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Reviewer: Michael Lavorgna
Source: Audio Aero Capitole MKII
Preamp: Déjà Vu Audio
Amp: Fi 45 prototype (based on the Fi 2A3 stereo amp, optimized for the 45 tube by Don Garber)
Integrated Amp: Red Wine Audio Clari-T [in for review]
Speakers: Cain & Cain Abby (Normal) and Cain & Cain Bailey; Tonian Acoustics TL-R2 Super Tweeter [on review]
Cables: PHY interconnects, Auditorium 23 Speaker Cable, JPS Labs Digital AC Power Cable, Audience PowerChord, ESP Essence Power Cord, and Z-Cable Heavy Thunder V2 on the Blue Circle MR
Stands: pARTicular Basis Rack
Powerline conditioning: Blue Circle Music Ring MR800
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks Series II under AA Capitole, Yamamoto Sound Craft PB-10 Ebony Bases under Abbys, PS Audio Ultimate Outlet and AudioPrism Quiet Lines. Room damping provided by lots of books.
Room size: 13' w x 14' d x 9' h
Review component retail: $1,250/pr, custom color adds $100/pr

If a cymbal crashes in a forest and there is someone present to hear it, how much of that cymbal crash do they hear? I have to say right off the bat that this whole super tweeter thing is puzzling when you think about it. First off, human hearing drops off somewhere around 20kHz depending mostly on your age and how much fun you've had in really loud places. Many microphones used to record the music we listen to are not capable of capturing sounds above 20kHz and Redbook CDs cut off all information at 22.05kHz, a brick wall if ever there was one.

There is however a fair amount of scientific evidence to suggest that humans respond to sounds well above the ones we can hear. A paper in the Journal of Neurophysiology by Tsutomu Oohashi et al, June 2000, shows that the brain may in fact be registering >20 (or 22.05) kHz ultrasonic information. Titled Inaudible High-Frequency Sounds Affect Brain Activity: Hypersonic Effect, the researchers' paper discusses their finding that sounds containing High Frequency Components (HFCs) above the audible range significantly affect the brain activity of listeners.

On the other side of things, there have been independent tests and studies documenting the fact that many instruments, including the popular cymbal crash and perhaps the less obvious over-driven solo electric guitar, produce ultrasonic energy above 20kHz. The most commonly referred-to paper by James Boyk of CalTech originally published in 1997 titled There's Life Above 20 Kilohertz! A Survey of Musical Instrument Spectra to 102.4 KHz states "...At least one member of each instrument family (strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion) produces energy to 40kHz or above, and the spectra of some instruments reach this work's measurement limit of 102.4kHz..."

I'd like to think that the closer we can get to reproducing the original musical event, the more natural the reproduction will sound. The puzzling part is, while some vinyl, SACDs, DVD-As and DVD-Vs contain >22.05 kHz information, as a CD-only kinda guy the media that stores my music is incomplete, cut-off above 20-or-so kHz. So why do I need a super tweeter who's sole purpose is to reproduce frequencies that my software simply doesn't contain?

I puzzled this over and over as I hooked up the Tonian Acoustics TL-R2 super tweeters, which I'll get to in just a minute. One thing I know for sure - I don't want any glare or extra brightness. After I hooked 'em up, I did what anyone with these questions running through their head would do. I put on my Acme Dog Whistle master recordings and planted my ear right up there next to that ribbon tweeter. You know what? Nothing. I couldn't hear any sound coming out. Then it hit me. I ran over and watched our dog, Heidi. Nothing goin' on there either. So a quick dash back and I planted my ear to that ribbon pressing closer this time and -- here's the odd part -- the thing bit me. As it turns out, super tweeters have a bad rep. Small, misunderstood and largely overlooked, after hearing what it is a super tweeter has to say, I understand their plight.

Tony Minasian is the man behind Tonian Laboratories and Tonian Acoustics. Tonian Acoustics makes a line of high-efficiency speakers featuring custom drivers as well as drivers by the French company PHY-HP. Tonian also makes two super tweeters; the TL-R2 using a 5" pure ribbon tweeter which is the subject at hand and the TL-R1 ($950/pair) which uses a 3" pure ribbon. The Tonian Acoustics TL-NFSM bookshelf speaker is currently with Jan-Petter Egidius for its 6moons review.

Tony Minasian graduated from Siemens and got his start in the audio business 25 years ago. With a professional background in recording, his passion for music initially led him down the DIY route of building tube amplifiers and speakers. This hobbyist approach eventually mixed with the profession in his design of recording studios incorporating his custom-built monitoring speakers. Tonian Laboratories was officially founded four years ago and has become the US importer for Supra Cables from Sweden, PHY-HP drivers from France and AER drivers from Germany.

The Tonian Acoustics speaker line has its origins in a certain dissatisfaction with the status quo. From Tony Minasian: "My philosophy arose from traveling to many places and listening to different systems and speakers to realize that none of them sounded like real-life instruments. To investigate that discrepancy, I studied everything from psychology to electronics and psychoacoustics. Finally I came up with the technology of Tonian Acoustics, which is based on resonance and reflection."

"After listening to many speakers and testing even more drivers, I realized that speakers with higher efficiencies produce sounds much closer to real life than the average speaker. I kept asking myself why certain models of certain manufacturers have become many people's favorites. Then I started to collect those models and gather information and compare them to each other to see what kind of acoustical energy they share, such as the LS3/5A, Celestions, B&Ws, Dynaudios, JBLs, Western Electrics, Contons, Integras, Yamahas, Electro Voices, Mitsubishis, Fostexs and many more. If you look at the bigger picture, even different cultures have different listening preferences. Like the Japanese and French, many Americans now prefer a higher-efficient speaker over audiophiles in many European countries."

One problem plaguing most speakers was the upper frequencies. "It took lots of time and testing to realize what the weakest link of these speakers was. I don't believe that any driver above 3/4" is capable of perfectly reproducing high frequencies to which our ears are the most sensitive and which our brain detects far better than lower frequencies. Some manufacturers claim they have a full-range driver that can produce all of the audible range. I don't think a 6", 7" or 8" full-range driver can produce the high frequencies as well as a ribbon. That's why when you are listening to speakers using Lowther or Fostex drivers, they lack speed and extension at high frequencies and suffer a very heavy peak in the upper midrange. It's a more complex discussion to be sure but I have found a way to add a super
tweeter to such systems and add the necessary energy and speed to the high frequencies."

The issues inherent in music reproduction have recently led Tony to a further exploration of the recording process itself. As Tony explains, "I have more than $30,000 worth of microphones in my collection, which we use for certain measurements for our speakers as well. I created a new recording technique, which has never been used by any engineer before. I have not patented the technique yet but I'm working on it. I can tell you that I'm able to record an entire symphony with just 2 microphones using my technique and I'm working with a local symphony orchestra testing these ideas."
The Tonian Acoustics TL-R2 Super Tweeter
The TL-R2 came nicely packed with form-fitting styro inserts and enough plastic wrap to hold things in place. The speakers themselves are large by super tweeter standards, measuring 5.5" w x 8.0" h x 5.5" d. Their size is directly related to the ribbon tweeters and their transformers. The TL-R2s cabinet is MDF and these speakers weigh in at a solid 7+ lbs each. Build quality is very good with smooth rounded edges. The review pair came in an attractive matte black finish but customers can also choose a custom paint color to match their speakers/tastes that will cost an additional $100/pair.

Connecting these unit up was fairly straightforward with just one twist; the TL-R2s arrive with three Supra Boxcon binding posts; two positive, one negative. This
configuration allows the use of a resistor between the positive terminals to adjust the speaker's sensitivity and match with your main speakers (Tonian supplies two resistor sets with different values based on your main speakers' efficiency). Some products like the Townshend Audio Maximum have a built-in switch for this adjustment but connecting the resistors was easy enough and I do not see the need for continuous adjustment. It's more of a set-and-forget deal. The TL-R2s are rated at 97dB and I finally settled on a 1.5-ohm resister for best integration with the Abbys. Frequency response is stated at 1.4kHz to 35kHz, with the crossover cutout set to 15KHz according to Tony.

On the other end, these units get wired directly to your main speakers' binding posts stacked atop the cables coming from your amp. I should point out that due to the Abbys' size/shape, I ended up placing the TL-R2s next to them on the inside of each speaker. Owners of more traditional flattop speakers could just sit their TL-R2s on top. For my scenario, Tony recommends ideally placing his tweeters either 3" above or below the Abbys drivers, preferring the higher placement. I concur. The higher placement, with the TL-R2s ribbon drivers roughly 3" above the Abby drivers (center to center), opened up the sweet spot and provided more air.

One brief aside; I used the Paul Speltz Anti-Cables to wire up the TL-R2s, which worked out well since they use a spade connector and my A23s use bananas. This made the connection at the Abbys easy to manage. While I haven't tried the Anti-Cables for an extended period of time on the Abbys, at $80 per 8"/pair I was impressed.