If you’ve read very many of my reviews, you’ll know that I am against ugly speakers. It’s in the eye of the beholder, to be sure, but interior designers and most “significant others” behold AV equipment as eyesores. When speakers call attention to their looks, it makes it difficult to ignore the speaker and listen to the music. Perhaps that’s why so many audiophiles dim the lights. The worst offenders are the big horns that come in M&M colors. In my opinion, and all that, you know….
When televisions were full of tubes, big consoles, sometimes finished in beautiful oiled veneers, were the centers of the living room. Before that, people were already comfortable with large Victrolas and console radios like the exclusive EH Scott (the first boutique high end audio product—google Scott 800BT and the Quaranta to see what I mean). The big consoles could sometimes be mistaken for a buffet, so it wasn’t a radical introduction to the living area, even if the console had matching satellites that looked like small end tables. With such a big box, speakers could be integrated into the design, or made as freestanding accessories finished with matching veneer, styling and cloth. With the advent of the acoustic suspension and ported box designs, we got the familiar speaker box. And with stereo, we had to have two boxes, which effectively killed the corner horn market. Those monkey coffins of days gone by were designed to blend with people’s décor. The idea of making “a statement” with a speaker was rare in those early days. Eventually though, with the introduction of the transistor and then the IC, TVs started to shrink and the market for large consoles disappeared, leaving speakers as kind of a home decorator’s eyesore. The desire to integrate the boxes into our living areas gave us ever smaller and elegant box designs. Unfortunately, the traditional box has limitations. If it weren’t for problems with boxes, such as rattles and resonances. for instance, it’s possible that we wouldn’t have the big panel speakers (ESL, ribbons, planars, etc..).
For a tiny cadre of designers, there has been ongoing development of speakers that marry form and function into attractive packages that are visually pleasant, but not distracting from the whole. To a great degree, the people at Davone of Denmark have succeeded. The design is a unique blending of art and science that appeal to the senses, aural and visual. Actually, to saddle them with the “lifestyle” moniker might do a disservice to the Rithms.
Arc du Triomphe
Boomerangs, Streamliners, Danish Design, YB-49, Googie Architecture, The Gateway Arch, Bakelite radios, Charles and Ray Eames, The Golden Arches, IKEA, Contemporary Furniture, Functionalism, Ranch homes, Star Trek, Raygun Gothic, Streamline Moderne, Airstream: All things I like (yes, even McDonalds). The Davone Rithm reminds me of those stylistic statements of the 20th century. By contrast, today’s style, design and architecture are boring.
The Davone’s shape is so natural that I did not have a feel for its size. When I saw pictures of the Rithm, I got the impression that it would be somewhat bigger than it actually is. That’s what happens when you have good proportions. In a similar (though opposite) manner, think of some athletes that you see on TV. Those that have good proportions will look more normal compared to others that they play with. Think Jason Kidd or Steve Nash compared to Manute Bol or Gheorghe Mureşan. Kidd and Nash look of average size and build because they have more normal proportions. They are rather sleek compared to others on the court. Kidd is 6’4” but you wouldn’t know it. When the Rithms arrived, they were smaller than I was expecting, measuring a somewhat modest 70cm tall, by 21cm wide, by 58 cm deep (27.5” X 8.25”X23.5”). The design could be scaled up to twice the size and still be graceful. The shape might lend itself to a full-range high efficiency horn or transmission line, though to get deep bass it would have to be significantly larger than the petite offering here. In this case, the Davone is a ported design with the port pointing down to the floor, just under the front of the speaker.
The 80 watt power rating and 85dB/watt efficiency places some limits on prospective buyers. You can’t DJ with these. They won’t be great party speakers. Heavy metal and rap lovers need not apply. As I’ll get into later, the moderately low efficiency isn’t a big deal. What is a big deal is getting these into a room that will offer some bass gain, and one that isn’t overly stuffed or dead.
The most unique aspect of the design is how they get that beautiful curve with furniture grade plywood. I suppose it is similar to boat and piano construction. There are 16 layers of wood, glued together, and pressed. After the plywood is pressed into shape, and connected together with side panels of MDF, they become very rigid and damped. The design most reminds me of an Eames piece. When used correctly, plywood is a premium building product, being strong, rigid, environmentally friendly, attractive and versatile. From marine grades, to fire rated, furniture grade, to Panzerholz, to the cheap stuff at the local lumber yard, plywood is the material of choice for thousands of demanding applications. However, because of misapplication, misunderstanding, cheapness and/or inexperience, plywood earned a bad reputation in speaker building, something it doesn’t deserve. MDF, with the reputation as having better acoustic traits, is easier to damage, not as rigid, very heavy and definitely has a sound of its own. When plywood is used correctly, as it is here, it is superior in every way to MDF: it is self damped with 16 alternating layers glued/pressed/constrained together forming a stiff shell much lighter and rigid than anything MDF could accomplish.
There is a natural advantage of this speaker’s shape. The two plywood shells gradually taper toward the back, and down, until they are almost touching. This constant change in distance eliminates sound reflections as a source of distortion. It’s rather similar to the acoustic room treatment technique of diffusers, which instead of absorbing sound, uses irregular shapes to reflect the sound at random angles. The net result is a room that still has air, but doesn’t have any slap echo or glare. I think the same thing is accomplished with this design. I rapped my knuckles on the cabinets until they were sore, and the result was that there wasn’t any dominant cabinet mode. Every time I would tap in a different area, the pitch and timbre would be different. Perhaps there was a touch of middle C (checked with my pitch pipe), but nothing like you hear in normal cabinet construction.
Hook-Up, Placement, Room Selection
When it comes to connections, it is very simple. You have a single set of well made binding posts. I like the construction, which has something of a washer that sandwiches the spades to the binding post. The nut slips on the back of the washer, which avoids the hassle of moving the spade as you tighten the nut, which can really get me upset. The Davone ones, however, are a pleasure. WBT I think? The only thing that I would love to see is some way to use a nut-driver or wrench. I’m of the “tighten until a cold-weld forms” camp. I didn’t miss the presence of a biwiring option. Considering the size of the speaker, and the limitations that a 7” coaxial driver will place on absolute loudness, you really don’t need to worry about biwiring and bi-amping. It can sound better, but I most notice it when pushing a lot of current.
My first system setup was only partially successful. I paired the Rithms with big transistor power from Plinius (the SB-301 stereo power amp), the NAT Audio Plasma tube preamp, the Jasmine LP2.0 SE phono stage, cable from Aural Symphonics, and my Denon DP80/SME V/Lyra Argo front end. This was in my main listening room, with dimensions of 17’x 23’ and with a 10’ ceilings (over 3900 cubic feet, with openings to the kitchen and hallway). The room has two walls lined with records, and another lined with heavy muslin drapes from Ikea. The wall with the system had the least amount of damping. The 10’ ceilings were so far from the driver that they didn’t enter into the sonic picture. The floors are carpeted. Also, there was the furniture, including recliner and very heavy fabric couch. It’s decidedly on the damped side.
Placed well apart and angled in, the Davones had immaculate imaging, depth, and a relaxed tonal balance. The midrange was very pretty with a little dip in the presence range. Treble extension was good, though not ribbon-like, being forgiving of bright material and showing no preference for tubes or transistors.
With acoustic jazz, like the reissues from Chad at Acoustic Sounds, the Rithms did a good job of handling the dynamic peaks of horns. There was a little loss of heft in the bottom-end of the acoustic bass, but the kick drum had good wallop and snap. With right kind of music, the Rithms could play quite loudly and cleanly. Unfortunately, with some material I had problems filling the room to my liking. I could hear the speakers strain as I drove them with a good bit more power than the recommended 80 watts. There was no nasty distortion, just a sense of dynamic constraint, a touch of harmonic distortion, and rolling off at the extremes. While listening to large classical works, big band, rock and overly produced modern recordings, they just ran out of steam in the big room. Time for a musical interlude….
“It’s a lesson all should heed,
Try, try, try again;
If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try, try again;
Then your courage will appear,
If you only persevere,
You will conquer, never fear!
Try, try, try again.”
After deciding the big room was a bad match, I moved the Davones into the guest bedroom system, which is similar in size to many listening rooms in use today. The payoff was immediate. With the smaller room, the speakers were playing in their comfort zone, with noticeable improvements in dynamics and detail. Frequency extremes opened up significantly, and the strain I heard in the big room was completely gone. Bass went from “good-for-a-small-speaker” to full and powerful. Needing less power, the choice of amplifiers became broader. While I did try the Plinius, it didn’t seem to be in its comfort zone (some big amps need to crank out the power to sound musical). By the time it started to sing, it was too loud in the small room. I wound up rotating in a couple of different classic tube amps which had much less power than the big Plinius, but enough to bring the Davones to life. One being a 20-watt custom pair of mono amps based on the Heath W2, using the Acro TO-300 output transformers. The other being a rebuilt/restored pair of Dynaco MK III’s, producing something around 60 watts with a pair of GE 6550. The preamp was either the StereoKnight Magnetic Silverstone-B&R (remote controlled balanced transformer volume control) or the Magnetic Enigma-1.0R (similar to the Magnetic Silverstone, but with a gain and buffer stage). Cables were by StereoKnight, Aural Symphonics and/or Furutech. I used several inexpensive digital sources, but they all seemed to work well with the transformer coupled preamps.
Before I swapped from Plinius to tubes, I pulled out the RCA DSD disk of Reiner/CSO Scheherazade. It was the only disk that showed the power limitations of the Davone’s. I must’ve been pumping 200 watts into the speakers on the massive martellato accents of the forth movement. Better than perhaps any other performance I’ve heard, Reiner gets the entire orchestra to land on their note at almost the exact same time with incredible force, while maintaining control of intonation and timbre. The result is astonishing. It’s also a speaker killer if you get carried away. Luckily I didn’t blow anything up, but I did get something to go splat. They were doing quite well up until that point. Most audiophiles don’t play their music that loud. I sometimes do just to see if a system can play at a real-life volume. That the 80-watt rated Davones made it as far as they did shows that they are conservatively rated.
Björk’s Greatest Hits was stunning in its bass authority and image depth.
The bass line on “Hyperballad” energized the room and sounded like something from a much larger speaker. Only on the bottom two or three notes of the bass line did any roll-off sound audible. I was able to drive the Rithms to quite believable levels with the little 20-watt Heath amps. “Army Of Me” was able to pound out its monotonous bass lines, while still throwing a good image. When Björk sings “You’re on your own now; we won’t save you. Your rescue squad is too exhausted”, some of the backing tracks drop out leaving the bass line (like a Moog to my ears), Björk’s vocals and some cymbal work. The bass throbbed; the cymbal was placed in a three-dimensional area toward the back and to the left; and Björk’s voice was in its own centrally located space, forward of the backing tracks. There were times when it sounded like there was a tiny bit of “cupped-hand” sound in the vocals. It’s possible that a touch of lower midrange is bouncing against the back of the enclosure opposite the back of the driver and bouncing back through the cone. Or, there is just a little lower midrange bump. Either/or, it’s not objectionable, and not very noticeable.
Moving to something more refined, I pulled out an all-time favorite of mine, Schumann’s “Liederkreis” and “Dichterliebe” with the incomparable baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and similarly awesome Alfred Brendel on piano (Philips 416 352-2). This version of “Dichterliebe” is a stunning work of art. When two mature artists like Brendel and Fischer-Dieskau perform something as beautiful as “Dichterliebe”, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The Rithms portrayed all the drama (and melodrama) that Schumann and Heinrich Heine had dreamt of. Fischer-Dieskau’s ability to interpret the song came through loud and clear on the Davones. Every song had a different emotional feeling, something that few singers can do, and something that even fewer speakers can do. The piano, thanks in no small part to Brendel, had huge impact when it was supposed to, and was very delicate at others. Based on this one disk alone, one that other good speakers have failed, I can recommend it as a great speaker for the male voice and piano; and there are a lot of guys singing and a lot of pianos playing out there.
John Lee Hooker’s “It Serves You Right To Suffer” worked to the strengths of the Rithms. The large volume of the recording studio could be heard in the backing tracks, where the drums and bass illuminated the venue size. This was in contrast to the vocals which were dryer and more forward. Cymbals had a shimmering quality. The bass was tuneful. On several occasions, there were palpable images outside the speakers.
After switching to the Dynacos, I pulled out a great little sampler from Harmonia Mundi: Vienna, 1900: The Death Of Tonality? Wien 1900 du Post Romantisme a l’Ecole De Vienne. It’s from a series of compilations from this amazing little label. Track two is the Scherzo from Bruckner’s 3rd symphony. Bass weight and hall size were excellent. Strings were very natural sounding with just enough rosin. Brass blat was wonderful, with the right balance of overtones that give that characteristic “brassiness”. Track three, the finale from Mahler’s symphony No. 8, had some very dimensional bells way back in the soundstage. The massed voices sounded very organic, with no blurring of section to section. I could pick out the different lines with ease.
The Davone Rithm succeeds where a host of “lifestyle” components have failed to measure up to the hype. Bose and B&O come to mind—quickly. It’s difficult to produce something that is both aesthetically pleasing and high-performance. In the context of the right room, the Davones produce excellent bass, superior imaging, and a tonal balance that is essentially honest, yet forgiving of warts (in your system and your recordings). There were times when I would’ve loved a little more top-end resolution and extension from the soft dome tweeter. But there are times I wish my ribbon tweeters weren’t so ruthless. So, it’s just another case of there being no such thing as a speaker for every track, for every room, for every taste….etc.. If ultra high resolution is your thing, you probably would be better served elsewhere. With the right amp, and in the right room, dynamics of the Davone Rithm could be above average. In larger rooms, when driving the speakers hard, compression can start to squash dynamics. These aren’t the best choice for headbangers with a big room. Amplifier choices are going to be at least 20 tube watts in a small room, up to 200 transistor watts in a larger room. There are plenty of choices in that power range. I’d shy away from single-ended amps. Due to their warm tonal balance, digital sounded far better than with the horns and ribbons I’ve been using. Likewise, the Davone’s tonal balance, when I’m using my moving coil cartridge, was more forgiving to poorly pressed and/or mastered disks, including some that were barely listenable with other speakers.
So the question you are asking is: is it a good speaker? Yes, very much so. Discounting the exterior beauty, if they were in plain boxes (think LS3/5A), I’d still recommend the Rithms. Actually, they are better than those classic monitors, because the Rithms don’t sound like they are in little boxes: the bass is better, and imaging is better than most small speakers with separate woofers and tweeters. Their design and build technique are superior to most box speakers. A further plus is that no stands are required. Because they are prettier, and because they do sound good, it makes these a no-brainer recommendation for people who are in the market for stand mounted monitors or mini-towers. Limitations aside, these are very musical speakers.
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