Ruark Templar loudspeaker
Oh boy, affordable two-ways—what fun.
But the Ruark Templars were fun. I don't want to oversell them or anything, but it would be awfully difficult not to like the Templars. They're cute and well-finished. At 87dB sensitivity, they can be driven by modestly priced components, even mass-market receivers. They sound sweet and full-bodied—their specified 3dB-down point is 55Hz, but their infinite-baffle design should make the bass articulate and punchy. Did I mention that they're affordable? Eleven hundred bucks isn't cheap, I realize, but there's an awful lot of value in the Ruark—not all of it readily apparent.
Pounding sand up its bung
First, this little floorstanding towers doesn't require a stand. I can't tell you how many times, back when I was a audio salesman, customers would get excited about a kilobuck two-way and then balk at the cost of properly supporting it. Oh, they'd buy a great speaker and they'd mean to come back someday and buy the stand that would let it perform as the designer intended, but you just know that most of those babies are out there today, jammed in bookcases or perched atop piles of books—or worse—sounding half as good as they might.
Next, Ruark builds these speakers responsibly, when it comes to using wood. The top, bottom, side, and rear panels of the speakers are finished in a textured black lacquer, whereas the front panel—which is available in burled walnut, rosewood, and ebony—sports a farmed poplar veneer that's dye-treated to simulate exotic woods. Quite nicely, too.
The Templar's parts'n'construction quality would put most twice-as-costly speakers to shame. It's a two-way, infinite-baffle (closed-box) design. The 6.5" SEAS bass/midrange driver has a treated-paper cone, rubber convex roll-surround, high-flux magnet system, and a cast-magnesium chassis. The Vifa 1" doped-fabric dome tweeter has a ferrofluid-damped and -cooled voice-coil.
The crossover is a six-element, second-order Linkwitz-Riley type, utilizing 12dB/octave slopes. It operates at 2.6kHz. The star-grounded crossover network features high-quality polypropylene capacitors, air-cored chokes, and specially spec'd ceramic resistors, all hard-wired to a rigid board that's attached to the back of the terminal plate. All internal wiring consists of Ruark's proprietary 56-strand cable, which is twisted to minimize stray inductance.
The speaker is bi-wirable. The speaker base has threaded inserts, allowing you to install threaded spikes—this way you can level the speakers, while mass-loading them to the floor. The drivers are attached to the baffle with gold-plated hex screws, which are threaded into the wooden cabinet—the proper way to do this, as it permits you to really torque those drivers down (footnote 1).
The cabinet itself is braced internally and is asymmetrically shaped to discourage internal standing waves. The sloping front panel suggests time-alignment of the woofer/midrange driver and tweeter, but the angle is so slight that you'd have to be sitting in a pretty low chair to place your ears where this would actually work—after all, the speaker is only 28" tall.
The cabinet is divided into two compartments so that the enclosure can be damped/mass-loaded by adding sand or lead shot. Access is gained via a removable plastic bung on the rear wall, which means you have to load the sand (which I used) or shot through a one-inch opening. To make the procedure even more entertaining, Ruark's manual instructs you to take care "not to over-damp the speakers by adding too much weight. We suggest you initially half-fill the compartment and listen to the results." Great. Half-fill a compartment with an unspecified volume, and then listen to the results? That's a fat bloody help! And if my listening tells me I've overdamped the speaker, how on earth do I dig the sand out of a compartment accessible only through a 1" hole—hold the whole thing over my head and wag it like a saltshaker?
I called Ruark importer Michael Zeugin and whined to him about the vagueness of it all. "Oh, you've only got this problem because you didn't buy them from one of our dealers," he explained. "They know that the proper amount of sand is a little over one pound. In fact, many of them have one-pound Zip-lock bags filled with dry sand to give customers to take home when they purchase the Templars. That also makes filling the compartments a snap—all you do is snip off one corner of the bag and pour it down the open bung." This made sense and worked well, although I have my doubts about all those baggies of sand out there waiting for Templar customers.
Vade retro declamus
The Templar—at its price-point, and given its easily driven 87dB/W/m sensitivity, not to mention its 8 ohm impedance—just begged to be auditioned with unassuming components such as the NAD 304 and Arcam Alpha 6 that I had on hand. Yep, those are both great pairings. The NAD 304/502 combo drove the Templars with a lot of punchy rhythm, really bringing out the expressive drive and slam of the bass region. The Arcam Alpha 6/Alpha 5 Plus put more of an emphasis on the sweetly seductive sheen and open nature that these speakers can exhibit. The results were so promising that I moved on toward the sort of reference gear not normally paired with $1100/pair two-ways.
Analog playback was through the Well Tempered Reference/Sumiko SHO rig I've been auditioning recently. Digital systems were primarily the McCormack Digital Drive SST/DAC-1 combo and an Audio Research CD-1. I relied heavily on Audio Research's SP-9 Mk.III preamp and Pass's Aleph 0 amplifiers, although I did use other combinations of pre- and power amplifiers, including the Audio Alchemy DLC (Power Station Three)/VAC PA80/80 combo that had kicked some serious butt at a party I'd given. I wanted to be mature and controlled during this demo, but the Templars kept egging me on toward all sorts of equipment excess. Honest, Lord, the speaker tempted me.
Remember this one?
it goes like this...
The Templars are designed to be sited near the rear wall, but placing them too near compromises their spaciousness and soundstaging abilities. I wound up with them about a foot from the record cabinets behind them; those with more floor-space than I may prefer them even farther into the room. Sitting only 8' away from them, I found the best compromise between tight center-fill and an expansive soundstage occurred when I angled them in slightly—but not enough to actually point the tweeters at me.
While they won't produce enough sheer bass energy to satisfy dub addicts, I found the bass they did manifest in this position to be tight, punchy, and extremely well-defined. And unlike many ported designs, they do not emphasize the port's resonant frequency, leading to that "one-note" bass signature I so deplore.
These li'l doojiggers have no business sounding as enjoyable as they do! My first impression—one of amiable sweetness—has never been replaced by any other. The sound caresses the ear, never abrading it. Does this mean the Templars are euphonically colored? I think they can reveal a tremendous amount of detail and air, when recordings possess it, and they don't impart the same sonic signature on everything they reproduce. But the Templars do not partake of that relentlessly bright "spotlight-on-the-flaws" character that exemplifies many ambitious high-end speakers, either.
I nearly wrote "it's impossible to make them sound bad," but that's untrue—as it should be. I'm a big fan of Mitch Woods and his Rocket 88's, a world class bar-band that, propelled by Woods' rockin' boogie piano, successfully recalls the stomp and fun of classic R&B acts like Louie Jordan's Tympani Five. On a good night, these guys put out enough energy to power the Northeast Grid; however, on record, either they don't capture that vibe or else the sound is so bad you don't care whether they do or not. Mr. Boogie's Back In Town (Blind Pig 2888) gets 'em in the groove, but lordy, is it an unholy mush of clangy, harsh sound. Even on the Templars.
Run something fine through 'em and they'll delight you. Mokave, Volume 1 (AudioQuest Music AQ-CD 1006 CD) offered a superb challenge to the Ruarks' strengths. The piano sounded firmly rooted in space: big, solid, and unmoving. Glen Moore's bass was huge within the soundstage created, and lively and full of drive.
Footnote 1: Leveling the cabinets and tightening the drivers onto the baffle costs nothing, and can improve the speaker's soundstaging remarkably. The cool part is, you can do it with almost any speaker. Be careful when using a metal screwdriver around the heavy magnets employed by some loudspeakers—I've seen a screwdriver jerked out of a loose grip, piercing the driver itself. That's not an improvement.