Triad Design System Seven satellite/subwoofer loudspeaker Page 2
This brings me to the System Seven's other area of remarkable performance: soundstage, imaging, and resolving spatial nuance. The feeling of envelopment, of an expansive and deep soundstage before the listener, and of the loudspeakers disappearing into the music, was extraordinary. In addition, image focus and spatial precision within the soundstage were equally impressive. Instrumental outlines were rock-solid and resolved with pinpoint precision. Listen to Airto's drum solo on "Misturada" from Three-Way Mirror (Reference Recordings RR-24CD). Each drum is a focused image and spatially distinct from the drum next to it. Curiously, the System Seven seemed to resolve height information, with the bass drum at the bottom right, toms in the middle, and cymbals above the plane of the loudspeakers.
The System Seven produced an accurate impression of hall size, with the soundstage width and depth changing with each recording. The Dorian Pictures at an Exhibition was conveyed with a sense of space and size. My guitar and bass recording on the Stereophile Test CD, "Threedledum," took on the characteristics of the recording site (a 140-year-old church), with a feeling of air and space around the instruments. The System Seven's resolution of spatial nuance and detail was exceptional, reminiscent of the Ensemble Reference reviewed by Dick Olsher in Vol.13 No.6.
Not surprising in light of my impressions of the System Seven's remarkable imaging abilities, they performed very well on the LEDR test. The "Up" image achieved the greatest apparent height of any loudspeaker on which I've heard this test. The image was solid as it moved up, and continued to the ceiling. The "Over" test was similarly impressive, the image tracing a clearly definable arc over the satellites. The "Lateral" test, which is the easiest for a loudspeaker to perform well, produced pinpoint and continuous images between the satellites. Driving the satellite with a variable-frequency sinewave oscillator produced a very small amount of cabinet vibration at 150Hz. The woofer enclosure was lively, with a fair degree of vibration throughout the lowermost frequencies up to about 200Hz.
If the System Seven does all these things so well, why am I ambivalent about it? Well, it has a few of what I consider to be serious shortcomings.
First, the tonal balance was overly bright. Cymbals assumed a forward and aggressive character that detracted from the listening experience. The bright character was evident in most recordings, but became objectionable in CDs and LPs that tended to be even slightly bright. In addition, the brightness seemed confined to the upper octaves, affecting instruments with extreme HF energy (cymbals for example) rather than adding an upper-midrange glare to a wide range of instruments. This indicates that the rising treble is probably high in frequency (above, say, 10kHz) rather than an upper-midrange rise that would affect more of the musical spectrum. I wouldn't characterize the treble as hard and brittle, like the Camber 3.5ti's, but rather as possessing excessive energy. In fact, the treble was quite clean, detailed, and free from hash. However, the elevated HF level prevented long listening sessions at moderate to high playback volumes.
Rotating the tweeter away from the listening position helped greatly, but at the expense of image focus and midrange palpability. In fact, I felt the best treble balance was obtained with the tweeters pointing away from the listening axis by about 30°. I should add that my listening room is far from bright and reflective. There are drapes over large windows on two walls, and most of the wall surface is covered by a thin carpet that is similar to a commercially available acoustic treatment material. The floor is covered by thick Berber carpeting over a heavy pad. I have large pieces of foam to cover the reflective surfaces of equipment cabinets and bookcases. In addition, the dedicated room's dimensional ratios were chosen for best distribution of room resonance modes.
My other criticism of the System Seven is significant, but not as severe as the treble imbalance: bass reproduction. I had a hard time getting the woofer to integrate with the satellites. There seemed to be a dip in the response between where the woofer rolled off and where the satellites took over. This imparted a thinness, or threadbare character to the mid/upper bass that I couldn't get rid of. Increasing the woofer level so the presentation was warm and full in the midbass caused the low bass to become thumpy. Backing off on the level so the bass boom was reduced made the midbass lean. Getting the woofer up in the air on the Mission stand helped somewhat, but was still not satisfactory. In addition, the bass tended to be a little sluggish compared to the exceptional transient performance of the satellites. Pitch definition was good, but not as clearly resolved as the Cyrus 782.
One aspect of the System Seven's low-frequency performance that the other loudspeakers in this survey couldn't approach was bass extension. While the others may have hinted at low bass, or had a suggestion of extension, the System Seven had real output in the lowermost octaves. The organ on Dorian's Pictures at an Exhibition was reproduced with a real sense of the instrument's size and weight. The lowermost fundamentals were solid and powerful, producing a more musically satisfying experience with this recording than that heard through many loudspeakers.
Despite these criticisms, I was quite taken with the System Seven's presentation. This says a lot about its fundamental rightness through the midrange, the area where most musical information lies. I intend to hang on to the System Seven to try and ameliorate some of its problems. It has the potential for achieving a level of musical performance exceeding anything else I've heard in the price range.
If this review appears a bit schizophrenic, it's because it is an accurate reflection of my impressions of the Triad System Seven. In some areas it achieves a level of performance that rivals loudspeakers costing many times as much. These areas tend to be important musically: an open and uncolored midrange, resolution of instrumental detail, and an expansive yet focused spatial presentation. In addition, the System Seven had an involving and musically interesting character that was very satisfying. In my opinion, however, its exceptional musical performance in some areas was compromised by two significant faults: an overly bright treble, and a somewhat lean midbass accompanied by a thumpy quality in the low bass. The System Seven did, however, produce remarkable LF extension, especially for a $1000 loudspeaker. Incidentally, it would be criminal to put the satellites on a bookshelf and lose the System Seven's spectacular soundstaging and midrange transparency. The $100 stands are definitely recommended.
I'm not certain that I got the best performance from the System Seven. Although experimentation did improve its strengths and somewhat mitigate its weaknesses, it may be possible to further tweak the system's many variables to ameliorate its problems.
Having said all that, can I recommend the Triad System Seven?
Yes, but with the implicit assumption that prospective buyers will carefully audition it for themselves. Some listeners may be less bothered by the forward treble presentation than I was. The bottom line is that I enjoyed listening to music through the System Seven and at times was completely immersed in its presentation. Give it a listen before buying anything in this price range.