Burmester Audiosystems B99 loudspeaker Page 3

Bells, chimes, and triangles shimmered with cascades of clearly defined harmonics. Don Dorsey's "Ascent," from Telarc's Time Warp, played with a mixture of dense bass pulses and chimes that were sweet, translucent, and clean. The leading edges of transients were razor-sharp without being irritating. Dorsey's synthesizer exploded out of black silence with a stream of pulses, beeps, bell-like sounds, and high-pitched squeaks that moved back and forth across the soundstage. The piece's end—an explosive shot followed immediately by sullen, massive rumbling—was full of angst and foreboding.

The Burmester B99's retrieval of ambience was outrageously good. "The Mooche" had ambience in spades—the B99s re-created a dark, somber, distant, sonic landscape. The kick drum took on an oppressive, solid heft, the trumpet and trombone solos blossomed into a stunning, lucid sound full of the biting "brassy blattiness" so admired by Stereophile reviewers.

Another ensemble, this one from Senegal, was vividly reproduced when I played Orchestre Baobab's Pirates Choice (World Circuit/Nonesuch 79643-2). I was transported by the B99s to a steamy Dakar nightclub where time stood still. Released on cassette in 1982, this studio recording has achieved legendary status among those who treasure West African music. Creating a fusion of Cuban rhythms and African folk melodies, Baobab's eight musicians "take the listener to another time, back to a magical studio session," where one floats on "soothing, spellbinding, relaxed rhythmic grooves," according to the liner notes. The B99s' imaging on "Werente Serigne" placed the percussion on the left, a droning blend of singers on the right, with the main singer and a syncopated tenor sax in the center. "Soldadi," a song from the Cassanance region of Senegal, was sensuous and hypnotic, alternating a vocalist with a woeful tenor sax in the center of the stage.

The B99s created a vivid sense of the recording venue. This was evident listening to the L.A. Four's Going Home (Ai Music 3 2JD 10043). The instruments were spread before me in a large arc: Laurindo Almeida's guitar to the left, Ray Brown's standup bass at center, Bud Shank's alto sax and flute to the right, and Shelly Manne's drum kit at center rear. The B99s totally "disappeared," leaving the sonic holograms of four musicians on a virtual soundstage.

Vocal solos blossomed with ambience, imaging, and the rich timbres of the human voice. Listening to "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" from Strike a Deep Chord: Blues Guitars for the Homeless (Justice JR003-01), I could easily discern the virtual images of the two singers—Dr. John and Odetta—singing alternate choruses. On "Lord, Make me an Instrument of Thy Peace," from Requiem (Reference RR-57CD), the layered-in-space voices of the Turtle Creek Men's Chorus and the pipe-organ accompaniment gave me the sense of a huge performance hall. José Carreras' clear tenor voice had a liquidity and immediacy that were uncanny as he sang the "Kyria" from Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla (Philips 420 955-2). When I heard Harry Connick, Jr.'s performance of "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," from the When Harry Met Sally... soundtrack (Columbia CK 45319), I was struck by the natural vocal timbre with no sign of honk. The B99s also rendered the most natural, spacious acoustic of Robert Silverman playing Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata (Orpheum Masters KSP830) that I have ever heard.

The B99s maintained their liquid midrange and extended highs up to moderate volume levels. Yet I had to be careful to keep the Bryston 14B-ST's clipping indicators from flashing. When they did, the soundstage flattened and narrowed, as heard during the explosive opening timbales solo on "Tito," from Arturo Sandoval's Hothouse (N2K 10023). In this respect, the Burmesters lacked the Revel Salons' resistance to high-level compression. I also detected loss of three-dimensionality and microdynamics at top volumes during the drum solo that ends "Like LT," from Patricia Barber's Companion (Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2), and the over-the-top percussion solo at the end of "The Maker," from Emmylou Harris' Spyboy (Eminence EM 25001-2). But this is a silly criticism—the B99s never distorted, a major feat when my SPL meter was registering peaks of 105dB at my listening chair. The B99 was designed to be a home loudspeaker, not a disco monitor.

The Burmester Audiosystems B99 blew my socks off. My listening notes read like an audiophile's anthem: lucidity, transparency, ambience retrieval, jewel-like build quality, the capacity to "disappear," superb imaging, great timbral detailing. These babies were more transparent than any speaker in recent memory. Their soundstage, three-dimensionality, and big sweet spot increased my pleasure and prolonged the review. I was sad to see them start on their long journey back to Berlin.

Yet there were a few things I didn't love. Talk about sticker shock! $47,000/pair exceeds the MSRP of a new Porsche Boxster. I'm sure Burmester sells every B99 it builds, but spending this much for a speaker that won't be as tall as many of its owners won't wash in most households. For this price, I'd want more tautness in the bottom octave, as I've heard from the Snell XA Tower References, and a bit more resistance to high-level compression when I really want to get down.

And no matter how I tried, I couldn't learn to love the location of the speaker posts. I didn't want to wait for help in changing speaker cables during my auditioning, but reason always intervened—as much as I loved the B99's transparency, I didn't want to be flattened under it.

Still, that seductive transparency brought back memories I hadn't experienced for a long time. I never knew it was possible to capture the lucidity and transparency of a Quad 57 in a pair of dynamic speakers that could handle the full output of a Bryston 14B-ST and still image like bandits. My hat's off to you, Dieter Burmester—you've created an object of sheer beauty, both to listen to and to gaze at.

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