Welcome to another meeting of Audiolics Anonymous. This month has been a full one audio-wise, with several pieces of equipment and discs that I've come across that are really outstanding. Let's begin with the discs.
In chapter 57, I first discussed the Silverline Records Classics series, and have since found two new winners, both featuring reissues of Vanguard Classics recordings of Maurice Abravanel with the Utah Symphony Orchestra doing Mahler's First Symphony (288238-9) and the Second (288244-9). Both also contain videos boards of Mahler's life, the playlist, and the production equipment for the tape to DVD-Audio transfer. In addition, there are three videos of some history on Abravanel, the Orchestra and the recordings. The original A/D was done at 24-bit/192kHz multi-track, which was then down-rezed to the 5.1 DVD-Audio 24-bit/96kHz MLP. In addition, there are a 24-bit/96kHz stereo track and a 5.1 and stereo Dolby digital tracks for playback on DVD-video units. Each chapter also has several different pictures from the original recording sessions.
While both are excellent recordings tastefully done in surround sound, the Second is the better buy. The First only has 49 minutes with no filler, and there is a funny deep bass thrumming in the second movement that drove my subwoofers crazy until they were turned down significantly. Whether this was on the original tape or not I have no idea. The Second, at 76 minutes really fills the disc and is the better recording. While there is also some deep bass continuous noise in the last movement, I think this was probably the hall's organ bellows. The last movement also has a couple of discontinuities in the sound with the field suddenly collapsing for a fraction of a second, probably due to bad splices on the original tape.
The two soloists, Florence Kopleff, and the very young Beverly Sills, are superb, and the orchestra plays its heart out. While Leonard Bernstein is given all of the credit for the Mahler renaissance in America, I prefer these two recordings to his early Columbia's.
One gripe I have with both is that they used a slightly heavy hand wiping out the tape noise. I don't know which program they used for noise reduction, but it almost obliterated the hall sound, except for what one gets out of the rear channels. Thus, while the instruments are in their places, and the placement is wide and deep, there is absolutely no feeling of where the walls are around the orchestra. Why can't the engineers leave well enough alone and let us hear the original recording with its warts?
Eben By Raidho Loudspeakers
While at the Munich High End Audio Show in May, I listened to an amazing set of speakers from Denmark, the name of which I forgot before I was able to get back home and write my article. Amazing, because they sounded excellent under show conditions and were being driven by only an integrated amp from a plain Jane CD source.
About three weeks ago, I received a all from Maurice Schmir of Dyana Audio Distributing, an acquaintance of an audiophile friend, who invited me up to his house and studio in Maine, only 35 minutes away, and quite close to some great lobster restaurants, for a listen to his new speaker line. I thought I had never heard of them, and am normally less than interested in listening to another dynamic driver speaker, but the guy, an ex-anesthesiologist, and fellow audiophile who decided to combine his avocation with his retirement vocation, sounded interesting on the phone, and I had a day off, so "What the hell," I took a drive up.
I must say, even if my wife and I hadn't stopped for the lobster, the morning wasn't a waste of time. Maurice and his charming wife Sylvia Warner turned out to be long time audiophiles who are distributing some excellent equipment. Years ago, in California, they had run a high end audio store as a sideline, which failed during the big recession out there, and I guess they didn't learn their lesson.
As you can see from the pictures, they all have a slim tower design, and are placed on a plinth with two sets of cones, one set connecting the speakers to the plinth, and the second the plinth to the floor. Each cone is actually a double one with a roller ball inside. Raidho's feeling is that it is better to decouple the speakers from the floor using the rollerballs that allow some movement, although probably minimal secondary to the inertia of the speakers, compared to direct coupling which allows vibrations to be transmitted from floor to speaker and vice versa. Before I got into my massive horns, I had used a similar concept with my B&W 801's using home made rollers with ball bearings, and actually preferred the sound to the direct coupling. (Gee I wonder if they got the idea from me)
The midrange and bass drivers are made to their specs by Audio Technology, and the tweeter, a ribbon diaphragm type, is used throughout the line and was designed and is made by them. All drivers are made to be able to produce a frequency range significantly wider than what they need to cover to decrease distortion and impedance problems. Frequency response is supposedly flat to 50kHz. for all speakers, and the bottom end varies from 40Hz to 25Hz depending on the model.
Due to the drivers and simple crossover, all have fairly flat impedance ranging from 5 to 8 ohms depending on the model over the frequency range, which shouldn't give too many amps problems, and have 88dB to 90dB sensitivity, not quite sensitive enough for single ended amps. They don't list a maximum dB response, but even the X-Baby was plenty loud without noticeable distortion. The cabinet is shaped such that the drivers should be time-aligned if the ears are at the tweeter height.
The cabinets are fairly heavy for their size, well constructed, and the knuckle test produces only a dull thud. Even though they are on two sets of rollerballs, there was no motion of the units in any direction when tapped. Each has a single set of input posts as they feel bi-wiring is unnecessary and possibly deleterious with the simple crossover.
It's nice to be able to say that my first impressions at the show were confirmed, as each speaker in the group sounded very good for their respective price range. Their forte, even with the largest model, was a coherency to the sound that normally can only be obtained with single driver speakers. As much as I tried, I could not hear any discontinuities between the drivers. While I attribute this to the crossover and time-alignment, it may also be caused by the fact that the drivers are made to work well beyond their assigned frequency range, which is a necessity with first order circuits for distortion reduction.
On each, the soundstage extended significantly to the outside of the speakers, and extended from about two feet in front of, to way back beyond the back wall. Spaces between instruments were as well filled in as I've heard with cone drivers.
Bass, even with the smallest unit was deep and tight, and with the Eben X-4 extended down into subwoofer range. Even on the loudest orchestral passages played, I could not hear any bass doubling or distortion in their frequency ranges, although we didn't play any organ pedal notes.
The mid-range was as clean as I've heard from anything except electrostatics, and the high end extended well out to beyond where I can hear any more without peakiness or harshness. Voice, from bass to soprano sounded as natural as I've heard. The only possible fault could be a slight lack of air, but that could have been due to setup or cables , source, or any of the other myriad variables associated with high end audio.
One should expect all of the above from any speakers in their price range, but few that I've heard actually deliver all of the positive characteristics with few faults. Matter of fact, the only other fault I could find in them is their price (I'm Scotch after all) and the fact that my low wattage amps, that I love, would probably have a difficult time getting the best out of them. Guess I'm still a horn guy and will remain so.
Next month I'll be reviewing my new leader for the best of amps category and probably a couple of tweaks. Till then...