B&W DM302 loudspeaker Page 2
You might not expect speakers this size to totally disappear and re-create the original performance, but they do. While small cabinet loudspeakers are known for imaging well, the DM302s throw a soundstage that consistently startles with its openness and ease. You don't get merely a taste of what the full-bore high-end speakers do, you get way into serious audiophile territory.
While breaking the 302s in, I played Paul Desmond's Bossa Antigua for a few days (Japanese RCA R25A 1045, CD)—no master plan, it was just the first disc that fell under my hand. When I finally listened to the disc and heard how large a room it was recorded in, I was surprised—I knew for a fact that it was recorded on Webster Hall's stage, with the curtains closed. But as I continued to listen, it was obvious that the quartet was in a big, open space. I've never heard distortion work that way, although I've certainly heard big rooms made to sound small. So I looked it up. The B&Ws were right, my memory was wrong: Bossa Antigua was recorded in RCA's Studio A, not Webster Hall.
Desmond, by the way, sounded wonderful through the DM302. His alto was sweet but not cloying, and the B&W's tweeter captured that metallic edge that gave him that "dry martini" sound. Another detail the 302 captured was Jim Hall's tone. Here, clearly, was an electric guitar recorded acoustically—Hall was playing through an amp, and that amp was recorded within the studio, just as Desmond, Gene Wright, and Connie Kay were. Boy, I wish people still recorded guitar like that!
But this disc also pointed to a downside of small monitor speakers. Gene Wright's string bass—which is buried in the mix even when played on very large speaker systems—had so little impact that it no longer seemed to kick the songs along, but merely accompanied them. This can be ameliorated to a certain extent by turning up the volume. Once the 302s "energized" the room, they really opened up, and the low end snapped more into focus. The problem with this was that I had to play a recording somewhat louder than my normal tendency.
This posed no problem on the Desmond disc, as it doesn't have a particularly broad dynamic range. But on large orchestral works such as Mahler's Third (as usual, I was listening to Bernstein/NYP on DG 427 328-2), I ran into a problem when I adjusted the loudness to the point where I had a believably fleshed-out New York Phil: the upper mids tended to sound splashy during crescendos. No big deal, but there it was—with really big dynamic shifts, I had only a limited range in which the speaker could sustain the illusion of re-creating the event.
On the other hand, I found it easy to simply lose myself in solo piano recordings, such as Ivan Moravec Plays Beethoven, Vol.2 (VAI 1069). The piano was reproduced with startling clarity and openness. The 302s floated Moravec's Steinway between them with a fullness of body that belied their size—that was a full-size piano floating between them.
Nor did I have any complaints about the way the B&Ws reproduced rock, such as MoFi's fabulous reissue of the first Velvet Underground album (UDCD 695)—John Cale's bass sounded punchy and tight.
All speakers great and small
Overall, I was consistently surprised by how good, how clean, how big the B&W DM302s sounded. That's exciting, because hi-fi has become the 20th-century equivalent of gout—a rich man's disease. Thanks to companies like B&W, it doesn't have to be.
So what kind of speaker can you get for $250? One that disappears, leaving you alone with the music; one that tells you what's on the recording with surprising accuracy; one that shows you what all this audio brouhaha is about. True, you don't get a lot of low-end information—although most listeners will be surprised at how much is there—and there are limits as to how loud you can listen. But these are minor quibbles. When you consider that even the most expensive loudspeakers are compromised, it's amazing how much performance B&W has wrested from a $250/pair, small monitor speaker. I wholeheartedly recommend the DM302.