Impact Airfoil 5.2 loudspeaker system Page 3

The same was true in the depth dimension. Instruments at the rear of the stage—like the trumpet at the opening of the Martinon/LSO reading of Shostakovich's Symphony 1 (LP, RCA LSC-2322), or a timpani buried deep in the mix—were noticeably larger with the Airfoils, and more vividly portrayed than through other speakers. With the Airfoils, that trumpet seemed to emanate from a point well beyond my listening room's front wall.

All of this expansiveness came at a price paid by smaller-scaled works. Most recordings of smaller, more intimate performances—solo artists, jazz combos, string quartets—were somewhat larger than life. A friend stopped by one night to listen to a CD she'd just bought, Joni Mitchell's Hits (Reprise 46326-2). After a few songs, she turned to me. "This is really weird. Joni Mitchell's head is 4' tall."

Admittedly, many closely miked performances produce images that are larger than life, and Hits is an extreme example. Plus, as I'd just noticed at the 2002 WCES before writing these words, a lot of speakers produce too-large images. Nonetheless, the Airfoil's images were often unnaturally large, in proportion to the distances suggested by the ambience cues.

A second great strength of the Airfoils' performance in Las Vegas that carried over to my listening room was their incredible coherence. Spatially, there was a solidity and certainty to the continuousness of a given orchestra and recording space. Plus, there was a cut-from-the-same-cloth coherence to individual instruments and voices. Good examples of this coherence were provided by two solo recordings I used in my auditions: Dick Hyman's In Recital (CD, Reference Recordings RR-84CD) and Franz Helmerson's performance of solo cello works by Bach, Hindemith, and Crumb (LP, BIS LP-65). In both cases there was a seamless continuity to the instrumental image that made it feel more natural and made the performance incredibly captivating. More than one visitor commented on the natural way the Airfoils handled these recordings.

One component of the Airfoil's coherence was its freedom from any gross colorations or frequency-response anomalies across the midrange. Orchestras were well-balanced from top to bottom, and instruments that spanned a wide range of frequencies—Hyman's piano, for example—were tonally consistent throughout the midrange.

Regardless of tweaking or associated equipment, however, I never got the Airfoils to really sing at the frequency extremes. On top, they didn't sound as extended and airy as the ribbon tweeter of Magnepan's MG3.6/R, for example, and instruments seemed to soften near the very tops of their ranges. Triangles didn't cut cleanly through the air above an orchestra, and the cymbal on "What a Dif'rence a Day Made," from Ernestine Anderson's Never Make Your Move Too Soon (CD, Concord Jazz CCD-4147), had a nice ring but a lot less shimmer than it should. Also, the subtle circular motions of brush against cymbal were audible, but only as changes in pitch and level, not as clear, distinct motions.

On the bottom end, no amount of fiddling with the electronic crossover controls or subwoofer placement produced low bass of the sort I got with the Genesis 200s or Thiel CS7.2s. The fast bass runs on Fourplay's "Bali Run," from Fourplay (CD, Warner Bros. 26656-2), are one of my standard tests. The Airfoils did a good job, with decent articulation and pitch definition, but there weren't the power and precision that I've heard from speakers like the Thiels. However, my room's inherent ~100-120Hz boost seemed to be ameliorated a bit by the Airfoils, which may have contributed to my perception that the bass lacked a bit of power.

A consistent strength of the Airfoils was that music had a very natural, organic feel and flow. The presentation was always relaxed in the way that live music is, totally free from the sort of sparkle and pizzazz that can sound great in the showroom but can quickly lead to listener fatigue. I'm sure that their continuity and freedom from tonal anomalies was a major contributor. Another, perhaps, could be that the Bending Wave Drivers might have an inherent freedom from resonances—or produce resonances of a different sort than other speakers. Whatever the cause, the Airfoils were able to produce acoustic music with a wonderful, natural ease.

As captivating as that ease was, it didn't fall completely into the plus column. The Airfoils also had a slight liquid texture and a kind of soft-focus perspective on detail and dynamic transients. I struggled a bit with this, because a lot of speakers' razor-sharp details and pinpoint imaging aren't at all natural. And too often, what initially sound like explosive transients are really just artifacts of high-frequency ringing.

However, I'm convinced that the Airfoils did err slightly on the softer, warmer side of neutral. Spatial details were less distinct than they should be, and the sort of inner detail that identifies each instrument in an orchestra weren't as obvious as with other speakers. The LA Guitar Quartet's performance of Boccherini's Introduction and Fandango (CD, Delos DE 3144) usually paints a sharp, 3D portrait of the guitars. With the Airfoils, the picture just wasn't as sharp.

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