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PENAUDIO Rebel 3 Monitor Loudspeakers Review Print E-mail
Tuesday, 02 November 2010
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PENAUDIO Rebel 3 Monitor Loudspeakers Review
Listening Session
ImageNature 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.”


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.


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