ASW Genius 100 loudspeaker
But while May Audio has been around a long time, I'd never heard of ASW (which stands for Accurate Sound Wave). Nor could John Atkinson shed much light on it. However, after determining that ASW met Stereophile's criterion of a minimum of five US dealers, I decided to give their Genius 100 bookshelf speaker a whirl.
Company and Design
The Genius 100 ($1395/pair) is the entry-level model of ASW's Genius line, which ranges up to $4795/pair and also includes the 200 center speaker, the 300 and 400 floorstanders, and the AS-1 subwoofer. The two-way Genius 100 is biwirable and magnetically shielded, and has a 1" fabric-dome tweeter and a 5.1" carbon-fiber cone woofer. It also has silver internal wiring, high-quality connectors, and a linear, 12dB/octave, low-impedance crossover. According to ASW, their design goals for the 100 were optimum spatial imaging and tonal balance for both music and home-theater. And as this modestly sized bookshelf model is intended to complement Bauhaus furniture design, the speaker is available in 12 real-wood veneers and four choices of eggshell paint. My sample, in cherry, was quite attractive.
I placed the ASWs on Celestion Si stands loaded with sand and lead shot. I disagree with May Audio's recommendation to remove Genius 100's cloth grille. Although I did hear more inner detail and transparency with the grilles off, I much preferred the more coherent, more balanced timbres that the grilles provided. On they stayed.
I began my listening with Patricia Barber singing "A Touch of Trash," from her Modern Cool (SACD, Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 20003, CD layer). This immediately highlighted the Genius 100's greatest strength: a voluptuous, uncolored, extremely detailed midrange that gave well-recorded female voices a stunning, lifelike quality. Barber's voice had a rich, holographic quality through the ASWs, and I found it easy to hear the subtle envelope of reverberation that engineer Jim Anderson had used, and which was perfectly integrated with her voice. I had a similar reaction to the voice of soprano Kendra Shank, on Timothy Seelig and the Turtle Creek Chorale's recording of John Rutter's Requiem (CD, Reference RR-57CD). During the naturally long decay of Shank's voice, it was easy to discern the size of the recording venue (a church). Moreover, all of the woodwinds were timbrally perfect, with tons of natural air.
The Genius 100's midrange capabilities were also a good match for classical solo piano. In the Adagio of Beethoven's Piano Sonata 1, from JA's recording of Robert Silverman performing all 32 sonatas (CD, OrpheumMasters KSP830), the ASW revealed, as through a window opened on the music, the airy, delicate warmth of Silverman's touch in the instrument's middle lower register. I was also impressed with the 100's abilities in the highs, which were clean, extended, and uncolored, with very coherent integration with the midrange timbres (with the grilles on, of course).
Back to Patricia Barber's "A Touch of Trash": the textures of the close-miked singer's sibilants were clean, crisp, and extended. Mark Walker's drums and cymbals were silky but appropriately splashy, and Dave Douglas's trumpet solo had exquisitely brassy bite.
Hand in hand with the Genius 100's high-frequency abilities went its superb delineation of transient attacks, as well as its organic and linear re-creation of the entire dynamic-range envelope. Given that, I wanted to listen to a lot of percussion recordings through the ASWs, and began with drummer Mark Flynn's introduction to "Blizzard Limbs," from our band Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2). I marveled at how the Genius 100 followed every nuance of Mark's subtle dynamic phrasing on kick drum: Each thwack had a subtly different volume level, along with a very slight change in pitch between the softest and loudest kicks. Charles Wuorinen's Ringing Changes for Percussion Ensemble (LP, Nonesuch H71263) was a totalalmost a literalblast. I could follow every instrument across the wide, deep soundstage of the recording venue; each had its own dynamic envelope, frequency pattern, and distance from the microphones. This recording's wide swings between the extremes of the dynamic spectrum made the Genius 100 sound like a much larger speaker.
Nor did the little Genius hesitate to bloom with larger-scale orchestral recordings. I played Penderecki's Credo, as performed by Helmuth Rilling and the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra and Chorus (CD, H‰nssler Classic CD 98.311). The voice of bass Thomas Quasthoff was rendered with eerie verisimilitude, and I heard no trace of congestion during the hairiest fortissimi of massed choral voices. Even in the densest passages, I could still pick out from this work's cacophonous rubble each individual brass line.