Is it a bird, is it a plane, is it a... toaster? Paul White tightens his seatbelt and road‑tests the sporty new Rogers db101s.
Rogers are a rather conservative loudspeaker company, more normally associated with solidly‑engineered, visually‑anonymous broadcast and studio monitors, so it comes as rather a shock when they produce a monitor that looks not unlike the contents of a guillotine operator's basket shortly after a run‑in with a Cyberman. You may have seen the news item that first mentioned these monitors in last November's SOS, accompanied by a picture showing the speakers in a rather fetching yellow and blue colour scheme. The db101s are in fact available in nine different finishes, ranging from fake wood, through '50s coffee bar kitsch, to shiny aluminium. Astonishingly enough, the blue and yellow option isn't one of them — that was put together purely for promotional purposes.
Designed as a general‑purpose, nearfield monitor for private and commercial studio use, the db101s are nicely compact speakers (270 x 190 x 193mm, and weighing 2.3kg each) which won't get in the way if perched on a meter bridge. The cabinet is injection‑moulded from ABS (the substance flightcases are made of), and the aluminium side cheeks are heat‑bonded in place to maximise the rigidity, self‑damping — and, of course, cuteness — of the enclosure. Behind the unorthodox presentation is a more down‑to earth 2‑way passive monitor design based around a fully shielded, 110mm, paper‑coned woofer, featuring a rigid polymer chassis and a roll surround. The use of a polymer basket eliminates the possibility of the chassis metalwork affecting the performance of the magnetic system, and it also keeps the weight down. Driving the cone is an edge‑wound voice coil on a Kapton former, and a bullet‑shaped phase plug protrudes from the centre of the cone.
The crossover is a gentle first‑order system crossing over at 5kHz, which keeps it away from the most vulnerable part of the speech band. The high end drives a ferrofluid‑cooled tweeter with light polymer diaphragm, driven by a low‑mass, formerless voice coil. Unusually, the tweeter (which is also magnetically shielded and fitted with a plastic phase plug) is suspended right in the centre of the bass port, giving the whole enclosure a 'Cyclops' character. Rogers claim that this topography produces good directional characteristics, and the off‑axis response certainly seems excellent. The crossover itself has just five components, and fuse protection is provided against more vigorous overloads.
They also look about as distinctive as it's possible for a speaker to look without wearing a party hat and a grass skirt.
When it comes to driving these speakers, you don't need an awful lot of power, because, with a sensitivity of 92dB for 2.38V (1W nominal) at 1 metre, they are more efficient than most comparably sized monitors. What's more, they are rated at 4Ω, which means your amplifier will run at its most efficient. However, they can handle up to 125W peak, at which point they push out a butch 108dB, measured at two metres rather than the more usual one metre.
Connection is via spring terminals, which also accept standard banana plugs, though there is no provision for bi‑wiring. The frequency response is flat within ±3dB from 75Hz to 21kHz, and because the design is ported, the bottom end rolls off fairly quickly below 75Hz. Even so, the monitors deliver a punchy sound, albeit without any true deep bass extension.
Before settling down to a qualitative listening test, you really need to use the speakers for a day or so to run them in. This is actually true of most speakers, and rather than its being another piece of hi‑fi mythology, there's actually a very good reason for doing it. The way a driver behaves in a cabinet is mathematically related to its mechanical stiffness, and a new speaker is always stiffer than one that has been in use for a while. After being used for a few hours, the surround tends to soften up, and I noticed a distinct change in tone after using the monitors for only a couple of hours. Straight out of the box, the speakers were slightly hard‑sounding, with a noticeable mid‑range peakiness, but this soon settled down to a smoother, more natural sound. In fact, other than the restricted bass end, these little monitors perform surprisingly well for their size, presenting a reasonably neutral tonality, and with the ability to reveal detail. Drums and bass instruments kick nicely when you turn the level up a bit (within the limitations of a 75Hz low‑end response), transient percussive sounds are handled with snappy precision, and stereo imaging is also good, with a reassuringly wide sweet spot.
Because the crossover is set up at 5kHz, vocals come over pretty smoothly, though there is evidence of a little smearing between the woofer and tweeter below the crossover point, presumably because of the extent of the overlap a low‑order crossover invariably involves. This certainly isn't serious but, in contrast with my ATC reference monitors, there was a slight, but still perceptible, sense of confusion in the upper mid range, along with some residual 'hardness' of tone. Given the size and intended application of these speakers, this artifact is very minor, and doesn't significantly impinge on these monitors' ability to effectively represent a mix.
I don't think the db101s are any more accurate than the much cheaper Rogers L1s I reviewed back in SOS January '96; indeed, the L1s may have a slightly better bass extension, but where the 101s score is that they are much tougher, they can handle more power, and they are capable of kind of SPLs professional mix engineers expect from their nearfield speakers. Apparently, they're already popular with dance music composers for this reason. They also look about as distinctive as it's possible for a speaker to look without wearing a party hat and a grass skirt.
These aren't the cheapest nearfield monitors around, and they don't have the best bass extension, but, within their price range, they offer the right combination of tonal near‑neutrality, good transient handling, the ability to play LOUD, and the kind of sonic integrity we expect from Rogers. The magnetic screening is good news for anyone working close to TV or computer monitors, and the styling will attract attention (or at least people trying to find the slot for the toast!). If you need speakers of this physical size, then the db101s are as good as anything I've tried, and are rather more accurate than most. They aren't perfect, of course — all speakers are a compromise — but a combination of clever design and a devotion to accuracy rather than flattery on the behalf of the designers at Rogers makes these speakers entirely suitable for virtually any nearfield monitoring requirement. And they look great!
- Reasonably neutral sound with good imaging and transient handling.
- Efficient, with high SPL capability.
- Great styling.
- Limited bass extension.
- The striking cosmetics almost certainly add to the price.
Any overt flattery and flamboyance exhibited by these speakers is in the cosmetics, where it belongs, while the monitors themselves are reasonably neutral and capable of impressively high SPLs. However, there's little doubt that the cost of tooling has made these monitors more expensive than if Rogers had tried to obtain similar performance from a more conventional box.