September 1999Triangle Lyrr XS Loudspeakers
by Srajan Ebaen
Headquartered in Soissons, France and with distribution in 20 countries, Triangle Electroacoustique follows JMlab and Cabasse as Frances third-largest loudspeaker manufacturer, with over 300 dealers in France alone. Triangle is one of those rare but enviable speaker-design houses that manufactures, assembles and tests each and every drive unit. This even includes proprietary coaxial automobile drivers. Not too many manufacturers can lay, or afford to stake, a similar one-stop claim.
However, this kind of control truly liberates a loudspeaker designer to pursue his very own personal vision without being limited by off-the-shelf parts. If, like Triangles mastermind Renaud de Vergnette, you believe in ultra-wide-bandwidth midrange cones to push crossover points far beyond the critical vocal range, you can now proceed from a clean sheet and specify not just this midrange but perfectly complementary tweeter and bass units as well. This opens up performance advantages and allows a complete design approach over all aspects of the final end product. Amongst other things, it eliminates the need for complex, reactive and potentially amplifier-draining crossovers that must often force two or more standard drivers with different sensitivities and phase linearities, among other differing characteristics, to work together. It also means that enclosure size neednt be dictated by the drivers load requirements.
Building custom drivers from the ground up allows the engineer to set up whatever prior parameters he fancies, including cone geometries, excursion and thermal behavior. For Triangles team, efficiencies of 90dB or higher, fast transients and lifelike dynamics were paramount objectives. Triangle was adamant also about fiber-oriented cellulose for midrange and bass units. Such insistence on so common a material did impact Triangle loudspeaker sales for a period while public perception denounced paper in favor of hi-tech materials such as Kevlar, plastics and synthetic compounds. But Triangle stuck to its guns, and today some of the most en vogue drivers, like the famed Scan-Speak carbon-fiber units, are again really mostly paper pulps. Sometimes simple is better.
To preserve a trademark acoustic signature across the entire line, Triangle uses drivers of identical cone, surround and spider materials and which share the same injection-molded aluminum baskets. The more full-range models simply feature drivers of higher complexity and sophistication, and more of them. Thus even cash-strapped music lovers who enter on the lines ground floor are rewarded with a full dose of Triangle sound, just on a smaller scale. Ah, democracy in action!
Before we investigate le son, lets take a look at le cube. The Lyrr XS speakers are finely finished four-foot-tall slender columns with a footprint of less than one square foot. Immaculately veneered edges bespeak Old World craftsmanship, and the finish is a tightly grained, very handsome copper-toned beech. The models nomenclature is proudly displayed up front on a sunken-in matte-gold decal with high-accent lettering and the companys logo.
The Lyrr XS speakers are front-ported three-way designs with triple paralleled 6.5" bass drivers. From top to bottom, youll see a TZ22xs 1" dual-magnet titanium dome tweeter, the T16 PP1220 6.5" cellulose midrange with four-fold pleated surround and rubber phase plug, and three T16 DR150M cellulose woofers sized identically to the midrange. Like Vandersteens famous 2Wq subwoofer that uses triple 8" drivers to arrive at the equivalent surface area of a 14" woofer, the Lyrrs three 6.5" bass drivers combine the radiating area of one single 11" woofer. The narrow front baffle that results from using small-diameter woofers tends to improve a speakers imaging abilities, never mind that gorilla coffins the width of refrigerators have lost interior design votes for years.
Frequency response is given as 40Hz-20kHz. Thats decidedly modest bass extension for such a large, multi-driver speaker. The 93dB sensitivity means the Lyrrs need very little power to come alive, transforming even puny amps into brute behemoths of the heavyweight variety. Theoretically, this would make the Triangles ideal candidates for the micro-power crowd of 300B or even 2A3 tube aficionados who are always searching the land for affordable full-range speakers with benign load characteristics. But the Lyrrs nominal 4-ohm rating, dipping to 3 ohms at 40Hz and 80Hz and peaking at 16 ohms in the lower treble, suggests that only SET amps with robust output transformers should apply. Richard Kohlruss of Hi-Fi Forum, North American distributor for Triangle speakers, reports terrific results with the Unison Research S8 845-based 24Wpc integrated. I arranged for a different single-ended to report about compatibility with low-powered single-ended triode amplifiers in my own environment. Continuous power handling is rated as 150W, with permissible peak power of 250W. Allied to the 93dB sensibility, this blatantly screams at you that the Lyrrs will play way louder than is good for you. Crossover points are specified as 300Hz and 6kHz.
Four gold-plated five-way terminals with 5/16" center posts allow for bi-wiring. To be in compliance with overbearing European safety regulations, Triangle was forced to plug up the banana option with little color-coded plastic caps. If you fancy banana terminations, these caps must be removed. Yours truly took the lead and a very sharp drywall screw and carefully tapped the screw into the tight-fitting plastic plugs. One or two turns by hand and the screw would bite. The plugs could then be gently lifted out.
Taking a final look at the drivers, I noticed a very unusual feature. Triangle uses Allen bolts to flush-mount the drivers to the cabinet. Unlike wood screws that can strip the MDF when over-tightened, the Lyrrs Allen bolts are counterfitted with T-nuts on the cabinets inside. But dont go nuts and fish for your Allen wrench. None of these needed adjustment from transit, and in all likelihood they never will. Thats more common with standard screw-mounted drivers. Sweating details like these means somebody at Triangle is rather insistent about quality.
I must mention that my current listening room is unusually large -- 17'W x 30'D x 14'H, with openly adjoining dining room, kitchen, entry, spiral staircase and mezzanine. The Lyrrs were spaced 7.5' apart, toed-in, and 90" removed from the rear wall, 55" from the sides. They could undoubtedly overwhelm smaller rooms with their prodigious bass capabilities.
Getting it on
Richard Kohlruss told me to account for at least 200 hours of break-in, which I did by pointing the speakers at each other, wiring one out of phase, and driving the pair with on-hand electronics. From my days at Meadowlark Audio, Id expected as much even without such warning. But I did sit down briefly well before then, just for a quickie.
Caramba! Ole! What the hell?
What jumped in my face was musical energy projected with such verve and panache, so full-bodied and powerful, I instinctively flashed on a matador in the arena -- the moment the bull enters and sets eyes on him. Immediately the atmosphere charges with tension, danger and excitement. Then the beast lowers those horns and charges. Phew, not for the faint of heart, I admit. Everything I had read about Triangles design philosophy -- and there isnt that much to read -- converged at dynamics, aliveness and speed as design objectives of overriding import. Hmmm. To be grabbed by the short and curlies like this makes you take note. Now I was becoming very anxious to get into serious-listening mode and do that gladiator-matador thing again. Must be my cold Germanic blood in need of some shock therapy. Back went the speakers to their close-as-possible face-off, a thick blanket covering them like a dubious Mafia package. Due to the partial cancellation of such set-ups, higher volume levels conveniently hasten boring and endless repeat break-in.
Getting skewered: horns and other pointed subjects
Time to revisit the Lyrrs. I was determined not to get carried away. Keep my cool. Remain objective. As precaution, I reclined my leather chair a bit further than usual, put on my deluxe white terry-cloth robe, slippers and all, cuppa tea and crumpets within reach.
Just kidding. I did the opposite. Remembering the thrills of the prior sneak preview, I went to my substantial flamenco collection and picked out El Potitos Andando por los Caminos [CBS 466822-2]. This young cantaor, accompanied by Paco de Lucia and Tomatito, ought to curl my hairs with searing intensity if all this matador stuff hadnt just been a one-time fluke based on the phase of the moon or some such unaccountable, unrepeatable occurrence. I set the volume slightly high, leaned back in my chair and cued up track one.
Moments later all bodily signs of stimulated alertness got triggered instantly. Thats perfectly natural when a speaker communicates the emotional charge of music as brilliantly as these Lyrrs do. Trouble is, this doesnt happen a lot. Most audiophile-approved speakers do amazing things with sonic byproducts like pinpoint imaging. However, the sheer jump factor of live music is often better captured by pro designs. While you may cringe at this statement, a good high-sensitivity loudspeaker with horn-loaded drivers -- the norm in pro applications -- can make mincemeat out of many a high-end speaker in terms of immediacy and attack. Audiophile versions of horns, while rare, combine this hot-blooded temperament with the more civilized demands of sophisticated listeners. The sculptural and very expensive Avantgardes come to mind, especially when driven by single-ended triodes.
Lets return to El Potito. Transients and their leading edges blister like electric arcs from the strings of Paco and Tomatito while the adolescent cantaor sings with such fierceness and passion that only a listener with a rusty pacemaker could fail to be enthralled. I decided to be indulgent and go with the flow. Maintaining a minor pretense at objectivity, words such as "vivid, direct, compelling, bold, exciting, visceral, gripping and electrifying" came and went like vapor -- the real thing was so much better. Frankly, the recording quality is OK, but nothing to write home about. Ive taken this disc to trade shows. Whenever I asked an exhibitor to play the first track, hed invariably fade it out well before halftime. With the Lyrrs, this album was transformed. Two of the worlds finest flamenco guitarists were displaying their bravura chops while the young Potito followed in the footsteps of the illustrious late El Camaron, with furrowed brow, pained expression and smoking with duende and emotional abandon. Placed well behind the speakers at proper standing height, his high voice was preternaturally present. Needless to say, my reclining chair ended in the upright position without any apparent doing on my part, just like in the old days of playing in a chamber ensemble when each player sits on the seats edge, spine erect and center of gravity slightly forward.
I realized, though, that this wasnt proper reviewing etiquette. I was having way too much fun. The next album needed to be classical, serene and benign and inspire appropriate audiophile behavior. Prokofievs stunning Symphony No. 5 as played by the Scottish National Orchestra under Neeme Järvi [Chandos 8450] was cued up to the mysterious Adagio. After the wave-like opening of the movement, the clarinet introduces the main theme. Here the soloist was placed far beyond the wall behind the speakers, outside the room actually. This realistically layered the player behind the multiple rows of strings and the first row of woodwinds, the flutes and oboes. I marked off an outstanding sense of depth. This might surprise those who correlate immediacy with forwardness. Yes, the Lyrrs are very immediate and fast and start and stop on a dime -- no, make that a penny, the absolutely smallest increment you can think of. But this does not make them in-your-face speakers. They place the soundstage well behind and, when appropriate, far outside themselves.
Without a scale its hard to tell you exactly how much, but the sense of weight was stunning. The Lyrrs bass is so extended, taut and robust that the music assumes real heft that manifests directly as presence. If you diet on minimonitors and gloat about impressive bass performance, you need to hear what real bass is. Following a bass guitars descent on the E-string is one thing; hearing a timpani swell and expand and energize the room is another entirely.
But never mind such drum whacks. Weight manifests itself also in the cellos as tangible, vibrating bodies of wood rather than merely strings. It injects body into notes and transforms them into tone. This tone is extremely colorful. Dont confuse it with being colored though. Colored, in our baffling hi-fi lingo, means "to add to" or "to distort." Im talking about richness here. When I studied classical clarinet, my German professor demanded cultivation of tone that had kern. Thats German for "pit," as in a peach pit. Remove the pit, and the peach is hollow inside, still round but no longer full. Now image tone with and without pit. Get it? The Lyrrs are speakers with kern, and saftig just like peaches -- thats another German expression meaning "juicy."
The Allegro Giocoso movement of Prokofievs symphony concludes with a veritable Armageddon of complex and rapid rhythmic staccato passages that are superimposed upon one another by the different instrumental and percussion sections in quick-fire succession. To reproduce this Stravinsky-like mayhem intelligibly requires extreme pistonic precision or else the speakers inject a kind of artificial echo that blurs the transients. Needless to say, the Lyrrs triumphed. A real live orchestra gets very loud here, but in the concert hall the bite of the brass never gets painful, nor do the SPL levels. Attempt equivalent output levels at home though and everything usually falls apart, a testament to the limitation even our best equipment still suffers. Without going insane, the volume levels in my rather large listening room were quite realistic. Still, nothing untoward occurred that would have distracted from being plugged into the music. The comparatively puny 30Wpc Pass Aleph 3 gracefully controlled the Lyrrs, which scale fluctuations of crescendos with phenomenal ease. This very rapid ebb and flow, just like in live music, conjoined again presence and weight to spell live with the telltale signs of bodily reactions.
But I promised you earlier on a report on compatibility with low-powered triode amps. The one in recent memory that had swelled my lederhosen in the most unseemly fashion was Art Audios gleaming Diavolo, unfortunately already very well reviewed in these cyber pages by Ian White. But the companys always resourceful Joe Fratus had an irresistible solution to this dilemma: the Diavolos bigger brother called the Jota, a 20Wpc single-ended triode stereo amplifier that uses the high-current KR VV32B output tube and includes volume control. A feature review is in the works, so keep your bias adjusted.
The system had been very impressive already, but the "little" single-ended Jota, track for track, displaced the Pass separates without hesitation. The difference? Imagine you caught a fish and thinking him dead, proudly displayed him in your outstretched palms. Onlookers cheer and someone takes a photo. King for the day. Then lightning strikes your unsuspecting heart when suddenly your catch wiggles and leaps out of your grip. Thats what happened when the Jota took over: the fish was alive. In terms of dynamics, this meant that music I thought of as rather linear from my previous listening with the Pass gear now had unexpected fluctuations, as though a pretty much still sea responded to increased wind conditions with actual swells and breakers. At its output, the Jota revealed even subtle and never-before-glimpsed changes as very rapid accelerations and decelerations of volume, literally exploding the systems dynamic bandwidth. Startling, this.
Simultaneously, I became the beneficiary of a free house remodel. The wall behind the Lyrrs receded by at least another three feet and the side walls retreated outwards, as though before someone hadnt fully opened a theater curtain and now adjusted the mistake, revealing an even broader stage. Whether it was Carmen Lundys Self Portrait [JVCXR-0005-2] or the Don Was-produced Kirya [Shanachie 64043] with the phenomenal Israeli vocalist Ofra Haza, the palpability factor was cranked up to the stops. The percussive layering on Jamshied Sharifis A Prayer for the Soul of Layla [Alula 1005] produced outright pressure waves with the larger drums and had instruments placed far into the rooms rear corners. Bass lines that before had caused minor bloat with certain notes -- something I wrote off as unavoidable room response after I had settled on the optimum placement -- miraculously firmed up. The double bass on Café Noirs The Waltz King [Carpe Diem 31012-2] sounded distinctly as though it were singing, conveying an actual melody as opposed to a chicken-preparing pluck-pluck. Verdict? The Lyrr/Jota combination proved a stunning match. These French speakers soundstage even better than described, even though they are still not followers of the pinpoint imaging religion. As a musician, I appreciate that as being more truthful.
Bring in the birds
A brief comparison with the well-known Meadowlark Shearwaters, my long-term reference, will be helpful to dial in the approximate whereabouts of the Triangle Lyrr's hunting grounds in the great wilderness that is the audiophile speaker range.
The Lyrrs, as will be obvious to anyone familiar with the basic differences of two-way versus three-way speakers, are more dynamic and extended in the bass and even more coherent in the midrange. But the differences go further. The Shearwaters, by virtue of their time alignment and phase coherence, do the disappearing act in a spectacular manner and image like crazy. Their overall voicing is slightly on the dark side. They do not possess the get-up-and-go immediacy or the visceral drive of the Lyrrs nor do they nearly convey as much weight. While the French speakers go even lower than their California counterparts, the addition of a few Hertz is much less important than the far greater radiating area of those paralleled woofers that launch acoustic pressure waves with more impact than a single 7" woofer. This is one reason why, in comparison, the Shearwaters may sound uninvolving to some, more distant -- very transparent, mind you, but a bit removed.
For a visual simile, think of the slightly dangerous raven-haired leather-clad biker chick whom you know to be trouble but draws your attention just the same. For you gals out there reading this, I'm sure you can easily envision the equivalent male atop his Harley. The Shearwater travel in more "respectable" circles, approved by parents and audiophiles alike. Before you take this simile too far because it suggests that attraction based on excitement and impulse won't last, let's remember that we're talking about music here. Music doesn't run off with your money, but it's supposed to break your heart, make you feel, touch you. And the Triangle Lyrrs accomplish these things.
Make that to go, please
The Triangle Lyrr XS speakers confound conception. With their rectangular profile, they dont attract your attention like any number of compound-angled speakers. The drivers, by look alone, dont seem remarkable or unusual. The metal-dome tweeter might even raise a few concerned eyebrows predicting brightness and ringing. Then you hunker down to listen and a good many notions abandon you like happiness removes itself from disease. But its really our notions that are the disease. When they leave -- or you unplug them, whichever way it may be -- you could find yourself filled with unbridled ecstasy to re-discover the sheer thrills that I assume lit your wick at the onset of your long trek through the audiophile range. So are these audiophile speakers then?
That depends on your definition. These speakers sound so much more like live music than tweaked-to-death hi-fi. The Triangle Lyrr XS speakers convey the very energy of music with such vividness that listeners preferring an overly laid-back presentation might accuse them of being too exciting. Conversely, in my book, exactly that observation secures them top marks and the highest recommendation. Their very attractive pricing means youre getting premium high-octane racing fuel for the cost of regular gasoline, seriously hot-rodding the performance of your audio rig in turn. Richard Kohlruss is to be congratulated for his good taste, and complemented for braving the significant challenge to make available to the US and Canadian markets this new-to-these-shores speaker brand. C'est bon! C'est très bon!
Copyright © 1999 SoundStage!
All Rights Reserved