Triad Design System Seven satellite/subwoofer loudspeaker
The $1000 System Seven consists of a cubical woofer enclosure powered by an internal amplifier and two very small midrange/tweeter modules. Starting with the woofer, it is based on a 12" Peerless polypropylene-cone driver powered by a 70W amplifier. The woofer response is equalized in the amplifier front-end to compensate for the 12dB/octave rolloff exhibited by sealed enclosures below the driver's resonance. The woofer's upper range is about 140Hz, and the 3dB point is specified at 28Hz. The woofer's low-pass crossover slope is 12dB/octave.
A panel on the enclosure's rear provides a woofer level-control adjustment, a pair of RCA line-level input jacks, two pairs of five-way binding posts for speaker-level inputs, power on/off switch, line cord, and a fuse. The panel also incorporates the amplifier's heatsink. The enclosure front is covered by black fabric stretched over a thin wood frame. The unit is finished in real oak veneer, with a large variety of other woods available, some at extra cost.
The midrange/tweeter module is comprised of two separate enclosures mounted one atop the other on a rubber bushing. The tweeter unit can be swiveled to accommodate different listening axes or direct more treble energy toward the listener if desired. A pair of five-way binding posts is provided on the module's midrange portion. A Scanspeak paper-cone midrange (the same driver reportedly used in the Duntech Black Knight) is coupled with a Vifa V26 soft-dome tweeter. The tweeter's front plate is small and square, rather than round, to fit inside the tweeter enclosure. The tweeter is crossed over at 6dB/octave, while the midrange is filtered at the steeper 12dB/octave slope. No high-pass filter is in the midrange circuit, the rolloff provided instead by the natural acoustical response of the driver below its sealed-box resonance frequency.
The Triad System Seven is easy to set up in some ways, but very difficult to squeeze the very best performance from. I got good sound from the System Seven just by putting the satellites where I thought would be appropriate, placing the woofer on a platform just above the floor, and setting the woofer level at 11 o'clock in accordance with the instructions. Without any adjustments, tweaking, or experimentation, the imaging was superb and the tonal balance fairly good. This experience indicates that most users will get satisfactory sound from the System Seven without much effort. However, as I tried to find the optimum setup, I soon realized that this would be a major undertaking. The System Seven has so many variables that one could spend weeks getting it just right. These variables include woofer placement (including the height axis), woofer output level, satellite placement, midrange driver toe-in, tweeter toe-in, listening height, and listening position in the room. In addition, many of these variables are interactive, further complicating the situation. For example, the optimum woofer level is dependent on midrange and treble energy which is dependent on amount of satellite toe-in.
I must stress that it is easy to get good sound from the System Seven without all this tweaking, as evidenced by my initial setup. But as a reviewer, it is important to wring from a loudspeaker the very best performance it has to offer to make accurate and informed value judgments. I should add that this was my first experience with a powered woofer system.
Most of the auditioning was done with the woofer located midway between the satellites and mounted on a double-spiked Mission stand. Getting the woofer away from the floor and other boundaries is essential: The tendency for the woofer to have a boomy character was ameliorated by the free-space positioning. I found the recommended 11 o'clock position of the woofer-level adjustment very close to optimum, but a little high. More on this later. The satellites were positioned 55" from the rear wall and 32" from the side walls, with the midrange drivers slightly toed-in. The tweeters were rotated to point straight ahead. Because my 3' runs of AudioQuest Clear Hyperlitz wouldn't reach both woofer and satellites, I auditioned the System Seven with 10' runs of AudioQuest Green Hyperlitz.
During the auditioning, I was torn by my ambivalent feelings toward the System Seven. In some aspects, it achieves a level of performance that rivals Class A loudspeakers. It also has weaknesses that compromise the overall musical performance of the system. This situation makes it very difficult to judge the product, especially because different listeners have different sonic priorities. Let's start with what the System Seven does well.
I was immediately taken by the System Seven's midrange purity. It produced a transparent, open, and crystal-clear rendering through the area occupied by most musical fundamentals and lower-order harmonics. This gave a natural timbre to instruments and vocals in this range. I was particularly impressed with the System Seven's reproduction of Conte Candoli's flügelhorn from a CD I had engineered. It was round, liquid, and had a texture remarkably similar to what I remember from the real instrument during the session. This recording is often reproduced with an unnatural "hooded" quality, or alternately, as steely or reedy. Through the System Seven it was warm, rich, and remarkably uncolored. I find brass instruments particularly revealing of tonal aberrations, perhaps because they have such complex harmonic structures. Not only are brass instruments sensitive to microphone differences, but there is a drastic tonal change if even a little equalization is applied.