This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Music talk. As far as hi-end hifi goes, this isn't an expensive speaker at all. By optimizing certain parameters, the concomitant design choices then had to pay less attention to others. That bullet tweeter for example is no Raal ribbon or tiny muRata gold dome. The 'inner life of upper harmonics' with its micro resolution of general air; of particular coronas surrounding particular musical events; and the lit-from-within flavor whereby outer textures are subtly energized such as far costlier exotic HF drive units can portray... such effects or deep insight are beyond this unit. Rather, its function is to augment and thereby complete what essentially is a single-driver wideband design. The focus is on believable full-range coherence and liberation from audible boxiness.

In that, the Rho succeeds very well. It is less meaty than the 10-inch based WLM Diva and Zu Druid. Those higher-eff designs are feistier also in their dynamics, in rendering the rhythmic beat elements with that accelerated pop. The Rho counters with clearly more upper-end extension than the Druid and more natural (rather than electronically compensated as WLM's Diva Control allows for) bass extension and down-low weight. However, to get the best of the latter in my very long but narrow setup meant using both inserts to narrow the mouth slot and -- surprise! -- single-ended triode amplifiers. This I found peculiar. From the Nelson Pass F5 under the FirstWatt flag to gain clones by Musical Laboratory* and Audio Sector, my transistorized amps produced excess lower mid-bass amplitude. Swapping in Yamamoto's A-09S amp with Emission Labs 300Bs and matching 5U4G rectifier; or Trafomatic's Experience Reference monos with Euro Audio Team 300Bs and EML 5U4Gs; or Emillé's massive integrated with Full Music bottles - regardless of 300B amp, they all beautifully linearized most the amplitude to produce highly satisfying bass extension from direct-heated triodes.

With my still limited experience in the new digs, I'm even more loath than usual to make blanket statements. Still, my gut instinct tells me that David Haigner has indeed optimized his bass tuning for low-power tube amps. If true -- and my experiments do suggest it -- the traditional handicap of such amps has been stood on its head. Fantastic. The rear loading only creates a bit of lumpiness for minor hot spots in the bass response. There's a reminder, too. High voltage sensitivity alone is not what makes one speaker more SET suitable than another. Sub 300Hz load impedance behavior is arguably the bigger determinant. While the Rho's sensitivity would peg it borderline for SETs according to common audiophile assumptions, its linearized 7-ohm impedance (which is higher than 7 in the bass) completely wipes out that perceived borderline status. It moves the Rho straight into the heartland of low-power no-feedback triode amps with highish output impedances. All you need is sufficient gain in your chain. Set to 12dB since I prefer it that way, the Red Wine Audio Isabella preamp sat between 9:00 and 12:00 o'clock depending on amplifier.

As WLM's Hannes Frick would be first to admit, he prefers 20 to 40 watts for his Divas. It's one reason he became Red Wine Audio's importer. While their sensitivity is rated higher than the Rho, the Divas' bigger drivers and bass reflex loading want more power. It makes Frick's 30-watt Signature 30.2 RWA amp ideal. Not so for the Rho. It actually likes to see a higher source impedance. That's a vital distinction. It makes Haigner's Rho the perhaps most cost-effective speaker mate for 4 to 8wpc 2A3/300B SETs I've yet tested. Again, cost-effective means that equivalent but more expensive speakers will be able to offer snazzier-looking enclosures, fancier tweeters and more esoteric widebanders whose higher efficiency should translate into more greased dynamic reflexes.

It's all a matter of balance. The Rho very deliberately insists on bandwidth. That kills the most common anti widebander argument of great midrange - but where's da basz. Or trebble. Or both. The Rho won't trigger that question. Despite an 8-incher working up high, there's plenty of transparency to immediately convey that the Emillé amp's voicing and tube complement favors fat tone over speed while the Yamamoto is leaner and faster, the Trafomatic more unfettered yet. Piano and clarinet on Ivo Papasov's magical "Hubava si moya goro" meditation [Dance of the Falcon, World Village] benefitted from the Emillé while the virile matador duet between Miguel Poveda and Diego Carrasco on vocals and Juan Carlos Romero and Moraito Chico on guitars definitely asked for the dynamic bluster of the Trafomatic monos [Miguel Poveda, Tierre de Calma, Discmedi Blau].

In either case, the stylistically very checkered Breathing under Water between Anoushka Shankar and Karsh Kale [Manhattan
Records] didn't lack for bass rumble and reach on any of the amps even though textures and relative warmth differed from circuit to circuit and tubes (the EAT and EML valves have more balls than the Western Electric, Shuguang and TJs). The impassioned Romani songs of Negrita [Dema Tu] on the always delivering Iris Music label from Paris staged deeply no matter what but had the most fire on the Serbian monos and the most pluck on her cousin Souno's guitar. If that speaks more about the amplifiers, it's because the speakers conveyed their voicing intact. They got the best of all the amps, disqualifying none while still portraying relative strengths.

As seems typical of the larger-sized midranges I've heard in the widebander arena, the Rho favors tone over incision. Images aren't as holographic as over my Lowther DX55s nor is inner detail as potent. Images are more like real life, with blended outlines that put a lie to the edge/etch definition extremely visual audiophiles go after with heightened focus lock. In my setup and contingent on recording, thrown depth could be abysmal while width was limited by the speakers' inter distance. Though not exactly a point source, the Rho from the front rather approximates one and in the listening seat also behaves accordingly, with the wave launch unified and not scattered.

As the Serbian and Japanese 300B amps showed but even more so the gain clones and F5, timing or beat fidelity with the Rho is very high. Coupled to the milder image lock however, this doesn't translate into heated transients, just in-the-pocket, on-the-money rhythmic integrity. So PRaT is excellent but this Haigner is no leading-edge brat that slaps you around with chiseled attacks. If these attributes suggest an aural aesthetic of SET-ish continuousness - well, we've already established that the Rho was made for such amps. Why should it surprise us that its innate character would emulate them too?

I don't believe back-loading a woofer will ever be as punchy and impactful as a sealed box. The character of the Rho's bass is a bit fuzzier than those but not as ringy as ported alignments to occupy solid middle ground between those schemes. Again, you don't expect cyborg brutality bass from SETs. Why should the Rho? Vocals were open-throated and big but without any of those transducer-generated 'close-miking' effects that have you wipe off spittle and stare down past dental fillings. I spun
Yasmin Levy's newest Mano Suave on World Village (stylistically more mature and less affected than her first two releases); Buika's Mi Nina Lola and the eponymous La Negra, both on Casa Limon; Yungchen Lhamo [Ama on RealWorld] and my usual flames Dulce Pontes and Lila Downs.

Male suitors included Abed Azrié and George Dalaras, Azerbaijani Ilqar Muradow and Bratsch's Dan Gharibian while my Manouche Jazz addiction was served by the latest Tchavolo Schmitt [Seven Gypsy Nights] and the great violinist Florin Niculescu's Stephane Grappelli tribute on BluJazz. Fiery Flamenco guitar came compliments of Jesús de Rosario's Sin Tanto [Karonte Records]. For a smattering of classical, Mozart L'Egyptien 2 served perfectly while Renaud Garcia-Fons and Jacques Loussier covered upright bass and superbly recorded piano respectively.

Regardless of album, the Rho qualities kept steady: distinct non-boxiness without ceramic monitor holography; linear bass into the high 30s with good but not extreme impact yet nice weight and growl on piano rumbles; sufficient top-end sparkle without becoming an obvious attraction. With the valve amps, tone ranked very highly. With the transistor F5, that aspect flattened out considerably but could be reinjected successfully with Trafomatic's Experience Head One [review to follow, Realsization Award for affordable and equal preamp and headphone chops already pocketed]. This suggests that Haigner's 8-inch driver is a bit leaner intrinsically than the 10-inch Eminence platforms of WLM and Zu. Those need less tone help with the FirstWatt. What the Rho ain't got are dazzling looks. I in fact didn't notice that since the white finish blended like a super spot cleaner into my setup. But Ivette did volunteer a comment. And audiophile geeks would agree that nicer binding posts would be nicer and that the promised driver trim ring could spruce up the front.

The kicker: One often forgets just how fused at the hip the Siamese twins of the amp/speaker interface really are. This speaker is unapologetically tweaked for low-power valve amps. It hits that synergy needle with a mondo fist but no horns. Which as the designer said earlier, would have certain people walk who don't fancy the directness of horn-type sonics. The trouble with 2A3 and 300B SETs is, only few enjoy their true capabilities. Most plainly use the wrong speakers. While right speakers get easier with deeper pockets -- my Rethm Saadhana is a prime example -- the market thins out rapidly when your budget isn't bailed out by the Feds. Enter Haigner's Rho. If it had Mafia connections, it'd be a made speaker for SETs, no foul play tolerated. It has none of the compromises of most (and certainly the affordable) widebanders; doesn't complicate things with biwire terminals; isn't fussy about setup; plays stable and loud; and never irritates. For what it tries to and does achieve quite brilliantly, it's a very cunningly balanced design. As experience tells us, only balanced designs stand a chance to satisfy long-term. While such balance makes for less exciting reviews (there's less obvious highlights to expound upon), it's what keeps you company after the razzlers and dazzlers have long departed. On all fronts covered, the Rho is a stout keeper for all those who value the particular fronts it covers!

Quality of packing: Not ready for prime time. While the speakers were properly shrink-wrapped, the surrounding styro bits were helter-skelter and so crumbly that I had to really - um, blow the tweeters to prevent debris from migrating into the voice coils. We'll assume that Haigner will craft properly fitting carton inserts in the future.
Reusability of packing: Outer boxes were fine, it's the innards that need attention.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Because of the above, a royal pain in the arse.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: Spikes for the front.
Quality of owner's manual: n/a
Website comments: Needs work.
Human interactions: Extremely forthcoming on all info requested. See SideBar commentary.
Pricing: A surprising value particularly considering dealer representation.
Final comments & suggestions: Binding posts and trim ring are already to-be-upgraded items so except for full-on production packaging, there's nothing else to mention.
Haigner website