Ruark describes the original Crusader as "one of the iconic loudspeakers of the 1980s". We'd certainly concur that its original and attractive styling has the sort of timelessness that deserves this revival as part of the company's Heritage Series, and in celebration of Ruark's upcoming 20th anniversary.

We last reviewed the Crusader in its original form back in 1997, which is some testament to the model's longevity, and at the time it cost £1,600 per pair. Nine years on, the price has gone up to an altogether more substantial £2,800 per pair.

This new version does incorporate a number of changes, most obviously in the use of a ribbon tweeter in place of the more conventional dome used in the original.

The large midrange fabric dome driver has always been a key ingredient in the Crusader package, and this unusual type of drive unit remains a part of the new version.

The styling is perhaps the Crusader's cleverest and most attractive feature. In common with its two-way Talisman stablemate, this three-way's unusual construction method effectively consists of two deep, narrow 'trays': a smaller rearward, black-finished one fits just inside a larger front section that is real-wood veneered, with nicely radiused edges front and rear.

Small in appearance

This arrangement may well have good structural properties, but the visual consequences are particularly intriguing: the eyes pick up on the pretty woodwork, and tend to perceive the rear section as more of a shadow than a solid box, so the speaker as a whole appears much smaller than is actually the case.

Construction is impressively solid, using a mix of 18mm and 25mm MDF with asymmetric internal bracing, and the standard finishes include extremely well finished oak, cherry and walnut veneers.

The front panel leans slightly backwards, which probably assists driver time-alignment and also allows the enclosure to be fairly low yet still direct the sound upwards into the room - for ribbon tweeters it's absolutely essential to be close to the vertical axis.

The speaker is slightly deeper at the base than the top, which will help spread the internal resonances in one plane, as well as keep the centre of gravity lower.

A nicely shaped, real-wood finished plinth is supplied, and this usefully extends the stability footprint a little, while also providing secure mounting for chunky 8mm spikes. There's also scope to add some useful mass loading at the bottom of the enclosure.

Large midrange domes are relatively rare among hi-fi speakers, and are actually more commonly found in the larger professional monitors, such as those made by ATC and PMC. There are both advantages and disadvantages.

Even distribution

On the plus side, they have high power handling, because the dome is driven at its edge by a relatively large diameter voice coil with high thermal capacity. And because the dome has a diameter roughly mid way between a bass driver and a tweeter, it creates a more even distribution across the audio band.

The down side is that an edge-driven dome necessarily has limited excursion, so it can only be used as a midrange-only driver, and that in turn makes a three-way configuration inevitable, with considerable extra crossover network complexity in consequence.

The bonus of a ribbon driver is that it holds a pleated conductive metal ribbon within a powerful magnetic field, so that the 'voice coil' ribbon and the diaphragm are one and the same.

The ribbon used here is 8x55mm (Ruark suggests it's 8.5x60mm), which will certainly ensure fine lateral dispersion to beyond the limits of human hearing.

That said, the highest audible frequencies will be subject to some vertical beaming - so best results will be obtained when the tweeters are aimed directly towards the ears, the more so because the ribbon itself is set quite deep behind the flush-mounted faceplate.

The chunky 180mm bass unit has a cast frame and a deliberately coarse-pressed 125mm paper cone, while the doped fabric dome midrange diaphragm has a diameter of 78mm (again, Ruark suggests this is closer to 75mm).

Ruark has had the decency and good taste to provide three separate terminal pairs here - one for each unit and its associated arms of the dividing network - so there's full flexibility for bi/tri-wiring or bi/tri-amping.

Balanced tones

The configuration suggested - and the in-room measurements confirmed - that the Crusader III was likely to give best results when sited in free space and clear of walls. The overall tonal balance looks impressively smooth and even right through the bass and midrange, though the upper mid, 1-2kHz, is just a shade prominent.

However, things are much less satisfactory above 2kHz, as the averaged trace drops steeply by some 7dB at 3.2kHz. There's good recovery by 6kHz, but relative output is clearly lacking between 2.5 and 5kHz.

This result is very different from that obtained with the earlier Crusader nine years ago, where the transition through the upper crossover zone was unusually smooth and even. The new model does offer obvious improvements in bass smoothness and extension, and again in midband sensitivity.

Indeed, the latter is 4dB better than before, at a very healthy 89dB (1dB better than specified), with no compromise in the easy drive load. But it would seem that the new ribbon tweeter doesn't yet integrate as well as its conventional dome predecessor.

For the listening sessions, the speakers were hooked up to a system that comprised Naim CDS 555 and Rega Saturn CD players, Rega P9/Naim ARO/Rega Apheta record player, Magnum Dynalab MD106T FM tuner and Naim NAC552/NAP 500 amplification, all hooked up with Vertex AQ and Naim cables.

The measured findings are directly reflected in the listening experience - something that was immediately noticeable, because that presence dip happens to be the segment of the audio range where human hearing is most sensitive.

In fairness, the upper-mid forwardness provides some compensation, but that basic lack of presence energy in particular (and to a rather lesser degree the treble as a whole) results in a sound that is a little too laid back, lacking the sort of incisiveness and excitement that helps facilitate musical communication.

And because the hard edges of consonants are shy, speech and song lyric intelligibility are also somewhat reduced.

The positive aspect to this is that the Crusader III will never sound aggressive, even when the recording - and there are plenty to choose from - has been mixed with a very upfront balance. A CD like the Chemical Brothers' Push the Button can sound almost unbearably edgy when played on truly neutral loudspeakers, especially if the volume is turned up high on the title track.

Putting the Crusader III at the end of the chain, however, rendered it much more listenable than usual and at significantly higher levels, too. And, even though the treble proper still sounded a bit strong, the ribbon tweeter showed itself to be very clean with low subjective distortion and plenty of headroom.

Bass differences

Track three of the same CD (Believe) highlights another strength of this speaker, which is a fine ability to reveal the subtle distinctions between the complex bass elements found on this track.

While it might not be the last word in drive and authority, the Crusader III has a very crisp and clean bottom end, with good agility and evenness, and very well controlled enclosure coloration.

Indeed, presence zone apart, the overall neutrality here is thoroughly impressive, and the fine box control ensures a wide dynamic range. Stereo imaging is also impressively free from boxiness, without any tendency for sounds to cluster around the speakers themselves.

Ultimately, the Crusader III's lack of treble energy can hold it back when it's playing very quietly, but it can also be a positive boon when rocking and rolling at relatively high levels.

Indeed, exploring the Raconteurs' Broken Boy Soldiers was a whole lot of fun, because this character allowed it to be played at higher levels than are normally comfortable with modern rock recordings.

If you like your music played authoritatively loud with both power and subtlety, this could be a Crusade worth joining. Paul Messenger

Setup

POSITIONING

With its port tuned to a lowish 35Hz, the Crusader III's far-field in-room measurements worked very well in our test room. It delivered bass down to 23Hz under in-room conditions, relatively smoothly and evenly right through the bass region, provided the speakers are kept well clear of walls.

However, the overall bass level is 'dry', with the average level below 120Hz running at about 4dB below the prominent upper midband zone. Although free space positioning will give best results, especially from the point of view of best imaging and lowest midband coloration, this speaker should also be able to tolerate some wall proximity without sounding too bass heavy if circumstances dictate this. Close-to-wall siting will increase the mid-bass level, between 50Hz and 100Hz, by about 6dB, but it can also introduce unwanted cancellations, too. It's therefore always worth experimenting in situ, as every room has its own, often unpredictable characteristics, so do try moving the speakers around while playing music with plenty of bass content.

Because of the ribbon tweeter, best results will be obtained when the tweeter is directed at the listening seat. This is particularly important for the vertical axis, where the 55mm diaphragm height will introduce a degree of beaming of the highest frequencies.

SYSTEM MATCHING

Sensitivity registers 89dB under our measurement regime, which is high enough to give decent loudness capabilities with any normal amplifier, though some low-power valve types might be better avoided. It's actually slightly higher than the 88dB specified by the manufacturer, and considerably higher than the rather modest 85dB we measured for an earlier Crusader model back in 1996.

While any three-way is an increase in crossover network complexity over two-way designs, the impedance here stays high throughout, so the speaker will not demand excessive current from the amplifier. The impedance minimum is a benign six ohms, which is found between 120Hz and 300Hz; elsewhere the trace stays at or above eight ohms.