I had been cautioned about the alleged fragility of the Bo Bengtsson-designed, custom-made ribbons. Apparently, one hapless soul merely rested a speaker against his stomach while moving it and the change in air pressure wrecked the ribbon. And they look tacky, sagging without showing any visible means of tension, as if they're not fitted correctly. Still, there are no known cases of the speakers being over-driven, they go loud enough to eliminate hopes of conversation and they survived the Kodo Drummers, Eddy Louiss and more. Seeing the ribbon the entire time does not increase confidence but, alas, the grille does affect transparency and openness, so the preferred listening method is sans grille.
There's absolutely no indication during listening, though, that the unit is anything other than robust. While I didn't hammer the speakers, for reason which I'll explain, I wasn't listening at whisper levels. And I loved the party trick of playing the system to visitors who thought they were auditioning the bigger speakers at the back. Sources included the Krell KPS25sc CD player, Revox G36 open-reel and SME 10/SME V/Lyra Lydian LP package via EAR834P phono stage. And set-up? They aren't lying: the R3 is the least fussy speaker I've EVER used, seemingly oblivious to toe-in, distance from the walls etc. As Wiley said, just plunk 'em anywhere and they'll sound great. And they did.
No getting away from it: the system sounds bigger than it has any right to, with the creation of a wide and deep soundstage supported by solid bass. Oh, and dazzling image height which begs for that Chesky demo CD with the overhead track. It's so impressive, in fact, that it actually distracts you from the system's limitations. It's one amazing illusion, and it seduces music lovers with ten grand in the manner that mass-market manufacturers have used teensy speakers to sucker in the BWFH. R3 provides much of the glory of silly-sized speakers but from an enclosure which won't have Raoul the Decorator calling for his smelling salts and shrink.
When it comes to spatial reproduction, the R3/Model 5 system leaves nothing to be desired. Bass is beautifully extended and you only miss the bottom octave-plus when you do a direct comparison with some massive floorstander. The middle? This system so adores voice - you must audition this with Eva Cassidy or Dianne Reeves - that you'll have a hard time reconciling its sound with the fact that its main proponent is a bassist. But this is within the bounds of what we might refer to as sane playback levels.
Although I simply cannot fault the sonic/tonal synergy between Model 5 and R3, I feel that the speakers demand a more powerful amplifier; I suspect that the easiest 'sell' Red Rose has is moving the R3 customer up to the 140W monoblocks. All I had to do to confirm my suspicions was to hook up the R3 to the Musical Fidelity M3 integrated. No contest: the extra power was appreciated It isn't about volume; I could live with the Model 5's volume control chronically cranked up to 1 o'clock. Or could I? Was it just the curve established by the volume control? Had they merely supplied it with an extra-long arc from 'silence' to middle gain for greater precision when setting playback levels? No: the Musical Fidelity, and for that matter, the 2xKT66-equipped Quad II-forty both sounded like they were having an easier time of it.
Maybe it's wrong for me to be swayed psychologically - troubled merely by what could be nothing more than the location of the volume control's pointer when the SPLs reach my preferred level - but if so then we're all in trouble: this entire experience is that of a system which cleverly deceives in the wholly acceptable manner of the LS3/5A, or 8W SETs driving speakers with 100dB-plus sensitivity. It's a package that makes you want to sit and listen for hours, just as it should. I absolutely adored it, wallowed in it and could live with it without complaint if I was told that it was to replace everything I own. But I must admit, despite my non-headbanging demeanour, that a part of me would always be asking 'what if?' And the 'what if' would be: what if I had another hundred watts per side?