What makes the scene so powerful is the way the GoldenEar system’s vividly and realistically reproduces the loud, cacophonous, and at times violent sounds from the street, complete with reverberations and echoes that help us instinctively outside the danger inherent in the narrow city street. But what is even more compelling is the system’s simultaneous ability to capture the eerie and almost surreal calm that James both experiences and projects from within his bombproof suit—even as he faces one life-or-death situation while en route to another. In ways too subtle and powerful to capture in words, the GoldenEar system helps us to understand that Sergeant James is either one very cool customer, an adrenaline addict of the first rank, or perhaps a bit of both. I’ve experienced surround sound this good before, but never from a system as affordable as the TritonCinema Two rig.
To better understand my comments, above, concerning the TritonCinema Two system’s dynamic capabilities, try listening to the soundtrack of another spectacular Academy Award-winning film: Inception. In particular, pay close attention to the sequence where Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) introduces the young architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) to the limitless creativity that is possible in the context of a shared dream. As Cobb guides Ariadne through one of his own dreams, he allows her to witness an implausible series of slow-motion explosions (complete with strangely phase-shifted low-frequency sound effects), to show her how suggestive dream images can unleash the mind to fill in oddly razor-sharp details of its own. The TritonCinema Two system handles the off-kilter and almost overwhelming sound of those dream explosions without any problems at all.
But even more vigorous soundtrack material arises as Ariadne starts to grasp the peculiar rules of dream-state creativity and then deftly (and to Cobb’s great surprise) uses her imagination to fold the structure of the cityscape upon itself, so that the streets slowly bend up and then over their heads. To emphasize the sheer strangeness of the images unfolding onscreen, the soundtrack designer introduces a plethora of loud, jarring, and disjointed ultra-low-frequency effects as Ariadne performs her space-bending trick. Those effects represent, quite frankly, a low-end torture test that pushes most systems—the TritonCinema Two rig included—right to their limits. The good news is that, unlike several systems I’ve tested with this brutally demanding soundtrack, the TritonCinema Two system navigated those large-scale effects without either shutting down or exhibiting other signs of undue distress. But the system did become audibly compressed as the most violent waves of bass passed by, and so missed out on the fullest measures of impact and depth of which the Inception soundtrack is capable. Even so, I felt the GoldenEar system deserved very high marks for keeping its composure under extraordinary pressure (bearing in mind that this soundtrack has forced some subwoofers to throw up their hands and cease operations altogether!).
If anything, the TritonCinema Two system does an even better job of reproducing music (especially multi-channel music) than it does with movie soundtracks, which is saying a mouthful. To appreciate what I mean, try listening to the high-resolution recording of Jerry Junkins conducting The University of Texas Wind Ensemble in its performance of John Corigliano’s Circus Maximus [Naxos, Blu-ray]. What is fascinating about this piece is that Corigliano composed Circus Maximus with the explicit intent that it be performed in the round (in this case, in the Bass Concert Hall in Austin, TX). Thus, over the course of the performance, listeners will hear a large stage band in the front of the hall, a marching band that starts out at the rear of the hall, and a smaller “Surround Band,” which features small clusters of instruments placed above, behind, and to the sides of the audience.
In Circus Maximus, Corigliano invites comparisons between the Circus Maximus of Rome in decline with today’s media excesses where, as Corigliano says, “many of us have become as bemused by the violence and humiliation that flood the 500-plus channels of our television screens as those mobs of imperial Rome who considered the devouring of human beings by starving lions just another Sunday show.” The result is a striking piece of music that is, by turns, beautiful, savage, and strange, and at times a bit unnerving.
One of my favorite movements is “Screen/Siren”, which begins with a saxophone quartet and string bass playing from high above the listener to the left side of the hall. Two things jumped out at me during this movement. First, the GoldenEar's perfectly nailed the voices and timbres of the saxophones and bass, making them sound highly realistic. But second, the TritonCinema Two system presented a convincing sonic image of the instruments that—sure enough—appeared to emanate from above and to the left side of the listener. Now most audiophiles are familiar with experience of hearing fine speaker system create precision images to the front of the room. But what is not very common at all is to hear a moderately priced surround sound system pull off exactly the same feat, but directly to side of the room, and with images that remain precise, stable, tightly focused, and highly believable.