Those with long, long memories might recall the original Darius. No, not the one from early Persian history; instead, think of the Darius from early Roksan history. That first Darius loudspeaker was all hard-edged black ash cabinet, tweeter on springs, and black metal stand that encased the whole standmount speaker; short of shoulder-pads and carrying round an overstuffed Filofax, you couldn’t get more 1980s if you tried.
Skip forward to 2014 and you couldn’t get a more different Darius. OK, it’s still a standmount two-way, but that’s where the constants end. The new Darius S1 now features a G2N ribbon tweeter (made by Aurum Cantus) of extremely high performance, coupled to a similarly high-grade 140mm long-throw bass driver designed for Roksan. This last comes complete with metal spoke grill to keep prying little fingers at bay. The crossover features some quite tasty components (Mundorf polyprop capacitors, air core inductors, and metal film resistors), and terminates with some high-grade bi-wire terminals. There are two small rear-firing ports.
The stand is now an MDF box with a cable management system to the rear and sits on three large spikes (two of which are on a metal plate). The loudspeaker is bolted to a top plate on the stand. This looks good, but the rear cable management block sets the last few centimetres of the stand behind the speaker, as if fitted incorrectly. This isn’t helped by the tapered stand and the slight back-tilt. However, it looks a lot more elegant in the flesh, and gives the Darius S1 the appearance of seeming shorter than it really is (because it looks as if you are looking down on it). This helps in making the loudspeaker more domestically friendly.
I must admit not to have had too many hours in front of the original Darius, both ‘back in the day’ and today. From memory, though, it was an extremely clean and detailed sounding loudspeaker that didn’t suffer musical fools gladly. It demanded precision installation, produced a tight sweet-spot, had a tendency toward stridency on early digital (perhaps understandable given Roksan only made turntables and loudspeakers at the time), and was all energy and mid/treble coherence at the expense of deep bass and dynamics.
The Darius S1 is a very different beast in all these things. In fact, the only thing it shares is a desire to be placed out into the room. The S1 is a far more forgiving loudspeaker in equipment, placement, and performance. It still has that intrinsic clean and detailed presentation, but coupled to that is an ease of listening that makes the new loudspeaker intrinsically good to listen to. It also has excellent bass and great dynamics for a small loudspeaker. And, perhaps thanks to that gentle back tilt, it’s also got a broader vertical listening ‘window’ than most ribbon tweeters, so you aren’t limited to a specific listening height.
It doesn’t emphasise soundstage, but this has nothing to do with veiling or foreshortening. When you listen to something with great stereo imagery (one of those wonderful old Mercury recordings from the 1950s, for example), you get a great sense of space and air, and a lot of detail. But what you often get is nothing more substantial than the imagery. The Darius gets behind the imagery and teases out the structure of the tune. You become less aware of the imagery because you are more focused on the music instead. This is not trying to hide a limitation by stealth, you really do focus more on one part than another here. And by my reckoning, it’s focused in the right direction.
They need a bit of poke to get them going. They play nice at lower levels, but give them some oomph and they really get into the groove. They don’t need insane levels of power, but they do need something more than a couple of watts to come to life. 50W or more brings the Darius S1 to life, and it’s a lively loudspeaker. Let’s immediately qualify that. Not ‘lively’ in the bright and zingy way: lively in that puts-a-smile-on-your-face way.
I played ‘Was All Talk’ by Kurt Vile on the Wakin on a Pretty Daze album [Matador]; this track showed up their inherent ‘bopping along’ quality. In fairness, you’d need a pretty dead speaker not to wake up from this album, but it sings sweetly through the Darius S1. The same applied to ‘Fair Annie’ from Martin Simpson on his two-disc special edition of Vagrant Stanzas [Topic]. Here, both the melody and the speed and finesse of Simpson’s guitar playing came through extremely well. It also highlighted a unique property of the Darius S1 that has not hitherto been common to Roksan speakers – it’s nowhere near as forward and upfront as other designs from the stable. This almost makes it sit outside the Roksan range, but might make it the ideal loudspeaker for those who think there’s a bit too much ‘Rock’ in the Roksan. Don’t read too much into that statement; this is no dull-sounding speaker that leaves rock and pop music bland and dreary, but one of sophistication and balance that doesn’t throw music forward in image or high-frequency tone.
The bass is surprisingly deep for a standmount of this size, and yet is capable of both texture when playing Simpson’s fast open-string runs and also showing up the one-note woody quality to Public Enemy’s drone tones. Couple this with a very good ability to project deep bass on ‘Teardrop’ from Massive Attack’s Mezzanine [Virgin] and it’s clear this is better bass than you might expect. Especially as the bass on ‘Chameleon’ by Trentemøller’s The Last Resort [Poker Flat] sounds distant, until it hits you like a brick wall.
There’s a fairly major part of the Darius presentation that makes a lot of sense. Roksan’s new Oxygene line of electronics is an ideal partner. We were supplied an Oxygene amplifier to accompany the Darius S1 for the purposes of the test. I think as a package, it’s one of the most important UK high-end products in many years, because it manages to tow a pragmatic line between high performance and absolute ease of use. But the sound of one meets the sound of the other perfectly, and the resultant synergy is not ‘two wrongs make a right’, but ‘two rights make a righter!’
The acid tests of any good system from a reviewer’s perspective are two-fold. First comes ‘would I buy this for (insert saintly old relative here)?’ and if that one is passed, then the ‘if I lost all the reviewer magic powers, and this were the only system I could buy, would I be content?’ question jumps out at you. The simple answer to both is a resounding ‘yes!’ – I’d be happy with the all-Roksan system and I’d be happy with the Darius hanging off the end of something very good indeed. There’s something just ‘right’ about the sound here.
I can’t help listening to the Darius without drawing the Raidho C1.1 into the fight. The C1.1 is an expensive, but outstanding, loudspeaker that demands the best and gives the best. The Darius observes the same rules, but with two pivotal additions: it’s nowhere near as expensive as the C1.1 and it doesn’t make the same uncompromising demands on room and install. In a straight fight, there would be no clear winner, but as the Darius is so much cheaper, it’s not a fair fight. Granted, if you were to partner up the Darius with the sort of mind-bendingly high-end equipment commonly seen hanging out with the C1.1, the Raidho’s ability to extract the last degrees of detail and focus wins out. But in the real world, where people don’t put £30,000 CD players and £40,000 cables on the end of standmount speakers, the differences between the two speakers are more blurred. Indeed, the Roksan’s less uncompromising take on placement and partnership might make it the better sounding design in many rooms.
In many respects, the last thing the world needs is another loudspeaker. But as soon as you season that sentence with the word ‘good’, suddenly you begin to see why the Roksan Darius S1 is a welcome addition. It does that difficult thing: balance. It’s not just a matter of tonal balance, but of balancing between the demands for detail and imagery from the audiophiles and the demands for just a good, unfussy sound from music lovers. Roksan claims the Darius S1 is the best loudspeaker the company knows how to make. It’s absolutely right. Highly recommended!
- Type: 2-way, two-driver stand-mount monitor with rear-ported
bass reflex enclosure.
- Driver complement: One sealed Aurum Cantus G2N ribbon
tweeter, one 125mm mid-bass driver.
- Inputs: Bi-wire terminals.
- Frequency response: 47Hz – 30kHz (-3dB)
- Crossover frequency: not specified
- Impedance: >4 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 89dB/W/m
- Dimensions (HxWxD): 376 x 200 x 376mm
- Weight: 13.4kg/each
- Finishes: Piano Black, High-Gloss White.
- Price (including stands): £5,250/pair
Manufacturer: Roksan Audio Ltd
Tel: +44(0) 208 900 6801
UK Distributor: Henley Designs Ltd
Tel: +44(0)1235 511166
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