Joseph Audio Pulsar loudspeaker Page 2
The major adjustment was a change in perspective: from a life-size sound seemingly without physical limits coming at me, to a compact, smaller-than-life sound I listened into, as if through a reasonably large, ultratransparent window. Immediately clear was that the Pulsar's overall tonal balance was remarkably flat from the upper midrange up, while the upper bass was slightly elevated, but so subtly that I heard it as a mild, inviting richness that never overstayed its welcome.
In preparation for writing a review for my website, MusicAngle.com, I'd been concentrating on a recent reissue of Tony Joe White's self-effacing third album for Warner Bros., Home Made Ice Cream (LP, Warner Bros./Analogue Productions APP-2708), an intimate and attractive hodgepodge of country, folk, blues, gospel, Cajun, and rhythm'n'blues delivered as if the singer might at any time break down and cry. The production is simple and almost alarmingly intimate; the recording is sublimely warm without sounding muffled. Even the drums are intimately miked.
The recording's midbass warmthparticularly White's voicemight trip up a small speaker with less-than-exemplary midbass control and excessive energy in that region. Hearing it for the first time through the Pulsars produced a warmer balance than I'd become used to from the Wilson MAXX 3s, but the picture was clear and clean from top to bottom of the audioband, producing a highly resolved, three-dimensional, pinpoint placement of images against a velvet-black backdrop. White's voice sounded remarkably similar to how it sounded through the Wilson MAXX 3s. The biggest differences, aside from the scale and dynamic diminution, were the smaller but more vividly drawn soundstage and the crystalline precision of the transients of acoustic-guitar strings.
Electric and, particularly, acoustic guitars produced a mesmerizing sparkle and sheen that hovered in three-dimensional space before decaying cleanly into black. White's mournful voice lost some chest resonance through the Josephs, but gained throat clarity.
Despite the loss of bottom-end weight, the Pulsar's bass production was in every way remarkable, and its slight elevation of the midbass didn't come with the baggage of obvious bloat. The solidity of the bass attack and its apparent independence from the small cabinet were among the speaker's most impressive achievements. The Pulsar's presentation remained sonically stable even when thrown the deepest bass information. What it couldn't pass along it seemed to simply ignore.
Compared to the spatially flat, texturally starved, somewhat medicinal-sounding CD edition, Pure Pleasure's all-analog reissue of Cassandra Wilson's remarkable Blue Light 'Til Dawn (2 LPs, Blue Note/Pure Pleasure 7 81357 1) produced a vivid, three-dimensional picture that revealed all of the enveloping ambience in which producer Craig Street bathed Wilson's voice. The Pulsars shined on her reimagining of Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey," with lyrical accents provided by Hendrix's "Angel." Kevin Johnson's percussion and loose change (literally), and Lance Carter's snare drum, centered and way back on the stage, were reproduced with mesmerizing transient clarity and definition. Wilson's contralto was honestly rendered front and center, and the Pulsars didn't blink when she swooped way low. Vocal sibilants were smooth yet never sounded softened.
The violin and mandocello had texture, body, and sheen (sounds like a shampoo commercial!), combined with just the right amount of grit to be completely believableall, of course, a size smaller than what big speakers can produce. For a means of aurally peering into a recording studio to hear the mix envisioned by the producer and engineers, I'm not sure you can do much better than the Pulsars, despite the lack of the bottom octave.
Which is not to say that the title track of Johnny Guitar Watson's A Real Mother for Ya (LP, Dick James DJLPA-7), a copy of which I recently unearthed on a long-neglected shelf, and which sounded pretty good through the Pulsars, didn't just kick ass through the big Wilsonsespecially the subterranean Moog bass!
Depth and Definition
While the Pulsars managed rock and orchestral music far better than expected, they were even better with small-group and solo material. In the 1950s, the guitarist Laurindo Almeida recorded a series of monophonic albums for Capitol that offer passionate playing in superb sound. You can often find them in bargain bins for next to nothing.
I pulled out a stack and played half a dozen all one night. Duets with the Spanish Guitar (LP, Capitol P8406) features Almeida with contralto Salli Terri and flutist Martin Ruderman in a program of compositions mostly written for flute and guitar by composers such as Villa-Lobos, Fauré, and Ravel. In Villa-Lobos's familiar Bachianas Brasileiras No.5, as Almeida provides rhythmic underpinning, Terri sings the melody almost as if playing a Theremin, swooping low into a region that must cut through the crossover's terrainyet the Pulsars never hinted at any discontinuity.
Another in the series, Impressões do Brasil (LP, Capitol P8381), pairs Almeida with a somewhat distantly miked pianist, Ray Turner. The Pulsar's clean, delicate rendering of the guitar's initial transient pluck, backed by textural and harmonic believability and a compact, superbly focused image, produced a lifelike sensation never marred by boxiness. Turner, well back in the mix and often hitting notes in a similar tonal region to the guitar, maintained a clear presence even when both instruments descended lower in frequency, to a region that can tax a small speaker's ability to maintain clarity.
Obviously, a smaller speaker will do better with small ensembles and chamber music than with large orchestral works, but when I played selections from Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Orchestra's performance of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (LP, Decca SET-609-11), which I'd played through the MAXX 3s for Jeff Joseph, little of that recording's astonishing transparency and spacious three-dimensionality was lost. I simply had to adjust to a change of spatial and dynamic scale and a diminution of bass weightbut not of definition. That aside, the speakers produced the full measure of the recording's verisimilitude, including spatially.
Audio shows are bad places to judge hi-fi equipment, but it was obvious from my encounter with them a few years ago that the Pulsar was a remarkable small loudspeaker. Listening at home under far better conditions only confirmed and amplified that first reaction. If you get the idea that I enjoyed without reservation the time I spent listening to every kind of music through the Pulsars, you're correct.
The Pulsar's overall tonal balance was remarkably neutral in the midrange, even as it simultaneously produced far deeper, more coherent, more substantial bass than any small speaker has any right to deliverminus the usual and obvious mid-bass excess most small speakers produce in the quest for meaningful bass output.
The Pulsar's high-frequency performance was sweet yet fast and airy, and minus even the slightest hint of edge, etch, or glare. In fact, the Pulsar was among the least mechanical-sounding speakers I've ever heard, regardless of price, and it could play quite loud without changing its winning personality. Soundstaging and imaging were also exemplary, producing a picture that was wide and especially deep, with superior front-to-back layering of images.
Joseph Audio doesn't specify its speakers' sensitivities, but I assume that, like many small, high-performance speakers, the Pulsar is relatively insensitive. If, as stated, its impedance doesn't drop below 6 ohms, it should present an easy load to drive. The 100Wpc Music Reference RM-200 Mk.II had no trouble whatsoever doing so; the combination produced among the most enjoyable, most musically involving listening experiences I've had in the dozen years I've been in this room. I could live happily ever after with the Joseph Audio Pulsars and the Music Reference RM-200 Mk.IIbut that's not to say I couldn't live more happily ever after with the big stuff!