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Daedalus Audio DA-RMa loudspeakers
In Search of the One True DA-RMa

June 2009


It isn’t that I intentionally seek out small, artisanal companies from which to review product; it's just that Dave Wilson and Mark Levinson never call, or email for that matter. But I'm not bitter.

In the meanwhile, I've had the great pleasure over the years of discovering that such smaller, more artisanal companies often construct products more closely in line with the particular sonic vision of one or two founders free from the bottom-line-based, market-driven concerns of more global companies. Plus- I don’t have to tell you about the thrill of owning something everyone else does not. That’s half the fun!

Sure, some of these smaller companies quickly go bust as a result of their more artistically-minded business models, but the ones that last often develop loyal, almost cult-like followings (Naim comes to mind) and continue to refine a few unique products that express the essence of what the founder feels high fidelity is all about.

Along these lines, Lou Hinkley, president, founder and head car washer over at Daedalus Audio agrees with me that some of audio’s larger, more mass-producing companies perhaps used to have a unifying sonic vision, but once they expanded, that vision got diluted out of necessity in an attempt to maintain a sales level that paid all the workers and kept a roof over the expanding factories. Completely understandable; understandable, but often detrimental to the end result. Lots o’ decent sounding, well-measuring boxes of differing heights with three choices of veneer- but where’s the artistry? Oh the humanity! Or lack thereof.

That's why I and my fellow coffee geeks will take an espresso from Joe the Art of Coffee or Cafe Grumpy in Manhattan over Charbucks every time!


You Rook Mah-valous! Absorutely Mah-valous!

I just happened to be listening to Johnny Cash's 'The Man Comes Around' on my Quad 63’s off the ‘American IV’ album [American 440 063 339-2] when the UPS man himself quite literally came around to deliver the three boxes containing the Daedalus DA-RMa speakers and matching stands.

The speakers were sandwiched between dense foam end caps overlayed with thin wooden panels at each end acting as extra Kevlar against the whiles of cross-country transit by Big Brown. Like a kid at Hanukkah, I put Johnny on 'pause' and upended one of the Daedalus boxes. As I poured one of the DA-RMa monitors slowly onto a carpeted floor, my first thought was ‘liquid chocolate.” Veneer, no matter how lustrous, suddenly errrr… lost its luster.

Seamless cabinet joinery, gracefully rounded edges and a trapezoidal anti-box all manifest here via the rich, old-world medium that is quilted American walnut. And here of course, with one of the DA-RMa’s still lying sideways upon my carpet like a felled tree, is where I crossed my fingers and said unto myself thrice ‘please sound like you look - please sound like you look... please…’ Well, you get the idea.

Lou Hinkley is a hardwood man at heart; “we tried everything - it just sounds more real - no contest” and he came by his cabinet making stripes the old-fashioned way - he earned them via fifteen years of custom cabinet design for the pro audio world. Says Lou, “My early work with real instrument amplification showed that properly built solid hardwood [cabinets] got closest to the real thing.” He continued via email, “They are very stiff and have an uncanny ability to project the sound.”

Artisan that he is, Lou further extolled the aesthetic virtues of his chosen medium, but he needn’t have. These babies positively ooze old world craftsmanship and charm. During their time with me not one single visitor to my condom-minium failed to comment on their graceful countenance and regal bearing. For once, I had a medium-sized speaker in-room I wished were larger! In addition to their trapezoidal shape, presumably employed to keep internal standing waves at bay and thereby divest this ‘box’ speaker of any sonic boxiness, the DA-RMa’s employ a type of bass loading I have not come across previously; namely aperiodic loading. In this type of loading, a sheet of stiff fabric is stretched taught over the port holes internally, completely covering them and thereby creating a kind of hybrid between a sealed box and a traditional bass-reflex design. Lou claims such loading “functions much like a sealed cabinet and has almost no problems with the boominess usually associated with ported cabinets.”

While Mr. Hinkley will be happy to discuss with you the merits of the DA-RMa’s anti-box; the trapezoidal shape, employment of aperiodic woofer loading, rounded edges, and the development of its paper-coned, cloth-surround woofer, when it comes to the DA-RMa’s heart and soul; its circulatory system- the crossover, Lou is mum. I therefore have no clue as to what order such a network is or if indeed it is even of an order. For all I know, it is The Order of The Phoenix. Once you begin to listen to the Da-RMa however, if you’re anything like me, or like several of the various listener/visitors to my home who heard them properly set up, you will all but certainly cease to care.

Sitting. Listening. Spring comes; the grass grows by itself.

Initially, I placed Lou’s walnut sculptures smack bang next to my Quad ESL-63 electrostats with minor regard for toe in, spacing or positioning measurements. Just wanted to make sure they weren’t broken, really. They weren’t. Clumsy initial set-up notwithstanding, this well broken-in pair of DA-RMa’s presentation of Mr. Cash’s half-spoken ‘singing’ voice was already eerily similar to that of the ESL-63’s sitting quietly inches away. The chest, body and more importantly, the broken soul of the man- all there. I got into it too- toe tapping fun! Only Johnny Cash could craft a song about Armageddon that’s such a sing-a-long!

At first blush, the gestalt of the DA-RMa’s presentation was slightly more forward, though the Quads 63’s presentation strikes me as slightly distant (not so I’m told, for original Quad 57’s), which makes the DA-RMa’s overall perspective on things about ideal. Even in this preliminary just-see-if-they’re-broken set-up I started to take notice of the DA-RMa’s extraordinary soundstaging abilities. I hadn’t even set these things up ‘officially’ yet with lasers and such and here they were vanishing from the room and leaving behind ‘Les Miserables’ [Decca D202760] , all the while delivering impactful, agile, taught bass in a way few speakers I’ve had in-condo have done. About as coherent as my Quads, a touch warm tonally, and just about as quick on transients, they went about self-effacingly projecting a huge soundstage, particularly in the lateral dimension. For the first time in a couple of years I listened to the whole show in one stretch, all the while feeling absolutely no audiophiley urge to get off my gluteus and set up the speakers ‘properly!

Voices soared gloriously - Marius and Eponine and all the rest were either ‘right there’ up-close-and-personal or lost among a sea of choristers in a huge space, as the track dictated. Drums boomed without being boomy and low-level detail, like the separation of pianissimo background choral lines over sparse, pianissimo instrumentation, was ours for the taking.
I say ‘ours’ as my friend Deborah joined me for some of this early listening and after the explosive finish of the show, turned to me and said “Wow! Do all the speakers you get sound like this?! That’s amazing- it’s like we’re at the show! I like them better than those square ones. They sound more alive.” Ah- out of the mouths of audio babes/newbies. “Do you need a cigarette?” I joked.

In fact, once I got around to removing the Quads a few days later and giving the Da-RMa’s pride of place, it actually took me a couple days of playing around to replicate or exceed that initial sonic shock and awe. No accounting for dumb luck! Sensitive to placement yes, though not overly so, I ultimately settled upon a partially practicality-driven set-up that had the DA-RMa’s approx seven and a half feet apart center to center and myself ten or so feet from them, with the speakers toed-in so I could see two to three inches or so of their inside cabinet. They landed approximately four and a half or so feet from the front wall. Brief experimentation showed me a mildly more equilateral set-up with the speakers slightly more widely spaced and myself closer to them might have yielded even better results, though at the expense of less agile visitors being able to enter my living room gracefully from the foyer!

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