Dominic Marsh takes a listen to two somewhat unusually designed loudspeakers from UK manufacturer RMB. The larger floorstanding 22/3 model costs £1850 a pair and the smaller 12/3 standmount costing £1200. 

Not just one but two loudspeaker models from RMB Loudspeakers landed at Dominic towers, delivered in person no less by Richard Best (Mr RMB) himself. That was one heck of a long drive in one day down to me in Cornwall from West Yorkshire and back again. Have to admire the man’s stamina.

RMB Loudspeakers Model 22/3

Construction(Model 22/3)

Anyway, rather than the usual rectangular boxes with drivers mounted on the front, these RMB speakers have a five sided construction utilising 18mm heavy grade stained Birch plywood and visible as such without any camouflage to obfuscate that fact. I found it not unattractive and a refreshing change from the customary painted, veneered or high gloss finishes.

The Model 22/3 is a true floor standing speaker but not in the accepted sense; it is a largish speaker for sure in measuring 1,050mm high by 330mm wide by 230mm deep, but it has built-in legs and there is a good reason for that as this is a reflex ported design with two bottom reflex ports firing downwards.

Cabinet construction is as stated before, of 18mm Birch plywood with considerable internal bracing. All edges have been rounded off so there are no sharp corners and then finally stained and clear varnished all round including the rear and bottom of the cabinets. The review sample had a pale honey colour. There are four colour tint choices available, Natural, Whiskey, Chestnut and Black Ink. I asked Richard Best what happens if prospective buyers would like another colour other than RMB’s standard palette, his response was that plywood is very difficult to finish off to a perfectly smooth substrate, so the tinted and lacquered finish is the best compromise, although he is open to other finishes or for buyers to finish off how they please themselves. I was going to ask for a Hifi Pig pink colour finish but discretion kept that request to myself.


Driver complement consists of a 28mm fabric dome tweeter with 2 x 145mm mid/bass drivers with natural fibre cones. What is unusual with the RMB designs is the sloping front driver baffle plate which aligns the drivers at an upwards jaunty angle. And no, I didn’t measure the actual angle, hence use of the word “jaunty”!

Detachable grilles are supplied, which are a simple wooden lath frame covered in a thin and very transparent black fabric, held to the speaker baffle by small neodynium magnets. These dropped off at the slightest touch during the evaluation and I understand that RMB have remedied this in current builds by fitting stronger magnets.
Model 22/3 – priced at £1,850.00 per pair at time of review.

Sound (Model 22/3)

I was given to understand that the review samples already had some running hours on them, so the evaluation began straight away with the speakers tight up against the rear wall as instructed.

My first impression was how clean and clear they sounded. With a baffle plate angled upwards I was expecting the imaging and sweet spot to be somewhere above my head, but to my surprise this wasn’t so, the imaging placed firmly between the speakers at roughly ear height. Of course, a clean sound also suggested some lightness in the bass registers and more detailed listening confirmed this to be true. Bass went down into the low registers and well defined for sure, probably into the high 40’s in Hertz terms, but lacked weight and body, particularly so in the upper bass/lower midband. I moved the speakers away from the rear wall and this actually lifted bass output slightly. Now rather than actually class this as a “fault” per se, I was trying to figure out and put into words what section of the listening audience would welcome this because not all audiophiles desire a deep prodigious bass output and some are also very mindful of neighbours who might be affected, so in that context this speaker would suit really well. Leaving that aside then, the treble was extended and very natural without being harsh or splashy, cymbal strikes having a crisp realism, while midband was uncongested, with female vocals sounding rather sublime and sweet.
I certainly wouldn’t class this speaker as marrying well with rock or indeed bass heavy pop music and I would be just a tad hesitant to say jazz fans would also be similarly enamoured with that lack of upper bass power. But, feed them some acoustic, chamber music, female vocals, even orchestral pieces and they really did shine with their soft delicate touch and accurate clarity, untangling some rather complex music with ease.

However, when I listened to my benchmark recording in the shape of Fink’s “Wheels Beneath My Feet” live album, the RMB 22/3’s were fighting an unequal battle they simple could not win. Qu’elle surprise. Track 12 “Sort of Revolution“ has a pounding kick drum underpinning the entire track, plus some serious Floor Tom whacks the drummer also inflicts on his drum kit and by golly my listening room certainly vibrates if a speaker passes that benchmark test. The RMB 22/3’s gave almost a polite whimper in that area, lacking the outright slam and weight I would normally expect, although the audience was crisply clear and a delight to listen to, so in the 22/3’s defence, they didn’t render the audience sounding like bacon sizzling in a frying pan and so give credit where it’s due. Treble was pin sharp and very well focused.

All in all I cannot and would not criticize any aspect of the 22/3 speakers performance. I did a web search for people that actually WANT less bass output because of neighbor problems or they simply preferred a reigned back bass quantity and I was to surprised to learn that there are a good number of audiophiles who fall into that category and they might well be reading this review with interest because of that.

RMB Loudspeakers Model 12/3
Construction (Model 12/3)

The evaluation pair of these speakers are a pre-production example and will differ from the finished production sets. The review pair were stained a dark green colour (it’s actually black ink tint)with a high gloss clear lacquer top coat and to me it looked very nice indeed and yes I would say “different” from the general rectangular or cuboid box shape speaker herd they compete with.

Similar in shape to it’s larger sibling with a sloping front baffle plate, the same driver complement and five sided carcass, there the similarities ended. These are deemed to be stand mounted speakers with their own custom designed stands, bolted firmly to the bottom of the cabinet with two bolts. Naturally, they could also be shelf mounted without the stands.

Needless to say they are taller than they are wide and the depth is relatively shallow, with a rear mounted reflex port and single wire speaker terminals. No grilles were supplied with the review pair but I assume the production models will come commensurately equipped.
Price at time of review – £1,200.00 per pair

Sound Quality (Model 12/3)

As I said in the ‘construction’ section above, although there were common similarities between the 22/3 and the 12/3 models, it was the sound quality that really did differentiate the two, so there apparently isn’t a “house sound” that RMB are striving for. And that has to be admired, because people actually want different “flavours” of sound from any speaker manufacturer.

Whereas the 22/3 had a lighter touch to the sound, the 12/3 was even handed from top to bottom of the audible spectrum with no peaks or troughs at all. Bass in particular was full bodied and articulate, dare I say punchy too when called upon to be so. Being rear ported though meant the speaker was at it’s happiest around 10 – 15cm away from the rear wall in my own listening room. Treble clarity was astonishing in it’s ability to pick out the tiny nuances in music and present it naturally rather than spot lit.

With that increase in bass output over the 22/3 model I was sort of expecting it to drown out the fine treble qualities the tweeters could output, but mercifully that was not evident at all during the listening sessions. Imaging was precise and three dimensional, with instrument placement easily discernible, extending out just beyond the speaker boundaries. Imaging depth or height wasn’t huge but more than acceptable.
I listened to my benchmark recording in the shape of Fink’s “Wheels Beneath My Feet” live album, the RMB 12/3’s fared so much better than their larger siblings. Track 12 “Sort of Revolution“ has that pounding kick drum underpinning the entire track, plus some serious Floor Tom whacks the drummer inflicts on his drum kit and by golly my listening room certainly vibrates if a speaker passes that benchmark test and so it was with the 12/3 model, so that brought a big smile to my face. I was starting to like these speakers for their finesse and some raw power too as they showed their capabilities.

On to Hugh Masakela’s “Hope” album which as some of you will know has a good measure of dynamics that a system will deliver with verve and accuracy, or simply mangle it. Trumpet in particular can have some raspy tones with a rough blare to it and to be truthful that must be evident to keep it realistic although well controlled to be rendered well and a fine line to tread for any speaker. Happy to inform you that’s exactly how the 12/3 speakers handled this instrument, so no concerns there and that was another benchmark test passed.
I suppose the real test was could I live with either of these speakers on a permanent basis? My own personal tastes are for a speaker to be accurate, fast and exciting with a big healthy bass and I couldn’t say the 22/3’s or 12/3’s fit that bill entirely. Yes, they could pick up their skirts and serve up some fast transients but I yearn for pin sharp leading edges and equally fast recovery, but this review is not about what I look for in any speaker, it is about me describing what I hear and for you the reader to decide whether they merit an audition, so I will sum up now what those qualities are.

Conclusion

The 22/3’s have a soft and gentle bass output, which does in fact go quite well down into the lower registers. It is the upper bass that doesn’t have a lot of energy and it is that which gives the perception there isn’t a lot of bass content. Not a true “fault” because a lot of people don’t like big heavy tub thumping bass anyway, or they have neighbours to consider and in that respect these speakers would suit those situations well. On the positive side, the treble and midrange are a delight and there is more than enough pace, midrange clarity, nuances and fine details to keep you entertained. They do not sound shrill or harsh and as such they are superb for intended listening sessions without fatigue.
The 12/3’s on the other hand do have a more even handed frequency response and can kick out bass that the 22/3’s simply don’t, which will probably in reality make them to be the more popular model.
Both of them are entirely hand built to order and very well too I might add. Richard didn’t give me any lead times but it really is only the final cabinet finish that determines the timescales so I don’t foresee an overly extended wait for delivery.

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality: (Both models)
Given that they are entirely hand built, the finish is exceptional with attention to details some other speaker manufacturers seem to ignore, like around the back of the cabinets and underneath too.

Sound Quality:(22/3)
If you like big powerful room shaking bass then these speakers are not for you. A lot more subtle in presentation and your complaining neighbours will love you for that.

Sound Quality: (12/3)
Of the two speaker models, the 12/3 has a more even frequency response with a more conventional sound to them that will surely make many friends.

Value For Money: (Both Models)
Hand built from the ground up isn’t cheap to do, yet these speakers are not overpriced in that respect. 

Pros:
Superb hand built quality and good value for money. Sound of the 12/3 will win many friends, while the 22/3 model will also have a band of dedicated followers with it’s particular attributes.
Cons:
An unusual cabinet design may not be to everyone’s tastes.

Dominic Marsh

 

You must be logged in to leave a reply.

Real Time Web Analytics