Audio Artistry Beethoven loudspeaker system Page 4
Landmark bass: Earlier I mentioned how deep-bass extension helps establish the rhythmic drive, natural tonality, and perception of "presence." Certainly, with eight 12" and four 10" drivers, you hope that genuine low-end extension would be a given. But it's the naturalness with which this region is reproduced that sets a new standard in my experience. Listening to a typical speaker, one's attention is often focused first on the upper midrange and treble; only afterward does one notice whether the bass is tight or loose, articulate or bloated. With the Beethoven, everything sprang from the bottom on up, the higher frequencies naturally in sync with the power of the music.
The Beethoven's majestic presentation of the lower region had such a powerful influence because much of the emotional feeling of music is established by the ebb and flow of the mid- to upper bass. When the deep bass is absent, and the quality of the mid- to upper bass is smeared by turgid room interactions and box distortions, the full expression of the music is short-circuited. The Beethoven's mastery of this region establishes an irresistible rhythmic drive that had me logging far more hours of air guitar and air baton than ever before.
Full-bodied imaging: A key characteristic accompanying the Beethovens' openness and clarity is their precise delineation of the spatial relationships between individual instruments within a continuous soundfield. I heard none of the exaggerated soundstages projected from speakers whose sidewall and ceiling reflections skew the illusions of width and depth. Instead, imaging took on a tactile realism. With good recordings the speakers simply vanished, leaving solid, fully dimensioned performers ensconced in my living room—instead of the "cardboard-cutout" style of etched and layered imagery as viewed through a window framed between two speakers. Though this latter, layered style of imagery can be initially impressive, it wears thin when one hears the same "image signature" on nearly every recording.
The actual physical sensation of sonic images was also quite different through the Beethovens than what I've typically experienced. Perhaps it was the combination of the system's stunning dynamic contrast, natural tonal balance, and appealing openness that resulted in the tangible sense of "body" reproduced. Or maybe the lack of "room pressure" mentioned earlier allowed the textures of instruments to develop and decay in a more natural fashion. Whatever the cause, it was as if I could physically "feel" the skin of a drum, the air shimmering off of a cymbal, or the vibration projected from a piano's soundboard.
A further testament to the quality of this system was its chameleonlike character. Every speaker, including this one, possesses some "sonic flavor." But with its low inherent distortion and the ability to adjust the woofer levels, the Beethoven's signature was submerged by that of each recordings. The payoff of the neutral in-room response was that all sorts of music continued to sound refreshingly different and interesting.
The combination of qualities described so far would make the Beethoven an invaluable reference tool for reviewers and recording engineers alike. I could discern the subtleties of microphone type and recording technique with pinpoint accuracy. Comparing different preamps, DACs, and amplifiers also became a far easier task—not to mention more enjoyable—through the Beethovens. Characteristics of both the updated version of the Ayre V-3 amplifier and BAT's new VK-3i preamp were instantly apparent, as was the outstanding resolution of Muse Electronics' new Model 5 transport and Model Two-Plus digital processor, equipped with their clever implementation of an I2S interface. The Beethovens also showed off the exceptional low-frequency power and overall transparency of Jeff Rowland's new Cadence phono stage/Coherence preamp combo playing Classic Records' killer vinyl reissue of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
There are, however, a few things you need to know to get the most from the Beethovens:
• The only significant caveat I have for prospective Beethoven owners concerns the break-in process. Though the system sounds fine right out of the box, the drivers require considerable exercise before they're fully supple and relaxed. As they break in, dynamics, the sense of ease, rhythmic pace, and tonal balance all improve.