One of the most important developments in hi-fi over the past decade or so has been the steady improvement in speaker design. There was a time when we could buy a kit or design our own speakers and come reasonably close to the best that was available. But improvements in cabinet and crossover design have left the DIY speaker builder behind.
Except for companies like RAW Acoustics.
The HT8 is their newest and top of the line speaker. It's available finished or as a kit.
As you might imagine, 'HT' stands for Home Theater, so you could use four of these along with their Apex II center channel speaker in a surround sound system.
I auditioned the HT8s solely in my two channel system. The HT8s are extra tall as speakers go. Listed at 46" high, they are at a full four feet with the bases and spikes. They have an extra narrow front – 7", and are a pleasing 14" deep. The long edges are rounded, and my review samples were finished in exotic Lacewood veneer. The RAW Acoustics web site lists 21 different real wood veneer finish possibilities, from Anigre to ZebRAWood. Lacewood is not among them, but the website alludes to other finish possibilities.
The finish on this well traveled review
pair was slightly worse for wear, but beautiful none the less. So much so
that I had my doubts as to whether the common woodworker could achieve
the same results. Al assured me that they could. Al hasn't seen my wood
handiwork, so maybe the problem is that I'm an 'uncommon' woodworker.
All the drivers are shielded. Two 4.5" paper cone midrange drivers with copper phase plugs in a D'Appolito array, with a RAW Acoustics RA104.5 ribbon tweeter, are at the top of the 7" wide front face. Magnetic grille cloths are included. As someone who always, always leaves the grille cloths off, I really appreciate this recent advance in grille cloth technology. The grilles are attached magnetically to the speaker front, so there are no ugly holes to look at with the grille cloths removed.
I put the grille cloths on long enough to hear what seemed to be a slight loss of focus in the sound, but since I prefer the look of most speakers without grille cloths anyway, off they came. With or without the spikes, the ribbon tweeter was higher than my listening ear level by 2-4".
I could not detect any vertical (or horizontal) dispersion issues from these tweeters. I can detect vertical dispersion issues from the dome tweeters in my reference speakers, by the way.
Bass is handled by two 7" Adire Audio Extremis 6.8 XBL2™ woofers side mounted and ported on the back. These woofers are tuned to 27 Hz and have an Xmax of more than 1" (that's a lot for a 7" woofer). The HT8 specifications claim an in room response down to 22 Hz, depending on placement. I can tell you they go plenty low. (RAW Acoustics has the midrange drivers built for them, also under the Adire Audio XBL2 patent.)
My initial placement of the HT8s led to a problem with this low bass. As is often the case in my crowded living room, I started my review with one of the speakers too close to my turntable.
"Jeez, why do these speakers sound good with CDs but not with vinyl," I thought. After (re)discovering that the issue was vibrations transmitted through the floor, I arrived at my final listening position for these speakers which had me sitting pretty close to them, about 6 feet. The speakers were 9 feet apart with no toe-in and well away from back and side walls.
RAW Acoustics recommends adjusting the placement relative to the back wall to tune the bass. I did not have many options in this regard, but I found the bass surprisingly plentiful and tuneful. That is, I heard distinct bass notes, not the same muddy note over and over. It was best when I had the speakers each facing straight ahead, however, no toe-in. It seemed as though the left and right woofer (pairs) worked best when they were facing each other. This was especially true through the mid-bass where slight movements of one of the speakers in either direction led to a loss in definition and soundstage up into the low 100s of Hz.
When I had finally arrived at this setup I was quite happy and I spent a
lot of time listening to records and CDs. My adventures with placement
led me to ask Al Wooley if they had tried spikes with the speakers, and
he said indeed, the speakers come with spikes. It's just that I didn't
have them. Al Fedex'd a set of Sound Fusion Vibe Buster 8s to me (shown
in the photo above). These are now included with an assembled speaker
purchase. I like these spikes because they have a little bit more
engineered into them than just a dangerously sharp cone shape. I did not have the matching Vibe Buster 1s (which keep that
dangerously sharp point away from your floor) for this review. With
these spikes in place, the mid-bass snapped into focus, the soundstage
was more distinct, and now extended about a foot outside the speakers
where before it was anchored firmly in between the speakers.
I only had the Vibe Buster spikes for the last few days of the review period, so my listening report is necessarily a mixture of what I heard with and without the spikes.
The first thing I noticed about these speakers is that the vocal range was highlighted in way that really grabbed me. The smallish drivers and narrow face of the HT8s resemble the size of a human head, so that might be part of it. Without the spikes, when listening to female vocals such as the amazing Beth Gibbons of Portishead, it seemed like the HT8s were a small open window, and Beth was just on the other side of it. This should not be read as a criticism, because with bad speakers, the singer is behind a wall, under a blanket. With the Vibe Buster spikes and proper alignment however the HT8s disappeared and the vocals seemed to be coming from the general area of the speaker, but aurally it's as if they weren't there. This was also true with Sinead O'Connor's collaboration with Bomb The Bass, "Empire". This awesome track features male and female vocals that both sounded terrific with an 'in the room' quality.
The ribbon tweeter on the HT8s may be their best feature. With electronic music, where detailed, luscious sounds are often recorded and then completely missed by deprived Ipod listeners, the HT8s revealed more than I had heard before. "Mysterons", the opening track on Portishead's classic Dummy has a dribbled snare drum sound that has multiple dimensions. I could not have imagined it sounding more real than it did coming out of those tweeters.
When properly set up and tuned
with the spikes, the HT8s reproduced the low notes with equal aplomb.
The first four tracks on Massive Attack Collected are a bass
workout that most speakers can't handle. The four total drivers on the
really delivered the low notes. I'll
get off the trip hop bandwagon in a minute here, but there are details in
these recordings that are often missed, and that's a shame because its an
intricate part of the music. The HT8s let the detail come through, and
I couldn't stop listening. Mazzy Star's first record, She Hangs Brightly is NOT trip hop,
but it is psychedelic. The guitar on this CD was enthralling through the
HT8s, and the bass guitar was distinct and
engaging. Because these speakers were due to be shipped to the Rocky
Mountain Audio Fest, the review period was shortened so I didn't get to
listen to as much jazz or classical as I would have liked, but the little
bit of Miles that I did get to listen to was as expected. The crystalline
high end of the HT8s made for a gripping reproduction of Mr. Davis'
The vibrations I was getting through the floor led me to test the vibrations present in the HT8's cabinets, and I found that the broad side panels did have significant vibrations but nothing too out of line. Adding the Vibe Buster spikes cleaned that up considerably however, and that's when these speakers really took off. The clear high end of these speakers may take some listeners by surprise, but properly set up, the entire musical range is delivered in spades and man is it good. I was enjoying the music too much to think about lugging these speakers downstairs to the home theater room, but the clean, deep bass from the HT8s leaves many subwoofers stuck in the mud, so I have no doubt that RAW Acoustics has met its goal of creating a great two-channel speaker that works well in the home theater. The price for factory assembled HT8s is about what I would expect for speakers with this degree of sophistication. If you have some wood working skills, the kit price is a bargain not to be missed.