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Product Review - Coincident Speaker Technology Triumph Signature Speakers - November, 1999

Paul Knutson

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Coincident Speaker Technology

Triumph Signature Speakers  

Nominal Impedance:  8 ohms  

Sensitivity:  91db 1 watt / 1 meter

MFR: 48 Hz -  25 kHz  

Size: 16" H x 9" W  x 11.5" D  

Weight: 26 Pounds Each  

MSRP: $999/Pair Black; $1,099/Pair Cherrywood  

 
Coincident Speaker Technology, E-Mail iblume@coincidentspeaker.com; Web http://www.coincidentspeaker.com

Introduction

I thought I would begin this review with a short fable:

There once was a man, a speaker-builder by trade, who worked hard every day to earn a living, like the rest of us.  One day he overheard all his audio buddies bemoaning the lack of high-efficiency speakers to use with their low-powered, single-ended, tube amplifiers.  Struck by the anguish in their voices, the man went back to his shop and designed an affordable, good-looking, small speaker that would work with their low-powered amplifiers.  The people of the land rejoiced!  There was then a groundswell of grass-roots political support, and the humble speaker-builder was shortly thereafter elected King of the World! 

The moral of the story is that good things happen to those that build affordable, good-sounding, high-efficiency speakers for the masses.

Okay, I admit that I made that story up  . . . but just barely.  I think it could happen, really I do.

For those of you who have read some of my other reviews, you probably know that my personal audio nirvana is achieved through the sounds made by low-powered, single-ended, tube amplifiers.  I absolutely adore the sound of these simple circuits.  There is a tonal beauty, truth of timbre, and musical purity that happens unfailingly when I'm listening to these types of amps.  On top of the way they sound, I can also build 'em myself, which only adds to the fun.  What more can you ask for? 

How about some nice speakers to listen to those amps with? 

Ah, you had to ask.  Now there's the tricky part of this whole low-powered amp fetish.

For your reference, when I speak of low-powered amps, I'm referring to roughly 15 wpc or less.  My main amp has 13 wpc (two parallel single-ended, triode-wired EL-34s per channel), and my alternate amp has 8 wpc (one single-ended 300B triode per channel).  The next amp I build will have about 3 or 4 wpc (one single-ended 2A3 triode per channel).  Is that low-powered enough?

There are two hurdles, each equally hard to clear, in finding speakers that work well with lower-powered amplifiers:

First, the speaker must have adequately high sensitivity.  Sensitivity is a measurement of how loud a speaker will play with 1 watt of input power, and with the sound output being measured at a distance of 1 meter.  If your amp produces about 8 wpc or more, speaker sensitivity of at least 90 dB/1 w/1m is a good benchmark to shoot for if your room isn't too large and if your musical tastes include genres other than heavy metal.  As you move down the power scale to the 3 wpc range - the land of 2A3 triodes - speaker sensitivity of 95 - 97 dB (or higher) is ideal to achieve dynamic, full-bodied sound.  The Triumph Signature is rated at 91 db, which is good for me.

The second hurdle to finding the right speaker for your low-powered amplifier is impedance, which is really the "load" that your amplifier "sees" when driving a speaker.  Speakers that present your low-powered amp with a stable, high-ish impedance of around 8 ohms (or even higher) will work very well and allow your amp to sing happily.  If, however, your speaker's impedance drops down to 3 ohms or 4 ohms at various frequencies (and you don't happen to have corresponding 4 ohm speaker tap on your amplifier), be prepared for a somewhat lifeless, anemic sound especially in the low or mid-bass region.  This may happen even if the speakers have high sensitivity.  There are 94 dB sensitive speakers out there that still don't work well with low-powered amps because they present a wildly varying and typically low impedance to an amplifier.

With those hurdles in mind, does anybody know how many affordable speakers out there effectively address the two key issues raised above, thereby presenting themselves as viable alternatives to the low-powered amp crowd?  Oh, gosh, I don't know . . . maybe four or so.  In other words, not nearly enough.

Where does this dilemma lead us?  To the Coincident Speaker Technology Triumph Signature, that's where.

The Triumph Signature is a small speaker designed to be placed on a stand with an ideal height of around 24".  At least that was what I found in my listening tests.   Coincident makes a stand, logically called the Triumph Stand, that is 23" high and matches the speakers visually and sonically.  They also make a combination subwoofer/speaker stand that the Triumph Signature sits upon and is specially designed to match the speakers, again both sonically and visually.  I didn't have either of those factory specified stands for this review, so I placed the Triumph Signatures on a 24" stand that was designed for use with my Spica TC-60s, called the Gravity Stand.  This is a great speaker stand, and it seemed to work fine with the Triumph Signatures.

The Triumph Signature is a good-looking speaker with beveled edges and a nice Cherrywood finish on the review pair I had (this finish is a $100 option to the standard $999 speakers which come in black).  There is no grille.  While not cheap, their sub four-digit retail price certainly puts the Triumph Signatures in the attainable range for most real-world music lovers. 

The pair of speakers I reviewed were built for single-wiring, but a bi-wiring option is available.  I would have preferred to listen to the bi-wired version, as I believe it has sonic advantages, but that wasn't what was available at the time (I could have bi-amped them too, with my two stereo single-ended amplifiers).  The binding posts are nice gold-plated jobs with a good feel.  I didn't open up the speakers and peer inside, but as I understand it, they don't use any internal damping material.  While this flows contrary to most other speaker designs, Coincident's head-honcho, Israel Blume, prefers instead to maintain the natural liveliness of the enclosure and simply tune the predominant resonant frequency to a point high enough (around 350 Hz) that it doesn't muddy up the bass whatsoever.  For what it's worth, my listening tests seem to confirm that he hit the mark with that design goal.  The woofer is a good quality 6.5" polypropylene unit, and the tweeter has been upgraded in the recent past to a 1" silk dome version.   All drivers are matched to ensure that they form good pairs and sound like the designer intends.  The final construction detail I should mention is that the crossover uses good-quality components, is a first-order type, is hard-wired (no printed circuit boards), and has only two components in the signal path.  As the newly publicly-owned Martha Stewart would say, "these are good things".

Even though the specs indicate that the Triumph Sigs will work well with low-powered amplifiers, I was surprised at how good the match really was.  When they needed to, these babies could play LOUD with very little power; however, at no point did the sound become noisy.  The sound remained coherent and musical at high volume levels, even with the 8 wpc 300B-powered amp driving them.  These, truly, are speakers made for low-powered amps. 

Just for kicks, I hooked up my solid state NAD amplifier, which is no arc-welder at 35 wpc, but is much more representative of normal amplifier power levels.  Although the NAD simply isn't as refined or tonally rich as my single-ended amps, I am happy to report that the Triumph Signatures are not one-trick ponies.  They worked just fine with the solid-state NAD and would certainly respond even better to a higher-quality solid state amp driving them.

The most striking sonic quality of the Triumph Signatures was the coherency and wholeness of its musical presentation -- there was an ever-present sense that music was being made while the Triumph Sigs were playing.  What I heard wasn't just woofers and tweeters making noise, it was melodies!  This superb music-making quality wasn't the result of any particular sonic trait that jumps out at the listener.  The bass wasn't earth-shaking, the midrange wasn't the most transparent or uncolored these ears have ever heard, and the highs didn't re-define clarity or shimmer . . . yet through it all there was music happening.  And if you take any of these comments about the way the Triumphs reproduced various parts of the sonic range as negative, you are missing the point.   As you step up the Coincident product lineup, you find more expensive speakers built for even higher performance.  I'm sure that Israel Blume intends his top-of-the-line speakers to do all things unsurpassed, and doesn't necessarily expect the same from the Triumph Signatures.  Rather, these speakers are meant to bring real music, without any gross errors of commission or omission, within the range of just about every audio and music lover.

I do feel the need to mention specifically the silk dome tweeter.  That baby is a real winner -- it sounds clear and articulate at both low and high volume levels, yet it imparts just a touch of sweetness to most anything played through it.  This wasn't detrimental to the music in any way, but it did help render listenable certain music where a razor-sharp tweeter might reveal flaws in the recording that you really didn't want to hear.  I never heard the previous version of the Triumph Signature where a different tweeter was employed, but this one is hard to beat at the price range the Sigs occupy.

As small speakers often do, I thought the Triumph Signatures threw a convincing and well-defined image above and behind the speakers.  These speakers accomplish that task as well or better than many considerably more expensive floor-standers.  The image was most believable when I maintained a listening position where the tweeters stayed close to ear level and where my seat was planted near the "sweet spot". 

For small speakers (for any speaker, really), the bass was full and satisfying, especially in my small listening room.  I didn't feel the need for a subwoofer, but then again I don't listen to much music that has either primary bass notes or harmonics below 40Hz.  It was easy to hear that Israel Blume tuned the cabinets to a high resonance point because there was no bass bloat or thump where I didn't want it.  The bass that was there was tuneful and well-controlled, if just a bit indistinct when things really get cooking, but that may have been as much the fault of the amp as the speakers.

I thought the Triumph Signatures were on their best behavior with my 13 wpc EL-34 amplifier, the extra watts over the 8 wpc 300B amp coming in handy to drive the music forward and keep the bass as tight and tuneful as possible.  That said, there was nothing objectionable about the Triumph Sigs driven by 300Bs.  In fact, many times during the review process, this combination resulted in what I would consider the most beautiful of sound on some small jazz combo stuff and vocals with piano accompaniment.  The Triumph Sigs are simply a great choice if your musical tastes fall on that side of the fence.

My final comment is simply one of encouragement to Israel Blume, and other speakers designers out there, to build more speakers that have this much going for them sonically and aesthetically, and are electrically compatible with lower-powered amplifiers.  The high-end audio world is going to continue to fragment into high-powered, multi-channel formats in one direction, and two-channel purists in the other.  My prediction is that two-channel purists are going to discover, more and more, the sonic joy of simple audio circuits that sound exceptionally good -- in other words, low-powered, single-ended tube audio.  As this plays out, and as the number of audiophiles using low-powered equipment grows, there will be an increasing need for suitable speakers.  With the Triumph Signatures by Coincident Speaker Technology, you have one very good choice, and it's affordable to boot.  I recommend that you hear this speaker.

- Paul Knutson -

Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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