The Entry Level #11
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.
A long shadow of sadness stretched out beside me as I thought of the coming fall and of all the shows I'd missed, but I carefully stepped away from my dark companion, walked over to the crowded concession stand, and ordered a tall Budweiser. This was no time for sadness: In a couple of hours, Cut Copy would take the stage and transform the large, open space into a sea of outstretched arms, beautiful smiles, and glowing eyes. Besides, Natalie and Nicole were on their way, and Kristin would be with them.
Overhead, as the sun continued to fall and the colorful evening sky settled into a deep purplish blue, long strings of small outdoor bulbs began to glow, casting white light on the high, green trees and strange, fairytale shadows all over the ground. I found a vacant spot near the concession stand with a clear view of the big stage, and while I waited for my friends to arrive, my thoughts turned to many things, includingwhat else?love, loneliness, and loudspeakers.
In October 1989, when I was still in elementary school, editorial assistant Ariel Bitran was still in diapers, and The Bangles' "Eternal Flame" was scorching the pop charts, Stereophile's then publisher, Larry Archibald, wrote an "As We See It" in which he promoted fun times and cheap speakers. Larry decided, "Readers could do much worse than set up the best front end and electronics they can afford and just drop into this welcoming nest whatever small, cheap speaker is all the rage."
It was excellent advice then, and perhaps even better advice today. We're lucky: There are now more truly affordable, high-quality loudspeakers available than at any other time in the history of hi-fi. And I feel especially privileged to have had the opportunity to live with some very fine examples over the last 10 months. Take the Pioneer SP-BS41-LR ($150/pair), proudly designed by Andrew Jones. Bob Reina reviewed this speaker in our September issue and concluded that, within the Pioneer's size limitations, it made no compromises: "It is a dynamic, coherent, and colorless reproducer of music, with quite convincing bass for its size." I fully agree. Listening to the Pioneer SP-BS41-LR, I was most reminded of the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 ($350/pair). The Pioneer had a sophisticated, detailed, and well-balanced sound with no egregious flaws, and, though it couldn't quite match the Wharfedale's impressive level of fit and finish, the more modest-looking Pioneer had a similar way of pulling me into the music. The only disappointing thing about the Pioneer is its name. A speaker this good should have been given a real namesomething suitably strong and memorableinstead of a clumsy string of initials and numbers.
My old band, The Multi-Purpose Solution, is reuniting for at least one show this fall, so I've spent a lot of time recently listening to our first album, the mps (CD, Mint 400 Records M4R00 18), attempting to relearn the songs while simply enjoying the experience of being transported to the basement in Clifton, New Jersey, where the songs were written, and then to the basement in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where they were recorded.
Through the Pioneer SP-BS41-LR, the dueling electric guitars in our "Superman's Flying, Guns Are Shooting" were clearly placed within a wide soundstage and, more important, were distinctly drawnmy heavily phased and distorted guitar sounded thick and celestial, Fuzzy's clean guitar sounded mean and muscular. And though the Pioneers weren't as transparent as the PSB Alpha B1 ($299/pair) or diminutive NHT Super Zero 2.0 ($198/pair), they produced a surprisingly solid bottom end, pristine and well-extended highs, and awesome midrange clarity and detail, delivering frontman Jim Teacher's gravelly voice with a textural and timbral honesty that brought me right back to that New Brunswick basement.
Is it that our recording is much better than I remembered, or is the Pioneer SP-BS41-LR incredibly forgiving? I don't know, and I really don't careeither way, this was the most fun I'd had listening to the mps in a very long time. At just $150/pair, the Pioneer SP-BS41-LR is scary good, but Larry Archibald would remind you that there are plenty of other fish in the sea. Monogamy is good for love, but unnecessary for loudspeakers.
Nicole and Kristin were watching one of the opening bands. Natalie and I were sitting in the grass, enjoying a quick dinner and discussing our romantic relationships past and present. As we looked up into the vast sky above, the moon was full, the stars were bright, and we could have been anywhere in the world.
These days, Natalie and I are both feeling fortunate and happy, but it wasn't always that way. When the conversation turned to loneliness, Natalie remarked, "There's nothing sadder than being with someone and still feeling alone."
It pains me to think that someone as warm and thoughtful as Natalie has had to endure such a sad time, but I'm happy to know that those days are behind herno one more deserves faithful companionship. But relationships can be so damn hard, we agreed. Being alone sometimes seems so much simpler, yet no matter how many disappointments we suffer, we're drawn to others again and again. Why?
Days later, these thoughts returned as I listened to Twin Sister's latest album, the bittersweet and irresistible In Heaven (CD, Domino DNO-304), an unabashed pop album. The opening track, "Daniel," has enchanting singer Andrea Estella cooing:
Saw you making eyes at me
Hotels are loneliest in little Miss New Jersey
Back to work and on your feet and, oh, you're so far away
And God knows when I'd ever get the chance to touch your hands
You know we'll never date, let alone be friends
Estella's starlit voice was a glittering lure placed solidly in the center of a deep soundstage. It was as real as I wanted it to bealmost too real. I was listening to the Energy Connoisseur CB-10 speakers ($269.99/pair) and I was having a lot of fun. Larry Archibald was right.