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Edgar Kramer
Financial Interests: click here
Source Digital: Metronome T-1i CD player with DAISy HE Remote Control
Preamplifier: Supratek Sauvignon with NOS RCA and Bendix tubes; NuForce P9
Amplifier: NuForce Reference 9 V3 Special Edition monoblocks; SGR Audio Elite Series EL-15S amplifier [on loan]
Speakers: Wilson Audio Specialties WATT/Puppy System 8
Cables - Digital: Cerious Technologies; Harmonic Technology Magic; NuForce digital cables; Interconnect: Bocchino Audio Morning Glory; Cable Research Laboratory (CRL) Gold with Bocchino XLR and RCA; Cerious Technologies; DanA Digital Reference Silver; Eichmann eXpress 6 Series 2; Harmonic Technology Magic and Truthlink Silver; MIT Giant Killer MPC; PSC Audio Pristine R30 Ribbon; NuForce IC-700 Speaker: Cerious Technologies; MIT Giant Killer GK-1 loudspeaker cables; NuForce SC-700; Power: Cerious Technologies AC; Eichmann eXpress AC power cables; Harmonic Technology Fantasy; PSC Gold Power MKII; Shunyata Research Diamondback
Stands: Finite Elemente Pagode Signature equipment racks
Powerline conditioning: PS Audio P-300 Power Plant (digital equipment only)
Acoustic treatment: Fonic Designer panels and StudioCel bass traps
Sundry accessories: Burson Audio Buffer, Bright Star Audio IsoRock Reference 3, Bright Star Audio IsoRock 4 isolation platforms and BSA IsoNode feet; Bocchino Audio Mecado isolation diodes; Black Diamond Racing cones; Stillpoints ERS paper in strategic positions, Shakti On Lines; Densen CD demagnetizer; Auric Illuminator CD Treatment; ASC Tube Traps
Room size: 17' w x 35' d x 12' h in short wall setup, opens to adjoining kitchen
Review component retail: AUD$6490

Kangaroos in Australia can get big, bloody big. While Wallabies and Greys can be cute—especially the little Joeys—the Big Red is a monster roughie that can easily kill a man if cornered and threatened. Strangely enough, even though some kangaroo species are considered a pest that can be found throughout Australia from desert to mountain to beach, in this wide country it means you have to travel well outside the cities to even come across one.

But whether we Aussies like it or not, there’s no denying that the kangaroo has become an icon that represents the freedom, expanse and cultural richness and diversity of the land Down Under. Perhaps for this very reason, Legend Acoustics has chosen to name many of its speaker creations with Aboriginal terms for the numerous kangaroo varieties.

You may recall that I reviewed the excellent Big Red or Kumbar Wirri back in June 2008. That fully loaded DEQX’d twin enclosure speaker with active bass—now in updated form—was an advanced and highly sophisticated speaker that required nothing more than a CD player as source and some connecting cables. The rest was handled by the incredibly powerful DEQX digital processor. I had the pleasure of being one of the very first to review an early version of this extremely capable and somewhat underrated wonder of a component. In the Big Red the DEQX formed the very heart of the speaker by performing all manner of duties from driver correction to active crossover, preamplifier, amplifier for mid and tweeter and even room correction. A true jack of all trades, it was an Aussie army knife. At the time, the Big Red had been the flagship in Legend’s catalogue though that title now belongs to the new Tikandi, the top-of-the-line version which uses the latest iteration of the DEQX. The Big Red was a superb performer that could compete in far loftier price ranges on dynamic range, bass power and depth and overall accuracy.

Now Dr. Rod Crawford, Legend Acoustics’ chief designer and principal, is offering the Small Red—yes, a name that is simple and logical—which aims at offering much of the considerable sonic qualities of the Big Red sans DEQX in a smaller passive single-box stand-mount package. What a challenge! How do you even approach the remarkably big sound especially in the bass which the Big Red is capable of in such reduced physical form? Well, Dr. Crawford has extensive experience designing small speakers with big performance. His many years at Linn as Chief Loudspeaker Designer certainly provided him with the know-how and qualifications.

Crawford’s first trick now was in the intelligent and yet deceptive enclosure. By keeping the front of the speaker narrow and making it pyramidal (this in itself has sound diffraction and dispersion benefits), Crawford was able to stretch the enclosure in height and depth. This cabinet geometry maximizes internal enclosure volume while it maintains the illusion of an overall smallish enclosure.

What the extra depth really allows for is the coup de grace of the Small Red. Crawford cunningly uses the highly regarded 8545 Scanspeak 7-inch driver in the more suited role of woofer (unlike many high-end designs which use this driver in a midrange/bass configuration, most notably Wilson Audio). He then places a second driver inside the cabinet directly behind the visible one. This transforms the Small Red into an isobaric design. The two woofers working in unison output far deeper and stronger bass than the size of the enclosure would suggest. Come to think of it, a kangaroo also hides another one of itself inside its pouch.

The other drivers selected also show the mark of a clever designer. Crawford chose high-quality ingredients which, while not exotic, represent real-world value and when used wisely have the potential for outstanding performance. The tweeter is the excellent Visaton KE25SC as already used on the Big Red which sits within a shallow horn flare. New to the Small Red is the superb SEAS Nextel 130mm driver performing midrange duties. I asked Dr. Crawford for some insights into the thinking behind the Small Red. I started with the reasons for the tweeter’s horn flare:

"The horn adds about 2dB efficiency but was not done for that reason as the tweeter was already more efficient than the midrange. It was done mainly to control the directivity of its output in the lower treble so that there is not such a large change in dispersion when crossing over. Floyd Toole's work suggests that sudden changes in directivity/dispersion into the room (and thus the room response and indirect sound arriving at the listener) are important as well as the direct sound. The Revel Ultimas (designed when Floyd was head of technology at Harmon Kardon) do something similar."

Apart from what was already known about the Big Red, what were some of the important design decisions for the Small Red?

"Not a whole lot. The Small Red is mainly an attempt to bring as much technology as possible from the new flagship Tikandi and the Kumbar Wirri to a more affordable sector of the market in the hopes of commercial success. In general we tried to minimize distortion (which means the difference between input and output) by choosing the best lowest distortion drivers we could reasonably find (not just current flavor-of-the-month darlings). We put them in a cabinet that minimizes distortions from internal standing waves, external diffraction and cabinet resonances. I then designed the crossovers with again the best lowest distortion components we could afford to minimize driver distortion through the usual iterative cycles of measurements and extended listening. We used recent hi-rez recordings of live music to avoid a distorted view especially of the treble. Of course the bass alignment had to be different from the Tikandi and Big Red. I certainly did use my experience at Linn with so-called isobaric bass loading, especially that of the Sara where they put it inside a stand mount with a 2-way driver configuration. This led to great bass but an awful midrange. The two mid/bass drivers started to decouple when the sound's wavelength became comparable to the distance between the drivers."

How did you avoid this problem now? 

"This was actually avoided in Linn's Isobarik DMS already. That was a 3-way system with the isobaric woofers being rolled off before they could decouple. Of course Legend's isobaric Small Reds are also 3-ways. Perhaps you could say that the isobaric Small Red is a stand-mount speaker like the Linn Sara but one that was properly designed! I believe that designing a loudspeaker is not magic. It is mainly about having a good understanding of the physics, engineering, materials and psychoacoustics involved, then implementing it as best one can including the inevitable compromises. That does involve intuition and experience. 

"For example, because of the different wavelengths involved, the ear evolved for survival over the millennia using different strategies for directional discrimination at different frequencies. So I try to use lower-order crossovers at low frequencies where time/phase effects are more important. If necessary, I use higher-order filters at higher frequencies where amplitude effects are more important (and where cone break-up with its amplitude distortion is usually paramount). At low frequencies, the longer overlap of driver frequency due to shallower slopes is also less important because beaming/lobing is not a problem when distances between drivers are much shorter than the long wavelengths (see my White Paper in the Kantu review available on the website). I have tried to use most of this knowledge with not just the Small Reds but all the speakers I have ever designed."

The Small Red needs a quality short stand to deliver its full bass potential. A stand about 18 to 20 inches high will do the job perfectly. The speaker is quite nicely finished (our review sample came in a natural Jarrah veneer, with other finishes also available) and though not extravagant, it’s the solidity of the cabinet which really impresses. The old knuckle rap rewards with a dull thud and mild bruising. There’s some serious bracing no doubt partly due to the internal support system for the second woofer. Size is a manageable 500mm height with a 230 x 350mm foot print at the base and each speaker weighs a solid 17kg. As mentioned already, the Small Red is a 3-way isobaric design with crossover points at 220Hz and 2500Hz. The frequency response is quoted as 40Hz to 25kHz (no tolerances provided) and efficiency as 86dB at 1 watt 1 meter. Legend suggests using an amplifier of between 100 and 300 watts capable of providing good current and provides a generous 7-year warranty.