Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
One of the advantages of reviewing equipment professionally is that I can experience products that would otherwise be difficult or even impossible for me to hear. My choices, like those of many SoundStage! Network readers, are limited by geography -- there are few audio dealers in my area. This becomes an even greater limitation when I’m interested in a product from a smaller company or, even worse, one based overseas. So when I was asked if I’d like to review a pair of limited-edition speakers built in a small town somewhere in northeastern France, I jumped on it.
Based in the small town of Soissons, Triangle Manufacture Electroacoustique has, over 31 years, earned a reputation for class and distinction with its entirely in-house designing, testing, and building of high-quality loudspeakers. With four model lines -- Color (entry level), Esprit, Genèse, and Magellan (flagship) -- Triangle keeps things simple and intuitive for prospective customers. One of their more recent models, and the focus of this review, is the 30th Anniversary Edition Esprit Antal ($3895 USD per pair).
Even as I removed the Esprit Antal AEs from their substantial double-boxed packaging, I knew that these speakers were special -- so special that merely looking at them provided me with more questions than answers. What was obvious, though, was that the Antal AE is very much based on the Antal Ex -- the two tower models have in common a three-way, bass-reflex driver configuration in the same 42.5"-tall cabinet. Each model also measures 8"W x 14"D, weighs 50 pounds, and stands on a clever five-footed plinth, borrowed from Triangle’s Genèse line, that’s designed to dissipate resonances into the floor via a channeling spike. This was about all I could confidently surmise through observation alone, so I read the literature, then contacted Richard Kohlruss, of local distributor VMAX Services, for the lowdown.
I was surprised to learn just how much time, research, and innovation have been poured into the Antal AE and the rest of the Esprit line. The Antals AE and Ex share the same computer-designed MDF cabinet construction. The design itself is highly refined, and uses laser accelerometry to pinpoint and model deformations in the cabinet across the audioband, to determine the optimal placements and quantities of internal bracing, as well as the best spots for the drivers and the forward-firing port. The Antal AE’s cabinet is brilliantly finished with ten coats of hand-rubbed Piano Black lacquer, which in my opinion is alone worth the $1000 price hike over the Ex.
Inside this classy enclosure are two of Triangle’s own T16EF100SGC1 6" bass drivers, which, in the company’s efforts to reduce weight and maximize rigidity, have injected-aluminum baskets and fiberglass diaphragms. Directly above these boomers is another Triangle-designed driver, the T13EF84MD1 4.5" midrange cone, with an ultralight diaphragm of cellulose fiber that’s said to offer an exceedingly natural tonal character. All three of these drivers are shared with the Antal Ex, as is the three-way crossover design that feeds the woofers everything below 250Hz, and the tweeter everything over 2.5kHz.
Sharing a separate chamber with the midrange driver is Triangle’s TZ2500 tweeter, also found in the Antal Ex and now upgraded for the Antal AE: The titanium diaphragm within the compression chamber of the regular TZ2500 has been upgraded with a waveguide of machined aluminum, similar to the version used in the Magellan line. Triangle has also completely remodeled the tweeter’s phase plug for a more linear in-room response, to take full advantage of the upgraded housing.
Considering the drivers’ low mass, it comes as no surprise that Triangle claims for the Antal AE a fairly high efficiency of 91dB, and that little power is needed to properly energize the speaker. What did surprise me was that, despite the Antal AE’s nominal impedance of 8 ohms, Triangle says that both it and the Ex can dip into the low 3-ohm range when approaching their 40Hz bass extension. Because of this, Triangle suggests that a modest 120Wpc from a high-quality amplifier will be enough to drive a pair of Antals to their full potential.
With its coats of hand-rubbed lacquer, polished compression chamber, golden-hued phase plug, and raised grille, the Antal AE is a visual stunner with an aura of pure class. There is a problem, however, in that the grille is attached with old-school fastening buds of easily breakable plastic. This surprised me, as Triangle has gone to the trouble of providing, to receive these buds, high-quality raised mounting receptacles. Magnetic fasteners like those used on most other speakers at or near this price would be more in line with the high quality of the rest of the cabinet.
I have always held in high regard companies that research, design, and build 100% of their products themselves -- not only because this has become a rarity, as more and more companies outsource these tasks, but also because I think it speaks volumes about the pride in craftsmanship and its products that a company must have to keep development and manufacturing in-house when much cheaper options are so readily available. Triangle is such a company, and it shows not only in their product quality, but in how well they perform.
When I positioned the Esprit Antal AEs along a long wall of my 25’L x 15’W room, I began by placing them some 3’ from the front wall, toed in about 15°. While listening to a few reference tracks I find helpful when positioning speakers, I found that that first attempt at placement yielded a very wide, deep soundstage, but that the bass was light, woody, and somewhat muddy. An hour of repositioning taught me that the Antal AEs benefit from a bit of boundary loading: they ended up only 8" from the front wall. The soundstage still extended well beyond the speakers and into the room, but without the depth the first positions afforded. In the end, I chose accurate bass reproduction over great depth of field.
When I asked Richard Kohlruss if I’d gotten it wrong, he confirmed my final positioning choices, noting that, like most other Triangle speakers, the Antal AE is designed to be positioned close to the front wall, to work well in the limited spaces of many European homes. Triangle also recommends that these speakers be used in rooms of 320 to 540 square feet, but I had good results when I briefly used them in my smaller, 250-square-foot room. With the positioning out of the way and connections made, I was ready to become acquainted with the sound of the Esprit Anniversary Edition Antals.
I began my listening sessions by cueing up "The Thrill Is Gone," from B.B. King & Friends: 80 (CD, Geffen 0602498842461). This track has a particularly punchy bass line, and I was curious to see how the Antals would fare. Listening at first with the absolute volume level on my Rotel RSP-1098 preamp set low at "40," I was pleased to hear that the bottom end didn’t fall through the floor with the Antal AEs, as it does with so many other midsize tower speakers. In fact, the bass line remained punchy, and was complemented by King’s full yet nondominant voice, accompanied by a rich piano and a smooth electric guitar.
What do I mean by "nondominant"? Well, I don’t mean "recessed." Listening at low levels can often result in a midrange-prominent sound in which you hear little else but voices and some of the higher frequencies. That wasn’t the case here: the Triangles maintained a good balance of voices and the subtle punch of the bass line. This was supplemented by an appropriately balanced top end; the sounds of cymbals were very sweet but subtle. It was surprising to hear such a unique balance: detail and resolution, but with no sizzle or excess sparkle on top.
Such a balance was not a bad thing, but it was unexpected -- I expect to hear more sparkle and sizzle from an aluminum horn-loaded tweeter. Instead, I was treated to a very natural sound that didn’t seem to highlight any specific region of the audioband at the expense of other regions. Impressed by the Antal’s sound at lower volumes, I hit the Repeat button and turned up the Rotel’s volume to "65." I again tried to hear any significant faults in the bass, and what I came up with was that the Antal AE gave no reason for complaint -- unless you’re a bass junkie. For a speaker of this cabinet volume with two decent-sized bass drivers, it had an uncharacteristically shallow bottom-end limit of 40Hz. That aside, I found the Antal’s bass fast, rhythmic, and well textured, no matter what I played. Paul Chambers’ double bass in "So What," from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (CD, Columbia/Legacy CS 64935), was rich and forceful, and detailed enough to give it an almost plucky character. It never left me wanting.
Listening to "So What" was a particular pleasure -- I couldn’t help but marvel at how solid and "in the room" Miles’s trumpet sounded. The imaging was simply spectacular. I enjoyed a similar experience when listening to the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s "Three to Get Ready," from Time Out (CD, Columbia/Legacy CK 65122) -- Paul Desmond’s alto saxophone was dead center, presented with reach-out-and-touch-it realism. I then went in search of something with a bit more of an acoustic nature, and settled on Patricia Barber’s Café Blue (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 737). Listening to her cover of Bobbie Gentry’s "Ode to Billy Joe," I was treated to a very well-articulated reproduction of a double bass on the right, while on the left, fingers snapped crisply, their leading edges very well defined, the sounds then decaying into the room. Finally, Barber’s voice was solidly planted just left of center stage, tightly focused and sounding very three-dimensional, with excellent microdynamics. Throughout my listening sessions, the Antal AEs never missed a beat -- with speakers that imaged this well, listening to music was not only entertaining, it was downright fun!
Eager to listen to some more dynamic material, I loaded Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (CD, Capitol CDP 82136 2) and skipped ahead to "The Great Gig in the Sky." The Antal AEs had no problem handling the soft piano passages one moment, Clare Torry’s large-scale voice the next. The nuances of Torry’s voice were so well portrayed that I almost winced every time I sensed her voice getting ready to give out. The levels of detail, realism, and natural tonal color reproduced by Triangle’s cellulose-fiber midrange cone were impressive, especially for the price. The fact that it worked so well with the Antal AE’s aluminum tweeter was testament to how advantageous it can be for a company to develop and make its own drivers in-house: these two components are a match made not in Heaven, but at Triangle.
Comparing the Triangle 30th Anniversary Edition Esprit Antal to other speakers was a refreshingly simple process: The Antal AE had such a distinctively charming character that it was easily identifiable. The most appropriate comparison I could make from among the speakers I had on hand was with my reference, KEF’s XQ40 ($5500/pair).
Performance-wise, the Esprit Antal AE and the KEF XQ40 are almost polar opposites. Each is a great-sounding speaker, but they differ in their strengths and weaknesses: wherever one excelled, the other didn’t. When I listened to "Keith Don’t Go," from Nils Lofgren’s Acoustic Live (CD, Vision Music VMCD1005), the Antal AE not only removed the subtle glare that the KEF XQ40 exhibits during this track, but Lofgren’s voice was more focused and less thin, and the strings sounded more natural, adding to the recording’s musicality and realism. However, the KEF was a bit more articulate in the bottom end, demonstrating increased weight and impact as the strings resonated. Although sounding more natural overall, the Triangle lacked the KEF’s speed, and couldn’t quite define the leading edges of Lofgren’s voice.
When I switched back and forth between the speakers during B.B. King’s "The Thrill Is Gone," the differences, again, were not subtle. Through the KEF, cymbals had sparkle and shimmer, and the bass, though not quite as punchy as through the Triangle, was cleaner and more present at lower frequencies. The Esprit Antal AE sounded sweeter and less visceral, but the XQ40 couldn’t keep up with the Triangle’s reproduction of the electric guitar, making it sound less natural, and lacking the smooth texture the Antal showcased again and again. In fact, no matter the material, the Triangle always excelled with stringed and percussion instruments. Finally, B.B. King’s voice was not as fleshed out or as focused through the KEF as it was through the Triangle, which took away some of the individuality and dimension that I enjoyed so much with the Antal.
Overall, each model did a formidable job with micro- and macrodynamics, maintaining subtleties and nuances of instruments, and creating before me a holistic picture. They just went about it in very different ways. Playing these speakers at high levels during my listening sessions revealed something else of interest worth noting. Based on the efficiency ratings of 91dB for the Triangles and 90dB for the KEFs, I would have expected to be able to set the volume and leave it, switching between speakers without adjustment. That was hardly the case. I needed to turn the Rotel RMB-1095’s volume up to "65" with the Triangle to achieve the same volume level I experienced at "62" with the KEF. This wasn’t a big deal -- the Rotel has tons of headroom -- but if you plan on pairing the Antals with a nice little tubed amp, it’s something you may want to think about.
À la fin
Quite early in this review, I came to the conclusion that Triangle’s 30th Anniversary Edition Antal is a very charming loudspeaker. And whether because of the naturalness of its midrange or its superlative imaging capabilities, the Antal AE also proved to be a very musical speaker. Add to that an elegant cabinet finished with ten coats of hand-rubbed lacquer standing on a five-footed, antiresonant plinth, and it’s easy to forget any shortcomings.
I have been charmed by these speakers, and commend Triangle Manufacture Electroacoustique for offering such a high-value product at such an attainable price. Every time I listened to them, they had a way of luring me into the music and not letting me go. Is there any better definition of a good loudspeaker? Not in my book.
. . . Aron Garrecht
- Preamplifier -- Rotel RSP-1098
- Amplifier -- Rotel RMB-1095
- Sources -- Rotel RCD-1055 CD player, Oppo BDP-93NE universal Blu-ray player
- Power conditioner -- Rotel RLC-1040
- Cables -- Analysis Plus Copper Oval-In interconnects, Black Oval 9 speaker cables, Transparent Audio digital cable
- Speakers -- KEF XQ40
- Subwoofer -- JL Audio Fathom f112
Triangle Esprit 30th Anniversary Edition Antal Loudspeakers
Price: $3895 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Triangle Manufacture Electroacoustique
Avenue Flandres Dunkerque
Z.I. Les Etomelles
02 200 Villeneuve Saint-Germain
Phone: +33 (0)3 23 75 38 20
Fax: +33 (0)3 23 75 38 21
North American distributor:
CP 8, 1217 Greene Ave.
Montreal, Quebec H3Z 2T1
Phone: (514) 931-1880
Fax: (514) 931-8891