System Audio 1070 loudspeaker

666systemau.1.pngDenmark has probably contributed more to loudspeaker technology than any other country in the world. Vifa, Dynaudio, ScanSpeak, and Peerless drivers—used in a huge variety of speakers—are all Danish. Products from companies such as JBL, Spendor, Linn, B&W, Celestion, KEF, Audio Physic, ProAc, and others are partially or wholly made in the little Scandinavian nation.

System Audio originated in 1984, when guitarist and electronics technician Ole Witthoft grew dissatisfied with the lack of realism he heard from most home audio systems and figured he could do better. He built some speakers for himself and for a few friends, with encouraging results. It's a familiar story: we all know competent hobbyist speaker builders. A few of them gain a bit of local notoriety, but most never venture further than making a few units for friends and relatives.

But Witthoft's reputation grew rapidly, and so did his business. Fourteen years later, his little startup has become a serious player in the loudspeaker market, with annual production in excess of 18,000 units.

With growth have come accolades from reviewers and users in Europe, the UK, the US, and elsewhere. System Audio's 1050 was designated a "reference" by the German hi-fi magazine Stereoplay. Columbia Pictures uses 15 pairs of the company's 5010 Signature model in its Los Angeles studios. Copenhagen's Academy of Modern Music has 16 pairs of the 2010 in its classrooms. The 1070, which resided with me for several months, was named 1997 "Loudspeaker of the Year" by Scandinavian hi-fi journal Lyd & Billed.

I first encountered Ole Witthoft and his diminutive minimonitor, the 905, at the 1994 Winter CES. The little loudspeaker, driven by Densen electronics, sounded both musical and amazingly dynamic. There was something so seductive about it (and the other Danish products being shown that year) that I kept making excuses to go back and hear it. It had an open, effortless quality that I found extremely appealing—a quality shared by the PBN Montana SP (reviewed in January 1997, p.225). (The 1070, in fact, resembles a small-scale version of the SP.) Laborious-sounding, insensitive loudspeakers are not on my wish list.

Fast-forward to HI-FI '97. Strolling past the Nordost suite, I heard that same effortlessness again. There, in the midst of cable displays and product posters, was a pair of 1070s pumping out some really infectious rock. This was a good sign. It meant the manufacturer wasn't afraid to play real-world music at real-world levels, and proved the speaker could handle plenty of roughhousing and still come back for more. Best of all, the 1070 sounded really good in the small hotel room, a space not much different from what most people have to devote to home entertainment.

Lars Kristensen, who always seems to be enjoying some private joke, gave an enthusiastic and entertaining demonstration of both the System Audio speakers and an assortment of Nordost cables. His affable associate Joe Reynolds arranged to get a pair of the speakers to me for review. A few weeks later, while touring their dealers in Northern California, Sonic Integrity's Peter Hansen and Pat Mulcahey showed up with a pair of rosewood 1070s. Peter and Pat are friendly, helpful, and extremely knowledgeable guys who didn't object to spending the better part of an afternoon positioning the speakers for the best sound. A couple of weeks later, Lars and Joe, on a similar venture, showed up and repeated the exercise. These Nordost guys are serious about music.

Sound Quality
My relatively large listening room (+400 sq. ft.) allowed the speakers to stand well away from both the side and rear walls. For most of my listening, the 1070s were out 3'–4' from the back wall and about 7' apart, with a toe-in of approximately 15°. This seemed to produce the most coherent imaging from the little columns, but the bottom end was more extended when they were closer to the wall behind them—typical behavior for rear-ported speakers. As with most speakers, the 1070's bass response can be tailored to a certain extent by moving it in relation to the wall.

Regardless of position, the System Audio's low-end output was consistently quick and punchy. Rock music especially benefited: dynamic pieces like Joan Osborne's "St. Teresa" (Relish, Blue Gorilla/Mercury 314 526 699-2) and No Doubt's "Don't Speak" (Tragic Kingdom, Trauma INID-92580) were repeatedly delivered with real impact. Softer recordings were equally effective—such as audiophile favorite Diana Krall's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (All for You, Impulse! IMPD-182), which proved to be as thoroughly involving through the 1070s as through many other, more expensive speakers. With good equipment, this excellent recording can produce quite a three-dimensional soundstage. The 1070s were very good in this department.

Sara K's cover of "Brick House" (Hobo, Chesky JD155) is another great recording for both imaging and pacing, two of the 1070's strong suits. Vocal presentation was clear and surprisingly uncolored—a mild surprise, given that the two little bass/midrange drivers cover a fairly wide segment of the audio spectrum. By comparison, the midrange was more "pure" than both the $850/pair Spica TC-60 and the $8000/pair PBN Montana EPS (review soon), but not by a big factor.

Spec'd at ±4dB, the 1070 diverges from an ideal "flat" frequency response in a most musical manner. Paradoxical as this may seem, while a flat frequency response is absolutely desirable in electronic gear, truly flat-response loudspeakers can sometimes sound dull and lifeless. Why this is I'm not sure, but musically involving speakers often depart from "accuracy." This doesn't particularly bother me if the result is musically engaging and the presentation believable. Like movie fans and opera goers, audiophiles must indulge in a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief. For me, all a loudspeaker has to do is make that exercise easy, and it can reel me in like a fish on a hook.

The 1070 made this especially easy with guitar music—not surprising, considering that designer Ole Witthoft is a guitarist. Lyrical guitar instrumentals like Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Little Wing" (The Sky is Crying, Epic EK 47390) or Joe Satriani's "The Forgotten" (Flying in a Blue Dream, Relativity 88561-1015-2) were delightfully seductive and involving. Likewise teenage blues sensation Jonny Lang (Lie to Me, A&M 31454 0604 2). B.B. King's Deuces Wild (MCA MCAD-11711) was in very heavy rotation hereabouts during the 1070's stay.

Rock and electric blues aren't the only types of music these speakers do well. Great jazz recordings like Stan Getz's Bossa Nova (Verve Jazz Masters) or Chet Baker's My Funny Valentine (Pacific Jazz CDP 52826 2) never grew tiresome, even with repeat playing. And leave your smug, ironic commentary at the door: I'm a sucker for the stunningly bombastic, like Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart," from her self-titled CD (LaFace/Arista 26020-2). Overproduced? Ask me how little I care. The girl's got an incredible voice. If overwrought opera stars can raise bombast to high art, aren't pop divas entitled to do the same? Braxton consistently delivered the goods through the 1070s.

System Audio's speakers also worked well in a two-channel bedroom audio/video system (Marantz DVD810, Sony TA-E77ESD, Kenwood KM-106), where they displaced a venerable but near-mint-condition pair of KEF 104/2s. Movie dialog was rendered with clarity, music with emotion, and sound effects with kick.

Conclusion
Overall, the System Audio 1070 was a rugged, reliable performer that never let me down, regardless of the material I threw at it. With its punchy bottom, lyrical midrange, and extended top end, it was capable of providing sustained satisfaction with a wide variety of music. It was also compatible with a wide assortment of supporting electronics—I experimented with everything from bargain-basement gear (RadioShack 3400, Chase Technologies RLC-1, Dynaco Stereo 70) to fairly rarefied high-end electronics (PS Audio Lambda 2 transport; Threshold T-1D DAC, T3i preamp, and T-100 amplifiers; Nordost SPM cables) and was never disappointed.

The 1070 was efficient and easy to drive, and should work well with moderate amounts of power: 100Wpc is probably all that's necessary in any space where it's likely to be used.

A limited bottom octave was the little speaker's only serious drawback—substantial output from 20 to 40Hz is asking a lot from something that's closer to a minimonitor than to a full-range loudspeaker. Even so, the bass this speaker produced was quite satisfying. If deep bass is your top priority, the PSB Stratus Goldi (reviewed by John Atkinson in October '97, p.199) or the TDL T-Line 3 (reviewed by Muse Kastanovich in March '98, p.123) are better choices in the $2–3k price range.

But both of those products might overwhelm the System Audio's "natural" environment: a small listening room. If you're among the myriad of rock, pop, and jazz fans living in apartments, townhouses, or condos, the 1070 is strongly recommended. It works well with a wide variety of electronics, is physically unobtrusive, and looks pretty with or without its grille. Its light weight makes it easy to position, and, best of all, it sounds great. I got tons of enjoyment from this loudspeaker. You might, too.

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