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Product Review - Newform Research R8-1-30 Speakers - March, 1997

By J.D. Moretti

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Newform Research R8-1-30 Speakers; Ribbon hybrid; Two quasi-ribbons (each 15" high, one on top of the other); one 8" cone mid-bass driver in vented enclosure; Frequency response 36 Hz - 20 kHz 3 dB; Sensitivity 88 dB/w/m; Nominal impedance 8 Ohms; Power handling 150 w/ch; Size of woofer enclosure 30"H x 10 1/4"W x 14 1/2"D; Size of ribbon assembly 30 1/2"H x 3"W x 2 1/4"D; Weight 63 pounds each; Black oak vinyl; $1,236/pair (includes all taxes and shipping by UPS to the consumer's door); Newform Research, Inc., P.O. Box 475, Midland, Ontario, CANADA L4R 4L3; Phone 705-835-9000; Fax 705-835-0081; E-Mail newform@barint.on.ca.

I really like ribbon speakers, planar magnetics, and electrostatics. You know why? It's because they have a big sound stage due to their dipolar nature (sound comes out the front and back, front out of phase with the back). The Newform Research speakers are quasi-ribbons, but in this case, they are not dipoles. Newform has come up with their own design, giving the quick transient response of light weight ribbons, but not the difficult-to-place problems that dipoles have. The ribbon sits in front of the magnet which sweeps around it like a horseshoe. Quasi-ribbon means that the foil is attached to a plastic substrate rather than being just the foil suspended by itself. The foil is laminated with the substrate, which results in a purely resistive load (about 7 Ohms), making it rugged, with all of the resistive area exposed to the air for heat dissipation.

Newform has been shipping complete systems for about 5 years, and recently began offering the ribbons to DIY enthusiasts. The R-1-30 uses two 15" ribbon assemblies on top of each other, and the ribbons sit on top of the bass enclosure, which houses an 8" cone woofer. The enclosure is a vented design, with the flared port on the front. This design allows the user to place the speaker relatively close to walls if desired, unlike regular dipolar ribbons. Of course, the soundstage is different with the Newforms, because they are not dipoles. The ribbons are used for their transient response. Crossover is at 1 kHz. Other hybrid ribbon designs use a lower crossover, so the 8" driver in the R-1-30s have to take care of almost half the 10 octave audio spectrum.

The Newforms have to be assembled by the user. Each ribbon assembly is attached to the woofer enclosure with several screws, and then the ribbon must be connected to the crossover in the enclosure with a banana plug audio cable that plugs in at the back of the ribbon and the top of the enclosure. Two pairs of speaker binding posts are on the back of the enclosure for bi-wiring or bi-amping.

Sensitivity is rated at 88 dB/w/m, and we tested the Newforms with several of our high powered amplifiers, including the Silver 9ts, Sunfire, and LLano SA-3s. CD source and preamping was with the McCormacks. Cables were Nordost Flatline and AudioQuest.

The first thing I noticed is that I had to sit rather far back (8 feet) in order not to hear the tweeters separate from the woofer. Other designs have the woofer side-by-side with the ribbons, so I took the tweeter off and set it on the rug, next to the woofer enclosure. No good. The highs were muted. Then, I turned the ribbon on its side and put it on top of the enclosure. That messed up the dispersion. So, the ribbon has to go right where the designer placed it. On top and vertical. There was good side-to-side dispersion this way, better than some other ribbons. Of course, the others are dipoles, so this isn't a fair comparison. In any case, this is not an up-close type of speaker. It works best at about 8 feet away and farther. The ribbon itself is a neat design. What I really like about it is that it has a wire screen across the front to protect it [
click here for photo]. Curious fingers can't damage the ribbon. The gold strip in the center of the foil is the Kapton substrate, which Newform calls "Gold-Line Performance".

The bass was very tight. We could play the system rather loud, and the woofer did not break up. During the frequency response tests, I noticed that they did not rattle at < 20 Hz sine waves. These ultra-low frequencies are torture on woofers, and the lack of buzzing or rattling is an indication of good enclosure design. There was just a little bit of boominess, which I could eliminate with an EQ adjustment, using our AudioControl C-131 1/3 Octave equalizers (I know that is heresy to audio purists, but EQ can be very helpful to tame resonances now and then when nothing else works). Other than that, the mid-bass was natural and clean.

The ribbons handle all > 1 kHz sound. We used some powerful orchestral pieces as well as vocals. Even though these are not dipoles, the sound stage is still larger than with cone speakers. That's because of the line driver nature of the ribbon. I thought them to be just a little bit forward in the sibilants, and again used just a touch of EQ. Cool. Now everything was fine. Until, I cranked the volume. Somewhere around 92 dB of full spectrum music resulted in audible harmonics that made the sound harsh. I have to point out that this is not unusual for ribbons, and I have heard it in other designs (but not all of them). I hung around for the frequency response tests and could hear the harmonics that were introduced by the ribbons with 1 kHz - 5 kHz sine wave fundamentals. I didn't hear them during the near-field tests, but I did when the microphone was moved back to 13 feet, and the volume had to be turned up to get about 80 dB at 1 kHz. The harmonics are more prominent during sine wave inputs rather than when music is played. Ribbons tend to mellow with age, and some of this harshness could go away then. We didn't have a year to wait for this to happen. Probably shouldn't be listening to music above 90 dB anyway!

Since the Newforms have a large sound stage, but without the placement problems of regular dipolar ribbons, they make a nice front left/right for home theater situations (nice for rear surround for that matter, especially with DD and DTS). A big sound stage can make quite a difference with movie sound tracks. Also, because the Newforms have good lateral dispersion, the movie viewer gets that sound stage even when sitting off axis. The only concern here is matching the Newforms to the center channel, which would have to be done very carefully.

Frequency Response Test Results - 1 meter, left speaker, grille cloth on, SPL set to approximately 80 dB at 1 kHz (Note: these tests are in a live room, not in an anechoic chamber. The results you get in your own room may be different.):

20 Hz - 63.5 dB
25 Hz - 62.2 dB
31.5 Hz - 68.4 dB
40 Hz - 66.7 dB
50 Hz - 75.4 dB
63 Hz - 76.9 dB
80 Hz - 67.8 dB
100 Hz - 77.6 dB
125 Hz - 72.9 dB
160 Hz - 77.4 dB
200 Hz - 71.6 dB
500 Hz - 67.1 dB
800 Hz - 80.7 dB
1 kHz - 79.0 dB
2.5 kHz - 75.6 dB
5 kHz - 75.2 dB
8 kHz - 75.2 dB
10 kHz - 78.1 dB
12.5 kHz - 77.4 dB
15 kHz - 74.2 dB
18 kHz - 72.9 dB

Frequency Response Test Results - 13 feet, left speaker, grille cloth on, SPL set to approximately 80 dB at 1 kHz (Note: these tests are in a live room, not in an anechoic chamber. The results you get in your own room may be different.):

20 Hz - 78.3 dB
25 Hz - 81.4 dB
31.5 Hz - 84.6 dB
40 Hz - 66.7 dB
50 Hz - 60.4 dB
63 Hz - 83.7 dB
80 Hz - 88.9 dB
100 Hz -79.4 dB
125 Hz - 79.1 dB
160 Hz - 82.5 dB
200 Hz - 86.5 dB
500 Hz - 86.0 dB
800 Hz - 80.2 dB
1 kHz - 78.1 dB
2.5 kHz - 84.9 dB
5 kHz - 86.1 dB
8 kHz - 85.6 dB
10 kHz - 84.8 dB
12.5 kHz - 81.9 dB
15 kHz - 78.6 dB
18 kHz - 82.2 dB

Summary: The Newform Research R8-1-30 hybrids are an interesting design. Quick transients, no dipolar placement problems, slightly forward highs, nice sound stage. In the looks department, I think I would rather see them with the ribbon having some sort of a grille that matches the front dimensions of the bass enclosure. Newform apparently offered full grille fronts in the past, but they were expensive to ship. Sounds like a good DIY project!

J.D. Moretti


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