Red Rose Music R3 loudspeaker Page 2

If Levinson's Cello foray was haute monde, Red Rose is Dockers: loose-fitting and relaxed. How relaxed would you be trying to sell vacuum tubes and ribbon tweeters to non-audiophiles? I bet Levinson is. He's got his story straight, and he believes.

Enter the R3
The entire Red Rose loudspeaker line presently consists of the R1, a $45,000/pair floorstander, and the stand-mounted R3, a $3500/pair bookshelf model. (The $20,000/pair R2 is in the works.)

The 17-lb R3 is small: just 17" tall and 7" wide. There's a vented 5" Dynaudio polypropylene woofer, a proprietary ribbon tweeter, and that's it. The drivers are mounted on a sub-baffle attached to the front of the nicely built and finished box; this allows the tweeter to radiate into free air front and back, though its rear output is restricted with a piece of foam. The speaker comes with a full-baffle grille; an optional curved partial baffle cover shows some of the finished wood.

The R3 is biwirable via two sets of what appear to be standard-issue gold-plated five-way binding posts, connected via gold-plated strips. After listening both ways, I preferred a single run of Harmonic Technology Magic speaker cable to a biwire set of Red Rose cables; the latter were very good, but not as articulate in the bass.

Target stands filled with Sound Bytes, a new product designed to take the place of lead shot and sand, lifted the R3s to ear level. Sound Bytes are ground-up nails (I know because I found a few whole nails mixed in) formed into a unique shape that supposedly locks them together when poured into a hollow chamber, which is why you don't need sand filler, as you do with round shot. Carefully used, Sound Bytes are a good thing. The upside of Sound Bytes is that they're not made of lead. I don't care how careful you are—some lead shot will end up on the floor, which is not good for you, your kids, your dog, or your cat. The downside is that Sound Bytes are ferrous, meaning you'd better pour them near anything magnetic—especially a delicate ribbon tweeter.

I didn't make that mistake, but one of the plastic pails of Sound Bytes had cracked open in shipping; when I opened the box, the stuff poured out all over my Berber, embedding in the carpet pointed sparklies that were too heavy for a vacuum cleaner to pick up. Fortunately, careful preening with a magnet picked up most of the Bytes, though a new crop seems to rise daily from the pile.

The Target stands sat where my Sonus Faber Amati Homages normally do—about 30" from the front wall, 24" from the sides, and about 9' apart. That proved to be a great starting and ending place for the R3s, though I did move them a few times just to hear what would happen.

Relaxed and Open
Ribbons can perform really well, as the ribbon-tweetered ProAc Future Ones I reviewed in October 2000 clearly demonstrated. They can also be difficult to integrate with a cone woofer. That wasn't a noticeable problem with the R3, which proved easy to listen to, and even easier to enjoy over the long haul.

The first thing I noticed when I fired them up was that this small speaker produced astonishing bass: deep, well-articulated, and properly tuneful. I ran sinewaves from Mobile Fidelity's Sound Check CD (produced by Alan Parsons), and believe it or not, there was something to be heard at 20Hz. That something was well over 10dB down from a reference 1kHz tone at 80dB, but it was an articulate tone that did not "flap." A 30Hz sinewave sounded somewhat louder, and 40Hz was all there, loud and clear. More important, the R3 sounded relatively free of the midbass bump designers sometimes tack on to create the illusion of deep bass that's not actually there.

During the entire review period, even when listening strictly for pleasure, I never felt the need to turn on the Audio Physic Rhea subwoofer, so satisfying was the R3's bass performance. In fact, at the beginning of many listening sessions, I found myself having to get up to make sure I hadn't turned on the Rhea during the last session and forgotten to turn it off. At least in my room, the R3's bass was that deep, articulate, and convincing.

To get that kind of low-frequency performance from a small box, you sometimes pay the heavy price of muddy midbass and chesty vocals. That wasn't the case with the R3, though if I had any criticisms of its voicing, it would be of a slight picture-thickening midbass accentuation, and perhaps a low-Q upper-midband trough that sometimes gave the speakers a recessed sound, somewhat diminishing the air and bloom of some familiar recordings. The midbass thickness was what got me to move the R3s slightly away from the wall, but that didn't change the sound. This "character" was so slight and benign that I had to strain to hear it—and once I did, I quickly forgot it.

Red Rose Music
943 Madison Avenue
(at the Whitney Museum)
New York, NY 10021
(212) 628-5777