The patter of the snare drum began softly and I leaned forward in my seat. Avery Fisher Hall fell silent as Riccardo Muti led the New York Philharmonic in Ravel's Boléro. Ravel once described this masterpiece as "lasting 17 minutes and consisting wholly of orchestral texture without music—of one long, very gradual crescendo." Though the hall was silent and expectant, the stage was packed with musicians waiting for...what? To gradually join in, one by one and layer by layer, to drive that gentle but relentlessly mounting crescendo. Ravel accomplished this by "having solo instruments play the melody...[then progressing] to groups" and finally "arranging the scoring so that the dynamics are self-regulating" (footnote 1). When the final, thunderous E-major chord stopped the piece by locking "all its harmonic gears," the hall erupted in ecstatic applause, and we all leapt to our feet.
On a very special Saturday night in early September—late winter in Australia—I was deeply moved by hearing Brahms' Symphony 1 in the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House complex. Perhaps it was Marek Janowski's fiery, inspired conducting, but I keep recalling the hall itself. Earlier that day, I had photographed—first from my hotel room, later from a ferry—the huge, nesting sail-like roofs, covered with a million white ceramic tiles, that enclose an opera theater, concert hall, and restaurant. Twenty-five years in construction and costing over $107 million, the Sydney Opera House is described in my Fodor's '98 Australia guide as "the most widely recognized landmark of urban Australia." Attending the concert that night—all 2679 seats were occupied—I found the acoustics lovely, dark, and rich.
It was one of those uncommonly warm late winter Sundays when you hardly need a coat. The fine weather had set aside any critical listening sessions, the door to the kitchen was open, and I was playing my audio system—then equipped with a pair of Spendor BC-1 loudspeakers—at moderate levels. Playing on the Linn turntable was an LP that the kids loved—"The Magic Garden Song," sung by the two female leads from the children's television show of the same name (footnote 1), My wife doesn't often comment positively on audio equipment, but that day she walked in from the kitchen to say, "Those voices sound real—as if two people just walked in our living room and started singing."
This compact, $1600/pair monitor employs many of the same design features found in the company's highly rated Matrix 801 system. Although the price is high for a two-way minimonitor, the 805 fits right into a growing high-end marketplace for such designs, one which emphasizes high quality in a small enclosure which will fit into most living-room environments without calling much attention to itself.
Imaging, imaging, imaging. That's what I thought when I first heard the Sonus Faber Electa Amators reviewed by Jack English last October. How could such small speakers create such a wide, deep soundfield? John Hunter, president of Sumiko, Ltd. and importer of Sonus Faber products, was amused but not surprised at my reaction. I did the natural thing and begged for a review pair.
The word totem is powerful in its own right. Totems have conscious and unconscious meanings, depicting powerful supernatural forces in nature and within us. Native Americans of the Northwest Coast tribes, starting with the Chippewa, or Ojibwa, used the term for the animals or birds associated with their clans. Tall wooden columns were carved with the clan totem, which could be a bird, fish, animal, or plant. Later, the Kwakiutls of the Pacific Northwest held feasts called Potlatches, during which poles carved with family and clan emblems were erected. Totems were also involved in worship and rites of passage. So elemental were the forces depicted by these symbols that Freud used totem to depict basic cultural laws, both spoken and unspoken, that guide daily behavior and proscribe what remains forbidden. It is fitting that the Totem loudspeaker reviewed here comes from Canada, the home of the enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch, where totems were so powerful.