Sony ES SS-M9ED loudspeaker Page 2
The Sony's flush-mounted drive-units are arranged to lie on a vertical arc 3 meters (9.75') from the listener's ears. I had to sit slightly closer than that, at 9'. The supertweeters' mounts can be rotated with a neat geared mechanism, which allowed them to be aimed precisely at my ears. Dan Anagnos had warned me that while the review samples did have some play time on them, the ES SS-M9ED requires "a substantial amount of additional aging time before any serious listening." I therefore tried to accelerate their break-in by facing the speakers together, hooking them out of phase, and playing the "Special Burn-In Noise" track from Stereophile's Test CD 3 overnight for a few nights.
Once that was over, I started off with the SS-M9EDs quite a ways out into the room, where their imaging was startlingly holographic. The downside was that the midbass sounded very lean, and while ultra-lows could be heard, there was no real power to them. I moved the speakers back as far as they would go, butted up against the Mark Levinson No.33H monoblocks, which in turn butted up against the small armoire that resides in the center of the front wall and houses my music-editing computers.
This is where the SS-M9EDs sat for most of my auditioning, and while there was now a true sense of low-frequency power, the balance was still on the lean side. I did find some judicious boost (no more than 4dB) of the 50Hz and 63Hz bands with the Z-Systems rdp-1 digital equalizer very beneficial. Finally, however, I had to move the bulky Levinsons out of the room while I spent some time with the active Meridian 8000 speakers (review to appear shortly). When I moved the Sonys back into the room (a small criticism: the M9ED's mass and unusual bulk make it very hard for one person to move and handle it without help), I left the Levinsons in the closet and set up the venerable Krell KSA-50 I usually use for speaker measurements. (This is the very same sample I bought following my review for Hi-Fi News back in August 1983, and had updated to the then-current spec in 1986.)
Using a much more compact stereo amp allowed the speakers to be moved farther back from the listening position, so that the woofers were now 36" from the sidewalls and 45" from the wall behind them. This brought about a significant change in the SS-M9ED's perceived balance in that while this would never be a mellow-balanced speaker, its leanness was reduced. This was how I ended up doing most of my serious auditioning.
"Coherent." That was my first impression of the big Sonys, and it only deepened as my auditioning proceeded. Whatever the recording I played, I got the feeling that I could peer into the depths of the soundstage, unencumbered by loudspeaker artifacts. I could clearly hear the reflections of the piano sound defining the size of the small hall in which I had recorded Robert Silverman's Beethoven sonata cycle (Orpheum Masters KSP 830). The repeated eighth-note chords in the "Waldstein" sonata clearly illuminated the space, and when I played back the 88.2kHz-sampled masters from my computer's hard drive, the sense of being there was vividly convincing over the SS-M9EDs, even with two channels.
This vivid sense of the recorded space was even more convincing with the SACD Mark Levinson Live Recordings at Red Rose Music Vol.1 (Red Rose Music RRM 01). The cozy, intimate acoustic of the Red Rose room at Manhattan's Whitney Museum worked well with Chico Freeman's tenor sax on the Duke Ellington standard "In a Sentimental Mood," but less well on solo violin, which sounded too "scratchy." But the highlight of this disc for me is the duet with Mark Levinson on double bass accompanying his wife, actress Kim Cattrall, reciting the Rupert Brooke poem "Little Dog's Life"—true virtual reality, made even more convincing by the instrument's rich, warm sound quality, as reproduced by the Sonys.
I know the DSD encoding used in Super Audio CD is a kludge, according to engineers I have come to respect mightily over the years I have known them, such as Stanley Lipshitz and Malcolm Omar Hawksford. But, goddammit, even knowing that can't conceal the fact that DSD sounds so good, so accessible. Listening to SACDs on the SS-M9EDs, not just on the megabux two-box Accuphase player but also on the affordable Sony '777, was an awesome musical experience. The speakers were that transparent.