We've been big fans of ribbon tweeters for a long time here at WMBR Radio, especially after having reviewed the ADAM P11A's in Tape Op #33. So when we received a pair of Samson Rubicon 6a's for review, we were naturally excited. These are active nearfields with a 2'' Velocity Ribbon tweeter and a 6.5'' woofer; a 75 Watt amp for the woofer and a 25 Watt amp for the tweeter; and a super-low street price of $430 a pair.
Yes, that's right-$430 a pair. Ribbon-equipped monitors were previously the domain of companies such as SLS and ADAM Audio; before these Samsons, you'd have to spend three times that amount (or more!) for monitors with a similar form factor and specs. [Although Samson and a number of other manufacturers utilize ribbon tweeters, ADAM's tweeter is unique in that it incorporates a folded membrane. -AH]
Needless to say, our expectations were high. So how did they stack up? All told, these Samsons performed admirably-many pros, with only a couple reasonable cons.
The first thing we noticed when listening was how bright these monitors are. There's a boost/cut knob for the tweeters that can be set at -2, 0, +2, or +4 dB; for us, 0 dB was too bright while -2 dB was just a shade dull. A -1 dB setting would be a big help; we can't think of a situation where you'd want to boost the tweeters by 4 dB.
Midrange detail and imaging are both great, outperforming our standard JBL monitors (which are well- respected and much more expensive) and most others that we've heard. We heard small details on mixes and CD's that we've never heard before, and they made arranging the midrange easier. This is the greatest strength of these monitors, and it's very impressive.
The bass is a bit weak, which is expected of 6.5'' woofers. Frequency response curves show the low end starting to roll off below 100 Hz. Despite this, everything behaved predictably, and the adjustments necessary to get the low-end balance correct took some getting used to but were relatively painless. It's worth noting, however, that this contributed to the overall brightness, as we found ourselves increasing the volume to hear the bass better. One of us had an increased amount of ear fatigue after a few hours of mixing; perhaps another consequence of bright tweeters and weak low-end. The Rubicon line includes these 6a's as well as the 5a's, which have smaller woofers; we'd love to see Rubicon speakers with a larger woofer and stronger lows, even if they cost a couple hundred dollars more.
A big unknown with any pair of new monitors is how mixes translate, and this is another area where the Samsons excel. When listening to mixes on other systems, the midrange and highs sit right where they should, with just a small bump in the low end. Frankly, we were a little surprised at how faithfully our mixes translated. We like those kinds of surprises.
Overall, the Samson Rubicon 6a's are a tremendous value. The detail and imaging combined with price makes them a great choice for smaller setups or even as a second or third set of monitors for studios seeking monitoring alternatives, with money left over for a subwoofer (if you're into that sort of thing). ($559.99 MSRP; www.samsontech.com)