Hansen Audio Prince V2 loudspeaker Page 2

The Princes did a superb job of balancing Copland's Steinway and Abercrombie's electric squonk (the guitarist is old-school when it comes to effects— between soundcheck and gig, he'd spent a solid hour resurrecting an ancient Mike Matthews chorus stomp box). The Princes balanced that electric crunch and the piano's crisp, round transient attack. Add Hart's fundamental clatter and roar, and I was right back at that October night in Santa Fe.

But while the Princes were superb at rendering the sound of instruments in space, they were even better at getting to the music's white-hot emotional truth. On Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "The Old Rugged Cross," from Does Your House Have Lions? (CD, Rhino R2 71406), the Princes took me along on Kirk's ruminations about the crosses we daily bear to a wailing, ecstatic, foot-stomping gospel squawk of full-blown ecstasy. I doubt I've ever heard any other speaker get Kirk's leap from the root of the tonic to dancing right on the edge of the sublime to the same extent that the Hansens did. Is that something that can be measured? I wonder.

I had a similar experience listening to Eric Dolphy's "Hi-Fly," from Live in Europe, Vol.1 (CD, Original Jazz Classics 4132). Essentially a duet between acoustic bass and flute, "Hi-Fly" never seemed to come from the Princes themselves. Instead, the bass inhabited my listening room with regal heft and low-end authority, while Dolphy's alto sax soared like silver birdsong, taking flight on levels both sonic and melodic. Dolphy's statement that, once you've played a note, it's gone, was never more forcefully refuted than by the Princes. For the 13:49 duration of "Hi-Fly," Dolphy once again lived.

Then there's the immense soundscape created by certain albums—for instance, Jack DeJohnette's Oneness (CD, ECM 1637). On "Jack In," percussionist Don Alias and DeJohnette lay out a backdrop of drums that stretches from one end of the horizon to the other. Pianist Michael Caine and electric guitarist Jerome Harris splash tonebursts of color against that backdrop—it's not a natural soundscape, but for drama and sheer impact, it's hard to beat. The Hansens let the magic happen.

Princes are venison in heaven
I compared the Hansen Prince V2 with Wilson Audio Specialties' WATT/Puppy 8 ($27,900/system) for a variety of reasons. To many, the WATT/Puppy personifies the small-scale high-end loudspeaker, and the Wilson line is widely distributed; most audiophiles who've cared to have already become familiar with the sound of these popular monitors. The Hansens cost about 30% more than the Wilsons, so that should be taken into consideration.

Like the Hansens, the Wilsons fill large rooms despite a small footprint. Indeed, in terms of large-scale orchestral impact, the WATT/Puppy ranks among the best of the breed. Through the W/Ps, Bettina Wild and Aleksandar Madzar's recording of Erwin Schulhoff's Double Concerto for Flute and Piano (with Andreas Delfs and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie; CD, Decca/ArkivCD 444 819-2) creates a wide soundstage that just bristles with orchestral color, spiked through with the fierce timbres of flute and piano and laid out within the sustaining acoustic of a large concert hall.

Equally dynamic but less tonally forward, the Princes presented the large ensemble a shade less forcefully, and the overall ensemble sound was a touch smaller—although the sense of the ensemble within the large acoustic was very palpably there.

Three months ago, I had never heard this disc, which is part of Decca's Entartete Musik series from the mid-1990s, so I can't speak as to which presentation is "correct." If pressed, however, I'd probably choose the Hansens for nailing the sound of a large, but not huge, ensemble so solidly within the hall's acoustic.

Simone Dinnerstein's recording of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations (CD, Telarc CD-80692) has lately been getting a lot of play chez Wes—almost as much for the sonic brilliance of the sound of its 1903 Hamburg Steinway as for Dinnerstein's aggressively breakneck romp through the variations following her leisurely treatment of the Aria. The WATT/Puppys gave the Steinway a big, clattering character—the instrument was a veritable cannon firing salvos of notes into the rear of the room. Boom-boom. The Princes were again a tad less brash, the piano seeming more tailored to the hall (the auditorium at the Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City). Call it extremely precise small-arms fire. Rat-a-tat-tat-tat.

The alternate take of Wayne Shorter's "Pinocchio" on the remastering of Miles Davis' Nefertiti (CD, Columbia 467089) is one of those tracks that unfurls as it progresses, more or less pointing the way to the even longer form of Davis's In a Silent Way. Davis, Shorter, and pianist Herbie Hancock splash languid tonal colors against the skittering rhythms of bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Wilson. The WATT/Puppys accentuated this drama, which I found exciting. However, the Hansen Prince V2s emphasized the track's sustained narrative in a way that I found more convincing. Forced to choose, I'd say the Hansens gave me more of the music's flow, the Wilsons more of its moment-to-moment drama. Both approaches have their adherents, but I found the Hansens more musically credible.

With truly large orchestral forces, such as on Mountain Music—a collection of three symphonies (2, 50, 66) and a tone poem, Storm on Mount Wildcat, all four works by Alan Hovhaness, dedicated to various peaks, and performed by Gerard Schwarz and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (SACD, Telarc SACD-60604)—the WATT/Puppys moved more air than the Hansens. The Wilsons get that approaching-the-acoustic-limits-of-the-room thing much more right than did the Hansens, which seemed a tad restrained. That won't be a shortcoming for some, though I do enjoy cranking it up to "11" every now and then.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how wonderfully the Hansens handled voices of all sorts—if you value singing, the Prince V2 is a truly special speaker. Any kind of singing, from Alison Krauss and Robert Plant's Raising Sand (CD, Rounder 9075), to Anne Sofie von Otter's Terezín/Theresienstadt (CD, Deutsche Grammophon 4776546), to the Clovers' "Devil or Angel," from The Doo-Wop Box (CD, Rhino R2 71463). The Princes gave singers body without loading their voices up with too much physicality. Voices floated free—and soared. Take your favorite vocal performance and listen to it on the Princes, but be careful. Everything else may then suck hind tit.

Princes and asses must always be urged
"Hansen Audio Speakers are meticulously hand built in Canada," it proclaims on Hansen's website. Hand-built? I'm not sure that any $39,000/pair loudspeaker is "mass-produced." When you get to that level, no matter how mechanized your assembly line, I suspect you're still hand-building speakers.

Even so, from the hand-assembly of the drivers to the individual casting of suspensions to the building up, layer by layer, of its cabinets, Hansen Audio's Prince V2 seems a bit more hand-built than most. Lars Hansen would say—has said—that he's not interested in building loudspeakers any other way than his.

Is that a reasonable way to run a business? It depends on what you want to accomplish. Hansen's goal appears to be to make an unreasonably fine loudspeaker—one he's proud to put his name on. I'd say, "Mission accomplished."

Hansen Audio, Inc.
100 Leek Crescent, Unit 9
Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 3E6
(905) 731-8434