January 08, 2021

Odeon Rigoletto 2020 - test online on hifistatement.net

It took a little bit longer than expected, but the test of the Odeon Rigoletto 2020 is online on hifistatement.net now. For those of you not being German native speakers, I have translated the text to English for your convenience:

Would you have so much confidence in a manufacturer that you would order a component from them without a prior listening test? A loudspeaker, for example, that doesn't even exist yet because it hasn't been fully developed and the price hasn't been determined yet? Of course not! I do: the Odeon Rigoletto 2020.

I have to make one thing clear right away: This is not a classic test, but a story. It's my personal story about how, after well over a decade, a professional loudspeaker was finally allowed to move into my home again. And permanently, at that. My liaison with the Odeon Rigoletto 2020 has been going on for over half a year now, and our relationship is getting stronger. My carpentry tools have been lying around unused for months (at least I'm not using them to make my own speaker cabinets at the moment), which is not necessarily to the displeasure of my better half... But I'll go ahead, one by one!


For hifi tinkerers who repeatedly saw holes in wooden boards, glue them together, stuff in absorbent cotton, screw in the drivers, pull cables through them and maybe even sizzle together a few electrical components, there is a nice colloquial term (in German language): "frickler". The common frickler usually spends much more time tinkering than listening to music per se. Like a crusader he is searching for the Holy Grail and in his boundless naivety he actually believes to be able to find it. I was the same kind of person, roughly even for about two and a half decades. Because once you become a low-power junkie and are on the triode drug, there's no turning back and you have a fundamental problem: finding the right speaker for your little low-power amplifiers. The market was and is rather limited in terms of single ended triode affine loudspeakers and you can do it much better yourself anyway, so you keep hacking the Thiele-Small parameters of all potentially suitable drivers into a calculation software like AJ-Horn, interpret the results and blithely build horns, transmission lines or other rather exotic enclosures like open baffle walls. This way you produce a lot of firewood, but that's just a side note. And at some point you think: All this is a doomed venture from the start, the Holy Loudspeaker Grail, the sonic perfection for a handful of triode watts, you will not find it. Never. There are simply some professionals who can do it better than you.


Somewhat sobered by my newfound honesty with myself, ultimately resulting from the discrepancy between my overly high expectations in terms of the sonic end result on the one hand and my probably limited expertise in high-end loudspeaker construction on the other, I again checked the professional loudspeaker market a little more intensively almost exactly a year ago. I started looking for a suitable partner for my single ended triodes with their puny output power in the range of somewhere between one point something and four watts. I often ended up with the manufacturers I was familiar with anyway, but I also asked my editorial colleagues for promising newcomers. However, nothing could really inspire me, which was quite due to the relatively concrete conception, which I basically had in mind as the ideal for my small power triodes: a high-efficiency two-way system consisting of a tweeter horn and a backloaded low-mid horn. Please, with eight ohms nominal impedance, a maximum eight inch large, hard suspended bass-midrange driver made of paper, as simple as possible crossover without correction elements and without nasty messes in the phase or impedance response. Oh yes, an efficiency of not necessarily less than 94 decibels per watt and meter is of course mandatory. I just didn't find it. Maybe too special after all?


Desperate, I clung to the only straw I could grasp and called Odeon Audio in February 2020. Among other things, because the model Rigoletto, which was unfortunately discontinued in 2016, had always remained in my memory very good (and I simply missed to grab these speakers in time). And also because at the Hamburg HiFi Days at the beginning of the same month I almost knocked over an Odeon Audio Midas in wonderful cardboard veneer standing around in a hallway... The real reason, of course, is that Axel Gersdorff brings with him the three most important things that are essential prerequisites for successful loudspeaker construction: Experience, experience and more experience, and meanwhile more than 40 years of it. In addition, Odeon Audio stands for a characteristic that is very important to me personally and that is becoming increasingly rare these days: authenticity. Hectic, short product cycles are a foreign word here, at Odeon Audio they simply don't chase after every short-lived fashion trend. That's good! And perhaps most important: Odeon Audio builds nice high-efficiency horn loudspeakers.


So, one morning in February 2020, I got Constantin Buchholz on the phone and described my problem. The Midas with its six ohms and the two parallel bass-midrange drivers on bass reflex was not quite to my personal technical taste and with the larger models in Odeon's portfolio I was a little worried that my single ended triodes with their barely appreciable damping factors would get the large woofers under control, keyword: back induction. Mr. Buchholz replied that Odeon Audio had indeed already almost finished developing a new model. With the classic tweeter horn typical for Odeon - here they were still experimenting with two different driver variants - and an 18 centimeter bass-midrange driver made of paper with multiple folded surround as a backloaded horn. I was more than gobsmacked! To say that my interest was piqued would be the understatement of the century, I was terribly excited! Sure, I could have just limited myself to pre-registering this speaker at Odeon for review as soon as it becomes available. But I ordered it immediately. I knew immediately with every fiber of my body: this is my thing! A blind purchase, then, of a model that didn't yet have a name, wasn't yet fully developed, and of which the market price hadn't yet been determined. But I was firmly convinced that Odeon's sonic heritage would be anchored here as well, and so I didn't hesitate for a second. To be honest, I can't think of any other manufacturer where I would have acted this way.


Of course, I then communicated regularly by telephone with both Axel Gersdorff and Constantin Buchholz and always kept close track of the development and completion of "my" loudspeaker. I was even sent photos of the first raw cabinets made by the carpenter. Needless to say, both of them were always eager to provide information and it was a pleasure to talk with them about details, tricks and finesses of loudspeaker construction. For example, we share the opinion that you can recognize a first-class bass-midrange speaker by the fact that it already cuts a fine figure when connected directly to a power amplifier without any additional circuitry - without a baffle, by the way, lying on the table.


We agreed that I would pick up "my" speakers directly from Haltern am See and immediately combine my visit with a joint listening session and the creation of a company report. And then Corona came. To cut a long story short: The joint listening session and the company report did not materialize (nevertheless, this is at the top of the priority list for the time "after the Corona pandemic") and the loudspeakers, which consequently got the name "Rigoletto 2020", arrived to me by freight forwarding at the beginning of May 2020. 


Although the "new" Rigoletto is a separate and independent development from the "old" Rigoletto, with a different horn pattern and redesigned pressure chamber, the conceptual similarities in terms of the cabinet principle are, after all, undeniably present. Consequently, the new model can be regarded as a reincarnation, so that the model name was more or less obvious. Therefore, it is certainly interesting to briefly discuss the other differences between the two models. For example, the sides of the old Rigoletto were made of multiplex panels, and MDF and chipboard were used for the bracing. The new model is also made of a mix of different types of wood: the side panels are again made of birch plywood, but the rear panels, cabinet lid and internal bracing are made of a special medium-density fiberboard that has a density that is 1.6 times higher than standard MDF thanks to a special additive mixture. Axel Gersdorff explained to me that countless prototypes of different materials or material mixes were produced for the development of the new loudspeaker. In the final selection of the optimal combination from the remaining favorites for the series, differences in sound were only in the range of nuances. Personally, I have always been a fan of multiplex or laminated wood as a cabinet material for acoustic reasons, and in the case of the Rigoletto 2020 it must also be taken into account that the small bass horn consists of many struts and nestings. From a vibration point of view, the cabinet is already as good as acoustically dead - which it should be - and the special, heavy and high-density MDF makes an additional contribution here due to its even higher internal damping. Did I already mention that the little Odeon horns are made as clean as a whistle? Thanks to the cabinet maker, we can confidently put a check mark behind this point on our check list.


Another significant difference is that the Rigoletto 2020, unlike the old Rigoletto, no longer has a separate floor plate, which in my view leads to a significantly better coupling of the downward-firing horn to the room. The floor, or rather the listening room with its walls, functions as a virtual extension of the horn's mouth, so to speak. Due to the absence of the base plate, which was equipped with three spikes on the old model, four feet angled slightly outward were now required to ensure a secure stand. By the way, there is no adjustment option for the feet to adjust the height. However, any unevenness of the floor can easily be compensated for with small felt glides, for example, as Mr. Buchholz also recommended in my case for my parquet floor for a tilt-free stand.


Now we come to the real treat of the Rigoletto 2020: the two drivers. The manufacturer of the high-frequency driver unfortunately has to remain secret at this point due to Odeon's concern about imitators, which I find more than understandable, though. It works as a pressure chamber driver in Odeon's characteristic high-frequency horn turned from solid multiplex, a combination that has been beyond reproach for decades. Downward, the tweeter is taken out of play quite steeply at 2300 hertz with a slope of 18 decibels per octave. Here, the bass-midrange driver, limited only by a large coil and a small capacitor at the top, takes over and couples with a slope of twelve decibels per octave. By the way, Armin Galm, who is not only known by do-it-yourselfers for his famous Enviee full-range driver, is responsible for this gem made of paper and multiple folded paper surround. By the way, Armin Galm actually mainly manufactures chassis for hi-fi systems in luxury cars like Bugatti, Porsche and Ferrari. In any case, "our" woofer is based on a French-made midrange design with a sixteen-cage basket, which, however, has been given a larger basket for the Rigoletto 2020 and nominally has a diameter of eighteen centimeters.


Galm “bent” the Thiele-Small parameters according to Gersdorff's specifications, just as he needed them for the bass horn of the new Rigoletto. The unusually strong drive via neodymium magnet in combination with the very hard suspension results in the low overall Q of the driver of less than 0.25, which is required for the bass horn, and the resonant frequency is about 42 Hertz. At the beginning of June 2020, I had a very long telephone conversation with Armin Galm and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him again for the many stimulating details and our extended technical talk! By the way, the moronic nerd in me recently had the idea to simply disconnect the crossover in my Rigoletto 2020 and to connect the bass-midrange driver without filter directly to my speaker cables. I'm sure the driver from Armin Galm would also cut an excellent figure as a full range driver. So far, however, I did not do it. Until now...


Nevertheless, it should be much more interesting for you as a reader to hear how the speakers sound in the manufacturer's intended state. For this, it first had to be set up optimally, and I managed that quite easily. I started with my standard: about two and a half meters base distance of both speakers to each other at about three meters listening distance, slightly angled in the direction of the listening position, distance to the rear wall about thirty centimeters, it already fits. It was very pleasing that the Rigoletto 2020 did not respond to the close rear wall with droning effects, but that the low frequency could be adjusted according to personal taste (and individual living environment) by varying the distance to the rear wall. I was also curious about the duration of the necessary break-in time until the drivers, especially the mid-bass, were "fully there". I would say that this process was completed after about a hundred hours of operation.


What impressed me from the start is the clear sound that the Rigoletto 2020 is capable of. The entire frequency range is reproduced very neutrally and without any coloration, and the lack of breakup in the transition between the two drivers is remarkable. I couldn't detect any register blending but always had the impression from the start that a full range driver was at work here. Voices and noises whose fundamental frequency is below the crossover frequency of both drivers are mainly reproduced by the mid-bass driver, while their harmonics are mainly reproduced by the tweeter, a touchstone for any multi-way loudspeaker, which the Odeon masters excellently.


The Achilles' heel of low-powered amplifiers like my small power triodes is naturally the presentation of a deep, black bass foundation. Now, however, the Rigoletto 2020 comes with a driver in a backloaded horn that obviously has it in for the ears. I believe the manufacturer's specification of 41 Hertz as the lower minus three decibel point to the letter, and I was truly amazed at the substantial low frequency foundation these small horns were capable of in my approximately 40 square meter listening environment. Well, of course the lowest octave fades out a bit, but what's here in the bass is pretty much the best I've ever heard with 2A3 Single Plates in terms of quality. Quick as an arrow, tight, colorful, and with fine springy dynamics, these Odeons reproduce low frequencies. This has nothing to do with the air-pumping rumble of some bass reflex systems that I have heard elsewhere. The advantages of horn technology become quite obvious at this point. The bass horn of the small Rigoletto 2020 played "Überlin" from R.E.M.'s latest album Collapse into now (Warner Brothers, 2011) completely stripped down and free of artifacts, but anything but lean or even anemic. On a lark, I hooked up an Audio Note Cobra integrated amplifier with nearly 30 watts of EL34 push-pull pentodes to the Odeon horns and blasted AC/DC's "Hells Bells" (Back in Black, Atlantic Records, 1980) at high volume. That almost seemed like performance overkill to me and now I could even feel the bass power that the Rigoletto 2020 is capable of in my stomach. Thus, everything is fine in terms of coarse dynamics.


But of course the Rigolettos are much too good for such exuberance and the real strength, their fantastic fine dynamics, really comes into its own with small triodes. Like an acoustic magnifying glass, it brings out the finest guitar decay, breathing or blowing sounds to their fullest and lovingly takes care of the smallest detail ramifications. I promise you will rediscover your record collection with these Odeons. I succeeded especially well at night, when everything was quiet and the family was asleep: The speakers are in fact perfectly suited for "quiet listeners", because the sounds just do not stick to the chassis, but are very well released from the speakers even at the lowest volumes. An effect that is primarily due to the high efficiency. But not only my records, but I also rediscovered my 2A3 tube collection. The Rigoletto 2020 not only exposes the general strengths of the 2A3 such as its great spatial imaging, the almost exaggerated sound colors or a fantastic voice reproduction, but also essential characteristics of the different manufacturer derivatives. The gracefulness of a Fivre, the rocky, jagged pace of an RCA, the fast, rhythmic flow of a Ken-Rad or all these strengths combined in a Raytheon 2A3H are served to me here on a silver platter. So is the Odeon Rigoletto 2020 an analyst? Oh no, far from it, rather also a working instrument, which simply offers me these possibilities for analysis, if I want it. For all "normal people" who simply want to listen to music, the new Rigoletto is just what it should be: a fantastic musical all-round speaker.


Is there anything to criticize about this speaker, any weaknesses? No, not for my personal listening experience and my purposes. I think this speaker gets almost everything out of my historic triodes that can be done and experienced with their handful of watts. But for what I described, a triode is not necessarily needed, other amplifiers like small push-pull pentodes or small class A transistors are just as suitable playing partners for the Rigoletto 2020.


The essential key to the success of this Rigoletto lies in the conceptually superbly implemented combination of two first-class drivers, both of which operate as a high-efficiency horn and are fused together by a very finely tuned crossover in such a way that a) the acoustic transition between the two drivers is virtually indistinguishable from a full-range driver and b) the amplifier "sees" an electrical load that is extremely easy for it to handle. I also do not believe that further - theoretical - optimization potential could be raised here. Perhaps ask Mr. Galm if he can develop a quasi-identical bass-midrange driver with AlNiCo instead of neodymium magnet and perhaps tickle out one or two decibels more efficiency? Even with a bronze basket and narrow basket ribs? Or whether the two drivers could be arranged in a runtime-optimized way, accepting the renunciation of the homogeneous cabinet shape? Maybe make the cabinet completely out of birch plywood? Or use the most expensive crossover components available on the market? Probably the loudspeaker would simply be twice as expensive in total and the effective benefit rather uncertain. Mr. Gersdorff would have to really stretch himself to want to surpass the result of his Rigoletto 2020.


Finally, I would like to make a personal comment. Of course, I am fully aware that this subjectively colored test is tantamount to an homage, but why not? I have never reported on a hi-fi component that I got to know so intensively and that I spent so much time with. And rarely have I been so enthusiastic. Thanks to Axel Gersdorff, his Odeon Audio team and everyone involved in the development of this speaker for this gift to us small power freaks. Personally, I am left with this enduring, liberating feeling of having finally arrived. I have a renewed desire to listen to music itself, to buy records, and to rummage around for beautiful old tubes to indulge in tube rolling and go on a sonic voyage of discovery. For me, the Rigoletto 2020 has brought back the essential, the fun of the hobby HiFi, something that I had even lost for a while.



You call a small, fine Class A transistor amplifier your own or perhaps a dinky push-pull pentode? Or you are a triode maniac like me and have been looking for the perfect loudspeaker for your low power tubes for a long time? Your search is over, because here it is, the Odeon Rigoletto 2020, developed with heart and soul and passion. If I had ever been able to build the ideal speaker for myself, it should have been like the "Rigo 2020"!

Initial blog post: Odeon Rigoletto 2020

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