PENAUDIO Rebel 3 Monitor Loudspeakers Review 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Todd Whitesel   
Tuesday, 02 November 2010

Nature vs. Nurture, and how does it affect and influence who we become? It's a question that will likely be argued for centuries to come, and may never be fully answered. I do believe that the environment we are raised in has the potential to empower the imagination and spur creativity, even if we are not inherently so inclined by nature. Thus, I'm fascinated by the audio designs that come from countries far from my native U.S. Over the past year I've had opportunity to audition all sorts of gear manufactured across Scandinavia and have come away impressed every time. Finland's most popular musical “export” will likely remain Jean Sibelius and the composer's work celebrating his homeland, but I like to think that the country's storied forests, lakes and rivers and bracing climate get in the collective blood of its sons and daughters and contribute to their own ideals. It's a respect for nature and the ineffable perfection in a birch tree and in a single note played well. When it comes to audio equipment, I associate the region with attractive, modern and imaginative designs that are built to last and strive for sonic neutrality. It's a generalization that seems to hold up.

Jyväskylä is a city located in the lake district of Central Finland and home to speaker manufacturer PENAUDIO. The outfit offers eight products across two speaker lines – Classic and Ambient. PENAUDIO's North American point man, Val Kratzman, was kind enough to supply me with a pair of Rebel 3s for review, the smallest and least expensive (MSRP: $2,500/pair) model in the Classic series.

Rock-solid Build


The Rebel 3 ($2,500 MSRP/pair) is a two-way, reflex-loaded monitor sporting 20 mm (0.8-inch) ferrofluid textile dome tweeters and 120 mm (4.75-inch) midrange/bass drivers. Cross-over occurs at 4,500 Hz through a third-order acoustical network. They are moderately sensitive at 86 dB, have a nominal impedance of 8 ohms and are recommended for amplifiers ranging from 30 to 200 watts. On the rear, the Rebels are ported with metal tubes and boast rugged WBT binding posts that securely grip speaker wire terminals. Inside, the speakers are wired with Jorma Design Cables – made in neighboring Sweden – a company specializing in high-purity copper cables with an emphasis on tonal neutrality.

Penaudio grillThe Rebels are designed for stand mounting and come with metal mesh grilles. Unlike most speaker grilles, these enhance the look of the Rebels. Maybe it's psychological, but I don't like listening to speakers with grilles so these were soon removed. Lacking such an aversion, they can sit handsomely on the front panels. The speaker cabinets are handmade from multi-layer, 16-mm thick Finnish birch, and they look handmade in the best sense of the word. Not only can you see the grain of the wood, you can feel it. Run your fingertips across the cabinet and the tactile sensation of the grain is instantly apparent. At a bit more than 13 pounds apiece, the Rebel 3s also have substance in the bigger picture.

Designed for the Real World

PENAUDIO's Sami Pentilla comes to speaker design with a musician's background and a passion for listening and fine-tuning his loudspeakers based on how they “perform” in real listening environments instead of focusing solely on numbers and measurements. Few households have rooms dedicated solely to audio – or even home theater – so the emphasis on real listening environments is an important one. It's one thing to build a speaker that sounds great in a controlled acoustic setting; however, it's an art to design a speaker that performs in rooms with windows, wall hangings, furniture and other décor – and sound natural.

I asked Pentilla what sonic attributes and characteristics he was aiming for when designing the Rebel 3. “I was shooting for the same as with any of my designs: pure sound and tones of real instruments. It is the pure sound in the upper range that makes a speaker sing. I also wanted to get as much real low bass that could be achieved with small driver and cabinet. There is some sacrificing of sensitivity, but if I sacrificed low bass in order to achieve more sensitivity and mid-bass this would lead to toneless, dull bass. There is always a compromise unless the speaker is big and very expensive.  I am very pleased with the Rebel 3.  It is a speaker that sings and makes me want to listen to the music.”

Placement

More speaker manufacturers are emphasizing the importance of proper placement to achieve the best listening experience. With a monitor-style loudspeaker, it can make a difference between hearing a coherent stereo image or one that is diffused or exaggerated. As the Rebel 3's owners manual suggests, it's worth experimenting with placement for the best stereo image. The tradeoff lies between a wide but inaccurate image and a more accurate but too narrow band. I set them atop 30-inch speaker stands, five feet from the side walls and four feet from the back wall, slightly toed in.

The soundstage isn't dramatically huge – it seemed that the sound was dispersed more fully upward than to the sides, but you still can have hours of enjoyable listening even if you're slightly off axis, but the Rebel 3s really got my attention when I was seated approximately 7 feet away, forming the top  point of a not-quite equilateral triangle. Like most monitors, I found the Rebel 3s need some volume before the details of a recording can be fully appreciated. Most of the time that meant turning the amp up to somewhere around 20 to 30% of capability.

Listening

Listening to numerous CDs and LPs, the Rebel 3s consistently performed, how should I put this? They just got out of the way of the music. The presentation is precise but not boring, neutral but not dry or stringent. If you listen to heavy metal only or drive down the road playing rap loud enough to be heard county-wide, these speakers are not for you. It's not that the Rebels can't get down and dirty, they just don't scream for such attention.

If there was ever music that “sings,” it's the iconic Second Movement from Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A major. The opening 3 minutes of this Allegretto sways in 2/4 time as the strings and woodwinds play their mournful music. Deutsche Grammophon's hybrid SACD disc, featuring the Wiener Philharmoniker led by Carlos Kleiber on this and Beethoven's 5th Symphony, is a recording of rich sonorities, expertly played rhythms and showcases a conductor wholly sensitive to the music. I think I like the redbook version better than the 2-channel SACD layer of this one, and the Rebels prove a graceful partner to the proceedings. The sumptuousness of the Allegretto is never lost or glossed over by brightness, just as the blazing energy of the final movement comes through with dynamics intact.

Gentle Giant's In A Glass House (like most of the band's catalog) contains a bevy of challenging arrangements and sounds. The Rebels didn't hold back on the glass-shattering foray that opens the album, but what caught my ear was more subtle. On the second track, “An Inmates Lullaby,” Kerry Minnear's vibes ring with subtle sustain that's not reverb-y but the sustain you actually hear when you're near the instrument itself. The detail and rendering were superb, and I found myself listening “deeper” into the music because of it. And any doubt of the Rebel 3's ability to deliver solid bass was removed during the following track, “Way Of Life,” with Ray Shulman's 4-string lines strongly in the mix.

Guitarist Larry Carlton has been responsible for some of the most memorable solos in popular music. His work on Steely Dan's “Kid Charlemagne” remains the de facto 6-string break for session wannabes worldwide. Carlton's musical instincts and sweet tone are at the forefront of his 1983 live release, Eight Times Up. Recorded in Tokyo, Japan, the performance sounds like a live gig, and captures Carlton's ability to make jazz smooth without going off the boil into fern bar muzak. All of the Rebel's strengths seem to coalesce here and unveil each instrument – from guitar to Fender Rhodes to bass and percussion – in crisp, engaging detail.

I've been spending lots of time listening to vinyl recently and the Rebel 3s pair very nicely with my favorite music format. Years before Night Moves made him a household name, Bob Seger was rocking out with his band, Bob Seger System. The group's 1970 release, Mongrel, is a slab of fierce R&B-fueled rock tempered with a few gentler moments. One not-gentle moment is the fiery title track, a spiraling fume that threatens to jump the tracks or just collide with anything in its path. Seger would later sing about “Heavy Music,” but he rarely got as beefy as on this platter. With such music I tend to revert back to my teen-age days when the measure of a stereo was how loud it could play. Even still, the Rebel 3s brought out the “rock” and soul in the music without leaving me feeling cheated or wanting much more.

Final Thoughts


The Rebel 3s impressed me with their fluid yet detailed delivery of whatever I threw at them. My typical day often includes 8 to 10 hours of listening to music. The last thing I want is fatigue or a headache from too much high-end, shrill or otherwise. That I could sit with the Rebels for days and listen, never wanting to change or turn them off speaks loudly for a little speaker that does about everything right in the context of its design. For small to medium-sized listening rooms and backed by  modest amplification, the Rebel 3s will put the performance right in front of you – where it belongs.

System Setup

  • Grant Fidelity A-348 Integrated Tube Amplifier
  • Emotiva Audio ERC-1 CD player
  • Pro-Ject RPM 5.1 turntable
  • Sumiko Audio Blue Point No. 2 Moving Coil phono cartridge
  • Parasound Zphono Preamplifier
  • Better Cables Premium Anniversary Edition Speaker Cables (3m)
  • Better Cables Silver Serpent Anniversary Edition Interconnects
  • Plateau STS-30 Speaker Stands






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