As a kid I my family took a trip from my home in Beavercreek, Ohio, to Boulder, Colorado, for a visit with my mom’s relatives. On the way we stopped in St. Louis, Missouri, for a day to take in a Cardinals baseball game and journey to the top of the St. Louis Arch. I was a huge baseball fan and any chance to catch a game outside my “home” Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati seemed as cosmopolitan an experience as a 10-year-old could imagine. Couple that with a story I had read about a guy who tried to catch a baseball dropped from the top of the arch, only to end up with a broken jaw, heightened the anticipation. It was a surreal ride, though, clumbering up the arch’s 630 feet of curvature via an enclosed tram. The little cars moved so slowly that it seemed forever to reach the top, but reach we did and were greeted to an astonishing view of the city.
When I came across Davone Audio’s RITHM speakers and their arching cabinets, that St. Louis experience of many summers past flooded my mind. Here was a loudspeaker like no other I had seen – as if IKEA had hooked up with Boeing to produce a forward-weighted boomerang that you’d want in the living room. The design is definitely Scandinavian – Davone is headquartered in Hillerød, Denmark. Call it furniture, call it art, all brought together in a loudspeaker. Thus, it didn’t surprise me that an aeronautical engineer – Davone’s Paul Schenkel – was responsible for the RITHM’s graceful, bird-like lines. Schenkel’s talents also extend to the fields of physics and acoustics, essential to getting an unconventional speaker design l like his off the ground.
Schenkel takes further inspiration from designers such as Oscar Niemeyer, Arne Jacobsen and Jørn Utzon, and writes, “I have been building speakers all my life, just like many people in the audio industry. With my interest in classic design I have never understood (and I still don’t) that there are no loudspeaker manufacturers that try something new with the cabinet shape and yet keep it stylish, non-technical, like the famous furniture design classics. Often in furniture design magazines I can see that in the background of a very stylish house there are speakers that clearly do not match the rest of the house.” To Schenkel, all objects are potential loudspeakers, but, obviously, not all objects are potentially “good” loudspeakers. The RITHMs go beyond potential thanks to some clever engineering:
1. The RITHM’s cabinet consists of 16 separate layers of wood. Its curved shape makes the cabinet very stiff and helps reduce vibrations.
2. Wood layers are held together by glue, which help further reduce vibrations by absorbing and transforming them into heat.
3. The tweeter is placed directly into the center of the woofer, creating a coherent, single-point, yet wide sound source – the highs and lows emerge from the same space, compensating for time-phase errors.
4. Because the front of the speaker holds the driver, the back can be tapered to take up less space and create some drama with the asymmetrical bow.
Send Me A Pair!
My RITHM hook-up was high-end audio distributor The Signal Collection, based in Cummings, Georgia, and headed by Chris Sommovigo. If that name rings a bell, it’s because Sommovigo has been in the business for many years as a designer and manufacturer of audio cables. Sommovigo was extremely helpful and thoughtful, marking up a placement map according to the dimensions of my listening space. The RITHMs are designed for medium-sized rooms, and mine fits that bill. “WAF” is an acronym that runs through the audiophile community. It stands for “wife-acceptance factor,” a light stab for those who need some extra ammunition before given the go-ahead to bust open the wallet. To me, the RITHMs have “LRAF” (living room acceptance factor) and could perk up any such space. As Sommovigo told me, “We’re not growing any new audiophiles. These speakers are intended for people who love fine things. Many folks think of a stereo as an appliance, but with the Davone we took a huge step out of the appliance category and into the fine furniture industry.” Sure, but how do they sound?
The day the RITHMs arrived, my FedEx driver looked a bit wild-eyed. I watched him disappear into his truck’s cargo and emerge with a titan of a box (two boxes, actually) wrapped in plastic. As he carted it down my sidewalk, I was wondering how to even get this package in the house. Thankfully, the contents weighed less than expected and I brought the speakers in for a reveal. Of the three finishes available (black oak, walnut and oak) I received the RITHMs in walnut, with sides painted in a black matte finish. If you like the idea of floor-stander but don’t want it to dominate a room, you’ll like the RITHM’s low profile: They stand 27.5 inches high and span approximately 23 inches from front to back foot. A single grill covers the coaxial driver – a 1-inch tweeter tucked into a 7-inch woofer – located about 2/3rds up the front of the speaker. Unlike most square cabinet speakers, the RITHMs are ported on the bottom of the front foot where the angled taper keeps the port off the floor. Binding posts are located on the lower back and they are very solid – two, gold-plated WBT plugs that accept bare wire, bananas (4mm) and spades – and form a tight connection to speaker cable. If you want to add spikes, there are two mounts on the bottom of the cabinet’s front and back.
Denmark meet Norway
Call it serendipity, but I had matching components on hand from Davone’s Scandinavian neighboor Norway – Electrocompaniet’s PI-2 Prelude amplifier and PC-1 Prelude CD player. With these I built a Nordic system, including isolation feet from Denmark’s Valhalla Technology. The only non-Scandinavian concerns were cables (RS Audio Cables) and turntable (Marantz).
Most speaker manufacturers recommend a certain amount of break-in before settling in for critical listening. The RITHMs arrived already well broken-in, however, so there was no lag from connection to audition. I’ll admit openly to loving the speaker’s looks without any consideration for the speaker itself. I was keen to treat the RITHMs as “lifestyle” speakers rather than just loudspeakers, but that changed the first time I listened. Sommovigo said he’s a big fan of the Norwegian-made driver, and that the coaxial design allows Schenkel to simplify the cross-over and not worry about driver off-set. I liked how the tweeter and woofer work in concert to create a large stereo image. The RITHMs have superb mid-range and bass that seems to dip lower than the speaker’s 50Hz limit. They are fleet – not super fast – but offer plenty of clarity, decay and sustain. These speakers can yield big sound, but need some power to perform. At 85dB sensitivity, the RITHMs behave like mini-monitors, so don’t be shy with wattage.
Steve Morse is one of my favorite guitarists, and his latest recording with the Steve Morse Band, Out Standing In Their Field, is a hearty smorgasbord of gritty rock, Dixie-Dregs-style fusion and delicate classical guitar stylings. It’s an energetic affair that blooms with Morse’s immaculately picked lines and bassist Dave LaRue’s liquid licks. Every song entrances, but while listening to “Relentless Encroachment,” drummer Van Romaine’s toms sounded so immediate that I thought someone was knocking on my front door.
A bit bored with my standard handful of reference recordings, I asked my wife to pick five CDs at random from our collection to test with the RITHMs. They follow and include my partial notes:
1. Jeff Buckley, Grace: Swell of guitars and vocals on the title track; vocals intimate and breathy.
2. Dave Swarbrick, It Suits Me Well – The TransAtlantic Anthology: British pub energy presented with a real, live feel. The master fiddler makes toes tap on jigs, reels and shuffles. Muscular mid-range.
3. Marillion, Brave: Lush and emotional presentation. Steve Hogarth’s vocal sounds in-the-room on “The Great Escape.”
4. The Beach Boys, Good Vibrations EP: Crisp tambourines and rounded bass on “Good Vibrations.” Loads of bass on “Let’s Go Away For Awhile.” The RITHM’s 7-inch woofer goes a long way to bring out the bass, even with its somewhat limited range. When paired with a sub, such as Velodyne’s Optimum 10 subwoofer, the soundstage broadened and deepened, leaving me wanting for nothing.
5. Queen, A Kind Of Magic: If the RITHMs sound dreamy, they never sound sleepy. On albums such as Queen’s A Kind Of Magic, where Roger Taylor’s drums are recorded very dry, the RITHMs will give you dry – but not brittle to the point of breaking.
A late-night listening session included Patrick Moraz’s ESP and The Moody Blues’ On The Threshold Of A Dream. The former is an album of solo piano compositions by the former Yes and Moody Blues keyboardist. I’ve heard plenty of piano recordings that were shrill and painful to hear, but Moraz brings out the harmonic richness of his instrument and the RITHMs serve to highlight his warm tone. Threshold’s dreamy music seemed to melt into the RITHMs. And if there’s a rub, it’s that the RITHMs may be too laid-back for some. They are smooth, and with the Electrocompaniet gear – also suave performers – the sound is warm, mellow and lustrous.
I hosted Thanksgiving this year, with most of my wife’s immediate family attending. After dinner, a group of us went upstairs to my listening room for a quick survey of some gear I had on hand to review, but none of the other equipment garnered such attention as the RITHMs. I explained the origin and design but folks really just wanted to listen. At the request of my wife’s uncle, I played Earmark’s 180-gram virgin vinyl reissue of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s debut album. This has long been one of my favorite records and recordings – the brute force of songs such as “Knife-Edge” are stunning when played back on good equipment. But “Lucky Man” got the nod on this eve, and we listened, nodding and smiling at the sustain and clarity heard throughout, especially during Keith Emerson’s famous Moog solo.
One guest worked for Crane Song, a Superior, Wisconsin, manufacturer of studio electronics whose building also houses a recording studio (Inland Sea). He brought over a CD recorded recently at Inland Sea and we listened through the RITHMs. The disc not only contained intriguing music but a beguiling analog-like sound that had more than one of us requesting a second play. That listening session was an important reminder that many non-audiophiles have very perceptive ears and can recognize the nuances of sound given the chance.
At their current price (MSRP $5,595), the RITHMs are not entry-level, and cost twice what I paid for my couch, but I can’t imagine another piece of “furniture” I’d rather have in my house. And last I checked, the couch had pretty poor sound. Easy on the eyes, lovely on the ears, the RITHMs are a triumph of design and execution. I await eagerly Schenkel’s next loudspeaker.