27 January, 2015

Happy New Year

 photo s303-1_zps0e910928.png
pic of the fantastic Sparkler S303 CDP borrowed from vkung of vkmusic. Click to enlarge.

Happy New Year!
Review: Ruark Crusader II
Overview: Ruark
Brief Review: Sparkler S303 CDP, Part I
Brief Review: Rotel RCD-955AX CDP, Part I

Update: Review: Sparkler S303, Part II has been published.

Belatedly, Happy New Year!  First, I'd like to thank my readers for their visits, comments and words of support and encouragement over the past year(s). How time flies, as this Blog steps into its seventh year! May the coming year be fruitful for you in all important aspects of life.

Year-End Crusade
Near the end of the year, a new friend Calvin, a musically trained person, took me to task. My pair of Ruark Crusader II, dormant for years, came out of their shrink wraps. We were shocked to find corrosion around all the woofers' screws (no doubt caused by the humidity of HK). Nonetheless, the speakers were otherwise perfect and the woofers themselves and the rubber surrounds suffered no damage. We decided to hear them anyway.

History Ruark, now a very different company, was once a significant player on the British loudspeaker scene. For the story, visit the Ruark Heritage page. The Crusader II came out in 1993, and at the time was rave-reviewed and sold very well in the UK and HK. In HK, I remembered it sold for a considerable HKD 2x,xxx. What a difference twenty years makes for the entire audio industry, as traditional craftsmanship lost its value with the younger generations!

Overview On the official website you can find Ruark's History and Timeline. At HK's then dealer I have heard almost all their (pre-1996) models. The floor standers all have the rather unusual distinction of a diminutive size, being short as well as slim. Among them, to me the 3-way Crusader was cream of the crop, obviously superior to the 2-way Talisman and Templar. Readers should know I almost always prefer a 3-way to a 2-way. The smaller Sabre, Broadsword and Swordsman were all good but there were just too many good bookshelves out there (LS3/5A was still in production, and various Proac's and ATC's were selling well too) for me to get interested. It should be mentioned Ruark also produced  even "higher level" speakers like the (rather famous and very expensive) all-Dynaudio driver Accolade, and later the Equinox, but I did not like the clumsy nature of these, rather preferring the understated elegance of the Crusader II.

http://www.gattiweb.com/images/dynaudio/d76af_photo.jpgpic of Dynaudio D76AF dome midrange (from www.stereo.net.au)

Specifications Ruark Crusader II

System Type: Bass reflex, 3 way
Drive units:
Bass: 180 mm precision cast magnesium chassis, high flux magnet assembly, high temp 40 mm Kapton voice coil.
Mid-range: 75 mm treated fabric dome, vented center pole. Aluminium voice coil.
Tweeter: 25mm treated silk dome.
Frequency Response: 40 Hz - 20 khz ±3 dB
Sensibility: 88dB / 1Watt
Crossover Frequency: 500 Hz; 4 kHz (Precision audio grade components a 15 elements)
Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
Recommended amplifier power: 25 - 100W
Cabinet: Floor standing ACD, Critically damped MDF double layer construction
Colour Finishes: Veneers in; natural Cherry, Natural Oak, Walnut, Rosewood and Black Oak
Dimensions (HxWxD): 900 x 235 x 320 mm
Weight: 30 Kgs each
Made in UK

Comment on the drivers I, II, III While on the internet you can find lots of pictures of the Crusader II, no formal reviews can be found (you may want to read this blog and various users' comments in audioreview). The II can be distinguished from the I by the color of the woofer (black in the II). In 2007, there came the Crusader III, which was less well received, but its Techradar archived review by the reliable Paul Messenger is very useful as it gives details of the cabinet and compares the III with the II. This Chinese review on the III is also surprisingly useful, as it mentions Ruark's use of Dynaudio drivers, rare for UK speakers of that time.

In the II, the fabric dome midrange driver is said to be Dynaudio's D76AF. Dome drivers like this are only seen in expensive speakers like ATC, PMC, vintage Proac, to name a few, and they almost always sound great. The silk dome tweeter also looks like a Dynaudio driver. I am not sure about the make of the woofer.

Sound Using Sparkler and Rotel as digital source (see below), Leben RS28CX preamp and a cheap Rotel amp, the RB870BX, sound was surprisingly good from the start, even as the loudspeakers have not been fired up for years! We played around for quite a while. Some comments:
  • I finally dug out the spikes, which improved the bass measurably.
  • Biggest surprise: the Ruark's can be driven rather nicely by a 300B amp! My space is >250 ft and these are 88 db speakers, so they must be benign loads. Sound with the Wavac MD-300B was lively and sophisticated, yielding nothing to the Rotel. For sure, these speakers are not difficult to drive.
  • Integration of the 3 drivers is seamless. Nothing stands out and one can listen for hours, as we did.
  • The richly textured midrange is to be expected from a good 3-way. It is my belief that, space permit, a good 3-way is better than a good 2-way. This must be the smallest 3-way floorstander! If your space is small, these are ideal.
New Year Sparkler!
On New Year's Day, my friends shidi, his wife Jane and WSS came to visit my old house, bringing champagne and sweet wine with them! All, including Jane (!), were smitten by the looks of the Sparkler S303 CDP. And this is just not champagne effect!

Just recently, I chanced upon the Rotel RCD-955AX (a famous 16-bit bargain unit) and bought it for a pittance. I took it to my old house, where on this day we compared it to the Sparkler S303. While I thought the Rotel to be better in big-boned pieces like Mahler's Fifth Symphony, my guests all waxed lyrics about the lively and take-no-prisoner approach (mind you, shidi is a jazz fanatic). WSS did not drink much, but he decided to buy the Sparkler for his home setup the day after. Even Calvin is thinking about it!

WSS was/is interested in my Thorens TD-124 Mk I. I haven't fired it up in years, yet it sounded respectable. You shall hear about its rehabilitation soon.

pic of Thorens TD-124/SME 3009 II/Denon DL-103.