Joseph Audio RM7si loudspeaker John Atkinson in August 2000
The $1699/pair Joseph Audio RM7si Signature is a special edition of the RM7si, which I auditioned in February 1996 (Vol.19 No.2). Because full descriptions of the speaker was included in the original review, I will only touch briefly on the differences between the original version and the sample reviewed this month.
Whereas the standard RM7si's woofer uses a bright yellow fiber-glass cone, the Signature's woofer has a much more discreet aluminum cone. But as with the '7si, a stationary phase plug is used rather than a conventional dustcap. This metal-cone woofer is said to be the same as that used in Joseph's well-regarded RM22si—reviewed very positively by Chip Stern in November 1998 (Vol.21 No.11)—as is the 1" silk-dome tweeter. The woofer is reflex-loaded by a port on the front baffle.
As with all Joseph Audio speakers, the RM7si Signature features the proprietary "Infinite Slope" topology developed by engineer Richard Modaferri. This uses carefully matched inductors to produce complementary high- and low-pass functions with what mathematicians term an "elliptic" function, resulting in rollout slopes claimed to be 120dB/octave. Electrical connection is via two pairs of gold-plated binding posts, to allow biwiring. The drivers are rabbeted into the veneered front baffle. The grille presents a significant acoustic obstacle to the drive-units, so I left it off for my auditioning.
I auditioned the Josephs for a number of extended periods over the past 18 months, between reviews of other speakers. "Sweet" is the word that reappeared most in my listening notes. Every time I hooked up the Josephs, particularly right after the cool-balanced Dynaudio Contour 1.3 Mk.IIss, I was immediately struck by the rich, bighearted balance and the inoffensive nature of the speaker's highs. Yet the treble smoothness was not due to the highs being prematurely rolled-off (though the top octave was a little suppressed), nor to a laid-back presence region, a trick of the speaker designer's trade that used to drive Stereophile founder J. Gordon Holt nuts. Nor was it due to the smearing of fine detail that you can find in lesser speakers; the '7' Signature laid bare all manner of recorded detail, without me feeling that this was due to a spotlight being shone into the recesses of the soundstage.
I mentioned that the top octave was somewhat reticent. There was a lack of air on female voice, and trumpet acquired something of a flugelhorn tonality, as if recordings had all been made with a large-diameter condenser microphone—a not-unpleasant effect, but a persistent signature of the Signature, if you will. This was less apparent in the nearfield desktop environment, but now the speaker did sound rather recessed.
Lower in frequency, there was no discontinuity apparent in the crossover region, and the speaker's tonal balance changed little over quite a wide range of listener ear heights. The upper midrange was generally uncolored. However, the lower mids sounded a little muddled compared with the superb clarity of the upper frequencies.
With that clarity, the Joseph speaker didn't glaze over treble problems with the increasing number of recordings that have apparently been mixed or mastered by an engineer with advanced hearing loss, but neither did it exaggerate those problems. My wife recently picked up Macy Gray's On How Life Is (Epic EK 69490) on the recommendation of Reference Recordings' Jan Mancuso. I thought the singer's lyrics were pretty damn good, once you can get past the profanities. But my God, did the balance engineer lean on the 3k fader or what? The highs on this CD have a coarse edge and are just too much in evidence, both of which the Joseph faithfully presented in all their awfulness.
I must be getting old—it was a welcome relief to follow Macy Gray with a new "audiophile" recording, electric bassist Dean Peer's Think...It's All Good CD on the Dutch label Turtle Records. (If there's a catalog number, I couldn't find it.) Peer plays his Kubicki bass through Avalon Eidolon speakers powered by a Mark Levinson No.334 amplifier. If the Macy Gray has you lurching for the remote to get that volume down, the Dean Peer, mastered at 24/192 with dCS gear, is the opposite. On first listen you want more, and the more you turn up the volume, the more there is to hear—all without the CD turning offensive at high levels. The RM7si Signature was equal to the demands of this CD.
Talking about "offensive," I followed the Peer album with another bass-guitar workout, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Around the World" (Californication, Warner Bros. 47386-2), which had long been absent from my Levinson transport. Flea's crashing, fuzzed bass guitar, with which the cut opens, blew me back out of the listening chair, my reflexes primed for fight or flight! Yes, I'd say the RM7si Siggy's dynamics were quite excellent for what is really a smallish speaker.