Triangle Borea BR02 Speaker Review
by Steve Graham
Everything Old is New Again (and that’s just fine by me)
Being confined to barracks, as my Dad, a WWII veteran might have said, has me spending a good deal more time in my workshop. Whilst occupied with a fairly extensive woodworking project, steaming music or playing files has been the order of the day. Many days actually, and many more to come I expect. An upgrade to the ‘shop system is easily defensible, I’m hoping. At present, the second set of analogue outputs on the Lumin D1 music player in my main living space feeds the shop system (the shop is directly below the main space). An EL84-based amp – featuring vintage Dynaco transformers – powers Wharfedale Diamond 210 loudspeakers. The sound is decent but like any properly neurotic audiophile, I want more.
A pair of Triangle Borea BR02 speakers will nudge out the tiny Wharfedales. The current amp will go into storage in favour of the “Heath” amp from my DIY EL84 project earlier this year.
What does Borea mean? Online dictionaries, both English and French suggested boreal, meaning of, or relating to, the north or north wind. Also, Boreas, the ancient Greek personification of the north wind. Triangle is to be allowed their marketing flights of fancy, I suppose. The automotive world truly has the goofiest marketing concoctions. Skyactiv for a terrestrial vehicle? A pickup truck with TRD on the side? That last one makes me smile every time I see it.
Do you hate having to wade through reviews to get to the price and other stats? I do, so here they are near the beginning:
Woofer/Midrange: 13cm (~5”) natural cellulose paper cone
Tweeter: 2.5cm (1”) silk dome
Frequency range: 51Hz – 22KHz (+/- 3dB)
Power handling: 80W
Nominal impedance: 8Ω
Minimum impedance: 3.6 Ω
Dimensions: 17.6 cm (~7”) W, 31cm (~12.2”) H, 27.4cm (~10.8”) D
Weight: 4.87kg (~10.7 lbs.)
Finishes: Light oak, black, walnut, white
List Price: $599 Canadian/pair, $449 US/pr.
Triangle products used to have rather spotty distribution in North America. I believe they’re on a firmer footing now.
Motet Distribution in Canada http://motetdistribution.com/
Antal Audio Group in the U.S.A. http://antalaudio.com/
Triangle France: https://www.trianglehifi.com/en/
The only minor concern in the specs is the minimum impedance dip to 3.6 ohms. Most likely not a problem with a solid-state amp, though a 4-ohm output tap on a tube amp might be beneficial. I’ll report on this later in the listening test.
As can be seen in the picture above, this is a ported speaker with a single pair of binding posts. At this price and performance level, bi-wiring is simply a marketing affectation, in my opinion.
If you’ve carefully read the specs above you might have noticed that the woofer/midrange driver sports a paper cone and the tweeter is a silk dome unit, both very old-school. But before you write this technology off as being over the hill, there are some very high-performance speakers that sell in the five and six figure range that have returned to paper cones for their woofers. Remember too, that virtually all of the much sought-after vintage speakers from the 1950s and 60s, made by the likes of Altec and Klipsch, to give just two examples, utilized paper cones. (Many, if not all, of the Klipsch classics still use paper-coned woofers.) So, don’t write Triangle off just yet for their driver choice. Ditto the fabric dome tweeter used here. Spendor and Harbeth, to name just two, make very accomplished speakers using this sort of tweeter.
Upon unboxing (I find the whole unboxing thing on YouTube very silly), the speakers weigh about what you would expect them to, neither light-weight or overly heavy. On a YouTube unboxing of the BR02, the video “reviewer” took the drivers and crossover out of the cabinet! Not especially instructive, but it was possible to see two braces connecting the side walls, the front one contacting the magnet structure of the woofer though a rubber pad.
If I hadn’t known it was paper, I might have assumed the woofer/midrange cone was a molded plastic of some sort, such was the consistency of colour and the smooth texture. Many old and indeed some new speakers with paper cones look like a kindergarten experiment in paper making. Not the cone in the BR02.
I ran the speakers for about 150 hours connected to an ancient Rotel receiver streaming various styles of music. Component break-in, as I keep harping on about, is essential to divining the true performance of any audio product. I have found that 50 hours is the absolute minimum required but I like to get past the 100-hour mark before commencing serious listening. I set the BR02s up on stands in my listening room with the door remaining open. The one thing I noticed from the adjacent workshop was that at times the BR02s sounded like larger speakers. Sounding in no way like the Spendor D9s that customarily inhabit this room, but larger than the BR02s diminutive size would suggest. Does this observation mean much with regards to audio performance? Not likely, but I don’t notice this phenomenon with all small speakers.
Let’s have a quick cut to the chase, shall we? And the shortest cut is…. these unassuming little speakers sound, well, not what I was expecting. They are at the same time gutsy, yet polite too. They don’t grab the audiophile ear right away, which is probably a good thing. Instead, you are seduced into their view of music reproduction. Entry-level Triangles of yore had a tendency, both in my experience and by reports from others, to be a bit zippy in the treble. The BR02s are anything but. Not rolled-off in the highs exactly, but restrained and overall better balanced than many small speakers. The bass is punchy and reasonably deep for a small stand mount speaker, even when positioned well away from a room’s rear and side walls.
I placed the baffle centre at the approximate height of my ears when seated. They were about six feet from the wall behind them and three and a half feet from the side walls. The BR02s were aimed directly at me, with the listening position and the speakers forming an equilateral triangle. The stands were spiked through the carpet into the wood subfloor below. The speakers were placed on the stands using the supplied stick-on rubber feet.
Detailed listening in my reference system:
To get a proper fix on the BR02s capabilities, I wrung them out on my main Audio Research tube-based system. (Details here https://wallofsound.ca/audioreviews/digital/raspberry-pi-part-3-sound-quality-evaluation scroll down to: System Context.) There’s something fun, and a bit perverse if truth be told, substituting speakers or sources into a system that normally runs with much more accomplished components. Note: It’s BR Zero Two, not Bro Two as some have tagged it. I also gave the BR02s a whirl with more price-appropriate amplification.
I’m fond of this album and have been since the first time the laser hit the CD. Now, like all of my audition music, it’s stored on a NAD 50.2 music player. The first track, Don’t Leave Me Here, goes straight into a blues groove. The BR02s keep right up with the bass line, and their polite treble response doesn’t induce listener fatigue in what is a slightly over-bright mix. These little speakers have a better than expected “boogie factor”. The BR02s don’t wimp-out when some drive and bounce is needed. They have great forward momentum. The bass doesn’t lag behind and slow the performance down.
The track Om Sweet Om also features Lizz Wright on vocals. The BR02s delivered unexpected vocal clarity on Ms. Wright’s voice, as well Taj’s and Keb’s vocals too. Taj’s gravelly voice can grate on lesser speakers. He sounded smooth yet well detailed, warmer and more human sounding than I’ve noticed on other loudspeakers in this price range.
To be clear, there isn’t much low bass from these speakers. They use the same trick that’s been employed from as far back as the original BBC LS3/5a speakers of having a deliberate mid-bass bump to give the impression of decent low frequency extension. There’s always the potential down side of muddying the bass if overdone, but the BR02s seem to avoid this trap.
Great songs and performance, execrable production. Compressed and bright, this album is a difficult listen at times. Fortunately, the BR02’s well-judged balance of mids to highs makes this as enjoyable as possible. I Knew and Gypsy in Me are two songs I especially “dig”.
The title track, Harbour Lights, is a good test for dynamics, with not a lot of apparent compression. A cameo appearance by Pat Metheny on the title track is kind of cool too. Also played was Fields of Gray. I’m not a big Bruce Hornsby fan, but listen once in a while. I find the piano moderately well recorded and the BR02s did as good a job as any other speakers I’ve heard at conveying it. The BR02s did an admirable job expressing the pace, flow and impact of this recording.
This is my favourite recording of my favourite Mozart Piano Concerto, No. 27, K595. It’s an analogue recording remastered for CD, and very listenable. The recording perspective is a bit distant but has great hall sound. Clifford Curzon was a child prodigy who throughout his career maintained a rigorous regime of practice, playing for several hours every day. K595 was reportedly one of Curzon’s favourites. His performance here is electric in its speed, timing and dexterity, yet is lyrical and graceful when required. It’s one of my desert island discs. Triangle’s BR02 just gets out of the way and lets the performance shine through. The BR02s give a spacious, if not razor sharp, view of the recording venue and the instruments in it. They sketched a reasonably broad and deep sound stage, certainly similar to, or perhaps better than, any size and price-comparable loudspeaker. I’ve heard more specific, broader and deeper imaging, but that was from way more expensive speakers.
Some speakers can impress at first listen with airiness that might give the impression of detail and space. This is often the result of a too-bright treble balance. Triangle plays a different game here. Detail isn’t forced on the listener. It’s there but the overall balance is one of musical wholeness, as opposed to dissection of music into its component parts.
I played many other tracks, of course. Some, listed in other reviews, have formed the touchstones of my auditioning repertoire but I’m sure readers don’t want to hear about them all the time. In all instances, the BR02s provided an enjoyable listening experience.
I also performed a quick comparison with a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 210s. The 210 has a four-inch diameter mid-woofer, compared to the BR02’s five incher. Both have fabric dome tweeters. The BR02 has about twice the cabinet volume of the 210. The BR02 sells for about twice the price of the 210. So, is the BR02 twice the speaker? Yes, it is. The little Wharfedale is a fine speaker for its size and price, but in the same system, playing the same material, it sounds like it’s trying too hard to impress. The 210’s treble is a bit zippy and draws too much attention to itself ,and the bass sounds a bit quack-y at times. The Triangle BR02 will play louder, without strain, and even when not playing loudly is a more musical sounding device.
I tend to play music a bit louder than one might call polite. Not anywhere near annoyingly loud for the most part, at least not to me, but louder than the level of polite conversation. The BR02 does much better at my customary volume level than I had expected. If pushed a bit too much it will start to sound hard and unpleasant, but these will be silly-high volumes for a speaker of this size.
The BR02s overall performance is very good for a stand mount speaker in this price range. About two years ago I had the loan of a pair of Spendor S3/5R2 speakers (since replaced with the Classic 4/5) on the same stands connected to the same electronics. The Spendors had a level of grace and resolution of musical events superior to the BR02s. As well they should at about three to four times the price of the BR02s. But here’s the thing. The Spendors were a cerebral speaker that almost commands listeners to focus on the musical performance. Not that this is bad, it’s just what most Spendors seem to do, to varying degrees. I’m not saying Spendors are ruthlessly revealing, anything but. There is, to varying degrees in all Spendors I’ve heard, a compelling musicality and even-handedness that is both subtle and at the same time difficult to ignore. But Spendor-ness comes at a price.
The Triangle BR02s are more of an emotional loudspeaker. No, they don’t resolve like the Spendors S3/5R2 speakers, but the BR02s have a relaxed accessibility combined with a more forgiving nature of the components preceding them. I don’t want to give the impression that I felt musically cheated by the BR02s. Their music making abilities merit comparison to more accomplished performers even if they don’t quite match the higher-performing rival’s level of achievement.
Triangle has taken a different tack, performance-wise, with the BR02s compared to most speakers in this size and price category. I found this course refreshing and appealing. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, these loudspeakers are easy to recommend to both audiophiles and normal music lovers.
Moving the BR02s closer to room boundaries will increase bass output but too close will make them sound muddy. They are definitely not “bookshelf” speakers, they need to be out into the room to work their magic. Triangle offers stands suitable for use with the BR02.
Alternative System No. 1
I dug the prototype EL84 project amp out of storage (link above) and connected the DirectStream DAC directly to it (the amp has a volume control). This is the “Heath” version with the old transformers. Compared to the ARC REF110, the little 15 watt per channel EL84 amp was perhaps a better pairing with the BR02s. This will sound silly, but it was almost as if the EL84 amp was expecting less from the speakers than the ARC amp, yet was a better dance partner because of it. All of the qualities of the system with the ARC components were mostly preserved and only slightly diluted. The EL84 project amp that I detailed in the build series from earlier this year, the one shipped to our patron, had clearer, more articulate highs than the prototype. So, I can imagine an EL84 amp using all modern components (like the project amp) would be an even better match. The BR02s and the amp seemed to partner better when the 4 ohm tap on the amp was used, as opposed to the 8 ohm tap. It wouldn’t do to drive these speakers with a classic-sounding tube amp. That sort of amp, with woolly bass and soft mushy treble, just wouldn’t cut it.
Alternative System No. 2
I don’t have a contemporary solid-state amplifier with which to pair the BR02s. I had hoped to try the them at a buddy’s house but the pandemic has nixed that plan. His Raspberry Pi music source feeds an entry-level NAD amp and speaks through a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 225s. My hopes of driving the BR02s with my buddy’s NAD, both on their own and comparing them to the 225s, is on hold. Once the opportunity presents itself, I’ll update this report.
Am I the anti-David Neice?
Earlier this year, David Neice finally came to terms with a floor-standing speaker after years of preferring stand mounts. I’m just the opposite. I could never quite appreciate the virtues of stand mounted speakers, and almost always preferred the sheer scale and force of music reproduced via floor standers. Has the Triangle Borea BR02 changed my mind? Almost. I still prefer floor standers in my main listening room and will hang on to them as long as possible. But if I was forced to downsize and stand mounted speakers were the only option, the Borea BR02 would be a serious contender. In the mean time, the BR02s will be a great addition to my workshop system. Winter weather and COVID-19 restrictions will mean many hours in my shop for the next few months. The BR02s will make this confinement more enjoyable.
The Triangle Borea BR02 verdict:
Highly, seriously, enthusiastically recommended.
I just realized that these rants just might be a downer at the end of an enthusiastic review. This one has nothing to do with the item under review. Consider this more of a safety tip.
I spent most of my working career as a process engineer and tool designer. Good tools are a joy, bad tools make me seethe. Shown below is a tool typically used by tube amp aficionados to adjust output bias. This tool is fine if removal of protective covers isn’t required to make adjustments. But in the event that large covers must be removed and significant portions of the circuitry are exposed then the metal clip on this tool is arc welding waiting to happen. If you use a tool like this do yourself a favour, remove the clip and throw it away.
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