Audio Physic Scorpio loudspeaker Page 2

Before break-in—or after I'd gotten used to its sound, which is how those who don't believe in speaker break-in would characterize it—the Scorpio sounded somewhat tight on top and a bit brittle, mechanical, and stiff in the upper bass and lower mids. But after a week of heavy pounding, the speaker seemed to let go of its defensive posture and began delivering a purely musical picture.

But even in those first few encounters, the Scorpio did a very Virgo II–like thing: I'd be sitting in my listening chair working on my laptop while casually listening, and suddenly something in the recording—often, a voice in a chorus—would sound so real, as if it were here in the room, that it would startle me, setting off a stand-and-fight rush of adrenaline.

Snap your fingers in front of your face while moving your hand from side to side and you have the Scorpio's message. It lays out the picture in authoritatively three-dimensional space on a wide, deep stage of surprising height for a speaker only 3.6' tall, providing the "Where'd the speakers go?" transparency I remember from my first encounter with the Virgo II.

I was moved early on to pull well-recorded live albums from the shelves. I was never disappointed by the Scorpios' ability to transform my listening space into the Village Vanguard, the Village Gate, Carnegie Hall, Town Hall, or any of the other New York City spaces in which those records were recorded, and in which I've often heard music live. The Vanguard is a cramped basement with a low ceiling and a triangular stage wedged into one corner. When you listen to Bill Evans' Waltz for Debby (45rpm LPs, Riverside/Analogue Productions), for instance, though it's closely miked, you can almost feel the walls closing in on the musicians. But when you do catch sonic glimpses of patrons sitting at the tables, you hear them well back in space—at least through speakers able to define the space. The Scorpios did that job about as well as any pair of speakers I've heard here, though of course they can't suggest the full volume of a truly large hall, such as Carnegie. For that you need a speaker capable of plumbing the depths, which the Scorpio is not. I'll take its tight, rhythmic delivery, minus the bottom octave or so, over speakers that go lower but lose control or sound bloated. Still, the Scorpio sounded good and reasonably smooth down to the mid-30Hz region.

After conquering space, the Scorpios put tightly drawn, optimally proportioned, three-dimensional images in that space. The illusion remained convincing even with the lights on, whether I was listening to a live or a studio recording. For me, great studio imaging is defined by my original mustard-label LP of Joni Mitchell's Blue (Reprise MS 2038), mastered by Bernie Grundman at A&M (look for the tiny "BG" scratched into the lead-out area). The Scorpios produced Mitchell's voice holographically and perfectly sized between them, forward of the plane described by their baffle fronts. On "My Old Man," I could "see" Mitchell's left and right hands separately moving up and down the keyboard on the left side of the stage, her pedaling producing sustain that shouldn't diffuse the focus of the hammer strikes. The Scorpios got this right, though they put the accent more on the transient and less on the sounding board. On "Carrie," I could hear the subtle but purposeful reverberant space longtime Mitchell engineer Henry Lewy put behind Russ Kunkel's drums. This perennial favorite album just keeps sounding more magical and more real as my system improves. I once thought Mitchell's voice sounded somewhat bright and antiseptic. It doesn't.

These are all small details of time and space that the Scorpios got so right. What about the frequency balance? In this area, the first sample of Audio Physic's far more expensive Caldera sounded and measured surprisingly poorly, and the second sample did only somewhat better. Of course, I haven't seen John Atkinson's measurements of the Scorpio as I write this, but based on my weeks of concentrated listening, I'm sure the speaker's on-axis response will be far more linear than the Caldera's. There was nothing mellow about the Scorpio's sound, but the Caldera's unrelenting brightness was nowhere to be heard—unless I stood up and positioned my ears well above the tweeter, when it sounded noticeably bright. I'm sure JA's measurements will show that.

When I sat down again, the Scorpio produced a smooth balance of satisfyingly deep, well-articulated bass free of overhang and bloat, a pleasing transition to the midbass (where its performance was far superior to that of the noticeably warmish Virgo II), a slightly cool midrange with a subtle accent in the presence region, and an airy, extended, but not silky-sweet top end. If the subtle midbass/midrange mechanicalness I noted during my first listen shows up in the measurements, I can say with complete confidence that, after a few more listening sessions, you won't notice it.

I thought the Scorpios offered a coherent, well-extended musical picture that any audiophile could work with to achieve sonic satisfaction. If you felt the sound a bit too "event-oriented," with more leading edge than you're comfortable with—in other words, a sound that shortchanged harmonics so that you were hearing too much bow and not enough wood, or too much throat and not enough chest cavity—you could easily compensate with a warmer phono cartridge or electronics.

I was quite satisfied with the Scorpio's sound as driven by Musical Fidelity's big, solid-state kW monoblocks. I appreciated the speaker's bottom-end authority while not feeling shortchanged by its mids and highs. The Scorpio was also quite happy with the Music Reference RM-200's 100Wpc; the tube amplifier's added richness complemented the speaker's snappy personality without diminishing its strong suits. Having heard some Prima Luna amps work magic with a pair of Sonus Faber Amati Homage anniversarios, I imagine they'd also drive the Scorpios exceptionally well.

Beyond its pleasing tonal balance, the Scorpio offered dramatic macrodynamic performance for a relatively compact floorstander. High SPLs didn't compress the sound or change its basic tonal balance, yet it was also detailed, open, and transparent during low-level late-night listening sessions.

As loudspeaker prices rise, much of what you're paying for is bottom-end frequency extension and the ability to play loudly without strain. The Audio Physic Scorpio is a very capable $6500/pair design that goes reasonably low while being free of cabinet-induced colorations, and can play at high SPLs without compression or changing its winning personality.

If you're getting the idea that I really liked this speaker, you're correct. Before sitting down to write this review, I conducted a listening marathon on both vinyl and CD, playing every kind of music, from Mozart's The Magic Flute (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2709 017), to an advance CD of Cassandra Wilson's new Thunderbird, produced by T Bone Burnett (Blue Note 50254), to Broken Social Scene's sometimes excruciatingly bright album You Forgot It in People (LP, Arts & Crafts A&C 001), and even James Blunt's Back to Bedlam (CD, Atlantic 83752-2), which I actually like—call me gay. While no speaker will satisfy everyone, the Scorpio is one that hits all the right visual and sonic marks.

The Scorpio is graceful-looking, well proportioned, solidly built, and meticulously finished. And if you like "seeing" your music, this speaker will not disappoint. In fact, it may sometimes scare the crap out of you, presenting recorded events as if they're actually occurring in your room.

Though the Scorpios' overall presentation will not suit all tastes, their spatial presentation was voluminous and crystalline-transparent, the transient performance fast and tidy, and the overall tonal balance free from discontinuities. Some will find it a bit forward and perhaps aggressive, but others will, like me, appreciate its exciting, involving sound. Because the Scorpio is free of audible frequency lumps and bumps, whatever its mild colorations—and every speaker is colored in one way or another—they will soon dissolve, leaving only musical satisfaction.

During the month-plus I had the Scorpios in my listening system, they did whatever I asked of them. Play loud and rock out? No problem. Put me in a familiar space? Sure thing. Show me a piano concerto and make it believable the same night I'd seen one live at Avery Fisher Hall? Piece of cake. Solo female singer? I believed. No loss of fine detail? None. Finally, a worthy replacement for the Virgo II? In my opinion, yes. The sweet spot of the Audio Physic line? Definitely.

Audio Physic
US distributor: Soundquest LLC
New York, NY
(212) 731-0729