Hales System Two loudspeaker
Hales Audio makes another loudspeakerthe System Two reviewed herethat is very similar to the Signature, but much less expensive (footnote 1). Because the System Two is such a close relation to the Signatureit uses identical drivers, a nearly identical crossover, and similar cabinet constructionand costs nearly 2 kilobucks less, I was eager to hear what the smaller system had to offer. Because the Signature was recommendable at $4850, the System Two just might be a bargain at $3000 if it even came close to the Signature's musicality.
I was further encouraged to review the System Two because the Signature is a cost-no-object refinement of the original System Two design. In any engineering endeavor, including loudspeaker building, there is a diminishing return in performance as more and more money is lavished on the design. This is especially true in the Signature's case, where the intent was to squeeze the greatest possible performance from a given design without regard to cost. This approach is exemplified by the Signature's crossover: it is mounted externally in a sand-filled, spiked enclosure. The rest of the design is similarly elaborate. How much musical difference these things make in relation to the cost is debatable. But the Signature wasn't made for cost-effectiveness: it is more of a "statement" product. The System Two, however, cuts out the budget-busting refinements. Consequently, the System Two appears to have the potential of offering similar performance at a price much more accessible to a wider range of music lovers.
The System Two employs the same driver complement as the System Two Signature, but in a smaller, less ambitious cabinet. At 38" high and 16" deep (compared with the Signature's 48" height and 21" depth), the System Two has the appearance of a truncated Signature. The tall, narrow profile gives the appearance of a smaller loudspeaker when seen on-axis. The review samples were finished in light oak veneer, which, coupled with their smaller size, made them much less imposing in the listening room than the stained walnut Signatures. The System Two's cabinetry is beautiful but less elegant than the Signature's, the result of the latter's rounded, solid walnut edges. A grille covered in black cloth conceals the drivers and the top two-thirds of the enclosure front.
Hales Audio has recently made available stands for the System Two that bring the tweeter closer to a typical listening height. These are better described as bases, as they are short (8") and have a solid exterior. They screw into the System Two from the bottom and can be filled with dry sand or lead shot. I opted for sand (about 35 lbs in each base), although I auditioned the System Two with and without bases. My review bases were the first pair made of the finalized design, and weren't finished in black lacquer as will the production units. Eight screw-in inverted cones were supplied with the bases.
The rear panel holds two pairs of a new Cardas termination that looks similar to the Edison-Price Music Posts used on the Signatures. The Cardas posts have no screwdriver slot, relying instead on a five-sided nut for tightening. There have been problems with the Music Posts, including those on my Signature review sample, in which the nut no longer tightens sufficiently on the speaker cable's spade lug. The Cardas posts seem to have fixed this problem, as well as providing a method for making a tighter connection with a wrench rather than a screwdriver. The posts also accept banana plugs. For single-wire operation, a removable copper bar connects the two input pairs. Four spikes per loudspeaker are supplied and can be screwed into threaded inserts in lieu of bases.
The System Two is a two-way design, employing two of the popular Dynaudio 17W75EXT woofers, a driver chosen for its mid-band characteristics as well as bass performance since it must reproduce quite a wide band of frequencies (up to 2kHz). The driver is noted for its large (3") voice-coil, and magnet inside the voice-coil. The two woofer/mid-band drivers are wired in parallel in this two-way system. The popular MB Quart MCD25 titanium-dome tweeter reproduces frequencies above 2kHz. This tweeter is found in a wide range of loudspeakers, from the Avalon Eclipse to Dick Olsher's do-it-yourself Black Dahlia. It has a smooth response as well as a very high "oil can" resonant frequency.
Footnote 1: Hales Audio showed a prototype of the $12,000 (approximate price) System One at the most recent CES.