James Loudspeaker EMB-1200 subwoofer Page 2
The EMB's speed and agility rendered dynamics with suddenness and explosiveness. The churning electric bass, drums, and synthesizer opening to Emmylou Harris' "Deeper Wells," from her Spyboy (CD, Eminent EM-25001-2), was delivered in full fury, each instrument clearly differentiated, while Harris' delicate soprano was clear and undisturbed. This selection overwhelmed the smaller EMB-1000, as it does many subwoofers. Not the EMB-1200.
The EMB-1200's power handling and excellent pitch definition really paid off when reproducing film soundtracks—the sub generated the ambience and atmosphere the filmmakers were attempting to convey. For example, the EMB-1200 captured the dense, sodden synthesizer, otherworldly Tibetan temple horns, and the deep, hallucinogenic chants of the Gyuto Monks in "Sand Mandala," the opening of Philip Glass's soundtrack for Kundun (CD, Nonesuch 79460-2). In "Caravan Moves Out" on the same disc, delicate plucked harp notes and Tibetan temple cymbals were contrasted with powerful churning Tibetan horns, synthesizer, and double bass to convey the glacial progress of the plodding caravan.
Similarly, the EMB-1200 reproduced the thunderous, deep, massive synthesizer notes that open the "The Carnotaur Attack," from the Dinosaur soundtrack (CD, Walt Disney 50086 06727). It also captured the subtle but tuneful repeated bass-drum strokes in "Cosmos...Old Friend," from the Sneakers soundtrack (Columbia CK 53146).
The deepest notes of the pipe organ, its pedal pipes, were reproduced with pitch-perfect weight and authority. The EMB-1200 revealed the characteristic sounds of the large pipes of different organs. There was soft, blurry power in Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius (Test CD 2, Stereophile STPH004-2); the final, thunderous chord of "Lord, Make Me an Instrument," from John Rutter's Requiem (CD, Reference RR-38CD); the violent pulses during Gnomus, from Jean Guillou's transcription for organ of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (CD, Dorian DOR-90117); and the stair-step pedal scales of organist E. Power Biggs with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Saint-Saëns' Symphony 3, "Organ Symphony" (LP, Columbia MS 6469).
In addition to its ability to generate bass, the James EMB-1200 enhanced the Quad's imaging and portrayal of space. It was more than just adding bass extension—it increased my system's transparency from top to bottom.
The lack of a high-pass filter had audible effects in my system. During setup, I had to tune the EMB-1200's low-pass filter to a high 85Hz to get it to blend with the Quad ESL-989s. Other satellite speakers might work better with a lower low-pass filter point. In my room, the higher filter point made the EMB-1200's bass directional and localizable. By contrast, the Velodyne DD-18's ability to blend with the Quads at a low-pass filter point of 40Hz made its position less detectable sonically. The DD-18 had slightly more pitch definition in some selections, perhaps because its high-pass section filtered out demanding bass signals from the Quads, while its built-in parametric equalizer meant it could be more closely tailored to my room.
The effect of this directionality was best heard on single struck bass notes, such as: the concussive drum whack at the end of John Williams' Liberty Fanfare on Winds of War and Peace (CD, Wilson Audiophile WCD-8823); during the explosive bass blips that churn out of Morton Subotnik's Wild Bull, composed for synthesizer (LP, Nonesuch H-71208); and during the frenzied, explosive timpani strokes of Yoshihisa Taira's Hierophonie V, from The Kroumata Percussion Ensemble (CD, BIS CD-232).
Orchestral bass was less directional. The EMB-1200 did a masterful job of reproducing the powerful, throbbing mix of bass drum and timpani in Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (CD, Reference RR-70CD), as performed by the Minnesota Orchestra under Eiji Oue.
Despite my caveats, I greatly enjoyed the EMB-1200's ability to deliver the sock, slam, drive, and pulse of percussive bass—these were second to none. The EMB-1200 demonstrated transient fidelity and an absence of overhang in Michael Arnopol's standup bass introduction to Patricia Barber's "Use Me," from her Companion (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2). The EMB-1200 emitted not a scintilla of boom or bloat, but a lean, driving power. I heard the same characteristic punch of plucked double bass in a close-miked recording of bassist Charlie Haden and harpist Alice Coltrane, playing "For Turiya" on Haden's Closeness (LP, A&M SP-710). David Hudson's massive didgeridoo throbbed and burned during the first track, "Rainforest Wonder," of his Didgeridoo Spirit (CD, Indigenous Australia IA2003 D).
And what of Harry Partch's volcanic Marimba Eroica? That old vinyl recording delivered the deepest, most solid bass sounds heard during my reviewing sessions, and rattled loose objects all over my listening room. Sitting 1m away from the EMB-1200 on my wooden floor, it rattled me, too—my backside was rippled through by Partch's art form. Well done, Harry!
The James Loudspeaker EMB-1200 subwoofer has great build quality, and is priced right at $2195. Better yet, it's not just another "wonder cube." Acoustical theory has been implemented so well in this relatively small subwoofer that its bass output and dynamics rival those of subs with larger, more expensive enclosures—even without servo correction. In my system, the EMB-1200 delivered ample deep bass while widening and deepening the soundstage. It moved lots of air in my large listening room, played a wide range of music without favoring any part of the bass region, and stayed out of the way of the midbass and midrange.
The EMB-1200 was too directional with percussive music when its crossover was set to the frequency where it best blended with my Quads, although adding a high-pass filter would have minimally raised its cost and would not have altered the James' compact cabinet size. I'd wager its ability to play taut deep bass with good pitch definition will make it a welcome addition to most high-end two-channel music or multichannel home theater systems.