Vivid Audio Giya G3 loudspeaker Page 2
For reasons that remain mysterious, I missed the English band XTC in their early-1980s heyday, but my friend Casey McKee recently decided to remedy that situation by sending me three of their CDs. (Thanks, Casey.) How could I have missed XTC? The band had such a distinctive, heavily lyrical, post-punk voice, unlike anything else at that time or since. The repeated 16th-note bass-and-drum pattern in "Making Plans for Nigel," from Drums and Wires (ALAC file ripped from CD, Caroline 24385 06532), was reproduced with impressive clarity and rhythmic drive. And Andy Partridge's very English way with words in "Senses Working Overtime," from English Settlement (ALAC file ripped from CD, Caroline 24385 06602), was laid out with superb clarity by the MBL-driven G3s.
The G3 did indeed have a magic way with voices, whether it was Dame Janet Baker's rich contralto in Elgar's Sea Pictures, with Sir John Barbirolli and the London Symphony (24/96 ALAC file transcoded from FLAC, EMI/HDtracks); the all-male choir in my recording of Daniel Gawthrop's setting of Tennyson's "There Is Sweet Music," from Cantus's While You Are Alive (24/88.2 AIFF master file for CD, Cantus CTS-1208); Carl Wilson's flawless yet characterful tenor in "The Trader," from the Beach Boys' Holland (24/192 needle drop from LP, Brother/Reprise K54008); or even British actor Peter Jones as The Book in the original BBC radio broadcast of Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (320kbps AAC rips from cassette airchecks)all sounded maximally different from one another and maximally like themselves.
"Something sounding like itself" may sound too much like a self-referential solipsism, but I have long thought that the errors committed not only by loudspeakers, but by audio systems in general, result in what might be described as noise modulation (if you define as "noise" everything that isn't the original audio signal, such as distortion and resonant vibrations). The errors form sonic hash that rides along with the musica system-dependent formant structure, if you will, that tends to fill in the aural spaces between what should be distinctly separate acoustic objects. This becomes a gray scrim that reduces the listener's ability to differentiate between those objects. I believe that it is the absence of this music-related hash that Linn's Ivor Tiefenbrun described three decades ago as what makes it possible for an audio system to "play tunes."
Tiefenbrun was ridiculed back then on the grounds that there is nothing an audio component can do to change the frequencies of audio signals. However, if you consider that the kind of signal-dependent noise I am talking about could well affect the differentiation of musical pitchespitch being an internal construct that isn't related exclusively to frequencyhe has a point. And it was in this area that Vivid's Giya G3 excelled. As I wrote above, acoustic objects sounded maximally like themselves through these speakerswith the exception of the low bass, where the G3's signature was a bit too good to be true.
The sound of one speaker speaking
Before I wrote this review, one of the Vivids had to be shipped to our longtime cover photographer, Eric Swanson. So as I committed my thoughts to a Word file, I relistened to some of the same recordings mentioned above, this time with just one of the two channels played through the remaining Giya G3. Listening to a single speaker is a viciously hard test for it to pass. The bloom added to the experience by stereo reproduction and the creation of a virtual reality between, behind, and around the speakers distract the listener from what can be fundamental problems in a speaker's tonal balance. Colorations that might go unremarked with a stereo pair of speakers are unmasked by listening to a single unit.
Yet the Giya G3 did very well in this exposed situation. Male voices, female voices, solo pianoall were reproduced with no obvious colorations and with a full frequency balance. And while the G3's phat low end remained audible, it didn't interfere with the music. In fact, because a pair of speakers gives enhanced bass reproduction in a room, due to mutual coupling, a model with a slightly exaggerated low end will have an advantage when just one sample is playing.
On the other hand, classical orchestral recordings suffered, because a stereo recording made with a natural miking philosophy loses too much spatial information when played with only one channel played through only one speaker. Peculiarly, this was more true of modern recordings, such as Zander's Mahler 2, than of those made in the Golden Era, such as Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic's 1977 performance of Sibelius's Symphony 5 (ALAC file ripped from CD, EMI CDM 7 69244 2). Good rock recordings remained enjoyable, however. In fact, I ended up playing a lot of early "Ping-Pong stereo" recordingseg, the early Beatles albumsbecause such details as the character of the reverb used on the now-missing solo vocal became readily identifiable, given the G3's clarity.
Following on the heels of the $48,500/pair Wilson Alexia, which I highly recommended in my December 2013 review, Vivid's Giya G3 was going to have to be something special to earn my respect. It did more than that. I immensely enjoyed the time I spent with this idiosyncratically styled loudspeaker. Yes, at $39,990/pair, it is expensive, but for that money you get a combination of transparency and, rich low bass aside, almost full-range neutrality, coupled with superbly precise imaging and an easy-on-the-ear yet revealing balance that proved addictive.
I ended my review of the Wilson by declaring that if I were to retire tomorrow, the Alexia would be the speaker I would buy to provide the musical accompaniment to that retirement. Now I would have to choose between it and Vivid Audio's Giya G3!