Listening #104 Page 3
Some general observations: The Voxativ Ampeggios showed the same considerable transient speed, spatial presence, dramatic ease, and physical impact as the best Lowther applications I've heardand lacked the English speakers' most egregious flaws. Low-frequency tones, from just below 40Hz and up, had real power, color, and physicality via the Voxativs, with response irregularities at only a couple of mid-to-upper-bass frequencies in my smaller room. (Some notes in the piano's left-hand register sounded a little weaker than the rest, though not nearly enough to intrude on my listening enjoyment.) Midrange sounds were open, clear, and stunningly present: the kind of playback performance that makes use of the word transparent not only forgivable but almost mandatory. The trebles were similarly clear, being softer than I'd heard before from a dual-cone driver (although they were somewhat unforgiving of bad recordings, signaling their displeasure by sounding dry and, at their most aggrieved, borderline bright). And, perhaps most important of all, there was no upper-mid response peak. No shout. No glare. No shit!
The Voxativ Ampeggio went beyond sounding good: More than once, with too many records to mention, I found myself stopping to marvel at its brilliantly good pitch certainty. In terms of being able to simply nail a note, whether in isolation or tucked within a whole string of the little bastards, I've heard few other speakers this accomplished. And while it's one thing to focus on such a characteristic for a moment at a time, it's quite another to bask in it subconsciouslyand the Voxativs allowed me to do just that. I was able to enjoy everything I played through themnot just as sound but as musicwithout fatigue, frustration, or, worst of all, lack of interest.
There are, of course, other loudspeakers that can do more or less the same thing: an Altec 755 in a wide baffle, an Audio Note AN-E, a Naim IBL or SBL, a whole cornucopia of horns. These alternatives have their own unique strengths: deeper, more forceful bass (the Audio Note, the Naims), greater power handling (the Naims, the Altec), and so forth. What the Voxativ Ampeggios had that those speakers don't was the sort of spatial presentation that some audio perfectionists cherish: a deep and sizable chunk of pure, open sound, mined from the original quarry and transported to the listener's room, "air" and all. The Voxativs, more than any other flea-watt-friendly speakers with which I'm familiar, did the soundstaging thing. In spades.
Weeks before learning about Herr Schimmel-Vogel's reaction to the speaker, I experienced for myself the Ampeggio's facility with good piano recordings. (Is there any pleasure more quintessentially male than powering-up the hi-fi when the family's off to bed, pouring a glass of port, killing the lights, and brooding over the music of Mieczyslaw Horszowski, Mindru Katz, Vlado Perlemuter, or Josef Hofmann?) On record after record, shellac as well as vinyl, the speakers' ability to transform recorded crescendi into physical experience was remarkable. Of special note was Nikolai Lugansky's recording of Chopin's Ballade 4, with what has to be the wildest finale on record, and the stormy crescendo in his performance of the Prelude 15 (both on CD, Erato 0927-42836-2).
And the Ampeggios loved modern bluegrass music, much of which tends to be at least moderately well recorded. Right now I'm listening to the eponymous first album by Hot Rize (LP, Flying Fish FF206); earlier today I marveled at the many musical nuances, not to mention the richness and scale of the string bass, in Looking Back, by Phillips, Grier & Flinner (ripped from Compass 7 4242 2). I could get used to this.
It was also interesting to hear the Voxativs play to the strengths of the electronics used to drive them. With a borrowed sample of the wonderful Fi 421A amplifier and my own Fi 2A3 Stereo, the Ampeggios were immediate, clear, and direct: just what I'd expect from single-ended, direct-coupled, artistically minimalist amplifiers. Driven with my Shindo Corton-Charlemagne amps, with their vintage caps and their Ultralinear EL34 tubes, the Voxativs produced well-saturated colors and textures, and sounded appropriately huge. The Voxativs were also the archetypal magnifying glass on the idiosyncrasies in the rest of the system. The Shindo Vosne-Romanee preamplifier's darker yet more detailed sound (compared to that of its 20%-less-expensive stablemate, the Shindo Masseto) was revealed as never beforemaking it almost impossible to move backward from the dearer to the humbler. Equipment warm-up times stretched from minutes to hours. Fuzz on the needle was painful.
And I'll tell you what: Beyond the simple matter of amplifier warm-up times, the longer I listened to the Voxativs in a given session, the better they sounded. Heaven knows why.
I also think the Ampeggios are attractive, my only reservation being that the Voxativ logo strikes me as a bit showy. (If it were up to me, I'd set the word Voxativ on the same line as the word Schimmel, in the same typeface and size. But that's just me.) I'm happy the designers went the Audio Note route of avoiding grillework, fabric or otherwise; nothing spoils a nice expanse of wood quite as effectively as those horrid plastic sockets. The real issue, of course, is that a single-driver horn loudspeaker that sounds as good as the Voxativ Ampeggio probably wouldn't be feasible without this level of build quality. I think any if not most wideband-driver enthusiasts who hear the Voxativs will accept that as a fact of life, whether or not they're in a position to spend $29,750/pair. Then again, a few of the Lowther enthusiasts I've met over the years really are arrogant doofuses who think the stuff they design and build at home is at least the equal of anything else on the planet, and while they're entitled to their opinions, I would hate to be the shopkeeper whose time they'd delight in wasting.
On the small matter of the large price, Inès Adler remains philosophicaland resolute: "The prices are high, I know, but everything has been developed in Germany, not in China, and is the product of many years of work."
The bottom line remains the bottom line: More than just a Lowther without a shout, this is a Lowther with a foundation, a Lowther with real bassa high-efficiency, single-driver loudspeaker for which no excuses need be made. Just a few years after giving up on the idea, I've now encountered a single-driver dynamic speaker I could live with; in most audio reviews that's faint praise, but in this one it's a revelation. In the months ahead, I'm certain the Voxativ Ampeggio will change many more minds.