubious. And that bargain is most assuredly not absolute. Just because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean its affordable. But, likewise, just because it’s affordable doesn’t mean it’s cheaper. ‘Affordable’ is relative to the buyer (and their buying power). ‘Bargain’, like ‘cheaper’ is not — it is relative to the thing it’s being compared to.

      And that system, doing what it did that day, was performing far above other systems costing far more. That screams “bargain”, even if it isn’t “affordable”.

  2. I would enjoy hearing these and others, however, My wife and I have Electro Voice ETX series tops (4) and ETX series 18 inch subs (2) that we are extremely happy with both for lower volume listening, as well as, all we can stand completely intoxicated… We do audiophile music we can download, orchestra, piano, rock, country etc. Love church organ…
    I guess we would have to get a lot older to experience how these higher dollar systems could make sense. We have 115 years of age between us currently.

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