Product: Rebel Evo 1
Manufacturer: Penaudio - Finland
Approx. cost: 760 Euro/$
Reviewer: Geoff Husband
Reviewed: April 2001
Penaudio are a small company hailing from Finland. They have a range of interesting speakers running up to serious floorstanders, but for this test I have a pair of their Rebel sub-compact speakers.
Sub-compact or mini monitors, neither really conveys how tiny these little beauties are. With the main driver cone just 8 cms across and the tweeter faceplate not a lot smaller, packed into a baffle just big enough to take them these are speakers that make classics like the AE-1 look overweight.
They're pretty deep though (120 x 230 x 245 in mm) and a carcass of 16 mm MDF makes them heavier than you expect - 4.2 kgs. They'll also handle 80 w continuous so we're looking at a minuature with real hi-fi pretentions.
The finish of the review pair was a 'Basque red' two-pack gloss, which gave the impression they were carved from a single piece of polished bakerlight. Certainly they looked the biz, glossy, solid and expensive.
Drivers are from Seas, a 19mm fabric dome tweeter and the aforementioned 'woofer' - smaller than most people's mid-range drivers. Though the tweeter is a relatively cheap affair, the 'woofer' has a magnet you'd expect of a decent 6 inch driver and with its polypropylene cone and bullet phase plug, looks like it means business - which is just as well as it has a hell of a lot of work to do...
The box is ported and completely stuffed with wadding, short of a major dismantling job I can only guess at the crossover, though the crossover is set at 3800 Hz, well within the capabilities of the driver thus avoiding the critical 3 kHz area, I'm a little surprised they didn't push what is after all a mid range driver a little higher up the frequency scale. Frequency response in room is claimed as 42-20000Hz +/- 3 dbl which is as fictional as any other manufacturers figures...
Dropping the Penaudio's out of their packaging was very satisfying, small jewel-like hi-fi components always have a certain appeal, but beyond that what is the point?
I'm going to generalise here, but all things being equal a big speaker will have better bass extension, loudness capabilities, dynamics and efficiency than a small speaker. i.e. a good big'un will always beat a good little'un.
But things aren't quite that simple. Within a given budget a small box will be cheaper and this allow for better drivers, for many the starting point of a good speaker. Secondly big flat areas of wood will 'sing-along' with the drivers so colouring the sound, especially at lower price points where big boxes tend to be unbraced and thin, small boxes avoid this.
The baffle is particularly important as it will vibrate along with the drivers adding considerably to the sound, speakers like the Rebel don't have enough baffle to worry about. This lack of colouration, and two small drivers packed tight together tend to give small speakers a lead in imaging. Look at high-end, large speakers and you'll find they're built like tanks - and so are very expensive... Because of the lack of air volume and wood, small speakers lack inertia and so stop and start faster than big speakers.
Lastly small speakers take up much less space than some of the hulking monsters the high-end demands, though here the Penaudio's rear firing port and audiophile pretensions need a decent stand and space behind them, in effect taking up as much room as a small floorstander.
There are two ways to design a small speaker. Either you use a long throw driver and tune the port around 80 hz to give the illusion of real bass so that the speaker sounds more like a floorstander, or you accept that what you have is a small speaker and try to make the most of the advantages small size offers.
Penaudio have opted for the latter and IMHO wisely so I think. Small speakers can be made to sound big, my own 11 ltr Morel driven ported boxes (much bigger than the Rebels) are like this, but the trick is done with a very expensive woofer and poor efficiency. And you have to ask yourself 'what is the point?' Better to build a bigger speaker in the first place.
Setting them up I did find one problem and that is that stands with the tiny top plate needed, and of at least the recommended 60 cms are few and far between. In my case I had to make a pair up out of hardwood. I can't deny that this may effect the sound, but it's a combination which has worked well with other speakers. At present Penaudio recommend Atacama stands but are designing their own - 'bout time...
It has to be said that the Penaudio's always sounded 'small'. Imagine very, very high quality computer speakers and you'll have at least an idea of what I mean.
Measured results in my 6*7 m listening room were pretty poor but interesting... I was shocked to find that I got measurable output at 25 Hz but listening to it showed it to be a very noisy port rather than a 'note'. Once this was discounted nothing really happens until the expected port induced (?) hump peaking at about 80 hz followed by a trough which doesn't recover until 200 Hz. After this the midrange is OK if a little uneven and treble over 3kHz is extended - rather more than normal.
As I said before most small speakers have a port induced hump around 80 hz, but then most of them are at least twice the size of the Rebel and so their larger drivers can take over to fill in above this level. In the Penaudio's case the driver just can't shift enough air.
To add to the problem the port is as long as physically possible given the depth of the box, and in fact is hard up against the tweeter magnet so constricting the opening, the source of the 'wind noise' at 25 Hz. For my own part I'd have preferred to see a shorter port tuned to - say - 110 Hz and then just forget the low bass as a lost cause. The result would have been a much more even bass response and a better match for those wanting to use a sub.
I'd also be tempted to make it a front firing port so that the speaker could run closer to a rear wall, after all space saving is one of the main advantages of a small speaker and one which the Penaudio cannot exploit at present. However these comments only apply in a largish room.
But Penaudio don't take much notice of measured response, preferring their ears and in fact despite the above flaws the speaker does have some very positive attributes especially in the environment it's designed for.
I mentioned that the Rebel had not been tuned to sound like a big speaker, and this has a few major advantages. Firstly a full-range speaker, no matter how good, will sound hopelessly overblown in a small room. Room resonances will make it sound slow and boomy. In a small room the Rebel's 'small' sound fills out and sound much more balanced.
However in the main listening room things were not too happy. At the same time the imaging is excellent, especially stage depth, which with the Korato's went way behind the back wall.
Detail was good without being exceptional, but certainly they were very fast, contributing to a fine sense of rhythm. They also had a definite preference for acoustic music, sounding wonderfully uncoloured with 'Jazz at the Pawnshop' and 'Take Five', dry bass light speakers often do. However bigger stuff, rock and classical they floundered, just not being able to do scale or weight - hardly surprising...
With the Korato's there was more of the 'toy town orchestra' effect than I could live with, the Korato's dry balance doing no favours. The Audion valve pairing was better, though the efficiency (around 85dbl) made them work hard. I have to say that with either amp the sound was not something I personally could live with, too thin and tinny, like an impossibly high quality Ghetto Blaster...
Then I set them up in my office. This is 3*4 m - the size of a lot of listening rooms I suspect. Here the situation changed completely. With the Roksan Caspian and the Loth-x 300b amp they suddenly found their 'raison d'etre'. The small room made the Loth's 8 watts (helped by the high impedence) adequate for background listening, but suddenly the Rebels meshed with the room's resonances to produce a much warmer, detailed and really 'nice' sound - rooms of this size being 'lively' in the 100-200 hz region so filling in the Rebels mid bass. Aretha Franklins voice took on the body it lacked in my lounge, and her stunning timing was well to the fore.
I've always said that the room was the single most critical component and here was conclusive evidence.
And of course that is exactly as it should be. If you've a large room buy big speakers, small one's will be 'lost', similarly in a small room the tonal balance of a floorstander will be disastrous. (Disclaimer - there are always exceptions...). The Rebel is designed for a very small room and in such a room is as good as it is bad in a big one.
Now properly sited I actually started to enjoy listening to the little Penaudio's. Ricky Lee Jones bounced along, bass lines sounded 'fruity' in a way unimaginable in a large room. Female vocals like Tracy Chapman filled out and even Led Zep 1 had the drive it needed. Penaudio did emphasis that the Rebels were voiced for a small room and I think they've hit the nail on the head... They're never going to produce massive bass and slam but then that wouldn't work in a small room anyway. If you have a big room then Penaudio have floorstanders made for the job, how good they are I don't know, one day maybe I'll find out:-)
The Penaudios are beautifully built, and sexily small. They are hopelessly lost in a big room and like a warm amplifier, but given a small room show that the better things in life can come in small boxes...
If anyone doubts the tyranny of the magazine group test and it's insideous effect on manufacturers to push them into producing a thousand 'lowest common denominator' clones, the 'off the record' comments I publish below (now published with permission) illustrate the fact perfectly. Group tests in 'typical' reviewers rooms i.e. big - will heavily penalize anything but speakers designed for such an environment, I leave readers to draw their own conclusions on whether it is desirable for all speakers to be tuned to the same environment...
Here in Finland it sometimes feels that reviewers rather point out errors
than use their time to find out true potential of a component under review.
Rebels were reviewed in finish HIFI magazine in test with eight other stand speakers of same price group. Rebels were blamed of thin sound. I have visited their listening room and I know what kind of a bunker it is. I am certain that Rebels would have sound as you described they sounded in your office, if they had been sited properly. But they didn't "waste" their time in such nonsense and published the review, which was like your description of Rebel in big room. One of the listeners of test team visited twice our exhibition room in HIFI exhibition last autumn and was very surprised of Rebels bass reproduction.
He even asked where we had hide sub. In test few months after exhibition he blamed Rebels bass as thin. They also don't let manufacturer or importer to read and comment tests first so we didn't had possibility to explain the lack of bass. Well they still have something to learn.
And now let´s get in to the business. Comment for the review
Thank you Geoff for pointing out importance of good room-speaker match. This is something one should always keep in mind whenever choosing speakers. Especially in small rooms built out of hard material, will room resonance affect speker´s sound very much. For an example if one chooses speakers for small room and does test listening in bigger room, there might be a surprise waiting in the shadows of room resonance. Bass might cause problems as Geoff mentioned in the article. Rooms smaller than 4m x 4m could be considered as small.
Designer Sami Penttilä wanted to add this comment:
Rebel Evo I is tuned to 52 Hz. It is tuned to that frequency because so it
will produce "deep" bass in small rooms. So we are not trying to make
Rebels to sound bigger than they are. Tuned to 52Hz the Rebel bass, that is
produced, is clean and tight, neutral.
It is true that frequency starts to drop down slowly from 200 Hz. But because it is designed to work in a quite small rooms so the rooms will compensate its bass. The frequency up to 3kHz is extended. But because we use textile dome tweeters it has no problem to do that. The extension produces more air to sound of violin, piano, drums and human voice with real echo. But it can also be a problem if you use poor amplifier or compressed recordings.
Sami Penttilä, Desingner
© Copyright 2001 Geoff Husband - http://www.tnt-audio.com