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As David Kan reported in his Maximus review, Mark & Daniel's "compound artificial marble is similar to DuPont's Corian, more than twice as dense as MDF and less easy to break than natural marble... The compound marble skin is 12mm thick and backed by a 5mm MDF liner that's spray-painted white to give an overall strength equivalent of 30mm MDF. Do not underestimate this 5mm of MDF. It plays a vital part in conjuring the warmth and musicality that most exclusively stoned cabinets lack. The tweeter and bass compartments are completely independent and separate chambers, the former being very shallow and just deep enough to contain the DREAMS module. Both chambers are generously lined with 20mm thick polyfoam to further damp cabinet vibrations."

Put differently, Ruby has been very seriously engineered. She isn't just some V-grooved box with fiberglass wads and two drivers stuck in. For the money asked, she in fact offers an uncommonly comprehensive bag of tricks. That's rather unexpected from a young firm. Usually, emerging companies work up to acquire the resources to eventually offer custom drivers, composite chassis and this amount of finish options. They don't launch fully made. As the newest member of the Mark & Daniel speaker family -- Apollo II excepted -- Ruby also benefits from lessons learned with the preceding models. It's quite the mature package then.

Naturally, Ruby renders flat-chested tube amps as redundant as punctured life vests. Unless one cherished drowning in self pity. I would resort to my Bel Canto e.One S300, a 300wpc into 4ohm Class D amp to go Ruby to the max. That was expected. Would my cherished AudioSector Patek SEs work when bridged to 100-watt mono? As chip amps, they're not exactly advertised as digging sub 4-ohm loads. And bridging halves impedances to 2 ohms then. Would my Eastern Electric M520 work for non-critical background listening? Those were reasonable questions.

Another was tonal balance. I expected a rather buxom power response from the AMT. How would it balance against the lack of bottom octave presence - fast and transparent but lean and with relentlessness and eventual fatigue thrown in for good measure? Or more musically relevant rather than ruthless recording monitor precision? Either way, I could sense a long-term liaison in the wings. I needed a challenging miniature speaker to add high-power high-current amplifiers to my vocabulary of review options. This one had suitable written all over it. If it also sounded good, suitable would turn brilliant and my ongoing search on that topic could finally be over. The reason tiny is a humongous virtue in my case is that as reviewing tools aka office equipment, ball-bustin' amp-for-breakfast-eatin' speakers need to pack up neatly in a closet while not on assignment.

To run them in a bit, I strapped them to the 18-watt Raysonic SE-30A paralleled EL34 SET integrated. Preceding that was the Supratek Cabernet Dual. It would pass a higher-than-normal CD signal to the inputs of the Raysonic which also needed break-in for its forthcoming review. Careful to not overload its first stage, I killed two flies with one swat and netted satisfactory-enough sound pressure levels to somewhat cheat on Ruby's law that only manly amps may apply as suitors. I also presampled my AudioSector Patek SE. Simply run as a 50-watt stereo amp fronted by a 27dB max gain tube preamp with valve regulators (its adjustable gain factor set to third attenuation stage, again to not overload the amp), the puny little box on the floor between the speakers played the Rubies louder than necessary so power was sufficient.

Just how compact the Rubies are occurs to you only on first actual encounter. In the stone rather than flesh. That's even if you'd paid due attention to the dimensional specs before. A peppery expletive is bound to follow regardless. "You gotta be kidding!" That'll be the PG13 version. Of course there are plenty of minuscule life-style speakers on the market. But none quite claim advanced audiophile ambitions with a straight face. At least not without a subwoofer or costing way more (in which case they ain't this shrunk). Knowing of Ruby's claims as dominatrix of this sector ... well, let's just say you wouldn't be rational if doubts didn't vehemently call on your critical faculties.

This is to say, the Rubies are possessed of major wow factor by design, regardless of how good or not they'll sound in the end. If they played loud -- which I had every reason to believe they would once appropriately fed -- and cast the perfectly predictable insane wall of sound, most non-audiophiles would be sold in a heartbeat. Just because of how small the Rubies are for doing all that out of proportion business. However, audiophiles are made of sterner stuff. Our kind doesn't capitulate so easily when faced by cheap parlor tricks. Beyond the obvious mini monitor strengths, how serious would this wannabe dominatrix turn out to be - really and truly?

Being less than a foot tall, the usual 24" speaker stands will be too short for Ruby to properly align her drivers with the listener's seated height. So a 28-incher is called for. Mark & Daniel naturally offer one that perfectly matches function and cosmetics. You could easily substitute it with a generic stand of your choice if their $700/pr asking price for the synthetic marble version seemed too steep (beauty does have its price as any woman will tell you). The optional stand here features a hollow dress column for speaker cables.

If you value faux that's virtually indistinguishable from the real, the Yellow Jade finish requested for review is the color to get for the Ruby. Unlike the solid colors, it contains subtle speckling that does rather suggest real stone, say albino granite if there were such a thing. Having selected it from large-sized photos in case I was going to purchase the review loaners -- I knew "suitable" from their mere specs -- I was very happy with the delivered effect. Off-white such as German Mercedes taxis traditionally favor is how I'd describe the tone color to someone over the phone. Elegant and subdued without being stark or cold. Though assembled from panels, the entire enclosure seems molded of one piece since seams or joints are utterly invisible. Set in stone.

Mark & Daniel's grill solution is equally trick. Threaded and magnetized standoffs screw into four retainers and the thin grilles with their detent metal receivers snap right on. Prefer Ruby permanently in the nude? Don't use the standoffs.

The packaging is professional and my dispatch arrived in mint condition from Shanghai. A 30-page full-size booklet with professional photography was included and introduces the entire lineup with comprehensive descriptions, technical background, company philosophy, application and installation notes and warranty info (1-year).

In short, this company may have flown below our radar thus far but they certainly have done their home work and seem committed to making a top-notch impression well before the first CD is cued up.

In my case, the first music encounter came at the hands of Tord Gustavsen's The Ground [ECM 1892], an elegiac Norse
piano trio. Let's just say that even stone-cold from the box and with this dynamically benign fare, Harrald Johnsen's double bass was unexpectedly potent even from the cheated 18-watt SET. Yet sufficient SPLs aren't the same as control by a long shot. Switching to my bridged chip amps, the preamp's volume control didn't exceed 9:00 o'clock. Yet bass control went to a whoal nutha place. And at long-term high outputs with material filled with low-frequency transients, the tiny amps ran far hotter than I ever knew they could get. They were working. They were sweating like a hard labor chain gang. That's because bridged, they were seeing half the Ruby's already low impedance. The LM3875 chip won't auto protect until it reaches 165°C. Then it shuts down to cycle back on at 155°C. However, I never reached those extreme temperatures to limit operations. That was testament to designer Peter Daniel's efficient heat sinking with absolutely massive copper bars direct-coupled to the chips. Since I didn't seem to be tapping the small 3dB headroom afforded by power doubling, I eventually switched back to 50-watt stereo operation. This avoided undue impedance punishment for the amp in bridged mode. Yet doubling the effective power supply behind the supplied voltage seemed to afford further bass control for killer LF tracks like "Gold Dust Bacchanalia" on Mychael Danna's Kamasutra soundtrack.

Because the flat AMT tweeter's lateral dispersion is very limited, only full toe-in -- no visible sidewalls from the seat -- will deliver the speaker's innate voice. Lesser directness can deliberately attenuate the AMT's perceived output if desired. That will be a function of placement. How far are the speakers spaced? How far away do you sit? Limited dispersion for the top five octaves also means that this speaker is less prone to sounding utterly different in this band from room to room. Side-wall reflections play a lesser role than usual above 500Hz.

"Ruby Dearest, Yours Really and Truly"
At first, Ruby seemed to occupy the enemy camp where my Zus were concerned. Those harken back to a time when tone was king. The notion of hyper-realist detail had yet to be coined. Bows to contemporary sensibilities are rendered by their massive bass arrays and -- in my Pro version -- the employ of a pro-world equalizer to massage the 20-40Hz octave for flat or even rising in-room response. The Rubies however appeared as caffeine-addled detail freaks. Contemporary rather than retro 21st century denizens. HF information overload was counter-imbalanced by what at first sounded like a seriously pumped-up bass alignment. The 40-60Hz band was too rich while the midband was comparatively shy. A saddle contour in other words.

For a fully liberated free-floating soundstage and proper bass balance, Ruby needs breathing room. Otherwise, there could be too much bass. That's not a typo. This is not -- I repeat, not -- your typical UK monitor deliberately designed for domestic tranquility via close wall placement. If Ruby was attending a party, she'd not be a girl clinging to the shadows of the walls. She'd be in the center of attention underneath the bright lights in the middle of the room. To get Ruby to fully strut her stuff meant getting her away from the front wall - by about two meters at least in my bigger room. Think born to be free and don't fence me in.

Bass is shocking, period. There's still life at 30Hz, rolled off naturally but sufficiently present to mix in and support a very robust midbass. For reference, check out the heart beat that begins 2½ minutes into "Ancient Love" on Anoushka Shankar's breakout album Rise [EMI 7243-5-80295-2-9]. The synth component mixed into the bass beat one octave lower is clearly audible - not in room-lock fashion as on my Zus but more than too faintly hinted at. That's simply otherworldly for a speaker this size. Unbelievable in fact.

I'll put it to you this way. If the average trade show exhibitor just left their monkey coffins at the factory and instead played their $100,000 electronics tower on these $1,600/pr miniatures, they'd be the talk of the show even with the most jaded cynics. Like the Platinum Solo of yore, the Rubies will play unreasonably loud for their size. While you could out-room them in a castle or monster manse of course, average-sized rooms such as most of us have (or show exhibitors are consigned to in hotel bedrooms) pose no challenge. Naturally, the bigger the room, the less eventual room gain. However, my experience suggests that Ruby's not in need of room gain. Undue boundary reinforcement in fact turns her into a freak of nature. Massive silicone bass implants. And Ruby's not that kind of girl. These comments reflect the above short-wall setup inside a 16' w x 21' d x 9' h room with an openly adjoining 15' x 35' living/kitchen space beyond the left speaker. The aggregate cubic air volume facing the speakers thus already exceeded their commonly anticipated habitat by 100%. Yet they were right at home (below for size comparison next to my Zus).

Solid playing time suppled up the woofer suspensions relatively quickly to where their upper reach filled out. When that process concluded, first impressions had to be eradicated and rewritten for seconds (which subsequently had to be amended for the appearance of the Omni Harmonizer for a third but final time). Second opinions were as follows: the spec'd 35kHz tweeter extension coupled to its beaucoup surface area and velocity-charged dynamics made for a rather livelier high frequency balance than I'm accustomed to. But unlike with standard tweeters, this one extends its particular qualities a good octave lower into the mix. That avoids top heaviness. Add the potent midbass and surprising support below. The grounding necessary for a pleasing overall tonal balance has been accomplished. Yes, to an uncommonly high degree, this speaker is then still about articulation and detail retrieval.

But this detail is no longer freakish in nature. It no longer overamps your synapses as it did cold out of the box. What remains freakish is Ruby's ability to still overload a room at truly elevated levels when the port tuning frequency gets hit. For best results I would not suggest electronics voiced too leanly of course. The well-known image density factor of my Pateks in fact was a wonderful match. For supreme thermal calm under duress, enter the ICEpower e.One S300. It was somewhat leaner and cooler overall than the chip amp but even more robust in the nether reaches. Good grief, Ruby - this stretched incredulity to the breaking point even hearing it for myself. And the amp was running cool and completely unfazed by all these big-wooferish highly damped antics. (If you do vinyl and have a rumble or subsonic filter, engage it. Ruby's excursion legs are exceptionally long. But they don't go on forever).

Surprisingly, I did not entirely care for the ICE amp's upper treble portrayal at this point. Where the Pateks were devoid of glare or etch, the Bel Canto amp evidenced subtle HF hash, nearly a kind of very fine ringing in fact. I heard this on vocal peaks, sitar overtones, right-handed piano tinkles, cymbals and as a pervasive sense of inner-ear pressure. While I've always suspected something about the treble of so-called digital amps -- more so with some than others -- I've never had a sufficiently potent tweeter on hand to actually demonstrate it outright. It only registered as subliminal pressure before. I was tempted then to write it off as imagination fueled by the common knowledge about how much ultra-sonic switching garbage such amps must filter out. Now I patently heard something. Perhaps there are some artefacts of phase interactions within the audible band after all that telegraph on the right/wrong speakers? In round three, this suspicion abated.

For now, let's consider Ruby's Achilles heel in all seriousness. Amplifiers. The ultra-low output impedance of the Bel Canto amp and its potent 300wpc 4-ohm reserves aptly demonstrated her unreal bass potential. Unleashed. That requires muscle. Simultaneously, you need high-class performance especially in the high frequencies to work with the AMT. As the Pateks showed, it's a beautiful and fast transducer. As the Bel Canto proved, it can get edgy and exhibit bite in the upper treble if the amp is mismatched.
Make no mistake, the Pateks are not soft amps. The requirement doesn't seem for a rolled-off amplifier. Rather, it's for one with the right kind of treble. Because of power needs, tube amps nearly by definition are out. (My Eastern Electric M520 as amp fronted by the Supratek in higer-gain mode was fine for casual sessions at somewhat subdued levels but expectedly ran out of steam otherwise.) Naturally, valved exceptions exist though they likely won't be that affordable. The new Supratek Malbec at $3K could be a reasonable contender. You see the dilemma. To find a refined muscle amp will cost money. You'll probably be shopping outside Ruby's own price range. I'd recommend the Patek for sonics but 50-watt stereo power on a lower-gain preamp than mine could prove insufficient headroom for you. That's hard to predict. One would expect that Mark & Daniel's own A-400 integrated with 400wpc into 2 ohms (700 mono into 4) is a suitable mate. It's even got composite panels front, back and top.

In the end, Ruby deserves super amps like Pass Labs XA-100, McCormack and Odyssey Audio Stratos Extreme. Or a Moscode or Abbingdon Music Research hybrid. I deliberately cued up a known bass bottomer-out track -- Mercan Dede, Nefes, "Moyan Alitu" - Double Moon 033] to see whether Ruby would cry Uncle. She did. But there was nothing whatsoever wrong with the SPLs before I made her do it. Any driver can be made to hit its stops. You'll have to really push with strong synthesized 25Hz pulses as this track does deliberately before the SX woofer will show its limits. Small it may be but it's got amazing reach and excursion. So don't think for one moment that any of the amps mentioned would be wasted on such a petite lady. Just don't do submarine depth charges on movies. This is a music transducer that runs wide open on the bottom and apparently doesn't insert a rev-limiting filter so LF extension is maximized.

So, this isn't a laid-back but intense speaker. Intense in a good colorful way, with kick-boxing jump factor and completely counter-intuitive fullness. Don't even think about adding a subwoofer. It'd completely screw things up. If for some reason you simply must have more bass than Ruby delivers in a sanely sized room, step up to the Maximus or Aragorn. That's why they're in the line - to scale up output capabilities while lowering F3. Do not add a bass box. The secret to Ruby's stunning of-a-piece coherence is its two-way soul. That's why even the biggest speaker Mark & Daniel make remains a 2-way, the Apollo with its dual 10-inchers bracketing a monster AMT in a reverse 3-2 d'Appolito array. To buy speakers from these gents only to alter their core recipe would be outright criminal. So no sub, please.

"Ruby Dearest, Really and Truly Mine"
From suitable to surprising to brilliant. That's how this courtship evolved. It's not the same as the Zu aesthetic. And why would I want to duplicate that, just by different means? It's different too from the Gallo Reference 3.1s. As well as the Rubies soundstage, Gallo's omni tweeter still goes beyond. It might surprise you to learn however that Ruby's midrange is warmer and fuller. Whether that's really the case or an acoustic illusion brought on by how butch this miniature deals with the midbass power zone of the music is academic. The subjective impression in the listening seat is that Ruby's meat zone is more robust and less electrostatic than the Gallos. That too is a good thing. Why would I want to duplicate the Gallo sound I already enjoy? To be clear and on balance, the Rubies share far more with the Gallos than the Zus. Those two are more overtly resolved. I believe that's a function of two unconventional high-output tweeters and small midrange transducers.

Round 3 is where things got positively brilliant while also messing heftily with popular because apparently reasonable preconceptions. I'd ordered a pair of Omni Harmonizers in custom Jade Yellow. This 7kHz - 35kHz add-on ambience tweeter sports three hot terminals to match output power to speaker sensitivity. Speakers 88dB and lower are recommended and minus 2.5 and 5dB of cut can be achieved by simply connecting the hot lead of your jumpers to the appropriately marked terminal.

You'd think that adding "white noise" and tizz atop an already very dynamic tweeter as we have in Mark & Daniel's AMT would be too much. Exactly wrong. The polar opposite occurs. Things get warmer and tone colors flesh out just a skoch, assuming a more satiny texture more than anything else.

It's instant, demonstrable and repeatable. Rather than sharpening image lock, adding the Omni at minus 5dB relaxes it. I'd set up the Rubies in our dedicated but small media room, essentially a 2-channel near-field environment anchored by Sony's 32" WEGA CRT. Run off the Bel Canto and preceded by the Music First Audio Passive Magnetic, Ruby's tweeter and potential lack of tone had nowhere to hide with these essentially neutral components. Expectedly and without the Omnis, textures were lean. Tonal balance wasn't. Bass was fabulous in fact. Yet the combination of near field position, driver reflexes and all lack of additive harmonics
did make for a somewhat whiter, starker presentation than I fancy. I could of course have added the Wyetech Jade tube preamp and remedied that but I was in a mood for truth and consequences.

Imagine my wholesale shock when adding the Omni acted like a subtle injection of octal textural elegance all on its own, no tubes required. Additional benefits were an even deeper soundstage -- images clearly outside the window behind the speakers when depth cues put them there -- and a more relaxed, fluffier overall mien.

Removing the dispersion lens and magnetically fixed round grill to put my ear directly above the upfiring tweeter while playing caused a bad case of mosquitoes. I felt like a swarm of buzzing gnats had invaded my inner ear. There was considerable output from the tweeter, quite opposite to the perception it caused in the listening seat where overall treble temperatures had gone down, not up.

What all this amounts to is an end to my search for the ultimate tuck-in-a-bag über speaker that'll give wimpy amps the fantods and even put the squeeze on stout paper specs that don't really deliver power below 4 ohms. Just as already owner David Kan had promised me in his e-mails -- humorously vouching his staff membership for it -- Ruby is a true knockout. She is one stunning accomplishment,
coming seemingly out of nowhere. She's from a small specialist manufacturer of unusual dedication, leading them to develop their own drivers, then perfecting gorgeous composite cabinetry without overcharging. (To drive this latter point home, the Apollo previously shown is $16,000/pr and intended primarily for pro applications. The scaled-down Apollo II as Mark & Daniel's statement home use effort is $11,800/pr). Ruby also is a high-maintenance babe and demanding mistress when it comes to prospective amplifier suitors, getting the best from her tweeter and all-around breathing room. In short, she's absolutely perfect for what I wanted and the Omni makes her even more so. My check has already cleared. Ruby dearest is all mine now. Truly and really. And yes, she does cotton to the Omni. So the Pateks will simply have to sweat it whenever they go mano-i-mono against her. More importantly, powerful Class A amps are henceforth welcome to enter my new Ruby challenge. Casa Ebaen is no longer for small-power valve amps. (David's comments to follow)

As it turns out per the 30-page booklet, her name actually is Maximus-Ruby. Though I'll continue to think of her secretly as Ruby Dominatrix. Make of that what you will. Just don't tell my wife.
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