Goldenear Triton Reference vs. One -- Review

I’ve now had my Goldenear Triton Reference speakers for over week and, having put about 25 hours of active listening and 75+ hours of burn-in, I figured I’d put my thoughts down.

First, some tl;dr notes on how I got here.

I discovered audiophile gear in the late 1980’s through my college roommate and spent about 9 months when I first started grad school researching and listening. Being on a my grad student budget, I was out for maximum bang for my buck and after a couple of equipment swaps ended up with a system that remained unchanged for 27 years: Rotel CD player/switched to a Squeezebox streamer after I ripped all my CD’s to ALAC in 2007 -> Kimber PBJ -> Adcom GFA 545 -> Kimber 4TC bi-wire -> Vandersteen 2ci’s on Sound Anchor stands. I loved the open, airy sound of the Vandersteens and, although I knew I was giving up deep, low-end punch compared to other options, I loved the way they reproduced upright bass in the jazz tracks which form the bulk of my listening. I listened to lots of other people’s since then and, for what I spent, I wouldn’t change a thing. I also loved the ultra-simple black monolith look of my system. For years my studio apartment furnishings consisted of nothing but a futon couch and my stereo. My best friend never ceased to mock my taste in interior decor until he went to design school and attended a lecture on Minimalism; afterwards he came over for one of our nightly listening sessions and declared, “OK, now I get it. Negative space. Very cool.” If you are familiar with the appearance of the Triton’s, you probably know where this is headed.

Fast forward to 2016--I kept having trouble with my Squeezebox dropping the signal and ended up buying a Spotify subscription and streaming music off my iPad into my Adcom. Obviously, this led to a serious reduction in sound quality, but I was so mesmerized by having a virtually infinite supply of music selection at my fingertips (funny how the 10,000+ albums on my hard drives suddenly seemed inadequate) and spent so much time on the road for work that I really didn’t care so much about the fidelity loss on my home system.

Well… things changed with work so I didn’t have to travel constantly and, spending more time listening to my degraded sound, I knew it was time for a change. The obvious first step was to replace the iPad’s place in the signal path with an honest-to-god DAC. Frankly, I didn’t do any listening tests before I upgraded. I read a bunch of reviews that made me covet the DAC/preamp/headphone amp functionality of the Benchmark DAC3 and, after discovering that they offered a 30-day no-questions-asked return policy, I immediately placed my order.

The day my DAC3 arrived and I hooked it up to Tidal streaming via USB to a headless Mac mini my mind was blown. I realized there was so much fidelity in my system I had been missing out on for years. The way the 24/96 version Steely Dan’s “Gaslighting Abbie” off Two Against Nature sounded was revelatory: the detail, the space around the notes, the rhythmic drive, the drum and bass articulation: all stunning. I essentially got a new window into music I had been listening to for years.  For the most part it was a very enjoyable, fresh perspective, but a nagging dissatisfaction with excessive energy in the frequency band around 100-400 Hz (especially obvious on male jazz vocals and tenor sax) became quite pronounced. Increased fidelity is the proverbial double-edged sword--enhancing perception of both excellence and imperfection.

I knew my Vandersteens had been supplanted by a 2ce model, so it seemed obvious to move on new speakers. The first thing I checked out were Magnepan 3.7’s. The treble and midrange were fantastic--wonderful detail and imaging; however, they were lacking bass depth and punch. Since I bought my initial system, my listening tastes expanded to more electronic, DJ and heavy metal, so I had decided that this time around I wasn’t going to compromise and serious bass was an absolute requirement. The dealer added a subwoofer into the mix (can’t remember which one) and it certainly sounded better, but the soundscape lacked overall coherence. I read about about a bunch of different Maggie/sub combinations people recommended online, but, given Magnepan’s own website’s caution against pairing with conventional subwoofers and my loathing for a trial-and-error process of subwoofer testing and tweaking, I determined I wanted a tower system that would stand entirely on its own. (That I would have to buy additional power to adequately quench the Maggies’ thirst for current didn’t argue in their favor either, though that wasn’t a decisive factor.)

After more reading I decided to audition Vandersteen 3a, Revel F208 and Goldenear Triton One head-to-head. I went into it thinking I would prefer the Vandersteens given that I’d been listening to their little brothers for almost three decades. In short, I did enjoy them and the Revels also. Frankly, I was pretty skeptical of the Tritons regardless of all the praise I’d read online. Six active drivers + 4 radiators connected to a 1600 watt/channel Class D (which didn’t even exist as a commercial entity when I’d last shopped for gear) subwoofer amp sounded like the equation for a boomy, incoherent mess.

I queued up the Dan’s “Gaslighting Abbie” (my go-to 1st listen track) and I was instantly mesmerized. The coherence of the sound was wonderful, the treble and the midrange sang while the low end was authoritative, but tightly controlled and balanced. The music suddenly had so much drive, detail and ambience. I heard air and distinct harmony parts in the vocals that I’d never noticed. My skepticism about the high number of drivers in each towers was unfounded and the seamlessness of the soundscape was impressive. I could discern no discontinuities up and down the spectrum--everything sounded integrated and coherent. I brought my girlfriend along for this trip (her ears measure better than mine and she doesn’t know anything or give a damn about technology, specs, reviews or brand names) and she was wide-eyed and bobbing her head right along with me. The classic soundstaging demo jazz album Jazz at the Pawnshop by Arne Domnerus transported us into a bustling club with the musicians going at it a few feet away. We spent a couple of hours listening through a wide variety of genres and agreed that the Tritons led the pack. Believe it or not, my girlfriend actually concurred with me that the monolithic black sock look was very cool and even more minimal than my then current Vandersteens (even though the Goldenears are larger, from the listening seat they appears less massive due to their narrower/deeper profile).

Business and pleasure conspired to have me back on the road again for several months so I resisted the temptation to buy the Triton Ones immediately. Shortly thereafter I discovered Goldenear was about to release the Reference model and I was intrigued, but skeptical, as I’m well aware of how the law of diminishing returns flattens out the quality/price curve, especially once individual component prices move north of $1000.

I decided I should at least wait until the Reference speakers hit the retail market and give a pair a thorough listening against the Triton Ones before I made a decision, so, a couple of weeks ago I made my way to the friendly local dealer who had accommodated me previously. When my girlfriend and I arrived as scheduled he simply handed me a USB cable to plug in my laptop into their Macintosh electronics (D1100 -> MC452, if I remember correctly) and the volume control. Away we went.

For two hours I queued up a diverse playlist of jazz, classical, baroque, rock and electronic tracks and we were utterly mesmerized. Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No. 4 In D Major Kv 218 - Allegro” and the “Crux Fidelis” Gregorian chant off 2L: The Nordic Sound were stunning in both tonal and spatial realism. My lady friend commented after the second track finished, “It sounds like we are now in a concert hall!” The Dan’s “Gaslighting Abbie” revealed a deep resolution (my non-native-English-speaking lady understood several of Fagen’s lyrics for the first time) and taut, rhythmic drive that relentlessly cooked. “Artemis” off the Dali’s Car album “The Waking Hour” is one of my favorite bass test tracks as Mick Karn’s thick, slinky, slithering, fretless, overtone-laden, electric line requires more than just power to engagingly reproduce. Generic consumer subwoofers need not apply. The References had me wide-eyed. My girl friend’s comment: “Wow!”

Back in the day I enjoyed reading J. Gordon Holt’s reviews for Stereophile magazine and I was always struck that for all his analytic prowess, he still wouldn’t recommend a component unless it passed his goosebump test. The References passed mine with flying colors on both Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” and Wayne Shorter’s “Witch Hunt.”

Well… the two hours of listening convinced me that the References are outstanding speakers, but question remained: “Are they worth 70% more than the Triton Ones?”

I was pretty sure the answer was, “No.”

First off, the References feature piano gloss wood veneers that add probably $1000 to the price tag without making a necessary contribution to sonic performance. Of course, this is a wise marketing, not engineering, decision since the typical person shelling out $8500 for a pair of speakers wants something that looks like furniture, not a a huge, dull sock. Personally, I prefer the monolithic footwear look--too bad there’s not a less expensive option for those with my aesthetic sensibilities.

Second, the law of diminishing returns being what it is, it was impossible that the References were going to provide 70% more illusion of real musicians in a real space than the Triton Ones.

The question remained: would the sonic improvement be sufficient for me to shell out the additional $3500 to make the leap?

The salesmen (who had wisely not tried to sell me on anything whatsoever, leaving me to my own devices other than popping his head in once early on to make sure all was well and bring us a couple of bottles of water) gamely swapped out the References for the Triton Ones and Round Two began.

If you are wondering, I matched sound levels with the NOSH SLM app on my iPhone.

My initial impression of the Ones is that they have the same overall sound signature as the References and are not startlingly less impressive. I’d be happy to have the Ones in my system. There’s no question that the References are superior, however. It would misleadingly precise to try and assign a percentage value to the difference, but I’ll do my best to describe. The most noticeable difference: the bass was more extended and, especially tighter. The Ones sounded somewhat loose and unnaturally fat by comparison, lacking a bit in punch and rhythmic drive. The GE engineers say they put a lot of time into controlling cabinet resonances on the Reference and their efforts have succeeded. You’re going to have to pay a lot more money to get better low end than you find here. Second was the decay of transients, particularly apparent to me with voices and horns. The end of notes presented more ambience and “air,” providing a better illusion of music in real space. Finally, the References provided more detail and a deeper view into complex layers of sound.

A comparative intellectual analysis of the various components of each speaker’s characteristics considered separately don’t yield large differences in and of themselves. However, overall, the References provide a more emotionally engaging experience and a heightened illusion of real musicians playing in real space.

I bought the References on the spot.

As far as speaker pairing goes, these puppies are easy to drive. I have yet to turn the knob on the DAC3 past 12 o’clock. Beyond that I’ll need to repaint the walls.

(My Adcom is long in the tooth and would likely benefit from recapping or replacement, so I just ordered a Benchmark AHB2. I've got 30 days to decide whether it plays nicely with the References and justifies the price tag. I'm curious to hear if there are further sonic revelations these speakers have reserved. I'm as skeptical about $3K amps as I was of 1800 watt/channel class D subs. Maybe I'll be proved wrong again.)

For what it is worth, my decision to spend the hefty premium for the upgraded experience is premised on my own desire to purchase a great system and be done with it. I’m not a tweaker or gear head. I get my enjoyment from the musical experiences I get out of my system, not swapping out kit and noting the subtle differences or pouring over the differences in various measurements and specs. Note well: I’m not throwing shade at those who enjoy the technical side as much as the musical--if it weren’t for gear heads we’d all be limited to listening to player pianos. I doubt I’ll ever buy another pair of speakers in my life, not because I don’t think speakers will improve, but due to the law of diminishing returns and me suspecting that advances in machine/brain interfaces will make transducers like speakers and earphones obsolete within the next 20 years, maybe sooner.

15 years ago I would probably have said “$3500 will buy me a LOT of CD’s,” and bought the Ones, but, Tidal Masters brings me more new music than I can listen to in a lifetime for an inconsequential price.

If I were the sort to upgrade my speakers every couple of years, I might save the extra $3500 and wait for the next great thing to come out. You won’t be unhappy with the Triton Ones if you do.

In any case, whoever strives to beat the quality/price ratio the Reference offers has got their work cut out for them.

For me the diminishing returns curve gets too flat beyond the musical experience the $8500 the fantastic Goldenear Reference buys.

Nice comparison! I’m considering the Reference for my system of mostly Classical and hoping for a big wide soundstage. My Bryston 7B Monos might be overkill. Also using the DAC2 HGC and OPPO BDP-105.

I owned the ones for two years and loved them and also just auditioned the reference extensively. Both amazing, 
but the 70% premium in price for the reference only translates into a little better performance. Sound great , but still screams made in China.
Currently have Spatial H3 Triode masters and to my ears (and my audiophile buddies) it is better in every way than both.
Absolutely, positively Magico killers for $4k
I am not kidding, and I had most everything in my room over the years (Triton Ones and fives, ML Montis, Maggie 1.7 and 3.7i, Vandy 3a sigs, Gallo 3.1 and others)
my two cents
Materials are still cheap as s*@t on the reference, perfectly understandable on the Triton 5s etc, but for $8500 for the reference and made in China, no thanks.
I believe it is the same plastic bottom base on the 5s and reference. It sure looked and felt like it. The sides however are MDF and nicer, but still very cheap quality.
Heck my Mirage OMD bookshelf speakers for $300 pair are real solid wood with grain and unbelievable beautiful and scream high end. Sandy should have used something similar for the price of the reference and at least assemble in USA.
The 3+ and lower down the list are the way to go, IMHO as they sound so great and are a very good value

Although you are incorrect, you certainly are entitled to your opinion(s).

Best of luck to you and happy listening to those Mirage OMD bookshelf speakers at $300 pair. I’m sure they sound terrific.

How am I incorrect?

Please research if the reference and Triton 5 have the same base material made in China. I just checked the GE website and they do !!
This is not an opinion, hard cold fact. Go to a showroom and compare your self.

BTW- The Mirage OMD do sound terrific for $300 for computer / desktop use. Read reviews or have a listen, and yes for $300 they absolute smoke the $8500 Triton reference on materials and asthetics.
How's that for embarrassing.
You can read my posts above to see the speakers I have had in my main theater, pretty experienced opinion on how they all sound, but we are discussing build quality and materials for the money, not sound.
Still love the other Tritons, and rank them highly,
 as stated above, but in no way endorse buying the Triton reference at $8500. Not when you have speakers like Spatial Triode masters and others for $4500 less that are built in USA with a 20 year warranty !! Holy cow bat man !!!

Also- do you know how much a full page ad costs in magazines and online for the hundreds of ads GoldenEar runs? 
I do, that and dealer markup is why you have $8500 retail for Reference made in China with vinyl / plastic coated MDF.
They still sound absolutely amazing, but would be correctly priced at a few grand.

You are incorrect in-so-far as the premise of your posts - that the Reference use "cheap" materials and "made in China" - are simply an attempt to disparage the product as if to have others believe they are not worthy of a speaker at any price.

Instead and in fact the Reference are relatively inexpensive (i.e. not "cheap") in comparison to other speakers that perform as well. The fact that they are *assembled* (i.e. not entirely "made") in China, like so many other products, is simply part of the reason they represent an outstanding *value*.

The Reference draws upon T5 materials and design but similarities end there. "All the components in the Reference - the active sub-bass drivers, upper-bass/midrange drivers, and high-velocity folded ribbon tweeter - are new, and have been specifically developed for use in the Reference". The Reference bass drivers are "Glass Fiber and Nomex® Composite Cone, with Quadratic Cone topology for Maximum Cone Surface Optimization".

Please provide a URL with reference (no pun intended) to the paragraph you believe worthy evidence to your assertion that the T5 is the *same*.

I owned the ones for two years and loved them and also just auditioned the reference extensively. Both amazing,
but the 70% premium in price for the reference only translates into a little better performance. Sound great , but still screams made in China.

Here too you are incorrect. The 70% premium in price does not translate into a *little* better performance. If you were a T1 owner as you claim to have been, you would realize the sound difference is substantial. Numerous T Ref owners who previously owned T1 report same. Additionally, and as I already pointed out, the cost increase is more than *just* sound. There is a *big* cosmetic improvement. If the Reference is "screaming" at you, you may want to check your hearing. I only write the previous sentence to point out your poor choice of words. Yet another example of why you are incorrect and in response to your question to me. 

In any case, your Spatial Triode Masters at $3995 per pair may be a great deal too. But just because the T Ref’s MSRP is $8500/pair, doesn’t mean I or anyone else who owns them actually paid that much. Not to mention that the Spatial Triode is only rated to go down to 32Hz, and there is plenty of sound going on much lower, which the Reference handles and reproduces effortlessly.

Further - and as I’ve posted elsewhere previously so you can be assured I’m not just making this up - I’ve had the good fortune to demo (first hand at the location of a private owner, not dealership) a pair of Alta Statement Towers. Their MSRP is $200,000 and I’ve been told (all) the materials used are "exceptionally good and of the highest quality". Believe me when I tell you that to my ears, the T Ref’s sound better. And isn’t that the point, regardless of how expensive or inexpensive the materials are?

In any case winfix, you can feel free to have the last word.

*let the words be yours i’m done with mine*
I guess we will agree to disagree.

You can't convince me that Triton Reference are worth $8500 and 70% more than Triton ones. 

Also, you will never convince me that the plastic bases and other parts made in China and used on the Reference and the other Tritons are high quality and expensive. You are missing the point about markup and marketing. I need more customers like that !!

You quoted the Goldenear website's marketing verbatim. Of course they will wax poetic about how amazing and high quality the speaker parts are, duh !!!

What a great hobby !!!
 I have enjoyed it for three decades now, (especially the last 5 years or so with major advancements in value)

The Reference are phenomenally great speakers, but not much better than the ones to my ears. (Easily 500 hours listening to Goldenear ones and fives) 
One mans opinion-
I believe it is the same plastic bottom base on the 5s and reference.

Oh, you mean the 3/32˝-thick steel plate built into the medite base to further stiffen it for increased stability, which results in higher resolution of subtle details.
How much does a Chinese made steel plate 3/32 if an inch thick cost?

see my point now,
you just articulated and demonstrated my argument for me perfectly !!

thanks !!!

You're most welcome.

By the way, in addition to the fact that you are obstinate, you are also hypocritical.

Given *your* statement "my goal is sound quality / value, the speakers can be made on Mars" 08-31-2015 8:46am in this thread it seems to me you actually do love China.

Good luck attaining your "goal" :)

I stand by what I said about Triton ones two years ago.They were benchmark for value / price ratio at the time in my eyes.
(not anymore) 

 But for the 100th time,
I would not spend 70% more for the reference. You did and so, go ahead and try and justify your purchase.
It's your money, not mine !!

(FYI- for your own education a steel plate 3/32 of an inch thick made in China cost about $2. You talk of this part like it'a a diamond me tweeter-
It's a very thin piece of steel made in China. Take out a ruler and see for yourself how thin that is !!!!

This a great hobby, and if you are happy with the $8500 you spent that is all that matters.

They were benchmark for value / price ratio at the time in my eyes.
Herein lies one of your problems, you listen with your eyes instead of your ears.

(FYI- for your own education a steel plate 3/32 of an inch thick made in China cost about $2. You talk of this part like it'a a diamond me tweeter-
It's a very thin piece of steel made in China.

But you initially thought "I believe it is the same plastic bottom base on the 5s and reference" and "you will never convince me that the plastic bases..." without even knowing there is steel of any kind, let alone how thick it is. So, with the abundance of misinformation you disseminate, should anyone believe you know how much it costs?

Please tell us about your experience and evaluation of the Triton Reference with AHB2 Amp.
Just to clarify, the bases of all the Triton Towers are NOT, repeat NOT, made of plastic. They are made of medite, which is a wood product. On the Triton Reference, there is a 3/32" thick steel plate built into the base, for added strength and rigidity. The concept that this adds $2 to the cost of the product is totally incorrect. The cost of the plate, which is quite thick, and the cost of building it into the base adds $35 to the manufacturing cost of each speaker. This is not insignificant, but an expense that we felt was worthwhile. As a manufacturer, we believe it is our job to bring products to market that deliver exceptional sonic performance and tremendous value. I believe that we succeed at this, without question. The concept that we use cheap parts and materials is blatantly incorrect. Also, the fact that we have chosen to produce our loudspeakers in China is, I believe, an intelligent decision that we have made in order to achieve our goals. There are many superb products manufactured in China, Apple products for instance, and also many loudspeakers which many do not realize are similarly sourced, including many of the loudspeakers produced by companies whose names begin with K, B, R, F, P etc, and many of these sell for much more than a pair of T Refs. I think that the proof of the pudding is in the listening. When you hear a pair of properly set up T Refs with good program material, I think you will understand why reviewers like Anthony Cordesman, John Atkinson, Al Griffin, Dennis Burger, Piero Gabucci, Chris Martens, Doug Schneider....were so impressed. Sandy Gross
Cost of materials and fabrication is not indicative of sound quality. I have attended numerous audio shows. The consistently bad sounding speaker is Magico (from Q1 to M3 to S7). I’ve heard it in a dozen set-ups, all high end gear, brought my own music and yuk, unmusical sounds were created before me (the $7,500 Volti Rival speaker kills it). I’ve heard the great $1 million Von Schweikert/VAC/Kronos combo-that’s a system my wife said is the best as do I. My high end system has "only" a pair of 25 year old Legacy Focuses. Sure, back then they used cheaper components (relative to the sales price although Focus cabinetry is very good) but they made intelligent choices in voicing the speaker. It has great potential with high end gear, much like the Goldenear speakers. Both are easy to drive and have great bass and dynamics. The Focuses give me about 50% of the Von Schweikert system sound quality.

The question I have is how does the Focus speakers compare to the Reference? The Focuses are available without warranty at about $2,500/pair used. The References will probably have parts available for at least a decade. Unfortunately, I have not heard the Triton 1s or References. Maybe at the next audio show in L.A.
Nice review!  FYI I have Triton Ones driven by a Mac MC152 amp and MCD550 Sacd player. No preamp needed. They sound incredible.  You just hear the music, not the hardware. The way it should be!  Enjoy!
I LOVE my Triton Reference. Upgraded from KEF R700's which are wonderful in their price category but the TREFS are clearly in a different league. I'm driving the Tritons with PS Audio BHK Monoblocks and the BHK Signature Preamp. Prior to that I had been using a Primaluna Dialogue HP Integrated, also a terrific piece. The extra power from the PS Audio amps made a big and palpable difference giving the Tritons a substantially more ballsy, authoritative and weighty presentation. The degree to which the Tritons performance improved with the extra power from the PSA monos surprised me given the Tritons have a built in dual 1800 watt powered sub section, but man what a difference.
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