Russell K. Red 100 review by “the ear, Hi-Fi music gear”

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review by “the ear, Hi-Fi music gear”
Red 100 awarded “the best of 2014” by

Russell K. Red 100

Look around any audio shop or AV outlet in any country and you find loudspeakers all over the place. In all sizes, from very cheap to extremely expensive, some are painted while a lot are veneered or look like they are covered in real wood. So why in the world would anyone start another brand and manufacture loudspeakers? It must be either a form of masochism or a brilliant idea. It was the latter that inspired industry veteran Russell Kauffman to enter the market under his own brand name Russell K. Maybe to make sure the speakers are noticed he paints the baffles red, but there is more to this speaker than a shiny baffle.

The simple looking website doesn’t tell you much about the Red 100. Not even the size of the cabinet, nor anything about the drivers. This makes me even more curious about them and when I do pick up a pair I find them covered in a ribbed, grey material. The baffle is painted shiny red with the black drive units sitting above a reflex port. The idea behind the loudspeaker is to invest as much as possible in the cabinet, drivers and crossover and spend less on luxury or looks. If you want black paint, reel wood veneer or even high gloss, you pay more for the same sound quality. Need a grille? Buy one from Russell K, but if you always leave the grill off, don’t bother. The Red 100 measures 40cm high and needs a pair of decent 50 to 60cm high stands. Russell K. has announced its own stand but at the time of this review it was not available. The 25mm dome tweeter and 140mm woofer are especially made for Russell K. The woofer has a doped paper cone and on opening the cabinet I find a nicely made basket and a heavy magnet. The reflex port reaches deep into the box and is tuned to a low 35Hz. The cabinet differs from most others, for one the walls are thin enough to vibrate, in a controlled fashion with bracing and boards inside the cabinet. They are not covered with heavy damping pads, quite the opposite, there’s no damping material to be found anywhere in the box. The cabinet construction is based on Russell’s theory that damping material absorbs micro details, reduces dynamics and makes a loudspeaker sound slow. Without damping the cabinet walls move in time with the main driver. The walls are strong enough not to weaken the bass response, but light enough to stop vibrating quickly.

According to the manufacturer the Red 100 uses a deliberately misaligned bass reflex, with mechanical bass loading and mechanical damping. This is achieved by using two boards inside the box that have carefully sized vents, one board above and one beneath the woofer. This way the bass unit has space to breathe at lower frequencies, while the midband stays in the smaller volume. No midrange frequency will reach the reflex port. The crossover used is a 12dB second order type, combined with the natural mechanical roll off of the drivers, this results in a steep filter with only one coil in series with the woofer and one capacitor in series with the tweeter. For this reason Russell K. could not use standard units and turned to custom products to match the woofer, tweeter and crossover. To use the Red 100 I stream music from my NAS over AudioQuest Carbon and Vodka ethernet cables into a Naim UnitiQute that connects over a Crystal Cable interconnect to a Naim NAP 100 power amplifier. The NAP 100 works flawlessly into the Red 100 over Chord Company Epic Super. Since Russell K. claims that any change in the set-up will make a difference, I change the interconnect (and back since it did no good) and later the speaker cable to a pure silver run of Simply Audio cable, manufactured in the Netherlands. This silver cable adds more detail and dynamics and stays in place over the review period. Heavy Target MR60 stands, all four legs filled with sand, bring the tweeters to ear level and form a stable base for the Red 100.

I will start describing the character of the Red 100 with Sophie Milman’s CD In The Moonlight, after playing many other music styles over the past few weeks. Her voice is free floating in front of me, with a nice stereo image, although it’s maintained at tweeter height for voice and instruments. When a harmonica takes over it sounds natural to the ear, just as Sophie does all the time. This light jazz is very enjoyable on the Red 100, possibly because it has an easy flow, and is filled with sparkle and a lot of detail. Any form of percussion lights up, from cymbals to tom toms. Another CD that highlights these qualities came from Melody Gardot. Timing is very fast and I have to assume this due to the lack of any damping within the cabinet. I had been afraid that the Red 100 would sound hollow because of this, but is doesn’t as long as the loudspeakers are positioned well. Give them too much toe in and misery starts. But with a toe in of 5 or 10 degrees they sound very even and open. Russell Kauffman has detailed instructions available to any buyer on how to obtain best results. The Red 100 has its own character, that’s for sure, but it is a pleasant one and it shines through. They remind me of the good times when the Klipsch Heresy was around years ago; I had to get used to them, but after a while my wife and I had a lot of fun playing music. The Red 100 is not entirely neutral either, but every note is translated from the FLAC file into an engaging and pleasant sound. Midrange and tweeter integrate nicely to make the loudspeaker the point source I always like; I cannot distinguish the crossover point from the listening position. Both units balance perfectly with each other. Bass on the other hand is limited in volume in my room. I tried to move the speakers closer to the back wall, which only resulted into a flat stereo image and a less impressive sound.  Bringing them forward gave me even more bass, this has to do with the acoustics of the room which are not entirely typical. The bass might doesn’t blow me out of my chair but it is present in a tight form that keeps me from getting tired with extended listening.

When Chris Jones plays No Sanctuary Here it shows that bass is loud and clear when required. Above the deep voice everything explodes into the room, the dynamics are among the best I ever had in this room. The guitar is fast and punchy in a nice stereo image that is large in all dimensions. The stage is filled with instruments and voices. The voice of Chris might be a bit too big, but who cares when you’re having so much fun. Again I see the point of leaving out the damping and making the cabinets vibrate with the woofer’s energy. Pop music for instance almost turns the Red 100 into a PA system, it’s that fast and dynamic. Attack is among the best I have heard from this size of cabinet, a scale normally only associated with active monitors. I have this nice Herbie Hancock album titled The Then And Now. This shows the negative side of making such a clearly voiced loudspeaker. Piano and female vocal on the track Don’t Explain get over the top and makes me lower the volume level. Piano has a hard sound and lacks the full harmonics a grand piano usually offers. I have noticed this behaviour before and neither toe in, toe out or moving the speakers around brought a real solution. Dealing with Rachelle Ferrell’s My Funny Valentine (her live recording) the situation gets better, but still piano is more high notes than lower ones. Rachelle’s voice is fine, bass tight as could be, cymbals soft in the background. The overall impression is again a feeling of listening to a good horn system. Not the ones with a single unit to cover the whole frequency spectrum made for 300Bs, more like a big woofer in a reflex cabinet with mid and tweeter horns placed above it. My love for easy flowing horns means I enjoyed the Red 100 a lot, and it has to be said at a much, much lower cost. It’s not in the same league for lack of distortion, evenness or overwhelming soundstage compared to £10k horns, of course. But we are looking at a totally different price level for not only the speakers but electronics too.

Lousy recordings
Did I tell you that DJ remixes are excellent on the Red 100? Listen to Trentemøller and walk into the club. Or play Happy from Pharrell Williams for your grandchildren and I promise you they’ll love granddaddy. A subwoofer playing loud could be added for the optimum experience in your belly, the Red 100 is again polite in that area in my listening environment. As soon as I am alone I skip these lousy recordings and turn my interest to baroque and light classical music. Jaap van Zweden plays the compositions of Pietro Antonio Locatelli. While this isn’t a highlight for recording technique, it shows why Van Zweden’ s name is known all over the world. The music plays light and tender when the orchestra holds back, but when he says “go for it”, the orchestra goes all out without being restricted by the loudspeaker. No harsh sound, no nasty noises or resonances, no bumps or dips in the frequency response to make me worry. After listening for a prolonged period I am sure I will miss them from time to time, they have an easy going sound that brings forward so many details and yet has a high fun factor.

To be honest, as I always am in my reviews, I have to mention that getting used to the Russell K. Red 100 took a while. The sound is not directly comparable to what most of us expect from small to medium size monitor loudspeakers. Often manufacturers try to make these boxes as neutral as possible, perfect for small jazz combos and light orchestral work only. Or with a woofer and reflex port combination tuned for maximum bass in a small cabinet for pop music. The Russell K. Red 100 is based on other principles; it does not muffle detail, does not restrict dynamics, opens the window for music, makes it easy flowing, and if there is some colouration and if it cannot present extreme bass, so be it. This results in a loudspeaker that shows at least the sort of advantages that many horn loudspeakers do, but in a smaller, more domestically acceptable cabinet. Care has been taken to present as much (sound) quality as possible at this price point and when you want more luxury in the form of real wood veneer and/or different colours you simply pay for it. During the review period I appreciated the Red 100 more and more, and I rank it among those loudspeakers that dare to be different in order to bring more joy to your music collection. Love it or leave it, I cannot imagine people who would like or dislike this loudspeaker only a bit. You have to go all the way with the Red 100.

Tweeter: 25mm dome
Woofer: 140mm cone
Recommended stand height: 50-60cm
Dimensions HxWxD: 40x26x27cm

original article by René van Es for “the ear”

Red 100 awarded “the best of 2014” by