Hales System Two loudspeaker Page 3
The System Two's treble had a tendency toward tizziness, the degree of which is highly dependent on the amount of toe-in toward the listener. Pointing the System Two nearly straight ahead with a little toe-in somewhat ameliorated the slightly excessive mid-treble energy. There is a tradeoff between best imaging (listener on-axis) and treble smoothness (listener about 20° off-axis). With a little experimentation, I was able to strike a good balance. Another factor that contributes to a fizzy top end is the amount of treble energy in the recording. The System Two is highly revealing of everything in the path before itincluding overly bright recordings, of which there are many. This is just what a good loudspeaker should do, however, and the slight brightness noted may be more an indictment of most recordings than of the System Two. Despite these mitigating factors, however, I would have preferred a little less energy in the 10kHz region.
The slightly forward treble presentation notwithstanding, I found the entire high-frequency presentation exceptionally pure, clean, fast, detailed, and musically engaging. There was a complete absence of the hashy grain in the treble that can obscure natural instrumental textures. The treble was like a clear pool of mountain water: transparent, crystalline, and pure.
The System Two's ability to reproduce the transient attack of percussion instruments was stunning. Leading edges of the musical waveforms were sudden, clean, razor-sharp. This was especially apparent with Latin percussion, which I happen to like. This characteristic gave the impression of a highly detailed rendering, but the detail was never hyped or fatiguing. Instead, the wealth of transient detailwhere so much music livesriveted my attention on the music. It was difficult to be a casual listener with the System Two: music became so compelling that it was hard to think of anything else. Despite the highly revealing and transient rendering, the treble never sounded unnaturally etched. With some highly detailed loudspeakers, transients grate on the nerves and music quickly becomes fatiguing. Not so with the System Twos: they consistently revealed a wealth of musical detail without fatigue or a desire to turn down the volume.
Another aspect of the System Two's presentation that adds to the feeling of speed and quickness is the lack of transient smearing and overhang. The steep musical wavefront seemed to disappear as suddenly as it was reproduced. The dynamic contrast between peaks and silence was stunningly realistic. This contrast contributed to a greater feeling of intertransient silencethe spaces between notes weren't contaminated with the residue of the previous sound. The music wasn't superimposed on the loudspeaker's "noise" of stored energy. I believe the System Two's (and the Signature's) remarkable feeling of precision, speed, and clarity are a result of their ability to correctly reproduce the dynamic envelope (both attack and decay) of musical signals. In this regard, the Signature had a marginal edge over the System Two: transients were slightly more dynamic and clean.
Another aspect of the System Two's presentation that created an involvement with the music was the transparent, uncolored, and pure midrange. There were no artifacts to remind me that I was hearing mechanically reproduced music rather than just music. Instead, there was a smoothness, a delicacy, to the mids that one rarely hears from dynamic loudspeakers. The System Two rendered instrumental textures naturally, purely, and most important, believably.
Besides being tonally accurate, the midrange was highly detailed, revealing even the finest nuance in a recording. Finely woven textures were resolved with the clarity and precision of a perfectly focused magnifying glass. But I don't want to imply that detail was hyped or forced on the listener. On the contrary, the rendering of inner detail was subtle, apparent on a conscious level only when one listened for it. This resolution of fine detail and nuance is perhaps what makes music through the System Two so believable and thus musically involving.
The System Two also excels in its ability to throw a wide and deep soundstage. Although the Two doesn't have the feeling of depth and space of some loudspeakers (the Ensemble Reference, for example), it has a remarkable three-dimensional quality. Instruments are spatially distinct from one another, facilitating the impression of front-to-rear layering. In addition, image outlines were sharply focused and rock-solid within the soundstage. There was a pinpoint precision to the imaging, instruments occupying definite points in space. Significantly, the solidity of images was laterally uniform across the soundstage, with a strong center channel. Female vocal became a pinpoint image exactly between the loudspeakers, with a concrete rather than amorphous quality. In terms of sheer soundstage size and depth, however, the System Two falls short of many planar designs.
These qualities were heightened by the Two's transparency. The finely woven detail, spatial distinction between instruments, and three-dimensional layering were all clearly apparent through a soundstage devoid of opacity, grain, veiling, or other characteristics that prevent a clear view to the back of the soundstage.