Joseph Audio RM22XL Floor-standing Loudspeakers Review

$6699 (Rosewood) or $6399 (Cherry)

4 Stars

Captain America arrives in NZ with Joseph Audio speakers. Can these cultured transducers save the hi-fi world? They sure have fun trying.

There are two distinctly traditional camps within the world of hi-fi and critical listening. One prefers the quintessential British sound of neutrality and faithfulness to the source popularised by the likes of Naim and Linn, and products such as the original Rogers LS35A BBC Monitor loudspeaker and LP12 Sondek turntable.

Then there are those who prefer the American sound, historically remembered for its brashness and fulsome bass and treble. Manufacturers such as Infinity, JBL, Carver and Citation spring to mind here with products such as the humongous IRS Gamma, the TI10K, and Carver Amazing loudspeakers, and the Citation XX/XXP pre-power combination.

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s in NZ there developed a leaning towards the classic British penchant for neutrality, eschewing the perceived ‘brightness and bass heavy’ sound of the American gear at the time. High end products from Monitor Audio, Arcam, Linn and co literally flew off the shelves, while the higher end gear from the aforementioned Yank manufacturers basically languished on the shop floor.

It was a pity really. For those un-smitten by the cross-Atlantic rivalry there were some real gems that provided a genuinely excellent musical experience – like the Carver Amazing and JBL TI10K loudspeakers, for instance.

The reality is that American companies just went about their business in a different way, and were no less entertaining – in fact, quite the opposite in a lot of cases.

Moving back to the present and you’ll still find American brands in audio shops throughout the country, but they’ll more than likely be in the budget category – like the Klipsch Synergy or the more entry level Polks. There’s nothing wrong with those speakers of course, but you’ll be struggling to find upmarket models from those manufacturers anywhere.

And this is what makes the arrival of Joseph Audio in NZ so interesting.

They are a boutique manufacturer of upmarket real-wood loudspeakers, from mini-monitors to large floorstanding monoliths, and the company has garnered an almost cult following for its products.

Arriving for the review were the RM22XLs, a generously sized floorstanding design of similar proportions to Proac’s iconic Response 2.5. It’s an attractive reflex ported 2-way speaker using a 165mm aluminium coned bass-mid driver and 25mm silk dome tweeter, and the review sample was clad in a gorgeous real-wood Rosewood veneer. The port arrangement is of note: it’s a wide rectangular opening that vents below the cabinet at the rear, and close inspection revealed the cabinet was partially divided with a length of thick MDF rather than just a gaping hole into the cabinet proper, and in some ways this is very similar to transmission line loading minus an extra fold or two.

The cabinet has to be bolted to a black plinth; this has a cut-out for the large rectangular port and metal inserts for the chunky carpet spikes that come with each speaker.

Importer Tom Davidson of Orange Road Audio kindly loaned me Rogue Audio’s 55wpc Cronus integrated tube amplifier and Moon’s gorgeous CD3.3 CD player (with D/A inputs) for review at the same time, and along with my Squeezebox Duet/Welborne PSU/DacMagic, this equipment formed the system for my listening tests. I used my Nordost Superflatline Bi-Wire Mk2 speaker cables, and Blue Heaven interconnects for the source, and once cabled and sited I was ready for action. My experiments resulted in positioning the speakers 300mm from the rear wall and well clear of any sidewalls. This resulted in excellent boom-free bass and allowed the speakers to image extremely well.

I’d describe the sound as being on the bright side of neutral, but this isn’t meant as a criticism – high frequency information sparkled and never sounded forced or harsh at all.

The RM22XLs specialise in imagery and a full extended bass register, while the open midband allow explicit detail in a ‘3D’ manner. I could definitely hear sounds emanating from the left and right of my seating position, and listening to my Kraftwerk collection was a delight – the analogue synths danced and shimmered to great effect, while bass transients impressed with depth and extension. There was a touch of bass bloom on some tracks, but not to the detriment of this reviewer’s enjoyment of the music. The sound of piano and the human female voice was realised when I placed Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes into the CD3.3’s disc tray, and here the RM22XL’s reproduction was terrific, her voice literally hanging in mid air between the speakers on tracks such as ‘Crucify’, while I could easily discern the sound of piano hammers hitting steel strings.

Once the Tori album finished it was time to get down and dirty with some old school funk, so I selected Funkadelic’s ground breaking Maggot Brain from the Squeezebox remote. This album is part funk, rock and psychedelia, and the RM22XL’s sounded great – nicely open and detailed, and funky basslines were easy to follow. The massed vocals on ‘Can You Get To That’ were a particular highlight, as each voice could be easily picked out from the mix.

Joseph Audio’s RM22XLs are certainly an impressive transducer, and although not particularly inexpensive they justify the asking price with a fine all-round high-end performance. GARY PEARCE

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