Raidho C 4.1 and Ortofon MC Anna

New Benchmarks?

Raidho C 4.1 and Ortofon MC Anna

I got cool new stuff!

Yeah, even after all these years a codger like me still gets fi fever now and again. In this instance, my temperature began to rise when I reviewed the marvelous Raidho C 1.1 two-ways about six months ago. I developed flu-like symptoms when I visited Raidho in Pandrup, Denmark, to hear its seven-foot-tall, 375-pound (apiece), $140k, ribbon/ceramic-sandwich-cone flagships, the C 4.1s. And now, after months of chills and cold sweats, the C 4.1s have arrived chez Valin, and I'm close to collapse.

Could these tall, slender (they taper to a few inches in  back, making them look from behind rather like masted sails), drop-dead-gorgeous Raidhos be it? What I've been searching for all these years? New standards of high fidelity?

Well, I don't know yet. I mean I've only had them for three days, and they take 250 hours just to break in. Plus I'm still recovering from the fabulous Magico Q5s and Estelon X Diamonds. But...I can tell you this already: If you're looking for the kind of low-level resolution that makes well-recorded instrumentalists and vocalist come to virtual life right in front of you, if you're looking for the kind of transient response and dynamic clout that raises goosebumps (from treble to bass), if you're looking (given the right recordings)  for the melting timbre that brings tears to your eyes, and, yes, if you're looking for a speaker that will tell you with utmost precision how well a record was recorded (without making less-well-recorded ones sound awful), then the C 4.1s need to move to the top of your short list—that is, of course, if you also have a spare $140k lying around in an off-shore account or Swiss safety-deposit box. (The Elam brothers, who, almost unbelievably, carried these giant things from the street up a spiraling staircase to the top floor of my four-story house, were certainly smitten by the C 4.1s' looks. "These are the coolest yet," Shaun said. "I want 'em!" Of course, this was before he found out what they cost—and before he and his brother struggled up four-and-a-half flights of stairs to my listening room with the Raidhos in tow.)

What do they sound like? That’s easy: like C 1.1s with bass and balls and a mammoth, fully-life-sized soundstage. They also sound better-integrated than the C 1.1s (which, you may recall, have a slight—and I mean slight—discontinuity between their quasi-ribbon tweeter and their aluminum-oxide/aluminum/aluminum-oxide mid/bass, probably due to a dispersion mismatch). With two 4” Raidho-designed-and-built ceramic midranges and four 6.3” Raidho-designed-and-built ceramic woofers flanking Raidho’s chef d’oeuvre sealed-ribbon tweeter—all drivers mounted on thick anodized aerospace aluminum plates in a physically-time-aligned, dual-front-ported D’Appolito array—the slight dispersion mistmatch simply isn’t as audible.

What is audible, immediately, is the boxlessness (thanks to their narrow, tapering design, the C 4.1s don’t really have much cabinet to resonate), sensational transient speed, utter lack of compression, and superb timbral balance of these tall, slender giants. I attribute the astonishing speed (really nonpareil here), clarity, and impact to Michael Borresen’s ultra-stiff, resonance-free aluminum-oxide/aluminum sandwich cones and, most significantly, to his ingenious “Ceramix” neodymium-magnet structure, which surrounds the voice coil in a vertical push-pull array rather than sitting traversally directly behind it (as almost all other dynamic-speakers’ magnets do) and blocking the diaphragm’s backwave with its mass and flat surface, thereby compromising transient speed, compressing dynamics, and clouding clarity.

What is also audible is how incredibly sensitive these things are to room placement, toe-in, and room treatment. Indeed, they are as transparent to the room itself as they are to the sources feeding them. Unlike just about every other speaker I’ve had in my room (the German-made Audio Physic Avanteras and, not-so-oddly enough, the Raidho C 1.1s being the exceptions), the C 4.1s did not show as well as they (thus far) can in the spots where I usually park large dynamic loudspeakers. They need to be farther apart than most dynamics, closer to the listener than most dynamics (these really are relatively nearfield loudspeakers), and toed-in so that their axes are aimed roughly at the joint of your shoulder (rather than to either side of your ears). All of these things are explained in considerable and very accurate detail in the instruction manual that comes with the speakers.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve got them “just-so” yet, after three days of fiddling (happily they slide fairly easily on flat wooden floors), although I can hear that I’m definitely getting closer to right. As noted these speakers will tell you very plainly what they like, what they don’t like, and when you’re getting close to being done. You won’t have to guess at these things—just keep listening.

I will be writing a rolling review of these incredible loudspeakers over the next few weeks and months. Even now I’d urge you to give them a listen, if and when you can, before buying any other ultra-expensive full-range loudspeaker. There are plenty of great ones out there just now that you already know about; just understand that the Raidho C 4.1 clearly belongs in the same exalted circle and needs to be added to the mix before you pays your money and gets your ticket to the high-wire act.

Coincidentally, in addition to the wondrous Raidhos I just received another choice goodie from Denmark—the long-awaited, much-delayed, $8495 Ortofon MC Anna moving-coil cartridge.

The chief knock against Ortofons has always been their cool, leanish, somewhat analytical tonal balance. (Their speed, resolution, imaging, etc. have never been issues, though their very very low output voltage has.) Apparently, the designers in Copenhagen have taken this criticism to heart because this is not your grandfather’s Ortofon (and your grandfather actually might’ve owned an Ortofon, seeing that the company’s been in business for ninety-five years).

I’m not sure of all that has changed in this cartridge (I just got it a couple days ago and have been breaking it in), although one big difference is obvious the moment you take it out of the box. Unlike its immediate predecessor, the now-discontinued flagship MC A90, the Anna (named after opera singer Anna Netrebko) has a chassis. Like the MC A90’s vestigial one, the Anna’s standard-sized titanium body has been built up and sculpted in one piece via the selective laser melting process (SLM). Its magnetic system has also been drastically improved, allowing the Anna’s much-greater magnetic-field strength to be distributed more uniformly to the coils and the coils themselves to be reduced to a minimum, with no overlap or interaction between the coil-windings.

There are lots of other improvements that I’ll get to when I review the Anna, but the big sonic difference was apparent the moment I dropped the needle in a groove. This is the most natural-sounding Ortofon yet, with beautiful, robust timbre and terrific low bass. (The difference here reminds me of the difference between the Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement and previous Clearaudios, although the Anna doesn’t have the Statement’s slight touch of added brilliance in the upper midrange.) Whether this marked improvement in tonal balance has been purchased at any significant price in the resolution, transient speed, and precise imaging that Ortofons are also famous for I don’t yet know. It certainly doesn’t sound as if it has been on first listen, but I’ll need more time with the Anna to say for sure.

Stay tuned.