Review of the Joseph Audio Rm22si
I recently had the opportunity to hear a pair of Joseph Audio Rm 22si speakers in my home. Nothing beats home auditoning for getting to know the 'sound' of the a piece of equipment.
Briefly, the Rm 22si is the smallest floorstander in the Joseph Audio series. It has a silk dome tweeter and a metal woofer, is biwirable. Its slightly larger than my Triangle Zephyrs but considerably heavier! The speakers arrived sand-filled and I was told they weighed 56lbs. You get no argument from me :) I didn't ask the price but I think it was $4k (with 10% discount?) That puts it as cheaper than a N805+stands.
Speaker positioning was done by Calvin from KH marketing (I wasn't around when they delivered the speakers btw, but my parents were home) He swapped the Blue Heavens and XLO speaker cables around (Blue Heaven for tweeter, XLO for woofer). I listened to both and agreed. On my Zephyrs with a metal dome tweeter, the Blue Heavens were too splashy in the treble but they sound just nice here. He disconnected the REL Strata 2 but listening to both, I have to disagree. The Rm22si without the REL sounded very tight in the bass but it was a narrowly focused and limited sort of bass that sort of abruptly ended at about the 30Hz+ region. Timing and extension wise I had no problems whatsoever with the bass, but with the REL there was a more pleasant warmth :)
I knew it would take time to adjust myself to listening to a soft dome tweeter as opposed to a metal dome tweeter. If you're used to the brightness of a metal dome tweeter, you might initially find a soft dome tweeter relatively shut-in. Fortunately, I adjusted rather quickly :)
There was a temptation to overly increase volume levels but thanks to my Radio Shack SPL meter I managed to more or less match levels. On average I had to increase the volume by +4.0dB on my pre-amp (to compensate for reduced sensitivity) and I set the lowpass filter on my REL Strata to 30Hz (lowest setting possible).
As noted, the Rm22si is less bright than the Zephyrs, but if you listen carefully, that has nothing to do with detail. You can have a metal dome tweeter with less detail but which emphasises that detail, sounding acerbic in the process. The Zephyr has very good detail already, but the Rm22si had a more detailed treble than the Zephyrs. Basically, it unravelled layers and layers of soundstage detail and 'ambience' which I had never previously heard. Listening to Julia Fordham's delightful piano/vocals only Invisible War and Behind Closed Doors, there was an increased sense of spaciousness.
Midrange and down
Neutrality was a word that sprang to mind often. Neutrality doesn't mean a sterile sound (if it sounded sterile, I would tell you :)) The midrange was clean and fast and very coherent. I have to admit that my Zephyrs are not that good at rock so listening to one that does rock when playing U2 (Mo-Fi remasters only :)) or Texas' Hush (ok, so I don't listen to loud pop rather than rock...) was a very enthralling experience.
Vocals were less forward than the Zephyrs and were deeper in the soundstage. This made the vocals integrate better with the music (more realistic soundstaging: for example, on Texas' Hush where Sharleen Spiteri sings and plays electric guitar, it would seem strange that the guitar she's playing is behind her voice) but sometimes, I did miss my the slightly forward emphasis on female vocals.
All in all, there was a richer and fuller sound that served all sorts of music well. However, this is not a speaker overflowing with emotion but a superbly neutral one. When starting out in hi-fi, one accepts all sorts of colourations that make music sound nicer or covers up defects (this is no bad thing as 'neutral' sounding budget components sound like.... well... Audiolab [flameproof suit on] :) When as you progress upwards, neutrality in speakers is highly desirable. But you don't have to settle on a 'neutral' sound, because with a neutral speaker, it is easy to tweak the sound in any direction you want :)
I had mentioned several times my 'bass' problems in my room. There was therefore some concern with the Rm22sis seeing that they had better bass extension than the Zephyrs (38Hz vs 45Hz). However, my fears were totally unfounded. Listening to the Rm22si made me realise that the Zephyrs had a slight but audible midbass lift! The Hi-Fi Choice's measurements of the Zephyr II (with the new woofer) did not reveal any of this so I assume this was a characteristic of the earlier woofer only. And all along I had thought that the Zephyrs were superbly neutral save for a slight treble peak.
Being an American speaker (see the stereotypes sneak in :)), the bass was clearly superior in every was to the Zephyrs. The Rm22si provided fast, deep extended bass without any bloat or midbass boom. So I was actually getting more bass than the Zephyrs without any of the 'problems' I faced with the Zephyrs (which has theoretically less bass).
But as mentioned above, I added some warmth by connecting up my REL Strata.
Bad things to say about the speaker? Frankly, very very little. If anything, there was still an absence of the absolute highest top-end 'air' in the treble. However, this is because I'm listening to the Rm50si downstairs as well (which is being powered by a CJ MF-2500). I have to confess that I like hearing this top-end air, even if it is the slightly fake sort from a metal dome tweeter :) Further, as a listener of female vocals, I would have preferred a more 'emotional' midrange.
Addendum: Having heard the SCD-1 with its great high-frequency extension (for CD replay), it all goes to show how important system matching is. I would say that if I had the SCD-1 and the Rm22si together, I would never have complained about lack of top-end 'air'.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't compare this to the Nautilus 805 (which plus stands, costs more than the Rm22si), but thats rather difficult to do given that I only listened to the 805 in the showroom powered by Mark Levinson. I would have to say that the 22si soundstages as well or better than the 805 and has far better bass to boot (the N805 is really a bit too polite to rock). However, I kindof like the midrange on the N805 as a bit better for female vocals (as long as I can get over the 'Kevlar' sound...)
Other than that, this is a superb speaker that outclasses the Zephyr in every respect. Fortunately, the Zephyr is of a certain level that I can live with and so I don't have a big urge to change yet... (must save $ for DVD-A or SACD...)
But if you're in the market for something even better, the Rm50si at $9k+, is like 90% of the big $16k Nautilus. Also, the Rm50si has normal woofers (no metal cone) and has a much nicer tonal balance. Add: Again, this is my personal preference as remember metal cones are sometimes a 'love it' or 'hate it' proposition. The Rm22si has gone a long way towards swaying my view of metal cones towards a more positive light. I will eventually write something about the Rm50si's in the living room (but theres just this midbass/lower mid room problem that has to be corrected first....)
One additional footnote - the Rm22si may be more deserving of better amplification than my McCormack (given that the McCormack is half the price of the Rm22si). Any shortcomings could possibly be addressed by better amplification.