Review by Dan Worth for HiFi Pig Magazine
Dan Worth takes a listen to the Russell K Red 50 standmount loudspeakers costing from £975.
Monday’s are usually considered as the most hated day of the week by mass consensus but when you receive a call from Russell Kauffman asking if it’s possible to meet up to discuss a review of the bottom of the beanstalk standmounts he produces you know this Monday isn’t going to be as torrid as the last!
Russell and I discussed some extremely important parameters for the review process, namely a range of good ciders and a place to eat. Russell stated ‘take me somewhere where I can try some good local ciders Dan and I’d love a good Chinese, the rest is up to you’.
It always fills me with joy when I’m given so many options to work with and with this criteria in mind my options were not exactly rich but who’s complaining, I’m a cider drinker and love a good Chinese – now all we needed was a designated driver…in comes Dominic, as he doesn’t drink, it would be rude of us not to include him in our somewhat adventurous Monday.
Our day got off to a not so ideal start when Dom arrived in the work van, kind of resembling a lunchbox on wheels and as neither he or I gave enough thought to the logistics of three in a two seater van and once Russ had dropped his car off at the hotel it quickly became evident that either Russ or I were to be seated on the floor in the back. I jokingly asked ‘so which of us I’ll be in the back then Russ?’ And to my amazement Russell rose his hand. Of course I explained I was only kidding but was ever so grateful as I’ve been suffering with some lower back issues, I commended the man for this as he slid back the side door and parked himself on the Royal throne of cushions Dominic had placed in the rear of the short wheel bass buggy.
I decided we would go to a nice little pub on the outskirts of Dartmoor where the landlord Simon regularly attends the local cider festivals and has a great choice of brews. Getting there from mine isn’t an awkward affair until you’re the only one who knows the way, it’s almost dark by 4:30pm this time of year, you suffer from an eye condition that means you can’t see at all in the dark and you have an iPhone and Google maps!
Typically in sat nav fashion and always when in the country, the swine takes you somewhat off piste and the blinkers of two headlamps is the only small amount of light down the narrowest of country roads – no, let me rephrase that, a dirt track that even Colin McCray would have been weary of.
Poor Dom’s little trooper of a van was bouncy over turrets, sliding across verges and jerking through rocks, puddles and the occasional badgers den.
With Russell in the rear doing a great impression of pong and my back splintering at the seams, all of this on one of the most hideous days of weather this year, torrential rain a wind that cuts right through you and plummeting temperatures that would make a brass monkey drop its balls!
Fortunately though we were safe in the shell of the vehicle, well all apart from dear Russell who was rattling around somewhere behind me.
Good old Google maps was still confident that we were on a ‘fastest route’ to get to our first port of call, so we persevered a little longer, praying the phone and satellite signal would not deplete in case of the need to phone the AA because we really were getting deeper and deeper into bandit country.
All of a sudden we stop, I ask ‘what’s wrong?’ Dom says ‘I just need to open a gate in the lane’, he jumps out and quickly returns, ‘it’s locked!’ oh, that’s unfortunate we say, you’ll have turn around sir (or words to that effect). So Dom backs up a little and attempts a three point turn, we go 90 degrees to the left and oh no, we’re stuck and I mean stuck, wheels spinning, wet mud flying everywhere and no brew in sight!
I say ‘come on Russ we are going to have to push’ and out we get. So now imagine the scene, it’s pouring with rain, freezing cold, slippery and muddy, there’s a black and blue manufacturer and a blind man trying to push a van out of its muddy ditch – Monday bloody Monday’s! Could we get free, could we hell, so Russ and Dom swap roles and finally we break free of natures grasp. Russ will argue that it was due to his driving skills but personally I think it was down to Dominic’s brute strength!
10 minutes later we are in a warm pub with a pint and a couple hours after in a wonderful restaurant on the sea front eating what was – and I think we would all agree the most fantastic Chinese meal we had all ever had. Finishing off the evening sat in front of a log fire back at Russell’s hotel with a Jack Daniel’s in high spirits and laughing about our evening’s escapades.
Did I mention earlier in this supposed review that Russell was bringing the Red 50s along with him? Well yes, indeed he did.
The Red 50’s are the smallest of the Standmount speakers from the ever growing Russell K range measuring in at H- 310mm W-205mm D-200mm. Constructed from 16mm MDF all round apart from the front baffle which is 19mm MDF and rear port tuned to 55Hz, the completely undamped cabinet does have an internal acoustically tuned shelf with several ports or holes above the woofer.
Driver compliment for the Red 50 is a 5″ mid/bass injected paper cone and a 1″ soft domed tweeter. Crossovers connect drivers in positive phase with a crossover frequency of 2200Hz nominal 12 db/Oct. Both drivers have only one component in the signal path! this all culminates for a reported in room frequency response of 45Hz-22KHz.
Finished in a range of real wood veneers and and real auto grade deep lacquered finishes the Red 50’s look stunning, a real sense of pride of ownership is evident when removing them from their packaging, they are simplistic, stylish and somewhat elegant in style.
After positioning the speakers into a position where I would usually seat a speaker of this size I played various pop music. Russell and I had previously talked about how suitable the genre is in initially testing speakers and drivers alike. We both agreed that the wide range of instruments, vocals and frequencies gives a great impression of how a speaker may behave with further listening. My standout impressions with these initial listening tests were that the little Red 50s had great bounce and enthusiasm with a terrifically stable soundstage.
I moved on to some music of very opposite appeal in order to try and distract the 50s from their seemingly comfortable characterisation. I played some Loreena McKennit as I wanted to explore how intimate they could sound. From Loreena’s first phrase I simply sank into the sofa and any anxiety I had on behalf of the 50s dissipated when the velvety smooth and passionate rendition of her vocal compared admirably against my own Ayons and some more expensive speakers from larger manufacturers. Russell always says ‘we are a big company stating in a smaller way’ and I can give him respect for this as these babies have performed excellently so far.
Without any forwardness at all, no peaky upper midrange and the availability of emotion from a speaker so small and under £1000 I pushed on with optimism and confidence that listening to a male vocal counterpart could also lead to some further positivities from the Red 50s.
In light of the connection Loreena McKennit gave me I played some Damien Rice. His lyrics and overall style is not to everyone’s taste and usually takes centre stage in my room only at certain times during late night listening. His passion for music is very explanatory within the phrasing and tempo of his voice, conveying a belief of emotion within his lyrics.
This honesty was appreciated greatly through the 50s and although the bigger brother, the 100s have more intensity of vocal inflections, detail and realism the 50s within their own right have a real coherence attitude which really gives the impression that you are not losing out on the fullness of a male vocal either and the richness that would be expected from a larger cabinet shocks when heard from the Red 50.
Very recently I had the pleasure of reviewing speakers from the new ATC range of Standmount speakers, which got great reviews from Dominic and I. The smaller of the speakers, the 7 and 11s ticked so many boxes, including detail retrieval, speed, accuracy and transparency but they were very specifically voiced to the cleaner presentation. What I find just so embracing about the Russell K’s is that they can compete with ATCs toe to toe and with their internal acoustic shelf and porting add another layer of enjoyment through conveying that little bit of warmth which makes them so much more engrossing and rich sounding, allowing for more intimacy, especially in the midrange, fleshing out vocals and giving the impression of greater soundstage depth with a smoother upper midrange which controls female vocalists especially well.
This richness is also evident when listening to Jazz music and Acoustic pieces. You cannot listen to Trad’ Jazz without richness. Overall bass weight can be questionable or user specific but the richness has to be there and when equally balanced with strong detail and transparency a standmounted speaker in a smaller room such as the Red 50 will be so effective.
On the acoustical side of things my main concern with a small speaker is that when a guitar note is played, so often do you only hear the top half of the note, the decay can be missed, the note sounds too sharp and the instruments cabinet resonance is non existent. Russell K’s Red 50 do not suffer from this issue, yes it can be done more effectively with a speaker of a larger scale but from a cabinet of this size and again I reflect on the price tag, the Red 50 holds it head up high without a smug grin, just a look of confidence in their abilities to outperform some of the serious competition in today’s extremely competitive market.
During the process of reviewing the Red 50s I’ve used a few amps on them. A Jeff Rowland integrated some Muse Monos with Rowland pre and my DiDiT DAC/PRE with some Cairn Monos. Each pairing of amplification has driven the speakers with no issues and although not very sensitive they are an easy load to drive. Each pairing has also proven to me how transparent the 50s are and the character of each amplifier has really shone through without damaging the Russell K flavour of house sound.
Capabilities of a small speaker can be somewhat limited especially in the bass region, although the Red 50s have had to have a tweak around 80Hz in order to bring more realism to the spectrum I categorically state that they do not sound as if they have a ‘hump’, something that personally drives me crazy with smaller speakers as it inevitably loses the truthfulness of the material.
On the same subject, tweeter integration can be tricky when managing the coherence of a diminutively sized cabinet. When balancing the articulation of a tweeter with its mid/bass counterpart I’ve experienced speakers which can be violently aggressive in the higher frequency field and the lack of bass weight and richness makes the tweeter sterile in sonic signature, a lack of underpinning of the high notes and a more forward presentation. For a smaller speaker I’ve generally favoured a ribbon style tweeter with a lower crossover point.
The Red 50s didn’t suffer at all in my many listening sessions with any fatigue associated with the soft dome tweeter implemented here. Russell has a neat little process which he vigorously goes through with all of his designs. He will acquire a range of high frequency drivers and play predominantly pop music through them on a bench in full range from an amplifier to asses their capabilities. This process has worked excellently, he will then select the most suitable tweeter for cabinet design and have it tweaked further with copper faraday rings (for instance) and careful crossover component selection. Anybody hearing his designs will have undoubted appreciation for his approach and implementation.
I ran the tweeter through its paces with a wide variety of music. At the time of review I also had the Martin Logan Motion 15’s in with their undoubtedly exceptional Motion Ribbon, which for me is the standout driver of the design. The Russell K tweeter excelled with the very peaks and air with Nils Lofgren’s guitar on the Acoustic Live version of Keith Don’t Go and the pace was ahead of the Motion Ribbon. However the ribbon tweeter had a slightly more fleshed out tonality allowing for more body in the lower treble regions, both still exciting and engrossingly musical.
Electronica and dance music favours the soft dome tweeter and transparency in the upper limits was dynamically more mature and thrilling. Integration of the entire Red 50 design with the faster paced music was flawless and the Red 50 can certainly be enjoyed very much indeed with many genres and the overall compliment of drivers, crossovers and cabinets makes for a level of dynamics and realism that can be natural or within the realms of electronic music, the designs bass limitations and room size is just great!
It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a small standmount sized speaker which can offer lucid mids, natural tones and sheer enthusiasm in a realistic sense for under a grand.
The Russell K Red 50 is such a compliment to Russell Kauffman’s years of work in the Hifi industry and his extensive knowledge of driver selection and integration through working at with other driver design companies is reflected in the speakers’ instinctive performance.
I listened intently to flaws in the design after first impressions were just so good and I don’t believe that anything that resided in their frequency response ever sounded out of place or unsympathetic to the material I played.
With true transparency a whip like responsiveness and the ability to hold the emotion of a strong vocal, the Red 50 is one of the very best small standmount speakers around £1000 that I have heard to date.
AT A GLANCE
- Build Quality: Very high quality lacquer or real wood veneer, with great overall styling
- Sound Quality: Unexpectedly impressive from such a small cabinet. Very well voiced and even-handed
- Value For Money: Great amount of sound per pound, what should be expected from a speaker of this price
- Astonishing bass for the size
- Detailed, transparent with a touch of warmth
- Realistic appreciation for many genres
Binding posts have an opposite orientation than the norm and spade connectors need placing from the sides. No dedicated stands (yet)