Rubanoïde. The name derives from the French word ruban which is equivalent to the English ribbon. The "oid" suffix turns it into "ribbon-like" as this new driver operates similarly to the way ribbon speakers work while still being different from a true ribbon. The basic Rubanoïde concept was developed by a French engineer who is nearly 80 years old today. He labored over this project for 20 years because his invention, while deceptively simple in concept, is quite tricky to implement and even more difficult to usher into regular production.

Swiss Audio Consulting has advanced the Rubanoïde development further by working on the wooden frame and other proprietary aspects. The original development focused on a single driver with extension to 200Hz while Audio Consulting is about to also launch a double-driver version, extending bandwidth to 100Hz, "allowing for most critical fundamentals in natural instruments and human voices to be reproduced by this new breakthrough driver".

Features include 103dB efficiency from 200Hz to 20,000Hz for the smaller unit, with a 6dB crossover high-pass @ 200Hz, the same for the twin unit except with a high-pass set to 100Hz. The Rubanoïde works as a bipole unlike Magnepans, Apogees and most electrostatics. The use of very strong magnets achieves the high efficiency with a purely resistive impedance to work well with even single-ended triode amplifiers. The paper membrane's surface is the equivalent to a 15" driver. "Like the big electrostatics (with however far higher efficiency) and good horns, this stunning driver has velocity impedance air coupling unlike the pressure coupling of almost all other drivers. The efficiency in energy transfer from the membrane to the air is such that even for higher frequencies, the sound is more realistic and dynamic than for example a Raven R3 ribbon. This is particularly interesting as the Raven features a 30mgr moving mass while the Rubanoïde has a 30gr moving mass. The photo
above is of the smaller driver to be used with a 15" bass unit. This is merely an early prototype for proof of concept."

Being introduced to this development by a friend who was expectantly awaiting serial #2 of the twin Rubanoïde version, I asked what else I could report at this early juncture. "They have started regular manufacturing and I'll have my 'double trouble' model in 2-3 weeks. For the bass, Audio Consulting currently uses an elaborate Onken setup while I'll experiment with two JL Audio f 113 subs first. The estimated price will be around 15,000 euros for the double version and around 9,000 for the simple one but I cannot be 100% sure about it at this time. It should be in regular production for Christmas. It will be an Audio Consulting product and a real life picture in beautiful exotic veneer will follow soon."

With a standing invitation to visit, I anticipated being able to follow up with informal 'in situ' sonic impressions and the anticipated degustation opportunity did arise indeed. Not far from Serge Schmidlin's digs in Switzerland's Coppet, on Lac Léman's La Côte between the Alps and Jura mountain range, I met the second pair of double Rubanoïdes. Its plaque calls them Dvaijnoi in honor of my friend's Romanian ancestry. As in ages past when patrons of the Arts bankrolled the creation of works we still enjoy in museums, opera houses and concerts today, audio commissions during the development phase can become key in the formal launch of components of high but rarefied hifi merit.

In Serge's own listening room, a pair of massive 300lbs Onken cabinets provide bass below 100 cycles via a 1st-order low pass. Dvaijnoi at the time of my visit ran variably full-range or high-passed, augmented in either case by the twin active JL Audio subwoofers provided by the owner. The deeply scalloped wood framing of the Linæum-reminiscent stacked bending-wave drivers is clearly no job for the faint-hearted cabinet shop. Less obvious but quite lethal are the ultra-potent magnet assemblies from which the speakers derive their colossal non-hornloaded 103dB efficiencies.

Serge divulged that during assembly at first, it wasn't uncommon to have magnets escape their permanent mounting, go airborne and seriously ballistic before the procedure had been perfected. Though the basic design itself is quite simple, putting it together in perfectly working order is anything but. "Anyone adventurous, unethical or dumb enough to reverse-engineer me, be my guest." That's not being magnanimous or stoic. Serge has been ripped off before, including by a Swiss. To stay clear of less informed clones with questionable associated business practices and the concomitant bad reputation, Serge remains less than forthcoming on his transformer gain amps. His website information on that subject has gotten deliberately stripped. The public brief simply states that instead of the usual active devices, his wood-encased Audio Consulting electronics sport battery power and proprietary silver transformers to produce all necessary circuit gain.

The Rubanoïde's appeal is an unusual combination of wideband response, ultra-high voltage sensitivity, bipolar dispersion and paper membranes which don't carry the high charges of the plastics which Linæum and its various descendents used for related drivers before. Paper of course is prone to moisture absorption. How to treat it to remain invariant to climate and work as well in hot and humid tropical conditions as it does in cold dry mountain air is but one of the verkackte "go ahead, copy me" reasons why for this speaker project, Schmidlin isn't at all worried about domestic or offshore copycats.

It's been about 4 years since Audio Consulting transitioned from DIY parts -- the famous Silver Rock attenuation transformer perhaps being the best known -- to standard turnkey production components. A total of about 20 suppliers are involved. This includes core winders and wood workers, with a main emphasis on artisan hand labor. Final assembly is by Serge himself. There's a very ambitious battery-powered turntable containing an - ahem, small bank of 1,200 capacitors; a 70dB+ step-up transformer-based phono stage; a transformer-gain preamp; amps of various power ratings; and the single and dual Rubanoïde speakers.

Everything Schmidlin touches is labor-intensive and obsessively tweaky. This patently isn't trophy hifi for the glitz-obsessed. It's stuff for "those who've been there and done that, who've nearly given up on it all but are prepared to give it one last go for either complete and utter satisfaction far beyond anything they knew was available; or to call it quits entirely and pursue some other hobby."

The Dvaijnoi were set up on Alvin Lloyd's excellent Grand Prix Audio Monaco amp stands with Apex footers, firing straight out into a sizeable room. Experimenting with a variety of ancillary electronics including Audio Consulting's own, an entry-level C.E.C. belt-drive transport slaved to a LessLoss 2004 DAC and the Laser Turntable, the hallelujah experience occurred at the hands of the very latest Alex Peychev-modified top Esoteric universal player in NWO 3.0 iteration running directly into Vinnie Rossi's new Red Wine Audio Signature 30.2 battery-powered T amp.

Using massively paralleled 32-bit AKM chips (I seem to recall something on the magnitude of 20 converters per channel), the Peychev player runs two JJ ECC99s in the output buffer and adds remote analog volume to facilitate amp-direct operation. The no contact laser turntable provided a 'true analog' reference to maintain context and besides original RedBook discs, we also listened to 24/96 copies burned to DVD by the owner. It appears that with this custom digital machine, vinyl's substantial advantages in sheer image density and spectral fullness have finally been shrunk to academic interest only. There now is a basic equality of gestalt that goes beyond "analogue-like" as we've heard from various luxury D/A converters in the past. As far as the $2,500 Red Wine Audio amp goes, my host's cherished amplification possessions include a Kondo Ongaku; Kondo Gakuoh monos; most all of the various Yamamoto amps made; the top Wavelength, Art Audio, Butler Audio, Lavardin, Tektron and Wyetech Labs amps... in short, plenty of serious up there examples of the art and predominantly of the valved persuasion.

"I don't think I really need 'em any more." My friend's surprise was sincere and nearly embarrassed. Mine was gleeful. I'd already heard the Signature 30.2 in my own system. Two days earlier, I'd impressed upon him that my review loaner Gen 2 version stomped his Sig 30 which he'd purchased as my prior review sample and held in very high regard. Now I happened to be present when his 30.2 arrived and slipped into the rig. Synchronicity. This went on to demonstrate how the two-box combination of hot-rodded Esoteric and T amp upstaged $45,000/pr amps preceded by $10,000+ dedicated preamps we'd listened to earlier. Crunching some of the numbers -- of monies saved or not, depending on one's penchant for trophies and disbelief in the possibility of true realsization satisfaction -- was a quite sobering exercise. Remember too that I was there on Lake Geneva's prestigious shores overlooking Mont Blanc. It was quite the paradise location with all it entails - in this case Rethm Saadhanas, Living Voice Avatar OBX-RWs and Avantgarde Acoustic Meta Duos for speakers. Simplification done right need not be a setback when it comes to quality and listening pleasure!

I'll of course save the relevant Red Wine details for the Signature 30.2 feature review. Still, this sighting in blue-blooded company far exceeding my own amplifiers did underscore just how off-the-charts uncorrelated Vinnie Rossi's amplifier performance is with price, size and concept. But back to the speakers.

Being still a project and thus under ongoing development, the Rubanoïde really is very promising. As a bipole, it stages more naturally than pinpoint monopoles. It also avoids dipole cancellations. The paper membranes lack any and all metallic breakups yet seemingly no treble extension or detail. They can play very loud very cleanly and with little power. Dynamics and apparent speed are excellent. The general gestalt is one of very high resolution, minor transient softness without lack of exactitude, grand dimensional scale and spaciousness. One area where I wished for more oomph was in the 100 - 300Hz band. High-sensitivity dynamic drivers like my Zu and WLM 10-inchers produce more pressure and impact. That translates into greater life, energy and jump factor to get raunchy and driven when the music calls for it.

I asked Schmidlin whether he would consider crossing the bending-wave drivers out higher, say between 300 and 500Hz. This would allow dynamic woofer displacement and attack force to kick in sooner. At present, the speaker seems a bit too ethereal and polite in this band. The Dvaijnoi's stopgap active subwoofers were imperfect matches, applying brute force against the effortless high-sensitivity 'ribbons'. The designer agreed and alluded to prototype bass systems already under development that would address this criticism. Since my friend lives 15 minutes from Serge, I'll remain appraised of the developments. For a first impression, the dual Rubanoïde suggests a warmer, far more dynamic variation on the customary panel speaker theme. Hence here is a promise of superior dynamic and planar attributes in a minimum-phase 2-way concept. I sold and owned Linæum speakers. The store I worked for at the time had the only pair of big Linæum 3-ways in the US on the floor. It combined the tweeter later to be seen in Radio Shack models with twin Linæum midranges and an upward-angled dynamic woofer. I later witnessed various attempts at resurrecting the technology when Linæum closed its doors. Much to my chagrin -- I'd loved the Linæum sound -- none of them made it.

Audio Consulting's Rubanoïde picks up the story and seems set to write an unexpected and exciting chapter on it. Consequently, I'm making plans to visit with Audio Consulting again in 2008 to showcase the operation in detail and perhaps even encounter the Double Rubanoïde's full-range incarnation with Audio Consulting's own bass system. In either case, there'll be a lot more to report on this company and its unusual approach to things audiophile and music...

Audio Consulting website