by Anthony Kershaw
Let’s get my associated prejudice out of the way. I don’t like subwoofers in high end, two channel systems. The philosophy, the design, and, most of all, the sound. Rarely, have I heard them sound totally integrated, especially when trying to super size the bass of a good, two way speaker. Due to the sheer size of all bass ‘instruments’, they tend to lag behind the beat, whether in live music or in the electronic domain. As conductors, we are forever ‘moving on’ the basses.
Where my bent is straightened somewhat is with personal and computer audio. My expectation for fidelity is a little lower. In these settings, I’ve often heard smaller, high quality subwoofers add much to the overall sound especially in appropriate repertoire. Once in a while, large, two channel setups get it right. There was that one time at the Montreal Show where the Sumiko rep had the Rel down so low just for ‘atmosphere’ with Vienna Acoustic’s speakers. I liked that sound. Kind of.
Joey Roth, designer extraordinary, decided to enhance the sound of his already excellent Ceramic Speakers with a subwoofer. Typical of Roth, not only has he succeeded on an aesthetic level, he has managed to elevate his Ceramic Speakers into a true high end computer/personal solution. We awarded the Ceramic Speakers an Audiophilia Star Component Award for the unique design, value and excellent sound. Roth is the Jonny Ive of functional, unique home stereo design.
Once again, Roth has conjured up some magic. The Ceramic Subwoofer looks amazing and sounds wonderful. Because of the non directional sound of low bass sound, subwoofers can been heard and not seen. This subwoofer looks very stylish and matches the Ceramic Speakers perfectly. As such, it should be front and center.
The design is fairly straightforward. There are two 6.5” neodymium magnet, paper diaphragm speakers on each end of a large ceramic tube. One speaker is active, the other passive. The active speaker is powered by the 50 W Class D amplifier housed in the ingenious stand while the passive speaker excites the bass response even lower from the energy of the active speaker. The crossover adjusts easily from 200Hz down to 40Hz via a front facing dial. Volume is adjusted on the other dial. You’ll have fun ‘twiddling’ ‘till you get the right sound for your room and style.
The subwoofer‘s base is made of stainless steel with rubber feet to ameliorate any extraneous bass resonances from the ceramics. Porcelain and Baltic birch plywood make up the Ceramic Subwoofer’s enclosure.
We tried the sub in various spaces and settings, always through the Classic iPod or iPhone 5 as sources. It shines gloriously in a computer/office setting. It’s almost decadent in its opulence. I’ve always loved Roth’s Ceramic Speakers in my office system. Adding his subwoofer filled out the middle octave with a subtle richness and added missing bass. It sounded like one component, not three — two wonderful components, and one poor chubby cousin trying to keep up. As heard, it’s is the Aston Martin of office music solutions.
But, it didn’t end there. For poops and giggles, we set it up in my primary listening space. A large, well damped room that doubles as review setting and teaching studio. Any good high end speaker, correctly amplified, can fill the space. The diminutive Ceramic Speakers tried their damnedest. Adding the subwoofer filled the room nicely. But, large spaces are not this system’s forte. I took the speakers and sub over to my son’s new 550 sq foot condo. This type of environment is where Roth’s signature system really shines. Placed (appropriately) in the ubiquitous IKEA wall cabinet of all young professionals, the Roth kit sang a pretty song. Rich and balanced, full and satisfying.
All types of music sounded natural and refined. For an experiment, we tried Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues with and without sub. The speakers did a great job unraveling the complex musical lines while only hinting at the low bass, albeit very musically. Adding the sub filled out the missing information, but not only bass. It enriched the timbre of instruments and voices. It’s not really what a subwoofer is supposed to do. Usually, there is a massive radiator pumping out 64 foot organ pipes or exploding cannons. Roth’s drivers are small enough and responsive enough to add significant bass, but also enhance other musical information your ears will enjoy.
I’m not sure where Joey Roth the speaker designer goes from here. His design style is for high living not high end. Yet, adding his Ceramic Subwoofer to an already fine speaker system has elevated the set to a top choice for office/computer/personal solutions. This is a growing and very exciting market. I’ll be reporting about this design style from the New York Show next month.
Compact stereo is here to stay. If you are in the market for a condo or office system, I urge you to hear Roth’s kit. If you already own his Ceramic Speakers, adding the Ceramic Subwoofer is a no brainer.
I played the hell out of the Ceramic Subwoofer. It never let me down. As Aston Martins can be ‘idiosyncratic’, I’ll change the sub/speaker description to ‘the BMW of lifestyle/office/condo speaker solutions’. As longtime Audiophilia readers know, that is a very high compliment from me.
[It is with great pleasure that we award The Audiophilia Star Component Award to the Ceramic Subwoofer by Joey Roth. Congratulations! - Ed]
The Ceramic Subwoofer by Joey Roth
625 Scott St., San Francisco, CA 94117
Price: US$695 ($1095 with Ceramic Speakers)
Source: Manufacturer Loan