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Feature Article and Product Review - "Hi-Fi in the Czech Republic (Part 1)", and a Review of the Swiss Reference 3A Royal Master II Speaker Premiere in Prague - December, 1999

Milan Cernohorsky

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Introduction

I live in Prague, Czechoslovakia, which may seem to Americans who have not visited there, to be a city that might not have strong representation in the hi-fi arena. However, even though its history dates back a very, very long time, it is just as modern as any other city in the world, and perhaps more so than many. The city is a thousand years old, beginning with the Prazsky hrad (Prague Castle) which towers above the Vltava river. In 1993, Prague became the capital of the Czech Republic (the Federation was from 1918 to 1993). The current population is about 1.2 million. We get 80 million visitors each year, and if you have not seen it yet, you should.

 

Prague hosts many hi-fi brands. Following is a list of the products you can buy here:

 

AIWA

TARGET

AKG

MediaTech

ALESIS

ALCHEMIST

ALPINE

ALR/JORDAN

ARCAM

AUDIO ALCHEMY

AUDIO RESEARCH

AUDIOLAB

AUDIOMAT

AUDIOQUEST

AU/RA

AUTHENTIC VOICE (Czech loudspeakers)

B&W

BANG & OLUFSEN

BEDINI

BLAUPUNKT

BMG

BOSE

BURMESTER

CABASSE

CANON

CAMBRIDGE AUDIO

CARDAS

CASTLE

CEC

CELESTION

CERWIN-VEGA

CESKY RECORDS

CLARION

CLASSE  new

CLEARAUDIO

CYRUS

DAEWOO ELECTRONICS

DENON

DESIGN ACOUSTIC (Czech loudspeakers)

DEXON

DP AUDIO (Czech amplifiers)

EAGLE CABLE

ELAC

ELECTROCOMPANIET

EMTEC MAGNETIC

ENERGY

EXPOLINEAR  /loudspeakers

FOCAL

FOX AUDIO (Czech pre and power amplifiers)

FUJI

GENESIS

 

 

 

Golden Tube Audio

GOLDRING

GRADO

GRAMOFON DUAL

GRUNDIG

GRYPHON

HAMA  / German cables, filters etc. /

HARMAN KARDON

HELIUS / German loudspeakers /

INFINITY

JADIS

J.A.MICHEL ENGINEERING

JAMO

JBL

JECKLIN FLOAT

JM LAB

JVC

KENWOOD

KIMBER CABLE

KOSS

LOEWE

MAGNAT

MAGNEPAN

MARANTZ

MARK LEVINSON

MARTIN LOGAN

MASCOM

MB - QUART

McCORMACK

McINTOSH

MERIDIAN

MIRAGE  new

MONITOR

MONITOR AUDIO

MONITOR CABLE

MONSTER CABLE

MORDAUNT-SHORT

MYRYAD

NAD

NEUMANN

NOKIA

ONKYO

PANASONIC/TECHNICS

PENTAGON

 

PERREAUX  new

PHILIPS

PHOENIX GOLD

PHONAR  / German loudspeakers /

PIONEER

PLINIUS  new

PROCEED

PROJECT

PURIST AUDIO DESIGN

QUAD

REFERENCE RECORDINGS

REGA

REVOX

RI Ė AUDIO (Czech pre and power amplifiers)

ROKSAN

ROTEL

SABA

THOMSON

SAMSUNG

SANYO

SENCOR

SENNHEISER

SHAKTI

SHAN (Czech loudspeakers)

SHARP

SHEFFIELD

SHERWOOD

SINUS LIVE / German cables /

SME

SONUS FABER

SONY

TANNOY

TDK

TEAC

THETA DIGITALTHOMSON

TOSHIBA

ITO CS

VAN DEN HULL

VECTEUR

VISATON

VIVANCO

VOGEL'SWADIA

WARNER MUSIC

XAVIAN (Czech loudspeakers)  

XLO

YAMAHA

 

 

See what I mean? It is pretty much what you can find in any large city anywhere in the world. However, there are some very interesting products that originate here too, and I thought western readers of Secrets might like to hear about them. Discussed below is DPAudio. Later on, I will talk about AU/RA turntables (see photo below), Shan, Xavian (speaker shown in photo below), and RI-Audio. Following the DP Audio discussion, I will review a new Swiss speaker design that premiered in Prague, the Reference 3A Royal Master.

 


The best Czech design engineers and top quality Hi-Fi producers (a so-called Top Five) will be presented step by step. This group comprises well-established, well-known manufacturers, whose products both have won public attention and proved their quality in numerous non-biased, objective reviews.

I dare assert, that products described in the first part could hands-down in terms of quality and performance/price ratio succeed even in the hardest competition in most prestigious markets around the globe. No doubt that if any of these products had been a subject to a review in any foreign Hi-Fi magazine, the reviewer could have done nothing but to issue a ďstrongly recommendedď statement.

I firmly stand behind my assertion that my opinion does not stem from nationalism. The fact that so far, only a few of these products have been reviewed in the foreign press cannot be interpreted as their being of dubious quality. To get your gear on, e.g., a German market, one needs to invest a lot of money, and such immense investments still exceed the resources of most Czech manufacturers.  Some of the producers (other than here presented) found their own way by sticking brilliant labels on their own gear, and then the public falsely presumes they have been manufactured elsewhere. I firmly believe that you will be pleasantly amazed by what I show you here. And, Iím sure, there is no need to stress this fact to domestic, experienced audiophiles.

DPAudio Ltd.

This  little firm was founded in May, 1996 in Prague. Its main business is development and production of high quality amplifiers under the Dudek trademark. Pavel Dudek has lifelong experience in this field. His main focus is maximum sound quality. They have a listening room to which you can bring your own amplifiers for a comparison with theirs. Seven models are produced now: Five types of power amplifiers, one control amplifier, and passive control unit. The selection of Dudek power amplifiers is further enhanced by two modified version labeled as SE.

The power amplifiers are exemplified by several models, including the DPA 222 and 222SE. They have 100 watts per channel (dual mono design) into 4 Ohms, using bipolar output devices. The power stage along with the relay-based protection circuit comprise a single PCB module. This module is mounted on a heatsink using two bars of gold-plated copper. These two copper beams not only serve as power rail conductors to feed the power transistors, but they also possess an overall pulse handling capacity of 60 Amperes and provide excellent  thermal coupling among the four output transistors plus the drivers. From the power module,  the amplified signal is transferred by silver-plated copper cables of large cross-section and minimum length to the massive gold-plated output terminals. The power supply of each channel contains a 160VA toroidal transformer. The total filtration capacity is 18,600 ĶF per channel.   XLR inputs are available upon request.

The DPA386 and 386SE also have 100 watts x 2 into 4 Ohms, but use MOSFETs instead of bipolar transistors. The total power supply capacitance is 20,000 ĶF per channel. The DPA 383 is a 200 watt monoblock.

The DPA111/DPA 114 is a control amplifier (preamp) with a separate power supply, giving an excellent signal to noise ratio.

                                                                                               

For a passive control unit, DP Audio offers the DPA 101. It does not contain any active components. An ALPS potentiometer is used for volume control, and input and output cinch connectors are gold plated.


 

 


 

Review of the Reference Royal Master II premiere in Prague (co-reviewer is Mr. Jirka MichŠlek from Audiophile Meeting Point)

When I was skimming through the materials about the Chicago Hi-Fi Show, I remember making a remark on the highly acclaimed Reference 3A Royal Master II loudspeakers. I wished I could get some so I could audition this desirable piece of kit. But I felt it is hardly going to be available here in our market. Fortunately, I was completely wrong. Not only did we find that import was imminent, but we were also granted a pair of these solitaires for the auditioning test (courtesy of Hi-Fi Studio Pansky Dvur). Letís have a look at how the very first pair of these speakers in the Czech Republic fared.

This two-way bookshelf loudspeaker is pretty hefty. Although the manufacturer, a Switzerland based company Innovative Acoustic (Innovac), does not state its inner volume, the external proportions suggest a rough 20 liters.  The pair together weighs 36 Kg. The label on the back shows the product serial number and specifications (maximum load of 100W, sensitivity of 92 dB). Above the specifications tag you can find the gold plated binding posts fitted for bi-wiring. Two pairs of short silver linking cables (Silteck) are also provided for conventional wiring. Siltech is also used for the inner interconnections. The back panel further contains an oval bass-reflex port, approximately 55 mm in width. Its length is unidentifiable as the tubed part of the bass-reflex is not straight. It resembles the trunk of an elephant, but curved downward. According to specifications, the attenuation at 44 Hz is at the -3 dB mark. The side walls of the shelf are finished in gloss piano black. The woofer and the tweeter are both covered with a black cloth grille, stretched untraditionally in a metal chassis, and it is attached to the front of the loudspeaker with a magnet. The front part of the shelf under the grille is made of a dark foamy material that covers the passive parts of both speakers and thus effectively helps to reduce unwanted diffraction.  The textile dome tweeter has a diameter of 26 mm and was apparently manufactured by Eton.  The crossover contains special a Musicap capacitor which assures a smooth  decline of the characteristics from 3 kHz upwards (-3dB, then 6 dB per octave) and proper impedance corrections. The 21 cm carbon fiber woofer with a special phase corrector is directly connected to the speaker terminals. Itís a non-standard series, not likely to be encountered on the free market. The phase characteristics are nearly celestial.

The outward appearance gives a feeling of rock solidity, rigidity, and resistance, attributes found in professional monitors, rather than in loudspeakers destined for home listening. The design of these loudspeakers is extremely rational, void of any superfluous parts. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. Tapping on the shelves gives a feeling as if the speaker was carved out of rock.

Sound

We started our test by feeding the speakers with various coherent and multi-tone test signals. The mechanical parts at any given frequency did not produce even the slightest hint of resonance. No peaks or drops in the frequency spectrum were registered. The woofers audibly reproduced signals slightly below 30 Hz. I was impressed by the characteristics of the low frequency regions (i.e., the usual bass reflex wave was almost indiscernible).

Imaging is a problem for consumer speakers. But, I was particularly impressed by the problem-free transition between different frequency regions in this speaker.  Even costly loudspeakers may introduce some deteriorating artifacts around the crossover frequency. For instance, a clarinet playing various tones of a musical scale can be perceived as two separate instruments. This was not the case with the Royal Master II. Their amazingly clean presentation of various frequency regions reminded me of electrostatic designs. These musical attributes were further supported by the already mentioned smooth frequency decline of the crossover. The musical instruments were reproduced very realistically and without any artifacts, even in the lowest frequency regions. The bass was absolutely tight and full-bodied. This was especially noticeable in orchestral pieces, where the ambience characteristics of orchestral music were perfectly rendered.

Associated equipment included a Denon DCD3000 CD Player connected with DP Audio Sound Refiner Cables to the DP Audio 386SEII Power Amplifier. We alternated between Leedh and KrautWire 3 Czech-made speaker cables.  This is my long preferred chain of ancillaries, and nothing has yet made me want to change them. On the contrary, the listening session confirmed that claims of coldness in presentation with DPAudio amplifiers were just a chimera that immediately fizzled out when listening to the Reference 3A.

A reviewer's phrase, "They tend to disappear from the listening roomď here means, "Itís as if they did not exist.ď In other words, the sound was transparent. The entire musical scene was laid back to the space beyond the speakers. This indicates that the Reference 3As are clean, without brightness, and that they can offer tireless listening experience over extended periods of time. The middle frequencies around the crossover frequency region were not altered. Instruments playing in only one channel didnít tend to be isolated in the speaker, and the natural bounce and dynamics of the music were well preserved. The mids could only be described as full-bodied and rich, though not present or even diverting attention from the whole. The highs were similarly brilliant, smooth and clean. Instead of monitoring the sound, the Reference 3As let the music flow, but without losing detail. To my great surprise, I was able to consume an entire heap of classical music tracks.  During the 4 hour listening session I was just switching between different CDs (Brahms, Bach, Grieg, Haydn, Puccini), without succumbing to the switch-over neurosis. The Royal Master II similarly excelled in less demanding genres. No matter whether I listened to guitar music, hard-rock, or heavy metal, they were always precise. I never felt any loss of detail or dynamics in the frequency extremes. In this respect, the Reference 3As reached the two-way speaker Olympus (nirvana).

After first fifteen minutes of listening, I had the impression that I had never before listened to such a good sounding bookshelf, and I still have this impression now. It seems that these speakers have set a new reference level for me. Though their construction philosophy is different from e.g. the Dynaudio Contour and Confidence (simple crossover design versus complicated and high sensitivity versus low, the material and the woofer solution applied), the Royal Master II presentation of music strongly resembled these Denmark designs in neutrality and the vanishing effect. Whatís more, no bass tuning and no special attention to positioning are required, at least in my listening environment.

Conclusion

The Royal Master II, though a two-way bookshelf design, has a full-bodied. They belong in a category where critical words are difficult to find. They reproduce music with perfect control and reserve. The listenerís affection or dislike for how the speaker affects the color of a reproduced instrument is directly reliant on the listenerís personal preference. Looking at the Reference 3As in this sense, they will represent an attractive choice for a wide range of listeners. They reproduce sound very realistically and naturally, no matter what the genre. They could be described as an all-rounder. But the most surprising to me is the exquisite bass reproduction that is simply flawless. The bass is dynamic and thick, but remains clean and easily discernible at the same time. I would mainly recommend them to listeners preferring classical music and searching for a no-compromise solution in a listening room of 20-50 square meters. In my opinion, itís a splendid product filling one of the many gaps on the Czech Hi-Fi market, but also in any audiophile's home anywhere in the world.

I believe that for a genuine music lover these speakers represent a good, long-time investment. They allow the consumer to fully enjoy the less frail values of our frantic life.

Specifications:

MFR: 40 Hz - 20 kHz  Ī 3 dB

Suggested Power: 100 Watts

Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms

Sensitivity: 92 dB/W/M (a good sensitivity for low powered tube amplifiers)

Distortion: 0.3% at 92 dB and 1 kHz

Weight: 18 kg each

Size: 400mm x 330mm x 320mm

MSRP (USA): $4,500/Pair - Piano Black; $5,000/Pair - Corian

North American Distributor:

    Divergent Technologies, Inc.
    21 St. Leger Street
    Kitchener, Ontario, CANADA N2H 4L8
    Phone 519-749-1565
    Fax 519-749-2863
    Web http://www.reference3a.com 
    E-Mail info@reference3a.com

- Milan Cernohorsky -

© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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