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Product Review - RAudio Chadwick Floor-Standing Speakers - February, 2001



Jason Serinus


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RAudio Chadwick Floor-Standing Speakers

Two-Way Ported Enclosure

One Silk Dome 1" Tweeter, One 8" Paper Cone Woofer

Recommended Power: 20 - 200 Watts

MFR: 40 Hz - 20 kHz - 3dB

Sensitivity: 89 dB/W/M

Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms

Size: 38 1/4" H x 10" W x 16" D

Weight: 72 Pounds Each

MSRP: $7,880/Pair USA; Walnut, Rosewood and Other Veneers Available.

 

Whitley Limited, Unit 149, New Capital Computer Plaza, 85 - 95 Un Chau Street, Kowloon, Hong Kong; Phone 852-27620590; Fax 852-27486217; E-mail  raymond@raudio.com; Web http://www.raudio.com  

Note from Editor: After the speakers were returned to RAudio and the review was published, I was made aware of a potential defect in one binding post on each speaker, when used in a bi-wiring configuration. I have requested the return of the speakers so that they can be re-evaluated.

Introduction

When our faithful Secrets reviewer Paul Knutson attended the 1999 CES, he made a special effort to check out small manufacturers. Often, such inquiries lead to discoveries of wonderful products manufactured by companies that lack the PR budgets and other resources necessary to obtain high profile reviews.

One of the many fruits of Paul’s searches was obtaining a pair of Raudio Chadwick two-way, floor-standing speakers. Because my room is better equipped than Paul’s to handle larger speakers, Paul offered them to me for review.

I was quite excited to receive the Chadwicks. Though I’ve performed several modifications to my reference Michael Green Chameleon III speakers, they have been my sole reference for many years. Because the Chameleon’s sound changes greatly when one makes even subtle alterations in their tuning, I have been longing to try non-tunable speakers in my system whose sonic signature remains constant.

I’ve now had several opportunities to audition the Chadwicks with my Pass Aleph 5; the new Pass Volksamp 30 (Aleph 30); the previously reviewed Bruce Moore 70 amp, this time equipped with truer-sounding Svetlana KT-88 tubes; and the ART Audio Concerto amp (sounding, in my opinion, much better with the Svetlana KT-88 tubes than with its stock KT-90s). Preamps were variously tubed Bruce Moore Companion III and the solid state McCormack RLD-1 (a dream with remote control, review forthcoming). The rest of my system was as outlined at the end of this review.

Description

The speakers arrived from Hong Kong in incredibly impressive, fully lined, padlocked metal shipping cases. It took both the gym buffed Paul and a friend of his built like a football player to get the cases up my three flights of stairs.

Even more impressive is the look of these speakers. The gorgeous enclosures I received are made of quality MDF, veneered with selected walnut and  finished with several layers of polyurethane. It seems that intensive labor is required to polish each layer, using a process similar to that employed with “piano finishes.” The result is a speaker so shiny and attractive that I was concerned that the parakeet I was birdsitting would land on the speaker, think to the extent birds think that it was seeing another bird in its reflection, and start pecking away at the enclosure.

One curiosity of the design is that the woofers are ear level (at least for someone my height sitting down), while the tweeters are more like chest level. My experience of how this affects the sound will be discussed later in this review.

Design Philosophy

I am not a whiz with technical matters. My forte, as explained in my other reviews, is music and sound. As a CD and performance reviewer, I attend live, mostly unamplified concerts on a weekly basis, sitting in different places in different venues. I trust my ears, and my sense of what “natural sound” is about, even as it varies from the first row of a small house to the upper balcony of a large symphony hall.

Given my limitations with technical jargon, I shall quote below what the designer, Raymond Chan, has to say about his philosophy and design implementation. The quotes are taken both from the Raudio website and a personal e-mail from Raymond. I have done my best to edit Raymond’s Hong Kong English.

“Efforts have been made to cut down the size of the speaker system without compromising bass extension. The fact is the smaller the woofer/midrange, the higher the resonant frequencies. However, this can be compensated for, at the expense of sensitivity. So, many builders claim their speaker systems can deliver bass down to 20 Hz or even deeper! Actually a quality 40 or 50 Hz bass is already very impressive. We aim to provide quality bass instead of highly distorted, boomy sound. It is our belief that quality bass can only be delivered from a well designed transmission line rather than from any sealed box or bass reflex type cabinet. 

“All of our speakers are designed in Double Traveled Transmission Lines (patent pending). With the well constructed transmission line, high frequency components (200 to 4.5 kHz) can be maintained undisturbed. Hence, our speakers sound like electrostatics in the highs, while their earth shaking bass is exceptionally clean. All in all, listening is believing! 

“I named the enclosure design as DTTL (double traveled transmission line), which is a ported design in aperiodic nature. Massive absorption materials were used in the patented inner enclosure. The inner enclosure has minimal rear reflection interference, which provides the closest sound reproduction of the driver. This enclosure has virtually no sectional resonance as compared to the conventional transmission line. 

“Some speaker builders have called their TSL a quarter lambda line. However it has a pitfall. Quarter lambda enhances front emanating sound only at a single frequency. Cancellation occurs at three-quarter lambda frequencies, which are well within the audible ranges. Unlike others designs, ours is not time aligned, mirrored, or diffraction loss reduced. I consider such design modifications only marketing hype. Phase distortion for an ill-designed crossover can far exceed the minute phase correction obtained from time alignment.” 

Listening

I put the Chadwicks in roughly the same position as my Chameleons, spread far apart in my 14.5' x 17' foot listening room, with the center front of the speakers approximately 8.25 feet from the rear wall. Speakers were toed in so that the tweeters fired slightly to the outside of my ears.

My initial impression was how quiet and clean the Chadwicks sounded. In less than a minute, however, I began to realize that this clean sound translated into a monotoned leanness.

The Chadwick’s particular sonic signature remained consistent from recording to recording. On the new Harnoncourt authentic instrument recording of Haydn’s opera Armida, there were times in the Overture when the period instrument violins sounded more like little buzz saws than beautiful instruments. The incredible Cecilia Bartoli sounded okay, but the body of her voice that I have experienced live on four different occasions just wasn’t fully there.

On mezzo-soprano Susan Graham’s exquisite recital of songs by Reynaldo Hahn, La Belle Epoque, there were times when the grand piano accompanying her sounded more like an upright. There was also a slightly metallic, reddish coloration to her voice. It was not that this tint was irritating; it was simply a sound that was neither musically accurate nor especially pleasing. (In the last year, I have heard Susan Graham both from the first row of a full recital hall, toward the back and side in the same hall when it was empty, and from the side balcony of the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. Nothing I heard sounded like what her voice sounded like through the Chadwicks. Especially missing was the sense of liquidity and ease that can be heard when the entire tonal envelope is given equal weight).

When I listened to my favorite “Blues No More” track on Terry Evans’ JVC-XRCD Puttin’ it Down, the lack of resonant body on drums was especially apparent. So too was another failing. Everything sounded a bit slow and laid back, as though Terry and his musicians had indulged in some strong weed and were feeling too mellow to deliver the sharpness of attack that the music deserved. When drumsticks sound like they’re made of rubber, either it’s time for the listener to check if someone has spiked his drink, or it’s time to make some changes to the system.

Disturbed by what I heard, I e-mailed Raymond Chan to ask about ideal speaker positioning. It turned out that while the speaker distance from my rear wall was just about what he would recommend for my room, he felt they should be aimed either straight ahead or toed in slightly, depending upon coherence of the soundstage. He also urged me to remove my Michael Green audiopoints and replace them with the wood cones he had provided, positioned in a scary tripod configuration beneath his heavy speakers. 

I did exactly what Raymond suggested. While the speakers were over 9’ apart, and angled in just a bit, the soundstage remained coherent. Such positioning, I discovered, works fine for a listener seated right in the sweet spot, but it is not good if two or three people are trying to share a futon. In that case, greater toe-in results in less single speaker source localization for the listeners seated on either end of the futon.

Because the tweeters were aimed nowhere near my ears, I did find that the highs were a bit more acceptable. I also found that the soundstage width increased. But I did not experience a significant increase in either midrange or depth. The basic tonality of these speakers did not feel right.

I am not one to lightly dispense negative opinions, especially when it affects someone’s ego, livelihood, and design philosophy. I therefore decided to switch back to the Chameleons as fast as I could, do my demagnetization and break-in tone ritual, and listen to the exact same music. This is no easy task for a short man with a post-auto accident back, but I accomplished the move within 15 minutes. For the heck of it, I decided to angle the Chameleons just as I had angled the Chadwicks, and to support them with the same wooden cones.

The difference between the speakers was most striking when I played solo pianist Murray Perahia’s 1999 Gramophone award-winning CD of Handel and Scarlatti. First of all, the piano was set farther back, with a sense of air and space around the sound that I find exciting. After all, I am in a living room, not in Berkeley’s Hertz Hall. If I can’t experience the excitement of a live performance, then I want something sufficiently engaging sonically to justify me spending so many thousands of dollars on speakers and other equipment rather than on concert tickets. I do not want my system to sound like a “super good hi-fi.” I want it to sound thrilling and emotionally engaging.

While my ScanSpeak tweeters are actually a bit brighter than those in the Chadwicks, they are capable of a far more refined sound. There was a delicacy to Perahia’s pianism, an exquisite softness of touch, that I had missed with the Chadwicks. Susan Graham, too, seemed a far more sensitive singer. I know from hearing her live that Graham sings from her heart. This I could feel with the Chameleons; the softness came through as well as the strength. And, because the Chameleons seemed more responsive to changes in dynamics, they also seemed faster and more exciting.

The big test was the Terry Evans CD. Here, I experienced far more depth of instruments, and far more space between and around them. Timbre was also truer, cymbals sounding like cymbals rather than something edgy and metallic; the drums again had a resonant body as well as a skin. What especially struck me was how Ry Cooder’s guitar seemed to have resonant strings. There was just more body and depth to the sound. Everything was rounder, fuller, and more sonically convincing.

I must say that the Chadwick’s woofer seems more seamlessly integrated with the tweeter than the woofer and tweeter in my Chameleons. There is no “hump” as the piano descends into the lower regions. But, then again, with less of a midrange to begin with, there is less opportunity for a “hump” to be heard.

Tweeter Below Woofer

As mentioned above, one curiosity of the Chadwick design is that the tweeters are below ear level. This results in a soundstage lower than what I am accustomed to hearing. It raises some when the speakers are pointed nearly straight ahead, but it is still lower than with the Chameleons. At one point, when the speakers were toed in and I had guests over, we experimented with sitting on the floor rather than on my futon. Although this change did not boost the midrange, it did result in a more natural sound perspective. Perhaps these are speakers for Lilliputians or for folks in cultures where sitting on the floor is the norm. For those who choose to sit on couches on chairs, the sonic perspective may come up a bit low.

Conclusions

I conducted several listening sessions with the Chadwicks. I used four different amps – five if you consider my tube change in the ART Audio Concerto – and two preamps. I also tried different cones beneath them, and different amounts of toe-in. In every instance, I found myself dissatisfied. Though these speakers certainly have their strengths, they do not deliver the convincing musicality and visceral excitement that I demand from an audiophile system. How they would sound with a better tweeter – I changed the tweeter in my Chameleons from one ScanSpeak model to another – or with different internal wiring – I changed mine to Nirvana, as I did with the wiring in my preamp – I do not know. But I am convinced that the choice of tweeter and its position in the enclosure represents a definite sonic limitation to the Chadwick sound.

The Chadwicks are beautiful speakers with a unique design. Visually, they are an asset to any listening room. Sonically, they will probably mate best with systems that exhibit recessed treble and overabundant midrange and bass. Those with well-tuned, sonically balanced systems whose components and wires are in the price range that warrants spending $7800 or more on speakers, may not find everything they wish in the Chadwicks.

 

- Jason Serinus -

 

Jason's Soundsystem:

Michael Green Chameleon III tunable speakers (rewired with Nirvana hook-up wire and fitted with Scan Speak 2905/9700 tweeters)

Hsu subwoofers (stereo pair with their own amps)

PASS Aleph 5 60W pure Class A power amplifier

Bruce Moore Companion III tube preamp (rewired with Nirvana hook-up wire)

Theta Gen. 5A single-ended DAC

Perpetual Technologies P-1A with Monolithic Power Supply

Audio Alchemy DDS-Pro transport

PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with Multiwave

Nordost SPM Reference speaker cable to the Chameleons

AQ 3' Clear II speaker cable to the Hsus

Nordost single-ended Quatro Fils interconnects from Theta to preamp and preamp to amp

AQ 1m. Diamond II co-ax interconnect from Hsu sub amps to preamp

Nordost Silver Shadow AES/EBU digital interconnects from Theta to P1A to AA transport

Power cords by Shunyata, PS Audio, MIT, Synergistic, Harmonic Technology and XLO

Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack and Basic Racks, plus MG audiopoints and room treatment

Black Diamond Racing cones under Theta

Inner tubes, maple cutting boards, and bags of sand, homemade bass traps

Shakti Stone atop Theta, and Shakti On-Lines on most powercords

Bedini Ultraclarifier, Audioprism Stoplight and Blacklight

 

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