This week we tested the Spear Labs Triton 1 in-ear monitors. These earphones are a hybrid model sold for 2,990 euros that combine cutting-edge technologies and premium materials. Equipped with three drivers enclosed in silver, titanium and obsidian shells, the Spear Labs Triton 1 in-ear monitors leave nothing to chance and are designed for the most discerning audiophiles. What does the first model from American company Spear Labs have in store for us?
Spear Labs Triton 1: the brand
Spear Labs is a young American company that was founded in Tennessee in 2019 by Dale Lott. However, this engineer with a passion for high fidelity and innovative technologies is not new to the field and is a pioneer of hybrid earphone design. In 2011, he founded the brand Aurisonics, which focused on designing in-ear monitors for musicians. Aurisonics quickly caught the attention of audiophiles and was acquired by Fender in 2015. Dale Lott then remained as vice president of product development for 3 years. After this period, the IEMs specialist embarked on a new venture with Spear Labs. Spear stands for Special Products for the EAR and specializes in designing ultra-high definition earphones used by the Air Force, Navy Seals, police services and NASA. The Triton 1 earphones are therefore the first hi-fi model from Spear Labs.
Spear Labs Triton 1: packaging and accessories
The Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones come in a large black box with an understated yet luxurious design. The brand logo is embossed in the top of the box, and the name is on the front. When we opened this first box, we were presented with what looked like a beautiful jewelry box. With its lacquered finish, it immediately set the tone and left us in no doubt that we were dealing with very high-end earphones. Both earbuds were placed on a small holder and covered by a suede cover, similar to the packaging of a luxury watch. As for accessories, we were surprised that the selection of eartips was rather small compared to other brands such as FiiO, Shanling and Campfire Audio. That said, it is important to note that Spear Labs prefers to focus on quality rather than quantity, as we will see later on in our review. The Triton 1 earphones come with six pairs of memory foam eartips, a cable with MMCX connectors at one end to connect to the earphones and a 4.4mm Pentaconn mini-jack connector for the source, a 4.4mm mini-jack to 3.5mm mini-jack adapter and a beautiful leather pouch. The pouch, which is handcrafted in England by a skilled artisan, exudes quality.
Spear Labs Triton 1: design
The Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones are handmade in Charlotte, Tennessee. The core principle advocated by the brand is that you don’t have to cram as many transducers as possible into small earpieces to obtain a high-quality reproduction. Using too many transducers can lead to phase problems and an unbalanced sound. As a result, these earphones are equipped with three transducers that each provide an optimal reproduction of their assigned frequency range thanks to a special design. This design is called HABU, an acronym for Hybrid Acoustically Balanced Universal Technology, by Spear Labs. It consists of a dynamic transducer with a 5-layer 10mm membrane. This model was custom-designed for the Triton 1 IEMs and is paired with a proprietary ACT transducer. The latter is a magneto-static model whose working principle is based on that of the planar-magnetic drivers found in certain high-end hi-fi headphones. This technology, used for the very first time in earphones, makes it possible to reproduce a wide frequency range with virtually no distortion. The highs are assigned to a double balanced armature transducer tuned to ensure perfectly articulated frequency ranges.
When handling the Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones, their quality is undeniable. The main part of the shell comprising the body and the nozzle is solid sterling silver. This material is highly favored when making certain high-end musical instruments thanks to its timbre. Silver is also a very hygienic metal that guarantees virtually no irritation and has the thermal ability to regulate heat. The acoustic chamber is made of cryogenically treated titanium to increase its resistance. The back of the earphones is sealed by an obsidian plate emblazoned with the Spear Labs logo. This volcanic glass used for making jewelry and surgical instruments contributes to the acoustic isolation of the Triton 1s whilst lending the earphones a very elegant appearance.
Regarding the eartips, there’s no silicone to be found. The Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones come with six pairs of memory foam tips in three different sizes (L, M, S). These nFORM XTR (Xtreme Temperature Resistance) eartips use nanotechnologies to maintain consistent pliability in case of extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity, conditions that cause other foam tips to lose pliability and structural integrity. Designed to provide excellent passive isolation, the nFORM XTR eartips allow you to enjoy deep bass and block out all sound pollution so that you can get the most out of the earphones’ performance without any distractions.
The Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones’ removable cable is a balanced model with a hybrid copper and silver design that ends with a 4.4mm Pentaconn TRRRS connector. A 4.4mm mini-jack to 3.5mm mini-jack adapter is also included. The Spear Labs logo on the angled connector is a nice visual touch. On paper, the Spear Labs Triton 1 in-ear monitors have an acoustic pressure of 110dB at 1mW and 1kHz with a harmonic distortion of less than 0.02%. With an impedance of 16 ohms, the Triton 1s can be easily powered by any source.
Spear Labs Triton 1: ergonomics and comfort
We were a little concerned by the weight of the Spear Labs Triton 1 IEMs when we first took them out of the box. Earphones that are too heavy can be tiring to wear for long listening sessions. However, after putting on the eartips best suited to the shape of our ears, the weight of the earphones wasn’t a problem. The earpieces are designed so that they sit inside the cavity of the ear while the length of the nozzle is perfectly adapted and doesn’t go too far into the ear canal. As a result, you can’t feel the weight of the earphones and the sturdy cable passes neatly around the ear. We actually forgot about them pretty quickly. This is a great advantage for the Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones which, in addition to being visually stunning, can be worn for several hours. Note that each pair of Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones is handmade by skilled craftsmen. Therefore, production is limited and each model is unique.
While the nFORM XTR eartips offer excellent passive isolation, it is a shame that they aren’t any silicone tips, especially for harder to reach ear canals. The decision to use only memory foam tips is justified by Spear Labs’ approach, but they may not be suitable for everyone.
Spear Labs Triton 1: listening conditions
We first tested the Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones with a Chord Mojo DAC, then with the Cayin CS-55A tube amplifier loaded with KT-88 vacuum tubes. We also connected the earphones to an Android smartphone to test their performance without using a separate DAC or headphone amplifier. We listened to 320 kbps MP3 files stored on a computer and Hi-Res files ranging from 16-bit/44kHz to 24-bit/192kHz via our Sublime+ Qobuz subscription, as well as DSD 128 and DSD 256 files.
Spear Labs Triton 1: listening impressions
Before reviewing them, we broke-in the earphones by listening to them regularly for about two weeks. Here are our listening impressions after this break-in period:
Neil Young – Heart of Gold (24/96): the Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones surprised us with their clear and natural sound. The soundstage was spacious, each guitar note resonated and slowly faded away, the voice of the folk singer was strikingly realistic. The Triton 1s truly honored the renowned Canadian audiophile! The reproduction always remained musical and never became overly analytical. These IEMs knew how to let the music express itself and proved to be ideal for acoustic music.
Yob – Ablaze (24/96): it is often said that earphones or speakers allow us to rediscover our favorite songs, and this statement has never been truer than with the Triton 1s. These Spear Labs earphones managed to extract every note and detail from the rich, saturated guitar chords and complex hybrid picking. All the instruments had enough space to be fully expressed and the different frequency ranges were perfectly articulated. The lows were present and controlled without obscuring the rest of the spectrum, and everything was precisely rhythmed.
Pink Floyd – High Hopes (24/96): this was perhaps the most impressive track we listened to with these earphones. From the very first minute, the Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones plunged us right into the heart of the song. The piano notes seemed to float, and David Gilmour’s rich voice wrapped around us. The powerful percussion carried the other instruments and everything was reproduced so naturally that it was as if the musicians were in front of us. This song literally gave us goosebumps. It is hard to describe the emotions provided by these earphones any other way.
Massive Attack – Blue Lines (24/96): a different style that we weren’t quite as used to here with Massive Attack’s British trip-hop. Once again, the Triton 1s were precise, musical and rhythmic. The percussion and other instruments filled the wide soundstage and the vocals were easily distinguishable. The sound was so accurate and detailed that we even felt as if someone was talking in our ear.
Sunn O))) – Kingdoms (24/96): a rather unusual but very interesting test for those who want to push their earphones to their limits. The sonic experiments of the drone duo accompanied by cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir really put the Spear Labs Triton 1s to the test. The album was recorded by Steve Albini, who is renowned for his organic production style that is close to live sound. The earphones didn’t falter when faced by the torrent of decibels. The long cello notes were reproduced with verve and richness until they fully decayed. The drivers of the guitar cabinets resonated and the earphones’ natural sound signature perfectly complemented the producer’s approach. The sound was so precise that when we closed our eyes, we could see the driver’s cones vibrating. Another quality highlighted by this album was the comfort of these earphones. We could listen to the entire track without experiencing any physical or auditory fatigue. The Triton 1s passed this test with flying colors.
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son (24/192): this recording can be a little aggressive if it isn’t properly reproduced. With the Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones, however, the guitar notes were never harsh and the voices stood out clearly without overwhelming the instruments. We ended up tapping our foot to the rhythm and, once again, we rediscovered the composition of a track that we had already listened to many times before.
Marianne Thorsen and The Trondheim Soloists – Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major (DSD128): classical music fans will be in for a treat with the Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones. The reproduction of the strings was energetic and detailed. The whole sound was spacious and enjoyed a generous dynamic range. As a result, we could hear every nuance of the music. While these IEMs impressed us with CD-quality files, they were completely transformed with DSD streams. The ascents were reproduced with a naturalness and precision that transported us to the middle of the concert hall.
Christian Grøvlen – Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor (DSD256): we made the same observation here as with the previous track. The piano notes were both clear and rich. The three transducers of the Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones did their job to perfection and each frequency range was reproduced with flawless articulation. Where some earphones begin to falter with the highest notes, these IEMs never seemed to be affected and demonstrated incredible control. Even without being a classical music enthusiast, listening to this piano piece with the Triton 1s was an experience that was full of emotions.
Spear Labs Triton 1: compared to…
Meze Rai Penta: it is difficult to find a competitor that would be in the same range as the Spear Labs Triton 1s. So, somewhat unfairly, we have chosen the Meze Rai Pentas. Although the design of the Romanian brand’s IEMs is beautiful and robust, it can’t compete with the luxurious silver and obsidian structure of the Triton 1s. The latter also display a balanced sound and a level of detail that we’ve never heard with other earphones. The Spear Labs Triton 1s win this round, hands down.
Shure SE846: the Shure SE846 earphones benefit from the brand’s many years of experience in professional audio. When it comes to comfort, the Shure SE846s are flawless, and they also have the added benefit of being able to switch between a wired connection and Bluetooth transmission. Regarding the sound signature, the Shure IEMs are more analytical and neutral. While Shure remains close to its roots as a manufacturer of IEMs for live performances, Spear Labs are clearly more in tune with the hi-fi market. The Triton 1s have the upper hand with their musicality, rich timbres and deep soundstage.
Campfire Solaris 2020: Campfire Audio’s Solaris 2020 earphones, which we recently tested, provide excellent channel separation and a well-structured soundstage. Less comfortable and drier in their sound signature than the Triton 1s, they can’t match the balance of the Spear Labs earphones. The Spear Labs Triton 1 in-ear monitors are distinguished by their ability to extract much more detail, their musicality and their naturalness. The latter undeniably come out on top.
Spear Labs Triton 1: conclusion
Given their price, we expected a lot from the Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones but we weren’t disappointed. Their appearance is what you would expect from such high-end earphones and their sound performance is stellar. The soundstage is deep and the sound seems to completely surround you. The Spear Labs Triton 1 earphones will appeal to all audiophiles that enjoy in-ear monitors with their musicality and ability to masterfully reproduce both MP3 tracks and DSD files. The greatest strength of these earphones is their capacity to extract details and breathe life into music. With the Triton 1s Spear Labs has created true champions that, although they aren’t accessible to everyone, will be a delight to anyone’s ears. Our less impressive earphones are going to seem pretty dull in comparison to the Triton 1s, and it is with great regret that we part with them.
What we liked
- The luxurious leather pouch and presentation box
- The beautiful silver and obsidian finish
- The tonal balance
- The richness of the details
- The soft and sparkling highs
- The tight and powerful lows
What we would have liked
- Silicone eartips
- Cleaning tools