A pair of Revelations from Fritz
A little over a year ago, John “Fritz” Heiler sent me a pair of Grove standmount loudspeakers, a really slammin’ pair of boxes I got to fiddle with for a couple of months before they found their way to some other lucky schmuck’s man cave. I’ve since spent time with Fritz, gotten to know him a bit, and seen/heard his little loudspeakers all over the place. If you haven’t had the pleasure, you’re going to have to add it to the to-do list. Get on that, will ya?
Fritz is a pretty modest guy, which is somewhat rare in audiophile circles, but he’s also something of a legend. If you happen to live just about anywhere on the California coast, and also happen to be interested in hearing some of Fritz’ work, he’s liable to just roll up with several models for you to listen to. It’s like he can see some kind of Bat Signal or something. Okay, lobbing in an actual phone call would probably help, but still, when was the last time the (audio) doctor made house calls? Pretty dang sweet, if you ask me. For those of us on the wrong coast, well, that’s what FedEx is for.
If you’re just tuning in to Fritz for the first time, here, that’s sad but perhaps it’s worth a brief recap.
Fritz Frequencies makes speakers. What you’d probably be inclined to call “bookshelf” speakers. Fritz says they’re much easier to sling around his workshop, and quite frankly, they’re easier to sell at reasonable prices. And that’s another of Fritz’ calling cards — he tends to be … well … affordable.
Now, that’s not to say he’s precisely cheap, because he’s not. If you want $500/pair speaks, you’re gonna have to go somewhere else. No, Fritz doesn’t do cheap, but what he does do is take all those super-blingy audiophile parts you’ve been hearing about, reading about, and pontificating about without actually having heard them anywhere (you know who you are!), and wire them up in a simple but well-finished box, adds a modest fee for his trouble, and Bob’s your uncle. The audiophile parts in question? Okay, well, maybe you have heard them — because you’ll find ‘em in Sony’s top-of-the-line speakers. GamuT, YG, Wilson and a who’s-who of others have all used these very same parts in their pricey offerings. And when I say “pricey”, I mean $10k-$20k and up. Same bits, minus a zero on the price tag … I call that “interesting“.
Fritz leverages an open-source series crossover that he says is the most transparent that he’s come across — more on that, here. As for the drivers, as I mentioned, these are all commercially available and he routinely selects and matches some really top-shelf stuff, like choice bits from the ScanSpeak Revelator series; rumor has it that he’s constantly “playing with” more exotics. Okay, that’s not a rumor — Fritz will freely offer that up to anyone who calls. I mean, why not — it’s a hobby of his. Now, that “playing with” is hard to quantify, but usually involves loads of measuring, listening, tuning, tweaking and swapping in and out parts — the series crossover he uses has both drivers in the same circuit, so changes to the performance of one driver also impacts the other, which makes willy-nilly changes problematic and likely to impose some unexpected consequences, which leads to a protracted exploratory process. Hence, “playing with” — Fritz is a careful and methodical guy, and everything that leaves has been carefully matched and tweaked.
Those cabinets are not shipped in from China — he makes them in his shop, by hand, out there in California. I seem to recall him grumbling about trying to get some CNC work done, but as yet, the woodworking is all him. Quality takes time, but when one of his little guys shows up in a fancy veneer, I get all gooey. I think I actually started cooing at this last pair I had in here as they lay there, all snug in their shipping container. Ahem.
Now, I’ve heard some folks talk about how easy “all this” is do oneself. Why buy when you can build it yourself? To that I say — “have fun”. Look, it may be that they’re right — I mean, there are a lot of ways to slap together a small two-way loudspeaker. If you’re one of those lucky folks that feels like giving that a whirl, far be it from me (or anyone, really) to keep you from it.
Where Fritz (and most other designers) diverge from the average DIYer is, not shockingly, in experience — a soldering iron and a Parts Express account are good starting places for audio experimentation, but generally not the place most audiophiles tend to want to end. Just sayin’. And even if Fritz starts with off-the-shelf parts, when Fritz is done with all his tweaking and fiddling, the end result is something remarkable and not just “meh”.
As for value, the Rev5 starts life as a pile of something like $800 in drivers. Add in the crossover parts and cabinets, and you get a rather healthy $1,000+ in raw costs, yet somehow, all that only converts to $2,100 retail. Read that back again: a final cost of just over 2x. How does he do it?
Direct. He does it direct. Snap!
Which brings me to today’s Blue Plate Special — two pairs of Fritz speakers!
The first is the $2,100 Rev5, so named for the 5.5″ ScanSpeak Revelator slit paper-cone mid/bass woofer, which is here paired with a ScanSpeak 9500 series fabric dome tweeter. It’s a tidy little package, all of 13″ high x 7.5″ wide x 12″ deep. My demos are finished with a very fancy and luscious curled-cherry; a small port and some simple multi-way binding posts are set into the rear of the cabinet. Not a lot going on here. Simple. Straightforward. Fancy audiophile parts tucked into a simple, but again, fancy (-looking), cabinet.
The second is the Rev7. A bit more than an up-sized Rev5, the Rev7 uses the 7″ slit paper-cone ScanSpeak Revelator and pairs that with a 6600 AirCirc tweeter. The cabinet is significantly larger than the little Rev5 (16″ high x 9″ wide x 12″ deep, so almost 50% more volume than its little brother), with a larger flared rear port, but the same set of binding posts. The veneer I had was a light mahogany — a little plain-Jane compared with satin-finished veneer on the Rev5 demos, but again, this all totally buyers-choice. Do note that the Rev7 is a 4 ohm loudspeaker, as compared with the 8 ohm Rev5, and is also about 4dB more sensitive. Shouldn’t matter much to you solid-state amp guys, but it’s worth mentioning. Fritz says that the impedance with series-crossover is pretty tame, so if you were thinking “tube”, the bigger Rev7 might be a good fit for a medium-powered tube amp.
Back to the Rev5 — this guy is hilariously good. I had 200+ hours on it, and I can say unselfconsciously that this is one of the best stand-mounts I’ve heard.
What it is, is fast, detailed, and absolutely fantastic sitting on my desk, listening near-field. In the far-field, with a 3′ of air or more behind it, the Rev5 played startlingly deep as they very articulately danced their way through my typical playlist of audiophoolery. I am very impressed with the sound that this little sucker was putting into the room.
I had a pair of ( the clue ) loudspeakers in from Sjöfn Hifi last year, and I remember being giddy with their overall sound and value that they represented. I might have noted that the cabinets were fairly pedestrian and the drivers were of similarly mundane pedigree, but that said, they beat the snot out of my listening space and seemed optimized for a placement that fairly screamed blasphemy — up against the wall — which meant tons of extra floor space. I was in love with the “all of that”.
The little Rev5, at just over twice the price of ( the clue ) are clearly better. More or less the same size, but with far more expensive bits, the Rev5 produced across the board. You’ll lose floor space, for sure, and the extra grand isn’t chump change, but the Rev5 is a big jump up the curve. Better parts goes a long way, here.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to put more than 50-100 hours on the $2,500/pair Rev7 before both pairs had to find their way to John Richardson over at Stereo Mojo, so my notes here are a bit preliminary. For those keeping count, these are some stiff drivers, so give serious thought to running them for ~300 or so hours, at some volume, to get ‘em to all loosened up yoga-style.
Anyway, failing to get that in my brief stint, feel free to take what follows with a grain of salt. My feeling is that the two speakers seem to share more than they don’t, so let me pull out the broad brush and paint the following picture: the Rev7 will take the Rev5 on both the top and the bottom-end, though it’s the latter that is most obviously noticeable. Both speakers “do bass” in a startling and satisfying way, but the Rev7 clearly reaches down a bit farther. As an indicator of what is sure to come (at least for John), sparkle and air (and detail) on the Rev7 was already very good, with the Rev5 only a half-pace behind.
To me, and with my gear, both speakers sound like they’re voiced a bit warm and a touch relaxed, and if that reads as “a non-fatiguing experience”, that’s what I was shooting for. This isn’t as common as it sounds, oddly, but Fritz apparently likes his speakers to be played for long periods of time. Imagine!
Both speakers also seem to enjoy being lit up, so do plan on bringing a healthy amplifier to the party and expect to crank it over. It’s not that they don’t play quiet, they can and do with great fidelity, it’s just that “life” seems to bloom with splendiferousness a bit higher on the dial than my ceramic-driver references.
In comparison to my notes on the long-departed Grove, I believe that the two Rev speakers will play with considerably more agility. Reading over the notes and the specs, I suspect that you’ll think the little Rev5 to match the bigger Grove for bass with the Rev7 clearly stepping out from either. In comparison to the Carbon series, Fritz tells me that the listener should expect a great deal more hi-fi (read “detail, drive and speed”), at the expense of a bit of that rather famous speaker’s warmth and smoothness.
My current reference for stand mount loudspeakers is the Joseph Audio Pulsar. At $7k/pair, this isn’t a reasonable reference for most folks, but in my experience, they simply haven’t been beaten. They play deep, fast, and throw the craziest sound-stage I’ve heard out of a two-way. The transitions from low-lows to high-highs is seamless and may be the best I’ve even read about. It’s a marvelous speaker.
The economics of product manufacturing is a fun and entertaining topic to explore, and I have, so I’ll leave off here other than to say this — the Rev7, given the time I had with it and had on it was not as refined as the Joseph. But I had to really work at it to get to that. And the Fritz plays louder and deeper than the Joseph. And the Rev7 wasn’t broken in yet. Hmm, indeed.
I wish I’d had more time to fiddle with these guys!
If you have a smaller space, either of two speakers will probably thrill you. I haven’t been a surround-sound guy, but I have been wondering about some of those multi-channel demos I’ve been hearing from AIX and others — and kitting out a 5-way or even a 7-way system with these Fritz speakers (and a pair of subs) would be fascinating.
Given that the two speakers are only separated by $400, I’d personally opt for the Rev7. That extra punch is worth every penny, and if my intuitions are correct, that AirCirc tweeter is going to be an absolutely stunning mate for that 7″ paper-cone woofer. An 89dB sensitivity means that you can get away with a lot on the amp front, and can successfully consider some lower-power (and hence, lower-cost) amplifiers. Rogue Audio and Odyssey Audio were the two on my list before I ran out of time.
I’m hoping to get another pair of these at some point, when scheduling allows. But for now, I strongly encourage an in-home trial for those interested. And do it quickly, before Fritz realizes he’s practically giving these guys away.