Audes Bravo loudspeaker Page 2

The speakers also did an excellent job of unraveling the details of densely orchestrated orchestral works. Olivier Messiaen's Turangalîla Symphony (LP, EMI UK 5119) features many passages of bombastic pianos, gongs, and trombones, which lesser speakers turn into coagulated messes. With the Bravos I was able to follow, right through the fortissimos, the contrapuntal, lower-register cello line, which is all but inaudible with most inexpensive bookshelf speakers I've tried.

Antal Dorati's recording of Stravinsky's The Firebird (LP, Mercury Living Presence/Classic SR 90226) revealed most of the Bravos' strengths and weaknesses. The vibrant massed string pizzicatos were riveting, and the wide, deep soundstage revealed all of the concert hall's ambience. All woodwinds and brass sounded natural, but the flutes lacked some top-end air in the upper registers. Bass-drum thwacks were timbrally accurate but didn't come close to shaking the room. Finally, during the most highly modulated fortissimo passages, the Bravos seemed to compress and flatten the dynamic range, which made this large-scale orchestral disc less exciting than chamber recordings, in which only a handful of instruments are playing at a time. The Bravos performed admirably on the fortissimo passages of the chamber recordings I listened to, however.

One aspect of the Audes Bravo troubled me, though it manifested itself only on a handful of recordings. There seemed to be a very narrow range of frequencies in the upper midrange and lower highs in which a solo instrument in a highly modulated passage would tend to be pushed forward in the mix, with a slightly "hooty" quality. This was most noticeable with woodwinds in classical and jazz recordings: flute and soprano and alto sax. I'm curious to see if John Atkinson's measurements uncover any sort of high-Q resonance in the Bravo.

The Bravo was capable of great drama. I prepared myself for a recent Metropolitan Opera performance of Strauss's Salome, with Bryn Terfel as John the Baptist, by picking up a copy of Herbert von Karajan's late-1970s recording of the work, with the Vienna Philharmonic (LP, London SBLX 03858). This intense performance absolutely burned on the Bravo, with the sweet but searing massed strings and blatty brass electrifying the wide, deep stage of the hall. With these speakers, I enjoyed von Karajan's performance better than I did the live Met performance.

The Bravo was also a very satisfying home-theater speaker, proving itself revealing and quite enjoyable with a number of DVDs and TV broadcasts. Dialog and Foley tracks were crisp and distinct, and classical and rock soundtracks seemed quite natural. The lack of top-end sparkle may have actually helped certain DVDs, and never once did I wish I had a subwoofer.

The comparisons
I compared the Audes Bravo to the NHT SB-3 ($600/pair), the Alón by Acarian Systems' Li'l Rascal Mk.II ($600/pair), and Alón's Petite (discontinued, $1000/pair when last offered).

The NHT SB-3 revealed significantly less detail than the Audes Bravo across the musical spectrum, but exhibited an attractively rich and involving midrange. The SB-3's midbass was round and thick and more extended than the Bravo's, but also more colored. Although the SB-3's high-level dynamic performance was far superior to the Bravo's, the NHT's transients seemed somewhat blunted by comparison. The SB-3's high frequencies were softer and less articulate than the Bravo's, but the NHT and Audes produced overall sounds that were equally well-balanced timbrally.

The Alón Li'l Rascal had a midrange that was very similar to the Bravo's in its resolution of detail, neutrality, and body, especially on solo piano and vocal recordings. The Li'l Rascal's highs, however, were more forward and less articulate than the Bravo's, this most noticeable on recordings of cymbals. The Li'l Rascal was far superior in bass extension and high-level dynamic articulation.

I had to go back and forth several times while comparing the Audes with my $1000/pair benchmark, the long-discontinued Alón by Acarian Systems Petite. Both speakers excelled in their reproductions of a neutral and articulate midrange, and in subtle, low-level dynamics and resolution of detail across the musical spectrum. The Petite's high frequencies were more extended than the Bravo's and its resolution of high-level dynamics was somewhat superior, but the Audes subjectively seemed to extend a hair deeper in the bass.

The speaker
For $999/pair, Audes has packed a lot of sound quality into a little box. The Bravo satisfied on a wide range of music material. In a number of areas, it performed as well as any bookshelf speaker I've heard for less than $1500/pair. I commend the Audes design team, and anxiously await the company's future designs.

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