Review of the Rhythm 9500 (Formerly Value project)
First let me say that you can’t touch a loudspeaker with the same quality components for anywhere near the $950.00 I invested in the Rhythms. The Scan Speak Drivers employed are often found in speakers in the 6-10k range and the North Creek Crossover networks are in a class of their own.
How do they Sound? Fantastic! As several of the other reviewers have pointed out, they do take some time to break in, but after a few weeks they open up and become very detailed and musical with tight quick bass. Although they definitely do not require a subwoofer, I have been experimenting with crossing them over to a powered sub at 70-80hz for home theater and music and it seems to open up the sound of the Rhythms even more (if that’s possible). My next purchase will be a North Creek Sub to replace my Klipsch. The North Creek site has some specifics on integrating the rhythms with a sub.
One piece of advice.....when I purchased the Rhythms, I bought the 9500 series. My rational was “how much better could the upgraded Unlimited or Revelator versions really be?” I figured the upgrade was probably an attempt to squeeze a few more bucks from the consumer with minimal benefit. Well... it wasn’t until I ordered and received my new North Creek “Vision” Center Channel speaker with the upgraded crossover and Revelator Tweeter that I realized how much of a difference there was. I would never discourage someone from the 9500’s; these are hands down the best speakers I have ever owned and they sound wonderful (far better than the Vienna Acoustics I replaced) but if you can afford the upgrade, its well worth it. The smoothness and detail of the Revelator tweeter is absolutely astounding!
I highly reccomend both the North Creek "Rhythm" and my newest addition the "Vision" Center.
I have had the Rhythms ( Value Kit ) for close to two years now. Over that time, I bought several other speakers. Some panels and other similar sized dynamic speakers. Seems no matter how hard I try, I just cant find a speaker that I prefer.
First, I think of myself as an audiophile only because I appreciate accurately reproduced music and not because I have access to expensive audio equipment to make comparisons too. So you might want to keep this in mind as you read my review.
My speakers are not true Rhythms because I have substituted an active crossover and biamped instead of using the passive crossover that is standard to the loudspeakers. Other modifications include deflex panels inside the cabinets and thicker walls than was spec'ed in the excellent plans that George has posted on the Web.
After I had built the speakers I initally plugged them into some lowfi equipment that I was using at the time and was very disappointed with the results. Until they are broken in they are hard to listen to. The sound stage isn't well defined and they have a mechanical sound to them, not very musical at all.
As the hours accumulated things got better but they were still not sounding much like a live performance.
As my budget permitted I substituted better components to my system and only when all of the weaker elements were eliminated from the system did the Rhythms really show their stuff.
These speakers are ACCURATE, they will reproduce very faithfully whatever you feed them. If the source is poor quality you will know it in an instant. These babies don't hide a thing.
Placement of the Rhythms is critical, they do not like being close to a wall, and your room acoustics have to be up to snuff if you want the full benifit of these wonderful speakers.
I spent over two years researching first factory direct savings (ACI, etc), then decided on a kit to save even more money. There are a number of good to great kits out there (BESL, Zalytron, Madiousnd, Selah Audio, etc), so it's not always an easy decision to make. When I found Northcreek Music, I was impressed with George Short's designer pedigree and knowledge of crossover design (the most critical aspect of speaker design, without question!). Long story short, I found a speaker builder who had over five projects in his home, and wanted to sell a couple to make room for his next mega project. He had gone with the budget system. I bought the cabinet and used woofers from him, then ordered an ultimate crossover and a pair of 9700 tweeters matched by Northcreek (the crossover was modified for the 9700). The woofers were broken in at this time (Scanspeak drivers are reputed to need over 100 hours of break-in time to reach max. performance specs). The 9700 tweeters had about 60 hours on them, but when I fired the speakers up, they sounded magnificent! Details I had never found in records and cds before became quite apparent, making me want to stay up all night putting on old albums to see what I've been missing all these years. As the tweeters have burned-in, I've noticed even better imaging, and a slight bit of sibilance with some recordings has vanished. If you build these, give them some playing time to come into their own.
These speakers do all the required audiophile jumping through the hoops sort of stuff you would expect from speakers costing many thousands of dollars: wonderful soundstage (when the recording has it), macrodetails, dynamics. Two things I love about them: A) the top end seems to be quite detailed, but not harsh like I've found in some audiophile speakers. This means that while bad recordings still become apparent (compared to good recordings), they are not unlistenable. My taster runs the gamut from classic rock to punk to experimental music to jazz, some folk, whacky sound effects records, modern composer stuff,spoken word, you name it. These speakers suit my varied taste.
B) They do justice to rock music (!), yet subtle and more detailed music (jazz, folk, classical) are done equal justice. Some speakers are good for more or less one thing, these are well-rounded.
I have enjoyed the imaging magic of Audio Physic speakers in stores, I'm happy to report that these are more than up to the task. They can disappear. A favorite new song is the first track of Radio Head's "Amnesiac" album, imaging and macro-details are scary! (this album is a rock record with wonderful and other-worldly sonics, and it's scary with the Rhythms!) It can split the sound field down to left, right, center, and various points in-between, as well as height, depth, etc.
Vocals are great, Nick Drake is playing right not, wonderful presentation of voice.
While they may not be SET friendly (not sure of this yet), they played great with 40 watts of tube power, I'll bet 15 watts would do it fine. While it is a 4 ohm load (not always the best for tube amps), I don't think it drops much below 4 ohms. George has told me that many folks who have built this kit are using all-tube set-ups. I'm switching between amps for fun right now, always a tube preamp, then either a solid state or tube power amp. I like it with both, just different flavours.
OK, guess I've gone on enough here, I'm just pleased that I have a speaker that would probably cost at least $5000 to $8000 in the store (if you know anything about audio sales, mark-up is often up to five times original costs!). You should see the crossovers for the Ultimate, jaw dropping! Speakers that cost $4000 dont' have the quality of components used in the Rhythms.
Gear: Pramp: Audible Illusions Modulas 3 (with NOS 1970's Sovteks purchased from Upscale Audio, if you have this preamp, you must try these!)
Power amps: tube: Music Reference RM9, Dynaco MKII monoblocks sand amps: Acurus 200X3, Tandberg 3026 A (am thinking about trying Musical Fidelity AC3R or Monarchy Class A amps. However, I'm pretty happy with the tube amps most, but it's fun to pop in the solid state for tighter bass for some rock stuff)
Turntable: Rega Planar 3 with Rega Exact cartridge (these speakers make me want to try moving coil now, for more details. Also thinking about building a Teres DIY turntable, all acrylic, another DIY bargin!)
CD: Rotel 950 (will upgrade this at some point, either to seperate DAC, or Rega Planet 2000 or Ah! Tjeub 4000)
I've had the Rhythms for about a month now, and I think they're fully broken in. I performed two tweeks that the North Creek manual suggested and both helped the sound of the speaker very well. These speakers image extremely well and have excellent transparency. The bass, while not all the way down to the last octave, is incredibly good, being tight and definitive, without being dry or flabby. Some of the best bass I've heard, and definitely better than anything in it's price class by a wide margin. The treble was just a tad too bright until I added a small value resistor in the tweeter crossover as the manual said, which nudged the hard edge out of the response perfectly. This took all of about twenty minutes and was very easy. Another ten minute tweek brought the midrange into it's best, in my opinion. These speakers have no competition in their price class. They are just giant killers. You owe it to yourself to give these a shot if you want top quality at a very reasonable price. If you're not a pretty decent woodworker, have someone else build them, as they aren't a rookie's project and might frustrate you and force you to settle on just a fair job. The manual leaves a bit to be desired, so let an occomplished woodworker wadethrough the instructions and write up a plan which includes rabbet and dado joints which make it a much stronger box that's easier to put together. Overall, this is a first class product. If you're ready to quit looking around for that last pair of speakers, give these a chance and take the time to build them right. You will not be disappointed.