Genesis II.5 loudspeaker system Page 3
The wide dynamic window in which the music could express itself was greatly enhanced by the II.5's bass performance. Until you've heard four 12" servo-driven woofers with 800W behind them, you don't know what you're missing. The bass had unbelievable extension, power, authority, and, importantly, control. It's not that difficult to achieve high sound-pressure levels in the bass, but making that bass tight, controlled, and articulate is another story. The II.5s not only produced very high output at the lowest frequencies, but were punchy, quick, and had an excellent sense of pitch. Listen, for example, to the organ-pedal tones on Requiem (Reference RR-57CD) or Pomp and Pipes to hear how the II.5s don't just generate low frequencies, but musical notes.
The II.5s also excelled on music in which the kickdrum and bass guitar work together to drive the rhythm. So often, the kickdrum's dynamic envelope gets lost in the mush at the bottom end. Through the II.5s, the drum's transient attack cut through the bass line, greatly adding to the music's rhythmic intensity. I could feel the impact of bass drum through the listening seat and in my gut. The II.5s weren't as quick and articulate as other loudspeakers that have a slightly underdamped alignment, but their sense of weight and authority made up for this shortcoming.
Fortunately, the user has considerable control over the II.5's bass via the woofer amplifier's remote control. By adjusting the woofer level, how far up in frequency the woofer is driven, and the bottom-end extension, you can dial in a wide variety of bass presentations to match your room, tastes, and musical preferences. Raising the crossover frequency adds midbass fullness, but sounds bloated if set too high; with the crossover frequency set too low, the midbass is lean, the low bass disproportionately strong. This crossover-frequency adjustment is critical to achieving good integration between the dynamic woofers and midrange ribbon.
The woofer-level control has fine enough gradations to match the bass level with the rest of the spectrum. These three controls interact with each other and with the room and loudspeaker positions to produce a large variability in the system's low-frequency reproduction. Moreover, the woofer high-pass control allows one to adjust the bass extension from 16Hz to 32Hz; it's possible to roll off the extreme bottom end to match the bass and midbass. The optimum settings can only be determined by experimentation: be prepared to spend lots of time getting the bass of the II.5 just right.
One criticism of the Infinity IRS [designed by Arnie Nudell with Cary ChristieEd.] was that it made every instrument sound big. Yes, the IRS conveyed the size and scale of an orchestra better than any other loudspeaker, but it also exaggerated the apparent sizes of voices and acoustic guitars, flutes, and other small instruments. Fortunately, the II.5s have a much wider range of image size. The acid test for me is Sheffield's stunning direct-to-disc Michael Newman, Classical Guitarist LP (Sheffield Lab 10). When reproduced correctly, this recording has an uncanny ability to make you think a guitar is actually in the listening room. The instrument should be a compact image exactly between the loudspeakers, surrounded by a gentle acoustic. The II.5s were remarkable in their ability to throw a perfectly focused, pinpoint image between the loudspeakers.
Another recording that reveals bloated images is Michael Newman's and Laura Oltman's Tango Suite! Music for Two Guitars (MusicMasters 7071-1-C). Through the II.5s, the two guitars were perfectly proportioned, appearing as tight images between the loudspeakers. Al DiMeola's, John McLaughlin's, and Paco DeLucia's Friday Night in San Francisco (Columbia CK 37152)another great, but very different, acoustic guitar recordinghas much more space and ambience than the other records, and the images tend to be bigger. The II.5s beautifully portrayed the spatial differences between these recordings. The guitars on Friday Night bloomed within the recorded acoustic, with a huge sense of the ambient halo surrounding the images.
Overall, I was impressed by the Genesis's ability to present a wide range of image sizefrom the compact image of acoustic guitar to the vast space captured on Keith Johnson's superb Reference recordings of performances made in the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas. The soundstage was always well-focused and coherent, and consistently contained a wealth of information about a recording's spatial characteristics.
The II.5 provided the most realistic reproduction of acoustic guitar I've heard to date. It's so difficult for dynamic drivers to reproduce the steep leading-edge transient of this instrument. The usual result is a removal of the edge one hears from the live instrument. Conversely, the II.5's ribbon drivers not only correctly conveyed the suddenness of the transients, but didn't hang over to interfere with the sound produced by the body of the guitar.
Similarly, Latin-flavored music was more exciting and upbeat when the percussion was reproduced without the transient slowness inherent in many loudspeakers. What was most remarkable, however, was that this transient speed, zip, and detail never sounded etched or analytical. Some loudspeakers achieve a quick and detailed sound by hyping transientsa quick recipe for a headache and listener fatigue. The II.5 was anything but forward, hyped, etched, or analytical. Instead, transient detail was presented in a natural and unfatiguing waylike you hear from live music. The II.5's sense of vividness without etch was unprecedented in my experience.
These qualities helped to produce a sense of realism of instrumental timbre. The fine inner detail that contains so much information about the instrument's sound was beautifully resolved by the II.5. This palpability of timbre was best expressed by my brother Steve after listening to Frank Zappa's The Yellow Shark (Barking Pumpkin R2 71600): "It sounds like the bass clarinets are in the living room." (Steve has a degree in music composition.)
The II.5's remarkable transient ability combined with its explosive dynamics to fully realize the impact of a drum kit. Listen to the terrific snare-drum sound on Michael Ruff's Speaking in Melodies (Sheffield Lab CD-35), particularly on track 11. The instrument's huge sense of snap and punch on the II.5 sounded more like the live instrument than I've previously heard from any other loudspeaker system. Also, the drums on John McLaughlin's "Belo Horizonte," from his Qué Alegra LP (Verve 837 280-1), started and stopped so suddenly, and had such wide dynamics, that I almost forgot I was listening to loudspeakers.