- Written by Jim Milton
- Published on 12 November 2012
Introduction to the Newform Research Ribbon Tower Speakers
Made in Canada, Newform Research manufactures unique ribbon loudspeakers and sells them factory direct worldwide. Their ribbon designs offer the transparency, detail and sound staging of the classic large panel electrostatic and ribbon loudspeakers, but because of their narrow compact footprint, are easier to drive and setup, even in smaller rooms. Newform believes that a speaker should be able to work well with music and be equally comfortable in a home theater environment. I agree. The question is, of course, do the Towers deliver the goods?
NEWFORM RESEARCH RIBBON TOWERS SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: Ribbon/Hybrid Floor-standing Speaker
- Drivers: One 15” Ribbon, Six 4” Mid/bass Cone Drivers
- Crossover Frequency: 1.8 kHz
- Sensitivity: 87 dB
- Weight: 36 Pounds/each
- Dimensions: 36.5” H x 5.25" W x 14” D
- Finishes: Custom - Your Choice of Stain or Paint; $180 Extra for Veneer
- MSRP: Natural Finish with a Single Ribbon: $1,570/pair, Dual Ribbon: $1,860/pair, Dual Ribbon and Grilles: $2,035/pair
- Newform Research
- Tags: Audio, Speakers, Towers, Newform Research, Ribbons
Design and Setup of the Newform Research Ribbon Tower Speakers
I stumbled across the Newform website about 3 years ago when I was in the mood for researching ribbon drivers. I invariably came across Martin Logan and Magnepan, the two most popular companies that use ribbons and diaphragms. Newform popped up as well and caught my eye with their unique and distinctive designs. I have never been able to audition Logans or Maggies because my room is too confined to work with the back wall reflection that makes those panels work their magic. Usually you would need to move them 3 feet or more out into the listening area and in an 11 X 10 room, and that just isn’t an option.
The Newforms have a unique ribbon tweeter that has a narrow (3/4”), tightly suspended diaphragms that provide extremely good horizontal dispersion and no back wall reflection. That back wall reflection can smear the imaging by allowing the initial sound wave to be muddied by the slightly delayed back wall reflection. The narrower tweeter design also works like a line source so the sound has excellent horizontal dispersion with minimal side wall interaction.
Their website provides this explanation: “Our ribbons have the smallest acoustic profile of any driver operating from 1 kHz up. When it comes to acoustic profile, the less you see, the more you hear. The entire structure is only 3 1/4” wide and 2 1/2” deep. It is heavily beveled at the front and the diaphragm is within 1/8” of the front of the structure. Given the narrow width of the diaphragm (dispersion is a function of diaphragm width and wavelength), there is very little to interfere with extremely even off-axis response. A critical consideration in producing a truly coherent sound field in home theater.” The entire surface of the ribbon vibrates as a whole unit, as opposed to, say a dome, which has different radiation characteristic across the entire curved surface. Domes are prone to “hot spotting”, break up and are often supplemented with an acoustic lens to help increase their dispersion pattern. These problems are usually circumvented with a ribbon driver.
When the Towers arrived at my house, I was somewhat surprised that they came in four boxes. These are the first speakers that I have had to assemble the bases, tweeters and crossovers. Though it looked a bit intimidating, it was very easy to assemble parts (even without any instructions). Mind you, the Towers I am reviewing are a “pre-production” model, which means aesthetically they may undergo some small changes, but sonically they are ready for prime time. My samples came with a “natural” finish, which actually looked quite nice in satiny honey-gold. The ribbons weigh in at about approximately 20 pounds each and I was impressed with the heft and finish of their construction.
At their bottom ends were the wiring needed to connect them to the binding posts on the tower cabinets (again, color coded for correct phasing).
The cabinets are a sealed design and have 6 mid bass drivers in each tower. Being sealed may give up a bit a deep extension, but the overall bass output will be more accurate and tight. On the bottom of each cabinet was a layer of felt, so when they get attached to their bases, they fit together tightly without scratching the finish.
The external crossovers are clearly labeled as are the terminals on the cabinets, so hooking up everything was a breeze. A wrench and interconnects were included, so my total setup time, sans instructions, was less than 20 minutes.
With assembly complete, the first thought that crossed my mind was that the elongated tweeter looks to be blocking half of the mid bass drivers and I wondered how that might affect the overall sound of the speakers.
Setting up the speakers in my listening room was fairly straight forward. Because these speakers have a relatively small footprint, they were easy to position for optimum toeing in or out.
I placed the crossovers behind the speakers on the back where the base overhangs with the wires that connected to the terminals being just the right length for connecting to the binding posts.
Why an external crossover system, you might ask? From their website, they offer “upgradability” to other types of crossover components and having the crossovers within easy reach allows you to make these upgrades without cracking open the cabinets or pulling out driver to access the inside. This seems to me to be a very practical, if not logical, design choice.
I placed the speakers about eight feet apart at equidistance from my seat, originally facing me directly and ultimately found the sweet spot with them slightly toed out. When I first fired up the speakers, I was standing next to them, having just pressed the “play” button on my Oppo. I thought I had made a mistake in the wiring of the tweeters, because the sound was very dull. This was when I learned that the vertical dispersion of a line source ribbon is poor. However, when I sat down and had the tweeters at ear level, well, this is when I learned that a line source ribbon has wonderful horizontal dispersion. I can’t stress enough about positioning the tweeters so that they hit your ears fully when you are in your listen spot on the couch. What a difference a few inches in height can make! Unlike a radiating diaphragm (i.e. Maggies), the Newforms do not radiate their energy toward the rear wall, but completely forward, toward the listener.
Because the back side of the tweeter was convexed in shape, I did not find the location in front of the mid bass drivers to adversely affect the sound at all. Because of the number of mids (12 in all!), the overall sound and depth of the bass was actually quite good. I was able to get down to 40-38Hz without the use of a sub. Newform recommends pairing these with a sub for best performance, but depending on your musical tastes, I could see (hear) forgoing a sub altogether with these for about 95% of the music you love. The only negative I had, sound wise, was when pushed the Towers to really high volume levels, the upper mid bass region started to sound congested with complex orchestral music. That all but disappeared when I coupled them with a sub with a crossover at around 80-75Hz. With the sub engaged, I could listen to everything from string quartets (these ribbons love to reproduce strings) to Roxy Music at moderately high volume and everything sounded open and clear. In order to “point” the tweeters to my ears, I had to place some blocks under the front of the bases to tilt them up a bit. It would have been nice if adjustable feet were included with the bases. It would be even cooler if there was an adjustable slide to raise the tweeters higher or lower by a few inches…but hey, that’s just me. (I spoke with John Meyers from Newform about this and he sent me a picture of their dual ribbon tower with this adjustable slide in place. Like me, these guys are geniuses!)
The towers can be custom ordered with a second set of tweeters, but another set lower than the first would not provide much benefit, I would think. I noticed a lower sensitivity when compared to my Revel F12s. I had to pump the volume level up a bit and noticed that my 200 watt monoblocks were running slightly warm. Normally, they run cool to the touch after heavy usage. I would recommend running the Towers with at least 100 watts of good amplification and NOT a small tube amplifier, in order to get the best sound out of them.
The Newform Research Ribbon Tower Speakers In Use
In keeping with the philosophy that a speaker should be equally good at music and movies, I put many hours of listening into this review. I listened to 2 channel performances without a sub, multichannel SACD with a sub and of course some Blu-ray flicks to evaluate how well the Towers integrated with my Revel Concerta home theater and Velodyne sub woofer.
Kicking it “old school”, I listened to the re-mastered Beatles on Abbey Road. With the new and improved definition and tighter bass, I was able to listen for the sonic details that George Martin placed in the mix as well as listening for how well the Towers brought out the superb guitar work of Mr. Harrison and the drumming and cymbals from Mr. Starr. The imaging on the Towers was quite first-rate, partly due to the line source tweeters and also in part to the very narrow cabinet design which helps reduces refraction of the front baffle. The lead singers’ voice filled in very solidly in between the speakers with instruments panning far to the right and left of the speakers. Depth was also very good. I noticed that instruments and voice that were in the upper mid range had a tendency to be projected out more forward compared to the rest of the mix. This was also the case with orchestral music, where bassoons and clarinets seemed a bit forward. This made for some interesting changes from what I was used to, and I gradually came to enjoy it a bit more than the more reticent sound I heard from my Revel F12s.
For multichannel, I took an “amazing journey” with The Who’s Tommy, which I have on DVD-A. Townsend did the re-mix of this rock opera and I must say, it sounds fresh and engaging in this (96kHz) surround mix. The Towers had no trouble playing this music dynamically and at operatic levels. They blended well with the C12 center channel and S12 surrounds. I know that many people think that you should “timbre match” all your speakers (or, at least, they should all be from the same manufacturer), but I have found that to rarely be the case. I have mixed and matched many different speakers over the years and find that most well made speakers play well with others. This is especially true for surrounds, which due to their location and the shape of your ear (pinna), will never match the sound coming from the mains anyway. In any case, Tommy can bounce from speaker to speaker and I never got a sense that the music was not meshing. Both voices and instruments had a clear, natural timbre. Moon’s frenetic drumming sounded very detailed and punchy with the Towers. Cymbal crashes have a very real shimmering quality and the kick drums exhibited punch that you could actually feel in your gut. These speakers can rock!
For films, I choose Saving Private Ryan…. specifically, the last 30 minutes. The Towers portrayed every explosion and 50 caliber round with stunning accuracy. No matter how many times I watch this film, I am left on the edge of my seat as though I were seeing it for the first time. The drama and chaos can suck the viewer into the action so completely, my heart races a bit just writing about it. The Towers easily captures the whizzing bullets, the crunching gravel and huffing and puffing of soldiers running for their lives. At no time did I feel the Newforms lacked anything in the detail or power presented on the big screen. The wall of sound they produced was all enveloping and believable. I am reviewing The Lorax at the moment. Though the movie is a dud, the opening musical number sounds amazing with the Towers. Deep bass and singing from all 5 speakers throughout the room, panning front to back, side to side…sonic overload, in a good sense!
Of course, I also enjoyed my classical music and played hours of chamber music, ensemble strings and full symphonic works. As I alluded to earlier, strings had a beautiful shimmer and air with the Towers. Orchestras were well spread across the front of my room with plenty of depth as well. In most cases I played the music with just the Towers and no sub woofer augmentation. I wanted to judge the Newforms as any classic two- channel audiophile would; straight up stereo! When pushed hard, the lower mid range seemed a bit tight and congested as I reached the limit of their extension, but the upper range stayed clear with a good amount of space around the brass and strings. Organ music sounded open, with the distinctive “chiff” sound that a pipe makes as the air makes as it first blows through. Some of the Baroque organs of Europe can be delightfully “clickity-clackity” (as any 300 year old instrument would) and all of those sounds were faithfully present by the Towers. Those are some of the subtle details that can distinguish a good speaker from a great speaker. Truthfully, the bass played deep enough that if I did not own a sub, I could live with the bass reproduction the Towers produced. Only because I know how deep some of the pedal notes are through a sub, would I have known what was missing. Considering the size of the mid bass drivers, their combined numbers produce fairly strong output. When a sub is added into this mix, the congestion that I sometimes heard during complex orchestral passages all but vanished.
Conclusions about the Newform Research Ribbon Tower Speakers
My recommendation would be if you really like bass heavy music, get a sub and don’t look back. If you gravitate to jazz or light classical, these speakers should more than satisfy you with a very detailed and wonderfully wide sound stage all by themselves. Though you can order grilles for these speakers, I think they look distinctive without them. I elicited many comments from people about their unusual looks. My wife actually liked them and commented on how good the natural finish looked. (And she’s pickier than I am!). With a 5 year warranty, the availability to add additional ribbon tweeters and the ability to upgrade the external crossovers, the Newform Research Ribbon Towers bring a lot to the table at this price point. For those that have dreamed of ribbons, but are hampered by less than ideal room shapes or sizes, the Towers might just be right for you.