Listening #119 Page 2
The product we tried next was the DeVore Fidelity O/96 Orangutan: a vintage-vibe two-way loudspeaker that impressed us all that day. (A full review is scheduled for the December 2012 issue.) The O/96 is a wide-baffle speaker, designed to be used atop similarly wide wooden stands (included in the $12,000/pair price). On one of the more clearheaded days that followed, I noticed that the DeVore stands, if rotated 90°, could fit nicely between the integral feet of the Line Magnetic enclosures. Once I'd determined how to maneuver the very heavy 755 I's onto the stands (hint: it involved child labor), I did so, thus raising the centers of the drivers from 27" to 33" off the floor.
That single, small act made a couple of audible differences, the most surprising of which was, indeed, an increase in bass extension: With the 755 I cabinet raised that extra 6" above the floor, the 63Hz warble tone from the first Stereophile Test CD (Stereophile STPH002-2) was undoubtedly stronger throughout the listening area, and low-frequency sounds in general had slightly more power and reach. Deeper fundamentals, such as the low E-string (41.2Hz) of an acoustic or electric bass, remained beyond the capabilities of the Line Magnetic, yet most recordings gained a bit more foundation and thus were now more satisfying. The battery of percussion instruments in Felix Slatkin's recording, with the Concert Arts Symphony Orchestra, of Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (LP, Capitol SP8373), was more impressive, while Bob Cranshaw's bass in "Yesterdays," from Sonny Rollins and Coleman Hawkins's Sonny Meets Hawk! (LP, RCA LSP-2712), took on greater richness and scale.
And it was rather surprising how goodhow downright satisfyingthe newly elevated Line Magnetics sounded with rock music. One might wonder whether a speaker that extends to only 60Hz could allow drum kits and bass guitars to sound engaging; numberless contemporary minimonitors have succeeded in moving enough air to play very low notes at surprising levelsbut their typically high-excursion bass drivers don't portray the body and sheer impact of those instruments as well as did the Line Magnetic. In the contest between frequency extension and the ability to instantly pressurize the room, the latter still gets my vote.
But the real calling card of this or any Western Electric 755-style driver is its musical directness and tactile expressivenessqualities that also gained ground when I raised the Line Magnetic cabinets a little closer to ear level. Treble response at the listening seat improved, of course, but so did the speakers' overall sense of touch. The version of "Mojo Pin" from Jeff Buckley's debut recording, the EP Live at Sin-é (LP, Big Cat AB61X), shows an artist with an uncanny imagination and apparently unmatched control over both his guitar and his voice; the 755 I exceeded every other speaker in the house at getting that across.
By the way, just as I remain unsure that a 6" increase in height is the precise optimum for the 755 Ithe cabinets are too difficult to lift, and appropriately sturdy bases of differing height are too difficult to makeI'm still unable to recommend a "correct" current setting for the Line Magnetic's field-coil power supply, which offers an apparent range of 2042mA. To this day, nearly two months after I installed the review samples, the 755 Is' drivers continue to sound more open and responsive with continued playing: Whereas high field-coil current worked best when the speakers first arrived, I now find myself preferring a lower setting. (More current equals more responsiveness up to a pointbeyond which further increases in current add a little brightness.)
A final observation: The Line Magnetic 755 I simply can't be played too much. The driver gains ground throughout every listening session, so much so that its performance at 11pm can't be fairly compared with that at 8:30pm. It's not a temperamental product, but it dislikes being ignored. Leave it unplayed for a week, and while you won't be all the way back where you started when it was fresh out of the box, you'll have to give it at least a day to regain the ground. Leave it unplayed for a day and you'll need about an hour to make up the loss. You get the idea . . .
The Line Magnetic 755 I probably isn't for every listener (an axiom its aesthetics seem to echo). Even the decidedly unorthodox and enduringly wonderful Audio Note AN-E is more mainstreama distinction best exemplified by the classic recording of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius by Sir Adrian Boult and the New Philharmonia Orchestra (LP, EMI SLS 987): The Audio Note entertains and astonishes by playing the orchestral bass-drum notes with nearly full depth, power, and scale. The 755 I can't manage that feat, but it succeeds by doing a literally peerless job of making the hair on the back of my neck stand up when it plays the drum roll behind tenor Nicolai Gedda's entrance as Gerontius. Both speakers are very good in rather different ways, and each way has tremendous appeal.
There's a fine line . . .
In the August 2012 "Listening" I made this point about vintage vs modern loudspeaker engineering:
"Whereas in contemporary audio there are any number of products that result from a designer having identified a single performance bugaboo and banished it with some or another clever solution, the best vintage products strike me as more holistic creations. Vintage engineering is seldom clever; it's simply good."
To expand on that: From 1924, when Edward W. Kellogg and Chester W. Rice were issued the first patent for a moving-coil loudspeaker, that invention evolved in a manner that was slow, conservative, scientifically sound, and remarkably consistent from one manufacturer to the next. For nearly three decades, dozens of companies produced professional- and perfectionist-quality speakers, the best of which wereliterallysimilarly good.
That all began to change in the 1950s and '60s. That was when we began to see a new breed of loudspeaker designer, whose modus operandi was to focus on a single performance parameter, which that designer then tried to pummel into submission with some clever design innovation. For one, it was perceived nonlinearities in woofer surrounds. For another, it was cabinet resonances. For yet others, it was a preponderance of treble beaming, a lack of time coherency, insufficient portability, insufficient bigness, or the dastardly effects of early floor reflections. Each of those things attracted a designer who considered it to be Public Enemy Number One (and whose advertising made a pretty good case that it was).
This is not to dismiss all manifestations of clever. Early in his career as a designer and manufacturer, Dick Shahinian studied the manner in which real musical instruments load a room, and set about to re-create it. His loudspeakers aren't for me, but they do a good job of replicating that model of sound propagation, for those who hear things the same way: As designers go, Shahinian is probably closer than most to being an artist. Also of note is the designer of the Quad ESL, the late Peter J. Walker (who probably wouldn't have liked being called an artist, except perhaps when playing his flute): Walker decided that virtually every other loudspeaker was wrong, including his own early efforts, and he set about to make a sound propagator that weighed little more than the air by which it was loaded. The result, which I do love, was a device whose appeal has not only endured, but is as close to universal as the domestic audio industry has ever seen. And so it goes.
In recent decades, some innovations have attracted more than one designer at a time. Metal-cone woofers of small to moderate size had their day. So did tall line-source arrays, thick felt pads, drastically chamfered baffles, spring-suspended tweeters, truncated pyramids. They all came, they mostly all went, and now the large, rectangular tower with multiple woofers is again having its day. So choose what you will, but remember: Enduring musicalityI mean real musicality, not just gee-whiz sonicsand enduring value have tended to closely track one another in this hobby. If you want a glimpse of the future, in order to see what sort of product might still enrapture you in another 20 years, look to the past to see which of those products fetch high prices today. It may be that the answer was right there in front of you all along.