Index to This Issue

Home Page

 

Product Review - Triangle Electroacoustique Titus XS Mini-Monitor Speakers - June, 2001


Arvind Kohli


Divider

Specifications:

Drivers: Two 1" Titanium Dome Tweeters, One 5 1/8" Woofer; Ported

MFR: 60 Hz - 20 kHz ± 3 dB 

Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms

Crossover Frequency: 6.2 kHz

Efficiency: 90 dB/W/M

Power Handling: 120 Watts

Size: 11 1/8" H  x 18" W x 11" D

Weight: 15 1/2 Pounds Each

Finish: Sienna or Black

MSRP: $495/Pair USA


Triangle of America, c/o VMAX Services, P.O. Box 570, Chazy, New York 12921; Phone 1-800-771-8279, or 514-932-7786; Fax 514-931-8891; Web http://www.triangle-fr.com/

 

Introduction

My interest in mini-monitors arose from some very simple realities: the need for high-fidelity while accommodating a limited budget of space and funds. Mini-monitors are much easier to place than floor-standers and cost significantly less. The cost of additional drivers, crossovers, cabinet and freight adds up to more than you think.

The big compromises with most small speakers are lack of bottom end and inability to play very loud. Generally, they image better due to the smaller size of the front baffle. Theoretically, larger front surfaces provide a greater reflective area for higher frequencies to bounce off, and the resulting secondary waves will produce a smeared sound. Also, the sound is more coherent, i.e. sounds are coming more from a single point, because the drivers are physically closer together.

For my money, mini-monitors offer exceptional value for the dollar, and I personally am very comfortable with the compromises. Lower frequencies are usually better attempted by a subwoofer dedicated to the task anyway. But, I do insist that the mini-monitor put out a response at least down to 60 Hz, so the sub is assigned only the lowest and non-directional frequencies. Yes, stands cost money but not as much as the additional cost of a full cabinet. Power handling may be restricted, but I have never been able to approach the upper limits of any speaker in my room without wincing. If you really need that many decibels, then don’t waste your money on home audio gear, and get yourself a big P.A. system. The savings will also help you pay for the hearing aid you will need soon.

The Manufacturer

Renaud de Vergnette, who is currently President and Chief Designer, founded Triangle Electroacoustique in 1980. Their operations are based out of Soissons, a small town about an hour outside of Paris, France. They are distributed in North America by VMAX Services, owned by Richard Kohlruss, who was the source for the samples and much of the technical and background information for this review.

Although a well-established name in France and the rest of Europe, Triangle is relatively new this side of the pond. Their introduction to North America in 1996 was started through the French publications in Quebec, where VMAX is based, although warehousing for the U.S. market is located in New York State. Currently there are 20 dealers carrying Triangle products, and the sudden popularity of their speakers has made it difficult to keep up with demand. Indeed, I had to wait several months before a pair was available for review.

Renaud de Vergnette has stated the goal for Triangle is to bring high fidelity music listening to as many people as possible. The Titus XS is perhaps intended to be at the spearhead of that effort.

In Europe, Triangle is known as a speaker and driver manufacturer. Soon after they started operations, Renaud realized that the only way to fully be able to control the design of the speaker was to build drivers in house. Today they build all their own drivers, each specifically designed with a particular speaker in mind. They did also dabble into the DIY market a bit, where the full range T17 FLV-608 model gained them popularity.

Product Introduction

The Titus XS belongs to the Ecran line. "Ecran" literally translates to "Screen" in English, which implies theater, as in home theater. Like Americans, the French love cinema, and home theater is very popular, even if they are based on VCRs and budget receivers. Keeping this in mind, the Ecran line is designed to present a very easy load that can be driven by the modest outputs of multi-channel mass market receivers. Since Triangle’s stated goal is to provide the hi-fidelity experience to as many people as possible, that would mean not only producing low cost models, but also making sure they can be easily driven by budget-priced amplification. They are indeed thinking of the full impact on their customer’s wallet.

The Ecran line offers two bookshelf models (of which Titus is the smaller), three floor standers, a center channel, and one rear effects model. The entire line is designed to have a common tonality, so matching for home theater is worry free. The Titus XS is offered in North America at $495 USD, and the largest floor stander the Antal at $1,595. The Titus XS is not intended as a lesser model, just a smaller one in the Ecran line. Actually, the design and component quality is exactly the same as the Antal. This should give you some idea of the economics of mini-monitors compared to floor standers.

Triangle also has other lines and models, not all of which are currently available in North America.

Setup

For breaking-in, Richard recommended a minimum time of 100 hours, so I ran the speakers several hours a day for about 2 weeks before I attempted any serious listening. And indeed for the first time, with any audio equipment, I did notice a significant difference after breaking in. As Richard later explained, the spiders in the woofers are especially stiff, and bass response did get deeper after this initial period.

My listening room is 16’ by 16’ by 8’. For casual listening, the speakers were placed so that there were 70” between the tweeters, and 128” from the tweeters to the listening position. For critical listening sessions, all three points were about 70” from each other, and well away from room boundaries. I find this near field listening help me focus on the sound of the equipment with a drastically reduced impact from room reflections, nulls, and peaks.

I also tried listening with the speakers fairly close to a rear wall, and did not find the bass to get boomy. This is a benefit of front-ported models, and personally I prefer this design as it is more forgiving of realistic listening spaces. Again, they seem to be thinking of the realities of their customers when designing the speakers.

Triangle also recommends placing the XS on stands so they sit at ear level. On Richard’s recommendation, if you have a choice try mating them to neutral to warm electronics, this includes tube and hybrid amplification.

The Outside

The front of the Titus is available in Sienna and Carbon versions. Carbon appears black in all but the brightest room, and the review sample was supplied in Sienna. Keep in mind these are not the exotic wood veneers that we expect our better sounding transducers to come in. While, they must have saved us a tremendous amount of cost in the cabinet finish, I can assure you it looks like a million bucks. Only French sensibilities could take inexpensive materials and make it look this good. Over the years I have had many speakers in my house, but none have caught as many unsolicited compliments from my wife, family, and friends as the XS. I firmly believe that a fine appearance has as little to do with a large budget as it does have to do with good taste, and the Titus is my new mascot for this argument.

The back and sides of the enclosures are finished in a black pebble-grain matte vinyl wrap, mounted on a particleboard box. The front baffle is a slightly curved block of MDF, with a primer, sienna stain, and low gloss lacquer. It also sports raised brass collars for the grille. The grille is made of black fabric and sits extended about ˝” beyond the front baffle. It is the black/sienna contrast and raised grille that gives the Titus its dashing looks.  Incidentally, the raised collar has since made an appearance on a new line from a very prominent name.

The cabinet finish certainly shows Renaud’s commitment to his stated goal of introducing low cost hi-fidelity. I am not sure what a wood veneer would add to the cost, but besides the materials, the significant amount of skilled labor required to glue and finish wood veneers to a cabinet must be a significant part of the competition’s cost. Moreover, the MDF front allows to easily craft a curved baffle that reduces the reflections off the front of the cabinet. Reducing sound reflections from the front of the cabinet is said to improve imaging, since the sounds produced directly by the drivers are not smeared by reflections that follow closely behind.

The rear has two pairs of solid metal five-way binding posts, that seem to be gold plated. These are the most beautiful and exotic looking posts that I have ever seen, not that they would impact the sound, but it is nice to have a little flair in aesthetics, and the Titus is certainly designed with flair.

Although two pair of connectors are provided to allow for bi-wire and bi-amp options, Richard on behalf of Triangle states that there is no need for such fuss. The reason turns out to be the same as I got from Dynaudio, if you make your own drivers specifically designed for each model then you do not need to design patches upstream in the speaker, i.e. in the crossover or connectors. Again, the cost savings for another set of wires shows consideration for the consumer’s wallet. But, for those who really want to bi-wire, the connectors are there.

The Design

Triangle is one of the few speaker manufacturers that make all their own drivers in-house. And if you are serious about controlling the sound of your speakers, this probably is the only way to go. After all, in the end it is the driver that reproduces the signal, and in my opinion it is the most important component of the speaker.

The Titus tweeter is a 1” titanium dome and features double wound coils to better enable heat dissipation. The rear chamber of the tweeter is damped to reduce back waves and improve imaging.

The 5 1/8” treated paper cone woofer is set in an injected aluminum basket. All their woofers are made of the same materials, and paper is used for its lightness and natural tonality. A small and light woofer will be easier to drive and faster to respond, and the largest woofer in any Triangle product is only 6 1/4”. To compensate for the lightness, the paper is chemically treated to add stiffness, and the spiders on the woofer are especially stiff (calling for a long break-in). The end result is a woofer that is fast, easy to drive, and minimizes boominess.

Paper is hardly perceived as a glamorous material to use in a woofer, and it conjures images of cheap and flimsy (even though paper pulp cones are often used in some of the highest performance speakers out there). When you are trying to compete in a market with an estimated 500 other speaker manufacturers, consumer perception can really impact sales. And that is exactly what happened to Triangle in the early 90’s. Woofers made of exotic materials had gained great press, and Triangle refused to compromise and use anything but paper. As a result sales did suffer, but Triangle did not deviate from what they believed in. That kind of fortitude is something I can get behind.

Philosophically, Triangle would rather produce a full range driver to avoid messing with crossovers at all. Since that is very difficult to implement, the closest compromise is simple crossovers and drivers with a wide bandwidth. Let me explain. Most speaker crossovers in the 1 to 2 kHz neighborhood. According to Richard, this region is also very sensitive to the human ear, which would make phase and frequency shifts readily apparent. It would be better to move the crossover to a higher frequency where the ear may not notice minor aberrations in the design (and these are inevitable). An alternative would be to spend a lot of effort and money on the crossover, but this will increase cost, and even though it will reduce aberrations, it is impossible to have a perfect crossover with no flaws at all (digital crossovers come close though). A small and light woofer can perform into higher frequencies, and that is another reason for choosing the paper woofer. The crossover in the Titus XS is set at 6.2 kHz, where the human hearing is relatively less sensitive as seen in Fletcher-Munson curves; in this region we are also less sensitive to changes in loudness. Also, very few instruments play in this part of the spectrum, other than harmonics.

Nominal impedance is stated at around 4 ohms, which means that the impedance curves probably do not fluctuate wildly. Again, in this aspect Triangle and Dynaudio offer the same benefits due to drivers designed and made in-house. For those of you with tube amplification, the recommendation is to try the 4 and 8 ohm taps to see which you prefer.

Another point where Triangle departs from popular audio theory is cabinet damping. Triangle is only the second manufacturer that I have heard of that intentionally does not damp the cabinet as much as possible. Actually, the cabinet resonances are allowed and compensated for in the design of the drivers and crossover.

Overall, I would have to say that in the design of the Titus, Triangle has not let convention tie them down. It is very obvious to me that the focus is on hi-fidelity, value, practicality, and aesthetics.

The Sound

Well, I am not going to beat around the bush. Let me tell you exactly how I feel about these speakers. I bought them! And I cannot foresee them leaving me, ever. Now let me give you some specifics.

These are the best imaging speakers I have ever heard to date. The width and depth of the soundstage were at least every bit comparable to the considerably pricier Dynaudio Contour 1.1, but what was most impressive was the solidity of the images. Usually, vocals that are imaged in the center lose their image and sound like ‘fat mono’ smeared all over the room when you get too close to the speaker plane. Not so with the Titus. Even when I would get up to change the volume (yes it is a remoteless passive preamp), I was able to get a dead center vocal image.

"Track 10" (John Atkinson, Test CD 3, Stereophile, STPH 006-2) is a great recording for this purpose. It has several takes of John Atkinson walking across a 45’ stage ringing a cowbell. Like the Contour, the sound was not even in the same room, it sounded like he was down my hallway that was adjacent to the right channel.

"Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" (Paul Simon, Graceland, Warner Bros., 946430-2) is another good track. The backup vocals of Ladysmith Black Mambazo were spread steadily and evenly across the stage and behind Paul Simon.

"Zapateado" (Pepe Romero, Flamenco, Phillips, 422069-2) is a great track to judge depth of soundstage. The footwork of the baile on the wooden stage gave me a clear impression as he moved forward, back, and sideways.

"Acoustic Drum Solo" (Russ Henry, Test CD 2, Stereophile, STPH 004-2) is a stereo recording of a drum kit. The image was precise enough for me to place the drums in both dimensions (width and depth). This is also a great track for speaker placement, and I was able to experiment with aiming till I had an image roughly the size of an actual drum kit about 8’ in front of me. This ended up being with the tweeters aimed at my head.

Detail was excellent, and rare to find anywhere near this price point. Only in direct comparison with the Contour 1.1, and only at louder levels did I notice that more was possible. Of course, the Contour itself is an exceptional product and retails for $1,700. At softer levels the Titus lost very little detail, whereas the Contour only revealed its full potential at higher volumes. Both were a considerable notch above the Monitor Audio Bronze 3 which is actually priced $100 higher than the Titus. I think it is very important for a speaker to be enjoyable at even the lowest volume settings; often people listen to music while entertaining, reading, or whatever else. A speaker that is enjoyable in all these settings is much more useful than one that does not start to reveal its potential unless at moderate or loud levels.

Some other tracks I used to test for details were "Angel" (Sarah McLachlan, Surfacing, Arista, 18970-2) and "My Skin" (Natalie Merchant, Ophelia, Elektra). They have very soft passages, and on lesser speakers the syllables at the ends of some verses are barely audible. The Titus revealed everything they had to say including the draw of their breath.

Naturalness of instruments is another very important aspect in the overall judgment of a loudspeaker. "Acoustic drum solo" was perhaps the best test I could come up with. I could easily identify the various drums within the kit; even on the soft drum roll sections.

My other references for this criteria are the Alto Sax on "O Grande Amor" (Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Verve, 314512414-2) and the Double bass in "All or Nothing at All’ (Diana Krall, Love Scenes, Impulse, IMPD233). The Titus did absolute justice to the Alto Sax, but the restricted bottom end caused the Double Bass to not have as much weight when compared to the Contour 1.1 or PSB Image 5T. However, when I turned on the Velodyne FSR15, with the low-pass set to about 60 Hz, it added back just exactly that little bit of weight that was needed. And that is exactly what you might expect from any mini-monitor.

The Titus was used many a night to play a final CD as I fell asleep, and at even the lowest setting on the Audio Analogue Puccini SE, I felt immersed in each note of the music. Indeed, this speaker was designed to sound musical at a variety of listening levels in the real world. "Raga Shuddha Todi" (Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, Nimbus, NI7048) is the CD I used most often at this time. It is a very complex and contemplative piece of work, the entire CD being a single rag. And even at the lowest possible volume setting, I could be involved enough to stay up listening long after I had turned the lights off. Indeed, it took me many listens to begin to digest this incredible composition. But this was only possible with the incredible low-level capabilities of the Titus.

Another important aspect of speaker evaluation is female vocals. On "Angel" (Sarah McLachlan, Surfacing, Arista, 18970-2) there was no sibilance at all. I could notice the reverb that must have been added to the vocals, and it created a slight distant, echoey effect that I had first heard with the Contour 1.1 and heard again with the Titus. Unfortunately, this artificial effect has made me like the recording less than before. Sometimes, a revealing system will uncover warts along with hidden treasures. But that is how I would rather have it.

Male vocals can be useful to reveal a boomy bass. "Girl from Ipanema" and "O Grande Amor" (Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, Verve, 314512414-2) has some resonance at passage ends inherent in the recordings. I use this recording often to judge male vocals. The Titus did an excellent job of controlling the resonance; credit would probably have to go the very stiff spider in the bass driver.

"Rollin & Tumblin’" (Doug McLeod, Test CD 3, Stereophile, STPH 006-2) is an excellent standard for baritone male vocals, and the Titus did an excellent job of sounding natural and not tipping on the side of boomy or weak.

In my ‘2.1 channel’ home theater setup, the Titus disappeaed.  For the most part I did not notice the presence of the speakers, because the easy and naturalness of the sound would let me get completely engrossed in the movie. I really did not feel like a center channel was needed at all, the phantom image was so very convincing. Again, the presence of a dedicated subwoofer with the low-pass set to about 60 Hz really did help. The Titus justifies belonging to the Ecran line, as it certainly did considerably add to the enjoyment of watching movies and even television, while sonically it slipped out of notice.

Conclusion

Like I said, I bought them, and expect to never let them go. Obviously, I absolutely love them. But to judge if they are for you, is up to your ears and needs. I am willing to bet that these will really appeal to you, unless you have a budget the rest of us can only envy and your ears will not settle for anything less than the very cream of today’s technology. So, if you are in the market for small loudspeakers, you really must give these a listen. They already seem to be in great demand, and you may have a wait to contend with. I did, but it was worth the wait.

I would like to commend the folks at Triangle Electroacoustique and Richard Kohlruss not only on bringing such an excellent product to market, but also selling them at an unbeatable price. It is heartening to see someone so concerned with bringing hi-fidelity to the masses with utter disregard for conventional techniques, profiteering, and hype.

Associated Equipment:

Speakers: Monitor Audio Bronze 3' Dynaudio Contour 1.1

Subwoofer: Velodyne FSR-15

Amplifiers: Bryston 4B, Acurus DIA 150 (integrated), Audio Analogue Puccini SE (integrated)

Preamplifier: PS Audio IV

DVD: Panasonic A-320, Pioneer 414

Connectors: Self-designed

 

- Arvind Kohli -

Divider
© Copyright 2001 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
Return to Table of Contents for this Issue.