Burmester Audiosystems B99 loudspeaker Page 2

The B99 comes in three standard finishes: elsberry/aluminum laminate, maple/aluminum, and silver/aluminum. The veneer panels can be changed, thus making it possible to alter the enclosure's color. The fit'n'finish of the cabinetry, hardware, and drivers is superb—as you should expect of a speaker costing $47,000/pair.

The pair of Burmester B99s, enclosed in their 6'-high cardboard and foam shipping cartons, arrived at my house by rental van. Udo Besser, then Burmester's marketing manager, was there to help me unload, move, and set them up for the review. He immediately discovered minor shipping damage to one speaker's wooden front panels, but as the damage was insubstantial, the moving operation continued. Each 220-lb speaker was carried into my front door, up a short flight of stairs, and into the listening room.

I positioned the B99s 42" from the back wall, 83" apart (measured from the tweeter centers), and 120" from my chair, with the side-mounted woofers facing each other. Toed-in slightly, the speakers focused on the nearfield listening position while facing down the full length of my narrow listening room. (The room is 26' long, 13' wide, and 12' high, with a semi-cathedral ceiling. The room's other end opens into a 25' by 15' kitchen through an 8' by 4' opening.)

Over the following weekend, I drove the B99s to listen for loose parts, unwanted resonances, or any other sign of shipping damage. I blasted pipe organ music, soprano arias, and rock, relying on my Krell FPB 600C power amplifier to reveal any weaknesses. None were evident. The only rattles I heard were from objects in the room that were set in motion by the music.

Rated at 90dB/2.83V/m, the Burmester B99 proved capable of 110dB sound-pressure levels (SPLs). Driven by 250Wpc Mark Levinson No.334 and 1200Wpc Krell FPB 600C stereo amplifiers, or by a Bryston 14B-ST 800W dual-mono amp—all rated for the B99's 4 ohm load—the Burmesters easily revealed the sonic signature of each amplifier. The Bryston had a smooth delivery with solid, well-defined bass response; the Krell generated the widest soundstage, along with an extended, transparent top end; and the Levinson produced a narrower sonic image, but with bass slam.

I drove the B99 with low-frequency warble tones from Test CD 2 (Stereophile STPH004-2) and measured SPLs at each frequency with a RadioShack sound-level meter resting on the arm of my listening chair. The B99's deep-bass output remained within ±2dB limits from 100Hz to 31.5Hz. Below that, it shelved down by -10dB at 25Hz. I was unable to detect any port chuffing during the warble tests.

Changing over to broadband pink noise, I found the tonality the same whether I sat back or leaned forward. This wasn't surprising—the height of the B99's ribbon tweeter, 36-41" above the floor, included my seated ear height of 37.5". However, the pink noise dulled as soon as I stood up, or when I moved around the room during the "sit down, stand up, walk around" test.

I was just finishing my May review of Snell's XA Tower Reference loudspeaker when the B99s arrived. Taller and slightly heavier, the XA Tower had a more neutral sonic presentation that made it difficult for me to describe its character. On the other hand, I immediately appreciated the B99's transparency and wide, deep soundstage. And the B99 remained fast, clean, undistorted, and uncompressed at SPLs approaching 106dB. So far, so good.

Despite its measured rolloff below 31Hz, the B99's bass was fast, taut, and powerful—until I damped my wall cabinets, its woofers set them buzzing. I both heard and sensed the deep synthesizer notes that punctuate "No Sign of Ghosts," from the Casper soundtrack (MCA MCAD-11240), and the ponderous thuds and ominous rumblings presaging the asteroid impact in "The End of Our Island," from the Dinosaur soundtrack (Walt Disney 50086 06727).

The B99 played with perfect pitch the 32Hz double-bass note that opens Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra (Time Warp, Telarc CD-80106), conveyed the power and weight of the final organ chords of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, Part 1 (Test CD 2), the soft but dense bass-drum beat on "Cosmos Old Friend" from the Sneakers soundtrack (Columbia CK 53146), and the subterranean synthesizer chords from "Assault on Ryan's House," from the Patriot Games soundtrack (RCA 66051-2). It also evoked Tony Soprano's desperation and anxiety with oppressive bass pulsations in "Woke Up This Morning," Chosen One Mix's main theme from the TV series The Sopranos (RCA 7464-2).

The B99 really rocked on pipe organ recordings. Pedal notes were delivered with dense pressure and room lock, as heard on the Allegro of Widor's Symphony 6, from the CD reissue of Marcel Dupré's Recital (Mercury Living Presence 434 311-2). "Gnomus," from Jean Guillou's organ transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (Dorian DOR-90117), was reproduced with a mix of the large organ's shuddering bass notes and delicacy from its pipes and trumpets. Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana, from Fiesta (Reference Recordings RR-38CD), opens with a mix of explosive bass-drum beats and shimmering, reverberating chimes, both superbly conveyed without compression by the B99s.

The Burmester's treble and upper midrange were thrilling, both in their seductive clarity and their ability to reproduce a recording's ambience. The seductiveness reminded me of Quad 57 electrostatic panels driven by Mark Levinson ML-2 monoblocks. Ever since I convinced a local audio store to loan them to me for a weekend, the Quad/ML 2 system has been my standard for midrange lucidity and transparency. The German ribbons were just as good, rendering the top register with plenty of air and a total absence of grain. Billy Drummond's Zildjian ride cymbal, which opens Duke Ellington's "The Mooche," from Rendezvous: Jerome Harris Quintet Plays Jazz (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), sounded more like the real thing than I've heard before.

Burmester Audiosystems
229 Arbor Road
Franklin Lakes, NJ 07417
(201) 848-7700