The HE 2003 Show that was co-sponsored by Stereophile in June included a semi-horn speaker system from Italy, the Royal Device Laura Studio Mk II with Miranda Horn.
Royal Device is a trademark of the Italian speaker company, Aliante s.r.l. that offers eight special, 2-way high-end horn loudspeakers under the RD name, ranging from the $2,495/pair, bookshelf Legend 6 to the $19,995, floor-standing Lady Diana with the Lady Horn. The subject of this review, the Laura Studio Mk II with the Miranda Horn, is Royal Device’s third most-affordable speaker.
Aliante’s proprietor, Roberto Delle Curti, is an electronic engineer involved in analog and digital applications for industries such as audio, automotive, computer, medical, radio and telecommunications since 1972. From a family rich in musical training, Roberto developed a strong affiliation with music and its stereophonic reproduction, using electronics such as the Marantz 1030, 1060, 1120, 1200 & 250, Acoustic Research speakers such as AR 2AX, 3A, 11, 10 Pl, and last not least, the LST which he still owns.
After several years experience with studio music production and making amplifiers and mixers of his own, Roberto began experimenting with Klipsch speakers in the late ‘70s, and subsequently came into contact with Paul W. Klipsch, exchanging long letters, article translations, and receiving from Mr. Klipsch all of his Klipsch Audio papers and the Klipsch Dope From Hope, which remains prominently displayed on his desk. To this day, a pair of Klipschorns, Belle Klipsch, and two pairs of Heresy IIs, continue to be integral members of his personal audio room and his lounge.
In 1996, Roberto founded his high-end audio company, Aliante s.r.l. shortly after taking over the ownership of a 90-year-old solid wood furniture manufacturer run by a fourth generation family of Italian wood master craftsmen. Since the mid ‘70s, they have been devoted to O.E.M. loudspeaker cabinet production for some renowned Italian speaker companies. The present production plant occupies 13,000 square feet and has 8 employees. Aliante’s Pininfarina line of speakers was their first creation.
In addition to seven illustrated articles that Roberto authored on the design concepts of his speakers, his white paper represents the distillation of an unusually complex, lengthy and systematic reasoning on an extreme approach to system synergy. It is Roberto’s belief that just like the creation of a car, each component of an audio system does not stand alone as an independent design goal, but must be designed and evaluated as part of an integrated system. Further, ignoring this principle while building a “best of breed” system will only diminish the potential of the individual components. Ultimately, you’ll compromise overall system performance and musical enjoyment.
Towards that ideal, Aliante is the only company other than Britain’s Audio Note and Japan’s 47 Laboratory that I know of that publicizes a significant amount of information on its design philosophies.
Believing that the loudspeaker was the most problematic member of an audio system for the magnitude of distortions generated in its operation, Roberto insisted on two factors as prerequisites to a good system: 1) the omission of a speaker crossover and 2) amplification feedback.
In Roberto’s mind, a 3-way crossover could never restore the acoustic phase coherency within the important frequency range of 60 to 8,000 Hz, because different drivers would load the air with different velocities. Also, the continuously varying transients of music in the form of electrical phase can never be restored once broken up via a crossover’s sine wave-based calculations. Roberto was also critical of the self-reinforcing cycle of modern high-end, low-efficiency speakers and their need for amplifiers with Kilowatts of power and hundreds of watts of output that utilize feedback to maintain operational stability. Thus, high efficiency, 2-way speaker design became his focus.
To achieve his design goals with the Royal Device brand of 2-way speakers, Roberto decided to adopt a crossover-less approach utilizing an 8-inch high quality, low weight paper cone woofer on aluminum die-casting to cover the critical range of the first 10kHz. To widen the woofer’s bandwidth while preventing secondary cone break-up, Roberto coupled the woofer to a frontal phase plug for mechanical phase filtering. The woofer back-wave output is horn loaded and triple-folded in the cabinet and a bottom front terminus for bottom-end reproduction. Roberto also set the high-pass frequency for the horn-loaded tweeter at 9kHz, well above the critical midrange band, utilizing the full range woofer to cover the frequencies up to 10Khz, thus avoiding the typical horn “sound” when used in the midrange.
The Miranda Horn tweeter is a SEAS soft dome-based horn loaded design utilizing a 24 dB high-pass filter at 9kHz. Roberto states that it has identical phase coherence with the woofer in a 360° delay, thereby negating the need for latter phase inversion.
The Miranda Horn is a standalone unit atop the main unit’s woofer cabinet, and is custom made by the same Aliante master craftsmen. Tweeter interface is via two connectors atop the main cabinet to the tweeter’s soldered cables. Also, the Miranda Horn is a freestanding unit and can be moved front to back to optimize sound dispersion in relation to various listening distances. The tweeter’s phase plug is disposed of to prevent compression and distortion from setting in from the coupling of the soft dome tweeter to the horn.
The slender, Norwegian birch wood cabinet appeared ordinary until I inspected the wood closely. The light brown wood surfaces revealed perfectly rounded corner seams and a uniquely sanded skin that I haven’t encountered even in the world of furniture. Subjectively speaking, unlike the wood surface of my Genesis VI, or the meticulously lacquered cabinet of the Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver, the real wood cabinet of the Laura Studio Mk II has a warm and appealing fit and finish.
To Roberto’s ears, his Laura and Diana 2-way speakers in their dynamic transients can reproduce a Steinway Grancoda piano better than his $40,000, Bluthner coda piano at the same volume levels via his custom, 2.5 Wpc single-ended tube amplifier.
The Laura Studio Mk II projected an expansive soundstage when given room, and performed optimally in my 12’ x 27’ x 8’ listening room. I placed the speakers 4’ away from the front wall, 2 feet 5 inches from the side walls, and left about 7 feet between the speakers. Nearfield placement hampered the RD’s tonal articulation, while corner placement flattened the speakers’ dimensionality.
My wife imposed a new couch upon me that placed my ear height slightly lower right in the middle of my reviewing process. This necessitated a readjustment to recapture the integration of the Miranda Horn tweeter and the main driver to my liking. The new couch lowered me to become parallel with the main driver instead, and thus altered the tonal balance. Tilting the Miranda Horn downward slightly improved the driver integration.
Moving the Miranda Horn to half an inch from the front edge of the speaker without tilting it completed the speaker’s setup. At this point, better integration was achieved with delicate tweeter horn energy. Slight toe-in was also applied in order to obtain optimal soundstaging sans the horn’s beaming tendency in maximum toe-in.
The bass performance from the 8 ½-inch triple-folded back horn loaded woofer was surprisingly potent. Attempts at placing them in corners to increase the speakers’ bottom-end amplitude were unfruitful. This is possibly due to a highly regulated phase behavior from its front-firing horn folded design.
For amplification, Royal Device specifically requested that only SET amplification be considered. Thankfully, Randy Bankert of O.S. Services Audio Distribution, Aliante’s North American distributor, provided me with a pair of the $16,000, Audion Golden Dream Level 6 SET monoblocks.
For additional perspectives, I also included Audio Note’s $16,750, Conquest Silver Signature monoblocks, as well as the recently reviewed $15,000 Loth X JI300 Integrated 300B Amplifier, my $3,450, EL34-based Music Reference RM9 Mk II and the twin C-core equipped, $2,450 GW Labs 270 feedback tube amplifier. Preamplification was the $28,000 Audio Note M8.
Comprising the digital front-end was the $5,400 47 Laboratory Flatfish CD transport and Audio Note’s $33,000 DAC 5 Special, the Sony SCD-777ES SACD player, with AN’s Sogon digital cable and interconnects completed the system.
Royal Device specifies the exclusive use of its proprietary bi-wire speaker cable with all of its models to ensure best performance. Adding banana adapters proved to be consistently detrimental to the RD’s top-end rendition with all amplifiers used in the review.
Part II will follow shortly on the auditioning of the Royal Device speakers.
When driven directly by the volume control-equipped, 25 Wpc Audion Golden Dream Level 6 monoblocks, whether it was playing the SACD Dvorak: Symphonies 8 & 9 (478 617-2), or the Corydon Singers’ 1986, Redbook CD vocal rendition of Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei” in Bernstein Chichester
Psalms (Hyperion CDA 66219), music presentation by the Royal Device Laura Studio Mk II with Miranda Horn was dynamic and expressive.
One of the most powerful single-ended 300B-based parallel monoblocks available, the Golden Dream’s conveyed impressive scale and speed in dynamic transients suggested by the Klipschorn, accompanied by a luminous instrument texturing that reminded me of my Sound Lab experience, infusing the presentation with enticing credibility. Dimensionality-wise, with exceptional channel separation as accorded by the Audion Golden Dream’s, the Laura’s rendition of the Dvorak Symphony’s recording venue undertaken by the Budapest Festival Orchestra was expansive, and the extraordinary depth on the horizontal plane was profound.
The semi-horn speakers also had an utterly convincing and refreshing suppleness that endowed the reproduced orchestral sound from the Dvorak SACD with resoundingly authentic characteristics. The proclamation of the orchestra’s horn section and the sweeping tenderness of the strings transcended the reenactment of the event by virtue of the sound’s beauty.
With Audio Note’s DAC 5 Special at the helm deciphering the Corydon Singers’ RBCD, the Laura competently unveiled cues from the session.
Using no instrumental or orchestral accompaniment, the Corydon Singers, under the baton of Matthew Best, created a sound that rivaled the sonic beauty of any orchestral “Agnus Dei” in its complex and yet coherently layered choral soundscape. The crossover-less main driver of the Laura showcased the intensity contrasts between the baritones and the mezzo-sopranos during the many ups and downs in their intonations.
Most importantly, the RD’s differentiation of the underlying baritones and sopranos was devoid of the annoying ambiguity many other speakers would impart on the vocalists’ minute but important variations in intonations and pitch. In this regard, the Laura’s sheer midrange liquidity reminded me of my Apogee Duetta Signatures’ ribbons.
In JVC’s 1996 XRCD Sampler (JVCXR-0001-2), the Laura’s rendition of Carmen Lundy’s vocal in “’Round Midnight” was sumptuous and textural, and with a glamorously open top end that endowed Masami Nakagawa’s haunting and reverberating flute instrumentation in her version of “’Round Midnight” with a rather fitting footprint.
JVC’s 1960 Scheherazade XRCD2 (JVC JMCXR-0015) was another gem that illustrated the visions of artists of earlier generations. Via the AN DAC 5 Special- and Audion Golden Dream-equipped Laura Studio Mk II with Miranda Horn, the very evocative and feminine touch of violinist Sidney Harth was thoroughly showcased, reminding me with not simply that he had eclipsed the Germanic Michel Schwalbe’s style (DG 289 463 614-2) from a 1967 DG session; but also the extent to which the sound of the vintage JVC master was noticeably warmer than the Germanic DG’s.
In sheer listenability, the XRCD2 version’s richness of tone and the violinist’s realization of an inquisitive and lovely Scheherazade were meticulously reconstructed by the Italian speakers. The unmistakably caring and diligent playing of the JVC violinist was only set back by the vintage instrumental textures as compared to the DG’s version, in which the Germanic violinist had an exacting stance that may please yet other audiophiles. The Laura’s portrayal of the DG’s top end clarity and the slightly distant sound appropriately placed the yellow label’s perspective in the admiration of those preferring discipline and the objectivity thus accorded.
When driven by another 300B amplifier, namely the $15,000, 8Wpc Loth X JI300 Integrated 300B Amplifier, the Royal Device Laura Studio Mk II with Miranda Horn offered comparable tonal vividness with an edge on textural contrasts, although falling short on the last degree of transient articulation as accorded by the Audion Golden Dream Level 6 monoblocks.
Throughout the playing of SACD’s and XRCD2 CDs alike, the Korean amplifier’s distinction in texture depiction induced a tonal vividness via the Laura’s that augmented the speaker’s liquidity immensely in midrange to upper midrange, raising the crossover-less driver’s tonal opulence factor further. The 300B integrated was also a remarkably compatible match for the speaker’s 98.5dB sensitivity.
There were pleasant surprises when I coupled the Royal Device Laura Studio Mk II with Miranda Horn loudspeaker system to either my EL34-based $3,450 Music Reference RM9 Mk II, or the $2,450 GW Labs 270, 6550-based amplifier. Most noteworthy was the GW Labs as armed with dual C-core transformers, for it amassed competent transients from the crossover-less speakers without over-exciting the Miranda Horns. Although neither amplifier was capable of the textural and tonal refinement of the more expensive Audion’s and Loth X, they nevertheless represented affordable, viable alternatives in compatible amplification.
The Royal Device Laura Studio Mk II with Miranda Horn was capable of a sparkling midrange and tonal opulence rivaling those produced by my Apogee Duetta Signature and Genesis VI. Then, the defining moment for the Italian loudspeaker occurred when it was conjuring up incredible low-level resolution resembling those from the Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver speaker, making it the next most resolute transducer I’ve auditioned.
Although the semi-horn’s bottom end definition, magnitude and dynamic vigor were all not as blatant as the $9,500 Genesis VI’s trio of active woofers, the Royal Device had competent and convincing sense of scale and weight in the conveyance of a full orchestra.
The highly encompassing design philosophy of Roberto Delle Curti’s Aliante Royal Device Laura Studio Mk II with Miranda Horn loudspeaker system incorporated the speaker cable interface with the drivers into the fundamental design process itself to achieve the loudspeaker’s final disposition, as the proprietary RD cables were crucial for the speaker to project the extremely well-balanced frequency distribution across the entire audible band.
Non-RD cables, such as my very affordable Tara Labs Phase II with TFA Return, or the mid-priced Cardas Quadlink 5C, or even the very resolute Audio Note AN-SPx, would incite incongruity from midrange to top-end with a subdued upper midrange, disrupting overall coherence of sound.
Secondly, in addition to the fact that the Royal Device’s direct-radiating 8 ½-inch midrange/woofer unit and partnered horn tweeter needed to be put well into the room for more seamless driver integration, the semi-horn system did not produce audible bottom-end resonance aft of the speaker to benefit corner placements, which was also indicative of either very well-regulated phasic behavior from the main driver, or an extremely well-dampened cabinet.
Roberto’s white paper leaves no doubt in one’s mind of his objection to the common, random system matching practice, in addition to his view that many audiophiles become irritated at the High End Audio in general because of rampant instances of system incompatibility. It takes tremendous effort to arrive at a system in sound reproduction in the form of the Royal Device, and it is another monumental and painstaking effort to compile the process in writing.
An active loudspeaker system is the only other viable alternative I am aware of that addresses the amplifier/cable/loudspeaker interface scenario. We shall examine this alternative in the future when opportunity arises.
Digital Front End
47 Laboratory 4705 Progression DAC
47 Laboratory 4705-G Gemini Progression DAC
47 Laboratory 4707 PiTracer CD Transport
47 Laboratory 4713 Flatfish CD Transport
Audio Note CDT-2 CD Transport
Audio Note DAC One 1.1x Signature
Audio Note DAC 5 Special
CEC TL1 CD transport
GW Labs DSP Engine
Harmonix Reimyo DAP-777 20bit K2 DAC
Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player
47 Laboratory 4706 dual mono Gaincard S with DACT24 & Cardas posts
Audio Note M8 preamplifier
Audio Note Conquest Silver Signature monoblocks
Audion Golden Dream 300B monoblocks
GW Labs 270 tube power amplifier
Linn Klimax Twin
Loth X JI300 integrated amplifier
Music Reference RM9 II power amplifier
Reference Line Preeminence Two passive preamplifier
Reference Line Preeminence One Signature power amplifier
Z-systems RDP-1 Reference Digital Preamplifier
Apogee Duetta Signature
Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver
Tannoy Churchill Wideband
Audio Note Sogon digital cable (1m, RCA)
Audio Note Sogon interconnect (2m pair, RCA)
Audio Note AN-Vx interconnect (1.5m, RCA)
Audio Note AN-V silver interconnect (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Audio Note AN-SPx speaker cable (2m, bananas, bi-wired)
Audio Note AN-La copper speaker cable (8 feet, bi-wired)
Canare L-5CFB 75-ohm digital cable (RCA, 1.5m)
Canare D206 110 ohm digital cable (AES/EBU, 1.5m)
Cardas Quadlink 5C (8 feet)
Granite Audio #470 silver cables (RCA 1m, 2 pairs)
Granite Audio #560 AC Mains (2)
Illuminations D-60 75 Ohm digital cable (1.5m, RCA)
Royal Device Bi-wire speaker cable
Van den Hul MCD-352 (8feet)
ISO, Salamander Synergy 20 (2), ASC Tube Traps and Flat Traps
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