Albion Review, Gramophone, January 1997

Reproduced from a review in “Gramophone” by John Borwick published in January 1997.

Royd Albion Loudspeaker

“A thing of beauty”: more than once during my extended evaluation of this loudspeaker I tended to wax poetic. It began when I eased the loudspeakers and their dedicated stands out of their cartons (each stand is packed separately to avoid any kind of damage). It is true that their beautiful appearance is a little old-fashioned. The review samples were finished in rosenut, a dark toffee colour, with chamfered edges on the real-wood top and bottom panels and enough of a cutaway at the sides, back and front, to give an octagonal feel – much more like a decent piece of Jacobean furniture than the boring boxes we have had foisted on us by generations of hi-fi loudspeaker manufacturers.

The stands contribute to this confidence-inspiring effect and are such a perfect match, visually and technologically, that I can hardly imagine the loudspeakers being used without them.

This Albion (£1,270 with stands) is the third Royd loudspeaker to be reviewed in these pages. My colleague Geoffrey Horn found much to admire in the two earlier models, the Sorcerer (£595) in March 1994 and the Doublet (£450) in December 1995. The Albion has some of its predecessors’ features but represents a palpable bid on the part of the designer Joe Akroyd to move things ever onward and upward.

Though the cabinet measures only 471 x 240 x 243mm, it is packed with goodies. There are two of Joe Akroyd’s own 5in (127mm) bass/midrange drivers, each housed in a separate reflex enclosure. The tubular ports emerge through the front baffle, slightly offset to make room for the centrally placed tweeter. This is a 19mm Scanspeak soft dome type and is also set closer to one side of the cabinet, in a mirror-image manner. This acknowledges the skew towards the nearer cabinet side that is given to the reference axis of any offset tweeter. The user thus has a choice of left/right handing, and the received wisdom is to arrange both loudspeakers with the tweeters near the inner edge when, presumably, their axes will cross somewhere near the ‘hot seat’ and provide the sharpest centre image.

A continuing process of computer aided research has resulted in important changes to the 5in driver described in our Sorcerer review. The cone is still a paper type but the tacky covering of damping ‘gunge’ has been moved to the rear surface (out of sight) instead of the front, and makes a continuous link with both the centre spider and the surround. Most unusually, the centre area of the cone has no dustcap and the coil former appears as a collar around the forward projecting centre pole-piece. A moderately high 90dB sensitivity is claimed, providing headroom for low-distortion power handling and excellent transient response.

The 19mm diameter voice-coil has 5mm-long joints to the cone and its former is shaped over the cone neck for greater strength. This raises the lowest frequency at which ‘bell mode’ resonances occur above the unit’s working range. To complete the design there is a massive magnet assembly and a cast frame securely set into the front baffle with eight crosshead screws.

The crossover frequency is 3.5kHz, with minimal filter slopes, and the bass and treble circuits are brought out to separate pairs of heavy-duty binding posts/sockets, set at an angle in a fairly deep recess, to permit bi-wiring.

The enclosure’s beauty is not skin deep. It uses kiln-dried hardwood with an almost fanatical degree of mass damping to eliminate panel resonances and coloration. This involves the application of thick steel sheets to the inner surfaces, fixed by a layer of synthetic rubber (polyol) which contributes substantially to the panel damping effect. The joints are also steel reinforced. The black grille cloth is of an open, acoustically transparent weave stretched over a quite elaborate curved wire backing on an MDF frame.

As well as the expected floor spikes on the base of the stands, the Albion itself is supplied with three clever stick-on brass spikes. These sit within brass washers set into the stand’s steel top-plate which ensures a continuous metal support all the way from the loudspeaker through to the floor spikes. A simple routine enables the user to position the cabinet spikes in proper alignment with the three washers. All this does mean that the loudspeakers are simply resting on the stands at about 56cm above the floor and at some risk of being accidentally toppled over: so a degree of care needs to be exercised if children, large dogs or over-enthusiastic hooverers are at large.

The stands themselves are beautifully finished in real wood to match the loudspeakers. They have been based on a Stands Unique design and comprise steel-plated top and base panels to which is bolted a compound octagonal pillar plus a steel rod at the rear. The pillar is in compression and filled with sorbo rubber; the rod is in tension. The wooden parts are glued and bolted to the steel components to provide a truly rigid support.

Performance
I think I have written enough to indicate that this is no mass-produced loudspeaker but one that involves tender love and care in manufacture, and quite a few kilograms of material. By the same token, I suggest that an equivalent amount of sensitivity should be brought to bear on installing the loudspeakers and on their positioning within the room.

A run-in period is recommended, which I found did indeed improve overall ‘musicality’. The floor spikes should be used on any ‘suspect’ floor and will, for example, leave less of a dent in a thick carpet than the unspiked base. A distance of at least 0.5m (20in) should be allowed from the rear and side walls for the most open, uncoloured sound, and then the optimum position arrived at by experiment – perhaps over a period of time.

I was impatient to start the listening tests and, instead of beginning with my collection of ‘quick answer’ recordings, chosen to highlight individual subjective features in the sound, I made a chauvinist dash for the Gramophone Awards 96 CD sent out with the UK copies of our November issue.

Many readers will have this disc and know that it opens with the Exorcism scene from Prokofiev’s opera The Fiery Angel, giving plenty of scope for nifty, and very loud, drum beats and some pretty hysterical singing. In very short time, therefore, I was persuaded of some of the Albion’s virtues. It will go as loud as will ever be required in any domestic situation, but the special tightness in the bass and sharpness of transients produce a lively realism with none of the acoustic hangover which clouds the image from many loudspeakers.

Track 2 is a virtuosic performance of a Scarlatti sonata by Mikhail Pletnev and, again, the Albion’s speedy articulation reproduced each of these hundreds of notes cleanly. Track 3 has the Orlando Consort singing music by Dunstable, and the unveiled sound seemed to place the singers ‘live’ in an extension to my living-room. And so on, to Track 12 which features the recording to which our Audio team handed the Engineering Award: Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony on BIS (CD800, 4/96). The Lahti Symphony Orchestra appears ideally laid out in a spacious acoustic, so that very little effort is needed to imagine oneself transported to the ‘best seat’ in the hall. The loudspeakers again coped so well with every nuance, and the Sibelius crescendos, that I abandoned the sampler and played the original CD right through.

Technical checks confirmed the 90dB sensitivity and produced an in-room response curve with good treble extension, a slight dip around the crossover region and smooth low-frequency output down to around 60Hz, with about another octave of useful, i.e. audible, extreme bass.

Low frequency effects were indeed subtle, and lacked the false emphasis that can often charm only to deceive on longer exposure. Here, extended listening and the careful positioning I recommended earlier resulted in a satisfying feeling of depth and sonority. Presence, or forward projection, was another good feature but I did note some lack of definition on individual voices. Extreme treble was a shade understated but again contributed to easy listening and believable sound from all but the most glaring CDs.

With so many plus points, for eye and ear, this loudspeaker should find a ready market amongst critical listeners. It is a lively high-fidelity reproducer that dealers should find a joy to demonstrate: I shall be sorry when it no longer graces my living-room – but a reviewer’s life is very hard, and the next review loudspeakers already beckon!

Specification
Type two-way, bass reflex
Drive units 2 x 127 mm bass/midrange; 19 mm tweeter
Frequency range 30Hz-20kHz
Sensitivity 90dB for l watt at l metre
Nominal impedance 6 ohms
Power handling 200 watts
Crossover frequency 3.5kHz
Dimensions (W x H x D) 471 x 240 x 243mm
Weight 28kg per pair (packed)
Manufacturer Royd Loudspeaker Company Limited, Unit B2, Stafford Park 1 5, Telford, Shropshire TF3 3BB
Telephone 01952 290700
Fax 01952 290190
UK retail price £1,270 with stands

By John Borwick, “Gramophone” January 1997
Original can be found here.