Bohlender-Graebener Radia 520i loudspeaker Page 2

Using pink noise from Stereophile's Test CD 2 (Stereophile STPH004-2) to drive the Radias without the subwoofer, the tonality of the resulting sound varied smoothly and gradually as I moved back and forth and from side to side in my listening chair. I found the Radias' sweet spot in my room to be about 6" wide and 12" deep. To stay within that small spot, I had to sit up and forward in the listening chair. I propped myself in position with two pillows—just moving the chair forward didn't position me properly. Outside this zone, the pink noise dulled slightly. It also dulled when I stood up, but did not vary more when I moved around the room. However, in its narrow sweet spot, the 520i's highs in the pink noise seemed to be fine, or at least equivalent to those I hear with the Quad ESL-989s.

The BG Radias' strengths were in imaging, speed, extended dynamic range, and translucent mids and highs. Their soundstage was wide and deep, with surprising spatial resolution of different instruments or voices in a chorus. Jerome Harris' Taylor acoustic bass guitar and the kick drum in "The Mooche," from his Rendezvous CD (Stereophile STPH013-2), were placed directly in the center, Art Baron's trombone right of center, and Marty Ehrlich's alto sax far right. The 520i captured the shimmering bronze of Billy Drummond's Zildjian ride cymbal at the song's beginning, the plunger-muted trombone's brassy blattiness, and the crackle of the air in the mouthpiece of the sax. I was easily able to hear the call and response between trombone and sax.

The Radias accurately reproduced the spatial ambience of Robert Silverman's performance (via a large Bösendorfer reproducing piano) of the second movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata 24, Op.78 (from his 10-CD set of the complete sonatas, OrpheumMasters KSP 830, engineered by John Atkinson), and the reediness and acoustic venue surrounding Antony Michaelson's clarinet in the Larghetto of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet in A, K.581, from Mosaic (CD, Stereophile STPH015-2). Listening to the excerpt from Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius on Test CD 2 (Stereophile STPH004-2), I was stunned by the width and depth of the soundstage: tenor far left, brass section far right, and the double choir set well back.

Well-recorded vocalists and instruments were what most benefited from the 520i's clarity and dynamics; they were reproduced with their timbres balanced and natural, free of speaker-introduced tonalities. Bud Shanks' virtuoso alto-sax and flute playing on the title track of the L.A. Four's Going Home (CD, East Wind 32JD-10043) had highs that were extended, open, and smooth. During "Silk Road" and "Running Water," from I Ching's Of the Marsh and the Moon (CD, Chesky WO144), I greatly enjoyed the timbres, sonorities, and resonances of Sisi Chen's Chinese dulcimer and Tao Chen's bamboo flute.

Dynamics were reproduced with incredible speed and an unusually wide range. The otherwise transparent and speedy Mark Levinson ML-2 monoblocks (50W RMS into 4 ohms) began to clip, so I switched to the more powerful Mark Levinson No.334 stereo amp (250Wpc RMS into 4 ohms) to get a better sense of the 520i's dynamic capabilities. Eva Cassidy, singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on Live at Blues Alley (CD, Blixstreet G2-10046), never sounded so good. The BG 520i conveyed the stunning dynamic range of her voice without ever overloading, honking, or running out of steam. I was also transfixed by the shimmer, sheen, timbre, and reediness of the reverberating chimes and the bassoon that open Owen Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana, on Fiesta (CD, Reference RR-38CD). However, the Revel Sub 30 was needed to hear the drama and power of the bass drum that opens this piece.

The subwoofer also enabled the Radias to span the dynamic range between drummer Mark Walker's tiny cymbal taps and the room-shaking kick-drum beats on "Nardis," from Patricia Barber's Café Blue (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 21810 2). Similarly, the Radias resolved the tangled but powerful syncopations underlying Brady Blade's explosive drum solo on "The Maker," from Emmylou Harris' Spyboy (CD, Eminent EM-25001-2). This live performance was resolved with stunning detail by the 520i: Harris' burned-out voice, the crowd noise and catcalls, Buddy Miller's lead electric 12-string and mando guitar, Blade's tight work on snare, bass pedals, and tom-toms. The Sub 30 also allowed me to enjoy deep organ-pedal passages with the Radias, particularly those in "Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace" and "A Gaelic Blessing," from John Rutter's Requiem (CD, Reference RR-57CD).

The culmination of my listening experiences with the BG 520i was its dead-on portrayal of the complex orchestral timbres, instrumental placement, syncopated rhythms, driving pace, and wide dynamic range of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, performed by Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Symphony (CD, Reference RR-70). The 520i fully captured the eerie bassoon solo, played in an unusually high register, that opens the work. I heard and sensed the ballet's driving rhythms, magnified by the offbeat accents and the complex asymmetry of soft trumpets answered by cello pulses in the "Convocation of the Ancestors," where the roll of timpani is reinforced by the huge beat of a bass drum. The frenzy mounted further in the "Sacrificial Dance," where the speaker's superfast recovery allowed it to reproduce the sound of the musicians turning pages between timpani strokes! I found myself closing my eyes and tumbling into the music, so overpowering and involving was the experience.

The Bohlender-Graebener Corp. has achieved its goal of designing and manufacturing a tall, slim line-source loudspeaker with a small footprint that can compete with more expensive audiophile designs. The Radia 520i is faster, more dynamic, and better at imaging and involving the listener in the drama of music than it has a right to be at its price of $3998.

But doesn't it need a subwoofer to realize its full potential? While that's true, you might not miss a subwoofer if your musical tastes run more to singers than to pipe organs—I thought Eva Cassidy and Emmylou Harris sounded better when the Revel Sub 30 subwoofer wasn't playing. Many potential owners could start with the Radia 520is alone, then add a subwoofer if needed.

I was surprised to discover that the 520i put out enough bass for a range of different types of music. However, it couldn't repeal the laws of physics. When the music's bass demands increased, the 520i's woofers could strain and distort. Most often, the Radias provided clean, nonfatiguing sound, superb soundstaging that placed the instruments and voices with rock-solid stability, a wide dynamic range, and overall transparency. Add to all that its high build quality, moderate price, and ability to capture small musical details and instrumental timbres, and the Radia 520i earned my respect.

At $4000/pair, this loudspeaker is the best high-end value I've encountered in a long time, and its quality grew even more over the time I spent with it. Bohlender-Graebener Corp.'s Radia 520i gets my strongest recommendation.

1780 Forrest Way
Carson City, NV 89706
(888) 875-2627