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A word about ribbons
From their commercial beginnings over 50 years ago with the Quad Corner Ribbon Loudspeaker and then the Kelly Ribbon Tweeter/Decca DK30 in the 1950s, ribbon tweeters have been prized for their speed and transparency only to have more recent and typically less expensive implementations derided for a beamy and vertically challenged presentation.

Fountek in China makes the original TL-R2 tweeter units. Tonian modifies the stock Fountek units including replacing the magnet and ribbons. This new ribbon is, according to Tony, 10 times lighter than the stock ribbon and sourced from a Swiss company. The stock Fountek units have a following in DIY circles and Dick Olsher recommends their
JP3.0-R in his BassZilla Leopard project.

I assume the naming convention for the Tonians is a nod toward the Raven line of super tweeters which are regarded as some of the best pure ribbons around. They are used in the Verity Audio Sarastro and Aerial Model 20T among others.

Ne plus ultra-sonic
Fritz Hauser's Solodrumming [hat ART CD 6023] was recorded in the Berlin Martin-Gropius-Bau in 1985 as part of a series of concerts and exhibits exploring the relationship between architecture and music. "The Sound Pictures of Fritz Hauser lead from the real, limited, architectural to the insubstantial, endless space of our imagination" - Bernard Stecker, Berlin 1985. Hauser uses the long reverberations of this cavernous glass-topped hall as his accompaniment in a 74+ minute litany of percussion, which includes drums, xylophone, temple blocks and maracas. The harder Hauser plays, the more the hall is present, a perfect partner reacting to the shifts in volume, intensity and tone. In "Klangwolke I" (translated as Sound Cloud) Hauser rides his cymbals for 4'40" and here the reverberations melt into the original sounds over time. The first and most noticeable change brought by the addition of the TL-R2s was a widening of the cymbal's sound, with more of that metallic sparkle and hiss. As Hauser continues, waves of sound overlap. If you listen in the dark and quiet, you'll be able to hear the dimensions of this space as the TL-R2s provide laser-like focus for every aural indication bouncing off those cymbals, walls and ceiling. Remove the super tweeter and you're presented with less of the physical body of sounds
and in this case, less of the air and empty volume of the Berlin Martin-Gropius-Bau venue [outer left].

The 1982 soundtrack to the film One from the Heart [CK 85813] features music by Tom Waits accompanied by Crystal Gayle on vocals. Starring Raul Julia, Harry Dean Stanton, and Nastassia Kinski and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, One from the Heart should be a great movie but it's not. It's got all the right ingredients
(kinda like buying an amp from Recommended Components, a Golden Ear preamp... you get the idea) but it just falls flat. The soundtrack on the other hand works hard at telling
stories of broken hearts and broken dreams. On the opening track "Opening Montage", a coin is flipped onto a hard surface and while I know it seems like a cheap shot, bear with me. The TL-R2 lets you hear that coin in all its coin-ness; it's dropped, bounces off an edge, lands on the heads/tails side (your call), then wavers, wobbles, warbles and finally comes to rest. My best guess? A 1979 50-cent piece. Disconnect the TL and the coin is thinner, flatter, lighter, more of a representation than a trigger for the real thing. I know, that's not exactly a musical event but more of a sound effect so feel free to extrapolate at your own discretion. But - this coin is a familiar sound and with the ST connected, I dare say a more naturalistic effect. My brain processed this additional information and sent back an image of a shiny coin tossed onto a bar, light glinting off its edge before it made its random patterns of descent to flat.

I've seen Tom Waits perform a number of times and been listening to his music for over 25 years. I feel like I know his voice. This particular recording predates his present level of rasp but his voice is still gravelly and sibilant-rich as opposed to Crystal Gayle who is, pardon the pun, as clear as water. A mismatch made in heaven. Wait's voice now was simply more fleshed out, more like I recall hearing him in person. One of the most striking features of the TL-R2 was its effect on male vocals. Paolo Conte, Chet Baker, Dylan, Johnny Cash and Fischer-Dieskau all enjoyed a more dimensional quality, more spit, bite and resonance. With the 1-ohm resister on the TL-R2s to increase their efficiency and boost their effect, this was too exaggerated, throwing an artificial spotlight on the midrange.

Have you ever been assaulted by Bob Dylan's harmonica? You know, from the early recordings? It made me appreciate the mute button for the first time. Nashville Skyline [CK 9852] opens with that great Johnny Cash duo "Girl from the North Country". The informality here is so refreshing and full of character -- mismatched lyrics and all -- I can (and probably have) listened to this track hundreds of times. The super tweeter version of Johnny Cash's voice was more nasal with added guttural weight, conjuring up images of the man in black. Next up is the instrumental "Nashville Skyline Rag" which features, you guessed it, Bob's harmonica. And I can tell you that although I reflexively cringed in anticipation, it was for naught. That harsh spikiness was gone, replaced by a harmonica. The TL-R2s took all the shards of glass out and gave back tones. I got my first CD player in the 1980s so it's safe to say that I've waited some twenty-odd years to be able to listen to Bob Dylan play his harmonica without clinching my teeth. Early digital nearly killed the harmonica. This super tweeter can be its savior.

Paris Combo's Motifs [DRG-CD-8483] makes me long for the ability to jump on a train and end up in any number of countries. This music is not all baguettes and butter but instead an eclectic mix of sounds, styles and countries. Lead singer Belle Du Berry floats through Bossa Nova, Tango, jazz and Django Reinhardt-inspired songs with an international ease that makes me wish smoking cigarettes didn't kill you. Paris Combo has a clear ancestry while being anything but nostalgic. The accompanying musicians are equally up to task and the TL-R2s kept things light and airy. Muted trumpet had no glare or shrill shout, guitarist Potzi's riffs had nice leading edge and the percussion tinkled when it should. Remove the TL-R2s and things got a little flatter, disengaging some delight from these well-crafted songs.

Rosa Passos and Ron Carter's Entre Amigos [JD247] is beautifully recorded beautiful music. As someone who grew up on Getz/Gilberto at the beach, with the smell of the sea, Coppertone and gin and tonics in the air, I have an extra-special soft spot for this recording. As Chip Stern says in his liner notes "One experiences this music as something overheard rather than listened to". This is smoky, smoldering sexy music. Rosa Passos' voice is smooth, gentle and nearly converts the listener to voyeur with its intimacy. Ron Carter's bass, her sole partner on "Por Causa de Voce", was given further definition with the TL-R2. I listened to this CD and this track a number of times, super tweeter in, super tweeter out (repeat).
There's no doubt in my mind that what I was hearing was a better defined note from beginning to end all the way up and down Carter's bass. Without the TL-R2, the notes were fatter, flabbier and less precise. The guitars of Rosa and Lula also had more bite and decay, the tenor sax a bit more spit and air and due to the high quality of this recording coupled with the ribbon's speed, the cymbals were ethereal and marked by unusual delicacy and refinement.

I went down this acoustic bass road even further with Giacinto Scelsi's "Elegia per Ty" from Elegia Per Ty Divertimento [ACCORD 200622], a duet for viola and cello written in 1966. Scelsi did not consider himself a composer but more of a medium who received and shared a musical message which became increasingly subtle in its means of communication. Christoph Schiller on viola and Patrock Demenga on cello play cat and mouse around a few notes by altering pitch, attack and timbre and with the TL-R2s I noticed the same effect; dialed-in bass, purer tones; more of the familiar voice of the cello and viola with their subtle shadings and more of their unusual voices and harmonically rich suggestions towards something less concrete.

On sempre libera [B0002999-02], the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Claudio Abbado sets the stage for Anna Netrebko to hang it out there. That is the point with a recital after all and Ms. Netrebko hangs it out there with color. At the more mind-numbing heights of the opening tracks from Verdi's La Traviata, the TL-R2s kept easy pace with her coloratura even into those believe-it-or-not upper registers. Remove the TL-R2 and the Fostex drivers do not keep pace with the thrills and flourishes as well. There was newfound playfulness here, flirtation in an inflection in-between the vocal pyrotechnics caught by the lightning responses of Tonian's ultra-light ribbons.

Isn't it odd when such a fuss is raised over an opera singer's looks? To some, Ms. Netrebko is a potential savior for the serious music business. To others, she's an affront to serious music. It's as if some people don't like to have their sensual pleasures combined or mixed up. They like their aural sensations separated from those other sensations. That distinction between sensory and sensuous must be maintained or we'll have - er, anarchy on our hands. Besides, all that sensuousness just detracts from the music.

Sensibly sensuous music
Disneyland is the least sensuous place on earth, a grave vacation from the sensual - no great art to look at, no architecture, no great music or food. Everything is a representation of something that once had sensuality but not here, thank you very much and here's your family-safe Disney day, smiley face gratis. Now don't get me wrong, our family looks forward to a Disney vacation, albeit for different reasons. I suppose I look at it in part as a sensual palate cleanser.

Getting back to audio, that's exactly how some speakers sound. Anything even remotely sensual has been stripped. Some of the most technically advanced multi-driver speakers I've heard turn out to be surgeons, dissecting music as if it were a cadaver, returning to us a pale, scarred, soulless creature. The sum of the parts just doesn't add up. Frankenstein's music.

The first time I heard the Cain & Cain Abbys, I sunk into their sensual music making. As Tony mentioned, a single-driver speaker is going to compromise somewhere (don't they all?), most likely at the frequency extremes. In Cain & Cain land, you have the Bailey subwoofer to fill in the low end and the recently released Super Abby, which comes with an adjustable rear-firing super tweeter.

As I already owned the Abbys, the Tonian Acoustics TL-R2 were the proverbial no-brainer. I hooked them up, listened to a bunch of music, disconnected them and wanted them back in - immediately. This isn't a mind-blowing difference, just more of what I like; more air, more naturalness, more of the sense of the music. And they don't mess with any of those wonderful things the Abbys have to offer. When music is reproduced with such ease and naturalness as is the Abbys' way with a tune coupled with the added reality cues of the TL-R2s, it

truly allows you to explore that "endless space of our imagination" music can open up. The TL-R2s tickle your brain into bringing more to your listening than your ears.

In the end, I think that's why I got bit. These super tweeters are subtle that way, as if to say "hey buddy, it's not just about your ears." The assumption that a super tweeter would somehow exacerbate shrillness couldn't have been more off base. As a matter of fact and as I heard with Dylan's harmonica, it had the opposite effect, rounding out those previously troublesome tones. While I know the Tonian TL-R2s are only reproducing sounds above 15kHz, they have a clear and distinct effect across the frequency board. Even bass response is refined and more palpable. Another odd super tweeter fact? Every review I've read has said basically this same thing, right down to the lower frequencies but for some reason, I just didn't believe it until I heard it myself. I am of two minds as to the cause of this dilemma. First and foremost is the name - super tweeter. The name implies a sonic relationship between a tweeter and a super tweeter and most people I know immediately think extra brightness and etch. No thanks. So I suggest a name change competition. The winner will receive one Acme Dog Whistle master recording.

Now there is also some debate over exactly how it is super tweeters do what it is they do. The different arguments are complex and compelling and have caused some amount of very intelligent debate. As I was about to dive in and attempt to wrestle with psychoacoustics, frequency-domain versus time-domain, sample rates and Fourier Transform analysis, my foot started tapping to Nina Simone's "My Baby Just Cares For Me" and I lost my train of thought. [Tonian pots their crossover inside the enclosure and is very tight-lipped about the slope used hence we couldn't determine how low these super tweeter actually do operate below the specified 15kHz high-pass - Ed.]

Tonian Acoustics replies:

Dear Michael,
Music reproduced with dynamic accuracy and linear frequency response is we believe one of the most exciting experiences a human being of any age can enjoy. We would like to thank you for your in-depth and well supported review.

Tony Minasian

Manufacturer's website