Music Hall Marimba loudspeaker Page 2
The Marimbas sounded fine right out of the box and placed exactly where the PSB Alpha B1s had been, in their cat- and girlfriend-approved locations: on 24"-tall stands, the centers of their woofers 37" from my room's front wall, 96" from my listening position, and about 48" from the sidewalls. But I quickly found that the Marimbas would also respond well to more extreme placement scenarios, delivering a wider, deeper soundstage, with no apparent loss in bass impact or image focus, as I brought them closer to the listening position. I found the best results with the Marimbas placed almost midway between the front wall and where I sat, toed in so that their tweeters pointed just outside the plane of my ears.
To become acquainted with the Marimba's sound, I, unlike Roy Hall, really used real music. These days, the disc I most often turn to when evaluating a system's bass character is R. Kelly's Double Up (CD, Jive 708537). With the SubSeries 1 still handling the lowest frequencies, its Crossover control set to around 105Hz, I heard neither more nor less bass than I'd grown used to with the PSB Alpha B1s, but I immediately appreciated the Marimbas' startling imaging capabilities: voices, instruments, and stereo effects were exceptionally clean, clear, and precisely placed, sometimes appearing from points well off to the sides of the speakersenough to send Stringer dashing from one end of the room to the other, above and behind the entertainment unit, in search of the source of the sound.
Next, I removed the PSB subwoofer and QED cables from the system and ran the Kimber 8VS directly from the NAD C316 BEE's outputs to the speakers' gold-plated binding posts. While this resulted in obviously less bass and a somewhat diminished sense of space, it also revealed the Marimba's bass to be impressively tight, tuneful, and fast. And because there was no appreciable loss of low-end impact and no muddying of the overall sound, I was able to continue listening happily sans sub.
Listening to "Hymn of Remembrance," from Keith Jarrett's Hymns Spheres (2 CDs, ECM 1086/87; see Richard Lehnert's review in our April issue), I was surprised by how well the Marimbas transported me to Ottobeuren Abbey in Germany, where the work was recorded; these improvisations on pipe organ seemed to originate from an appropriately far-off place. In his review, RL writes, "You can hear Jarrett listening to the yawning silences as they slowly fill with and empty of sound." Through the Marimbas, I was happy to hear what RL heard. By contrast, my PSB Alpha B1s produced a softer overall sound and a larger and more forward perspective, doing more to bring the performance into my listening room than to transport me to the original event, while sacrificing some of the Marimbas' long, graceful decays and high-frequency detail.
But the Marimbas never sounded better than when I turned to one of my all-time favorite albums, Miles Davis's In a Silent Way, in a recent high-resolution remastering (SACD/CD, Columbia/Legacy/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD2088). I absolutely adored the vast stage width, the brilliant sense of touch, the unerring rhythmic drive. And when Miles's trumpet finally swirled and sighed onto the stage, I almost lost my breaththe effect was pure magic. The PSB Alpha B1s make this music sound larger, softer, slower; the far more physically beautiful Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s ($350/pair) add warmth, detail, texture, and control. But still: Thanks in part to the Music Hall Marimba, in part to MoFi's faithful remastering, and in part to my own loneliness, this was the grooviest, sweetest, most memorable re-creation of In a Silent Way I'd ever enjoyed at home.
The gritty truth
The motivation behind the Music Hall Marimba was simple: Roy Hall will tell you that he wanted to make a small, two-way speaker that kicks lots of ass and costs little money. I think he also wanted to bring an old memory back to life. Any way you look at it, he succeeded. But who, other than Hall himself, would want to purchase the Marimba? Who is his target customer?
"My customer is anyone who wants a great sound at a reasonable price," says Hall.
But I can't accept that answerit's far too pragmatic, far too polite. I've seen Music Hall gear, including the Marimbas, being sold in small independent record stores and hip, youthful shops like Insound.com, Urban Outfitters, and Turntable Labnot exactly the haunts of traditional audiophiles. Is this an attempt to reach a wider, younger audience? Is it even important that high-end audio manufacturers reach a wider, younger audience?
"You just answered your own question," Hall tells me. "Look at where it's sold. We make gear that is great sounding and affordable. Most other high-end manufacturers have no clue about the young people of today. They should watch Girls and get the gritty truth."
Exactly what I've been saying all along. And despite what Roy Hall claims, the Music Hall Marimba is not a loudspeaker that any old audiophile will enjoy. Instead, it will appeal to special tastesit'll sound best to audiophiles who maintain a sense of wonder, who are young at heart and who hold fast to dreams. The especially old, joyless audiophiles, however, might purchase a pair as a reminderto return them to the origins of their enthusiasmand a second pair as a gift for their children.
Now that Hall has designed one successful loudspeaker, does he have plans for others?
"Absolutely not! This one is great. I'll quit while I'm ahead."
I have a hard time believing that Roy Hall will ever quit, but I guess time will tell.