Deprecating The Gifts Of The G-ds
Article by A. Colin Flood
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Somehow, some people just do not get it. Often I feel as "those people is me." I am the one that does not get it. Not just "not get it" either, but also
the only one that does not "get it". I shake my head in wonder, as if to clear some cobwebs that must be keeping my thinking from joining that the crowd.
Here I was recently, going from salon room to salon room at a special Sound Advice/Tweeter audio event: the legendary Gayle Martin Sanders introducing his six $70,000 top-of-the-line towers of power he calls the Martin-Logan Statements.
I have to compliment this retail chain, as it spreads from north to south, here was exactly what some audio reviewers have lamented recently. Here was a chance for the plebian audiophile to enjoy, and learn about, the golden joys of audio. Here was fruit from the
G-ds. A system served at pinnacle of the industry, a system from the homes of the
G-ds on Mount Olympus. An opportunity to hear awesome music reproduced as good as it gets.
I never miss one of these events and always listen politely to what the host has to say. As if there might actually be the chance, within this decade, within this lifetime, of my purchasing the ultra high-end speakers, or maybe even the whole system. In any event, I always learn something. I always come away both discouraged by how far my modest system has to go and yet encouraged by how much I have accomplished within the confines of my parsimonious audio budget.
Each Martin-Logan Statement system consists of two seven-foot tall electrostatic panels alongside two thin mid-bass tower arrays with eight 7" cone drivers each! Behind the flat see-though panel and the thin black tower are two stocky square metal columns hiding eight more 12" sub-woofers. The panels look like window screening with their Mylar and mesh metal. The line driver array looks like a thin black B&O column and the sub-woofers look like a stack of Krell's big block amps.
The sub-woofer stacks are lit by a night-light visible through the sheer Mylar of the electrostatic panels. The six towers combined reproduce sound from a resonating 18Hz to over 20kHz within an extremely flat 2dB. The awesome speaker display weights almost one ton and requires bi-amplification by a stereo pair of Krell concrete block monster amps pushing 600 watts per channel. Tube traps marked the corners and the center of the artistically blue-padded room. The lights dimmed and the magical monoliths sang their song.
Deep pounding rumbles on timpani accompanied sharp clacking on blocks with a sonorous tenor for the first song. The vocals were as good and as realistic as the $100,000 Nearfield Pipedreams line driver arrays. Most excellent, dude. The best there ever was. The tenor was crisp and clean, unfettered and unrestrained.
The sound of an artist-friend performing a jazz rendition of Sting's "Walking on the Moon" was next. This bopping song was incredibly real. Drums rocked and snapped better than anything I have ever heard. Cymbals crashed. The space between the notes made music. The bass line was as taut a high-wire across the top of the circus tent. Tension filled the air with each note. When the artist carefully tiptoes out the bass line, the vibration was felt through out the tent. Each pluck, each step, on the bass line rang and swayed with the delicacy and authority of the action. There were no missteps by the system. Wonderful stuff.
Last in the demonstration was some inaudibly low church organ notes. They washed through the room like waves pounding a beach. You are but a pebble in their way as they overlap and pass you by. Pretty impressive stuff for the millionaires down here in Boca Raton. Something, the host suggested, to build a custom theater room around. Indeed.
On the way out, I heard a lesser pair of Martin-Logans smash and mash together the vocals and cymbals and guitar on a perspective customer's not so audiophile CD. By comparison to their bigger, younger brother, these exotic transducers just could not handle the hash of the incoming signal. The special high-end Statements did have clarity and dynamics, but this model, in this instance, did not. I have briefly heard some wonderful music on Martin-Logan loudspeakers, but this was not one of those times.
Editor's Note: Having attended the Los Angeles Stereophile
show was a mega-dollar, mega-wattage ML/VTL system. While small scale music and
stings sounded quite good, "real music" (read: not
"audiophile") that was complex such as Prodigy Fat Of The Land
had the system sounding as A. Colin Flood describes. The music reproduction was highly
contaminated with flabby bass, muddled midrange and confusing highs. For this
high price range i would demand much more in music reproduction quality.
Alas, it seems ML has quite a bit of work to do until they can have their
product work properly with more mainstream, well recorded, intricate music. The Magnepan
line of loudspeakers would easily be a better choice in my book after having
many lengthy listening sessions.
One prospective customer asked me what I thought, as the salesman spun the dial between Klipsch RF7 horns, B&W cones and Martin-Logan electrostatics. With out any volume balancing, the Klipsch were clearly louder. On the reggae track that was playing, I thought they sounded crisp, bright, clear, solid and more music like. I diplomatically told the customer it was only what he liked that mattered.
(Heaven forbid that I should wear out my welcome at such sumptuous and entertaining events, by inserting my opinion as truth in the business of selling High-End Audio.) So instead, I asked what he had for an amplifier and when he replied "McIntosh," I extolled some of the known virtues of a McIntosh and Klipsch combination - and left the room.
The RF7s sold were $1,095 each and the B&W pair was $3,750, the salesman said. I thought the price relationship should be reversed. For as utterly awesome as the $70,000 display was, it was amazing how close that much less-expensive audio equipment can come to creating a feeling of the real music. I am not as impressed by how realistic a $70,000 system can sound, as I am by what can be done for $700, nay, even $70.
It is not so awesome what a row of modern mechanical marvels can do with almost unlimited funds, for such inspiring creations
are supposed to be great. It is more remarkable is what my beat-up 4" speaker in a decades old German monophonic EL34 tube radio can do with virtually no impressive electronics. I am not so amazed at the multi-million orbiting Hubbell satellite telescope as I am by Galileo's ingenious discovery and his unique use of Hubbell' prototype.
The Klipsch RF-7 Reference Series flagship loudspeaker is the top of the line tower for this venerable loudspeaker manufacturer, except for some classic ultra-efficient big old horns from the days of the Fab Four and moppish hair-cuts. The RF7 flagship has a 8" square black Tractrix horn with two 10" copper-colored woofer cones.
It is a shame that the Calvary charge for horns in the retail audio marketplace is led by so modest a speaker as the
$1,095 Klipsch RF7. For as impressive as this realistically sounding tower can be, when matched with high quality equipment, it often gets sand in the face from the more powerful marketers on the beach.
One of the secrets of high fidelity is that coupling modest tube amplifiers to super efficient (95dB/W/m or more)
loudspeakers is a classic amplifier and loudspeaker combination. They form a musical union hard to describe, like comparing soft and flaky piecrust, rather than the moist and crumbly kind. This texture is clearly a matter of personal taste. Yet, horns and tubes is one successful combination that has sold a lot of pies over the decades. It is a joint effort that makes music. An effort that just sounds wonderful.
But there is an absence of any retail audio/visual boutique in my stomping grounds (Minnesota, New Hampshire or Florida), to demonstrate what is renown to be a wonderfully magically combination of components. So tweaking audiophiles like me are left to the resources and trust of Internet sites like Enjoy the Music.com and audio forum posters from far off places. We are on our own to spread the word. My local Sound Advice/Tweeter chain, for example, has no high-end show scheduled with oiled wood Klipsch Khorns and mighty
Wright Sound Company tube amplifiers any time soon.
So I wonder why I do not get "it." Why doesn't the powerful row of six towers drop my jaw and leave me drooling in awe? Why does the technological tour de force seem like a big yellow school bus and I just want to get off and walk my own way? Why is it more of the same? Bigger, more yellow, more impressive looks, more seats, more speakers, more power, more engine, more money, lots more money - but still just a big yellow bus; just the same. Transporting all of us plebs off in the same direction.
If a superb flat line response from 18Hz to 22kHz with two 600-watt amps and six tall towers of gorgeous sound simply sounds like more of the big yellow bus; then what should I be listening and paying attention to? Because the tall electronic marvels, with their punchy mid-bass line drivers, deep-bass sub-woofers and massively "built like bombers"
amplifiers did deliver the goods, and in spades, too. This was sky-high satellite technology brought down from Olympus. A gift from the
G-ds. Poor plebian me though... I just did not get it.