Product Review - System Audio Speakers - July, 1995

By John E. Johnson, Jr.


System Audio Speakers. Model 905 bookshelf, one 5" mid-range-woofer, 1" tweeter, frequency response 60 - 22 kHz + 4 dB, size 10 1/2"H x 6"W x 8 1/4"D, weight 7 pounds, black vinyl oak grained finish, $399/pair. Model 950 floor standing, two 5" mid-range-woofers, 1" tweeter, frequency response 35 - 35 kHz + 4 dB, size 37 1/2"H x 7"W x 7 3/4"D, weight 22 pounds, black vinyl oak grained finish, $999/pair. Signature series bookshelf, one 5" mid-range-woofer, 1" tweeter, frequency response 46 - 30 kHz + 4 dB, size 10 5/8"H x 6 7/8"H x 10 1/8"D, weight 10 pounds, black ash, cherry, or rosewood veneer finish, $1,249/pair. North American Distributor: Sonic Integrity, 9820 Bell Ranch Road, # 102, Santa Fe Springs, California 90670, (310) 944-0160.

System Audio is a relatively new company, and as such, the designers did not have any past models to radically change, and therefore, no preconceived notions about what must go into a speaker to make it sound good. They essentially started from scratch.

The 905 and 950 which we tested, represent the current models in their standard series. The Signature is their latest and finest addition to the System Audio line of speakers. We were fortunate enough to have this model for review as well.

The cabinetry on these speakers is typical of Danish craftsmanship. Although the finish on the 905s and 950s is oak grained vinyl rather than real wood, it is very well done, and not surprisingly, the backs of the speakers are finished in the same covering. I say, "not surprisingly," because I am familiar with Danish woodworking. Some time ago, I bought a Danish conference table, and when it was placed into the conference room, I noticed that the bottom of the table was stained and finished exactly the same as the top. Now that is craftsmanship. The finish on the System Audio Signature we obtained was an oiled natural cherry. This is one cabinet finish that not only was beautiful to look at, but smelled good too!

All three models that we tested use the same size woofer: 5" with a 4 1/4" active area. The cabinets of the 905s and Signatures are rear ported, while the 950s have sealed enclosures. On the back of the 950HH, there is a capped opening for adding sand or lead shot to the base of the speaker for increased damping if desired. We were satisfied with the sound just the way it was, and leave experimentation with this option to other reviewers. Four gold plated binding posts allow bi-wiring or bi-amping of all the speakers, including the entry level 905s.

There is an obvious physical difference in the tweeters between all the models tested, even though they are the same size. The woofers in the 905 and 950 are identical, but there are two in the 950 and one in the 905. The woofer in the Signature bookshelf speaker is a very special design, with a long throw voice coil. A phase plug is attached to the magnet. All of the low frequency drivers and tweeters in the models we auditioned are made by Vifa to System Audio specs. Unusually heavy magnets are employed to make the drivers respond to signals very quickly.

We tested these speakers with our reference amplifiers, and were amazed to find that, with careful placement (a few feet out from the wall), their power belies their size. The sound stage extended far beyond their physical position in our laboratory. Of course, the sound stage depends quite a bit on how the listening area is arranged, but a poorly designed speaker will exhibit less than adequate performance in even the best of listening rooms. The System Audio speakers confirmed that we had spent our time and money well, and made the listening lab sound wonderful!

The 950s had a deeper bass extension than the 905s (naturally, with two low frequency drivers and a larger enclosure). Although the Signature did not have the bass extension of the 950s, the custom designed woofer in the Signature strutted its stuff and put out astonishingly tight and controlled bass even at very high power from our reference amps. The high end became increasingly detailed from the 905 to the 950 and then to the Signature. Sibilants were clean on all three models. However, the Signature shows up any harshness in components or source material upstream, and one of our referees, who has excellent high end hearing, preferred the more laid back high frequency reproduction of the 950 with some of our reference CDs: for example, "Unforgettable, with Love", Natalie Cole, Elektra - 9 61049-2; "The Great Fantasy Adventure Album", Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Telarc - CD-80342. Frankly, I liked all of the speakers, as each model sounded very natural, with no boomy box resonance. Each had their own sonic signature (pun intended) naturally (pun intended), so each might go best with a particular type of music - the 950s with rock and pop, the 905s with soft classical, and the Signatures with full bodied classical (Wagner, anyone?)

We tested the speakers with a left/right front surround sound signal, and as expected, a good subwoofer was necessary for the low end slam of big time movie surround sound tracks. However, such is the case for all bookshelf and slim line floor standing speakers that use small drivers to maintain tight control over sound reproduction. There is a definite trend in using small drivers even in tall floor standing models, and one has to listen to this design along with models using larger (say 8") drivers handling the mid-range and upper bass to hear the control over these frequencies that the small drivers have. There is the drawback, of course, that the low end (below about 50 Hz) is not reproduced at satisfying levels with these small drivers, but after listening to a number of speakers, we have concluded that a subwoofer is a definite plus, no matter what the size of the driver and enclosure in the main speaker. The region of 18 - 30 Hz or so really needs a separate speaker (the sub) to handle it. Thus, we now use subwoofers to supplement our main reference speakers, even though they contain several 12" drivers already.

In sum, we examined a full range of System Audio products and enjoyed every minute. We highly recommend our readers to audition these excellent speakers.

John E. Johnson, Jr.

Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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