Tinkie-Winkie vs. the hi-fi.
Review by Art Dudley
Coincident Triumph Signature Series II loudspeakers: $999 per pair.
Manufactured by Coincident Speaker Technology, 51 Miriam Crescent, Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 2P8, Canada (905)886-6728. http://www.home.ican.net/~coincid/cst1.htm
I'm working at home today.
Instead of going to the office for my daily game of Phone Chat Magnet, I'm here with our three-month-old, trying to write between the fussy spells. Business as usual, in other words-except here, a television natters away in the background.
It's 9 o'clock, and we're watching a show called Teletubbies, which Janet assures me is the baby's favorite. Picture a bald-headed Troll shaped like Newt Gingrich, with a fuzzy bodysuit and a television screen in his chest: That's a Teletubbie. There are four of them, and they live in a magical land of flowers and green grass and real live bunnies. A windmill dispenses fairy dust every now and then, and the sun is represented by an out-of-control toddler with curly blond hair. There's no plot, really, just lots of dancing and skipping and eating of Tubbie Custard, and during each episode they show a film about nothing, which is repeated at least once more.
It is the best show on television.
So-what was it you said you wanted a home theater setup for? To watch TV? I should think that 3.1 channels' worth of some fat-ass Martians with names like Dipsy and La-La would be at least 5.1 too many for most television viewers-and it's all downhill from there.
It's all downhill from there.
Little wonder, then, that two-channel audio has yet to crawl away and die, even in the face of multimillion-dollar marketing push from people who want to sell you all new source material, all new source components, and 3.1 more speakers: Whatever else might be out there, TV sure as hell isn't worth the effort, let alone the money.
And with the growing interest in modern single-ended tube amplifiers, were seeing more and more loudspeakers intended for two-channel (read: music lovers') systems with amplifiers of less than limitless power.
In other words, we are seeing more speakers like the Coincident Triumph Signature-a small, two-way, bass reflex box from Canada that has been attention not only for its higher than average sensitivity but for offering higher than average value, as well.
The Triumph Signature measures a tidy 16 by 9 by 11 inches (H x W x D) and weighs almost 26 pounds. One-inch-thick MDF is used for all enclosure walls, and the manufacturer says the cabinet is tuned to a fundamental resonance of 350Hz-a fairly high figure, chosen so's not to dirty the bass. The rear of the cabinet has a l-inch diameter bass reflex port (non-flared), and the front is beveled all around to minimize diffraction-a touch that's all but unheard of at this comparatively humble price. The finish, although far from opulent, is not screamingly awful: It looks as if black paint is sprayed directly onto the wood with little or no filler or primer in between. The finish on my samples had a few minor splotchy areas, in addition to which some sand markings were visible through the paint: I'd still rather see this than imitation-black-ash vinyl veneer. Any day.
Interestingly, company president/designer Israel Blume says that the interior of the Triumph Signature is devoid of any damping materials: He suggests that it's better to create a structure whose shape and materials serve to make it naturally non-resonant, and then leave it at that, adding more mass, especially in the form of soft damping material, only stores energy and, ultimately, reduces sensitivity.
Israel Blume will get no argument from me on any of this: In my opinion, he's right as rain.
The drivers are 6.5 inch polypropylene woofer and a 1-inch fabric dome tweeter, both of which are made in Europe. These are chosen for their flat impedance properties and high sensitivity and power handling capabilities. The crossover is a simple first-order type using polypropylene capacitors and air-core inductors. The sensitivity is stated as 90dB, and the nominal system impedance is 8 Ohms, never dipping below 6.6 Ohms.
Coincident manufactures two kinds of stands for the Triumphs. First is a hollow wooden column of square cross-section, finished to match the Triumph speaker and share its width and depth dimensions, this raises the Triumph about 23 inches off the floor. The second support is identical to the first, except its hollow enclosure is filled with a specially matched subwoofer.
For the time being, and although I was offered the use of the Coincident subwoofer, I opted to use my own open-frame metal stands. I tried both 21 and 24-inch stands from Atlantis and Chicago Speaker Stand, both with and without upward-pointing spikes. And in doing so, I've concluded that stand height is critical with the Triumphs, inasmuch as sitting significantly off-axis from the tweeter in the vertical plane makes the speakers sound a little funny. The precise dimensions of the stands you choose will be as much a function of your height as anything else, seeing as how the tweeters want to be level with your ears, for me, 24-inch stands were the way to go.
The other way to go was to forgo the use of upward-pointing spikes, and effix each Triumph to its stand using blobs of Blu-Tak. That done, I had the best results with the Triumphs aimed directly at the center seating position, and well away from back and side walls.
The cat just threw up.
One more note on stands: Although I haven't tried this myself, it seems reasonable to expect using the hollow Coincident stands will enhance the speakers' bottom-end response. Apart from whatever good qualities it has, an open frame stand has no large surfaces against which non-directional bass frequencies can be "launched" toward the listener. But something like the Coincident stand certainly does.
When the Triumphs are set up as I've describes, you can get pretty convincing spread of sound, with believable depth and nice spatial detail-and some convincing music making too. For instance, there's a nice Siegfried Idyll on the new Chesky disc of Wagner's Orchestral Music, with Charles Gethardt and the National. On this piece, the Triumphs are musically engaging, and exude a fine sense of flow: It's easy to follow along with the musical line, even in so richly scored a piece. The Triumphs get across a good sense of bow-on-the-string bounce too.
On the Brahms Clarinet Quintet (Decca/Speakers Corner LP), I was startled by how well the Triumphs kept the music moving forward. Compared to my reference Spendors (the SP100s) the sounded so pacey I literally stopped listening and check the turntable speed, without doing so, if you had told me the LP12 was suddenly running a little fast, I'd have believed you.
Apart from that-which is a pretty gosh-darn good thing, in fact, and arguably half the battle-the Triumphs sounded like the Triumphs I had come to know already: Very good spatially, very tactile, emotionally involving, a little colored. (The clarinet sounded slightly hollow or "hootsy"-similar to what you hear on someone's voice with their hands cupped around their mouth.)
I made sure to listen to a couple of tracks from June 1, 1974, a one-off concert kind of thing (I guess I don't have to tell you when it was made) from John Cale, Kevin Ayers, and a pre-ambient music, post-Winkles Brian Eno, among other of the day's more adventurous pop musicians. On the first two tracks, both sung in an embarrassingly over-the-top fashion by Eno, the musical and sonic standouts are in fact the same thing: the great (and almost late) Robert Wyatt's percussion work, which pops out to fine, exciting effect. Ditto John Cale's weirdness reading of "Heartbreak Hotel," with the addition of good thick background singers, who via the Triumphs were indeed in the background. Fun-but gee, maybe the record hasn't aged so well after all...
The artistic-hearts-on-their-sleaves portion of my listening would now have to be represented by the sadly defunct Go-Betweens from Australia, whose 1988 album, 16 Lovers Lane, is that ultra-rare combination of the artistically adventurous and the just plain catchy. On "Clouds," the Triumphs made a big, spacious sound-percussion all over the place, deliberately percussive guitars sound snappy and crisp (without being hard or glassy sounding), and with a snappy trebly (Rickenbacker's) electric bass. This performance was terrific, and suffered only in comparison to the much more expensive Spendors-which are no less informative but a little less tambouriney.
By the way, stereo imaging was brilliant on that track. Amanda Brown's oboe in "Dive for Your Memory" is appropriately distant but precisely locked into place.
On "Blue" from the Jayhawks' Tomorrow the Green Grass, the Triumphs were again superbly musical. They get across the differences between the two lead voices-even though they're similar, even though they're singing much of the song in unison-and the Triumphs were rhythmically spot-on. There remained the slight coloration affecting the voices, but it didn't really bother me.
On angular, upbeat stuff like "Old Minor" from Monk's Music (mid-60's Riverside LP and not, I am sorry to say, Chad's superior reissue from Acoustic Sounds), the Triumphs neither lag nor confuse the notes: It sounds like every nuance of Monk's piano solo is in place. And during the something like Wilbur Ware's bass solo in this album's version of "Epistrophy," these speakers really DO disappear. You're left with a hi-hat (some ways away) and a bass, and not much else.
There are moments in all of this album's major pieces where the ensemble is playing in more than rhythmic scream at the same time-often courtesy Art Blakey's energetic, pedal-only hi-hat work. And what can I say? The Triumphs pull it off-just not amazingly well for their price, but amazingly well, plain and simple.
They do not, for example, make a speaker like the Spendor SP2/3 irrelevant. The (physically larger) Spendors do an even better job sounding big-a better job "loading" the room. They also have a more realistic texture, realistic sweetness, and more of that gorgeous, gooshy, musical sound you want to sink into like a featherbed-while still being at least as neutral and detailed as the Coincident Triumphs or virtually anything else, for that matter.
Then again, the Spendor 2/3 costs twice as much. It ought to be better!
And: This is not a party speaker. As with the high school girl who works the drive-in window at our local McDonalds, if you push it too hard, it gets confused. Besides, as I've suggested above, it doesn't sound its best unless your ears are more or less at the same height off the floor as the tweeter. So standing, let alone dancing, is out.
The Triumphs also don't have all the bass in the world. Except on material that leans toward the tizzy, they sound pretty well balanced most of the time-but deep bass simply isn't there. Even the lowest notes of a bass guitar were down a bit in level, and big orchestral music lacks the sense of foundation you can only get when frequency response goes significantly below 50Hz or so. But then, the orchestral music I listened to over the Triumphs was so emotionally convincing that the shortcoming didn't seem to matter much.
An important note before closing: Although I tried amplifiers of more normal power output, I did have good results low powered, single-ended triode amps. A 300B drives a Triumph just fine, a 2A3 less so (A Fi X, at 2.5 watts per channel, makes the Spendor SP100s play slightly louder than the Coincident Triumphs, notwithstanding the two products' identical sensitivity ratings.)
I think the Coincident Triumph Signature is a pretty nice speaker. And though I don't quite see it as the giant-killer its maker does, I do think it's a heck of a bargain. Arguably best of all: It adds one more very good choice to the ranks of reasonably priced and reasonably sized speakers that can be driven with just a few watts of power. Recommended.