Equipment Review No. 2  •   July-August 2003

Triad Silver Monitor, Mini Monitor, and Silver PowerSub 7.2 Surround Speaker System w/ Stands $12,750
Triad Speakers, Inc.
15835 NE Cameron Blvd.
Portland, Oregon 97230
(800) 666-6316 - Toll Free
(503) 256-5966 - Fax
www.triadspeakers.com/index.html

Basic Descriptions

Multiple finishes available and viewable on the website with three price tiers: Basic, Standard, Premium—also possibility of matching customer supplied finish. Triad Pedestals 32” H with sand-fill capability, wire hide, and top screw to hold speaker in place, $200 Basic ea., $400 Standard ea., $500 Premium ea.

InRoom Silver Monitor Speaker has 1” SEAS tweeter, 2 5” Scan Speak Midrange Drivers, 7.3125” W x 16.25” H x 8.5” D, 36 pounds, video shielded, 4 ohms nominal impedance, sensitivity 91 db, rated 70-20kHz (+/-3db), $2000 Basic ea., $2250 Standard ea., $2350 Premium ea.

InRoom Silver MiniMonitor has 1” SEAS tweeter, 5” Scan Speak Midrange Driver, 7.3125” W x 10.75” H x 8.5” D, 4 ohm impedance, sensitivity 87 db, rated 85-20kHz (+/-3db), $1200 Basic ea., $1350 Standard ea., $1400 Premium ea.

InRoom Silver PowerSub has 12”coated paper woofer w/ cast basket and 3” voicecoil, 250 Watt Power Amplifier included in separate chassis, 15.5” W x 16.25” H x 14.5” D, 70 pounds, rated frequency response 20-180 Hz (+/-3db); $1250 Basic ea., $1550 Standard ea., $1650 Premium ea.

Amplifier has left and right inputs with gain or single mono input with fixed gain and designed for maximum output between 40-80 Hz (THX), adjustable phase from 0-180, two parallel 12db low pass filters, 100 Hz high pass filter. Warranty on amplifier is 3 years, 10 years on speakers.


Associated Equipment Used

System #1 (music comparison testing): Krell Theater Amplifier Standard, Krell Home Theater Standard Processor, Krell DVD Standard, Audioquest cabling, B&W N805 speakers (for comparison).

System #2: Meridian 568 Surround Preamplifier, Sunfire Cinema Grand II 5-channel Amplifier, Mark Levinson No. 29 2-channel Power Amplifier, Philips CDC-935 CD transport, Computer DVD/HTPC, Dish Network 4900 Satellite Receiver, Smart Devices GC-120 Line Purifier, DeWire, Audioquest, Esoteric Audio cabling.

Setup

When 14 boxes arrived I began to wonder what I had got myself into. I took a day just to prepare my living room for the huge change that was about to occur. One important warning while unpacking these pieces—they are heavy and slippery—not a good combination. First, I assembled the stands. The manual recommends 20 pounds of sand or lead shot per stand, but I wanted to be able to move them around easily so I left them unfilled. Even with filling they are fairly solid. Bags and ties are even included if you want to go the whole nine yards. The stands allow for routing the wire into the back and out of the bottom for a clean installation. The speaker sits on top of a rubber pad, and the stands include screws to fit underneath the speaker. However, they were too short and I was unable to make them reach the bottom of the speaker. I was told that the stands were very new, and this problem would be corrected.

After completing the stand construction, I began to place the speakers around the room. The room is approximately 15’ x 22’. I moved the front speakers away from the wall and set the center speaker on some concrete blocks. Laying the blocks sideways or changing the stacking allowed me to vary the height of the speaker. I laid a towel over the blocks to protect the lovely finish on the speaker. I put the side and back speakers against the wall (as was recommended to me by the manufacturer’s representative).
I positioned them equidistant from my listening position although I was about twice the distance from the front speakers. In a perfect setup I would have been the same distance from every speaker. Height-wise the speakers sat about even. I’ve had my room analyzed by a few different people and they always recommend the subwoofer to be placed in the same position. In this case I had two woofers, so I placed them as close together as possible. I didn’t try placing them in different locations because there was only one seating position and I felt that the response at this position was fairly even in the low frequencies. Different placement options would (of course) be optimal in different rooms.

It had been quite a while since I had tackled the setup in my Meridian processor. It is quite involved and really needs to be done on a computer. After an evening of frustration when the connection failed and corrupted my setup file, I finally got an acceptable (working) setup. At first I connected the subwoofer to the mono input not realizing that it rolls off the bass frequencies below 35 Hz. After speaking to the representative once again I changed the connection to the left and right input. This turned out not only to give deeper bass output in my room, but also allowed easy volume control adjustment on the front of the separate amplifiers that controlled the settings on the subwoofers.

I ran the system for more than a month, playing with the levels occasionally and repositioning the speakers. I listened to satellite TV, CDs, and watched DVDs as well. Everything worked without any problems or quirks.

The manuals are some of the simplest I’ve seen; unfortunately they don’t give a lot of useful information to aid in setup of the speakers. I questioned the rep about this and he informed me that it was not normally an issue as the speakers are typically professionally installed. In fact, I spent a good amount of time talking to him about the company and the design philosophy.


Company Background

Triad has been in business for many years. One of my first visits to CES (or was it a Stereophile show?) included a presentation by Triad with their InRoom Gold speaker system. I remember to this day how impressed I was by the integration and enjoyable sound I heard in that room. The setup is never great at these shows, and I wasn’t even in a choice listening seat, but the sound was great.

The company takes a systems approach to loudspeaker design. In that I mean that the speakers are designed to work well together in different combinations. Use of similar components and consistent designs help to create a sound that is uniform and predictable. This is best exemplified by the company’s in-wall product offerings. Almost every InRoom model is available in an InWall design. Unlike 90% of the in-wall speakers that are available, Triad speakers come in a box. At first you might think the speakers look a little strange, but you soon realize how beneficial a box design is. The space is exactly what is needed for the particular speaker and wall resonance is kept to a minimum. This means a predictable response even when used in markedly different wall compositions. The round, in-ceiling speaker is designed in the same fashion. Anyone who has a two-story property with in-ceiling speakers in the bottom story has realized the problems of using a speaker that is not enclosed—the sound comes right through the floor!

Although the system reviewed is not the most expensive that Triad offers, there are more reasonable alternatives to the Silver Monitor system (reviewed)—namely the Bronze, Silver, and Gold series. The Platinum series is the higher-end alternative. All the models incorporate a similar design style. They all have solid enclosures, and as you go up in the line you get better, bigger, and/or higher performance drivers. I was sent pictures that show the extensive bracing and dampening used inside the speaker cabinet—it was clearly different than what I expected, but most impressive. No wonder the speakers are so heavy!

The custom application features are what attract many dealers to Triad speakers. In addition to having many choices of finish, Triad will match wood or finish to just about anything. I would think this would appeal to many interior designers as well - whether opting for a complete in-wall system (including subwoofer), a compact speaker with high output, or a beautifully crafted wood finish.


Listening I—2-channel comparison with Silver Mini Monitor

System #1 was used for the 2-channel listening comparison testing. I used the B&W N805 with stand for comparisons—I’m familiar with the sound and they happen to be available for my use. I spent some time setting the speakers up in the room and switched cables between the speakers often, repeating the same excerpt over and over. If you take into account the frequency response of both the Silver Mini Monitor and the Silver Monitor speaker you would assume that they would need a subwoofer to deliver the best sound.

I started with the Mini’s and listened to track 1 from Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing album. Both speakers had the tweeter fairly high up from my position on the couch. The sound of the Mini was obviously frequency limited, but the speaker was well balanced and handled louder levels with aplomb. I ended up toeing in the speaker much more than I am used to in order to get the best center image. With freestanding speakers, this was no problem, but if you opt for the in-wall version you will be stuck with the position as installed. With the speakers fairly well spaced apart (about 10’), I felt the center image was a little diffuse. In a theater configuration that includes a center channel, this would not be an issue. The B&W is a larger speaker, so comparisons in the bass range would be unfair. There was a difference in sensitivity that required adjustment of the volume to properly match levels for the comparisons. Aside from the added richness, I was surprised at how little difference there was sonically. If I had to nitpick, I’d say the B&W speaker had a slightly bigger soundspace—both depth and width. There was also a difference in the midrange between the two loudspeakers. I was told specifically that the Silver Mini Monitor worked best when close to the wall and this would account for some of that difference.

Next I listened to track 1 from the Blade Runner soundtrack after the first minute or so. It was difficult to describe the difference I heard, and I was forced to go back and forth several times. The frequency extension of the B&W speaker gave it a slight advantage. Soundstage depth was a mite deeper with the B&W, but the difference was not huge.


Listening II—2-channel comparison with Silver Monitor

I intended to use these speakers as side and surround in the 7.2 system I had setup initially, so further comparisons with the Mini didn’t seem necessary. It was clear they could hold their own, and would be excellent speakers for rear and side use. I was much more interested in the sound of the better Silver Monitor speaker. With the extra mid/bass driver I expected a fuller sound, more sensitivity, and less chance of overload at high levels.

I put on track 1 from Radiohead’s Kid A. Sure enough the extra driver (and size) did the trick. No longer did I feel like there could be more bass. Even though there would be a huge improvement in the low end with a subwoofer, I never felt that it was essential. This speaker is clearly a step up from the Silver Mini Monitor. If size (or price) is not an issue, then the Silver Monitor is the better speaker for the critical listener. There was an increase in sensitivity and I didn’t have to readjust the volume as much as before. The sound was much more effortless. The sound was clean, dynamic, and imaging was outside the edge of the speakers. The voice was not as three dimensional as heard with other speakers, but it was close.

I listened to a few jazz cuts from Saturday Afternoon Jazz and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon on SACD. With straight listening it was hard to complain about the sound of the Silver Monitor.


Listening III—Surround Me with Music

It’s been a while since I had a really nice surround system setup and I was anxiously waiting to hear how good the newly installed system would sound. I couldn’t resist playing a bunch of surround trailers including a few Dolby Digital, DTS, and even some from THX. After playing around, I went looking for some music and I rediscovered a DTS Music Sampler (CD-84402) that had Think About You by Maria Muldaur. This recording is an excellent example of naturally sounding guitar and voice. The sound easily competed with the best offered on the CD format, but offers a much bigger acoustic space (due to the fact that the recording is multichannel). The music seems to just pass over you, and I kept forgetting I was supposed to be reviewing the speaker system. Everything was so smooth and easy—this is how I wished everything sounded! I would have to believe that the Triad’s largely contributed to the superb blend and seamlessly integrated soundfield I heard on this cut.

On track 11 from this same disc, I was convinced that the subwoofer was properly adjusted. The bass was taut, deep, and you could easily convince yourself that it was coming entirely from the front of the room even though the subwoofers were located in the back right corner. The overall sound was extremely satisfying. I think many people are much less critical when hearing movies in surround on a typical surround sound system. After all, you are busy watching the action, and you aren’t concentrating on only the sound. But this illusion quickly disappears when the TV goes off and only the sound plays. This was not the case with the Triad system. If I had to criticize any area it would be in the retrieval of the last bit of “air.” Without a comparison it would be hard to say whether it was more recording related or not.

For fun I pulled out an old Nimbus Surround Sound Sampler. The speakers weren’t optimally setup according to the disc instructions (surround and opposite front speakers pointing at each other diagonally), but I still managed to get a kick out of track 25. The recording engineers put a microphone in the woods at the Wyastone Leys Estate in Monmouth, England. The sound consists primarily of birds along with the occasional passing car on a distant road. It was very relaxing and very convincing.


Listening IV—Movies, Movies, Movies

Okay, okay. Most people don’t get a surround system to listen to two-channel music or even multichannel music. People get surround for home theater, and home theater means MOVIES. Most of my use of the Triad loudspeaker system was either DVD watching and satellite (television and movie) viewing. I tried chapter 43 from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. I can’t think of a better example of the benefits of a Dolby Surround EX track. The spaceships and other flying vehicles went seamlessly left to right and front to back around the listening position. The fact that the speakers are virtually identical in design enabled the system to create an extremely believable sonic space.

I haven’t seen Fantasia 2000 but there is a wonderful excerpt on the DTS Sampler #7 with Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring as the musical backdrop. The animation is well done and the feeling of being right in the middle of a nature setting while the world is transformed from the dead of winter to spring is powerful. The music starts slow and soft and culminates with symphonic bloom and majesty washing over the listener.

Brotherhood Of The Wolf isn’t a movie for everyone, but the Matrix-like action sequences are really cool. In chapter 2 there is a fight scene that takes place out on the moor in the rain. The footsteps in the wet mud create a splash that goes from the front speakers and spread out over the listener to the back speakers—I felt as if I were getting wet. Other effects are more concentrated in the front, but during the slow motion parts the sound effects have width and depth and stretch across the entire space.

I listened to chapter 15 and 16 with another EX track on Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets. This encompassed the flying scenes during the Quidditch match (which I had hoped would be longer), and in the later chapter has Potter lying in bed recovering after his accident. When the scene begins, Potter is awakened by an evil voice that eerily echoes from every direction. Again, the Triad system helped to create the illusionary environment, and I ended up watching much more of the movie than I had intended.

Up to this point I haven’t made much mention of the two Silver PowerSubs. It isn’t because they didn’t sound great, it’s because they managed to keep out of the way—to do the job, but not intrude upon the integrity of the sound. When I first set them up I accidentally had the level turned up too high. There was so much bass in the room I was in danger of a headache! I changed connection to the subwoofer amplifiers (which actually provided more output in the lower bass) and adjusted the level. The end result was deeper, more powerful bass and better system matching. To test out low bass capability I used an old favorite, the excerpt from the Sheryl Crow concert on DTS Sampler #4. Unlike some of the other woofers I have tested, the Triad subs passed the test with no problem. The bass was solid, deep, and sustained with no obvious overload. In my room I probably could have gotten by with a single subwoofer, but I’m not complaining!

*An important consideration: I found that the Silver Monitor speakers are extremely sensitive to differences in vertical placement (most likely due to the dual midrange speaker design). When I had the center located 21” off the floor it had a slight depressed high frequency response. The InWall center speakers that I’ve seen from Triad (specifically the Gold center) offer an adjustment to aim the speakers toward the listener. This is a huge advantage with this system. With the center at the initial placement height, voices had a somewhat “dead” quality to them. This was audible even at a distance of 14’ away. I ran some pink noise from Stereophile Test CD #2 to confirm this. In a way, this is good, because there won’t be as much in the way of reflective sound coming from the floor or ceiling with these speakers. Tilting the speaker up may be a solution for most listeners when simply raising the speaker is not possible. For a fixed listening distance this is a viable solution. Anyone with a perforated screen who can locate the speaker behind will not have any trouble. As expected, the speakers sound best when set vertically, but the good news is it didn’t sound markedly worse when I laid the speaker on its side. Intuition would tell you that this is a bad idea, but in practice it seemed to work fine.

For the last of my testing I used an excerpt from Saving Private Ryan on DTS Sampler #4. I’ve heard this passage so many times I can almost time it out in my head. I’ve also managed to hear it on many different combinations of speakers and electronics. My feeling is that I did not hear quite as much air, especially when the bullets are flying, as I’ve heard on certain systems in the past. Part of this is most likely due to the more controlled dispersion of the tweeter in the Triad speakers, although it may have something to do with the particular amplifier/preamplifier combination I used in the review system. It would probably be hard for anyone who wasn’t entirely familiar with every component in the system to point out this difference, and the difference was more noticeable in review System #2 than it had been during the music sessions with review System #1.


Conclusion

I always find it interesting to hear other people’s comments on some of the equipment I have under review. Some people are quick to point out things a system does do, and others are quick to point out what it doesn’t do. The Triad speakers are extremely well-constructed, use top-end materials, and are available in a variety of finishes. The company offers many differently priced products and amazing flexibility in the systems where the speakers need to be built-in. There are enough model choices that should satisfy anyone’s budget.

Considering the qualities most desired in a home theater speaker system: dynamic capability, freedom from distortion, matching tonal characteristics from every speaker in the system, and even easy installation, the Triad speaker system scores very highly. The speaker system does not emphasize any particular frequency range giving it an extremely flat response. Some visitors who casually listened interpret this as a “flat” sound, a negative. But experienced critical listeners usually recognize the fact that speakers that initially grab your attention often do so because of a flaw or alteration from accuracy. If a flavor of the month megabuck high-end “audiophile” speaker is your bag, then you need to look elsewhere. The Triad speakers are built to last, work well in varying aesthetic environments, and sound great with whatever material you decide to throw at them. If a salesperson has been recommending Triad, but you’ve been hesitant for whatever reason, don’t worry; the Triads are a good, safe bet. They aren’t the fanciest, the biggest, the cheapest, or the most expensive, but as a complete system they offer extremely high value and are definitely worth checking out.

- Brian Bloom big_brian_b@hotmail.com

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