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The Rega R7 Loudspeaker
Rega Does It Again

 

February 2006




I was so impressed with the Rega R1, Rega’s $495 per pair mini-monitor, (the entry level of their new “R” Series of loudspeakers,) that I’ve made it my new Budget Reference – a speaker that all other speakers, regardless of price, have to outperform in order to justify their existence. (See my review here) The R1’s combination of superb music-making skills, high resolution and surprising bass response makes the Budget Reference concept a very useful tool for evaluating other speakers. If they can’t musically outperform the R1, especially if priced stratospherically, why bother?

The R1, like all excellent mini-monitors, can be the simplest and most guaranteed way of extracting all that stereo reproduction of music can achieve. Set up correctly in small rooms, mini-monitors can create the most accurate, convincing, and spectacular stereo illusions, supplemented by the natural transparency and revelation of detail that are the forte of near-field listening. The biggest hurdle in successfully utilizing a mini-monitor into all but the smallest of rooms is the problem of limited bass-response. Small woofers have inherent limits, and the mini-monitor concept presupposes small room applications, the dimensions of which serve to reinforce and boost the speaker’s inherent tailing off of bass response. If the room is too big or the speaker’s position is not optimum within it, the whole effort collapses. Too often users find themselves yearning desperately for just a few more Hz on the bottom end to complete the illusion of full-range music. It can be hair-tearingly maddening to have nailed the set-up of a mini-monitor system only to have it flounder for lack of just a few notes on the bottom end. “Please, oh, please! Just another half-octave!”

34-years’ experience in the audio world have taught me that the most common system building error is mismatching the speaker to the room. Place a mini-monitor in too large a room and you get the bass-shy “squawk box” syndrome. Far more common in the US is buying a speaker whose bass response is more than the room can handle, resulting in various manifestations of boom, thud, and rhinocerine mud-wallowing. It’s more than a simple matter of room dimensions and overall volume: wall and floor construction also play a crucial role. It’s been my general experience that if you can get clear and tight response down to 40 Hz in-room, stop and count your blessings. And think very hard about pursuing response into the bottom octave. One is more likely to screw up everything achieved in the musically useful range of 40 Hz and above. While my own reference speaker, the Sound Lab Dynastat, is flat to 20 Hz in my large basement listening room, the number of times I’ve absolutely needed that bottom octave for musical reasons in the last two years is zero. While the lowest range of the organ might be majestic in a large cathedral, mismatched bass-heavy speakers that literally shake the house on its foundations are more likely to induce vertigo and viscera displacement than aesthetic satisfaction. So how do you walk the line between bass-shy mini-monitors and elephantine bass heaviness in the “normal” room? Enter the new Rega R7 loudspeaker.

Rega’s new “R” Series of speakers descend from the genetic pool of the R9 - Rega’s $3995 per pair flagship speaker. The R7 is most closely related to the R9, sharing its transmission-line woofer loading (the R1, R3, and R5 use the bass-reflex method,) and derives its midrange driver and tweeter from the R9 as well. The R7 is physically smaller than the R9, does not share its room tuning feature or ultimate low bass response, and does not mount its crossover circuitry outside the cabinet. Rega designed and manufactures all the drivers in the R Series; the entire speaker is manufactured by Rega in England. This contrasts strongly with the more common speaker industry practice of using OEM raw drivers and using Chinese slave labor for manufacture (do contemporary Chinese industrial workers feel ironic pride from their unique situation of being enslaved and exploited by both Capitalism and Communism simultaneously?)

The Rega R7 sells for $2495 per pair. Given the R7’s custom bespoke drivers, the sophistication of its design, its transmission-line woofer loading, and the first-rate cabinetry and construction quality typical of UK-built speakers, the price is a give-away bargain. Most unusually, the US price is actually a bit less than the price in the UK. Rega remains faithful to its ideals: building deeply musically satisfying products which real-world music lovers can actually afford to own. No preposterous ”High End” pricing to impress the naïve here.

The R7’s wood-veneered cabinet measures 38.25 inches high by 13.7 inches deep by 10.6 inches wide. This pattern of relative dimensions has become an archetype of contemporary speaker design: the narrow front panel eliminating driver output diffraction and delay from the front baffle, the depth of the cabinet permitting placement close to a rear wall, and the small overall footprint leading to easy aesthetic incorporation into the average living room. Like all the R series speakers, the midrange driver is located at the top of the front baffle with the tweeter just below. On the R7 these are attached to a black, plastic-looking plate that then attaches to the cabinet. A removeable black grill covers the two drivers. Two/thirds of the way up on the side of the cabinet are mounted the side-firing 7-inch woofer and the port for its transmission-line loading. The woofer features a 6-layer aluminum voice coil that allows Rega to run this bass driver up to its limit of around 800 Hz without the need for a crossover. Most unusually, there is also a reflex port for the 5-inch midrange driver. Another black grill covers the woofer and ports.

The R7’s small footprint is enlarged by bolt-on metal outriggers into which are screwed 4 supporting spikes. These outriggers appear to mimic cantilever bridges and look like they might offer some vertical isolation properties. Rega claims a nominal 6-Ohm impedance (which usually implies some dips into lower impedances) and approximately 89 dB sensitivity. Double speaker posts permit bi-amping and bi-wiring. Like many speakers built for UK and European listening rooms, the R7’s can be placed near a rear wall without exaggerating the bass response. The side-mounted woofers should face outwards. I set them up well away from the rear wall, with distance between the speakers greater than the distance from my listening chair. Speaker toe-in was not critical. The R7 is an elegant and low-key presence in the listening room.

Burn-in from new took a week’s play. I measured the speaker’s response in my large basement reference room at my listening chair in stereo. The speaker was far enough into the room (about half way) so that there was no bass reinforcement from the speaker’s rear wall. The midrange/tweeter response was extremely linear, extending out to 16 KHz (I don’t much trust the measuring accuracy of my devices at the extreme top of the frequency range) at the ear with no deviations. It was much flatter than the response of the R1, which showed a minor elevation in the 2-6 KHz range, and was flatter than any other speaker I’ve measured. I consider measurements as a rough indicator rather than a predictor, and I am not ruled by them. After all, they can only indicate quantity; they say nothing about quality. Although the special mid/tweeter drivers of the R9 and R7 look superficially similar to those in the 1, 3, and 5, they are clearly quite different in neutrality and linearity. Bass response was flat to 40 Hz, thus meeting my criterion for the speaker to be considered full-range. Given the tuning frequency (mid 40’s) of the transmission line’s port, it was obvious that Rega designed the R7 for bass quality rather than for sub-bass quantity.

Rega uses music as the final arbiter for all their designs and has long been known for consistently getting the heart of music right. Critical auditioning and extensive listening tests while playing real music determines if the product passes Rega’s muster. While other audiophile, high end, and ‘designer’ audio firms claim to do the same (is there any more pretentious blather than that about “voicing?”), one wonders by the results if their musical criterion is listening to Mantovani, Muzak, and Barry Manilow (supplemented by occasional cannon fire) recorded in Grand Central Station. Rega is a far hipper company: you can listen to Mozart and the Meters, Beethoven and the Beatles, Cream and Coltrane, Bach and Captain Beefheart, and be confident you’ll “get” the musical message.

Rega designs each of their products to mate optimally with other Rega components. There is no point designing a loudspeaker with superb rhythmic articulation, subtle dynamic shading, and tight precise bass if it’s going to be played with an arrhythmic turntable or CD player, and an amplifier with flabby and uncontrolled bass. I appreciated again, in my review of a complete Rega system (see:here) how well this system approach of Rega’s works. It’s like a fine fitting glove where all the fingers cooperate with the action of the hand, resulting in an organic and coherent musical presentation that has one responding to the music rather than to the sound. First time auditioners of the R7 should make a point of having them demonstrated within a Rega system context to guarantee fully hearing the intention of their design.

This is not to say that the R7 is incompatible with other than Rega products, as my auditioning experience with a wide variety of amplification, sources, and cabling showed. Central in choosing matching components for the R7 should be, obviously, the criteria of rhythmic acuity, precise and tight bass response and a fundamental fidelity to the devices of music making.

The immediate impression of the R7 is that of an extremely fast, highly agile and highly detailed sonic presentation, where the 3 drivers cohere into one entity that can start and stop seemingly instantaneously. The placement of the tweeter below the mid/woofer on the front panel (used in all the R series) creates a slight displacement in arrival times at the ear between the two drivers. With one’s ears on the plane of the mid driver and above, the tweeter integrates in time so well it sounds like one driver doing all the work. High frequencies and overtones emerge from the body of the instrument rather than from a detached plane above it. Percussion instruments are very clear: one can hear the sound of a wooden stick creating that slightly woody sound before a cymbal explodes into its metallic shimmer. More importantly, one can hear the rhythmic patterns played on the cymbals, along with subtle dynamic changes and accents. This placement of ‘tweeter below’ is a simple and clever solution to the problem of time coherence: no need for complex compensation in the crossover or for sloping baffle cabinet designs.

Probably the most striking aspect of the R7 is its simply stupendous bass clarity. While I’ve always been a bass lover, I’ve never been a bass freak or a bass slut. No perverted one-note bass boom, mud and thud for me; nor will just any type of sleazy and promiscuous bass performance do. I want faithful, clear, and precise renditions of individual bass guitar notes down to the bottom of the instrument’s frequency range; I want the rhythm and swing clearly marked out; I want to hear ‘tunes playing in the bass.’ On orchestral music I want to hear the difference between the double bass and the cello. I want to hear the kick drum clearly differentiated from the floor tom-toms. I want to hear the polyrhythmic complexities of West African and Middle Eastern Music. I want to know precisely what the contribution of the bass instruments are to the whole of the musical proceedings. I want to dance.

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