An upcoming project I’m working on for Playback 16 is a review of a surround-sound speaker system based on BG Radia’s new hybrid ribbon/dynamic Z-92 and Z-62 speakers, plus a Radia 210i subwoofer. Readers who have followed the Nextscreen-family publications over the years may recall that back in 2004 my colleague Neil Gader (writing for The Absolute Sound) and I (writing for AVguide Monthly and The Perfect Vision) favorably reviewed BG’s first generation Radia Z-series speakers, which went on to win The Absolute Sound 2004 award for Affordable Loudspeaker of the year. Then as now, the Radia Z-series speakers were a hybrid design that combined conventional aluminum-coned mid-bass drivers with planar ribbon drivers.
But good though the original Radia Z-models were, I felt there was room for improvement in two key areas; namely, the critical transition region between bass and midrange and then between mids and highs. The problem, as anyone who has spent much time studying and listening to hybrids designs is that exotic ribbon drivers almost invariably exhibit greater detail and significantly faster transient response than conventional piston-type drivers. In practice this means that, if you listen carefully to hybrid designs, you can often hear subtle signs of discontinuities between piston-type woofers (or mid-bass drivers) vis-à-vis their companion ribbon tweeters.
In the Z-92 and Z-62 speakers BG seeks to tackle these problems in two ways: first, by building a better version of its traditional 6.5-inch aluminum cone mid-bass driver, and second, by providing a new two-element planar ribbon midrange/tweeter module (the earlier Z-models used ribbon tweeters only and did not have a planar-magnetic midrange drivers). When the speaker’s grilles are removed, the new midrange/tweeter module is what immediately catches visitors’ eyes and ears. What you see, basically is a large, rectangular “Neo 10” midrange planar magnetic panel (10” x 5”) in front of which is positioned a smaller (2.5” x 3.5”) “Neo 3PDR” planar ribbon tweeter. The concept is for the improved mid-bass drivers to provide greater transient speed and finesse (the better to keep up with the planar drivers) and for the planar magnetic midrange panel to handle the lion’s share of the workload from 500 Hz on up to 2.3 kHz, at which point the ribbon tweeter takes over. In a “big picture” sense, then, the whole point of the three-way Z-92 and Z-62 models is to provide better “speed matching” from bass to midrange and from midrange to highs so that, in theory, the speaker will have a more coherent, “cut from whole cloth” sound. But how does it work in practice?
First impressions: I’m only mid-way through my listening tests, and my sense is that the speakers still have a ways to go before they reach full break-in, but results are already very promising. The Z-92 (three-way floorstanders) and Z-62 (large, three-way LCR) speakers sound noticeably faster and more coherent from top to bottom than I remember the original Z-models sounding. The new Neo 10 driver is, as near as I can tell at this stage, a real beauty and a fine workhorse, too. The driver is subtle as all get out, yet can, when called upon to do so, really crank, meaning that these speakers don’t back down from the challenge of reproducing aggressive or bombastic sound effects. The only negative I’ve noted thus far, though it is one that break-in appears to be solving, is a slight tendency to render sudden transient sounds with a little more edge or “attack” than is, strictly speaking, realistic. But the speakers have audibly grown smoother with use, which leads me to think they may mellow even further with more playing time. Even as they are now, I’ve found the Z-92 and Z-62 offer definition and clarity sufficient to wow most guest listeners—even pretty finicky ones. So, I suspect BG has a winner on its hands. Stay tuned for the upcoming review in Playback 16 (our January 2009 issue).