Lumen White Whiteflame loudspeaker Page 3
While the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 power amp worked brilliantly with the Rockport Antares and most other speakers I've used with it, the Lumen White/Nu-Vista 300 combo was less satisfactory. The mid/high frequency range was too sharply drawn for my (and, I bet, most listeners') taste, and, as the importer quickly noted, for some reason the powerful Nu-Vista didn't seem capable of driving the 91dB-efficient Whiteflames successfully at low listening levels. The sound went sort of soft and limp. Don't ask me why.
On the other hand, at higher, more realistic SPLs with the solid-state amplifier, there was a lively "it's happening in the room" sensation (not necessarily a good thing), but only in certain places in the sonic spectrum, and that led to an unsettling discontinuity in the overall presentation. A guitar pick on strings sounded "live," but the rest of the guitar didn't. Was there a narrow peak in the Whiteflame's high-frequency response that pushed transients forward? Or was I experiencing its uncompromisingly flat frequency and power responses? I don't know, but there was certainly a slightly cold edge when the Lumen Whites were driven with the solid-state Nu-Vista 300, and once noticed, that HF prominence was difficult to ignore. I heard it as an emphasis on vocal cords, reeds, bowed strings, and other "event" areas in the musical continuum. Novice ears may hear this as "detail" and appreciate the excitement, but over time the spotlighting became annoying, the edge grinding.
Another problem I encountered was in the Whiteflames' soundstage presentation: it was too compact laterally and overorganized, with images too compartmentalized and too sharply defined compared to the real thing. Genuine detail (as opposed to the peaky illusion of it) was still impressive, as were all of the Whiteflames' other strong positive attributes, but they were being overshadowed by the soundstaging problems. Then I remembered that tubes had driven the Lumen Whites at every show I'd attended; I figured there could be a message there. I replaced the Nu-Vista with the Music Reference RM-200, my reference tube amp for just such occasions.
Switching to a tube amp changed everything for the better. Gone were the Whiteflames' edge and etch, the overly compartmentalized imaging and narrow soundstage. Now there was room for harmonic development, subtle textures, and the rendering of the aftermaths of musical events, but without blunted or softened transients, or diminished bass output or definition. It was as if the entire presentation had suddenly gelled and come into full focus. Driven by the Music Reference RM-200, the Whiteflame's overall frequency balance was far more neutral. I could shut down the sound clinic and begin to listen for sheer musical pleasure. Did this indicate a fault with the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300? I doubt it. Nor did it necessarily mean that there was a problem with the Whiteflame's response. For whatever reasons, which may or may not be revealed by John Atkinson's measurements, the combination wasn't a good one.
To put all this in perspective: After the performance the Rockport Antareses put on in my room, both my reference Audio Physic Avanti IIIs and the considerably more expensive Lumen White Whiteflames were disappointing. Neither speaker came close to producing the Rockports' enormous, airy, enveloping soundstage, but the Lumen Whites did deliver the lush, rich, yet detailed midrange I'd become accustomed to with the Antareses, on an equally well-organized if smaller soundstage. By comparison, the Avantis sounded a bit lean and recessed in the mids, with a slight emphasis in the transition between the upper mids and highs.
While the Whiteflame could not produce the Rockport's bass weight, it was equally nonmechanical in its delivery of the considerable bass it did produce, providing the kind of ease and speed on the bottom usually associated with good midband performance—and delivering it at SPLs high and low without congestion or mechanical artifacts. That's fortunate—the Whiteflame's transparency and clarity in the mids and highs would be intrusive if the bottom couldn't keep up.
On a recording of Beethoven's Piano Concerto 2 with Vladimir Ashkenazy, Georg Solti, and the Chicago Symphony (Decca LP), the Whiteflame's delivery of the piano, miked from mid-hall, was as lifelike as I've heard it, with a thrilling, etch-free clarity in the upper octaves and a warm yet well-defined physicality to the notes played with the left hand. The whole of the piano appeared, focused and solid, in the space between the speakers, with the reverberant aftermath bouncing off the venue's walls, as would be heard live.
With the RM-200 in the system, the Whiteflame's rendering of cymbals and percussion was sensational. One of my favorite live recordings is the Modern Jazz Quartet's European Concert, recorded in "Scandinavia" in 1960 (2 LPs, Atlantic SD 2-603). Another mid-hall beauty, it features some of the MJQ's greatest hits: "Bluesology," "Odds Against Tomorrow," "Bags' Groove," and Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing)." A quartet of piano, bass, vibes, and drums was the ideal playing field for the Whiteflames, and they didn't disappoint. Milt Jackson's mellifluous vibes appeared out of a jet-black background with just the right blend of percussive mallet stroke and "bell" aftertone. Connie Kay's cymbals rang and chimed with rivet-counting precision, yet his sticks were clearly made of wood. And Percy Heath's bass had weight and definition on the pluck, and bloomed naturally afterward. Only John Lewis' piano was less than convincing, but that's a fault of the recording. When the audience in the large auditorium burst into applause, it was the sound of flesh on flesh, not rain on a tin roof. The Whiteflames suggested the expanse of the auditorium behind the audience with impressive authority, and though the recording's perspective was mid-hall, the images of the four musicians were superbly focused and naturally delineated.