Of the reviews we’ve recently published, I was most intrigued by Diego Estan’s May 1 writeup of Triangle’s Borea BR03 loudspeaker, on SoundStage! Access. Of particular appeal was what he described as an “open, airy, lively midrange that was smooth yet rich, and with inviting tonality.” He concluded: “In these ways, the BR03’s midrange reminded me of that of my reference Focal Sopra No1s.” That’s high praise for a speaker costing just $549/pair (all prices USD) -- his Focals cost $9990/pair, more than 18 times the Triangles’ price -- and makes the Borea BR03 a perfect candidate for “System One,” my column devoted to budget gear.
Setup and description
Diego and I both live in Ottawa, so when he was finished with the Borea BR03s, he dropped them off at my place, where I set them up on the 24”H Monoprice Monolith stands ($109.98/pair) I wrote about in February. The BR03’s two ports are both on its front baffle, which means that its rear panel can be placed pretty close to the front wall, to better reinforce the bass. However, I left my stands in the same places I do for all minimonitors that pass through this room, which put the BR03s’ backsides 18” from the wall -- still not all that far out into the room.
The BR03 and its three Borea siblings are available in one of three vinyl veneers: White, Walnut, or Black, the latter two textured to look like wood. The review samples were Black veneer. I had mixed feelings about the way they looked. This conventional box speaker weighs 15.4 pounds and measures 14.9”H x 8.1”W x 12.4”D, including the magnetically attached grille. The grille, which stands slightly proud of the front baffle, has chamfered edges that are angled inward, toward the baffle -- the reverse of what you see on most grilles and, to my eyes, a nice touch. But unlike the Q Acoustics 3030i minimonitor ($399/pair), which I recently wrote about, with its widely radiused corner edges from front to back, the BR03 has sharp edges and pointed corners, which make it look rather ordinary.
The shape of its cabinet aside, the Borea BR03’s build quality did not disappoint for the price -- I saw no flaws in the joins, or anywhere else. And the visual design of the front of the speaker is attractive, as Diego pointed out: “the midrange-woofer cone is white, with a black surround and dustcap, and it’s circumscribed by a white ring with small gaps at top and bottom. Those gaps vertically align with the pale-silver vertical extrusions of the tweeter’s phase plug. In each of the baffle’s lower corners is a port, and below and between the ports is Triangle’s name. The Borea BR03’s baffle is an example of exceptional industrial design nicely prettying up what would otherwise be a plain-looking box.” I also liked the way the baffle itself, which has a matte surface (dark gray on my review samples), is made to look inset into the front of the cabinet, framed by the edges of the side, top, and bottom panels. Bottom line? Thankfully, the BR03s sound better with their grilles off (see below) -- in my opinion, leaving them off lets these speakers look and sound their best.
The Borea BR03’s paper-coned midrange-woofer is 6.5” in diameter, its silk-dome tweeter 1”. The tweeter, apparently used throughout the Borea line, is interesting in having a shallow waveguide and a two-piece phase plug unlike any other I’ve seen, and which Triangle claims “significantly reduces the directivity [of the high frequencies] regardless of your listening location in the room.” Considering the open, spacious sound I heard (see below), it might do just that.
The Borea BR03’s specified sensitivity is 90dB/W/m, and its nominal impedance 8 ohms. The latter spec was confirmed by our measurements, but we found the speaker’s sensitivity actually to be about 87dB, as you’d expect from a speaker with this driver configuration and cabinet size. That discrepancy aside, I found the Borea BR03 not hard to drive -- I used Schiit Audio’s Ragnarok 2 Fully Loaded integrated amplifier ($1799), which outputs 60Wpc into 8 ohms and which I wrote about in April, via QED XT25 speaker cables ($849/2m pair), which I wrote about last October. Even in loud listening sessions, the Schiit never broke a sweat.
To listen to music from Tidal HiFi I used a Google Chromecast Audio streamer ($35 when available), optically connected via a Google Mini interconnect (TosLink, $10 when available) to Schiit’s Bifrost 2 DAC ($699), which in turn was attached to the Ragnarok 2 with a 1m pair of J&D balanced interconnects (about $20). To play LPs, I used the same Pro-Ject Audio Systems X-1 turntable ($899) that’s been part of System One since early 2019, connected to the Ragnarok 2’s built-in phono stage with the X-1’s stock phono cable (RCA). System One is set up in my living room, which measures 19’L x 15’W x 8’H. To listen, I sat about 12’ from the speakers.
Not long after I dropped the needle on side 2 of Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s Against the Wind (LP, Capitol SOO-12041) and the album’s title track began, I knew the Triangle Borea BR03’s sound had some special qualities. The acoustic guitar and piano that start the song off sounded very lively yet exceedingly natural; Seger’s voice was a little upfront, very clear, and well delineated from the rest of the mix; the cymbals also sounded a bit forward yet clean, and the spread and decay of each stroke was very spacious; and the kick drum punched into the room with a tautness and control that made it sound as a kick drum should: forceful, but without added boom. The combination of these qualities, among others, produced the best-ever reproduction of this track that I’d heard in any of my System One setups. The Borea BR03 and I were off to a great start.
As I listened to the rest of the side, the same sonic qualities remained, along with something more -- these speakers did a fabulous job of getting the sound away from themselves and out into the room. The cabinets sonically “disappeared” into the room better than have the boxes of any other budget-price speakers I’ve heard. The BR03s’ openness was slightly reduced with their grilles installed, but the difference wasn’t great -- they still sounded more spacious than any of the other speakers I’ve had in System One. But the BR03s definitely sounded better without their grilles -- if you buy a pair, try to use them that way.
I then put Bryan Ferry’s solo album from 1985, Boys and Girls (LP, Warner Bros. 9 25082 1), on the turntable and played the first track, “Sensation.” It sounded nothing short of, well, sensational. Like Seger’s voice throughout Against the Wind, Ferry’s was presented slightly forward and sounded exceedingly clear, with terrific presence -- I felt I could reach out and touch him. The speakers again showed off the openness of their sound by getting it out and away from themselves, projecting a soundstage that extended just past their outer side panels.
The next track, “Slave to Love,” sounds as if it could have been included on Roxy Music’s Avalon (1982), for which Ferry wrote or cowrote every song, and sang lead on all. Here Ferry’s voice was again prominent in the mix, but what impressed me more was how the BR03s managed to reproduce this track’s relatively deep bass, which approaches 40Hz in my room. This provided the sound with decent enough bass weight that was also taut and with the utmost control. The result was a really good rhythm to bop along to.
Had I listened to only those two albums, the Borea BR03 would have earned my highest recommendation for sound quality at the price.
But spinning Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town (LP, Columbia PC 35318) somewhat tempered my enthusiasm. A few exceptions aside, Springsteen’s voice wasn’t lifted from the mix as Seger’s and Ferry’s had been, and the recording’s inherently thin, bright sound showed through here, particularly with cymbals, which sounded a bit too bright. But there were also moments of fine sound, as in “Something in the Night” and “Candy’s Room,” in which Springsteen’s voice was recorded with more heft. With these tracks I heard a midrange presence similar to what I’d heard on the Seger and Ferry albums. The Borea BR03s also brought out exceptional detail from all tracks on the Springsteen album, perhaps because of their tilted-up treble. But on the whole, I was underwhelmed by the speaker’s sound with this album.
Unfortunately, Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love (LP, Columbia COC 40999) suffered the same fate, which surprised me -- its sound isn’t as inherently thin as that of Darkness on the Edge of Town, and its bass is more powerful, something I thought would have shone through. But it sounded a bit too bright through the BR03s, and not as fleshed out in the low end as I’ve heard through other minimonitors of similar size. Q Acoustics’ 3030i minimonitors, which preceded the Triangles on the same stands, had reproduced Tunnel of Love with a sound that was fuller and less bright -- they could reach about 10Hz lower in the bass than the Borea BR03s.
That’s not to say that the Borea BR03s sounded bad playing Springsteen, just that they didn’t punch above their weight as they had when playing the Seger and Ferry LPs. This led me to believe that the quality of their sound depended on the recording played.
I tried some women’s voices. With side 1 of Barbara Streisand’s Greatest Hits: Volume 2 (LP, Columbia FCX 35679), I heard the same things I’d heard with the Springsteen LPs: too thin through the midrange, a bit too much treble, not enough bass. Yet when I streamed “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have -- But I Have It,” from Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Interscope/Tidal) -- a track Diego had also played through the Triangles -- I heard in the reproduction of her voice precisely what he had: “smoothness, detail, and reach-out-and-touch-her presence. . . . The BR03s conveyed the subtleties of Del Rey’s singing, including her inhalations, little inflections, even the very-low-level sounds of her lips and mouth as she formed syllables -- no detail was left obscured.” Check, check, and check.
From Lana Del Rey I moved to St. Vincent (Annie Clark) and “Los Ageless,” from her MassEducation (16/44.1 FLAC, Loma Vista), from 2017 -- all-acoustic reworkings of the highly processed, largely electronic dance tracks on her Masseduction, released the year before. “Los Ageless” features Clark’s expressive singing accompanied only by Thomas Bartlett’s close-miked acoustic piano. As I’d heard with Del Rey’s “Hope . . . ,” Clark’s closely miked voice was reproduced by the BR03s with lots of presence and dazzling detail, with even her subtlest inflections laid bare.
The Borea BR03s superbly reproduced Bartlett’s piano -- its rich, robust sound was in full force, with the speakers sounding completely composed even in the loudest passages. From 3:27 to 3:50 Clark’s singing steadily increases in volume, after which the music steadily quiets, to the delicate and beautiful ending. But from 3:27 to 3:50 Bartlett, too, is playing a crescendo, and its sound can challenge some speakers, resulting in the sounds of Clark’s voice and Bartlett’s piano growing congested -- in other words, not as clear. But even at what I’d call an above-average volume level, at which you’d have trouble hearing the speaking voice of a person standing near you, the BR03s sounded unstrained, composed, and clear at my listening position. This surprised me -- almost all budget speakers I’ve played this song through begin to sound at least a little resonant and muddled. As with Seger’s “Against the Wind,” this was the best I’d heard “Los Ageless” reproduced by any System One setup.
I streamed “Pacing the Cage,” from Bruce Cockburn’s The Charity of Night (16/44.1, True North), to hear how Cockburn’s closely miked voice would be reproduced. When speakers produce too much lower-midrange energy, they can give his voice too much presence, to the point that it sounds chesty, even bloated; too little lower-midrange energy and his voice can sound too thin. The BR03s erred just a bit on the thin side, but not enough that Cockburn sounded too thin -- there was still a healthy-enough dose of presence, and the speakers again did an exceptional job of projecting the sound freely into space. It wasn’t the best I’d heard this track reproduced by a System One, but it was still very good.
I concluded my critical listening with two playings of the first side of a 1979 Canadian pressing of Dire Straits’ Communiqué (Mercury SRM-1-3791), followed by the same tracks streamed at 16/44.1 from Tidal. When I first heard “Once Upon a Time in the West,” I thought the treble might be overemphasized -- Pick Withers’s cymbal strokes at the start really popped at the front of the mix, perhaps a bit too much -- but by the time I got to the end of the song, which is filled with cymbal strokes recorded to sound more spacious than at the beginning, my ears welcomed any emphasis the speakers were giving the treble. The cymbals sounded clean, airy, and very alive -- I liked it. But unlike the Springsteen albums, where his voice was getting lost in the mix and the bass was light, Mark Knopfler’s singing was always very apparent -- and the bass, though not the deepest in the world, or as deep as the Q Acoustics 3030i stand-mounts could muster through the same system in the same room, was nonetheless tight, with enough weight to let Withers’s forceful drumming shine through.
The sound from Tidal’s digital stream of Communiqué surprised me. I’d assumed it would be hands-down better than my 41-year-old Canuck LP, and it wasn’t. While all the qualities I’d heard from the LP remained -- a slight emphasis in the treble, enough bass extension with great punch, and a midband that propped up the vocals just a bit -- the bass sounded a tad thuddish, and the airy cymbal sounds that close out “Once Upon a Time in the West” didn’t sound quite as airy as they did from vinyl. What’s more, the stream was no more dynamic than the LP, and I thought that, because it’s digital, it should be. Those differences, however, had nothing to do with the speakers; instead, I was hearing differences among recording formats and/or the source components I was playing them through. When it came to revealing such details, the Borea BR03 was a winner.
Listen for yourself
After I’d done all my critical listening, I held on to the Triangle Borea BR03s a few more weeks and listened a lot more, to both digital streams and to LPs, because I so liked the speakers’ sound. With most of my music, the BR03s sounded nothing short of superb, and often sounded spectacular, in all the ways outlined above. This put my impressions right in line with Diego’s. Yet also like Diego, I found that the Borea BR03’s sound had a definite character -- mostly, a little bit of emphasis in the midrange and the top of the treble. These qualities, when reproducing the right type of music, could produce an amazing sound -- but with other types of music, the result could be sound that was merely OK.
I recommend the Triangle Borea BR03 as wholeheartedly as Diego did, but with a caveat: Before laying down any cash, someone who’s serious about buying a pair of these should do all they can to hear them with the music they most prefer. In a world with fewer and fewer hi-fi retailers, that’s getting more and more difficult to do, but this is one speaker that pretty much demands to be heard before it’s bought.
Diego Estan loved Triangle’s Borea BR03, and so did I. Now go listen to see if you do, too.
. . . Doug Schneider