You reach a point in the track ‘Trans-Am’ (on the album Sleeps With Angels) when Neil Young’s guitar takes solo flight, a coda rather than a middle eight, the emotional release valve for the steady, meandering yet inexorable approach to this musical climax. Of course, being Neil Young, it’s not exactly your average guitar solo; all long strings and awkward, angular phrases, it embodies astonishing delicacy and power. Gliding just above and yet totally distinct from the sporadic bass notes, it’s a thing of beauty, as complete as its structure is fragile, the perfect end to a near-perfect song. But just how perfect you’ll likely not realize until you hear it on a really good system – one that tracks micro dynamics and reveals harmonic textures, one that flows with a natural, unforced sense of pace and timing, that gives the music its own voice and concentrates instead on shading the gaps between the notes. In short a system that uses speakers like the really rather remarkable Raidho TD1.2. Even for a brand that has startled and divided the audio community as often and deeply as Raidho has, this speaker is something special.
As a company, Raidho’s history has been short but dramatic, arguably with more than its fair share of twists, turns and narrowly avoided pitfalls. But for all the excitement and drama, one thing has remained constant from (almost) the beginning: since the arrival of the original C1, with its innovative integrated baffle and driver basket and deep, boat-backed cabinet, the brand’s compact, two-way stand-mounts have been consistently the most fascinating and engaging performers in the line. The C1 quickly spawned the C1.1 and later C1.2, while also spinning off in the much more affordable (but sonically nearly as impressive) shape of the Scansonic MB-1. An evolution in cone material resulted in the seriously pricey D1 while the junior X-series offered the X/XT-1 – although that speaker was, somewhat inexplicably, shorn of the boat backed cabinet and much of its visual appeal as a result. Nevertheless, Raidho’s two-ways continued to intrigue and amuse in equal part, their considerable strengths becoming progressively better balanced against their weaknesses with each iteration, until the C1.2 finally nailed the small box tight-rope walk.
Along with a step-change in performance (and, far from coincidentally) the C1.2 also marked a change in ownership and some welcome financial stability. With Danish electronics conglomerate Dantax holding the purse strings, the Raidho brand has finally started to really deliver on its promise, cleaning up its act, refining its existing technology and entering a period of steady evolution. That evolution has centred on two aspects of the company’s novel driver designs: the mechanical structure and particularly the rear venting have been significantly modified, resulting in substantial improvements in performance, particularly at bandwidth extremes (and resulting in the spectacular new, integrated driver/motor structures first seen in the TD3.8 at Munich last year): the other developmental area has been in terms of driver cone and diaphragm materials and it is the latest cone technology that gives this version of the established two-way its TD prefix – and arguable much of its seriously impressive performance.
Right from the start, Raidho has relied on composite ceramic cone technology, deep treatment of the raw aluminium diaphragm producing a three-layer sandwich, with hard ceramic skins either side of a soft, aluminium core (and a distinctive, almost white colour). That creates a cone with the benefits of stiffness and good self-damping – the twin grails of loudspeaker cone design. But like all composites, the real virtue of the approach lies in the ability to alter or control the sandwich structure in order to tune its performance. The D prefix used on the flagship range denotes a stiffer, lighter, synthetic diamond coating in place of the ceramic skins, but that has now been superseded by a more complex structure that takes the original ceramic sandwich and uses a high-temperature sputter deposition process to deposit a precisely calculated mix of titanium and titanium nitride particles on each side, before that process is repeated to create the final seven-layer sandwich. The goal was to approach the performance of the D-series diamond cones at a more approachable cost. In fact, they achieved a performance that gets awfully close to the D-series drivers in some respects, and actually betters them in others, the seven-layer construction delivering superior self-damping, a lower fundamental resonance and a stiffer overall structure. The new cones, with their sombre, matte grey surface first appeared in the XT variants of the entry level X-series, allowing those speakers to leapfrog (and thus render obsolete) the more expensive C-series. Now, the TD-series steps in to take over from both the C-series and the D-series, extending performance without extending the price of the flagship line.
Looking at the numbers on the TD1.2 and factoring in the company’s claims for its cone technology, it’s easy to predict the nature of the improvements that should result and, for once, those predictions would be pretty accurate. What’s not so easy is to predict their unexpected extent or the degree to which they transform the overall performance of what was (in the shape of the C1.2) already a remarkably lucid and nimble design. Listening to the two speakers in close comparison, I was shocked by the extent to which the familiar virtues of the C1.2 were eclipsed by its more expensive, but outwardly almost identical brother. For all its clarity, crisp leading-edge definition and micro-dynamic discrimination, switching to the TD leaves the C-model sounding lightweight and threadbare. The TD1.2 goes deeper and it does it with considerably more body and weight, producing a richer and significantly more dimensional images and soundstage. Voices gain a chest and stringed instruments their rich, woody body tones, whether it’s John Williams’ guitar on the superb Concerto (JCW3 on his own label) or Ray Brown’s bass on This One’s For Blanton. But whilst I certainly welcome all that added presence and substance, it’s not just the extra weight per se that makes the real difference, but the way that it arrives. If you thought that the C1.2 possessed clarity to burn, wait until you hear the lucid, uncluttered intelligibility of the TD. This isn’t a speaker that simply fires detail at you, depending on pared-away harmonics and ultra transparency. The new driver has lost none of the speed and attack that the C-series drivers possess – but it adds greater precision and a more refined performance, both within and outside the audible band, qualities that help keep all that information exactly where it should be, preserving the pattern of the music, making more sense of its structure and the conversations between instruments. It all comes down to the shape of individual notes. The TD1.2 masters not only the leading edge of the notes, but with the extra weight at its disposal it centres them properly and captures their decay, telling you where the note starts, the way it’s accented and how long it lasts. The Raidho speakers have always leant more towards how the music is being played, with astonishing insight into the performance and technique of individual instrumentalists at the expense of the performance as a whole. The TD1.2 redresses that balance, delivering both greater insight into a player’s technique, but also fitting their contribution into a far more coherent and musically complete whole.
This new, holistic presentation is down to the extra weight and definition at the bottom end, but there’s more to it than that. The sense of a single coherent space and lock-step timing between the musicians is all about the right amount of energy in just the right place, but it’s about the seamless integration of the drivers too – which is where that revised venting comes in, massively reducing the out-of-band resonant peaks for both drivers, smoothing their transition and the easing the load seen by the amplifier. It keeps the trailing edge of notes and their upper harmonics in time and in proportion, keeping the pattern of the phrases and notes stable and ripple-free, the significance of which can’t be overstated. Take the opening passage of the Third Movement in Jan Lisiecki’s performance of Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto. Always a rapid passage, the young Canadian goes at it like he’s trying to set records. The notes arrive so crisply and so closely together that most systems struggle to recover between impulses, the result turning into a blizzard of notes, tumbling over each other. The clarity (and clipped trailing edges) of the C1.2s restored a semblance of order, but still the playing sounds hurried and imprecise. Swapping to the TD1.2 tells you just how wrong that conclusion is. Not only does the grey-coned speaker define the notes AND the gaps between the notes, but it does so with such confidence that the reproduction becomes unforced, the performance masterful. Far from playing right to the limits when it comes to speed, Lisiecki is in fact playing well within himself, the TD revealing not just the precise placement and spacing of the notes, but also their weight and the way he accents each phrase, articulating the lines as a whole. Given the breakneck speed at which all this is happening, the performance of the speaker is almost as impressive as the playing.
That relaxed sense of unhurried music making is invaluable when it comes to enjoying music, any music, at home. Like any speaker, the Raidho TD-1.2 responds to carefully chosen amplification and although the specs and the crisp, clean dynamic response suggest that it would be a perfect partner for modestly powered tube amps, it really comes into its own with several hundred Watts connected to its terminals. A little like the Stenheim Alumine 3, this is a speaker that might not demand power but it sure does like it. The Levinson 585 proven to be a startlingly effective partner, as did the VTL S-200 and the Rowland 625 S2. The power reserves and headroom that these amps provide underpin the speaker’s dynamic capabilities but also allow it to seemingly sit back, safe in the knowledge that it can respond to any incoming demand – something that allows the listener to relax in turn.
Raidho’s latest two-way is the most evenly balanced small speaker they’ve yet produced, adding convincing and beautifully judged body and weight to the marque’s traditional strengths of transparency, speed and clarity. The results are significantly more convincing than those achieved by the D1.1 or the C1.2, but I’d still hesitate to call this a speaker for everyman. Better balanced yes – a genuine all-rounder, not so much. The TD1.2 doesn’t do scale or allow music to swell as convincingly as the Stenheim Alumine 2SE or the Wilson Duette. It lacks the astonishing air and absence of the best diamond tweeters and still sounds a little closed in at high frequencies, but this is a level of criticism that can be applied to any speaker and small stand-mounts more than most. So no, this isn’t a speaker that’s a slam-dunk for every system or every listener. But if you value its special qualities and you get to hear them, then you might well struggle to find an acceptable alternative. Its poised delicacy, intimacy and precision, its unusual combination of relaxed unforced ease and energetic dynamic response make it arresting when it comes to appreciating a musician’s technique, in isolation or in ensemble. Listen and you might discover hidden musical gems in the most unlikely places; listen and you might just discover the heights a great guitarist can reach in terms of musical expression. The TD1.2 might not fool you into thinking you are there, but it sure as shootin’ will make you wish you had been!
Type: Two-way rear reflex loaded hybrid loudspeaker
Driver Complement: 1× “Quasi-ribbon” planar magnetic tweeter; 1× 115mm Titanium/titanium-nitride coated ceramic cone
Bandwidth: 45Hz–50KHz ±3dB
Impedance: 8 Ohms
Dimensions (W×H×D): 200 × 360 × 400mm
Finishes: Piano black lacquer, Walnut Burl veneer or paint finishes to order
Price: from £20,000 per pair
UK Distributor: Decent Audio
Tel: +44(0)56 0205 4669
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