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03/08/06 by B. F.
02/03/06 by J.
04/02/04 by R.
3/8/06 by B. F.
I had the pleasure to hear the speakers you designed at
Ken's this past weekend. Having seen pictures that Ken e-mailed me before I
stopped over for a listen, I was surprised at how much smaller they really
were. Not the height but the small footprint and very small drivers.
I was shocked at the extension, power and weight of the
low frequencies. Also pitch, dynamics, tonal balance and transients were
superb. The fact that they're meant to be positioned against the wall makes
them even more appealing for small rooms where it's often difficult to move
speakers out into the room. Even against the wall they produced good imaging
and soundstage depth.
Anyway, I just wanted to say, great job and I very much
enjoyed hearing your speakers.
Having formerly run a chain of stereo stores, I am well
accustomed to representatives demonstrating their wares. After all these
years, a bit of the patina may have rubbed off when I’m asked to do an
evaluation. I find I usually don’t get as excited as I used to. As we were a
McIntosh dealer for a long time I am very familiar with Roger Russell’s work
and I have a lot of respect for him. So, I was anxious to hear his latest
creation, the IDS-25.
These speakers were so, un-McIntosh I was startled when
I first entered the room. Although they were imposingly tall, missing were
the monster bass cabinets I was so accustomed to. The single line array
is visually splendid and the space they take up in a room is insignificant.
Gone are the cloth covers, having been replaced with an audibly
transparent steel grill. The tall array of small drivers lurks behind
the protection of this black mesh, giving just a hint of their capability.
The first pair I saw was done in a white piano finish
of such a high quality I was awed. The second pair was a more traditional,
wood cabinet of Bubinga, fashioned in a seamless radius edge. Being
an amateur woodworker I was inspired by the quality of workmanship and
attention to detail. The grill slot was functional yet invisible. The base a
wonderfully heavy rectangle upon which was mounted the trapezoidal columns.
A top brace was available but I found it completely unnecessary, so stable
were the columns.
The speakers were connected to a pair of McIntosh MC501
amplifiers which deliver far more power than is necessary for this speaker
system. The stereo block, MC252 is actually the recommended size. After all
the years that Roger built speakers requiring and necessitating monster
amps, it was an amazing change to witness the efficiency of the
IDS-25’s. But that is probably to be expected since McIntosh is primarily an
amplifier manufacturer it is only logical that they would seek speaker
designs to use such massive amounts of reserve. Being retired, in all
likelihood, gave Roger the freedom to create more speaker needing less
amp, in effect, delivering better sound for the buck and it seems to
The IDS stands for Image – Depth – Spacious.
What a great description of their performance. The single line array follows
one of Roger’s patents and reduces reflected sound and the distortion it
causes. Some manufacturers try to invent a spacious sound by actually
inducing echo but the inherent distortion from that approach creates rapid
listener fatigue, sort of like listening to Josh Groban. By eliminating the
reflected delays the sound is cleaner and crisper and more faithful to the
But I have to tell you, after years of listening to
some pretty fabulous systems, I don’t think I have heard anything to
compare to the depth and image of this system. I have heard some which
have the same clarity and tonal genuineness, some which expand a small
listening space into a large one, but none compare to these is terms of
image. The stage presence and placement is authentic and true to life.
Many years of evaluation has taught me to move about the room, select
different spots to sample from and therein I will always find the flaw in a
design. Not in these.
The ability to stand directly in front of the right
speaker and clearly hear a counter-point from the left drops your jaw in
wonderment. You walk around, asking aloud, “Just how the hell does he do
that?” I got an explanation from Roger but he being the engineer and me a
simple listener convinces me I’ll never be the engineer. But let me tell
you, it works.
I listened to my usual variety from a direct to disc
1812 Overture, to Geno Vannelli; Nina Simone to Barbara. My favorites have
always been big band and traditional jazz so we threw in some Brubeck and
Glen Miller and finished up with Dave Matthews and Maroon V. I always select
live recordings when possible and most of these were. The most exceptional
reproductions came from those made with a single stereo microphone. It
carried a liveliness and vibrancy which has been missing from my
listening experience for a long time.
If your goal is to find speakers which reproduce
‘live’ concert conditions in terms of amplitude, space and depth, keeping
your amp/speaker budget under a hundred grand, this is it! My experience
says that there are three types of serious music listeners:
1. The techno who is more interested in dollar
signs and esoteric babble to justify his expense than pure sound. He
frequently drives a Maserati.
2. The slammer who is after loud over quality,
physical brutality over live reproduction and you can find him in a Suburban
or Expedition, carrying five hundred pounds of electronics in the back.
3. The purist who is beyond the smoke and
mirrors of technology, seeks reliability and honest performance and desires
to recreate reality of performance, not a ‘reality’ show. You can find him
driving everything else and probably owning a pair of IDS-25’s.
My conclusion is that if a dealer of quality, esoteric
stereo equipment doesn’t rave about the IDS-25 speakers, it’s because he
sees big dollar signs selling you that huge amplifier to drive some other,
inferior sounding system instead of balancing your budget with a combination
that offers extraordinary listening with cost effective power requirements.
By Jove Roger, I think you’ve done it again.
2/3/06 by J. L.
What I heard over my Roger Russell Vacation
I've been e-mailing this retired loudspeaker engineer for nearly 10
years. Of course I can bring nothing to the table for this guy technically,
but I sure have fun reading his responses to my otherwise meaningless,
never-ending barrage of e-mails. It's almost as if he's a celebrity in my
mind. He sent me a response to an e-mail on 11/6/2003 (and, yes, I archive
ALL e-mails!) that went like this:
"I have created a new speaker system but am not ready to give out details
yet. It's sort of radical but for me that's not unusual."
I never questioned him about this new "radical" design because I never
thought that his former masterpiece, the XR290, could be outdone. Did I say
"former" masterpiece? So, this guy has been sorta like Willy Wonka to me
since I can remember first talking to him back in 1992. I then wondered
"What's going on with this candyman?" Without all the "magic" tools
available for R&D purposes, what kind of speaker system built at home could
possibly give a thoroughly researched-and-designed system any run for the
money? What could be any more radical than a triple-column (woofer, mid,
tweeter) speaker system? And what could this "radical" design even look
like? It's beyond me. He's gotta be nuts....that's all there is to it.
Almost two years go by after reading about this new design. Must not have
been so radical after all. What now? As it turns out, Mr. Wonka publishes
the recipe to his new candy in an audio magazine in November 2005 for
everybody to make for themselves. But, wait a minute! The recipe has some
of the key ingredients...but obviously lacks what most people would call the
bass mixture. (get it?...bass mixture!) These speakers become known as the
IDS-20 loudspeaker system and I build a pair for myself. Next comes the
Before the IDS-20 (the BEST $200/pair speakers I've heard, by the way), I
really didn't know much about imaging, depth, or spaciousness. And I still
don't claim to know much about it. I had heard the terms, but never really
heard the qualities. Or had I heard the qualities and just not realized it?
Hmm. Some of the best speakers I remember listening to, as far as having
open, effortless sound, would be a pair of Martin-Logan electrostatics.
Thinking back, I can remember the sound of a particular pair of Martin-Logans
as being very wide and open. It was almost as if the band was in the same
room. That kind of sound was very pleasing at the time, especially since my
uncle and I were always haunting the local home theater stores and
auditioning many speakers over a relatively short period of time. (averaging
4-5 stores on a given Saturday) But that experience was well over 5 years
ago. I'm sure my opinion today might be much different. I believe the term
"coherence" had something to do with the sound of the large electrostatic
panels. But even back then the sub-woofer bringing them "up" in the low end
left plenty to be desired. I've played with many subs and their controls,
only to be disappointed with their overall balance with their respective
speaker systems. And who knows what kind of tone-deaf person set up the sub
for demonstration purposes? It was most likely a person who believes that
more bass is, well, better. Needless to say, external sub-woofers have never
been a purchase I've ever considered spending my money on; except with a set
of computer speakers. The McIntosh ML-series (4's in particular), have been
the star of the show for me for a long time. So, it was back to the good-ol'
ML-4s with their beastly cabinets, and reasonably smooth response.
Since everybody is fully aware that bass is a good quality to have in a pair
of loudspeakers, it's also fair to assume that most people assume that bass
is only re-creatable via a large woofer or a sub-woofer. I think it's also
fair to say that most people might think that a woofer less than, say,
6-inches just can't put out any decent amount of bass. The pre-conceived
notion! When I built my IDS-20 speakers, I couldn't believe any loudspeaker
engineer would even think about a column of 20 four-inch full-range
drivers. But this is THE loudspeaker engineer! THE man! The guy whose work
I've worshipped since I was eight years old. I could fathom a good mid-range
and a decent high-end...but bass? It didn't take too long to figure out
"hey, these things are something else!" Getting to work late, on average 15
minutes a day, has been due to the fact that these speakers are like a
drug....a really GOOD drug! Listening to music BEFORE going to work was
normally something I did IN the car. Not any more! This aural "high" (and
lows, for that matter) is continuously repeatable each time I listen to
these things. "How can it get much better than this", I ask myself? Turns
out the "pusher" knows what his newfound addict has been in search of. And
for something better to be created was just a bonus. It turns out the
"pusher" is an addict himself.
After a self-invitation to the 'burbs of Orlando, THE man allows me to take
a free dose of his new drug....IDS-25. (whoa...good stuff, man!) NOW the
speakers are getting SMALLER, but more PLENTIFUL. The laws of fuzzy-physics
are certainly being broken at this point. After about, oh, 10 seconds of
listening to these things I realize that this is the best pair of speakers
I've ever heard....period! I MUST have some!!! I can picture a graphical
depiction of how a speaker's response curve might look as related to how it
sounds to me. Sometimes the curve is heavy in one or two of the three
qualities known most commonly as bass, mid-range, or treble. The IDS-25s,
in my mind, were the closest thing to a ruler-flat line that I've ever
heard. Perfect balance in every respect. It's almost as if the speakers
were connected directly, somehow, to my eardrums. I can't really explain it.
Did I say that I MUST have some? And then there's the amazing sense of
"being there". I've heard speakers that can project a decent image BETWEEN
two speakers, but not OUTSIDE of the left and right extremities. The
IDS-25s did just this; and are simply amazing at doing so. Then comes the
"surround" experience. I'm not talking 5.1 surround, I'm talking PURE 2.0!
This is what I assume is called spaciousness. I've only experienced
spaciousness like this through headphones. And it wasn't as good through
headphones as it was through the IDS-25s. I MUST have some!
I think a more appropriate description of IDS-25 could be (I)ntelligently (D)esigned
I don't know if I can put many more words together to try explaining what I
heard through the IDS-25s because I just don't know the proper terminology
to use. I'm sure one of the main terms I'll be using in the future,
however, will be "Pay to the Order of......."
....and I get irritated at my child for always saying "I want...I want...I
Since THE man left McIntosh back in '92, it's been TOO-BAD SO-SAD for them.
Oh well, you STILL THE MAN!
2/3/06 by J. L.
4/2/04 by R. A.
Holy smokes! Roger did as he promised. He knocked my
I am going to try to accurately describe the most
incredible listening experience I have had in my many years of auditioning
various high-end audio systems. I actually heard clean, clear, undistorted,
and flat bass from an array of drivers each measuring slightly more than 3
inches in diameter. What really makes this speaker system amazing is that
it exhibits so many strong positive attributes, it is difficult to find
fault with the IDS-25. The sound I heard from these speakers made me feel
just like a dog staring at a fan. Ever watch a dog try to figure out
something puzzling? Be it a sound or object, he looks at the source of his
amazement, turns his head one way then the other in an attempt to understand
the issue that now has become the center of his attention. Yes, that was
me, only it was my mind struggling to grasp the situation presented. One
knows exactly what a small cone driver sounds like and to have such great
sound come from an array of small drivers, it nearly completely messes with
one’s head to the point to where one simply cannot accept the facts
presented. What are the facts? One fact is that high-end sound is coming
from small, near transistor radio sized speakers. It is as if suddenly
everything you instinctively know and expect, now no longer applies. If you
can imagine being suddenly placed in an environment that is so bizarre and
twisted, that your eyes outright lie to you, then that would be yet another
way to describe that day. To coin a phrase, it is “so wrong”. Yet in all
that “wrongness” things sound so very, very right. I also felt very much
like Alice. The Alice from the Looking Glass. The difference being that
the end result was a very pleasurable experience and without all the
nonsense. Could one call it a paradigm shift? No. Paradigm transformation
might be a better term.
I am a former electronics technician with experience in
consumer and broadcast electronics. I have since changed careers since
those days, and within the past few years have resurrected that talent for
electronics as well as my passion for music. Yes I am a music nut. I
listen to music at least 50 hours per week. I consider myself very lucky to
be able to listen that much as my current employer actually wants me
to work from home. Why did I leave the electronics field? As a general
rule, there are a lot more people who have computers than have radio and TV
stations. It is a simple matter of supply and demand. I currently do
Information Security and Protection for a large, well known financial
institution. I currently own a pair of XRT22 speakers coupled with a
McIntosh MC2500 amplifier. Other equipment I currently use is the McIntosh
C22 preamp, MR67 tuner, MQ108 equalizer, and a MCD7008 CD player.
For the first time in all my experiences with
speakers, I heard precise, accurate, and well defined imaging completely
free from the “miniature orchestra” effect. Electrostatics, while
transparent, suffer from the mini-orchestra effect greatly. For those
people who like and desire that experience, this speaker system is not for
you. When I first played one of my favorite audition selections, “Schererezade”,
2nd movement, DG 415 512-2 (which is out of print by the way), I
was immediately moved forward to near the conductors position relative to
the orchestra. This I found to be an interesting effect. Other speakers
that I have listened to placed me further back. The next thing I noticed
was that the placement of the instruments was so accurate that I could
easily detect that the recording was made using multiple microphones. The
spatial characteristics of the various solo instruments as they played
assured me of that. It may have been that 2-3 instruments had one
microphone, but the impression of a multi-miked session was still rather
profound. Each instrument was placed precisely “there and there and there”
within the full sound stage with “there” defining the z axis precisely.
The sound stage was every bit as full as Roger’s other
late designs with the distinct impression that the wall was gone and that
the room has been magically transported to the floor of orchestra hall.
Pinpoint accuracy is generally not a desirable
attribute for imaging as it is not very realistic. Precision to the
millimeter is desirable and realistic however and is an accurate description
in this case. I do have to admit that I heard the valving of the various
wind instruments as never before. This particular DG recording is unique in
that the opening and closing of instrument valves is audible. Some have
said this recording was made with the microphones placed very close and I
would have to agree. I like it as the sound of the valves adds an intimacy
unlike any other recording that I have in my collection. In this case, the
sound from the valves also confirmed the precise location of the
instrument. If there were any issues with frequency and phase, there would
be a slight shift in position between the valve sound and the instrument.
There was none that I could tell and it was spot on.
Anne Sofie von Otter’s recording of Offenbach arias (DG
289 471 501-2) was transformed into a live performance. Track 7 of this CD
features 5 singers in addition to Ms. Von Otter. At the time of this
writing, UMG/DG has a video of the performance of Sextuour de l’Alphabet “S.A.D.E.”
In this delightful but short work, Gilles Racon stands next to Anne Sofie on
the left with the remaining 4 singers on the right. What was surprising
about the performance as heard through the IDS25s was that the four tenors
on the right were distinctly placed on the stage with each in a different
position, not that they were just placed on the right side. I could hear
that Gilles Racon was standing to the left of Anne Sofie, not just that he
was in the general vicinity. I tried to explain to those with me what I had
just heard by saying, “The singers were there and there and there…” pointing
to precise spots within the sound stage with my finger.
B&W makes a fine speaker system that images well, but
the sweet spot is so small that it makes it rather impossible for more than
one person to fully enjoy the imaging. This line array makes for a sweet
area that is larger than even the McIntosh XRT22 line arrays.
Many times people describe point sources as something
desirable, but the truth is that many instruments are anything but point
sources. A piano is one such instrument and an electric guitar is
another. Yet the imaging capability of a point source is something quite
desirable. What Roger Russell has done is combine the best qualities of a
vertical array with the best qualities of a point source in one package.
But how does
In short, it sounds superb. The bass is well extended
in frequency response and quite deep. If anyone has heard a well designed
15 inch woofer, then that is the frequency response that one gets. The
frequency response is such that great one keeps looking for the sub woofer,
which, of course isn’t there. But your eyes and previous experiences still
lie to you. It is difficult to relearn or adjust to something after years
of life experience.
If you can imagine hearing a pair of 15” woofers that
have almost no mass, that is what you get. The physics behind this is the
law that states that a body in motion will continue to do so. The greater
the mass, the more likely it is going to resist any change. With the
reduced mass of individual drivers, reproducing a bass drum or kettle drum
or any deep percussion instrument for that matter, is much more accurate and
I also listened to “La Boheme on Broadway”, Dreamworks
SKG 450 408. I have listened to this recording many times, and what
happened when listening to this recording through the IDS-25s startled me.
I could now hear quite plainly when the performers faced the microphone and
when they did not. I was greatly surprised by how much of a difference it
made when listening through the IDS-25s.
The plucking of the strings of a double bass is quite
startling when heard through the IDS-25s. The initial pluck is heard
clearly and is not muffled.
On conventional systems, the harmonics of the large
bass drum and timpani are missing. The sound that the drum makes when
initially hit is sharp and distinctive. The IDS-25s reproduce the bass drum
like no other speaker I have ever heard save for the XR290 with its four 12”
woofers per side. Still, there is a unique quality to the bass that is so
life-like and real that I doubt any other speaker system can reproduce it.
Not even the XR290 can reproduce that sharpness of bass. I attribute the
sharpness of bass to the physics behind using multiple small drivers.
Mids are smooth and the highs are crisp and accurate.
The upper end is so darn clear that one can easily discern the initial
strike of the triangle. A triangle is a tough instrument to reproduce
accurately due to its sharp attack time. It also changes harmonic content
Violins were smooth and clear without any edginess. My
audition recording for violin is EMI’s CDC 54753 2 6, which is Sarah Chang’s
performance of Tchaikovsky’s First violin concerto. Clear, distinct, but
not forward. Forward sounding speakers generally mean to me that there is a
bump in the frequency response, not exactly desirable as far as I am
Woodwinds were smooth and powerful with great detail.
I recall plainly hearing the breaths taken by performers as they played.
The positioning was as precise in depth as it was in the right-left
Listening to Chabrier’s “Espana” and “Joyous Marche”
(DG 447 751-2) was breathtaking and alive. “Habanera” was simply a
delightful experience. For those that are unfamiliar with Chabrier, his
music is very dynamic with a fair amount of bass drum and timpani. The
brass is also very forward and prominent. These speakers reproduced the
experience of a live recording to the point that I was left speechless for
more than a few seconds. After the Chabrier selections had ended, the best
I could do was to very softly exclaim “oh my!” That has never happened to
me before. One could say it took my breath away but that is not entirely
accurate. In reality, I was stunned to the point that speech now failed me
just as my eyes had failed me earlier.
By now, the reality of the situation had struck home.
All of my previous prejudices of what to expect regarding size, sound, and
fidelity were now so thoroughly mangled, the only thing I could do was just
close my eyes and listen. So that is what I did.
But what does it sound like? It doesn’t sound like
much of anything. If one really had to press me for a description, I would
admit that there are times that the Revealations sound like a cone based
speaker, which is what they are. Is that bad? No. There are lots worse
things than sounding like a cone speaker. Is it blatant and obvious? Not
at all. One has to push very hard to describe the sound of these
speakers. I did notice a couple of aberrations in the sound and imaging,
but I believe these aberrations were a by-product of the listening room.
The listening room was far from good and as a matter of fact it is among
the poorer rooms I have auditioned in. Smooth bricks were on the right and
large glass windows on the left. If a speaker system can perform well in
that relatively hostile environment, then there is no reason why it should
not perform superbly in a reasonable room.
The biggest problem a music fan will experience is the
fact that a significant percentage of recordings are not mixed correctly. I
am sure that many have experienced the “hole in the middle” effect and many
speakers make this less objectionable. Not so with the IDS-25s. Due to the
accuracy of this system, all of the problems with recordings will become
quite clear and obvious. Just as a filthy car will show no scratches or
rust spots, once cleaned these issues become glaring obvious. The same
occurs with Roger’s IDS-25 speaker system. Recording mistakes and errors in
judgment by the recording engineer become quite obvious. Even changes in
recording engineers and their techniques become clearly audible.
Positioning these speakers is not something that is to
be taken lightly. Toeing them in seemed to improve imaging and the sound
stage. Distance is very important. Most of the DG recordings I listened to
sounded better further away. Telarc recordings were better a bit closer and
the EMI that I had was nearly hopeless due to poor microphone placement or
mixing. Why? The strings section was thrown so far to the left that one
had the impression that the focal point was in the conductors lap or even
ahead of him. Not a very pleasant place to be as far as I’m concerned.
However, I found this to be the exception and not the rule for the
recordings that I listened to.
A couple of times I could hear a frequency dependent
imaging issue where depending on frequency, the instrument would appear to
center itself at the columns position. I believe this was due to a
reflection from the very hard and very reflective sidewalls.
IDS-25s are everything Roger says they are; imaging
that won’t quit with accuracy that will reveal the best [and worst] in your
recordings. A neutral, effortless sound that is full extends to the deepest
bass and highest treble and does so effortlessly. Details in the
performance are now suddenly apparent, yet I experienced no fatigue during
the entire listening session. Does it sound different than the XR290 or
XRT22? Yes it does. My wife said that instruments sounded “clearer”. I
do have to admit that for me to accurately assess them further, I would have
to spend more time listening to them in my home than the short 6 or so hours
I spent with them. These speakers would also make for a superb HT speaker
as they have a small and unobtrusive footprint. They look very impressive
without being ostentatious.
One could say the IDS-25s reproduce music so clearly it
is as if a dulling haze has been removed from a painting. The difference is
as obvious as comparing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel before and after
its most recent cleaning.
No subwoofer(s) needed or wanted here. Many will scoff
at my last statement saying that a sub is necessary for proper LFE
reproduction. All I can say is prove me wrong. Listen to the IDS-25s and
compare that to a single or dual subwoofer system that is properly
Is this system perfect? No, but it is darn close. So
close in fact, that the IDS-25s will be my next speaker system.