There is that distinctive Raidho family sound, a sound that is exceptionally dynamic and detailed, to the point of making everything this side of an electrostatic sound ‘muddy’ and ‘indistinct’. The step between ribbon and midrange drivers is not an easy one to overcome (there’s a technology change between the two devices, and that is always hard to reconcile), which places instruments like violas ever so slightly less forward in the mix, but even here this lone tonal characteristic is mild in nature, and to overcome it in a dynamic driver concept while retaining the other properties of the Raidho would take a bigger, more demanding, and far more expensive loudspeaker. This is where the Raidho TD-4.8 gives some ground to loudspeakers of the calibre of the Wilson WAMM Master Chronosonic. Note that I said this before asking the price of the loudspeakers; having discovered just how vast the price differential, that still holds… but shows just what company the Raidho keeps.
Playing ‘Celestial Echo’ by Boris Blank and Malia [Convergence, Universal], there’s so much going on that you don’t normally hear, like the depth and richness to the string synth sounds, and the complexity of those electro percussion sounds. The sealed-vented cabinet really makes sense here, as the cabinet has the speed and uncoloured sound of a sealed box, but with the bass depth that a cabinet of this size cannot normally achieve.
The slow build of King Curtis’ ‘Memphis Soul Stew’ [King Curtis at Fillmore West,ATCO] is also a perfect example of what the Raidhos do right. And really right. You have some of the finest and funkiest musicians of their time, absolutely not phoning in their parts, and on a good system you can switch your attention between each musician in turn. You can do this here, of course, but what you also get is a visceral real musician playing. Take Bernard Purdie’s remarkable drumming. Every phrase is subtly different, within the same groove. This is his thing, and what made him one of the most sought after – and sampled – drummers in that idiom. Every nuance is portrayed perfectly – other systems can make that sound like dropped beats and mis-steps, but it’s all part of his triplet play that makes Bernard Purdie so gifted. Of course, you also get the sense of the band playing in a club, and in the second track you get to hear the people talking in the crowd in a way few other systems ever even approach. That’s something truly special.
Moving over to the Mi Buenos Aires Querdoalbum [Barrenboim et al, Teldec], there’s a sense of the acoustic that is both excellent and does not overshadow the musicians or the musicianship. Piano, accordion, and bass alike have a visceral, real quality that is the mark of true high-end full-range systems, but with the rhythmic tautness, speed, and temporal precision of a small sealed box. That’s not only quite brilliant but is reflected in the number of tracks you play on each album. But more on that later.
This album also exposes the lie about audio bottom end. These are loudspeakers possessed of a hauntingly deep bass, as exposed by the bowed bass, and the left hand piano work. More importantly, it brings to the fore the humour and intellect of the musicians. Part of that seems to be an absence of distortion on an order of magnitude we so rarely experience in audio. The piano is something of an audio crucible, because almost all of us know what piano sounds like live, and it rarely sounds like that through most audio systems. The Raidhos takes a leap closer, and that piano sounds more like the real thing in a room, at once from a dynamic, tonal, and timbral sense.
Another, personal audio torture test for bass is ‘Chameleon’ by Trentemøller [The Last Resort, Poker Flat]. This is ideal for testing whether a port is musically intrusive, but that test didn’t just show up how well the ‘vented, sealed’ concept works here (it notionally applies to everything from the D-1.1 on up, but this is where it gets to shine), it was one of those great audio moments that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Wesseltoft and Schwarz’ Duo[Jazzland] is another album that normally gets one track played and ended up staying on for the longest time, the treated percussive sounds and this time a different piano recording just keep on coming. This percussion is more echo and pan than sitting in a 3D space, but it doesn’t matter. The sophistication of the sampled sounds, the precision of the soundstage, the dynamic range and the sheer absence of noise from which those sounds emerge sets a standard that some serious players in the audio world should heed.
On the one hand, these speakers act as remarkable monitors. Everything the artists and engineers recorded is presented with seemingly no attenuation. If this was the known benchmark both in and out of the studio, we’d never hear a compressed recording again because that compression would be immediately and patently obvious. Yet, and this is the clincher, that studio-like quality does not come at the expense of the enjoyment or musicality the loudspeaker presents.
This is one of those rare loudspeakers where the job of a reviewer borders on sacrilege. I have to listen to tracks or even snippets of tracks on albums to highlight aspects of a recording. Those albums are like test instruments to me, and I can determine the integrity of tone with a piano or female vocal, the speed of bass with a synth tone, and so on. That usually means a track rarely stays on for more than about three minutes before the next test music sample gets played. That didn’t happen here, simply because turning the track off was an act of musical barbarism. Pick an album, play track one, intending to listen to only that track. Five tracks later you are still mesmerised and reaching for the ‘Stop’ button is like disrespecting the music itself.
I think that comes from the uncanny amount of detail playing here, or more accurately the absence of those loudspeaker-generated clouds of distortion and colouration normally experienced. Take soundstaging for example; the speaker has a good soundstage, of course, but it’s absorbing and enveloping. You are one with the music through that soundstage in the way you don’t normally get in audio. Tracks were played right through to the fade, and you hear things that are simply lost in the cones and domes of most loudspeakers.
There were a lot more tracks played, with everything from the Rolling Stones to Rachmaninov, and in all cases the same outstanding performance was there. At its worst, it was as good as the best of its peers, but at its best – and it was often at its best – this was a speaker that challenged the best in all ways, except for bass extension and the ability to play at PA levels.
Most of all, it makes music supremely intelligible, in a way few other loudspeakers can. Vocal articulation is a given, but so is the articulation of the voices of all instruments. There’s no sense of ‘is that a bass clarinet?’ to music; one quick blast of the Raidho TD‑4.8 and you’ll know precisely what type of instrument is being played, almost to the point of knowing what kind of reed the musician prefers.
A pivotal phrase in that last paragraph is ‘quick blast’. It’s pivotal because it isn’t appropriate. This is one of those rare loudspeakers that holds the same tonal balance and detailing whether you play at high volume levels, or whether it’s at late-night listening quiet. In most speakers, the best you can hope for is ‘Mumbling Round Midnight’ but here the full balance of the speaker remains unchanged at whisper-quiet and when it is given some beans.
The loudspeaker does require a seated position to hear what it’s capable of. This might be its biggest limitation in public demonstrations, because too many people seem to think standing in the doorway of an exhibit room counts as ‘listening’ to the speaker. In this case, you are getting at best a Raidho-flavoured impression of the sound. Sitting in the sweet-spot with the tweeter ribbon at the optimum height makes for a completely different presentation. The bass, mid, and treble integrate well, the bass gains solidity, and the sense of openness and expansiveness of the sound and the soundstage is beguiling. You are listening to your music anew because these speakers are resolving so much more in detail, dynamics, and staging. The well-worn audio cliché of ‘veils being lifted’ doesn’t work here; we’re talking blankets. They start and stop on a dime, too.