Penaudio Rebel Three
Penaudio used to be a one man dream. Through his loudspeakers Sami Penttilä wanted to express, convey and share similar feelings of well-being that he personally retrieved, say, from Italian dishes or from a handful of sportcars in the front yard.
He pursued his goal by being careful about what goes in his loudspeakers (units especially) but also by inventing a stylistic use of plywood that soon became the trademark for Penaudio.
Today Penaudio has joined forces with a Latvian company Worldaudiodistribution. The purpose of the move is to make better loudspeakers available for a larger audience. The division of labour is such that the WAD takes care of the assembly line and administrative business, Penttilä still as a head designer, and the cabinets being manufacturted by the same Finnish company as before.
"I still design and tune the new speaker models, which are then listened hundreds of hours with variety of music, including some self-recorded. Nowadays when we choose components we pay closer attention to their impedance behaviour in order to make our speakers more electronics friendly and more suitable for different musical preferences", reports Sami Penttilä to Inner-Audio.
Under the new arrangement Penaudio sports five speaker lines. On the top there's the Sinfonia-line with Sinfonietta ja the flagship Sinfonia.
Next down is Penttilä's own Signature-line with Cenya Signature ja Sara S Signature, slightly bigger speakers than their non-signature siblings featuring fancier connectors, the Seas Crescendo tweeter and expensive curly birch and rosewood finishing.
Apart from the fact that from here on all Penaudio speakers come with a magnetic grill, and are available in a wider selection of finishes, both the Signature and Sinfonia lines haven't undergone any changes. The other two lines, Rebel and Charisma, are however more or less new creations.
The Charisma-line equals to Charisma, Cenya and Sara S (incl. Charisma C and Cenya C). They feature Seas magnesiumin mid/woofers and the good old Penaudio veneer look.
The entry-level Rebel-line ranges from Rebel Two to Rebel Four (plus Rebel S and Rebel C). Common to all Rebels is the paper cone Seas mid/woofer and a new Wavecor 22mm tweeter.
Although Rebels do not come with the traditional Penaudio look, their overall appearance is unmistakably genuine Penaudio.
The 2,5-way Rebel Three could be easily be mistaken for an upgraded Sara in that the internal volume, the 15cm Seas mid/woofer, and WBT terminals haven't changed. Everything else has: the Wavecor tweeter, the crossover, Jantzen Audio coils, tailor-made Supra internal cabling etc.
The new Wavecor tweeter is a 22mm low resonance 4 ohm soft dome with a 22 mm voice coil and wide surround caters. The unit comes with EVA gasket.
Hard to tell which is more important for the new design sound-wise: sticking to the proven paper coned mid/woofer or having a new textile tweeter with all the resulting consequencies to the design.
The fact is, however, that the new tweeter has made it possible for Penaudio to lower the crossover point by 500Hz relieving the life of the mid-woofer by narrowing its operating range.
At 4400Hz the X-over point still is an octave higher than on average to accommodate Penaudio's design philosophy according to which fundaments of all instruments, and a major percetange of their timbre, must be reproduced with one single element, in this case the Seas mid-woofer.
With the new design Penttilä also believes to have achieved a "natural" directivity in contrast to speakers in which directivity is controlled with a shallow horn.
The duty for reproducing the bass/lower midrange is split between the two mid/woofers so that from 300Hz up only one of them is in operation. Hence, the 2.5 way.
The cabinet (top, bottom and side panels) are made of ply while the front and rear panels are MDF. The use of two different materials not only helps to add interesting contrast to the outlook but also, according to the manufacturer, contributes to the reduction of cabinet resonances.
The cabinet is damped with foam and sythetic cotton. Internal cables too are damped and fastened to the cabinet with foam rings.
Like all Penaudio speakers the Three looks elegant in an honest, natural way. Just watch it for a longer period of time, and you'll see that its commonness is deceptive.
Rebel Three is available in (front and rear black) birch, oak, teak, black ash, matt white and matt black, and for extra money, piano black and piano white.
Preparing for listening
Before listening experiments the two-layer bottom plate was lifted on four fair-sized spikes, and between spikes and the floor came Cold Ray Spike Pads (Cold Ray is better known for its vibration & resonance cones and diffusers).
The speakers were then placed not too far (2,5m) from the listening seat, well over one metre from the wall behind, slightly turned toward the hot spot, and the seat a half meter outside the 60 degree stereo triangle.
The source was a modified Sony professional cd-player connected via an active (tubed) and passive preamp to Burson Audio's 230W Timekeeper mono blocks (two stereo amps bridged).
the Three (the crossover) is designed to be fairly amplification friendly.
There's no doubt that the Timekeepers (Corfac & Gregitech speaker cables) offered the Threes (87dB sensitivity, 4ohm load) a very good match both technically and sonically (as did a Naim integrated). Still I'd not exclude a quality 30-50W tube amp from the pool of possible amps for the Threes; my 20W PP tube power amp, apart from a slight lack of energy, did fine job with the speaker.
Prior anything else I was keen on finding out whether the "new" Penaudio Rebel would still sound "pleasant" in that Penaudio-peculiar way that I remember from the past, and that characterised more or less all Penaudio speakers models independent of the Series?
Having auditioned the Threes for weeks, I can assure you – and me - that the quality is still there although somewhat differently served.
There's something "sweet" about how the Three sounds; and I don't related this quality to some properties of its frequency response. The question is about the overall impression. Sweet as a puppy, sweet as a person who is especially kind to us is sweet.
On the other hand, I also sensed that the sound has gained consistency and systemacy that makes the pleasure component to come to the fore in a more polite and undemonstrative manner. Music now flows more securely, more focusedly and more intensely. The pleasure is not as first-hand.
I (my brains) interpreted the "new" treble as being quite "going with the nature", neither sparkling, nor matt. The HF content of the music was introduced largely "invisibly" to the ear, which to me always stands as a sign of a success.
Although the treble performance of the Three showed adequacy, both quantitatively and qualitatively, it could've been a degree more refined. By this I mean that while not making the violins of a string quartet (a sample of recordings) sound unnecessarily soft, nor shouting out the high-pitched character of string instruments, the Three voluntarily let the midrange be the king of the hill.
The open and luminous midrange turned out to be positively tolerant toward many sorts of music from solo cello pieces to various vocal presentations, classical or pop. What makes the midrange of the Three appealing is its optimism rather than extreme accuracy. Thanks to this quality the Three is responsive to so called compilation cd's with classic, pop and jazz. However, and as in the past, the Three is a true Penaudio speaker in that it knows how to communicate vocal music.
The Three would not be part of the Penaudio gang if the bass-upper bass-lower midrange would sound skinny and famished. It seems to me that it's part of the Penaudio concept that speakers ought not give up this "warmth region" even at the risk of occasionally delivering a bit too much (it's called "bass presence" in the Penaudio literature).
As a result, there were moments when I got too much bass/lower mids, and sometimes when the bass wasn't present, I felt the speaker rather tried to keep the boom inside the cabinet. But that was in my room. Maybe the room was too small; as Penaudio stresses: the size of the room matters.
Interestingly, I heard the Three in another surrounding, a slightly more volumenous room, and there the bass was semi-perfect, nicely supporting the programme material. This shows how unrewarding, if not impossible, it is to objectively evaluate the bass of a speaker, of any sort. On the other hand, I think the Three is one of the speakers for which the best position must be searched for with patience.
All in all, the new Penaudio Rebel, the Rebel Three, proved not to deviate from the Penaudio path, nor visually neither sonically, in a way that would expell loyal Penaudio fans. Who knows, a step or two more systematic sound world may invite new music listeners to become Penaudio fans, particularly now when economies of scale, better logistics etc. has helped Penaudio to substantially lower the price of its speakers.
Penaudio Three cost just 2395 euro for a pair. What one gets for the money is a hifi-loudspeaker in the best sense of the word, ie. a more civilized sound reproducer than a large spectrum of wannabe hi-fi speakers, yet not quite as literate and educated as top highend-speakers. In a word, a competent all-arounder with a very good value for the money.