Cheap at half the price...
Richard Allan RA8s
Buying direct from the manufacturer goes against every piece of advice ever given to would-be speaker purchasers. But Chris Kempster has been converted to the mail-order method by the Richard Allan RA8s - and suggests you could be, too
So you thought the Yamaha NS10 was the only 'industry standard' nearfield monitor? Think again, chum. These here speakers from Richard Allan were developed in conjunction with no less a body than the BBC, who stipulated that they give very accurate reproduction and display very little coloration of the signal. The designers at Richard Allan must have done a good job, 'cos the Beeb have gone and bought over a thousand pairs so far. And if that doesn't represent some sort of industry standard, then I don't know what does.
If they're good enough for broadcast purposes, then they're probably going to be good enough for your average personal studio. Right? Well, maybe. But recording music at home is a very different business from monitoring radio and TV broadcasts - which is one reason why the home-studio market is such a tough nut to crack for speaker makers.
Since we're talking decidedly non-BBC budgets here, it helps if your speakers are affordable. The big news about these latest incarnations of Richard Allan's RA8s is that they're available direct from the company at a discounted price of £229, as opposed to a retail price of £369 - and that represents a helluva saving. When you consider that other similar nearfields such as the Alesis Monitor Ones and ProMoCo TB1s retail for £400-ish, then it's not hard to guess that these monitors have the potential to knock up some pretty impressive sales.
But only if they sound halfway decent, of course...
Placing the RA8s directly atop the Alesis Monitor Ones residing in The Mix studio revealed that their dimensions are almost identical. And very nice dimensions they are too, since the box is big enough to accommodate decent-sized drivers and give an expansive sound, while small enough to fit in the most cramped of control rooms. The orientation is also the same - the RA8s should be placed lengthways with the tweeter on the outside. This arrangement again works very well, since you get both low- and high-frequency information at the same height. If your monitors are mounted vertically, and you're sitting very close, then you'll hear more of one driver than the other, which can result in a slightly misleading picture.
Durability must also have been part of the designers' brief, because these are very sturdy, well-finished units. The dark grey, acrylic-type exterior is scratch-resistant, and the speakers' not inconsiderable weight is a reassuring sign.
A two-way design, the RA8s utilise a 200mm cobex bass driver and a 25mm fabric tweeter with ferrofluid cooling; the crossover is made at 3.5kHz. Moving to the rear, we find that connections are made via gold-plated binding posts and, though you wouldn't expect to find it for this price, provision is made for bi-wiring. To make use of this option, you just take off the two gold-plated bars that link the terminals.
"The acrylic-type exterior is scratch-resistant, and the speakers' not inconsiderable weight is a reassuring sign"
The previous version of the RA8s, the Series IIs, were reviewed in the February '91 issue of Home & Studio Recording (The Mix's predecessor) and that particular reviewer commented on the RA8's 'bright' and 'upfront' sound, while also noting a smooth bottom end, detailed sound and good transient reproduction. These comments hold true for the latest in the line, though the sound isn't as bright as the ubiquitous NS10s to which they were compared previously.
The frequency response is as near as damnit flat from 60Hz up to 20kHz, so you can be pretty confident that when you mix through these speakers, you'll have music that'll travel well (slipping back into the wine metaphors again - Ed).
Although the RA8s give an accurate sound, they're also quite pleasant to listen to, unlike some others I could mention (but won't). They are slightly bright, but not enough to become wearing even after several hours' solid tracking or mixing. The overall sound is spacious and airy, which means you can hear exactly what's going on (and where) in a mix.
The ability to pinpoint particular sounds in a mix is vital, even at demo-recording level, and along with a flat frequency response, is one of the key reasons why anyone into music production should use monitors designed for the job, as opposed to hi-fi speakers.
The power handling of the RA8s is sufficient for most small studios, and even at high sound levels they give a stable, controlled sound, which is a big plus.
"Even at high volume they give a stable, controlled sound"
At the direct-from-Richard-Allan price, these monitors offer almost absurdly good value-for-money. An accurate sound, decent power handling capacity, and superb construction mean that the RA8s are equally as comfortable being used as main monitors in a small studio setup, and as nearfields in larger studios.
Compared to other recently-released nearfields, the RA8s hold their own sonically, and even score some brownie points in other areas. For example, they offer bi-wiring which the £400 Alesis Monitor Ones can't boast, and the finish is definitely more durable than the Alesis'.
The downer is that you can't listen to them before you buy them - unless, that is, you go into a retail outlet and pay £140 for the privilege! This is an important point, since one man's meat is another man's poison - buying speakers really is about personal preference. Luckily, Richard Allan are offering a seven-day trial period, so if you don't like 'em, just send 'em straight back.
What's for sure is that these are highly competent monitors that would sell in numbers for double the direct cost. Cheap at half the price? You'd better believe it.
Prices: £229 direct, £369 retail; both inc VAT
More from: Richard Allan Audio, (Contact Details)
Review by Chris Kempster
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