Richter Audio Harlequin S6 Loudspeaker Review
Harlequin S6 Floorstander
AUD $1,899 RRP
Let's play a game called “spot the compromise”? When I see a homegrown Australian speaker company, that boasts world-class craftsmanship and acoustics, at a price that isn't low enough to be considered a dirty undercut but also competitive enough to be a strong temptation, then something has to give, right?
The company's newest range is the Legend Series 6, which unsurprisingly perhaps, has taken over from the previous Legend Series V – the latter being still on sale at the time of writing. Back in August this year, Brian Rodgers, Managing Director of Richter, told StereoNET:
With Merlin being one of the first loudspeakers that Richter produced, and the Wizard regarded as the biggest selling Australian loudspeaker of all time – not to mention winning the 2017 Ultimate Product of the Last 30 Years award – then delivering the next in the series meant we needed to raise the bar.
So a high bar has been set, but the objective for this homegrown supplier was to do better still.
The Harlequin S6 is the new mid-level speaker from Richter Audio's latest range, then. A two-way, reflex-loaded floorstander, it is flanked by the bookshelf Merlin S6 and the flagship floorstanding Wizard S6. For those looking to pack some extra punch, the Thor 10.6 subwoofer sits proudly as the sole low bass reinforcement offering in the range.
Removing the Harlequins from the box and setting them up via the included instructions, I found myself hunting for cut-corners, expecting to have a “gotcha” moment when I spotted the smoking gun. Alas, the instructions were thorough and crystal clear, everything was well packed, and the speakers themselves presented beautifully. The black walnut cabinets look clean, with no kinks, bumps or other such signs of rushed craftsmanship anywhere to be seen. Instead, the quality is more akin to something you expect to find from its counterparts from the United Kingdom or Japan. I loved the subtle, understated aesthetic, complete with gorgeous detailing.
Such craftsmanship extends beyond the cabinets because even the supplied accessories are well thought out and properly made. The stabilisers come with accurate documentation, and the tolerances to which they fit are tight; there's no wiggling or unwanted movement after installation. Instead of resurrecting drivers from the previous V series, Richter has given birth to a new 165mm paper coned mid/bass unit that's coated with a composite of hemp, kapok and wool. Performing high-frequency duties is a brand new 25mm soft dome tweeter.
A new crossover design, featuring acoustic polypropylene caps and ferrite cored inductors is fitted. After receiving and listening to feedback on the connectors from the previous series, Richter has also upgraded its connector type to a gold-plated terminal that accepts bare wire, pin connectors, spades and banana plugs. These clamp firmly to cabling, and don't rattle or wiggle around.
The walnut cabinet is a departure from the Jarrahwood of the previous series, but is a change that I personally welcome. The black, sleek cab of the Harlequin S6 weighs in at 15.5kg, and measures 930x300x310mm including stabilisers. Removable grills are supplied with the speakers which mount via magnets for easy application, and removable port bungs are bundled for use close to a boundary wall. Overall, I was hard-pressed to find any compromises in terms of build and finish at this price; the standard of presentation is more consistent with imported products that cost considerably more.
Producing a claimed 88.5dB from 2.83Vrms at 1 metre, this isn't the world's most sensitive mid-size floorstander. Perhaps the designer has chosen to harness the cabinet's considerable air moving ability in the cause of slightly deeper bass than you'd expect from a speaker of this size? Quoted frequency response is a wide 31Hz to 30kHz, albeit at -6dB drop-off points. Richter recommends that it is used with amplifiers from 50 to 150W RMS per channel, and a figure of 6 ohms is given for nominal impedance, which is pretty standard nowadays.
As I hooked up the Harlequin S6 to my NAD Electronics M33 amplifier, I recalled a particular phrase - “I'm not in the audiophile industry, I'm in the entertainment industry”. These were the words of the founder of Richter Audio, who even told StereoNET last year that the speakers in the new Legend Series 6 range are so efficient, “that they can be driven from even a Sonos amp”. My concern levels were rising by the second…
Yet I needn't have worried, because rather than excuses for poor performance, these turn out to be messages of inclusion. What Richter is trying to say, is that these speakers aren't just for us vinyl obsessed keyboard warriors – but for anyone who appreciates decent sound. Even the instruction booklet that accompanies the S6 encourages listening to these speakers through preferred streaming platforms, rather than just through our treasured audiophile listening formats.
The Harlequin S6 proved to be a great sounding speaker for the price, with a surprisingly lean, clean and almost bright sound. I wasn't expecting a torrent of bass, because this is a mid-sized floorstander with a single bass/mid driver, and there's no replacement for displacement after all. Still, the design is well voiced with a good balance and an enjoyable demeanour.
Stronger by Richard Cheese is a hilarious song that also happens to have beautiful mastering, which makes the track sound incredible with coherent gear. The Harlequin S6 proved well able to keep up with the punchy, walking bassline, without getting confused or muddying up any of the other instruments being layered over the top. Richard's vocals cut right through the mix, just as they should, and were presented with plenty of energy and bite.
Having established that the Harlequin S6 performed better than expected with upbeat tracks, I decided to complicate things by reaching for the classic Blood on the Motorway by DJ Shadow. The speaker's clean and crisp response delivered the simulated vinyl crackles at the forefront of the mix, in a most believable way. As the samples piled on top of each other, this speaker's soundstage was revealed to be coherent and surprisingly accurate, with more width and depth than I had expected at this price.
As well as having a good deal of scale, the Harlequin S6 proved rhythmically very much on the pace. Certainly not a dry, analytical and/or boring experience, I found music to be replayed with energy and verve. It's got a fair degree of dynamics and really gets a move on with fast-moving, expressive music. For that extra bit of impact, however, you can always include a subwoofer. I put my trusty JBL Balboa in charge of low-end duties, which showed the Richter's bottom end to be a little lacking – but again there was nothing untoward for the sort of market sector it is competing in.
Despite the manufacturer's attempt to pitch this as a more mainstream design, I found it stood up well as an affordable audiophile product too. Prelude and Kiara by Bonobo via my Pro-Ject RPM 1.3 turntable and Ortofon Red moving magnet cartridge was lots of fun. I loved the midband, with its biting rendition of violins that nevertheless never descended into harshness. There were plenty of “being right there in the room with me” moments, further improving my overall listening pleasure.
I tried hard to find flaws in this affordably priced loudspeaker, but it pretty much stumped me. What's not to like about a sub-$2,000 speaker that's designed in Australia, with an engaging and detailed sound and superb imaging to match? Factor in the fine walnut finish, proprietary drivers and excellent accessories, and Richter Audio's Harlequin S6 makes an incredibly strong case for itself in value for money terms. Some may find its balance a little too bass-light, but this tonality will suit other people – especially with smaller listening rooms – and you can always add a subwoofer should you so wish. I tried to play “spot the compromise”, but it looks like I lost the game this time.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.