by Paul Cervantes, The Paul Cervantes High End Reader
Reviewers, even enfeebled and semi-retired ones like me, need genuine reference loudspeakers but few are lucky enough to have them. Over the years, I've had two pairs of reference speakers. The first were the Magnepan MG3a that were given to me by my friend, Graham J. Hardy, designer of the classic Muse Model Two DAC. Graham had finally bit the bullet and ordered himself a pair of Magnepan MG20, which are grand speakers indeed.
The funny thing is that I actually preferred the MG3a to the MG20s. The MG20s were more dynamic though slightly cooler sounding on top. The bass was more extended but had less of the pleasant bloom that the MG3a had in the mid bass. No one, I repeat, no one wants truly flat low-frequency response (or high-frequency response for that matter). I simply prefer to admit what others deny.
Graham liked to play The Who loud. I mean kid-next-door's-garage-band loud, and the MG3a took quite a beating. In fact, over the years Graham basically melted the ribbons and had to replace (by himself, I might add) the transducer wires in one of the LF panels. He said it was a mistake to have done it himself, but they sounded superb.
All Magnepan's suffer from a lack of appropriate stands. The boys in Minnesota just don't see the sense, I suppose. Graham recognized this and built some very clever stands that held the base and vertical panels of the MG3a in a rigid embrace. When he gave me the MG3a he told me not to use the stands and that he had never been pleased with them.
Those battered and bruised speakers got me through many a review and many hours of late night listening. I loved those speakers, and the story behind them, and the fact that Graham had given them to me. They were driven by scores of different amps. I can remember using a pair of Muse Model One Hundred Seventy Fives (the Three Hundreds never quite sounded right with dipoles), the Muse Model One Hundred Sixty, the RM-9 MKII, RM-9 SE, even the 40 watt RM-10 drove the MG3a to reasonable levels and sounded delicious.
The best sound from the Magnepan MG3a came from the Rowland Model 2. What an amplifier! Smooth, detailed, three-dimentional, perfect tonality. Watts are watts, but those were 70 of the most sublime watts I've ever heard. Many people will tell you Magnepans need more power, but don't believe them. However, when it comes to ribboned Magnepans the quality of the amplifier will be revealed totally. Crude and brutish amplifiers are out of the question.
My beloved Magnepans met a horrible fate when I was going through my divorce. My house was empty for a couple weeks, long enough for a hot water supply valve to burst and go unnoticed until the entire house was flooded and water flowed down the slope and into my neighbor's back yard. I lost over 500 records to the flood. The rusty water attacked the overflow records I stored on the floor leaving tiny, nasty reddish flakes of rust bonded to the grooves. Graham's custom stands might have saved the MG3As. Instead, capillary action drew water into the panels and the transducers and corroded the crossover components. By the time I saw the Magnepans, the panels were split and swollen and even the ribbons were crusted in rust. It was the saddest end to the most glorious and treasured audio gear I have ever (or will ever) own.
It was quite a while before I was able to get back to reviewing. For months I listened to a tiny system consisting of an Audion Sterling tube amplifier (later a YBA Intégré) and a bunch of mediocre speakers and associated gear.
One day I was chatting with my dear friend Erol Ricketts of NSM (now NSMT) and he told me about his new Role Audio series of designs. I was distinctly unenthused, but willing to listen.
The Role Audio Enterprise arrived one day without fanfare. They are tall, sleek and unassumingly elegant speakers. I had just received a bi-wire set of Kimber Anniversary 8TC so the Enterprise and the new cables founded they way into the system at the same time.
Break-in, burn-in? I don't have time for such folly; does anyone? I went right to the vinyl. The expected letdown from the sonic memory of the Magnepans never happened. I just listened and listened and listened; track after track, LP after LP. The Enterprise were cool and hot, smooth yet exciting. They mirrored the source, mirrored the material, mirrored the style and spirit of the music; the music came though them, rather than from them.
If that distinction eludes you you'll find no help here.
After a few hours, I moved them a little more into the room and a little closer to each other. I made sure the driver screws were snug (but not too snug) and cinched down the Superior binding posts. More LPs made their way onto the REGA and then I moved on to some CDs. The Role Enterprise revealed the attenuated ambiance and decreased scale endemic to digital, but maintained the music's flow despite the presence of so many ones and zeros. Then it hit me. The Enterprise sounded very much like the Magnepan MG3as, but lacked the Magnepan's dynamic limitations. Above a given level dipoles like the MG3a run out of steam. They just can't provide enough excursion to maintain dynamic ease as the SPLs reach the lower triple digits. The Enterprise and their dual transmission line design (which I'll ask Erol Rickett's to explain further in his Designer's Comment) sound effortless no matter how challenging the material or high the levels.
From the midrange to the middle bass the Role Enterprise are beyond reproach and always musical. From the midrange on up, they retain their unflappable smoothness. The high frequency driver can't match the limitless ease of the Magnepan ribbon (what can?) but the Enterprise is always musical and relatively extended on the top end. The soundstage is more realistically proportioned than with the MG3a with a far better ability to localize instruments. The Role Enterprise are at once the perfect reviewing tool and perfectly musical.
Just when I pull myself out, they pull me back in! Michael Corleone / Godfather III
Well, maybe anyway. This retro-review may be simply a look back or it may be a look ahead. I may do an occasional review and then again I may not. Be suspicious of the reviewer who just keeps pounding out reviews. It's not hard to do, I written over a hundred under my name and nom de plumes but it's not a good thing to do. If a reviewer lacks reference material and gear, the reviewer also lacks the capacity to discern and attribute the changes he hears. Think about it: Changing something, changing anything, unavoidably shifts a reviewer's attention away from the music and toward the gear. It's a problem that plagues all subjective evaluation.
If I do drift back toward reviewing, I'll do it on a highly selective basis that will allow me to retain an acute sense of my reference system while maintaining my musical awareness of the impact brought by the gear under review. The Role Enterprise are my long term reference loudspeakers. I have quietly badgered Erol Ricketts to build a no-holds-barred version of the Enterprise (one with exotic veneers, a more solid plinth, and maybe a more extended high frequency driver).
So far, he has not taken my bait, but I can hope.
The Role Audio Enterprise are, all around, the best dynamic speakers I have ever used. They have so few weaknesses and so many essential music strength they nearly make listening to other full-range loudspeakers seem like a waste of time and a study in frustration. The Enterprise that good.
If you aspire to a reference loudspeaker, the Role Audio Enterprise is for you.