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Originally I had the Rubies set up in my largest listening room where I'd also auditioned Maximus-Monitor, using the Restek Radiant CD player with volume control as source directly feeding into the NuForce Reference 9. Then I added the Audio Zone passive preamp and soon discovered the immense potential Ruby had to offer. I decided to move to my piano room. I always wanted to have a pair of speakers that could match the grandiose authority of the piano sound - but I don't want huge speakers nor would my wife allow them. The Ruby is the perfect 'accompanist' to the piano, not to mention that it looks stylish with the matching stand, which has a conduit to run speaker cable through, keeping the room neat and tidy. (I promised my wife I'd tidy up after the review and wheel the Ikea bedside table of electronics back to the corner.)

In the past, I've tried the JMlab Micron and Dynaudio Facette but none of them had enough energy to fake the orchestral part when I put on the Music-Minus-One piano concerto CDs. Even though my technique would only allow me to fool around with the tamer, slower middle movements, the sound was simply not there. Now with the Rubies, the orchestra almost comes to life, handicapped merely by the sound quality of these somewhat un-audiophile recordings.

But now the only thing that sags is my hopelessly muddled fingering and sloppy phrasing. Obviously it's time to give up my piano stool to able world-class pianists.

I could listen to all manner of piano recordings with the Rubies all night long, even historic ones like Women at the Piano Vol. 1 [Naxos 8.111120] which documents some of the most gifted female pianists recorded between 1926 and 1952. Somehow the Rubies have the ability to reshape the nuance and redefine the depth of this CD's otherwise less interesting sonic properties, making it not just bearable but enjoyable. Given the best piano recordings like Alexandre Tharaud's inventive rendition of Rameau's Nouvelles Suites [Harmonia Mundi HMC 901754], Gabriela Montero's debut album Piano Recital [EMI 558039-2] and her unique improvisatory Bach & Beyond [EMI 351445-2], I couldn't stop myself from wondering: Was it the piano or the Rubies?

The only explanation I could offer is that the Rubies were releasing so much energy that it set off the sound board of my piano to resonate and sing. (Some audiophiles in Hong Kong used to hang a violin between their speakers as acoustic resonator. [That's exactly how Franck Tchang's resonators came to be. He heard a Japanese audiophile's room whose walls were bedecked with violins. That
experience haunted him and evolved into his resonators. Time to pull out those dusty violins and guitars from the attic? - Ed.]).

Listening to Tharaud's "Gavotte and six doubles" (doubles being variations) or Montero's "In the style of a Tango" and "Toccata in D minor" seemed to confirm the hypothesis. But then how would I explain the enchanting voice of the Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian [Analekta AN 29903] being so impressively and dramatically real yet wielded with lightness and ease - and I didn't ask my wife to stand in front of the piano? Anything with piano -- two pianos, piano trios, quartets, quintets -- the Rubies played back with such recital realism that I could stand in the far corner of the room and still follow the most subtle shadings of each note. When it comes to concertos, large orchestral and/or vocal works, the Rubies transcend other 2-way speakers by leaps and bounds. Putting the JMlab Micron next to the Rubies for just 30 seconds reminded me of the before-and-after shampoo TV commercials. To my surprise, the Dynaudio Facette stood up to the test with great composure. With reinforcement and synergy from Philips, Audio Zone and NuForce, the Facette never sounded so good though it still lacked the low frequency speed and breath and instrumental separation of the Ruby and was less committed in summoning up its energy.

That brings us to the ultimate question: How does Ruby stand up to Maximus? My fear of letting the two stand side by side turned out to be unfounded because they do not fear comparing themselves. With the same amplifiers, they sound so very much alike. First, the Maximus-Monitor has to couple with the Omni-Harmonizer. Two, I have to raise the volume by a fraction for the Ruby, which is 2.5dB less sensitive (85 vs. 82.5dB). The only time they really distinguished themselves was when I used the NuForce 9 to drive the SX woofer of the biwired Maximus and the NuForce 9 SE to drive the Dreams driver plus Omni-Harmonizer. With the advantage of bi-amping, everything had more headroom. Some people think the Ruby faster but I find that has more to do with coupling the speakers to the room acoustic. Without doing a major overhaul to room treatment, the Ruby being rear-ported with a single port is much easier to fix in the sweet spot. The Maximus-Monitor with its triple rear ports needs more space all around and therefore is more challenging to place. It's anything but slow! You should feel the air pumped out when playing Arnold's English & Irish Dances [Lyrita SRCD 201].

What it really boils down to is the Audi A4 and A6. One is agile and easier to park, the other roomier and more luxuriously appointed. Both offer the same performance, drivability, maneuverability and superb road manners - except this A4 has more colors to choose from. Does Ruby need the Omni-Harmonizer? Srajan likes the added spatial characteristics this 7-35kHz add-on tweeter offers. I find the Ruby alone is spatial enough but that's what I hear in my listening room. Ruby's new DM-4 Dreams driver, though flat and not curved like the DM-1 on the Maximus, has exceptional dispersion for its size. On paper, its frequency range exceeds the Maximus-Monitor's DM-1 (25kHz versus 22kHz). The only thing to bear in mind with the Omni-Harmonizer is the added load. Have fun if your amplifier has enough power and current. To my ears, the Maximus-Monitor needs the Omni-Harmonizer more than the Ruby, for balance and coherence.

2-way all the way
Mark & Daniel have found their winning 2-way formula and went full hog from their entry-level mini to a 280lbs floorstanding flagship. No other loudspeaker design company as far as I know adheres to their design principle so single-mindedly and perseveres with it over such a wide range of applications - which others would have either deemed impossible or marketing suicide. It's unthinkable that a 2-year young company has already more than ten models all dialed to the max. This is a clear, resolute sign of confidence and commitment. I made the assumption earlier that all M&D models would have the same signature sound. I have every reason to believe that they all have been styled and configured, voiced and tuned to do just that and serve all possible implementations and applications. Take for example the mid-size floorstanding Muse-I. Two DM-1 Dreams drivers are employed in parallel to collaborate with one powerful 8" SX woofer. The reverse combination is found in the slim-line floorstanding Muse-II, which uses one DM-1 Dreams driver and two SX woofers. The Muse-II has an exceptionally shallow cabinet of slightly less than 7 inches deep for close wall placement in home theatre implementation. The two bass drivers are actually one 6.5" SX woofer and one 6.5" passive (no magnet, no signal).

These designers have all proprietary drivers at their disposal, the know-how and backup to manufacture more if they needed to but they willfully restrict themselves to just one simple crossover. While all other models have crossover points at 800Hz or 900Hz, those of the Apollo and Apollo II lower it farther to 500Hz. The Apollo, a monster which stands 5' 10" tall and weighs 280 pounds, boasts one DM-3, a huge AMT with a diaphragm 160 times larger than a conventional " dome tweeter, and two 10" SX woofers chambered in two isolated compartments. The Apollo II has been reduced to one DM-3 and one 10" SX woofer nestling in a newly designed, much smaller enclosure, still weighs 170 compound marble pounds but shrinks to a neat 4' height. All these are two-way designs. Other manufacturers would have branched out, diverting their stakes to capture different audiences. No wonder they end up having their bookshelf speakers sounding very much different than their flagship models.

As Srajan tersely put it: "These gents have clearly considered the inherent challenges of their chosen path and developed unique ways to stretch the envelope of the small speaker" while a Ruby ad rightly quipped "Giant killer". I'd like to show you a picture I received from Daniel.

During the 2006 Shanghai Hi Fi Show, the Rubies were making music right next to the humongous Apollos. When the audience was asked which model they thought they had been listening to, more than 60% thought it was the Apollo. I'm sure you've heard similar stories before. But then it depends on how much credence you give to those stories. With Mark & Daniel, I'm inclined to put a lot of stock into theirs. Should I brave an Apollo II if they asked me to review one? 170 pounds would be quite the challenge. By comparison, the Ruby is a breeze. Either way, I'm sold.

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