Triangle Antal Loudspeakers
by Todd Warnke
More than for any of the other designers in the high end, I feel sorry for the speaker guys. Like quarterbacks, they get too much credit when it goes good and too much blame when it doesnt. And, like quarterbacks, so much of their performance is dependent on things over which they have no control. A speaker can never be more accurate than the source. It can never be more transparent than the preamp. It is controlled by an amp -- in fact, it is the terminating end of a circuit with the amp. And most significant, every facet of its performance is affected by room size and placement. What a job. And even if you do your part, along comes some bozo store clerk (or reviewer) who mates your speaker with the wrong amp and says the result is your fault. Or perhaps he just puts them in the wrong spot and then blames you if they sound wrong.
Why all this touchy-feely empathy for the speaker guys? Because the Triangle Antal speakers drove home this idea better than most speakers Ive had in my house. And that story is best told in its three distinct acts.
Scene opens with plucky reviewer lugging two boxes into office. Each box holds a 40" x 9" x 12" speaker.
Triangle is a name that carries low recognition in the North America, but not in their native France. Founded 18 years ago, they are third largest French loudspeaker manufacturer. Besides making their own speakers, Triangle designs and assembles all of their own drivers. At CES 98 they were showing with Audio Analogue in a room set up by the new North American distributor of both lines, Richard Kohlruss at Hi-Fi Forum. Besides getting on my good side by allowing me to blast Peter Gabriel, everyone in the room was relaxed, laid-back and under 40, the final point a good sign for audio if ever there was one. After auditioning and being impressed by the sound and refinement, I begged for gear. Richard sent me the Audio Analogue Puccini SE integrated amp (reviewed in August), and then went one step further by arranging for me to get the Triangle Antal speakers.
The $1795-a-pair Antals arrived at The Warnke Lodge and Music Spa in late winter. Having come from a stay with very musical and discerning minds back east, they were ready to play right out of their boxes, and play they did. The day they arrived I moved them into the office system, hooked em up to the recently arrived Audio Analogue Puccini SE integrated amp, gave them signal from a Sony XA20ES CD player (everything connected with Cardas wire) and sat down to listen.
Right from the start, and more than any other speaker Ive heard, they fit in to my office system and room with ease and perfection. Bass was tight and deep. The mids were rich but flowing. Highs were sweet, open and expressive. The images these speakers floated my boat. Resolution was high. And best of all, they communicated with emotional directness.
If youve been playing along at home for a while, you know I often talk about how components sound in the office, but you also know it isnt set up to be a high-rez, audio-critiquing den. Its a converted bedroom, and since I work for the worst boss imaginable -- myself -- of necessity I spend too much time there. And all that time there means I listen to a lot of music. In spite of the stacks of books, magazines, papers, computer parts and various components awaiting their time in the main system, this listening room serves two purposes. First, for break-in, its perfect. With low expectations and separation from the rest of the house, I can blast away without judgment or fear. But more importantly, it gives me a chance to get aquatinted with the strengths of a component without turning the critic in me on. Thats why I rarely let my office impressions forge expectations of what awaits in the main room. But the Antals sounded good, easily besting every other speaker that has passed through that room, and I could hardly wait to move them. But, with other components in line first, I kept finding excuses to work late and listen in the office.
My wife Robin, poor woman, would lose me right after dinner and then have to insist that I come to bed at midnight. I even took to shutting the door to both discourage her from disturbing me and to give me warning before she did enter the room. Without that warning she might have caught me in one of my frequent, private rendezvous with Sarah, Joni or (with a tremble, he wrote) Margo. The directness and richness of these speakers was really that good. And lest you think they are female-vocal specialists only, they arent. I had to keep the door shut during listening sessions with R. L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough (Fat Possum label mates and purveyors of elemental blues) to keep the suddenly materialized juke-jointers from spilling down the hallway. The door also served to restrain the unwashed during performances of the NYPO as well keeping the smoke confined to my room during late-night Blue Note recording sessions. Yeah, this was good stuff.
And then the day Id been waiting for came. Moving day.
Scene opens with discerning, good-looking, but modest reviewer carrying 44 pounds of speaker into his main listening room. He then exits stage left and returns with second speaker.
The Antals are a three-way, ported design. From top to bottom the drivers are a 1" titanium-dome tweeter, 5 1/8" midrange driver, and 6 1/4" woofer. Below the woofer is a 2" port. In the reviewers hand is a piece of paper that indicates speaker efficiency is 91dB and that the -3dB point is 40Hz.
So all I have to do is move these babies into the main room, sit back and enjoy. Drop em in along the long wall, just about where the Dunlavy SC-IIIs have ruled, hook em up, power the rig up and instant nirvana, right?
Well, after doing just that I popped the new Patricia Barber disc in the Theta Miles CD player, grabbed the dog and headed into the bedroom for a nap while the system warmed up. Plans aside, the pulse of the deep and powerful bass pulled me back to the listening room. Mesmerized by the bass I sat and fixated on the bottom end. My room hadnt seen, heard and felt bass this full and powerful since the $10k Kharma Ceramique 2.0s. So back to that question: Drop these speakers in and instant nirvana, right?
Wrong. Over the next several days a real problem emerged. The highs were detailed, balanced and open. The mids were rich, full, involving and clean. But the bass that had me transfixed was a mess -- nothing like the clean, tight and deep sound I was used to in the office. Although the Blue Circle BC6 amp has never had a problem driving any speaker Ive paired it with, I thought the 4-ohm minimum impedance of the Antals might merit a bit of amp experimentation. So out of the wings came the Warner Imaging VTE-201S. At a very conservative 100W per side, this neutral-sounding but powerful beast , like an electronic Will Rogers, has never met a speaker it couldnt control. Fixed, right?
Wrong. Same mess, only with slightly better definition. OK, in goes the Symfonia Opus 10. This thing will double down its 100W output all the way to 2 ohms. You want power, this is its definition. A tad dry, but oh so controlled. This combo was also a slight improvement, but still failed to tame the bottom end. What next? Could it be that the Audio Analogue integrated had been a magical partner for these speakers? Time to find out.
When it I put the Puccini in I wasnt sure what to expect. It seemed all wrong that it and it alone could control the Antals. But how else could I explain the sensational sound Id heard in the office but not here? Ten seconds into the Patricia Barber disc I had my answer. It wasnt the Puccini. It had to be something else.
So far this play has progressed following classic dramatic fashion. In Act 1 we meet Promising Hero. Hero impresses and excites with potential. Act 2 sees Hero fall. Distress! Confusion! What will he do? Which brings us to Act 3. Will the Hero arise and overcome adversity? Wait and see. The lights are dimming and the curtain is drawing back....
Sometimes being a reviewer sucks. Really and truly. I so wanted to like the Antals. In the friendly confines of the office they were world-beaters. Headliners. Superstars. And then the deep and devastating depression of the main room. How do I tell the world that these speakers arent right -- but they used to be? Yes, its my job, but it still hurts.
So, scratching my head, I sat down to rethink everything.
Ummm, its not the source. Ive used the Theta Miles for too long not be intimately aware of its considerable bass extension and, more important to this discussion, its bass control. Its not the preamp (besides my reference Audible Illusions L-1, I used a BAT VK-3i and the Transcendent Grounded Grid preamp), nor is it the amp. Ive tried wire by Nordost, Cardas, Audio Magic and JPS Labs. I heard changes commensurate with the sound of each component, but no combination I could cobble together seemed to conjure the magic I had heard in the office. So ruling out equipment I decided it was time to turn to the final frontier, the room. I had tried moving the speakers back and forth a bit, anywhere from 30 to 50 inches from the back wall, but this had not solved my dilemma. That left one final choice, rotate everything by 90 degrees.
Ive used a placement on the long wall of my room for years, and for two reasons. First, it seems to give me the best combination of staging and bass. I can get a wide spread, which, with speakers like the Dunlavys or the Kharmas, means a wide, lifelike stage with a solid image. Second, and of not incidental importance, the long-wall placement gets the highest Wife Acceptance Factor. Waiting until Robin had a business dinner planned, I moved everything around. So, right this time?
Right! Wow. What a fight. But then I knew that these speakers would be worth it. The office preview was so undeniably good that I just knew I had to explore every possibility.
With the speakers now firing down the room instead of across it, I went back to my reference setup (Theta Miles CD player; BAT VK-3i; Blue Circle BC6; cable by Cardas and Audio Magic; power cords by JPS, MIT and VansEvers; power conditioning by VansEvers) and sat down to listen. As Id hoped, the bass was now extended, powerful and detailed. It was still just a tad full, although it never overwhelmed the rest frequency range. In particular, the midbass and upper bass were everything you could and should expect from a true high-end design. Driving, visceral and powerful, every single track I played benefited. Rock rocked harder, blues were bluer, and waltzes had even a more stately meter.
The mids were even better. With an emotional directness that Ive only felt with my old Sound Lab Dynastats, they communicated not just the facts of recordings, but the meaning as well. Im aware this is an inexact description, but inexact as it may be, it also is the only complete one I can give. To try and get a bit more analytical (and perhaps risk missing the point), the mids were open and yet very full. Guitar sounds are a great example of what I mean. The string tone was distinct, but the wood was also full. Neither was accentuated nor diminished. Vocals were also impeccable. As I alluded to earlier, female vocalists were, almost literally, re-created in my room.
Treble was open, detailed, and every bit the equal of the midrange. Flutes were clear, the upper range of the piano was sharp and focused without ever getting crispy. Staging was a slightly mixed bag. Images were solid and never wandered. Singers movements were fully and clearly exposed. Jazz groups were locked in, and full orchestras were arrayed very well. It was only in matters of width and ultimate depth that the Antals missed just a bit. Width was as wide as I placed the speakers and not an inch more. Depth was well portrayed but just a bit short of what I have gotten used to in my main listening room. Macro dynamics were very good, but stopped short of bone-crushing. Of greater importance to me, the micro dynamics were superb.
To put the Antals skills in perspective, I engaged them in a little head-to-head listening with my Dunlavy SC-III speakers. The $4000 Dunlavys dont have the bass extension of the Antals, which might surprise some given the SC-IIIs physical size, but what they lack in reach they make up for with definition. Down to their limit of 40 or so Hertz, the SC-IIIs have bass that is more precise and more accurate, although of not quite the impact that the Antals are capable of. The Dunlavys also have greater clarity across the frequency range, something youd expect given their two-times-plus price advantage. They stage with greater accuracy, although the image density from the French speakers was, if anything, better than that offered by the SC-IIIs. In the final analysis the Antals more than held their own. They have a more exuberant, more emotional presentation than the Dunlavys, but the SC-IIIs have greater clarity and stage more precisely.
In all, the Antals delivered the sonic goods once I figured out what they needed from me. To find what a component is capable of often requires examining all the conditions under which you are using it. It also requires understanding just what it is you are integrating into your system. For $1795, the Antals offer bass that, in my experience, is unmatched for both extension and quality. The effort to unlock that bass is very minimal compared to the result. The rest of their performance is emotional and inviting.
Richard Kohlruss commented that the Triangle Antal speakers can be a bit like a Ferrari, more work than a Toyota but well worth it. Ive got to agree with him. For some reason the Antals worked perfectly in the office, and without any effort on my part. Since the other equipment in that room, while of surpassing value, falls a bit short of my reference setup, Id have to say that the felicitous match in that setup was room and not gear. The experience of the main room only confirms this.
I also want to reiterate that the effort expended to extract the full measure of the Antals sound was worth it. These are speakers of rare emotional power and impact. In both the office and in their final resting place in the main room they communicated meaning. That special power gives them grace, a virtue that is a mandate to do whatever is necessary to make them work. Once you do, their compromises are minimal, but their payoff is immense. Not for those looking for a plug-and-play solution, but for those willing to put in a bit of work (and really, how hard is it to walk speakers around your room?), the Triangle Antals are highly recommended.
Copyright © 1998 SoundStage!
All Rights Reserved