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Tucked away in a non-descript office park near the airport in Portland, OR is Triad Speakers. Looking at the outside of the building you would never imagine that inside the building is a complete speaker design and manufacturing company. Once you do enter you find a company where every speaker is made to order and can be customized to whatever the user needs. After they announced their new Cinema Reference LCR2 and Surround 2 speakers at CEDIA in 2012 I wanted to see how they produced these designs themselves and arranged to take a tour of the company.
Once inside I began my tour of Triad where the speaker production begins. What instantly surprised me was the lack of any finished speaker cabinets or other stock lying around. Triad doesn’t keep extra speakers around, as almost everything they do is totally customized, from color to cabinet size. All that was at the start of their production line was stacks of raw MDF that get delivered and four CNC machines. Only when an order comes in for speakers does the construction of a unit begin.
For every speaker that Triad sells, the design information for the CNC machine is stored and then recalled to start production. The MDF is placed on the CNC machine and then production starts. The CNC machines are accurate to thousandths of an inch, allowing for each speaker to be identical to the one that came before it. Once the raw parts are cut, the boxes are taped up to make sure they have no issues and then threaded inserts for spikes or wall mounting. The speaker then moves down the line inside of Triad.
Immediately after taping, the speakers are glued together. You can see all the internal bracing that has to be attached as well as the clamps used to hold a subwoofer together while the glue dries. Here we also see a sample of Triad’s new Cinema Reference speaker being put together and drying. These are still being refined as I write this and while the shape and design are finalized, the design of the internal structures for wiring and how it is cut on the CNC machine can still be refined at this point.
You can also notice on the reference speaker that there are no visible connectors on the outside. No screws or bolts or anything that you can see to detract from the design. Everything is tightly machined, fit inside, and then covered with exterior pieces to produce a completely seamless speaker in any finish you want.
Once the box is glued and fully dried, it is then sanded down before going off to be painted. Heavy-duty ventilation systems manage to keep sawdust so well contained that walking around the sanding area there was hardly a trace of the activity that is going on. Each speaker has multiple layers of paint applied before it is sent down the drying tunnels. They move down the right side of the tunnel, reach the end, and then switch sides and come back up the left side. Once these steps are complete you are left with a speaker like the in-ceiling model you see pictured here.
Immediately after painting it is time to install a crossover in each speaker. Crossovers for most speakers are hand built utilizing some of the parts you see here. Once the crossover is installed it is time for damping material to be installed into the speaker cavity to help reduce internal reflections.
Finally we are ready to install drivers and binding posts. All of the drivers for the speakers are here on shelves and are restocked as needed. Every speaker at Triad starts with the best drivers they can find for it, typically from SEAS or Scan Speak, and then the rest of the speaker is developed around that. Drivers from these companies can run in the hundreds of dollars for a single driver, so Triad is really putting money into the core parts of their speakers.
Once the drivers are installed into a speaker, it is now time to measure and document the results. On a PC using LMS from LinearX the speaker performance is verified and each speaker is individually tested and checked for any air gaps or anything else that would cause performance to not be up to par. If they pass, they are assigned a serial number and the label for packing is attached. If they fail, anyone has the power to stop the line and figure out what is going wrong before a mistake leaves the factory. The speakers then move around 10 feet away to the shipping area, where even the cardboard boxes are ordered from a local company on an as-needed basis to reduce storage inventory and overhead.
If the speakers have a finish other than matte black, they then would move to the custom paint and veneer area right by the shipping department. The example here is a three-channel sound bar that uses their environmentally friendly gloss finish. From the close shots you can see no imperfections and a nice shine to it, but unlike many other companies there are not a lot of toxic chemicals being used to create it.
If you want a wood finish, Triad has a number of standard finishes, or they can create one to match what you have. Taking that sound bar I just gave you as an example, it can be customized to perfectly fit your environment. If you have a TV above the mantle, as many people do, you can order that same sound bar customized to the width of your TV or mantle, or any other width, and with a wood finish that will match your mantle or walls perfectly. That way you get the better sound from the sound bar, but are not taking away from the décor of the room. Custom work like this is where Triad excels because of its production line and few, if any, companies can match it.
Looking at the veneer finish on a sound bar, you can see how nice it looks even up close with the camera. The veneer has multiple layers to it, with a layer of aluminum in there to prevent the glue from attaching it being visible, and the stain from the outside leaking onto the speaker and weakening the glue. Viewed up close the veneered speakers looked wonderful, and of course can be finished however you would like.
Just past that is their testing and service department, where they have a variety of amps and testing equipment available to determine what is wrong with a speaker, and then blast some music to make sure it is performing up to expectations. New and future equipment possibilities are tested in here as well, and for someone that loves measurements and figuring out problems, this room was a nice little area to see.
Finally I made a visit to the anechoic chamber where final voicing of the reference cinema speaker was being done. Utilizing the same LinearX LMS measurement system that is still the industry standard, as well as an automated turntable that can be remotely controlled, measurements can be done here on speakers at a huge variety of angles for measuring response without having to enter the room again This helps in the process of choosing the final drivers for a product, or for designing a waveguide that does more equal dispersion of the audio across a wide field.
Right next to the measuring area, you could see the speaker designers hard at work on the new cinema reference speaker. From their 3D modeling programs, which have the whole physical design of the speaker, the pieces can be exported straight to CNC instructions, and then built on the CNC machine that day. The speaker designers themselves are responsible for building their own prototypes so they can be sure when they produce the physical product that it is easy enough to assemble, that wires can be routed internally, and that there is access to everywhere that there needs to be.
If not, they can then go back to their computer, make adjustments in the modeling program, send it back to the CNC machine, and try again. Having the designers be aware of all these issues makes it so that speakers are designed in ways to make them easier to assemble which reduces labor costs, and in turn reduces costs for everyone. The quick ability to make a change, produce the prototype, and refine from there also helps to reduce development time as well.
My visit to Triad Speakers was really informative, and just blew me away at the end of the day. To see how little was sitting around and how streamlined the operation was came as a big shock. With the way it is structured, making changes to a speaker to work for a client is easy to do, and anything you might need customized can easily be done, from taking half an inch off a cabinet size to virtually designing a whole new speaker. Triad Speakers is not the most well known brand, but they certainly have a good recipe going: Start with the best parts, make everything as efficient and streamlined as possible, and adapt to anything the customer needs.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a pair of Triad Speakers here for review that I can’t wait to get back to listening to.