The largest model in the Rubicon range encourages René to wind up the volume and proves that, as in life, more is more when it comes to loudspeakers.
On a recent trip to the DALI factory in Denmark I had the pleasure of listening to the complete line up of DALI Rubicon loudspeakers. It was only a quick listen to each model due to time limits, but I was intrigued by the biggest model, the Rubicon 8. Being a fan of big loudspeakers I suggested the Dutch distributor send a pair for a review. The time has come to investigate how the Rubicon 8 performs outside the company dem room.
Count the ways
The Rubicon 8 is indeed a big speaker, one that might upset your partner if he or she isn’t into music. But DALI made a wise decision in making this model tall and narrow for aesthetic reasons and deep for sound ones. The cabinet contains three wood fibre coned woofers, a textile dome and a ribbon. The two lower woofers work in parallel up to 500Hz but the top one carries on to 800Hz. At that point the third woofer takes over the midrange from 800 to 2500Hz, working within its own section inside the cabinet. The smooth roll off of the textile dome starts at 14kHz (off axis) where the ribbon comes in. So we are talking about a four and a half way system, vented with three large bass reflex ports on the back. The ports are situated right behind each woofer to minimize time delay. DALI calls the Rubicon 8 a 2 ½+ ½ + ½ way system, they count the midwoofer plus tweeter as 2, ½ for the ribbon, ½ for the second woofer and again ½ for the lower woofer. This is how the crossover works. The bass drivers are produced in-house and use SMC material for the pole piece. SMC is a material that almost eliminates uneven harmonic distortion, for a much cleaner and clearer sound, DALI calls this the Linear Drive System. All three cone drivers are identical for optimum time alignment. They are optimised for large cone excursions and wide frequency range. The tweeter is a speciality of DALI. The textile dome goes down to 2500Hz, thanks to its large 29mm diameter, but is limited when it comes to the highest frequencies. That is why DALI uses the ribbon tweeter on top for a wide dispersion, speed and accuracy. The efficiency of the Rubicon 8 is a decent 90.5dB, but we have to consider that the four Ohm nominal impedance needs an extra 3dB of amplifier power compared to eight Ohm speakers to achieve this result. DALI recommends amplifiers from 40 to 250Watt for the Rubicon 8.
Bi-wire connected with Crystal Cable Speak Reference cables, the Rubicon’s 8 were placed on damped rubber feet rather than 8mm spikes also included, both to save my wooden floor and decouple the cabinet for optimum bass. The best position in my room is 2.3m apart with a listening distance of almost three meters. The space between the back of the cabinet and the rear wall was only 35cm, enough to obtain an even response with even bass. DALI speakers are designed to have the flattest response off axis, so I did not toe them in.
All Is One
DALI claims to have five goals: clarity for voices and stereo image, low loss to preserve low level details, optimal timing resulting in a natural timbre over the whole frequency range, wide dispersion and last but no least DALI says they produce amplifier friendly systems. Listening to music four of the five claims are easy to assess, but I have to take their word on amplifier friendliness. The CEO of DALI is very fond of Class A amplifiers with little or no feedback, which is exactly what my Audia Flight 50 is, so it should be a good match. To get used to the system I used the Rubicon 8 for TV programs. With spoken word it is very easy to understand every word, no matter if it is a news program or a street interview. TV series, mainly the thrillers and dramas are exciting with the Rubicon 8, there’s no need for a subwoofer to shake the floor. This means that it could easily be used in a home cinema set up. I listened to a varied selection of music over the time the speaker was with me and I think that I made a wise choice in picking the largest Rubicon for my room. The low port resonance frequency chosen by DALI lies far below the room resonance and there is no interference between them. I could easily listen to Stockfisch records, and these are well known for accentuated bass that makes even a small monitor seem big. Allan Taylor is one of their artists and I start listening to his CD All Is One.
On Every Street
His voice is warm and deep, while the bass is rich. Acoustic instruments have a natural tone that is very easy on the ear and I keep winding up the volume, which is rare, I normally turn the volume down because of the bass. This DALI’s bass is tight and controlled. Stereo image is fine, there’s no hole in the middle as you might expect with forward facing speakers. The voice is kept in the middle, rock steady, giving the impression that Taylor is sitting down, especially when a backing vocal is placed higher. On the next track he stands up. It’s nice how the Rubicon shows these differences so easily. The next album is On Every Street by Dire Straits and the track You And Your Friend. A few days ago I listened to the same track on a Devialet with Audiovector speakers and active Devialet SAM (Devialet’s phase compensation DSP). A completely different set-up at a friend’s house where stereo the image was exceptionally 3D, to be honest the DALI didn’t match it. Nevertheless my system sounds less ‘mechanical’, more fluid and more organic. What I want to say is that the Rubicon is more like a musical instrument, without the razor sharp image that SAM produces for the Audiovectors. I enjoyed this CD on both systems and played a little more at home, including Planet Of New Orleans. The Rubicon 8 might be a physically big speaker for most rooms, but the sound quality is big too. You won’t get this performance from a monitor, no matter how good it is. This Rubicon serves drama, power and reality. The low end is well balanced with the midrange and the high frequencies, and a large sound field is placed away from the listener, which seems entirely natural. In fact for music like this the Rubicon 8 turns out to be a perfect partner, one that’s worth every penny.
Life Is Just A Bowl of Cherries
Now we know that male voices sound fine, let us turn to the ladies. Holly Cole recorded the track Be Careful, It’s My Heart in 2008, with only piano to accompany her. This track is very romantic and tender and needs to be warm. On the Rubicon 8 the voice is a little bigger than it should be, but this larger than life quality is very suitable for piano, which is reproduced really well. Big, bold and tonally correct. Playing Life Is Just A Bowl of Cherries adds some more instruments and while Holly is still a little bit big everything else right. The sound escapes the loudspeakers to create a strong stereo image. The way that the three bass units provide a stable platform for all the other instruments to build on helps to further improve the realism of the music. Lush Life, a high quality recording by Jacintha, has this heavy bass that can easily gets too much on lesser systems. But not with the Rubicon 8, the bass is heavy, but it’s in proportion and doesn’t shake the floor under my feet. When I recall how other speakers performed on these tracks I have to admit that the Rubicon 8 is a mighty fine loudspeaker that performs beyond expectation. It’s not overly detailed but it’s clear and undistorted, it makes listening a pleasure with all the music I played. One last female vocal comes from Christy Baron’s CD I Thought About You and the standard ‘Round Midnight. On the right are drums that should be placed deeper in the stereo image, they are too close to the front. That’s the only complaint actually, and quite possibly it’s due to placement. The Rubicon 8 could use more space around it or I should swap the 8 for the smaller Rubicon 6. Who cares, just listen to the bass, the piano, the voice and most of all to the harmonica and you’ll be very happy.
Suites For Solo Cello
Next up Brahms’ Serenade No. 2, conducted by Bernard Haitink and played by the London Symphony Orchestra on a set of 24/48 FLAC files. I can honestly say that the Rubicon 8 places no restrictions on classical music. The sound is fluid on the ear and provides good insight into the orchestra, which is well spread out before the listener. Bass reaches deep with full power when it’s asked for. Violins and cellos are lively and present, not too strong in presentation nor sharp on the ear. It’s very enjoyable and entertaining, keeping you alert to absorb every part of the composition. Another example that shows the capabilities of the Rubicon comes from Peter Wispelwey when he plays Bach’s Suites For Solo Cello. These difficult parts easily show the shortcomings of a loudspeaker in the upper bass, but not here. Again the Rubicon 8 is not the most detailed loudspeaker I have had at home, it is more an all-round tool for enjoying music instead of analysing the performance. For instance strings and instrument bodies could be better separated, but does that separation resemble a live concert? I doubt it. Purely for my own pleasure I end this session with a string quintet from Schubert in C D956, played by a small group of musicians surrounding the Dutch violin player Janine Jansen. Her Decca CD also contains work from Prokofiev and Schönberg. Play it loud or soft, in both cases the Rubicon 8 shows the virtuosity of the musician, her passion and the emotion she puts into the music. I listened to all four Schubert parts, simply to enjoy the music, which after all is exactly what loudspeakers are made for.
The Bigger, the better
In a difficult market many manufacturers reduce prices at the expense of sound quality. They leave out that better capacitor, accept wider tolerances, and reduce the amount of copper in a coil. Not at DALI, they work the opposite way. They manufacture a well-designed loudspeaker and add that little extra to make it exceptional, although it costs more and sells maybe less. DALI is never the cheapest loudspeaker in a shop, neither the most striking, but if you are prepared to sit down and listen to its capabilities I can assure you that the extra spent on the design shows. After hearing the DALI Rubicon 8 at the factory I wanted a pair at home for a review and was not disappointed by the results. It produces sound effects from movies just as easily as subtle classical works, playing everything in between with exceptional ease. This big DALI is capable of delivering deep and sturdy bass notes, next to an open, clear and a sweet top end that spreads wide without ever becoming sharp. The Rubicon 8 is not the most detailed loudspeaker I have come across in its price range, on the other hand it is more of an all-round performer than a lot of its competitors. It might be big, but placement is not critical and the port frequencies do not interfere with standing waves in most rooms. The result is an even sound right across the extended bandwidth that the Rubicon 8 has on offer. I enjoyed movies and both classical and pop music. I could listen to the system for hours without getting tired or bored. Besides the loudspeakers look good and fit into a living room, so what else can you ask for? If you have the space for the Rubicon 8 and you are willing to invest in suitable electronics, you might struggle to find another speaker that better these DALIs.