EgglestonWorks Andra loudspeaker Page 4

You might be tempted to assume that the speaker got hard at high volumes, but a rock recording, such as Warren Haynes' searing cover of "I've Been Loving You Too Long" from The Memphis Horns (Telarc CD-83344), simply has to be played louder to sound real. But outside of that envelope of loudness that might be considered accurate, this recording too lost life if played too softly; or ease, if played really offensively loudly.

However, when I matched the output to a believable re-creation of the original event, I could begin to appreciate the results of Eggleston's midrange obsession. To quote Goldilocks, it was "juuuuust right." Acoustic instruments such as Coria's guitar, Rostropovich's cello (Bach's Cello Suites, EMI ZDCB 55370 2), or John Coltrane's tenor sax (Lush Life, DCC GZS-1108) were reproduced with an immediacy and coherence that I've seldom heard from any speaker. Could this have been because almost all of an instrument's range was being reproduced by the same driver? I don't know for sure, but how could it have hurt?

If you love piano, you simply have to hear your favorite keyboard discs on the Andra. This shouldn't have surprised me—once again, Bill Eggleston's father was responsible. "My father always said you had to use the sound of the piano as the final arbiter of tonal accuracy. He was a really good pianist, and I play some too, but we always had a lot of piano music in our house, and that's what I use to evaluate a speaker."

When Duke Ellington's alter-ego, close friend, and lifelong collaborator Billy Strayhorn died in 1967, Ellington paid tribute to their friendship with the album And His Mother Called Him Bill (French RCA NL 89166, LP). Closing the album, Ellington played "Lotus Blossom" as a piano solo. "Lotus Blossom" is a waltz, here played with elegant sorrow, but lifted also by that sense of grace always present in first-tier Ellington. The piano sound is muted, but rich, vibrant, and large as life. I've heard this song hundreds of times—through the Andras, it was my first time all over again.

If you value bass heft and swing, these speakers will seduce you with their rump-thump. When an orchestral bass section really dug in, as the NYP's does in the final movement of Mahler's Third under Bernstein (DG 427 328-2), it had an impact and organic solidity that very few speakers I've heard can match. In fact, after years of listening to the disc, I heard something I've never noticed on it before:

I used to attend Avery Fisher Hall regularly, the way a sports fan supports the home team. (I think of the Mehta years as a long slump—I'd go mostly in the hopes that my team wasn't going to embarrass themselves.) In Fisher, you can hear the stage floorboards flex in a deep moan that you'd feel more than hear. I was never able to predict when it would happen, but some nights it could startle you out of your chair, while other nights you'd never hear it at all. It happens during the Ruhevoll near the end of the disc, and it transported me back to New York most evocatively.

The Andra's Esotar tweeter was no slouch when it came to producing strong, pure highs either, as Phil Smith's posthorn solo clearly revealed in the Mahler. It was so filled with atmosphere, so bright and clean, that it almost belied the force with which it punched through the orchestral texture.

No love to a father's
But it would be wrong to dismiss the Andra as the latest contender in the accuracy-at-any-price sweepstakes. As uncolored as it sounds, that wasn't the only trump it had to play. The speaker was incredibly sensitive to dynamic nuance as well. Its sensitivity to tonal shading and color was matched by its ability to re-create even the most subtle variations in loudness. We usually think of dynamic change as manifesting itself sequentially, as in crescendos or diminuendos. In fact, it goes on constantly, as in the balance between the notes in a chord, or of instruments and voices in combination. The Andra clearly revealed the constant balance being achieved during, or rather that went into creating, the musical flow. This was revelatory in a very different way from the usual "analytic" accuracy that garners most of our attention, and it went a long way toward putting flesh and blood onto the skeleton of the score.

Perhaps it also accounts for what I consider to be the speaker's greatest strength: its ability to make me experience music as communication of complex emotional information. Let's face it, we hear music as tones in time, but that's not why we love music. We love music because it connects us to a place within ourselves where we know beyond knowing, where we experience things directly that we cannot otherwise experience. It is the communication of one soul directly to another—to many others—and it releases us from the tyranny of conscious thought. Yet we discuss music reproduction as though all of that is reducible to frequency response and crossover points.

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