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November 2006
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Role Audio
Enterprise, Sampan & Discovery With NSM 15 EXP For Subwoofer
Review By Jeff Rabin

Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

Role Audio Enterprise Floorstanding Loudspeakers  It is quite a bit easier to write about equipment that has a particular 'sonic signature' (for good or for ill) than equipment which either doesn't have one at all — which I believe is impossible  — or more commonly, that has so little signature that, for this review at least, I found myself, unusually, at rather a loss for words. While the Enterprises are, almost, neutral to a fault, I found myself  more often listening to music and film through the speakers than listening to the speakers themselves which is, I believe, as it should be. It is also one of the reasons that the review is late. For this review, I originally thought to myself that the best way for me to write was to follow the instructions of our (sometimes) friends in blue: start at the beginning and just the facts, ma'am.

Here we go.

 

Design
The Enterprisers (that's how their designer Erol Ricketts refers to them) stand 43 inches high, are less than 6 inches wide, and just over 10 inches deep and weigh slightly more than 40 pound a piece -- slim fellows to be sure that require their floor plates if they are not to be tippy. Each speaker has a SEAS 1 inch fabric dome tweeter with two 4.5-inch carbon fiber midrange/bass drivers sourced from Taiwan adjacent. Advertised frequency response is between 35Hz and 20kHz (+/-3dB), sensitivity is a specified 90dB/W/m at 8 Ohms with a minimum load of 4.5 Ohms. Recommended power is between 25 and 150 Watts. The speakers are also magnetically shielded for use in a home cinema.

While I must point out that while these figures were supplied by Role, unlike certain products in for review which will not remain nameless, I have never had any reason to doubt Role. Specifically, the quoted bass response: even with their tiny long throw midrange/bass drivers these speakers do not require a sub-woofer to plumb the depths. I would also add that the speakers always seemed to present an easy load to the amplifier and were as happy with Class A single-ended as they were with heavy duty Class AB solid state though head bangers it must be said really should consider the latter option if they are planning on building their own mosh pit. Internal wiring is oxygen free copper to the woofers and DH Labs silver sonic wire to the tweeter, with a first order crossover using high-grade film capacitors. What I do know is that the speakers sport substantial, though not Merkaver Mark IV class, binding posts blessedly recessed and located just above floor level. Why can't more loudspeaker manufacturers locate their binding posts low? While the speakers are capable of bi-amping, I never tried. My preferred choice in speaker cables is so expensive that I would have to re-mortgage the house for a 2nd set. :)

In another nice touch, the jumpers between high and low binding posts are Z-shaped flattened bars that fit the Enterprises, well, to a zed (I am 1/2 Canadian, 1/4 British and 1/4 Russian, after all) with the great thing being that they stay in place when you are attaching cables. This thoughtfulness of design and masterful execution is, I have found, indicative of my experience with Role and their products. I would be quite surprised if others found differently. Also, would like to write that these speakers were particularly sensitive to cable choice with the best results using cable X, which while costing twice as much as the speakers are worth every penny. Not only do I not own such a set or even wish to for that matter, whether it is attention deficit disorder or prejudice I am just not a cable swapping kind of guy. In other words, used what is at hand: today it is terminated thick cheapies. Cable choice does not keep me awake at night. I don't think it should keep you awake either, but am editorializing.

In any event, specifications are how I started but not how I will finish up and believe the review is the better for it, so please bear with me as this review is not a short one. Have lived with the system for an unconscionable period of time and have a lot to say as I have enjoyed the speakers immensely. What's more, my wife even liked how they looked and sounded which made keeping them all that much easier. My wife, who quite obviously has better taste than I do, also has, I am ashamed to say, better ears. I bet you, if she was of a mind to, Louise really could tell the difference between cables. That said, to cut a long story short, where this review was to be a straightforward review of Role Audio's flagship Enterprise Speakers, circumstances both fortuitous and not so fortuitous, drew me away from reviewing these speakers as a pair for two channel audio — for which they do an admirable job — but towards reviewing a complete Role surround sound system and finally coming to the realization that surround sound can actually sound very good indeed.

Once again, Role's supplied photos do not do the speaker's standard of fit and finish justice — just fire the guy and hire my wife ER — and while it would appear that the speaker above, with grills removed, is yet another bog standard two-way ported D'Appolito floor stander, you'd be wrong. D'Appolito's configuration of two identical midrange/woofers with the tweeter between makes a lot of sense. The adjacent midrange drivers better direct the dispersion of the tweeter's output and the two midranges, acting as one, provide more bass than either could alone. And being only a two way, you have that much simpler a crossover, almost always a good thing. In addition, two smaller speakers working in concert — generally speaking — offer quicker bass than a single larger bass driver of equal surface area. This is especially true if a 3rd order crossover is used as specified by Mr. D'Appolito himself (but not used here). The result can be one of the most seamless sounding speakers you will ever hear short of a single driver affair, but with bass and treble that does not need to be encased in a cabinet bigger than Tom Cruise's movie trailer.


I have been given to understand that the Dutch have been known
to make horns out of their houses: "Too small!"

But here you would be mistaken. Not about D'Appolito or the Dutch, or about the use of D'Apolitto's design, which the Enterprises, in part, benefit from, but about the speaker under review here. The Enterprise, named after the Starship piloted by the rakish Kirk, and not coincidentally the flagship of Role's Fleet, is not a true D'Appolito, and from what my ears tell me, may be all the better for it. For if I understand things correctly, Mr. Ricketts has supplied me with a truly abysmal drawing to explain how the concept has been executed. He is glad to talk your ear off about the speakers. The electrical crossover for each of the midrange/woofer drivers is the same while the acoustic crossovers, in the form of two transmission lines per cabinet, are different. The Enterprises, therefore, are really more of a 3-way speaker than a two-way with matched mid-ranges and a common crossover.

What my ears initially discerned from this unusual design was not so much of a variation upon a theme, but an extremely well balanced speaker that imaged almost as well as its little brother the Sampan, but was able to play with much more authority and power than the Sampan could or should ever even be asked. Moreover, and and it probably goes without saying with their twin-transmission line design that the Enterprisers, despite their slim dimensions, are not at all bass shy. Indeed, the bass is to die for. Here, however, and this is the important difference, the listener is not asked to choose between quality or quantity. As to treble, I will not go so far as to say that the Enterprise's treble is curtailed, as it is polite. Midrange is more than pleasantly neutral., and like the Sampans, they image like a son of a bitch ('scuse my French).

Richard WagnerWhereas the Sampans — inevitably we must return to that review for this review, July 2006 — while able to be fed an unfeasibly large amount of power through their single full range driver. They sounded wonderful with less than 10 watts and excelled with the female voice, small ensemble jazz and classical — just what you would expect, really. The Enterprises were able to deliver everything from the full wallop of Phil Rudd's kick drum, to Wagner's Teutonic Fantasizing — the CBC here, finally, played the Ring Cycle live — and here, as an aside, might I direct you to that indispensable text, Nietzsche's Der Fall Wagner, where our migrainous philologist writes 'Only sick music makes money today.'

Initially, comparing the Enterprise to the Sampans, I found the Enterprises to sound a little dark with a curtailed treble, which seemed seriously counterintuitive to me. More bass I could understand, though certainly a speaker with a tweeter would reach higher than a speaker without a tweeter? As such, I would add, these are not speakers for those class of English reviewers that happily (and accurately, I might add) call themselves PRATS. The Enterprises are speakers to listen to and forget.

Erol Ricketts, a former amateur Mazda RX7 racer who now drives a minivan 'for his back' — put me right about the treble. The Enterprises are indeed less bright than the Sampans because they are more neutral than the Sampans, which I dearly loved but which never considered or asked to be  neutral, and, truth be told, did not really care that they were not. I merely enjoyed how they sounded. They made music, like these speakers actually, but in a different way. And the treble and bass extension compromises necessarily entailed by single driver speakers is just something you forsake for that immediateness of midrange that, it would seem except for certain Dutchmen injured in unfortunate smelting accidents, only full range single driver speakers can provide. (I don't have enough experience with electrostatics to comment.)

What I didn't say in my review of the glorious Sampans was that while reviewing them I often switched back and forth between the Enterprises and the Sampans, having placed them adjacent to each other. (Both sets of speakers are so slim that you can get away with this in your living room.)  Sometimes I used the Enterprises with 10 watts of Audio Note Kit 1. Sometimes I used the Role speakers with two hundred watts of NAD solid-state. But whatever I fed them, I heard from them. The single-ended Audio Note Kit 1 sounded like the single-ended Audio Note that it is and the solid-state NAD Silverline sounded like the solid-state silver line that it is. It strikes me that this is what good audio design should do.

Ultimately, I preferred the pairing of the Audio Note with the single driver Sampans and the solid state with the Enterprises because with the solid state I had more wallop, bass and ultimate power. With the Audio Note-Sampan configuration I had an easy listening system perfectly suited to my smoking jacket. Sometimes stereo-types (pun intended) are true. All, therefore, was as expected and the Enterprises could play quite a bit louder when demanded and had quite a bit more of that transmission line bass. Indeed, the Enterprise's are capable of far better bass than their slim profiles and small drivers would suggest and they still image like bastards. But I could never really make up my mind as to which of Role's speakers I ultimately preferred.

 

What To Do?
Sometimes life is hard, other times it is not. An occasion when it was not was when it struck me as to what to do with this not so soul-consuming dilemma: play them all at the same time! As I already had both the Sampans and the Enterprises on hand, a quick few emails to Role secured me a center speaker and a sub and I had a 5.1 speaker system whose bits were cut from the same cloth. This was new for me. An aside: I love the movies and teach a course in 'Film.' Have never had in my possession what might properly be called a decent home cinema, though did splurge last year on a great big DLP TV whose MSRP is plummeting as we speak. In the past, for watching movies I have used a surprisingly good RatShack home cinema, amplifier, a cheapo DVD player that will play anything from anywhere in any condition, and 5 more or less mismatched speakers. A typical configuration might include a pair of 20 year old Axiom bookshelves on bookshelves in the rear, a pair of 15-inch Tannoys in front waiting on decent cabs, a Radio Shack LX5 as a center, and a cheesy home theater sub. Basically, the contents of my spares cupboard.

Why? Why not just stay with two good front speakers? Well, I do like a center speaker for dialog and also a subwoofer for the helicopters flying overhead to the sound of the Walkürenritt. Also appreciate the occasional little bit of ambiance or gunshot from the rear that surrounds offer, but, that said, I have never been able to get my system to satisfactorily gel as I have with two channel. I always heard, aside from perhaps the front channels, where the sound was coming from and never mistook the sub-woofer as a seamless extension of my main speakers no matter how much I twiddled with the knobs. While my father-in-law (not a reader) loved the system for movies, the system was to my ears a general disaster when it came to multi-channel DVD-Audio discs (I mourn their passing not) and SACDs (which I do mourn) that I have been buying as if they are going out of style which, regretfully, they are.  But as I am known to pull out an acoustically recorded early twentieth century 78 when the mood strikes me, owning obsolete media does not keep me awake either.

Back to the review, along with my multi-channel stroke of genius, a rather serendipitous event happened. On my door step arrived a wapping 5 channel integrated from China which while not quite built like a Krell, sounds great, had gobs of power, and possesses the single greatest ergonomics I have ever seen on a home theater amp. (More on this in a forthcoming review, but I would note that this was a 5.1 integrated amplifier without any DTS or Dolby processing or even remote control codes that I could put into my Rhapsody, but with video switching. If anyone knows of a similarly brilliant product please let me know... out of pure curiosity mind you. I would be very surprised if the Dussun D9 lent to me by Dussun will be leaving. Perfect, I thought, will finally listen to those multi-channel recordings with speakers designed to work together versus the hodgepodge of cast offs previously used. To cut a long story short, the result was magic as the PRAT class would put it.

Down the stairs the Enterprises went. Down the stairs went the Sampans. In through the out door came the NSM 15 EXP sub and Role Discovery center channel. On top of the Dussun D9 Integrated I placed an all you can eat Samsung player, an all you can eat Pioneer which sounds great but whose video section has died (what do you get for a hundred bucks?), a dedicated Sony SACD player and used every spare interconnect in the house. The lot rested on a Fabreeka isolation platform. The result: cinematic bliss without some arse-hole behind me crackling his bag of candy; more even; no trailers and the volume set to less than ear splitting levels. Damn teenagers!

Though I thought I would never say this, I think I now get the whole surround home cinema sound thing. And just like early stereo recordings with a hole in the middle (gotta love those 3 track RCA SACDs though) not all, or even most multi-channel recordings are that good and this is really, it seems to me, not that surprising. Multi-channel recordings are a relatively new format and just like the film makers behind 1922's Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens which didn't even have a soundtrack, recording engineers have had to develop a new language of recording and just like any learner of languages, some get it right, others don't and that's my take on multi-channel audio recordings. Things are, however, just a little bit different with multi-channel film recordings as multichannel films have been with us at least as long as 1940 when Disney recorded Stowkowski's conducting of Fantasia and found that the screenings sounded nothing like the live performance. Funny that. The difference was that Walt did something about it with the result being that you almost never find yourself sitting in the brass section.

So what did I find myself with? A system that I could happily listen to two channel music upon, though the blank TV in the middle distracted me like the hairy mole in Goldmember, a wonderful demonstration rig for DVD as from Nimbus and the ubiquitous multi-channel Dark Side of the Moon SACD, and film after film that I actually started to appreciate the sound of. Or rather, I finally came to love the bomb.

Once I had the levels dialed in — and this often seems to change between discs !@#$%^&* — with Role's speakers I was astonished to find myself within a seamless, natural and forgettable immersive musical environment that had depth, ambiance, imaging power, subtlety and a naturalness that was, how shall I put it, so seamless that it was forgettable. Good hi-fi should get out of the way... and getting out of the way is precisely what this Role multi-channel system did in spades. Could write more, though think I'd rather go play a movie or listen to one of my SACDs. The complete system is not cheap and I doubt you will be able to sneak it past your significant other. Introduction to your home, particularly after they have the pleasure of enjoying a few good movies through it, ought not to be a problem. The system certainly posed no problems here. Sometimes life is hard. Other times, not.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High-frequencies (3,000Hz on up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape width front

Soundscape width rear  
Soundscape depth behind speakers

Soundscape extension into the room

Imaging

Fit and Finish

Self Noise

N/A

Value for the Money

 

Specifications
Type: Role Audio Enterprise 2-way, 3 driver  floorstanding loudspeaker

Drivers: 1- inch soft dome tweeter and two 4.5-inch carbon fiber midrange/ woofers

Cabinet: magnetically shielded, dual transmission line bass alignment
first order minimum phase crossover.

Frequency Response: 30Hz to 20kHz (+/-3dB)

Sensitivity: 90dB/W/m

Impedance: 8 Ohms, minimum impedance: 4.5 Ohms

Recommended Power: 25 to 150 Watts

Weight: 41 pounds each

Warranty: 10 year limited

Price: 
Enterprises: $2,795 per pair
Sampans: $1,995 per pair
Discovery $449.95 each
15EXP subwoofer $995 each
Total: $6235

 

Company Information
Role Audio
P.O. Box 13396
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

Voice: (919) 244-8777
Fax: (206) 339-9034 
E-mail: roleaudio@hotmail.com
Website: www.roleaudio.com

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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