Newform Research R8-1-30 Ribbon Loudspeaker

      Date posted: April 24, 1997

Newform R8-1-30

Sugg. Retail (Direct, including delivery): $1650 pr ($1236 U.S.)
Size: 61″H x 9″W x 11″D
Manufacturer: Newform Research Inc.
P.O. Box 475, Midland Ont. L4R 4L3
(705) 835-9000 FAX 835-0081

(Reprinted from the Spring 1997 Audio Ideas Guide)

      Those close to me (who have fathomed my innermost secrets) know that I dislike THX, which in my view simply adds distortion to the system, particularly in the surrounds, and I also dislike the reason for this so-called “decorrelation”, the mono nature of the Dolby Pro Logic surround channel. These guys (Dolby and THX) learned nothing from the research of CBS Labs, Jim Fosgate and others into matrix surround systems. Sorry, Tom Holman, I didn’t get the gospel.

     But what I really hate are centre channel speakers, perhaps a necessary evil in systems where seating is widely spread, but to be avoided at all costs otherwise. In our reference system, with the Newform R8-1-30s as shown, with slightly wider placement at rear, an R8-2 centre channel ($400) supplied by designer John Meyer can be seen, but I preferred not to use it. It was simply unnecessary, and with Dolby Pro Logic, it screwed up imaging with music, the side channels pulling against the centre.

     It was a cute thing, with a baby 8″ ribbon (”Aw, gee, look at the little guy; say, hasn’t he got your nose? Chip off the old…”), but given the limited vertical dispersion of ribbons, it proved to not match well with the main speakers. On the floor this was less of a problem, but proximity was, the centre channel at least a foot too close. This can be fixed with the Yamaha and Meridian surround decoders reviewed last issue by adding digital delay, but why bother when the centre speaker isn’t needed?

     Speaking of limited vertical dispersion, that’s what designers of LCR speakers aim for in the D’Appolito configuration where the lobing between the two woofer/midranges and the central tweeter limits vertical midrange radiation. For what it’s worth this is also a THX requirement. Of course, when you turn these central tweeter arrays sideways for centre use, you get the same lobing effects horizontally, as has been seen in our previous measurements of these. Just another reason to avoid centre channels.

     The Newform ribbon is entirely designed by John Meyer (that’s pronounced Mayer, John being of Norwegian background on his father’s side), and built by Newform. Its principal radiation characteristics are naturally limited vertical dispersion by virtue of the height of the ribbon, and very wide horizontal dispersion because of its narrowness, with no diffraction effects in the absence of a baffle and very even frequency response over a wide axis. It also has no lobing problems, something I’ll expand on in discussing the axial measurements.

     These qualities make it ideal for home theatre because of almost complete timbral matching in any plane. A quartet of R8-1-30s (this model number, with John’s typical pragmatism, stands forRibbon-8″-woofer[1]-30″ ribbon) should, with discrete surround sources, provide seamless front, back, and side soundstages; it should also do so with a good matrix decoder with actual rear separation (more on this below).

     The R-8-1-30 is a front-ported design, as can be seen, and the woofer is crossed over to the ribbon at 1000 Hz. Sensitivity is claimed to be 88 dB, with a nominal 8-ohm impedance. Rear terminals are gold-plated, plastic-nut 5-way types in bi-wire configuration, with an additional set on top just behind where the ribbon mounts to the cabinet by screws; a supplied umbilical with gold-plated banana plugs at either end carries the treble signal from this top set to the ribbon. Cabinet finish is black woodgrain vinyl, the all-steel ribbon housing painted in a matte black.

     In our setup, it can be seen that the R-8-1-30 quartet wasused with the Paradigm PS-1200 subwoofer, with crossover set generally to somewhere between 50 or 60 Hz. The bass response of the Newform is pretty solid down into the mid-30s, the PS-1200 reinforcing this and extending it, as the measurements show, the sub nearfield response appended to the lower part of the set of axial curves.

R8-1-30 Frequency Response       But let’s go back to the top pair of curves, the overlaid Summed Axial Response (SAR, those below added together), and the Pink Noise Sweep (PNS). The SAR, because it adds together the nearfield low frequency measurements tends to exaggerate bass somewhat (which is why for more recent measurements I’ve abandoned it), so the smoother response of the PNS can be accepted as being more accurate; in listening, these speakers do not sound bassy, and mate with the sub very well, with a low (50 Hz) sub crossover point. The R8-1-30 achieves a superb +/-2 dB tolerance between 40 and 10,000 Hz, and as can be seen in the close matching of SAR and PNS through the midrange and treble and the close correlation of the axial curves below, it is this smooth over a 30o listening axis. Even the quasi-anechoic curve on axis is very linear.

     At the highest frequencies the ribbon is down a couple of dB, but remains strong to beyond 20 kHz, and doesn’t appear to have any ultrasonic resonances the way metal domes do. The 30″ ribbon is as well behaved a treble reproducer as I have measured, and its lab performance amply justifies John’s enthusiasm for it in our feature about tweeters.

     A pair of these speakers can form the acoustic end of a very fine high end audio system, and as a quartet, well, they make up as good a home theatre system as I’ve ever heard. The bass is solid in all quadrants, aided by the sub at the deepest reaches while upper octaves are smooth, sweet, and effortless. These speakers will handle power like few others their size, the ribbons having tremendous dynamics and no breakup modes whatsoever.

     Because of the excellent lateral dispersion, the individual speakers tend to disappear, but very exact imaging is provided by each line source: ambient cues at any point in the 4 soundstages (front, rear, and sides) are easily heard, especially with Dolby Digital soundtracks. No centre channel necessary (Note John’s WCES 97 button below). And, yes, the mixes are getting better and more enveloping.

     The other aspect of the Newform ribbon that should be emphasized is its speed: the dynamic capabilities are led by extraordinary transient capacity, the ribbon very quick and agile over its quite wide 1-to- 20+ kHz range. As can be seen in all the measurements, its transition to the 8″ dynamic woofer is virtually seamless.

R8-1-30 Impedence Curve      Looking at the impedance curve, we see the highest value at crossover, about 35 ohms, the low being about 7 ohms just above 100 Hz. With a rated sensitivity of 88 dB/watt, the R8-1-30 is quite easy to drive, and can handle 200 watts with aplomb. I drove it with several amplifiers, including our reference Sunfire Cinema Grand, which provides in this case 4 200-watt channels. Electrical phase varies by +/-45o through the crossover region, reflecting the higher-order crossover characteristics, but did not seem to affect the general coherence of sound heard.

     I’ve lived with the Newform quartet now for a couple of months, and have come to appreciate their honesty; next to them most other home theatre systems are decidedly coloured sonically. They may be more than a little odd looking, but I found myself quite used to their look after a while, especially in semi-darkness, in which they most definitely disappeared in sonic terms.

     I’ve known John Meyer a long time, and have to admit that I’ve taken his achievement in developing the Newform ribbon perhaps a little too much for granted. In this sense, maybe our friendship has worked against him. It took living with, and then measuring, the R8-1-30 for me to objectively realize how really good these speakers are, and how superbly well suited they are for high end home theatre systems. Simply put, reference quality.

Andrew Marshall

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