JMlab Utopia loudspeaker Page 3

The cross between the tweeter and the two midrange drivers was seamless and in no way boxy or discontinuous. The entire midrange was open, fast, startling, and immediate, always superbly natural and beautifully integrated with the highs. In fact, the midrange was everything one might imagine a quintessential French product might be: lustrous and deep, with shading and bloom.

The integration of the lower midrange with the upper bass was also very clean, transparent, and unruffled. And talk about power...sheesh. First off, understand, this is a bass-reflex design: the slot runs along the bottom of the woofer enclosure. (I was never aware of the port; nary a chuff or whoosh betrayed its presence.) The bottom end, as a whole, was also BIG and DYNAMIC! loaded up our 1200-square-foot loft to wall-flapping levels. After one memorable listening session, I was sure all the paintings and drawings hung on our walls had slightly shifted on their hooks. You know, everything was a bit askew.

But we're talking fast, rigid, lightweight sawndweech-technology woofers here. They were, in all ways, positively pistonic. I marveled at their room-energizing power and pitch-differentiated fecundity. There were, as well, a snap and timing that effortlessly defined the leading edge of the transient and the harmonic development that followed. But in spite of its eagerness and fullness in the bass, there were times when the leading edge—down in the lowest, stygian depths—lagged un peu petit peu behind the rest of the gang. More precisely, I could say the bass loses a frisson of the microdynamics available above, but only when playing at truly lease-busting levels. (Interestingly, transparency suffered not at all.) In general, the entire bass range was so solid, harmonically rich, differentiated, acoustic, and natural that, in the totality of the presentation, it worked perfectly to convey the power and majesty of music. Remember, you don't just listen to your speakers, you listen to your room as well. The coupling between the two defines your sound. (Time for a few Tube Traps chez 10, methinks.)

Over time, I found myself listening to the Utopias with my chair two to three inches closer than with the Avalon Radian HCs. Immersed in the nearfield sound, I always fell easily and completely into the music. Regarding the soundstage, the Utopias set out an intimate, finely detailed, and airy construct. It was a bit stage-forward in comparison to what I'm used to hearing, similar in nature to the Nagra PL-P's perspective. Width was quite good, and depth perception always proved natural and proportionate to the recording.

The Utopias were masters at fleshing out the performers in the soundstage. Given that, they didn't image in that breathtaking, sharply defined way of the Radian HCs or the OTL-driven Joseph Audio RM-50s. Rather, I experienced the performers within the soundstage as fully developed acoustic entities. The palpability factor was quite high; there was a strong sense of "body" to instruments and performers.

The presentation always sounded natural. What's natural, you ask? I'll tell you exactly: Carnegie Hall, First Tier, center box. Kathleen and I were recently invited to attend a concert from that very perch. (Our deepest thanks to Listener writer Mike Trei for the invite.) The sound was incredibly colorful, intense, and focused, but without much sense of sharp-edged definition in the audiophile sense. Don't get me wrong—the Utopias image beautifully, as of course they must do at this lofty price-point. But there's a Utopian gestalt, as it were, in which imaging is but one element of an overall fidelity to timbre and—incredibly important, I have come to see—the dynamics of live music.

Let's go to the videotape!
Let's try the second movement of the new Classic Records reissue of the Mercury Living Presence LP of Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole (SR90313), a piece of music I love dearly. The lush, romantic landscape the vdH Grasshopper IV Gold set up was completely irresistible. Notes: "It's all gracious splendor, poised, elegant, and poetic. The huge, transparent soundstage is juicy, dynamic, and utterly splendiferous. The bells in the third movement that presage the crescendo are delicate—ringing and shimmery—supremely buoyant on a sea of color and light. I don't think I've ever heard struck bells so pellucid and lifelike on our system. Talk about transcending the mechanics of playback!" Bells? Bells? Ah, mais oui—for within that purity of sound lies the story of my continuing devotion to thermionics and my great admiration for the Utopia's tweeter.

The overall detail and clarity were breathtaking. The thrilling tonality of the oboe drew me deeply into the music, even as the strings were a touch wiry, in the Mercury fashion. The sense of the hall within which these multiple sonorities existed was very strong, much supported by a huge, powerful, all-encompassing bass. Cranked to concert levels, the presentation hung together in a wonderful, lifelike, and above all dynamic way, especially when partnered with the powerful Wotans.

Let's turn to a CD called Shunyata by Kate Schrock (Kakelane CD-0297) (footnote 4). Consider it an addendum to my R2D4 recommendations in February: It's a fantastic recording, if a tad chaffy and digital on top. Just after we'd installed the Wotans, I noted: "Schrock's voice emanates from a resonating chest and head that's attached to all the naughty bits. Her acoustic presence is startling, the powerful acoustic bass roils my soul. There's an amazing sense of clarity, totally pristine yet liquid and musical."

At the end of "Call the Ghost," listen to the backing female chorus that rides the tune into the fadeout. Notes: "The vocals are incredibly sexy, velvety smooth, silky, and textured. Schrock is terrifically adept at harnessing classic rock rhythms in an updated and modern fashion. The lyrics are romantic, strong, and intelligent, her voice steeped in their meaning. It's the kind of album that makes me reach for the booklet, happy to find the lyrics within." This Gateway-mastered recording sounded fab on the BAT VK-D5, a player with one of the most developed digital midranges I've ever heard.

Footnote 4: Can't find it? Try Music Direct, (800) 449-8333.
Audio Plus Services
P.O. Box 3047
Plattsburgh, NY 12901
(800) 663-9352