FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 4
jean marie reynaud
Twins, MKIII loudspeakers
as reviewed by Bob Neill
As I said in my recent Spendor S 3/5 and Harbeth HL P3 review, I have always been fascinated by mini-monitors, even in large rooms where their special ability to recreate performing spaces is sometimes uncanny. That said, because of my ambivalent experience a year or so ago with Reynaud Offrandes, I would not have expected Jean-Maries entrant in the mini field to interest me. In my review on Enjoy the Music, I called the Offrandes a bit opaque because despite their engaging sensuality and presence, I sensed they were withholding what I considered at the time to be essential information to gain their effects. Why should the Twins be any different? But M. Reynaud apparently heard something in my Offrande review that told him I liked them better than I knew, so that despite my preference for the directness of monitor sound, there was still hope for me. He suggested that I audition his new Mk. III Twins, and having more faith in him than in my own judgment, I agreed. Good thing!
Prudence urges reviewers to moderate their enthusiasm for attractive new components, a policy adopted by figure skating and gymnastic judges in order to leave room on the scale for still better performers sure to come. Prudence has never been one of my virtues. And there is nothing more off-putting to me than measured, cautious, praise. What I hear in such writing is reluctance. I dont like it in personal references and I dont like it in reviews. The only praise I give any credence to at all is fulsome praise, like the kind Bruce Kennett gave the Reynaud Trentes in Listener a year or so ago and the kind I am about to give the new Twins. Audio components either get it or they dont. Life is too short for those that dont quite and for withholding praise from those that do because something else might come along someday to outdo them.
Changes at the Neill House
The new Reynaud Twins MK III are the best mini-monitors Ive ever heard. They have the articulateness of Harbeth HL P3s and the charm of Spendor S 3/5s in a single package that musically transcends them both. They dramatize by example the sterility of the B&W Nautilus 805 and the cool school. They are alive with warmth and detail. Alive! They have more musical life in them, more ability to excite the listener about the music, than any speaker I have yet heard at any price. Yes, thats what Im saying any speaker. They have brought a life-changing experience to the Neill house. And they retail for $849 plus stands.
When I put them against a pair of Harbeth Compact 7s I had on hand, I found the larger and three times as expensive 7s had more to say sonically, but compared with the little Twins, it was clear that that as instructive as the 7s were, something important was escaping them. I then tried my monumental Monitor 40s, the most tonally accurate and complete speakers I know. All of the sonic information I am accustomed to hearing was there, as impressive as ever. The M40s are great for telling us virtually all that is on a recordingthat is what great monitors do. But again, and for the first time since my ambivalent brief first impression of these faithfuls over a year ago, something seemed to be missing. Something essential to musical enjoyment was being withheld. The entrance into our house of these eloquent little Twins has dramatized for me the truth of one of the oldest dictums: Art should both delight and instruct. The Spendors excel at delighting, the Harbeths at instruction. The Reynaud Twins balance these aims brilliantly and in doing so clarify the specific character of their British competitors. The Twins are not as absolutely sonically informative as Harbeths, certainly not as resolving or refined as the M40s; nor are they as smooth, billowing, and beguiling as Spendors. But by somehow engineering a path between them, Jean Marie Reynaud enables the music to become absolutely present and, more important, the only point. I have, until now, found this kind of talk banal. I will never make that mistake again.
I auditioned the Twins III on my own 28-inch, rock solid chimney tile stands, on which a great many minis have perched. Jean-Maries own "Magic Stands," which are said to enhance the speakers performance still further, were not available. I will have them here later this winter and do a follow-up report. The system was made up of a Naim CDS2 CD player; a 50-watt, all-solid state Blue Circle CS integrated amplifier; and several different preamp and amp combinations, including Gilbert Yeungs eye-opening Purse and Classic Pumps combinationa tiny solid state preamp and equally tiny 25 watt solid state amp. (See http://www.classicpumps.com/mpumps.htm, if youre curious.) The Twins sounded slightly different on each combination of electronics but wonderfully engaging on all of them. On the CS, which I used them with for two weeks before any other gear arrived, they were natural and involving. This is an economically logical pairing, which was not dramatically out-classed by any of the others. Its the one that did the critical number on me. With the Purse and Classic Pumps, they sounded extremely good, maybe better. Clearly they are an easy load. They sounded best on the preamp section of this pair, which was derived from the technology of the CS, coupled with BCs new hybrid 80-watt BC 24. (Ill try the BC 21.1 preamp with the 24 as soon as I can lay my hands on one. Im guessing that combination would probably be ideal.) On a BC3 Despina and the BC 24, they sounded fuller and warmer, very tasty but a little too much of a good thing for me. The Twins like a smidgen of warmth, but only a smidgen. Ill try a Galatea when I can get the larger 3.1 power supply that makes a Despina a Galatea. Based on my experience with an Audiomat Solfege integrated with the Offrandes, Id also suggest trying either the Prelude or Arpege. Finally, Id like to hear them on a Naim Nait 5.
Unlike many speakers I have known, the Twins sounded good at any sitting height, from any position in (or out of) the room, toed in or not at all. They were ably assisted in their performance by Audience Au 24 interconnnect and speaker cable. AC cables were by David Elrod, the EPS 2 and 3 Signatures. Both fed into Blue Circle Music Rings which in turn fed into dedicated lines. The audition took place in my large (5000 cubic feet) living room, which, while not the logical venue for mini-monitors, proved entirely satisfactory. I like to give mini-monitors lots of room so they can do the space thing and in this respect too, the Twins III did not disappoint.
On all electronics, the Twins sounded naturally warm, articulate, with a great sense of immediacy and touch. This was especially notable on violins, which were exciting to listen to. On Allessandrinis recording of Vivaldis Judith Triumphant (Opus 111), the solo violin brought life here to a standstill. Switching to the Monitor 40s, their marvelous Excel tweeter got the smoothness fine, maybe better; but the overall presentation now felt more like a study. Bass extension for a mini-monitor was very impressive, deeper and more detailed than either the S 3/5s and HL P3s. The Twins are not as full and rich sounding as the Spendors, which employ a bass boost in the upper bass and lower mids. The Twins measure +/- 2 dB from 50 Hz to 20 mHz. Yes, those are the numbers. While they are JMRs, not mine, the Twins do indeed sound that flat, which is presumably why their midrange feels more present than that of the S 3/5s and HL P3s, which both have the BBC dip in their presence ranges. Without the Spendors little oomph, the Twins are somewhat less convincing on Mahler and Bruckner, when it comes to authority and sweep, but they are superior when it comes to letting us hear the individual cellos and double basses which are responsible for it. On Boulez Mahler Symphony 9 (DGG), in quiet passages when the double basses are playing alone, you begin to appreciate the wonderful low-end extension of these beauties.
If you give them some room and dont sit in their lapssomething this near-field listener had to learntheir articulateness and tactile presence win the day. Their midrange is naturally appealing, though not quite as solicitous as the Spendors nor as pristine as the Harbeths. They do not have quite the sense of ease that Spendors have. They share this lack with the HL P3s, and this is presumably the price you pay for their greater detail and tactile quality. Make your choice. You cant get real ease unless you buy larger speakers. We give minis too much ground to cover to ask them to do it without any sign of strain. If youve got to have minis and also have got to have maximum ease at any cost, the Twins are probably not your speakers.
Music and Design
All of this is interesting enough, but it is doesnt address what makes the Twins III the remarkably eloquent speakers they are, how they can break your heart with either Kuijkens violin or Iris Dements lyrical and penetrating voice. Splitting the difference between Spendors and Harbeths or achieving a nearly flat response from 50 to 20 wont necessarily get you to mini heaven. What accounts for their magic is clearly the judgment Jean Marie Reynaud has exercised in how much and what kind of resolution to go for and his choice and treatment of materials and design of cabinet and crossover. Alan Shaw is a brilliant audio engineer who has invented RADIAL, probably the most highly resolving material for drivers that we have. That is really all I know about him, though we have had several cordial exchanges over time, and he has been an informative presence on the Harbeth Users Group. Jean-Marie Reynaud is also a demonstrably brilliant engineer, but he is also a man whose life is full of art, who counts musicians among his closest friends, and who spends a great deal of time in the concert hall. Our exchanges have been about design, in particular how he is able to achieve such natural warmth without loss of detail, but also about musicians and about, most recently, Schubert lieder. He is a man for whom music is very nearly everything and who does not find absolute sonic resolution sufficient for achieving its transmission. His new Twins do not sound absolutely transparent to source. But in the way Audience Au 24 speaker cable seems to go around absolute sonic transparency to get at the facts of the music, the Twins give us the balance of resolution, contrast, warmth, and articulation we are accustomed to hearing in the concert hall and jazz club. They "get it." As I reported in my Offrande review, M. Reynaud feels we hear more of "the backs of instruments" in the concert hall than modern close-miking and many modern, highly resolving speakers let us hear. He has clearly designed his speakers to bring this sound into natural sonic alignment with that coming off the fronts, such that, again, what you hear is a wonderfully balanced presentation that sounds like what one hopes for from a high end audio system but seldom quite gets.
I admire Harbeth speakers enormously, especially the M30 and M40, with their extraordinarily articulate RADIAL midrange driver and what may well be the worlds best tweeter, the SEAS Excel. Harbeths are justly admired for the directness of their presentation. It is what I have always admired them for and what enables them to outperform most of their less articulate rivals. My newfound enthusiasm for the Reynaud Mk. III Twins takes nothing away from the achievement of Alan Shaw. And presumably, Im still on my honeymoon. But as Audience Au 24 speaker cable gave me a new perspective on highly transparent Nordost Valhalla, these Twins have given me a new perspective on my highly informative Harbeths. They have made a persuasive argument in my house that a direct line is not the surest route to musical truth.
I have gone on at great length here, so lets keep the music report short. All music that depends on a degree of projection and kickAlison Krausss latest live CD, Alison Krauss-Union Station Live (Rounder), Tom Pettys Full Moon Fever (MCA), Tony Rices Unit of Measure (Rounder)came through the Twins with a fresh degree of gusto and musical life. Chamber musicPickards String Quartets (Delos), for examplehad the kind of immediacy and tactile quality that put the music out into the room. Orchestral musicSibeliuss Symphony 3 with Oramo and Simon Rattles old band, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, (Erato) and Bruckners Symphony 8 with Wand (RCA)was clear and moving but lacked a little authority. The music filled the listening space commendably, creating an approximation of spatial scale, but ideally could have had more avoirdupois. Early musicJordi Savalls latest, Lorchestre de Louis XIII (Alia Vox)had both sweetness and tang. The drums were to die for and the viols were ravishing. With jazzLee Westwoods just reissued Lee-Way (Blue Note), Karrin Allysons recent In Blue (Concord), and Keith Jarretts new live set from Japan, Always Le Me Go (ECM)the Twins let instruments (and Karrins voice) do their exact expressive thing while keeping the ensembles of a piece. These performances felt more musical and less sonic than I have heard them recently. The Twins made solo violinKuijkens Bach sonatas (DHM) and solo pianoAndnes Schumann and Schubert (EMI), the last CD in Uchidas complete cycle (Philips)both more appealing and more articulate. Delight and instruction in equal quantities. I cant imagine better.
Had enough? Raves are harder to write than even moderate critiques. As I said recently on Audio Asylum, when you finally hear music done right, there is very little to say. Please dont assume because Ive nevertheless managed to say so much here, that its the Twins fault! And also, stay tuned. I have a pair of newly redesigned Trentes on the way. Will the larger and three times as expensive Trentes make the Twins seem a tour de force? Very likely, but thats hardly the point. All minis worth their salt are tours de force. The Twins have been designed to compete with other mini-monitors and to take what other prisoners they can. As minis, they are an unqualified success, no matter how superior their bigger siblings turn out to be. The Trentes will enter the field against the comparably-sized Spendor S1/2s and Harbeth Compact 7s and Monitor 30s, among others. And then early in 2003, well have Jean Maries promised new floorstander, the Concorde.
"But wait," say my alter ears in backwoods Ontario. "How can Harbeths, which sounded right a year ago, a month ago, now suddenly sound wrong? And how can Reynauds, which sounded opaque a year ago now sound right? You havent really explained that. This review amounts to quite an about-face. You owe us a little more."
Fair enough but theres really not much more I can say. Backwoods Barry is convinced that I have altered my priorities and wants me to come clean about that. I argue that I have had them changed for me, which is not quite the same thing. Jean Marie probably suspects Ive had his priorities all along and just hadnt been reached yet. To me, what is at the heart of this is the art of persuasion. Rhetoric used to be considered a major subject of study. Now that its not, it has become more powerful. In a word, the Harbeths are so good at expressing their point of view that they won me over, persuaded me that their point of view, their priorities if you will, were correct. The Reynaud Twins Mk. III are sufficiently better at expressing their point of view and priorities that they have won me away from the Harbeth, to theirs. This is no small accomplishmentothers have tried and failed, including the Offrandes and even the Grand Operas, which I chose not to write about. To me, this is how audio goessurvival of the most persuasive, the most eloquent. At bottom, its not that we change our priorities, its that the leading designers get better at expressing theirs and persuade us to follow them. But, as both Barry and Jean Marie might add, at some level you have to want to go there. Clearly I did.
Note: As I type this, the Reynaud web site is in the process of being updated. At this moment, the information on the site refers to the Mk II Twins. By the time you read this review, I expect it will match the description of the Mk III Twins on the site. And if you want to know how a two-driver speaker can be a three-way, I refer you to the site as well!
Woofer Diameter 6.7", double magnet,. Flat ventilated spider. 28mm double moving coil on high temperature support, positive half-roll peripheral suspension in natural rubber. Velvet cone absorbing the stationary waves and with high internal damping factor. Soft central dome.
Tweeter Impregnated fabric dome in silk and polyester. Central neodymium/boron magnet. Horn front frame and front wave guide for minimum lateral directivity and perfect conservation of energy at a distance of several metres.
Crossover 3-way electric. Slopes 6 and 12 dB/octave. "Serial" configuration for the medium treble crossover. Cut-off frequencies 600 and 4800 Hz. Polypropylene capacitors and handle wound air coils.
Loudspeaker cabinet Tuned triangular transmission line with slim anti-noise event port. Medite material veneered on his two faces. Rounded edges to reduce edge effects
Mk II Twins