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ridge street audio
Sason Ltd. loudspeakers
as reviewed by Carl Hruza
RSAD has been making cables for a number of years, and has built a very loyal following. Their cables are minimalist designs that employ the best possible materials, coupled with sound electrical and mechanical design. Robert Schult, owner/designer of RSAD, and his associate, Steve Rothermel, visited the North Eastern Wisconsin Audio Society (NEWAS) on January 21 and 22, 2005, and brought a variety of cables along with their new Sason loudspeakers. The meeting was in my home, so I was able to spend a fair amount of time with the Sasons, and get a feel for them.
The Sasons are the result of Steve Rothermel's vision and vast experience in the audio industry. He has spent many years working on loudspeaker and crossover designs, but the Sasons are his first commercial offering. Steve is currently evaluating the design of a new subwoofer, and he has other projects in the pipeline. His philosophy, which is similar to Robert's, is to keep things as simple as possible. You might not consider the Sasons simple on first encounter, but their design concept is minimalist, with meticulous attention to detail.
Steve opted for a two-way speaker. He felt that by incorporating innovative design techniques, he could capture all of the benefits of a two-way yet couple them with the bottom end performance of a three-way. Using a well-thought-out asymmetrical crossover, along with Computer-Aided Design technology, Steve has come up with a masterpiece of engineering that performs well beyond its price point. The Sasons are impressive-looking speakers, with an enclosure fabricated from 1 1/8-inch granite slabs bonded together with a custom three-part epoxy. The front baffle is made of a special compound that has been machined and finished with high-gloss automotive paint. The machining of the baffle is designed to minimize the surface area around the drivers, in an effort to produce better imaging without losing structural rigidity where it is needed the most.
The speaker is angled backward, providing time alignment of the tweeters and mid/bass drivers. The drivers are of very high quality, and are custom built by a supplier in Denmark. The binding posts are modified Cardas clamps, which function in a unique way. The crossover wiring is brought into the clamp, and the speaker cables are clamped directly onto the crossover leads. This provides a very short signal path within the speaker, and eliminates the terminations as far as signal flow is concerned. The crossover network is a very simple design that utilizes state-of-the-art, 10-gauge air core inductors and high-voltage film-and-foil capacitors, and is wired using proprietary silver cable. On the demonstration pair, RSAD used a clear acrylic plate on the underside of the speaker, allowing the crossover and cabling to be viewed. The crossover looks very impressive in both layout and construction.
Threaded inserts on the underside of the speaker allow the attachment of brass spikes. A set is supplied, but the owner can experiment with other devices if desired. The custom stands are also impressive. Each has a large circular chamber connecting the bottom and top plates, with two smaller chambers at the front of the stand. The larger chamber can be loaded with lead shot, sand, or kitty litter, although with speakers that weigh around 140 pounds apiece, mass loading won't be practical, or even necessary. The bottom plate incorporates a block of granite with a finish matching that of the speakers. It looks very attractive, and adds mass to the stand. These are drop-dead-gorgeous speakers that will look fabulous in any listening space. They appear to be an evolutionary product from a long-established loudspeaker builder—a considerable achievement given that this is Steve's first commercial design. The Sasons' design and craftsmanship are on a par with the finest loudspeaker products from, say, Sonus Faber or Kharma.
A good deal of thought was given to packing the speakers, as well as ease of unpacking and setup. The Sasons are shipped in very sturdy wooden crates fitted with removable castors and handles. After the screws are removed from the crate, a side panel lifts away and the crate can be removed, leaving the speaker available for placement on the stand. Three dimples on the stand's top plate allow for easy location of the spiked feet, and prevent the speaker from slipping off the stand while being adjusted. Unpacking and assembly is around a thirty-minute task for two people. Once the speakers are in position, the stands are tilted backward and a set of carpet-piercing spikes is attached. At that point, I would have appreciated having mechanical stoppers on the rear corners of the top plate, to prevent mishaps. Did I already mention that these speakers are drop-dead gorgeous?
My demo room doubles as a living room and is acoustically less than optimal. I have some room treatments in place, but they are set up for planars—my Magnepan 3.6Rs. The room is also quite large, 45 by 28 feet, with a cathedral ceiling going up to 28 feet. This is not a realistic environment for two-way loudspeakers, although the Sasons have more cabinet volume than many two-ways. I do have some flexibility of placement, and for several hours on Friday night and Saturday morning, Robert and Steve explored their options. They seemed to be working loosely around the Cardas rule of placement, starting with the speakers a third of the way out into the room (approximately 9 feet), then moving them closer to the front wall, to about a fifth of the way into the room. They spent around six hours finding the appropriate speaker positions and fine-tuning the sound through tilt and toe-in.
I wasn't able to track every stage of the setup process, but got the impression that the Sasons will let you know when they are not optimally placed. Various positions proved less than ideal. The soundstage seemed diffuse and lacking in cohesiveness until the optimum spots were found. I actually think that this is good. You won't spend months wondering if you're getting the most out of the Sasons—you'll know immediately that the ideal position has have been found when they snap into focus. Their final resting place was at the eight-foot mark center to center, with the chair perhaps five or six inches back from the apex of an equilateral triangle. This seemed a little too nearfield on first encounter, but the large room seemed to give the feeling that things were a little too close together. The speakers worked better at the one-third position than they did at the one-fifth position, which had them nine feet into the room.
I wasted no time getting into the sweet spot. From standing in other parts of the room, I could sense that the Sasons had no problem pressurizing the large space. Robert and Steve essentially handed us the keys, and let us take control of the demonstration. Anyone involved in demonstrating audio equipment should take note of this style of presentation. Unless you have something to hide, I believe it's the only way to do it. I also appreciated the fact that not once during the two days they were here did Robert or Steve say anything remotely critical of the supporting equipment or the listening room. They simply took what we had and made the best out of it, an approach that I found truly professional.
The first disc I played was the Ry Cooder/Ali Farke Toure CD, Talking Timbuktu. I skipped to the last track, and as the first notes filled the room, my jaw dropped. I have not heard a soundstage that deep anywhere, ever. The dynamic punch of the percussion was startling. I could hear the stick hit the skin of the tom, and it was almost alarming in its dynamics. The voice seemed to be placed two-thirds of the way back within a stage that stretched back around fourteen feet. I could clearly sense the relative distance between the vocalist and each of the instrumentalists. I never heard that sense of depth and dimensionality from my humble(d) Magnepans. The lateral scale and height was also impressive. Though it was not quite as wide and high as the stage that the Maggies throw, many people call the Magnepan stage height unnatural and artificial, so this aspect of performance will be a matter of personal preference. Later, one of the group members played a cut from the new Ani DiFranco CD. Brian commented that the soundstage was totally enveloping, and that he could hear sounds that appeared to originate from behind his head.
I thought that the bass was tight and tuneful, but sensed a little port "chuffing" when the speakers were reproducing the lowest octaves. Later in the day, Steve spoke about the unique construction of the rear-firing port, and about how the straws used in the cavity can be tuned to adjust the output. I think that an adjustment was needed, particularly since the room in which the speakers had previously been used was smaller than mine.
The tweeter impressed me with its ability to deliver the treble energy inherent in brass instruments like trumpets and trombones without sounding aggressive or fatiguing. The Sasons' high frequency extension is excellent. There is plenty of the air that is essential to localize performers on the stage, and to providing the specificity of image that I appreciate from dynamic speakers. As a Magnepan owner, I always look for good midrange performance when I listen to new speakers. The midrange is where the music happens for me. I can live without earth shattering bass, so long as it is tight and tuneful and doesn't smear the midrange. The midrange on the Sasons is pure and open. It presents the essence of the music with great articulation, and is underpinned by solid and tuneful midbass. It would have been great if there had been a tube power amp on hand. As an ex-owner of Cary V12i monoblocks, I could only dream of how they might complement the Sasons.
Spinning through my usual reference tracks, I sensed that the Sasons provided a very transparent, warts-and-all presentation. They do little to appeal to the listener who wants aural fireworks, or one who cannot handle the truth. These speakers will not sell themselves in a showroom setting by offering an audio extravaganza that has the customer whipping out his checkbook in the first two minutes. That does not mean that you won't be blown away in the first few minutes—seconds even—but your music collection will take on a whole new dynamic to which you may need time to adjust.
In a nutshell, the Sasons sound the way good speakers should sound. They provide an open window into the recording space, and faithfully recreate what the engineer intended. They are very precise tools that accurately render what is on the recording, without any added bells and whistles. That is not to say that they are overly analytical. The Sasons are proof of the fact that good speakers can be both accurate and musical. They are revealing, not romantic, though I suspect that some degree of romanticism could be introduced by careful selection of the partnering equipment—again, perhaps a good tube power amp.
Those who have moved from cone speakers to planars or electrostats will know exactly what I'm talking about. I see many similarities between the Sasons and a good planar design like my 3.6s. The best analogy I can think of is that most cone speakers put you in the room with the recording engineer, looking into the recording room with a window between you and the performers. Good planars, and now the Sasons, put you in the room with the performers. Where the Sasons excel over any planars that I've heard is in dynamic impact and contrast. Even though their lower octave is cut short, they still have the weight and authority in the lower registers that only good cone speakers have.
These are great speakers. They are fast and faithful to the original recording, and they get out of the way of the music like few other speakers I've heard. I will be moving into a smaller listening room in the near future, so may need to sell the Magnepans to make way for smaller speakers. I can't imagine not being thrilled with the Sasons in a room of more sensible proportions.
One last point: Robert or Steve will install these speakers for anyone within a four-hour drive of their base in Indiana, and I suspect they would agree to hopping on a plane in certain cases. Since the Sasons are being sold factory direct, you will get a $12,500 speaker for $7500, including installation by the manufacturer. That sounds like a really good deal to me. Carl Hruza