There is so very much to recommend these wonderful new arrivals to the United States. At $2,049 per pair, the Skate Mk. IIs are floor-standing models with a full, rich sound and very few weaknesses. Although the Skates compete in crowded fields of admirable contenders at this price point, the slim but solid speakers lean their shoulders into the task and accomplish it better than many competitors, and some more expensive loudspeakers, do.
Founder Harald Hecken and his Newtronics firm in Siegen, Germany (halfway between Dusseldorf and Frankfurt), have been at this audio game for over 27 years. These particular Skates are revised models, with different drivers and cabinet. Newtronics is offering their revised line of loudspeaker models for the first time in the United States. Interlink Audio in New York is setting up a dealer network. If there is no local dealer, they sell direct to the public. Interlink contacted us about a review - we said "yes."
Several things about the Skates make them sound so very good. First, they are a tight array of three small speakers at the top of a very narrow cabinet. The front baffle is only 5 3/4" wide. The front plate curves smoothly around the edges to meet the cabinet sides. This minimizes reflections off the sides of the cabinet and helps to focus the mid-range.
The slim cabinet itself is only 6.3 inches wide with a long sound channel inside. The channel routes the sound from the rear of the drivers through a series of internal folds. It is called a transmission line.
The transmission line is more like a folded horn design, but without the amazing efficiency of traditional horn designs. The Skates were slightly above average in their efficiency ratings, comparing favorably in performance and driving ease - with the right equipment - with other speakers rated at 92dB/w/m sensitivity.
The typical speaker is a bass reflex box. The bass reflex design uses the volume of the cabinet to give the woofer, or the mid-range driver, a bass and punch-making push from behind.
A transmission line design is a long tube, starting at the back of the woofer. It is sized to match the specs of the woofer. The transmission line creates lower bass by virtue of its long throat. The common comparison is to organ pipes. The mammoth church pipes that reach skyward to the heavens create such low rumbling earth tones that missile submarines on deep patrol and whales can hear them.
In the case of the revised Skate, the internal "pipe" is about 6 1/2 feet long! Like the pipes of the organ, the longer the transmission tube is inside, the deeper bass it produces. The vertical folds within in the cabinet keep the size of the speakers and the drivers within reason and improve their mid-range capabilities. Got it? You get more low bass by bending and delaying the air inside the cabinet before it can get out.
Despite their transmission tube inside, the Skates do not sound hollow; the knuckle rap test was as good as any premium loudspeaker in this price range. The heavily dampened Vince Christian E6c system (reviewed here) was noticeably better. So too are loudspeakers like the heavily braced B&Ws, but NOT significantly so.
The transmission line on the black-faced Skates ends with a square, clothe-covered vent on the front panel, at the foot of the narrow towers. A golden yellow medallion of a scorpion is three inches above the vent.
Therefore, the transmission line deepens the low bass notes. Indeed, the Skate do reach deep. This slim tower has a good and uncolored, yet surprisingly deep bass for a speaker of it's narrow dimensions. It isn't entirely neutral, since it adds and warms the sound from mid-range to bottom, but the added tone is quite welcome and enjoyable. It is definitely a plus.
While floor-standing loudspeakers can pack a transmission line into their long flanks, they can also have their drawbacks, too. Unless they have the solid cross bracing of something like the B&W loudspeakers, it hard to control the vibrations of the larger side panels. This means some midrange coloring. In addition, with a larger size floor standing loudspeaker, imaging may not be quite as good as smaller bookshelf loudspeaker. Though most floor standing models do have better bass compared with bookshelf loudspeakers, this is not always an improvement.
Depth And Distance Too
The floor-standing Skates, as the case in point, took some getting used to. While they are rated at a respectably deep 40Hz, to a typical 20kHz top-end and within a decently flat ±3dB, these babies always sounded deeper and sweeter than that.
I allow for some room considerations and measurement inaccuracies, which show up on all my loudspeaker measurements: a room suck-out at 50Hz, a bounce at 6 to 8kHz and about 2-dB for the inaccuracy of the Radio Shack hand-held sound pressure level (SPL) meter or house noises. Within these parameters however, I found the Skates to be very accurate and smooth at normal listening levels.
Actual room frequency-response at my listening spot was within two decibels (±2-dB) in the very critical upper bass and mid-range. From 160Hz to 4kHz, the Skates are quite flat, with a small dip at 630Hz. With my SS amplifier (see my bio, for the context of my reviews), the Skates show a mid-range smoothness comparable to the Omega TS2s reviewed last month. With my flea-powered Paramour tube amplifiers, the Omegas measured in-room performance was from 200Hz to 5kHz and within ±3dB. The Skates bested them at both ends by reaching down to 63Hz and up to 5kHz also within ±3dB. They did reach all the way to 31Hz and they are the only loudspeakers I've measured so far to actually reach the inaudible 20kHz at normal listening levels.
The Skates are not punchy low, not too boomy either, but they always added more depth and resonance to music and movies than any other cone speaker I have auditioned so far. They are the first speakers smaller than the mammoth Klipsch corner horns that may not need a sub-woofer for music…well, maybe not right away, anyway.
Heck, I can imagine some people saying they do not need sub-woofers at all! Those people must not watch Matthew McConaughey, and the under-rated Harvey Keitel, in the U-571 movie just to feel the shock waves of depth charges pounding the trapped submarine. For even full-range loudspeakers need oodles of low-end solid-state support, with dedicated drivers, when they do double-duty for an action-packed movie in a home theater.
Now, scroll back up and take a close look at the picture at the top of the page. Go ahead, I'll wait.
That is no professional photographer's illusion to add attitude or meaning to a camera shot, these babies lean backwards dramatically, as if blown by a strong wind. Not just the front baffle either, like so many speakers do, but the rear panel angles backwards too.
Leaning Towards Excellence
The dramatic front panel slant corrects for phase and time alignments on the drivers. This ensures that sound from each driver arrives at the listener's ears at the same time. The sounds mesh more effortlessly and seamlessly, making the music more coherent and easy to listen to.
The backward angled design lines up the centers of the drivers. Without the angling, the tweeter is too far forward of the mid-range driver and the mid-range driver is too far forward of the woofer. Their sounds do not arrive together as well.
The Skates cabinets are sturdy. The top and sides are a nice Alder finish, which are very nice compliments to my tube amplifiers. Both front and back panels are polyacryl black polished MDF with rounded edges. The rear panel matches the front and leans back about 4 1/2". Think of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and you'll have the right idea. The Skates lean about the same degree. I can not tell if the backward angle of the rear Skate panel has any tangible benefit, but it sure is smart marketing though. Like the woven yellow Kevlar of the B&W drivers or the copper colored cones of the Klipsch, the front and rear slant make these babies stand out in the showroom. It hints at something special with the speaker. Indeed there is.
There are lots of nice things to tell you about these speakers, not the least of which is their full rich sound. The Skates are a 2½-way design with dual 4" mid-range bass drivers and a simple crossover. The crossover sports only two components, an inductor for the bass driver and a capacitor for the tweeter. The crossover point is fairly typical. The bass cut-off is a normal 150Hz for the woofer and a typical 3,500kHz for the tweeter. The tweeter is a Danish Vifa/Scanspeak D27, modified, they say, to Newtronics specifications and hand selected.
The dome of the tweeter is the most delicate I have touched. (NO! I don't go around feeling drivers! Well... okay, I admit that I do. My favorite ones are the wafer-thin Styrofoam cones of the JM Cobalts.) What I mean is that the dome of the Skate tweeter dimples at the slightest touch. I picture it tearing easily with child abuse. All of the black-faced drivers are Vifa, but the others do not share this unusual delicacy.
With that comment, let me mention that the Skates have a nice long warranty, ten years, ensuring that original owners should never have any problems and indicating that the manufacturer is confident of their durability under normal wear and... tear.
If you took a close look at the picture above, as I told you to, you will see there is nothing really special about the drivers' appearance. No woven carbon fiber cones, no large white drivers with whizzer cones, no square black metal horns and no parade of silver discs. This is all the more reason their marketing department needs an attention-grabbing backward tilt.
Critical auditions of various speaker models come with unchanging rules. One is to remove the grilles. This makes a difference in the treble extension and can help to tighten and form a holographic image of the singer. In the case of the recessed Vince Christian E6c satellite system, it made a very noticeable difference - more than any speaker I've heard, possibly because of their high 8.2kHz crossover to the tweeter.
Without their grilles however, the backward tilt on the Skates was problematic. There are no easy-to-grab handholds, like the large puckered ports on Axiom Audio loudspeakers, for example, to grab these babies when you need to inch them this way and that.
On the other hand, the gold binding posts on the Skates are 3/4" long and 1/4" wide. The large posts have round, easy-to-use knobs. They are among the easiest to use.
The impedance range for the Skates is fairly narrow and smooth. Although it only raises up to less than 10 ohms near 3,500kHz (the cross-over to the tweeter), the impedance does dip treacherously low to 2.8 ohms near 50 Hz. Therefore, the Skate's overall impedance rating is low, a nominal 4 ohms. The chart above shows the Skates bigger brother, the Scorpion on the lower trace, with a bumpier ride and even less impedance. Because of this low impedance rating, the Skates clearly need either the extra oomph of tubes more powerful than those of my flea-powered 2A3 Bottlehead Paramours or the greater low impedance control of solid state (SS) amps.
Too Pooped To Pop
The Skates never did open-up with my Paramours. I was always twisting the dial to get more out of them. Although the Skates can play loud with just 3.5 tube watts, they never played too loud. I frequently opened the throttle to give them more gas, but that only made them louder, it did not free them up or make them or more dynamic.
Herr Hecken's Skates performed much better with my SS Pioneer than with my delicate flea-powered tube amplifiers. On my reference disc, DMP does DASD track number six, The Stockholm Jazz Orchestra's "Nostalgico," the edges of horns had more bite, cymbals were sharper, with more of the delicious tingle. Notes from the left-hand end of the piano hold and sustain in a way that no speaker with less bass extension can do. The low notes seem fully formed.
Solid-state amps and average efficiency cone speakers are much better together than flea-powered 2A3 tube monoblocks and cones. In fact, the Skates sounded much better, more solid, with the 22 watts of my "Class A" Pioneer amplifier.
Metal woodwind instruments had more edge or bite to them. The cymbals were sharper, tingling more like chimes. With my old SS amplifier, there was almost enough bass to make you believe that you don't need an active deep-bass woofer for music reproduction. The notes from left-hand side of the piano resound nicely, the middle keys are fully formed.
At low to moderate volumes, my old SS amp was almost as good as the mighty Nelson Pass X250.
Lending credence to the argument that "the differences between quality amplifiers are barely discernible when they are not clipping," the Pioneer on the Skates was indeed almost as good as the Pass monster with bass notes at moderate levels. At about $6 per pound, the power of the old Pioneer makes it worth every ounce. Either way, the two SS amplifiers prove to me that cone loudspeakers and SS amplifiers are better suited together than flea-powered 2A3 tube amplifiers and cones, unless the cone loudspeakers are super-efficient (95dB or more).
The massive Pass X250, of course, has that nth degree of control and definition, which comes with globs of power. It can muster an impressive 500 watts into a difficult 4-ohm load and more. This truckload of power separates an old style amplifier like the Pioneer from the crème de la crème of superlative amplifiers. The Skates with the Pass super-amplifier are a stunning combination. They are an irrepressible display of noticeable low-end, very good mid-range and sweet high-end sound.
How Low Can They Go
Everything the Skates play shows how low they can go. Low booming bass seems to present on most recordings. The bass that was not overly taut, but not flabby, too boomy or bouncy. It was neither nimbly fast or numbingly slow. Much of the music did seem to have a lot more bottom than you would expect.
With a reach down to 30Hz, Herr Hecken's Skates discover the bottom octave missing from music and movies. They play deep enough to get away without a sub-woofer at first; until you play your first hard rock piece with kick drum stomps, a classical piece with tympani booms or watch an action movie.
Mid-bass is very to good to excellent. On the DMP does SACD disc, a bow dragged excruciatingly slow over the fat strings buzzes better than most loudspeakers in Manfredo Fest's "Amparo." This low growling bass would make any skinny, snarling junkyard dog proud. Wonderful stuff. Makes tweaking audiophiles' knees weak. Lessor loudspeakers merely hint at the low bass - they send a meek signal that the bass exists on the track, while the Skates actually play the note out loud.
The Skates mid-bass is not as punchy as the curvaceously solid B&W 803s, with their knuckle-busting internal bracing; even when coupled to a monster amplifier like the Pass X250. However, it is very good, to almost excellent, nonetheless.
Everybody should have a active deep-bass woofer; just to cruise the deep earth tones on Enya's sonorous Watermark (WEA Records, 1988) or be slammed by depth charges on U-571. Sad to say however, with such very good mid-bass and low bass, only the more powerful deep-bass woofers, and not many of the run-of-the-mill mid-priced retail subs, will compliment the Skates.
My Klipsch LF10, for example, with its 500 watts and three 10" drivers, did a much better job than the more typical Klipsch KSW200 boom box. The KSW200 can not go low enough to get out of the way of the Skate's bottom end reach. Active mid-bass woofers, like the KSW200, extend their range up to the 100-250Hz region, where the Skates need no such help. Look for something like the big SVS deep-bass sub-woofer tubes to supplement the kick drum and action movie end of things.
Too Deep To Stop
Lest I belabor the warmth and depth of the Skate low end, let me just say this: The Skates make most other loudspeakers I have heard recently sound like they are missing something important. Something like an octave at the bottom end of the music scale.
The exceptions are loudspeakers like the rough and rude Klipsch Cornwalls, which can really slam with sub-woofers. Or the combination of loudspeakers like the beefy B&W 802s, which together with monster amplifiers only slighter lighter than a slab of concrete, that together can punch as hard as Mike Tyson did in his prime.
Compared to the large Axiom Audio M80Ti towers, (whose review is coming up in two months) or the subtle Vince Christian E6c system, the Newtronics Skates have a fuller sound. Instruments though, do not appear quite as clear. None of the speakers had the brightness and clarity of my big old Klipsch horns. The Skates' voices are deeper, male voices sound as they have a chest underneath their throats; they have more resonance and bloom.
Compared to the M80Tis and the E6c system, the Skates have slightly less precise definition of the saxophone's reed, but express noticeably more of the horn's body. Piano notes are more rounded, more like the notes from an electric guitar than the ones from an acoustic one. You do hear more of the piano's body than any of the other loudspeakers. The reverberation that makes it sound live and real comes across particularly well on the closely mic'ed Diana Krall recordings.
The best combination I've heard for delicious reproduction of flutes was JM Cobalt loudspeakers with YBA's Audio Refinement front-end equipment. This is a very "French sounding" system with a refined, delicate, liquid smoothness in the mid-range that is unparalleled in all but the most expensive of dream systems.
On track 8, Joe Beck & Ali Ryerson's "'Round Midnight," flutes on the Skate are darker and sharper. They sound stronger, with more authority. The flutes sound as if a man is playing them, not a willowy woman with flowing hippie locks. The flutes on the Skate are very good - above average - just not the best I have heard. This is not a criticism; it is a compliment.
Following George Cardas' excellent, though often impractical, advice on precise loudspeaker placement for tweaking audiophiles (as described here), I double-checked the Skates position to make sure they were properly placed. Within the triangle described by Cardas, their soundstage was good. Not as wide as my big old Cornwalls and not as detailed as the E6c system either, but good nonetheless. All but the pickiest of purists will be happy this and most of the sonic characteristics of the Skates.
Separation on the Skates is also as good as most loudspeakers in this category, with a tip of the hat going to the muted E6c system.
Snap and punch (attack) on the Skates with an SS amplifier is good, bested only by loudspeakers that are more efficient. The larger fullness and slower decay of the notes adds to the tone. The SS amplifier did add texture to the notes, though it wasn't as quick as the Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours. It had less sparkle and surprise. In fact, on track four, Steve Davis' "One Two Free," cowbell whacks on the drum solo do come across better. The bells have more snap and power. With the Pioneer amplifier, the sticks in Manfredo Fest's "Amparo," do tap convincingly, as good as many loudspeakers in this range; though, of course, they don't knock like they do with the mighty Pass X250.
When compared to the warm embrace of the Paramours, notes are a little dry and clinical on the Class A Pass X250, as well as the Class A Pioneer amplifier. This is something however, of which only a horn and tube lover, such as myself, might take note. While not as dynamic, emotional or real sounding as big old horns powered by flea-powered tube monoblocks; the Skates are deep, smooth, refined and clean enough to be included on any tweaking audiophile's short list. If this is the level of refinement and budget, which you have in mind, the Skates are deserving of a serious audition.
My listening room resembles a 1/8-scale movie set city, crowded with office towers. Silver, black and white windows - all of them round - cluster in the downtown. Of all the speakers piled into my downtown listening area, these are the ones that I enjoy the most. Not in a cerebral way, but in a visceral fashion. Although not as emotional dynamic or a viscerally enjoyable as the big old horns, Herr Hecken's Skates show how deficient the horns are in the low bass and how harsh they are in the high end. These loudspeakers prompted me to upgrade my system: in fact I did snag a pair of Klipsch's mammoth corner horns.
Unlike the Omega TS2s, or the E6c system, the Skates charms do NOT need to grow on you. You do not have to give them a long listen to hear the quality of their sound. It is obvious from the moment you plug them in. These models were probably broken in, but their sound does not grow more refined with use. I did not find additional qualities coming to the surface.
Nothing compliments a side of thick bass-beef the way that shimmering-silver cymbals do, and the Skates have the entire upper frequency response that any tweaking audiophile would ever need. While dynamic speakers like the big old horns make you want to stand up and move back from them, the Skates (and the E6c system) encourage you to sit down inside the triangle formed by the beam of their high-reaching tweeters. Their 20kHz reach is not audible at normal listening levels, but the Skate's superb upper end does add sizzle to the cymbals, knock to the kick drum and tighten the singer's holographic image.
Plus, the Skates possess an even tonal balance, no bloat or exaggeration, and most importantly, no overly warm woolly character that can plague lower-priced loudspeakers. The Skates are easygoing in the midrange and non-mechanical overall. They have very good retrieval of detail.
A score of 50 is passing on the Enjoy the Music.com™ scale. I grade on a curve, giving the Skates better than average scores for all loudspeakers I have auditioned. Look for a wider range of scores than other reviews. I rate these new guests to our shores a 75 - above average - in almost all respects. Only unusually superb loudspeakers, possibly costing several times more, will do better in an individual category. A score of 90 implies that there might be a no-holds barred dream loudspeaker that could possibly do better, but this one is among the best I have ever heard. So don't let the other comparatively low scores fool you - these are excellent choices for loudspeakers in this price range and worthy of serious consideration. In fact, I added an additional category of my own, enjoyment, to reflect my overall emotional response.
Anybody looking for high quality, moderate-cost loudspeakers in this range, should listen to the Skates. I think they are as good or better than models I have heard. I would not hesitate to recommend them to any one looking at retail name-brand models; these are a much-better value.
Loudspeakers are the only bargain in audio - they are where you get the most bang for your audio buck. The Skates are elegant examples of that. The Skates are great moderate-price loudspeakers with most of the high-end qualities that many tweaking audiophiles seek from cone loudspeakers. Although they need a quality SS power amplifier to handle their 3-ohm dip, the Skates are worth the investment. They have a noticeably smooth midrange, deep bass reach and extended high-end. They are a good match for front-end equipment costing two or three times their price. The Newtronics Skates entry to the American market represents one of the solid, enduring values in audio.
Welcome to the American market, Herr Hecken.
Recommended Power Rating: 20 watts (Tube/"Class A") 100 watts ("Class A/B")
Peak Power: 180 watts
Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohm
Surface/Veneers: black, wood, custom finishes available
Dimensions: 41 x 7.4 x 11.4 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 40 lbs.
MSRP: $2,049 (black) including detachable front grills and spike plates
Interlink Audio Inc.
Voice: (212) 988-9898
*With thanks to Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band