by Anthony Kershaw
This is an internet/social media influenced review from beginning to end. I discovered these Joey Roth design beauties via a flurry of ‘tweets’ on Twitter. News travels very fast at 140 characters. When I saw the pictures, I knew I had to hear them, hold them, touch them.
Roth is a San Francisco-based designer. His stuff is very cool. Ingenious. Check out the world’s hippest teapot! So, why should a post modern designer get into the world of audio? I asked Roth recently during an email exchange.
I was inspired by the harmonious contrast between electronic components and simple materials. Most small speaker systems in this price range are made from injection-molded plastics or metals that look sleek and futuristic, but do not convey the warmth and human feeling of good music. Since speakers must give music a physical form as well as make it sound good, I chose acoustically dead materials that are naturally beautiful, but don’t draw too much attention.
I also wanted to create a system that would emphasize the mid-range details in music. This is where most of the interesting information (human voices, many acoustic instruments) resides, but 2.1 computer speakers tend to de-emphasize this area. They combine tinny satellites with overly powerful subs, and leave a hole in the middle. While 70 hz - 20 khz may read as a limited range, I wanted the sound to be as natural as possible, and for each part of this range to be articulated.
I would say Roth’s overview is both objective and musically accurate.
The professional packaging arrived from San Francisco intact. Inside, you’ll find everything to get started — the gorgeous ceramic speakers, wooden bases, all cables and an amplifier. All but an audio source.
The speakers are made from porcelain, cork, and Baltic birch. Each material is ‘minimally finished, left to add its natural beauty to the design’. They are 89 dB in sensitivity with a frequency range of70 Hz – 20 kHz. The impedance is 4 Ohms. The proprietary driver uses a paper diaphragm, aluminum phase plug, neodymium magnet in a die-cast basket.
The amp is a cutie — Rated at 30W, it is based on the Tripath 2024 T-Amp with gold-plated binding posts and 1/8″ inputs. It is constructed from stainless steel sheet metal with a cast iron base and a paulownia wood volume slider. Roth eschews plastics with the exception of the electronic components.
My setups of choice. MacBook Pro and iPhone
Roth mentions on his beautiful website that ‘the Ceramic Speakers connect directly to iPods and other digital music players to form an elegant, minimal music system. Their sound becomes even more dynamic when paired with a turntable and a phono pre-amp. They also connect directly to computers, laptops and televisions, providing a vast improvement over built-in speakers. Typical speakers are designed to play even the most compressed or poorly recorded track. They gloss over the details that give high-resolution music its depth. The Ceramic Speakers’ custom-made drivers, porcelain and cork enclosures, and Tripath amplifier reveal every nuance. They will show the difference between lossless and mp3 files, and will unlock vinyl’s richness.’
I did not use the setup for TV or vinyl, but did spend many hours with them hooked up to my MacBook Pro and iPhone. My favourite situation was relaxing on the couch, laptop on lap, feet up on coffee table and speakers/amp placed in an equilateral triangle on the coffee table, drivers pointing at the ears (the speakers’ bases ensure the drivers fire upwards). The speakers were broken in for 25 hours before serious listening commenced.
The speakers combine woofer and tweeter making a crossover unnecessary, much like a Lowther design. Many one-enclosure aficionados espouse the detail, accuracy, and realism because the sound comes from a single voice coil. They also love the imaging and soundstage because the sound comes from a single point in space. I, too, love Lowther speakers. Now, these small Roth beauties will not replace big Lowthers (air still has to move in a space to replicate weight), but they do a very good job of imaging and soundstage, and of replicating the accurate timbre of instruments and voices.
I was surprised at the realism of pianos through the speakers. Richard Goode’s new Beethoven Piano Concerto cycle is usually close at hand. I sat in some awe of how beautifully the Roth speakers captured the subtlety and nuance of Goode’s exquisite touch. Much of the recording’s delicate underpinnings was heard through near-field listening, but, even set back in the room, the speakers did a fine job of projecting the music from the hall into the room.
I used my ‘free Tuesday iTunes’ download Starbucks mix (50 songs and counting) to hear how the speakers do on popular music, both acoustic and amplified. Very well, as it happens. The singers’ voices sounded really natural. Only heaving drumming sounds a little constricted. The speakers’ rating down to 70 hZ means only some mid bass is heard. Any real heft and weight is missing — my only true caveat with these speakers. They won’t play bass like A5s and the like [see Roth's explanation for this above]. But, the speakers (with help from the good amplifier) will play for hours with no fatigue to the listener. Most computer speakers I’ve heard, drive me out of the room after a couple of hours. This fatigue free environment is testament to Roth’s design ingenuity and parts quality.
Without any doubt on my part, Joey Roth’s The Ceramic Speakers are the best computer specific audio solution I’ve heard. They are so very musical. Yes, the low bass is missing — I guess metal heads should look elsewhere (or, is a sub in the works, Joey?) — but the tessituras that are there replicate the music faithfully. I listened for hours through Roth’s system. The listening continues daily.
What is in no doubt is the brilliant style of the design. Quality parts, reasonable price, stunning visuals and an unencumbered, beautiful sound make The Ceramic Speakers an obvious choice for a Audiophilia Star Component Award.
[It is with great pleasure that we award The Audiophilia Star Component Award to the The Ceramic Speakers by Joey Roth. Congratulations! - Ed]
The Ceramic Speakers by Joey Roth
625 Scott St., San Francisco, CA 94117
Source: Manufacturer Loan