Calix Phoenix Grand Signature loudspeaker Page 3

To the extent that the Calix had a weakness, it is one endemic to speakers with large bass drivers in ported enclosures: to get the deepest, best-defined bass, it's necessary to drive such a speaker with an amplifier that can control that big woofer, and that will most often mean solid-state or hybrid power, especially if big orchestral music or rock is your meat. With the Classé CAM-350, Lamm M2.1, and Plinius SA-102 power amps, the PGS' bass was taut, tuneful, and deep; the exceptional bass capability and control of the Plinius was perhaps the best match, giving a profound, superbly controlled lowest two octaves.

The Calix delivered the full wallop of the synthesizer bass on Peter Kruder's "Marakesh," from Peace Orchestra (CD, G-Stone G-CD 004). Everything from pipe organs to orchestral bass drums had the kind of weight and depth to be expected from a statement-level speaker. If I listened with intense concentration to music with lots of energy in the 50-80Hz range, I could hear that the integration of subwoofer and mid-woofer was not quite perfect, though it was very, very good—to hear the problem, I had to consciously listen for it. But it didn't interfere one bit with the musical essence.

Image sizes were consistently lifelike and wholly convincing in all three dimensions. While no listening room, no matter what the speaker, electronics, and software, permits the re-creation of a symphony orchestra's literal size, the Calixes did as fine a job as the laws of physics and acoustics will allow. Orchestral music had exceptionally convincing scale and body. With small ensembles, the Calixes' performance was magnificent. When I listened to Brahms' Clarinet Quintet (LP, Angel 536280—one of the few truly great Angels), five life-size players sat just 10' from me. The players making this creamy, autumnally beautiful music were rendered vividly three-dimensional. And when I turned the lights off and closed my eyes, clarinetist Gervaise DePeyer and the Melos Ensemble were, for all intents and purposes, every bit as present as the chair I sat in.

The solidity of the instrumental and vocal images projected by the Calixes was also quite extraordinary. Holographic imaging was no problem at all—they placed fully formed instruments and voices with a rooted density. Singers had bodies, and each instrumental voice had a source behind it—reed, string, skin, wooden body.

The big Calix was also exceedingly revealing, unveiling with exceptional precision the particulars of the sonic signatures of each amplifier I used with it. The Classé CAM-350's boundless power and gently cool, slightly distant presentation contrasted sharply with the mellow intimacy of the Manley 250 Neo-Classics in triode mode; the Plinius SA-102's pile-driving but perfectly integrated bass and remarkable resolution were as obvious as the Lamm M2.1's tingly palpability and quintessential soulfulness. Each was shown to be exactly what it was; no strengths were shortchanged, and no failings either—though, to be sure, very few of the latter are to be found in this group of amps. Sources, cables, and preamplifiers were presented with exactly the same degree of telltale insight into their individual sonic characters.

Like Jehovah's favorite choir...
The Calix Phoenix Grand Signature played deep enough, clean enough, and dynamically enough to scare any cat or non-audiophile family member out of the house for weeks—any speaker costing $67,500/pair had darned well better. But it was clear to me that that was not why the PGS was created, or what made it compelling to the point of bewitching.

Ultimately, the PGS is more about grace and emotional communication than raw power. The words that turned up most often in my listening notes were not "power" and "scale," though those appeared frequently enough. My most-used descriptors for the PGS were "graceful," "gentle," "enlightening," and "musical." Like Scheherazade, the PGS doesn't bowl the listener over with sheer force to the exclusion of all else, but gently seduces him with the stories it allows recordings to tell.

Tonal sweetness is one thing, and an easy one to engineer into a component by playing tricks with the upper mids and lower treble. The PGS had an honest tonal sweetness, with no artificial sugariness on such music as Delius's or on any sort of voice. But it had something more: a completely self-effacing attitudinal sweetness. Excuse the apparent oxymoron, but the PGS is a very modest super-speaker. It seemed to serve nothing more than the music it played, calling as little attention to itself as possible. It had, in the words of singer-poet Gilli Smyth, "the isness of is." While I sometimes wondered if the sound of the PGS was prettier than life, the unflinching eye it cast on even the smallest changes in my system proved that it was not.

Is the Calix Phoenix Grand Signature worth $67,500/pair? Can any audio component justify such a price, however limited its production and costly its handcrafting? As Robert Preston asked in the Blake Edwards film S.O.B., "Is Batman a transvestite? Who knows?" But were I to win the lottery, I would place the Calix Phoenix at the very top of the short list of speakers on which I'd consider spending my booty. Among statement speakers, it offers a unique combination of gorgeous appearance, exquisite musicality, and a measure of finesse and unadulterated friendliness uncommon to the breed. Not the first choice, perhaps, for those seeking to blow away the neighborhood and impress with sheer size—if you want that, buy a Hummer. But if you know and love the true sound of music, not hi-fi, and have deep pockets, the Phoenix Grand Signature is a must-hear. Like the Lamm M2.1 power amplifiers, the Calixes not only bring the sound back home, they bring the spirit and humanity of music along, too.

Hats off to you, Messrs. Araki, Lee, and Sun, for an almighty tough job done superbly. A stunning accomplishment.

US distributor: Audio Solutions
6371 N. Guildford Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46220
(317) 255-4434