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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear; Raysonic CD128 [on extended loan]; Esoteric P-03, D-03, G-0s [on review]
CD Recorder: Olive Symphony with Red Wine Audio battery mod
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; Wyetech Labs Jade; Supratek Cabernet Dual [on loan from owner]; Melody I2A3 [on extended loan]
EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Bel Canto e.One S300; Eastern Electric M-520
Headphones: AKG K-1000 w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; audio-technica W-1000
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1
Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber [on loan]; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer; Crystal Cable Ultra loom [on extended loan]
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular five-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room
Review Component Retail: Ruby speaker $1,600/pr; matching stand $700/pr
|Men with big feet. They have - um, big shoes. At least so Julia Roberts tells Hugh Grant in the Notting Hill flick. Speakers in small boxes make little bass. There's no way around it. Or so most 'philes believe. Physics told 'em. There are ways to cheat, however. With a monitor speaker. Not really with big feet. Though a good Italian designer can make big shoes look more compact. To make a little speaker sound bigger, increasing excursion capability of its mid/woofer is the fashionable ticket. If you can beef up its displacement without incurring audible distortion. Otherwise you'll need a passive radiator or paralleled drivers. To do without means a few things. A superior mid/woofer for one. Seeing that it has to reach the tweeter without leaving an audible hole -- think 2kHz for hand-over as a rule -- said mid/woofer shouldn't be too large in diameter. Five inches max are usually considered optimum for that application.
Because your small but potent super woofer will be asked to pump away like a rabbit in heat -- high SPLs from small surface areas equal big excursions -- you'll need a boffo box to contain the enormous pressures generated inside without telegraphing audible distress signals of flexing, ringing and other generally unpleasant types of distortions. If it's a ported alignment, you'll also have to avoid port chuffing. Remember, this is a brute force approach. We're talking superior fire power. That requires a higher level of engineering. It's the Iron Man speaker contest. No whimps, wusses and wannabes tolerated. No sir!
For owners of such maxi monitors, it's about power and glory. Remember, bass-optimized small speakers must lose sensitivity in the bargain. It's the law. They need more power to drive properly. Nearly as often, they also sport less-than-benign and low-reaching impedance curves as a result. To truly deliver the bass extension, output and control such monitors were designed to do means good-bye SET and tubes in general. Say hello instead to high-current Class A or D transistors. It means butch damping factors and high power into low impedances.
Why would you even want to engage in such unnatural acts in the first place? Isn't asking small monitors to work so hard akin to audio bestiality? Not really. It depends on your priorities. Monitor speakers enjoy a large following for their often spooky ability to subtract themselves from the sonic event and disappear as the apparent sound source. Aficionados of pin-point imaging and huge soundstaging can relate. Ditto for coherence connoisseurs. Then there's the love-thy-wife-and-not-the-neighbor's-towers commandment. Mature audiophiles know that a happy audiophile is the one with the happy wife. And mondo speaker contraptions make for unhappy wives. As can add-on subwoofers.
Yet men with small speakers feel terribly self-conscious. Alas, if the same small speakers were suddenly to dish out killer bass jams by some unexpected miracle, bragging rights would return with a vengeance. The man instantly would look savvy and mucho sophisticé, his buddies with the monkey coffins like relics who'd never graduated from their dorm rooms. So there's a definitive market for the overachieving monitor. And Mark Wong and Daniel Lee have set their eyes on winning the domestic Iron Man speaker contest in this specialty category. Got yer knuckles taped?
|Our Americans with the Shanghai connection are cheating as much as Physics will allow them. For example, their top Aragorn model drops the monitor's already low resonant frequency from 36Hz to 28Hz, via addition of an optional passive bass extender. That's a hollow stand with an air-tight coupler that increases the speaker chassis cubic volume. For the same SPLs, the 'elongated' Aragorn must deliver 65% more linear excursion to keep up with the standard Aragorn. This shows how each additional cycle of bass extension below commonly accepted limits becomes a heroic struggle for the transducer. For Mark and Daniel, this meant developing their own drivers with extreme motor systems. Those are claimed capable of 7 to 10dB more undistorted output than equivalently sized cones driven from conventional motors. (David Kan's review of the Maximus monitor covers this technology and useful background in great detail. In essence, think very long gap/short coil -- underhung -- coupled to hi-excursion suspensions.)
This enhanced stroke technology allows the use of smaller mid/woofer diameters than would otherwise be necessitated. At the same time, this team was keen on getting tweeter crossovers out of the pesky 2K presence region where human hearing is most sensitive. To reach its target 800Hz hi-pass one octave lower -- which would also allow the use of an 8-inch woofer for the Aragorn and make the tweeter active well below 800Hz since analog networks aren't brick-wall filters -- Mark & Daniel engineered their own version of the Oskar Heil Air Motion Transformer. Remember that famous 'accordion pleat' tweeter? Its original 1972 patents have expired to make the basic design public domain. But M&D didn't rest there. They designed a concave AMT version with ±30º lateral dispersion, believing it the first ever attempted. They call it DREAMS - Directly Responding Emitter by Air Motion Structure driver. While the name is goofy as hell to add up to a catchy acronym, the Heil technology is very serious indeed.
|Heil's basic design premise stated that all conventional loudspeaker cones and domes move air pistonically in a 1:1 ratio between diaphragm and air, with the visible diaphragm area always corresponding to the physically active portion. Because air's specific mass is lower than that of the mechanism driving it, Heil viewed the efficiency and coupling of such drivers poorly. His Air Motion Transformer employs a large surface folded in the 3rd dimension. No longer flat-though-curved as conventional drivers are, an AMT squeezes the air out of its folds, elevating the effective ratio to 4:1 - the pleated lamella diaphragm moves air four times faster than it moves by itself. Hence the various terms expressive of velocity transformer for this type of driver. Burmester for example uses AMT derivative tweeters while Adam Audio has additionally developed midranges capable of hitting 300Hz, dubbing theirs accelerated ribbon transducers instead. By their very nature -- like horn-loaded acoustic gain, small diaphragm motion translates into large air motion -- AMTs are extremely articulate and fast and offer superior dynamic range. And M&D claims a 5.3:1 ratio for their version for yet higher velocities.
|For cabinets, Mark & Daniel employ synthetic marble resin to withstand the higher sound pressures inside their boxes. To optimize ambient air, a special Heil tweeter
|version becomes optional. Its output can be tailored via impedance taps and it fires up into a lens for 360° dispersion. This increases high-frequency reflected sound above 7kHz. This add-on device (standard for the Aragorn) is called the Omni Harmonizer. Anyone who's heard the magnificent Gallo CDT already knows what omni tweeters can do for soundstaging. Without going into further tech, let's just say that Mark & Daniel isn't a me-too outfit. These gents have clearly considered the inherent challenges of their chosen path and developed unique ways to stretch the envelope of the small speaker. Sonus Faber had their Extreme, Platinum Audio their Reference 1. Abbingdon Music Research just launched the LS-77 which is claimed to do 28Hz in-room. There were others. And there's undoubtedly more contemporary competition, from JMlab, Usher, B&W, Peak-Consult, Krell, Wilson and the usual suspects.
|Still, this breed of the small speaker with ungodly bass chops -- let's call a solid 30Hz in-room response the minimum club fee -- is pretty shy on bona fide members. And Mark & Daniel are adamant that they belong, citing their Aragorn as key proof. Their smaller Maximus and Ruby models are eligible for smaller rooms and with perhaps slightly loosened LF restrictions to make it into the same club. What's more, all these Mark & Daniel models sport their very own drivers. Exclusively. If you made that mandatory for eligibility, this small club would thin
|out rapidly. If you then specified that members had to be small and up'n'coming rather than huge and established -- small firm, small speaker, bad-ass bass, proprietary drivers -- Mark & Daniel might in fact be a crowd of one. Not that such things matter. What matters is that you enjoy your music. Still, prospective owners of M&D speakers might also enjoy knowing that they're in possession of something not exactly common, like a highly tweaked, high-performance roadster from a small custom shop.
As with the roadster example, premium fuel becomes a prerequisite if you're into carving corners rather than stowing grocery bags. Here it means powerful amplifiers to fuel and control these special transducer engines. (By the way, Mark & Daniel have an upgrade program whereby they replace the motors of stock drivers -- such as will be in your present speakers -- with their own Super Xmax assemblies.) And because they work in composite cabinets, all manner of custom colors become possible.
For the new Mark & Daniel Ruby, this means six choices, with solid white and off-white/Jade Yellow standard and solid yellow, solid orange, solid red and solid black carrying a 15% surcharge.
As do its dearer siblings, the Ruby benefits from the velocity transforming 5-octave 'tweeter', albeit in flat rather than concave form (the latter's assembly complexity makes it too costly for the Ruby, plus it'd exceed the speaker's intended width). In the photograph, you can faintly see the longitudinal folding seams of the pleated construction. This illustrates the former statement about visible diaphragm surface. An AMT's active surface far exceeds its visible girth. Unfolded, it'd be considerably wider. Greater surface area means more efficient air coupling and the bellows action means greater air compression and speed for any given physical motion.
Inherent in AMT construction is very limited lateral dispersion which eliminates the amount of sidewall reflections typical for dome tweeters. Listeners used to and fancying a more traditional reflected treble balance can add that quality to the Ruby with the Omni Harmonizer. Controlled directivity, superior HF dynamics and improved self-damping due to far smaller excursions mean that in general, AMT treble is very transient-precise and suffers no ringing. These qualities may translate as leaner to listeners who are conditioned to a softer and fuzzier presentation in this band.
|The Ruby mini monitor with the maxi ambitions measures 6.7" x 10.4" x 8.4" WxHxD, weighs 19 lbs., is 82.5dB inefficient, rear-ported, with a Z of 3 to 6 ohms
|and available with faux marble stands whose stand-off discs and bottom plate accent match the speaker's color (except for black Rubies which get white detailing). Amplifier requirements are a listed 80wpc high current minimum, connection is by single wire and the speaker's F3 is 45Hz (unheard of for this size). Mark & Daniel have their own integrated amplifier in the pipeline too to soon suggest a suitable mate themselves, superimposed here on the Ruby's fetching Jade Yellow finish.
David Kan on staff has acquired a pair of Rubies. Stay tuned for two different opinions then, on this newest model from a fresh and exciting American loudspeaker company. The Shanghai manufacturing angle simply creates higher buying power for our green backs. Why haven't we heard much from this firm yet? They've been in R&D since 2004, defining and perfecting their AMT and SuperXmax drivers from concept to precision manufacturability. Now they pursue building the best 2-way monitors on the planet. Mark Wong prefers two-ways for their single crossover points. They keep things simple while offering more bandwidth and output than single drivers would. Simple done right. That's of course anything but simple. Anyone who's attempted it for superior results already knows that genius hides in the simple. But getting there is 95% sweat equity, persistence and doggone discipline. Attend to every detail no matter how small. Nor how long it takes to sort out without compromising.
|Here's an interesting tidbit from Wong's design bench: under the same SPL requirements, his SX woofers can reduce cone size by half compared to conventional equivalents and shrink enclosure volume down to 1/16th of the original, all by offering 4 times the standard max excursion. For his SX units, that's 0.8" linear throw for the 5-incher, 1.2" for the 8-incher. While a good conventional 5" woofer with ±4.5mm or 0.35" of linear excursion in a sealed box can theoretically produce 99.5dB at 50Hz, his offers ±10mm or 0.8" for 106.5dB under the
|same conditions. That's a gain of 7dB. Or five times the sound pressure. For a serious loss of speaker sensitivity. Nothing in this game is free. You can cheat but someone's gotta pay. Here it's your amplifier. It'll have to be powerful and comfy with <4-ohm impedances. Make no mistake - while you might get sufficient playback levels with half-hearted amplifier attempts, to really get out of the Ruby what you're paying for with maxi performance in a mini cab mandates a solid 100 watts per channel of high-current juice. Wimp out on that demand and condemn the Ruby to playing second fiddle to its true potential. To play this game and win, think along the lines of ICEpower amps or Adcom, Krell, Musical Fidelity, Pass Labs and Rotel equivalents. Small speaker, big amp. It is a man's world after all.
But this firm also caters to men who want everything big. The brand-new Apollo II is Mark & Daniel's flagship effort, a floorstanding two-way with permanent Omni Harmonizer as auxilliary omni ambience tweeter and the curved AMT from the Maximus and Aragorn, albeit with the latter vertically exploded to radically increase diaphragm surface. And there are more floorstanders still, and a center channel and the option to order certain monitors with a rotated AMT for horizontal positioning.
Today's real question is, can dynamically unconstrained sound truly gush forth from puny boxes? How about quality bass with wallop and fortitude? Can the Rubies deliver on their innate Napoleon complex?