Role Audio Canoe Loudspeaker Reviewed

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Role Audio Canoe Loudspeaker Reviewed

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RoleAudio-Canoe.gifNowadays, it's hard to find a loudspeaker under $1,500 that isn't made in China. That in and of itself isn't a bad thing, as the quality of Chinese products has improved by leaps and bounds since the first Chinese-made audio components began appearing 15 years ago. But for audiophiles who would prefer to buy a U.S.-made speaker, Role Audio has quite a few options, from its diminutive single-driver Skiff ($395 per pair) to its floor-standing Enterprise ($3,295 per pair). One of Role Audio's newest designs is the Canoe ($1,495 per pair in birch, $1,695 in Spanish cedar). The Canoe is unique because it was designed specifically for desktop and nearfield use. If you are searching for a true high-resolution monitor speaker for close-up listening, the Role Audio Canoe could be the ideal playback vessel.

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What makes the Canoe so perfect for nearfield use? According to Role Audio's chief designer Erol Ricketts, "The design of the Canoe addresses several issues that I see when many small monitors are used for nearfield listening. First, on many mini-monitors, the tweeter and woofer aren't close enough together to remain integrated when listened to at close range." The Canoe addresses this by placing the woofer and tweeter closer together - the center of the tweeter and the midrange/woofer are only eight centimeters (3.25 inches) apart. The second problem with many small, ported monitor speakers is that their ports are in the back, which creates a problem if you wish to place the speakers near a wall. The Canoe uses a front-mounted port so, regardless of how close to a wall it is placed, the port's effectiveness will remain uncompromised. The Canoe's published frequency response specification is 34 Hz to 20 kHz, +/-3.5 dB and down only -6 dB at 28 Hz. While I didn't find quite that much bass extension when used alone without a subwoofer, the Canoe certainly produced more bass than you would expect from a four-inch-diameter midrange/woofer driver. One reason for the Canoe's surprising bass extension is that it employs a folded transmission line cabinet. By using a folded transmission line coupled with a front-firing port, Role achieves increased bass response without the group delay issues of a port alone. According to Role Audio, the Canoe is "time coherent, minimum phase, and uses a proprietary folded transmission line to deliver effortless low bass."

RoleAudio-logo.gifThe Canoe has a one-inch-diameter soft dome tweeter and a four-inch woven carbon fiber midrange/woofer. Unlike most small monitors, which need some form of speaker stand to place the drivers at a proper height or angle so there is no attenuation of upper frequencies when placed on a desktop, the Canoe was designed so that, when it's used for nearfield desktop listening, the drivers are at the ideal height vis-a-vis your ears. On my 28-inch-high desktop, the Canoe's tweeter was one inch below my ear height without any stands or elevation devices.

The Canoe's crossover employs a film foil capacitor, metal oxide resistor, and a laminated perfect lay coil. Hand-wired and soldered with DH Labs silver-plated copper wire to the tweeter and oxygen-free multi-strand copper wire to the woofer, the Canoe uses one set of Superior insulated five-way binding posts mounted on a terminal cup to facilitate wall or near-wall placement. Bi-wiring is not available.

For audiophiles who are concerned with ecological or personal health issues, the Canoe is made using certified green birch plywood and CARB2 MDF, which has no urea formaldehyde to off-gas into your environment. Also, Role employs non-toxic glues and paints throughout its manufacturing process. The Canoe comes with a black fabric grille that's held in place with magnets rather than push-in attachments. This makes for a much cleaner look when the grilles are removed. Most of my listening time was spent sans grilles.

Installing the Canoe speakers in my desktop system was simple. The most time-consuming part was removing the GoldenEar Aon 2 speakers, along with the Ultimate Support speaker stands and high-density foam risers beneath them. After the desktop was vacated, I merely placed the Canoes at equidistant positions on either side of my NEC 26-inch monitor and then angled them in so that, from my listening position, I couldn't see their sidewalls. To make sure that both speakers were angled identically, I used the free iPhone/iPad app from Genelec speakers called "SpeakerAngle". After initial setup, I found that extremely small changes in the speakers' physical locations could result in big differences in soundstage presentation. Even a cat brushing the speakers as it walked across my desk could move the speakers enough that they required repositioning.

Once the speakers were set up, I ran some frequency sweeps with AudioTest and determined that a 55Hz crossover point provided the smoothest transition between the Canoes and my Velodyne DD+ 10-inch subwoofer.

The overall build quality of the Canoe was excellent, but it is a very traditionally finished speaker without swoopy curved sides or super-glossy exotic veneer finishes. The satin finish of the birch review pair wasn't book-matched, but the tone and grain of each panel was similar enough. Unlike many new speakers that have finish so thick and shiny that you can't tell for sure whether the stuff under the finish is real wood or some ersatz substance, it's immediately obvious that the Canoes' veneer is real wood.

The best description of the Role Canoe speaker is "high-definition monitor." Unlike many small speakers, which try to add something to the mix to get a bigger and more luxurious sound, the Canoe is a "straight up, no chaser" speaker that delivers a more truthful and less "voiced" sound. If you want a lusher, more euphonic harmonic presentation or wish that your favorite recordings had slightly larger soundstages, the Role Canoe will not serve as a sonic solution. What goes in is what comes out.
Read The High Points, The Low Points and The Conclusion on Page 2

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