Minstrel Review, Audio & Video, March 1996

Reproduced from a review in “Audio & Video” by Oeivind Ruud, published in March 1996.

The Minstrel

Our first meeting with this English troubadour is rather humorous. Out of the box, we unwrap two tiny floorstanders. Are the Brits serious about this, or is this the latest news in the high tech toy market being sent to us by mistake? Well, we are soon to reconsider our thoughts. The sight of the special drive units without dust caps and with eight solid attachment screws makes us swallow our laughter quickly. This isn’t a speaker joke — Royd means business when designing a budget speaker like this. A line from the Chinese poet LiPo crosses my mind: “We sit among branches up to our necks, and drink as madmen as long as we can. Fetch my guitar and disappear!” OK I think, guitar it is, but I can’t bring myself to leave the room but am just left sitting there all ears. The tones in this recording by guitarist Narico Yepes are really enchanting and magical. The constituents of the midrange are very open and the soundstaging has an exemplary perspective. Who is it that can make a pair of large shoe boxes sound like THIS, as if they were made by the Wizard of Oz!

Joe Akroyd is the founder of Royd Loudspeakers and since 1980 has been developing small loudspeakers using his own philosophy. He considers one of the most important aspects of speakers to be their ability to reproduce a transient correctly. To help him achieve this he uses sophisticated computer analysis of transients and advanced mathematical models developed by himself. The design itself shows an advanced use of different construction materials and a good measure of minimalism. Advanced and complex design solutions on their own are simply not good enough for Royd. By designing their own drive units, they have been able to avoid many of the disadvantages associated with crossovers. By simply coating the units in a special way so that their frequency response is tailored acoustically, and combining this with a 2nd order crossover for the tweeter, the units match together. This is of course a very simple but obviously very effective solution. So why hasn’t it been done before? The answer is that it isn’t an entirely new idea, but it does demand drive units of extremely high quality. Now we understand the reason for the diaphragm coating which keeps resonance and cone ‘break-up’ under control. The result of all this design wizardry is a speaker without the phase and transient problems caused by crossovers. This is the performance that designers of high-end speakers try to achieve. Just think of the active driven and so called ‘digital’ speakers that cost a small fortune. Royd have shown us that it can be achieved with much less! The drive units are assembled in-house at Royd, and although the tweeter is an ordinary Vifa, it has received massive modification. The main unit is a Royd design, having a special coating, die-cast chassis and large magnet assembly. The coating is asymmetrical so that any cone resonances are spread. The speaker leans backwards so that the drivers are time-aligned and the tweeter has a foam surrounding so that reflections are absorbed.

Mr. Akroyd doesn’t like the idea of large singing boxes. Considering the fact that large surfaces need a lot of bracing, it is important to keep the cabinet’s surfaces as small as possible. The speaker is built of MDF, except the back. But don’t run away with the idea that Royd are satisfied yet! Inside, the cabinets are braced with steel plates, and shock absorbing bungs are placed between the main driver magnet and cabinet back. Compared with other speakers of the same cabinet volume, these speakers are compact, heavy and very well built. The mirrored bass ports let you tailor the speaker’s response to your room by facing them inwards or outwards. The Minstrel is only 12cm deep, 18cm wide and stands a mere 68cm up from the floor when fitted to its base, which also makes it lean backwards. The backward leaning design is responsible for the Minstrel’s ability to fill a room with incredible images, and even though the tweeter is below your line of sight, it will still find its way up to your ears. We guarantee you — you have never seen a speaker that looks like this before.

The big orchestras are (fortunately) not reproduced with the same scale and size as in real life. After all, it would be rather difficult to fit the acoustics of the Bastille Opera in Paris into your living room, as Mynng-Whum Chung conducts the orchestra after the partita of Olivier Messian. The music comes flowing in deep and steady breaths with the orchestra being led in unity by a self sacrificing conductor. The HiFi components are in the service of musical enjoyment and I can hear micro-details in all the musical spectrum. These are the fine details in the musical events that are brought to us by a high resolution and musically convincing HiFi system. Small speakers normally need stands to be heard at their best. With the Minstrel the stand plinth is very low and is an important part of the design. The bass/midrange unit is placed closer to the floor and therefore needs less help from the back and side walls to produce bass performance. This means that placement is less critical than normal, and a free space placement gives a very deep and wide stereo image.

The experience of listening to the Minstrels was quite shocking. These baby floorstanders play with enormous verve and attack. Pop, jazz and rock got kicked out with TURBO speed. These speakers are pushing the limits for what we thought we could achieve with a pair of budget speakers. The worst part of it all is that the distributor came knocking on my door asking for them back!

Royd have designed a pair of small floorstanders with a wide frequency range and a lot of dynamics. They don’t suffer from the usual problems of coloration and box sound. Perhaps Royd’s claim that these speakers are showing the way towards a new age in speaker design is true. These speakers are loudspeaker craftsmanship of a high calibre.

By Oeivind Ruud, “Audio & Video” March 1996