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Mark & Daniel Ruby Speakers Review

In the beginning…
Perhaps the toughest category to fill is our middle home system. This room has basically the same strict sonic requirements as those in the $2,000-4,000 dedicated home system, differing only by virtue of the size of the speakers, cost, and applicability to their environment. When we speak of environment, the speakers must have the ability to sound great in a “normal” domestic room, unlike the “Dedicated Listening Room 5.1” which represents rooms more focused to the task…

…we WERE going to call this room “Medium Listening Room 2.0”, but it sounded too much like a version of computer software, and may also encourage those to ask “when is 2.1 coming out” … having no answer we would just scream, run, jump in our car and drive away just like one Mr. H. J. Simpson, who we can’t name in full given our fear of copyright infringement and the resulting lawsuit of which, we would be sorely unable to fight given our general lack of funding… and lawyer who would want to be associated with us…

*focus, focus… you can DO IT man…*

Given that we have opened these requirements to include “floor standing speakers” as well as monitors, it may surprise you that we have chosen a standmount speaker for our reference; well, if it surprises you, you obviously have not heard -or at the least heard about- the Mark and Daniel Rubies.

Mark and Daniel is a relatively young company in existence for the last four years. It seems being novel in approach has served them well, as there has been nary a misstep since their inauguration. The Ruby belongs to the “Maximus” family, book-ended by the newer “Maximus Mini” on the lower cost end ($1,260) and the Maximus Monitor itself at $2,980 a pair. There are also litter mates slightly above the Ruby (the Topaz & Sapphire) in cost and differing features. Evidently, Mark & Daniel are not a “budget” loudspeaker manufacturer per se, so the Rubies are definitely a treat from this high-end company! This “trickle down” of technology often benefits the consumer with progressive technology usually beyond the product’s price range.

Ruby Slippers
When we first unpacked the Rubies, we were quite surprised how small they really were, even after seeing a few pictures before hand. Just by grasping the speakers right out of the box, one can tell something different is going on here… the faux marble -or more correctly- man-made “Compound Marble,” is cold to the touch just like real marble (and given their heft is somewhat slippery)! The Rubies are available in six finishes ensuring a match with almost anyone’s decor: “neutral” marble, “true” white (which our test models are), yellow (remember the color yellow that Honda used for their CRX’s? That’s the closest description I can find of this shade), vibrant orange, red and black!

M&D Philosophy
Why would you make cabinets out of such a compound, you may ask. Unlike musical instruments which vibrate and resonate as part of conducting sound, speakers as a rule, should NOT resonate, allowing you to accurately hear the speaker drivers, resulting in a more accurate representation of the signal source recording, not the sound of the enclosure itself. This can also be evidenced by the increased trend toward utilizing “open baffle” designs which eliminate the enclosure around all -or some- of the drivers. To do so, you need a fine combination of drivers that will best represent the original signal. The simplified reasoning behind the sonic success of the Rubies lie in the attention in design to both of those qualities: the enclosure and the drivers themselves.

The Rubies utilize a form of the legendary AMT (“Air-Motion Transformer”) tweeter, renamed the DM-4 Dreams driver, and adapted for M&D’s use ..

..much info and controversy can be found on the ‘net regarding the AMT … I already go on too long, so I’ll ask you to check it out yourself… just think of the feeling of achievement!

… which handles the treble and high mids. Unlike other ribbon or planer based designs, this driver does not show any fatigue or distortion from this increased “load”; often ribbon drivers can be overwhelmed easily due to their fragile nature when used improperly, or when handling signals beyond their target range. Speaking of mid range, this is handed off to a 5.2″ “SX” woofer, again which appears to be of Mark & Daniels own design. Given the relatively broad range that is represented by the Rubies (which we’ll get to with the listening tests… patience people, patience), it is hard to believe there are just two drivers pushing all of this sound. The design is completed with a small port (not a plastic insert, it is really just a seamless hole made in the cabinet) and two high quality binding posts on the upper and lower back, respectively.

The Set-up
We received our Rubies “broken-in” from the manufacturer (our preference ). Out of the box after taking several pics, we placed the monitors on our generic stock 24″ stands, positioned them straight ahead in the equilateral triangle position, plugged them in, and settled in for some listening.

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Listening part 1
Oh, come on, nothing worthwhile is that is easy, is it? Well, not in this case, anyway. At first blush, the sound I encountered was unexpected; by that, I mean somewhat wince-inducing and much too bass HEAVY! The speakers appeared to require some adjustment to sound smoother. We moved them out a bit further than we had other monitors (and floor-standers!), to about 2.5 feet out from the wall and eventually pleased with a toe-in that completely removed views of the side speaker wall, or completely front facing to our “sweet-spot”. Noticing the tweeters to be a bit lower than ear level, with the help of a few hard cover books, we also raised the speakers up to a height of 30″, & ta-da,. a MUCH different sound!

Listening part 2
A reference recording and one of my favorite recordings period, the “Republique” SACD by Kwartet Śląski is defiantly a full range disc, a wonderful display of what SACD offers {offered?}, as well as a great introduction for those who find string instruments and their versatility (beyond the use in a strictly classical sense) somewhat limited and boring. These highly dynamic selections sound VERY real on the Rubies, allowing me to now hear what all the fuss is about. Not only very ably representing the lower range of the audio signal, but preserving the minute details of the bass signal such as the sinew of the bow caressing the cello’s strings. These kind of details are usually heard in planer, ribbon or electrostatic designs, but not in a hybrid speaker such as the M&D’s. This is evidence of two drivers working in concert without a discernable “hand-off” between the drivers; they sound as one.

Base…er…BASS Desires
Though tempted as we are to go on about the highs of the frequency range, let us examine the bass signal of these minute speakers, and some of the reasons they were picked over a couple of floor standing designs, which typically represent a stronger bass signal. For this demonstration, we will utilize a couple of SACD’s by Canadian artists, but both VERY divergent from each other. SACD’s are probably even more vital as reference recordings in this room than the “Dedicated Listening Room”, as we expect the selected reference speakers to demonstrate quite a wide range of the audio signal (see room “goals”), which of course SACD’s are capable of.

“Nemesis” from Fidelio Audio is a spectacular percussion recording featuring instruments ranging from the delicate xylophone to thundering Japanese-type “wall drums.” The tiny Rubies precisely portray the extreme changes in dynamics brilliantly, while revealing low-end textures without “boominess”, even with the rear ports aiming into the corners. This positioning will often create extended bass in this small room, which has no sound treatments (beyond a leafy potted plant behind each … which actually do defuse the sound somewhat), at the cost of sounding “loose,” undefined and unnatural. Not so with the Mark & Daniels.

Speaking of unnatural, our next test disc features bass that is very clinical, accurate and electronic …. purposely. Given its country/pop hybrid sound, Shania Twain’s “Up” SACD is a great demonstration of modern studio trickery, and the bass sounds as it should: much different than the Fidelio production, compressed and “in your face” … which makes for solid dance music. But wait …. what else do we hear with this disc?

The chimes, synth textures, acoustic guitars, and brushed “drums” are all faithfully reproduced by the DM-4 Dreams driver .. which definitely lives up to its name on “Forever and For Always,” giving a touching emotional feel to this yes -delicate- track. Moving back to a somewhat more “organic” sound, Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” off of the Blue Note CD of the same name, is once again beautifully portrayed by the Rubies, including all of Ms. Jones’ breathy vocal nuances … both tracks honestly sent shivers down my spine, a wonderful emotional response to two touching songs.

How versatile are the Rubies? Next, we changed the mood drastically … how drastic? How about from Norah Jones to Metallica? The Rubies were step-in-step with the full-on assault of “Enter Sandman” off of “The Black Album,” not sounding beaten down until the volume exceeded safe levels. Not exactly wall-flowers, these Rubies!! Though we think a black set would have sounded slightly better with this DVD-Audio disc.

On our last selection, we used a DSD/SACD re-mastered recording from 1971/1973, the nail in the coffin for “lesser” speakers not up to task: Leonard Bernstein’s Sony Classical recording of “Holst: the Planets”, a full range, dynamic sound spectacular which is very hard for small speakers to represent. However, the M&D’s kept stride once again, not sounding compressed or laboring even through the dynamic peaks of “Mars, the Bringer of War” & “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity”! Closing your eyes, you would NOT be able to sense the size of these speakers in the least, they are simply that good.

No we are not “shills” for Mark & Daniel and yes, there were few negative comments about this product. But we simply don’t have many; that is why we have chosen the Rubies as our reference speakers, which are up to this difficult task, in this quite ordinary room — and surpassing all our expectations as well. If we are wrong, bring on all competition!!

A Parting Note
You may have noticed the divergence of reference recordings utilized during this review. We at I.M.H.O. Audio are music lovers first and foremost. So those of you who are musically curious and possibly brave. if you like Metallica, give a recording such as Holst a try, and likewise if you can divest yourself from the obvious differences, listen for similarities. If there is anything awesome and humbling about music that constantly inspires, it is its variations, colors and textures demonstrated by our equipment choices, you don’t have to invest the amount of your mortgage down payment to enjoy music. But in saying that, the more able your sound system is to faithfully represent what has been often painstakingly written and recorded, the more likely you will be able to experience the artist’s “muse”, much like good lighting in a gallery.

Jason Gower

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