The Entry Level #6 Page 3
While I've never thought of the PSB Alpha B1s as sounding dark or laid-back, they certainly seemed that way when set against the light of the Klipsch Synergy B-20s, which consistently offered a snappier, more percussive, more physical presentation of Fahey's technique. At times through the B-20, Fahey seemed to deepen his concentration, playing his guitar with more force and discipline. Through the PSB, "In a Persian Market" seemed slower, with perhaps a bit more swagger and sway, but less spectacle. I was less impressed by Fahey's quick runs up the fretboard and more inclined to nod my head in time with the music. Was that a bad thing? Not at all. Was it less thrilling? Yes. Less enjoyable? Not really. Switching back to the Klipsches, I heard ringing, bell-like tones in "Marilyn" that I hadn't noticed before, which again worked to produce a more exciting picture of a live event. Through the PSBs, this bright, extended ringing was tamed a bit, as if the engineer had softened the treble.
Which presentation was more accurate? How would I know? I like to think that the most important pieces of music in our lives transport us to the most important times in our lives, filling our minds and spirits with memories and feelings that, however hard we try, we cannot control. Certain songs evoke certain unambiguous and invariable responses. So my strategy for evaluating hi-fi has less to do with measurements and sound, and certainly less to do with some ideal absolute, than it does with ragged, messy emotion. Crazy as this might seem, I believe our emotional responses to musicformed, perhaps, through years of experiences and memories, like mountains and valleys formed by wind and water, shaped by barely perceptible shifts and sudden quakesare the only reliable absolutes. (I reserve the right to change my mind about this as I become older, "wiser," and more cynical.) When listening to Old Fashioned Love, then, the right audio component for me is the one that most readily conjures images of Melissa, the enchanting, golden-eyed girl who, one cold winter night over drinks at Jersey City's popular LITM lounge, reintroduced me to Fahey, reminded me of how much I love his exquisite work, then shredded my heart to bits.
I don't want to talk about it.
After listening to Old Fashioned Love through the PSBs, I switched to something else. Melissa and I had never discussed Roky Erickson, so I cued up his recent collaboration with Okkervil River, True Love Cast Out All Evil (LP, Anti- 87078), and waited for the music to cast out my heartache. This album, a combination of well-recorded studio material and Erickson's own field recordings, makes for a compelling and emotionally powerful experience. For the most part, through both the PSB and Klipsch speakers, the music was presented with acceptable bass weight, great image focus, fine detail to the acoustic guitars, and an appropriate amount of body for Erickson's aching voice. Through the Klipsches, however, I noticed that the sections of poorly recorded field material fared less well, with nonmusical aspects such as tape hiss and splices brought to the fore. After experimenting with several other recordings, it became clear that the Synergy B-20's blend of high-frequency clarity and detail was much less sympathetic to poorly recorded material.
I own and enjoy a lot of poorly recorded music, so I switched back to the PSB Alpha B1. While I missed the Synergy B-20's dazzling highs, well-defined images, and more vibrant overall sound, the Alpha B1 proved more forgiving; and forgiveness, as in life and love, is an essential ingredient to a successful and happy hi-fi relationship. (I forgive Melissa for not returning my crazy love.) It was time to add another variable to the equation. I stopped the music and reached for the JoLida FX 10 integrated amplifier ($450). As I sliced through the first bit of packing tape, I received a text message from Nicole:
NICOLE: Hi Stephen! Have you selected the records you'll be playing for the party?
ME: Oh shit.
NICOLE: Stephen, I'm shocked!
ME: No worries. I'll wing it.
NICOLE: I thought you'd have your entire set list prepared by now!
Dammit, I thought. She knows me too well.
ME: Nicole, do you even know me?
I threw down the phone, reached for pen and paper, and started flipping through LPs in search of those perfect records that would keep spirits high and bodies moving. A few days later I had a long list of sure things, including El Guincho's Pop Negro, Chico Mann's Analog Drift, Indian Jewelry's Totaled, King Midas Sound's Waiting for You, Syclops's I've Got My Eye on You, and Four Tet's There Is Love in You.
The party was that Saturday night. The girls invited me over early to help set up. As we rearranged furniture, prepared food and drinks, and hung art on the walls, we listened to Pandora Radio through the Audioengine 5s and took breaks to admire our work. In what seemed no time at all, we had effectively transformed their cozy apartment into an art gallery and dance hall. I had set the Music Hall USB-1 atop one of the IKEA Expedit units, and made sure that the Bright Star IsoNode feet were still in place. Then I angled the Expedit in one corner of the room, leaving just enough space for myself and my LPs between the Expedit and the back wall. My DJ booth.
As the first guests walked into the apartment, I spun Wild Beasts' Two Dancers, a collection of melodic tunes with gripping vocals, and steadily worked my way up to more propulsive materiallike LCD Soundsystem's 45:33. During the course of the party, several people stopped by the DJ booth to talk about the speakers, turntable, and records, commenting that the system sounded great, and that it had been far too long since they'd last heard vinyl. Those who asked about the price of the system were invariably surprised to learn that hi-fi could be so affordable. I was delighted. But even more satisfying was losing sense of time and place, freeing myself from worry, communicating with others through music and laughter and dance. The party was a great successwe danced like mad until the early hours of morningbut best of all was Natalie and Nicole's smiling response afterward: "You were great!"
"It was my pleasure," I said. What else could I say? Indeed, there are few things more satisfying than making beautiful girls smile.
But I couldn't dwell too long on this small victory. Back home, not only did I have the JoLida FX 10 to explore, but a second integrated amplifierone with a long and luminous lineage, NAD's C316BEEhad also just arrived . . .