Calix Phoenix Grand Signature loudspeaker Page 2
Phoenix (Temporarily) Grounded...
Once the Phoenix Grand Signatures had been assembled and set up, it quickly became apparent that there was a serious problem in the bass. The bass was deep, oh yes, but diffuse, mushy, and badly blurred in space. "Ah-ha!" I thought. "A placement problem!"
Nope. Nudging the Calixes around on their casters resulted in no improvement. Flustered, I popped the grille off of one of the subwoofers and stupidly stared at it. At last, a neuron fired: Could the bass drivers have worked their way loose in their circuitous journey from Taipei to Minneapolis? Given such a trek, and that Audio Solutions' Rick Lundeen had thoroughly exercised them in his home-theater system before sending them on to me, it seemed a distinct possibility.
I found a hex key and gave one of the huge machine screws that secure the woofers an exploratory twist. Yep—loose. A quick tightening of the eight screws securing each woofer solved the bass problem.
Once the woofers had been re-secured, the PGSes was not overly fussy about positioning. The sheer depth of the subwoofer cabinet ensures that it's well away from the rear wall. The Calixes found their homes 37" in from the side walls, 47" from the back wall, just under 9' apart, and toed-in somewhat (but not excessively) toward the listening position (all distances measured from the tweeter centers). They liked just a bit of room reinforcement, but too much was, well, too much. A bit of experimenting determined that having the midrange horns tilted slightly downward worked best at my usual listening position, giving the best combination of image height and overall integration.
The big Calix Phoenix Grand Signature exhibited not a whit, a whiff, an iota, a scintilla of horn coloration. None. What did it have? Plenty. And then some.
What the big Calixes were immediately able to do, to a higher degree than any other speaker I have lived with, was to capture a sense of place and time. R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction (IRS 5592) was my favorite album during the autumn of my third year of law school; I listened to it on cassette countless times while trudging around campus and town. Hearing it through the Phoenixes had the same effect on me that the madeleine had on Proust: I could smell the clean crack of New England's autumn air, hear the rustle of leaves in the campus yard, see the stark outlines of the bare trees against a moonlit sky. Everything about the place where I first loved this record 15 years ago came back in a blinding flash of sensory overload. With other speakers, I've had to concentrate on the music to relive those memories; with the Calixes, it was as though I'd stepped out of a time machine.
This uncanny quality extended to all types of music. Hearing the recent 24-bit remastering of Sir Thomas Beecham's unutterably beautiful interpretations of the orchestral music of Delius (CD, Dutch EMI 5 67553 2), I felt transported into the composer's gentle, pastoral world. This was not merely hearing the letter of the notes in Brigg Fair and On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring—the Calixes provided something far deeper and more emotionally involving. Bill Evans' "My Foolish Heart," from Waltz for Debby (SACD, Analogue Productions CAPJ 9399 SA), stopped time with its intimacy and immediacy. If any more information had been present, I could have heard Evans thinking about what notes to play.
The midrange and treble performance of the PGS was just plain fabulous. The speaker adored vocals. Whether it was the slightly nasal Midlands twang of Fairport Convention's Dave Swarbrick on "Sloth" (UK LP, Live at the Troubadour, Island HELP 28), Julee Cruise's breathy, sexy coo (CD, The Voice of Love, Warner Bros. 45390-2), or the whisky rasp of John Wetton's rich baritone on King Crimson's "Doctor Diamond" (CD, The Great Deceiver, Virgin 7 86543 2), there was an almost eerie presence and a touching holism to the PGS' presentation of each. On "Come All Ye," from Fairport's Liege and Lief (Italian LP, Island/Dischi Ricordi ORL 8080), the late, great Sandy Denny allowed flashes of an almost playful, girlish joyousness into her usually serious presentation. Most speakers, even most of the best, miss such subtleties. I hadn't especially noticed this particular vocal nuance in nearly 30 years of listening to the song; the Calixes made it plain as a pikestaff.
The Phoenix Grand Signature's treble was silken and richly detailed. What was missing was the edginess and overly defined edges that usually accompany the sort of transparency and openness that the PGS provided. Such transparency is usually bought at the price of a skeletal, anorexic sound. There were no such trade-offs with the Calixes. The shimmer of Martin Drew's cymbals on Oscar Peterson's A Tribute to My Friends (LP, Pablo 2310-902) was nigh perfect. The ambience that the Calixes reproduced made listening to Peterson's quartet seem more like eavesdropping than listening to an LP. Upper-octave air was wholly exemplary, never exaggerated.
The PGS had an effortlessness, an almost overwhelming transparency to the source, that placed it among the finest speakers to be heard. Its presentation was breathtakingly continuous in character above the 60Hz sub/midwoofer crossover. It was, in fact, strikingly reminiscent of Quad electrostatic speakers. Taking my life in my hands, I made this observation to a friend who owns Quads. Much to my surprise, he agreed. Imagine a Quad ESL-63 that can play 110dB without breaking a sweat, and goes from nearly 20Hz to out beyond 20kHz, and you'll have a pretty good grasp of the Calix's essential sonic character.
In fact, the depth of insight the Calix was capable of delivering was verified by John Atkinson himself during a recent visit to Minneapolis. Listening to Cantus's ...Against the Dying of the Light (CD, Cantus CTS-1202) on my system, he was dumbfounded to hear things through the PGS that he hadn't heard while recording and mixing the master tape.
The sheer amount of information the Calixes were capable of putting into the room was at times difficult to believe, particularly once the Mark Levinson No.32 Reference line stage had arrived. The Phoenix's already shining aptitude for resolving low-level information was enhanced greatly by the Levinson's world-class abilities in this area. The speaker resolved small-scale dynamic variances in the middle loudness ranges (p to mf) with a vengeance, and was just as capable when asked to handle the full orchestral forces and mighty crescendos of Vaughan Williams' Sinfonia Antartica (Naxos 8.550737). With equal adroitness, the PGS could caress me or smack me upside the head.