Writing about audio for twenty-five-plus years means I rarely hear a manufacturer’s name I don’t recognize. But when Neil Gader informed me I’d be receiving a pair of Triangle Titus EX speakers for review my first thought was, “Who the heck are they?” Several minutes of googling turned up the basics—Triangle Electroacoustique was founded in 1980 and is based in the small town of Soissons, an hour away from Paris. Although Triangle is France’s second largest speaker company, most of its sales are domestic. The land of wine and Le Tour accounts for three-quarters of Triangle’s production output. Its products didn’t reach North America until 1996.
Renaud de Vergnette is the president and chief designer at Triangle. His background reminds me of many U.S. “hobbyist” audio designers—he wasn’t formally trained as an audio engineer and his passions include jazz (he’s French, after all), custom furniture design, and, of course, audio. Unlike most of us, Vergnette avoids e-mail and doesn’t own a cell phone. He lives in a small town with a total population of 79 souls. Obviously Vergnette lives life on his own terms. Triangle’s products echo its designer’s idiosyncratic and isolationist tendencies—all of its drivers are made in-house at its factory in Soissons, and with the exception of the T17 FLV-608 full-range driver designed for DIY applications, Triangle has rarely offered its components for use in non-Triangle products.
Equilateral or Isosceles?
The Titus EX is Triangle’s smallest and least expensive stand-mounted speaker (it makes a $100-less-expensive Heyda EX model for on-wall use). The Titus EX replaces a previous Titus, the ES. The Titus EX features Triangle’s new TZ2500 tweeter, which promises better dispersion due to its new motor mechanism and horn profile. The EX also has a new T13EFB84MRI midrange/bass driver made with a double-fold peripheral suspension system. The Titus’s crossover and cabinet have also been redone to minimize crossover phase shift and internal resonances. In short, the new Titus EX is not a simple retread of last year’s model.
The TZ2500 tweeter ranks as a substantial step forward in driver design. Triangle’s goal was to improve directivity without resorting to exotic materials or expensive parts. Instead of mounting the titanium dome tweeter at the back of the compression chamber, which is the more usual position, Triangle has mounted it in front. This optimizes the horn loading and shape/size/placement of a phase plug for improved image stability as well as lower distortion levels. With its exponential horn profile and custom phase plug, the TZ2500 also delivers better off-axis behavior than previous designs. According to Triangle, “The phase plug with the horn outputs a sound level which is almost identical at all points and this means that directivity is very low.” The TZ2500 also employs a 50mm-diameter neodymium ring with an open center, so a sonically absorbent chamber can be attached to damp the tweeter’s rear wave. Triangle’s technical literature notes that the chamber has a pyramidal shape that actually splits the rear wave in half to further reduce its output.
The new midrange/bass driver’s cone also sports an exponential profile. Based on research and development trickled down from Triangle’s more expensive Magellan line of speakers, the diaphragm is made of cellulose fibers connected to a latex-soaked-fabric suspension system. Triangle’s aim “was to build a driver whose bandwidth is specifically reserved for the midrange frequencies in order to get the very maximum musical quality out of it. Its overall linearity means that it can use optimized filtering to integrate and merge with the high and low registers.” I’m sure in French it sounds better.
With a rated sensitivity of 91dB, a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, and a minimum impedance of 3.8 ohms, the Titus Ex should be a benign load that can be driven successfully by a wide variety of amplifiers. Its crossover uses a fourth-order slope for the tweeter and a second-order slope for the midrange/woofer. Like other speakers in the new Esprit line, the Titus was designed for use with a wide variety of electronics, from small-wattage tube amplifiers to high-output multichannel AV receivers.
Even the Titus’ cabinet displays Triangle’s attention to small details that have a sonic impact. The enclosure’s front baffle has a gentle curve to reduce diffraction effects as well as special elevated connectors for the speaker grilles. Available in only one cabinet finish, a mid-toned “cognac” wood-grain vinyl, the Titus EX includes a double set of five-way binding posts for those who wish to bi-wire or bi-amp, as well as a robust bridging-connector for those who don’t. The Titus’ overall fit and finish leave little room for criticism and easily equal the quality of other similarly priced top-echelon speakers.
Break-in: Illusion or Reality?
When I received the Titus EX speakers I was warned by their distributor that they would need at least 200 hours of break-in time before sounding their best. My usual response to similar requests is to accommodate them, but not to take the recommendations as gospel truth. In short, I’m ambivalent on the sonic benefits of “break-in.”
In the case of the Titus EX the distributor’s advice was well founded. On initial installation I was instantly aware of a “bright zone” in the upper midrange and lower treble. The Titus speakers didn’t sound nasty, but their tweeters had a noticeable sonic halo that stood out in relation to the midrange/woofer. After the requisite 200 hours break-in, the Titus EX sounded much smoother and more fully integrated. To make sure it wasn’t just a case of listener break-in—where the component doesn’t change, merely the listener’s sensitivity to the problem—I removed the Titus EX speakers from my desktop system and hooked up a pair of Harbeth P-3ES2 speakers I had recently reviewed in my EnjoytheMusic.com column. After a couple of hours of listening to the Harbeths I reinstalled the Titus speakers. Sure enough, they weren’t as forward in the treble as they had been at first listen. With the Titus EX speaker, a break-in period is not only recommended; it is de rigueur.
The Main Course
The Titus speakers have a front port. Frankly, I’ve never been a big fan of smaller ported transducers. In most such designs a port is a cheat—it fools the drivers into “seeing” a larger cabinet by reducing the cabinet’s physical impedance (less air resistance). Ports deliver greater efficiency and more bass extension, but they reduce phase coherence, especially in the lower midrange and upper bass, and create bass group delay linearity issues.
To see what a port is bringing to the party I routinely fill ported speakers’ ports with soft foam. I don’t do critical listening with the foam plugs in place except when a manufacturer recommends it, such as when the speaker is located near a wall or used with a subwoofer. Triangle doesn’t suggest plugs, so my plugged listening was merely a temporary fact-finding mission. The Titus ports’ effects are far subtler than with many ported designs. Sure, the ports augmented the Titus’ bass extension, but not as much as I expected. More surprisingly, the ports added just the right amount of weight to the midrange. Without the port’s contribution the Titus sounded slightly dry with a harmonic balance closer to a Role Kayak speaker. With the ports unplugged the harmonic balance was as almost as rich as the Harbeth P-3ES2.
On my desktop, which is where I usually do my initial serious listening, the Titus EX speakers produced an especially large horizontal sweet spot. It was nearly wide enough for two people to listen side by side. However, the Titus’ vertical listening window was noticeably less extended, so some care must be taken during setup to ensure that the tweeters aren’t too far above or below ear-level.
I was surprised to discover the Titus performs a more complete vanishing act than many speakers on my desktop. Perhaps it’s the curved front baffle, but more likely it’s the physical placement of the titanium dome tweeter behind the lateral plane of the midrange/woofer that makes the Titus more time-aligned than most comparably sized speakers. This translates into more precise imaging, due to better phase coherence. The Titus speakers also produce an astonishingly convincing three-dimensional image. Front-to-back depth on my own live concert recordings was equal to the best I’ve experienced with any small speaker regardless of price or design.
The harmonic balance of the Titus EX is nearly identical to the highly mellifluous Harbeth P-3SE2 speakers. This places the Titus among the warmer small-footprint speakers I’ve heard recently. But along with this extra soupçon of lower midrange and upper bass energy the Titus EX combines an airy upper register. Its high-frequency rendition is more like the ultra-modern Paradigm Signature S1 speakers than any venerable LS35A design. But unlike the Paradigms, which retain their harmonic balance far past most humans’ pain threshold, the Titus speakers lose much of their harmonic suavity when driven past medium loud. Initially the treble gets slightly spitty, and if driven further it acquires a nasty edge that signals it’s time to “turn down that damn music!” But one of the charms of the Titus is that it doesn’t require high SPLs to deliver engaging sonics. On this little speaker moderate volume levels actually sound better.
The primary reason the Titus EX excels at medium output levels is because it passes an immense amount of low-level detail. The Triangle tweeter manages to retain an engagingly high level of inner detail without sounding analytical or artificial like many titanium-domed designs. On my own recordings the upper-frequency air on piccolos and violins comes through with a delicacy that I usually associate with an electrostatic driver or a ribbon tweeter, not a metal dome.
Because the Titus speakers have a warmish harmonic balance, mating them with a subwoofer requires extra care. I used several subs with the Titus speakers including the Earthquake Supernova Mk IV 10", Aperion Bravus 8D, and Triangle’s own Meteor 0.1Tc subwoofer. In every case I had to spend a bit more time dialing in the settings.
There are two kinds of dynamics, micro and macro. Micro-dynamics refers to the volume-level differences inside small details while macro-dynamics refers to the overall contrast between music’s loudest and softest passages. The Titus handles micro-dynamics beautifully but falls down on the macro stuff. On Darol Anger and the New Republic of String’s version of Steve Still’s “Bluebird,” the Titus delineates all the subtle shadings of Josh Pinkham’s mandolin picking but doesn’t approach the full dynamic measure of Todd Sikafoose’s explosive acoustic bass.
Once broken in the Titus EX makes beautiful Gallic-flavored music. Compared with the classic “British sound” of the comparably sized Harbeth P-3ES2’s, the Triangle speakers display similar upper-bass and lower-midrange weight but greater upper-midrange presence and more upper-frequency air. But unlike the Harbeths, which can be driven to fairly high levels, the Triangles have a clearly defined sound pressure limit above which their performance deteriorates.
Within their SPL limits the Titus can deliver surprisingly good sound. The Triangle exponential horn tweeter is physically time-aligned behind the midrange/woofer, and this phase coherence results in very accurate imaging and soundstage reproduction. The Titus also renders low-level detail so well that at low-to-moderate sound levels music remains completely involving. So if you like your music to whisper seductively rather than roar, the Triangle Titus EX may be your ideal small speaker de siècle.