Review/Report from WI Audio Society Meeting:- Sason Ltd Loudspeaker by Ridge Street Audio Design

Ridge Street Audio Sason SpeakersThe North Eastern Wisconsin Audio Society were proud to play host to Ridge Street Audio Design (RSAD) on the weekend of 21/22 January 2005. Robert Schult, owner/designer of RSAD and his associate Steve Rothermel, designer of the new ‘Sason Ltd’ loudspeaker, visited our group for the January meeting, and brought with them a variety of cables, along with their new Sason loudspeakers.

This was an enjoyable and informative meeting for our group, we were very pleased to have the RSAD guys along and they shared a good deal of knowledge and information with us.

The Company: RSAD have been making cables for the audio industry for a number of years now and have built a very loyal following. Their cables are minimalist designs that simply adopt the best possible materials available, coupled with sound electrical and mechanical design considerations and assembled personally by Robert Schult, using tremendous skill and care.

Ridge Street Audio Sason SpeakersThe focus of this review however is the new ‘Sason Ltd’ loudspeaker. The Sason is the result of designer Steve Rothermel’s vision and his vast experience in the audio industry. Steve has spent many years working on loudspeaker and crossover designs, but the Sason is Steve’s first commercial offering to date. Steve is currently evaluating design parameters for a new subwoofer, and has other development projects in the pipeline.

Design Philosophy: Steve has a similar philosophy to Robert, and that is to keep things simple wherever he can. One wouldn’t necessarily think ‘simple’ on first encountering the new Sason speakers, but the concept behind their design is one of minimalism, yet with meticulous attention to detail.

Ridge Street Audio Sason SpeakersDesign Parameters and Construction: Steve opted for a two-way speaker since he felt that by incorporating several innovative design techniques developed in the pre-production stages of the Sason, he could capture all of the benefits of a two-way and couple them with the bottom end performance of a three-way design. Using a well thought out asymmetrical crossover, the most finicky attention to detail that I’ve ever seen, 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″ granite slabs bonded together using a custom 3-part epoxy. The front baffle is a ‘special’ compound that has been machined and finished with a high gloss automotive paint. The machining around the baffle is clearly designed to reduce the surface area around the driver to a minimum, in an effort to produce better imaging performance without losing baffle rigidity where it is needed the most. The speaker is angled backwards much like the Kharma line, providing time-alignment between tweeter and mid/bass drivers.

The drivers are very high quality and are custom-built units outsourced from a supplier in Denmark.

Ridge Street Audio Sason SpeakersThe binding posts are actually modified Cardas ‘clamps’ which function in a very unique way. The actual crossover wiring is brought into the clamp and the speaker cables are clamped directly onto the actual crossover leads. This provides a very short signal path within the speaker, and as far as signal flow is concerned, there are no binding post terminations per se.

The crossover network is a very simple design, which utilizes state of the art 10 gauge air core inductors and high voltage film-and-foil capacitors and is wired using RSAD proprietary silver cable harnesses. On this demonstration pair, RSAD have cleverly added an acrylic plate on the underside of the speaker, allowing the crossover and cabling to be viewed. The crossover looks very impressive in both its layout and construction.

Threaded inserts are situated in the underside of the speaker allowing for the attachment of brass spiked feet. A set is supplied, but the owner can experiment with different devices should there be a desire to do so.

The custom stands are impressive too. They have a large circular chamber connecting the bottom and top plates, with two smaller circular columns at the front of the stand. The larger chamber can be loaded with lead-shot, sand or kitty litter, though with the speakers weighing in at around 140 LBS each, the mass-loading wouldn’t be practical or even necessary for this type of demonstration. The bottom plate has a block of granite mounted onto the plate with a finish matching that of the speakers, it looks very attractive and adds mass to the stand also.

Aesthetics: These are stunning, drop-dead gorgeous speakers that would look fabulous in any listening space. They look like the result of an evolutionary product from a long established and reputable loudspeaker builder, a considerable achievement given that this is Steve’s first commercial design. It’s a perfect example of the finest design and craftsmanship, aesthetically on par with products from Sonus Faber or Kharma, for example.

Packing/Assembly: A good deal of thought has been given to packing and transporting the speaker, as well as the ease of unpacking and setup. The Sasons ship in two very sturdy wooden crates, each fitted with removable castors and handles on the sides.

Screws are removed from the crates, a side panel is lifted away and the crate is removed, leaving the speaker open for movement into final position on the stands.

Three dimples on the stand top plate allow for easy location of the spiked feet, and are designed to prevent the speaker feet from slipping off the stand when being adjusted. Personally, I would have added mechanical stoppers around the two rear corners of the stand to act as ‘belt and braces’ to prevent the feet from slipping off the edge of the top plate.

Unpacking and assembly is a 30-minute task for two people, maybe less. Once the final position is set, the stands are tilted backward and a second set of spiked carpet piercing feet are attached. It is at that point that I would have appreciated the mechanical stoppers on the top plate to prevent any mishaps.

Did I mention already that these speakers are drop-dead gorgeous?

Placement: The demo room doubles as a living room and is less than optimal acoustically. I have some room treatments in place, but they are setup for my planars, the Magnepan 3.6R. The room is also quite large, at 45’ X 28’ with a cathedral ceiling going up to 28’. This isn’t a realistic environment for a two-way design, although the Sasons do have a larger cabinet volume than many two-ways on the market. I do have some flexibility of placement, and for several hours on Friday night / Saturday morning, Robert and Steve explored their options, as one would expect any professional installer to do.

The RSAD guys seemed to be working loosely around the Cardas rule of placement, starting out at a third of the way into the room (9’ approximately) then moving back closer to the front wall at a fifth of the room dimension. I would estimate that around 6 hours were spent in finding the appropriate position and fine-tuning the sound through tilt and toe-in.

I wasn’t able to track every stage of the setup, but I have the impression that these speakers will let you know when they are not placed optimally. Various positions were experimented with that proved less than ideal, the soundstage seemed quite diffuse, lacking in cohesiveness until the optimum spot was found. I actually think this is a good aspect of their personality. You won’t spend months wondering if you’re getting the most out of them, you’ll know immediately as you move through the setup stage when the ideal position has been located, they just snap into focus.

The final resting-place was at the 8’ mark center to center, with the chair perhaps five or six inches back from forming an equilateral triangle. This seemed a little too near field on first encounter, but the large room perhaps added to 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 9’ into the room from the front wall.

Ridge Street Audio Sason SpeakersSupporting equipment was a digital front-end with Audio Alchemy DDS Pro transport, Dti Pro32 Interface and Musical Fidelity A3 24 Upsampling DAC, an ARC LS15 preamp modified up to LS16 spec, SimAudio Moon W10 amplification and all cabling added for the demo by RSAD (with the exception of power cords). Vinyl was spun via a VPI TT with ET2 arm, and a Pass Aleph Ono phono stage.

Sound: Anticipation was high among the NEWAS group, and there was a little delay in my getting to have a go in the sweet spot. I could sense from standing in other parts of the room that the Sasons were not having a problem pressurizing the large space with sound. It was great that Robert and Steve basically handed us the keys and let the group switch music and 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, it’s the only way to do it in my opinion.

What I also appreciated very much was that not once during the two days did Robert or Steve ever 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, truly professional in my opinion.

When my time came around I slipped in the Ry Cooder / Ali Farke Toure CD, ‘Talking Timbuktu’ and wound forward to the last track. As the first notes filled the room my jaw dropped. I haven’t heard a soundstage as deep as that before, anywhere, ever.

The dynamic punch of percussion was startling at first. I could hear the stick hit the skin of the Tom and it was almost alarming in its dynamic ability. The vocal seemed to be placed two thirds of the way back on a stage that stretched back around 14’. I could clearly sense the relative distance between the vocalist and each of the instrumentalists. I haven’t had anywhere near that sense of depth and dimensionality from my humble(d) Magnepan’s.

The sense of lateral scale and height was impressive too, though not quite as wide and high as the stage that the Maggie’s throw, though many people refer to Magnepan stage height as being unnatural and artificial, so this aspect of performance comes down to a matter of personal preference. Later during the demonstration 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, and it wasn’t the rest of the group chattering.

I felt the bass was tight and tuneful, but sensed a little port ‘chuffing’ when the lowest octaves were being called upon. Later in the day Steve talked to us about the unique construction of the rear firing port, and how ‘straws’ are used in the cavity that can be tuned to adjust the output from the port. I think this needed to be adjusted, particularly given that the previous room in which the speakers were used was a little smaller than my room.

The tweeter impressed me with its ability to deliver the treble energy inherent in brass instruments like trumpet and trombone, without sounding aggressive or fatiguing. High frequency extension is excellent, there is plenty of ‘air’ which is essential in localizing performers on the stage and providing the specificity of image that I appreciate from a dynamic speaker.

Being a Magnepan owner, I always look for good midrange performance when I listen to any new speaker. The midrange is where the music happens for me. I can live without earth shattering bass, so long as the bass 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 mid-bass performance. It would’ve been great had there been a tube power amp on hand for the presentation, as an ex-owner of the Cary V12i Monoblocks, I could only dream of how they might compliment a speaker like the Sason.

Spinning through my usual reference tracks, I sensed that the Sasons provide a very transparent ‘warts and all’ presentation. They do little to appeal to the kind of person who wants an audio firework display, or one who simply cannot handle the truth. These are not speakers that will sell themselves in a showroom setting by offering an audiophile extravaganza that has you whipping out your checkbook in the first two minutes. They are a very precise ‘tool’ that accurately render what is on the recording without any added bells and whistles to impress the neighbors cat. That’s not to say that they are overly analytical. A good speaker can be both accurate and musical, and the Sason is living proof of that.

They are revealing speakers, not ‘romantic’ speakers, though I suspect that some degree of romantic could be introduced by careful selection of partnering equipment, perhaps a good tube power amp as mentioned above.

In a nutshell, the Sason is how a good speaker should be. It’s an open window into the recording space and it seems to recreate faithfully what the engineer intended.

Steve touched on the fact that the Sason is not the ideal speaker for a dealers showroom when he talked about extending the money-back guarantee period, to let people have more time to appreciate what the Sasons can really do in their own home. That’s not to say that you won’t be blown away in the first few minutes, seconds even, it’s simply that your music collection will take on a whole new ‘dynamic’ to which you may need some time to adjust. Those who have moved from a cone speaker to a planar or electrostat will know exactly what I’m talking about. In fact, I see many similarities between the Sason and a good planar design like the 3.6’s that I own. Most dynamic cone speakers put you in the room with the recording engineer, looking into the recording room with a window between the engineer and the performers. A good electrostatic design, planar, and now the Sason, puts you inside the room with the actual performers. It’s the best analogy I can think of. However, where the Sasons excel over any planar that I’ve ever heard is in dynamic impact and contrast. Even though the lower octave is cut short, they still present excellent weight and authority in the lower registers that only a good cone/box design can do.

Conclusion: Top to bottom this is a great performing speaker, 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’ll be moving into a smaller listening room at some point in the near future, so the Magnepans may be sold to make way for a smaller speaker. I can’t imagine being anything other than thrilled with the Sasons in a room of more sensible proportions.

One last point to mention. Robert or Steve would actually install these speakers for anyone within a 4-hour drive of their base in Indiana. I suspect they would be agreeable to hopping on a plane and taking a longer trip in certain cases too. Since they are being sold by RSAD factory direct, and not through a dealer, you’re getting a $12500 speaker for $7500, with installation by the manufacturer on top. That sounds like a really good deal to me.

Rooze.

Other Speakers that I’ve owned or demo’d extensively, that gave me some points of reference for this review are:

 

  • Magnepan 3.6R (own)
  • Apogee Caliper Signature II’s (own)
  • QLN Signature Splitfield II (own)
  • Sonus Faber Electa (owned)
  • Quad ELS 57’s (owned)
  • Quad ELS 989 (demo)
  • Kharma Ceramique 1.0 (demo)
  • Linn DMS Isobarik (demo)
  • B&W 808 (demo)
  • Talon Peregrines (demo)

I’ve listened to many other speakers over the years, but the above have certain merits that help me evaluate any new speaker.