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REVIEW: Renaissance Audio Group Duet Speakers

Model: Duet
Category: Speakers
Suggested Retail Price: $1,200 - $1,800
Description: Stand Mount / Bookshelf Speaker
Manufacturer URL: Renaissance Audio Group
Model Picture: View

Review by JoshT (A) on April 14, 2006 at 12:28:54
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This is my first product review on AA. I had posted a version of these comments as a regular post on the Speaker Asylum page, and certain fellow Asylees kindly suggested that I formalize it as a review. So, here goes.

This review addresses my recent home audition of the relatively unknown Renaissance Duet speakers, my impressions, my thoughts on how these speakers compare to the more widely-known B&W CDM1SEs in my particular system, and my eventual decision to purchase a pair for my bedroom system.

For several years, I have used B&W CDM1SEs in my bedroom system. First with an NAD receiver, later with a Krell KAV 300i integrated, and finally with a Conrad Johnson Premier 17LS (Series 1) preamp and MF2250 ss amp. Throughout, I have used a Rega Planar 3 with Rotel phono preamp and a Rotel 971 CD Player. A couple years ago I added a REL Q150E subwoofer. Also, I now have a “wicked pissah” Accuphase T-100 tuner (I'm from the Boston area).

I found the B&Ws perfectly listenable though somewhat bland with the NAD and very dynamic but fatiguing and often metallic sounding with the Krell. With the CJ gear they have sounded their best by far, with a nice combination of dynamics, detail and musicality. But, my complaints have included (1) a high end that can still be harsh at times, (2) an overall lack of cohesion at high volumes, (3) the lack of an impressive soundstage and imaging and (4) bass that is a bit flabby. That is not to say I've been unhappy, just very aware of certain shortcomings.

Recently I tried two tube power amps in an attempt to address issues (1) through (3) above (the lack of strong bass never bothered me as much). The first was a used CJ Premier 11 and the second was a demo CJ MV60SE, both on loan from a local dealer. While the B&Ws certainly came to life with the 6550 tubes driving them (drums never sounded better, e.g.), and the soundstage became comparably huge and open, and imaging improved, I was surprised to find that both of these amps added some unwelcome heat/harshness to the top end, and seemed to unbalance the sound by over-emphasizing certain instruments, such as horns, at the expense of others, such as piano and string bass. I wasn't thrilled with either, and my wife hated both. We preferred the balanced sound of the MF2250, even if it kept the sound a bit closed in. But how to open it up? I suspected that the problem might be the speakers themselves.

About three weeks ago, I visited The Audio Studio in Brookline, MA for some repair work on my Rega. It's where I bought the TT originally, and where I bought the Accuphase, and I knew they sold speakers called Morels. Turns out it is the US headquarters of Morel Accoustics USA, now called Renaissance Audio Group (http://www.renaudio.com). [As an aside: Morel split into two distinct companies awhile back and "shared" the name Morel for awhile. This Morel (now Renaissance) provides drivers to many high-end companies, such as Merlin. I gather the other Morel speaker company similarly provides drivers to other companies, but am not sure. In any event, you can read more on the company's website and in certain reviews and in certain postings here, though the internet buzz and press coverage is modest to say the least]

While at The Audio Studio, I mentioned my B&W dilemma to Mikhael Shabani, the proprietor of the Audio Studio and the president of Renaissance Audio Group, and he suggested I home audition the Duets, a two-way, transmission line, stand mounted speaker, with a 6 1/4 inch woofer vented in the back and a 1.1 inch soft dome tweeter (the exact same drives used in the Merlin TSM Millenniums). I took them home with me on Saturday, and my wife and I played dozens of CDs on them through Sunday night.

I really like these speakers. On balance, I prefer them to the B&Ws enough that I decided to buy a pair. Compared to the B&Ws, the soundstage is larger and more open and the imaging is far superior. The Duets have a laidback effortlessness and an airy quality that the B&Ws lack, and yet the detail is amazing and, for the most part, as good or better than the B&Ws. Their bass is tighter and deeper than the B&Ws’, and they integrate much more seamlessly with the REL, which makes them seem even deeper. And they will play LOUD if you want without any harshness. In fact, they sound very, very good at high volumes!

The Duets are not a speaker that immediately grabs you. In fact, it took about half an hour to an hour of listening before they started to intoxicate me, and I started to fall into them. Hours later, I just wanted to keep playing CDs and my wife and I ended up late for a dinner engagement. Ooops. My wife, who enjoys the same kind of music and sound qualities as I do, enjoyed them too. She is an even tougher critic than I am when it comes to audio equipment and resists spending money for the sake of a new toy, but she subtly suggested that, If I liked them, I might want to buy them. From her, a particularly subtle and reserved lady, that was quite an endorsement (believe it or not)! In auditioning these speakers, I found that when I put on a CD with the intent to listen to part of a single track, simply to compare them to the B&Ws, I would end up listening to several tracks because I just started to enjoy the music too much to stop.

And yet I cannot say that they are better than the B&Ws in all respects. I would say that the B&Ws reproduce the snap of a drum in jazz or rock more dramatically than the Duets, at least with the sources that I have driving them. I do wish the Duets performed as well as the CDM1s in this one regard, which matters given the music I listen to, but it’s not enough to tip the scale. Also, being a bit more forward in the treble and upper midrange, the CDM1s grab your attention initially more than the Duets.

With the Duets, however, I find myself wanting to leave the stereo on the more I listen to it. With the B&Ws, I had a tough time ignoring the shortcomings I perceived with them, no matter how I focused on their strengths. With the Duets, the opposite is true: I find myself aware of certain shortcomings, but I am so happy with how they do sound that I don’t think much about how they don’t. Another way of putting it - I find myself listening to the music and not analyzing the way the speakers sound as much.

The price is right. These spears have a list price of about $1,200 in black lacquer and $1,800 in cherry veneer (pictured above), but they are very generously discounted. In the cherry finish, which I have ordered, they end up costing about the same as B&W 705s (replacements to the CDM1NTs, which replaced the CDM1SEs) when each are discounted. And I kind of like the fact that they are manufactured in the Boston area (the drives are made in Israel and the speakers in Massachusetts).

I am a bit puzzled by how unknown these speakers are, but I can recommend that you audition them if you live in the Boston area. Mikhael is a very friendly and thoughtful guy, and fun to talk to. He is letting me hold onto the demos until the new ones are made to order, which is pretty cool since it's a few weeks' wait. But for those interested, he has a second demo pair in his shop.

Highly recommended by yours truly.

Product Weakness: Drums could have a little more snap. Not bad in this regard, but the B&W CDM1SEs get the edge here (though in no other categories).
Product Strengths: Very detailed, and yet effortless and relaxing. Deep, tight bass for a speaker this size. Very good imaging and large, deep soundstage. Nice, intangible musicality. An absolutely incredible bargain.

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Conrad Johnson MF2250
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Conrad Johnson Premier 17LS
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Rotel 971 CDP; Rega Planar 3; Rotel Phono Preamp
Speakers: Renaissance Audion Group Duets; REL Q150E Subwoofer
Cables/Interconnects: Siltech MXT London; Custom House Baracuda
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Jazz, Blues, Rock, some Classical
Room Size (LxWxH): 16' x 12' x 9.5'
Room Comments/Treatments: No room treatments
Time Period/Length of Audition: Three weeks
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Rotel Power Conditioner
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: Renaissance Audio Group Duet Speakers - JoshT 12:28:54 04/14/06 (1)

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