As the music swelled in the background, Humphrey Bogart leaned toward Ingrid Bergman and tenderly said, "Mnn mmmm mnn nnrm murrrmr."
Damn! I hate when that happens. I ran the laserdisc back and played it again, this time louder.
"MNN MMMM MNN NNRM MURRRMR," said Bogart.
When you think about it, the center channel is probably the most important channelif you don't believe this, watch a movie sometime with the dialog speaker turned off and see how compelling the experience is. I mean, I like explosions, rocket launches, and train wrecks as much as the next guy, but what I really want from a video sound system is the words.
I have fond memories of the Paradigm Reference Studio 20. When I reviewed the original version for the February 1998 issue of Stereophile, it was the model that started me on my quest to seek out the best affordable loudspeakers. I believe that of all the speakers I've reviewed, the original Studio 20 remained in the magazine's "Recommended Components" longest. When I checked out the speaker's fourth generation, in May 2008, I felt it had significantly progressed in terms of sound quality and value for money. This didn't surprise me, however, as pushing the envelopes of sound quality and value has long been Paradigm's trademark. They've done with this with every one of their speakers I've heard, including the third and fifth iterations of the Atom (which I reviewed in September 2002 and February 2008, respectively), and the more expensive models I've heard at audio shows. So when I was given the opportunity to review the Studio 20's fifth generation, I jumped.
The sound of the Stenheim Alumine loudspeakerits openness, transparency, and freedom from temporal distortions, not to mention its good bass extension for such a small enclosurereminded me at once of my favorite small loudspeaker from the late 1980s, the Acoustic Energy AE1. On reflection, the comparison is extraordinary: The two products are as different as night and day, the AE1 being a wooden loudspeaker with a metal-cone woofer, the Alumine a metal loudspeaker with a pulp-cone woofer. I suppose one can skin a catfish by moving the knife or by moving the fish.
While listening to Boston Acoustics' A 25 loudspeaker ($299.98/pair), I kept thinking about magic.
Paul Messenger introduced Boston Acoustics' A Series in the April 2011 "Industry Update." With the creation of the A Series, Paul reported, BA wanted to create a "global loudspeaker," one that would be appreciated by music lovers worldwide.
The two-way Energy CB-10 ($269.99/pair) is a bass-reflex design. A large rear-firing port has an internal diameter of 2" and flares out to 2.75". The speaker uses a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter and a 5.5" woofer with a ribbed elliptical surround, the latter said to increase excursion, decrease distortion, and create a larger piston area for greater efficiency, making the CB-10 an easy match for amplifiers. The CB-10's frequency range is listed as 66Hz20kHz, its in-room sensitivity as 90dB, and its nominal impedance as 8 ohms. In Energy's Convergent Source Module design, the tweeter and woofer are meant to act as a coincident source working together to provide wide bandwidth, constant dispersion, and a flat frequency response. In theory, this would all add up to easy setup and satisfying listening from anywhere in the room.
Ten seconds to ignition. Relax, buckle in, and welcome to Stereophile's Good Times time machine. Flux capacitors fully energized. Ignition. Not to worry, that slight tingling sensation is perfectly normal. Roll back your calendar to...June 28, 1933. We're at the Eighth Annual convention of the Institute of Radio Engineers in Chicago. Harry Olsen is on the podium, describing a new wide-range cone loudspeaker for high-fidelity sound reproduction.
Quiet, please, Mr. Olsen is about to describe the disadvantages of multipledrive-unit systems. "The radiating surfaces must be separated by a finite distance, with the result that this system will exhibit peculiar directional characteristics in the overlap region where the sound radiation issues from both sources. To reduce this effect to a minimum, the overlap region must be confined to a very small range which requires an elaborate electric filter system for allocating the frequency bands of the units. The greater space required for the two loudspeakers is another important factor. The cost of two separate field structures and vibrating systems will be considerably greater than that of a single unit."
At present, my writing chores are divided between two fields: domestic audio and lutherie. Having invested considerable time in both, and having by now met a number of builders who are distinguished in one or the other, I can say with all confidence that the best share a simple, single point of view: Everything makes a difference.
High-end audio is in some ways a dynastic beast, though without as many "begats." One of the world's most successful loudspeaker manufacturers in the years following World War II was the Wharfedale company, from Yorkshire in the North of England. Wharfedale was founded by Gilbert Briggs in 1932, who in the 1950s handed over the reins of Technical Director to fellow Yorkshireman Raymond Cooke. Cooke left Wharfedale in 1961 to found KEF Electronics Ltd., where he subsequently appointed Goodmans designer Laurie Fincham as Chief Engineer in 1968. Fincham led a team of young engineers, including Mike Gough, who eventually joined B&W, and Yorkshire-born Andrew Jones, who became KEF's Chief Engineer in 1989, before Fincham was lured to Harman's Infinity division, in Northridge, California, in 1993. Jones followed Fincham across the Atlantic, where he worked on Infinity's Prelude, Overture, and Reference Series speakers, before joining Pioneer in 1997. The Japanese company had established a state-of-the-art speaker-design facility in Southern California, and Jones was invited to lead the design team.
Roy Hall has his famous Music Hall MMF (Make Money Fast) turntables made for him in the Czech Republic.
Roy has also long been associated with Epos Limited, since a chap named Robin Marshall started the company in 1983. Their first product was the ES-14 loudspeaker, followed by the smaller ES-11. Both were largish, stand-mounted models, and both offered a lively, expressive, unstuffy sound. The speakers have always been fun to listen to, even if they lackedand still lackthe refinement of some far more expensive speakers.
On Thursday, August 11, Cut Copy performed for a massive crowd at Brooklyn's Prospect Park, putting the perfect end to what had been a beautiful summer day. Concert photos by Natalie.
The enormous sky above Brooklyn's Prospect Park was a dazzling watercolor. Warm, soft shades of yellow, orange, and violet swept across a saturated canvas as the sun slowly dissolved into the horizon and day reluctantly gave way to night. It was the second week of August and, though no one wanted to admit it, the days had become noticeably shorter.
I walked alone through turnstiles that led to the large band shell where thousands of people would congregate for the final night of "Celebrate Brooklyn," a summerlong series of outdoor concerts. This year's season included performances by a wonderfully diverse and talented collection of artistssome obscure, some renowned, all worthwhile: Andrew Bird, Larry Harlow, Animal Collective, Real Estate, The Feelies, Los Lobos, The Bad Plus, Dr. John, and dozens of others.
We were sitting near the pool, in a cozy, private cabana on the outdoor terrace of the Trump Plaza Residences in downtown Jersey City, surrounded by all kinds of beauty: To the north, the old Powerhouse Building stood proud, strong, and silent; to the south, Exchange Place's Colgate Clock was just beginning to glow, extending its tireless arms toward Lower Manhattan; to the east, the Empire State Building soared into the humid evening sky, its white-lit spire making thin veils of the summer clouds; and to the west, the redbrick row houses of Harsimus Cove hummed with the sounds of quiet domestic life. Before us stretched a long table covered with delicious treats: cheeses, meats, and crackers; olives, grapes, and hummus; bottles of beer, vodka, and wine. We were at Shana's place, with Natalie, Nicole, and DanielaKristin was there, too. And all I could think about were loudspeakers.
When John Marks wrote about the Vivid B1 in his column, "The Fifth Element," in February 2011, he was so excited about the sound he was getting that he asked me to drive up to Rhode Island to give a listen for myself. Not only was I impressed by what I heard at John's, I decided to do a full review of the speaker.
The buzz was all over the audiophile 'net. "Pioneer has a new bookshelf speaker that's killer for the money!"
Hmm, I thought. Pioneer. Speakers?
To be fair, I've had the Pioneer brand on my mind for well over 30 years. The company was my brand of choice for car-stereo electronics in the 1970s, for Dolby S cassette decks in the '80s, for DVD players in the '90s, and for plasma TVs in the '00s and '10s. I felt a bit guilty that I hadn't focused on the fact that Andrew Jones, the very same design guru who came up with Pioneer's TAD Reference One loudspeaker ($70,000/pair), had had a hand in designing a few two-channel speaker models starting at $99.99/pair. The audio gossip was all about the second model from the bottom of Pioneer's speaker line, the SP-BS41-LR ($149.99/pair). I thought I'd better get a pair and review them.
It seems the obvious way to build a loudspeaker: one driver, no crossover, full range.
Instead, most speakers work this way: Complicated electronics split the audio signal into pieces, adding various colorations and phase shifts along the way. The pieces are distributed to different drivers, each of which adds another unique set of characteristics. We then expect these fragments of electronic signal to be brought together again in a continuous, coherent reproduction of music. We agonize over different cable routings or which contact cleaner to use, and yet we calmly accept this grotesque sausage-making way of building speakers. It's ludicrous.
A while back, I received an e-mail from The Kid (Stephen Mejias): "I've been listening to and enjoying the Wharfedale 10.1 loudspeakers ($350/pair) for a couple of months. I wrote about them for my March and April issue columns, but they are good enough for a complete review. Are you interested?"
Hmm . . . so The Kid is now assigning me equipment reviews? "Sure, why not?"
The day after the Wharfedales arrived, The Kid sent me another e-mail: "Have you unpacked them yet? They are so pretty!"