Vivid Audio B1 loudspeaker Page 2
It seems odd to use the word "generous" to describe the B1's low frequencies, given its fairly small footprint and small-diameter woofers. But generous those lows were indeed. The bass guitar on the "Channel Identification" and "Channel Phasing" tracks on my Editor's Choice CD (Stereophile STPH016-2) had excellent weight, and the speakers had superb articulation with this signal, which can often sound soggy with reflex designs. Jerome Harris's solo bass-guitar introduction to Duke Ellington's "The Mooche," from the Jerome Harris Quintet's Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), sounded even, with, again, superb articulation.
The B1 dealt similarly well with classical organ recordings; the pedal lines in Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D, performed by Michael Murray on the organs at Los Angeles's First Congregational Church (CD, Telarc CD-80088), had surprising weight and depth without sounding boomy. The low-frequency warble tones on Editor's Choice were reproduced in full measure down to the 32Hz 1/3-octave band. Though there was still some output at 25Hz, the 20Hz band was silentnot even any port wind noise was audible. The half-stepspaced toneburst track on the same CD spoke cleanly, with no undue emphasis.
At the other end of the spectrum, the B1's high frequencies were clean, clear, and free from grain, although it's also fair to say that they were far from reticent. The speaker didn't sound bright or tipped up, but the B1 was by no means a mellow speaker. The Vivid's treble balance was not a problem with naturally balanced recordings, like the St. Louis Symphony under Leonard Slatkin performing Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (SACD, Telarc SACD-60641). But it was a little too revealing of the rather "shouty" orchestral balance in the 1970 recording of Oistrakh, Rostropovich, and Richter performing the Beethoven Triple Concerto with von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic (CD, EMI Great Recordings of the Century 5 6655954 2). This treble balance also made the B1 more suitable for use with sweet-toned amplifiers, like the Musical Fidelity AMS100 I reviewed last month, rather than the MBL Reference 9007 monoblocks, which adhere more to the cleaner-but-leaner school of sound. But with well-matched amplification, even recordings that I was not expecting much fromsuch as Phish performing an empathetic live version of Little Feat's "Time Loves a Hero" that I'd downloaded as a FLAC file, following a recommendation from a Facebook friendhad impressive presence without sounding too, er, vivid.
Dynamics were impressive for a relatively small speaker. With the Classé CTM-600s providing the muscle, the explosive beginning of "Speed," from Dean Peer's Airborne (24/96 AIFF file, Cardas), was suitably explosive. The drum samples on Cornelius's "Fit Song," from Sensuous (CD, Warner Japan EVE016), had superb "jump factor."
John Marks enthused about the coherence of the B1's midrange, and I , too, was impressed by its combination of clarity and purity in that region. I heard no colorations; both the sound of Vladimir Ashkenazy's piano and the space around the instrument, in his 1970 performance of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with André Previn and the LSO (CD, Decca Jubilee 417 702-2), were naturally presented. Decca's engineering team was at the top of their game with this Kingsway Hall recording, though the B1's clarity and generous lows allowed me too easily to hear the subway train pulling away from the station at the start of the big, inverted tune in the famous slow variation.
The complex layering of the vocal parts in "Dawn," from Meredith Monk's Book of Days (CD, ECM 1399), which Jon Iverson recommended to me, was laid bare but without any sense that the speaker was, in the infamous phrase, "ruthlessly revealing." The B1 was simply stepping out the way of the information on the recording. It also produced a palpably real feeling with voices. Peter Gabriel's tortured baritone in Paul Simon's "Boy in the Bubble," from Gabriel's Scratch My Back (ALAC file ripped from CD, Real World 1), had a sense of presence I have rarely heard from a speaker. I remember Meridian's Bob Stuart conjecturing, decades ago, that there was something special about the reproduction of human voices by a loudspeaker whose baffle was about as wide as a human head. The head-width B1 certainly worked some special magic with the sound of voices.
And the B1's way with imaging in general was simply superb. The combination of imaging stability and precision, coupled with the B1's high resolution, allowed me to hear miking anomalies, such as the way the violin and cello sections each clumped into a single location in the 1974 performances by Stephen Kovacevich, with the BBC SO under Sir Colin Davis, of Beethoven's Piano Concertos 2 and 4 (SACD, Pentatone PTC5186 101). And the too-close miking of the solo instruments in the recording of Beethoven's Triple Concerto mentioned earlier was made clear enough that it got in the way of my enjoyment of the performance.
At the New York AXPONA Show in June, when I was preparing this review, I was fortunate to have heard Arturo Delmoni give a dazzling performance of the Chaconne from Bach's Partita 2 in d for solo violin. So when I got home from the show, I cued up his recording of the same work (ALAC file ripped from gold CD, John Marks JMR 14). Captured by Kavi Alexander with a pair of EAR/Milab microphones, the image of Delmoni's violin hung between the Vivid B1s, uncolored, solid, and stable. No, it wasn't live, but the sympathetic acoustics of the Santa Barbara chapel, lit up by the violin and occupying the width and depth of the soundstage, were infinitely preferable to Delmoni performing the Chaconne in a dry hotel suite at AXPONA. It doesn't get any better than this synergy between performance, recording, and playback system.
In his column, John Marks summed up the Vivid B1 as having a "near-perfect balance of warmth and information." After all the work that has gone into this review, I don't actually have much to add to that statement. At close to its price of $14,990/pair, the Vivid B1 comes under pressure from: the Wilson Audio Sophia Series 3 ($17,600/pair), which Art Dudley reviewed in February 2011; the Thiel CS3.7 ($13,900/pair), reviewed by Wes Phillips in December 2008; and the Revel Ultima Studio2 ($15,999/pair), which Kalman Rubinson reviewed in March 2008. For not too much more, there are the KEF Reference 207/2 ($20,000/pair), which I reviewed in February 2008; and the Revel Ultima Salon2 ($21,999/pair), reviewed by Larry Greenhill in June 2008. These are all first-class loudspeakers, with any of which I could live happily ever after.
But if your room is of small to medium size, and you want a less obtrusive speaker (though its idiosyncratic looks do come into the equation), and you value clarity and overall musical communication over gut-busting dynamics, the Vivid B1 is one of the best choices around. I loved what it did!