Museatex Hybrid 6 loudspeaker Page 2

Massed strings fared no better. String tone on Chesky's reissue of the Beethoven Ninth with René Leibowitz (CD66) has been tonic to my ears through many a speaker. Here, massed strings were decimated, taking on an irritatingly threadbare texture. Nor did Midori's violin (on Midori Live at Carnegie Hall, Sony SK 46742) receive preferential treatment: The loss of overtone sheen and sweetness were quite apparent.

The upper registers of soprano voice consistently sounded somewhat coarse. Kathleen Battle's Baroque Duet album with Wynton Marsalis (Sony SK 46672) is a perfect example of what Sony's Super Bit Mapping process is all about: She ought to sound sweet, very sweet indeed. Instead, her entire upper range lacked the proper degree of "sunshine," sounding dull. Also, the harmonic purity of her upper registers was compromised. In the same vein, Marsalis's trumpet lacked adequate bite. In general, the treble lacked finesse and delicacy, transients being on the slow and sluggish side of reality, and at times not fully controlled.

And what happened to the upper bass and lower mids? This region was so deficient in energy that electric guitar sounded as if it were being played on another planet. Double-bass timbre was altered in a peculiar way: While the midbass was strong, there was so little upper body that the overall effect was to make this mighty instrument sound hollow. Cello sounded disembodied, and piano—track 10 of Stereophile's Test CD 1, for example—sounded, well, tonally peculiar. The Hybrid 6 failed this crucial test for midrange smoothness.

The Hybrid 6's small woofer had not led me to expect any deep bass, so at least in this respect I wasn't disappointed. The bass was extended to about 50Hz. However, whatever deep bass there was sounded overdamped. Playing the solo drum track on Stereophile's Test CD 2 elicited no sense of impact or power. The power range of the orchestra (as on Belshazzar's Feast, EMI SAN 324) failed to generate a convincing sense of bass foundation or a feeling of menace when the double-bass section kicked in en masse.

The final blow came in the area of dynamic shadings. The Hybrid 6 was reticent in fleshing out dynamic contrasts from soft to loud. Never mind pushing it hard from loud to very loud; it couldn't sustain the dynamic range of even intimate works. Whenever a large orchestra revved up, the Hybrid 6 was incapable of keeping up, drastically compressing the orchestra's dynamic range. That this also happened with small-scale works is much more significant. After all, small speakers will most often be called upon to reproduce small-scale works. In the end, the dramatic bite of the performance was dissipated to the point that I found it especially easy to disengage myself from the musical message.

The word came down from Museatex: Remove the grillecloth. "Why?" I asked Ed Meitner during the recent Stereophile High-End Hi-Fi Show. "Too thick," he replied.

The only quick way to remove the grillecloth is to cut it off. John Atkinson did the honors on one channel; the other was left to me. The surgery was painless and bloodless. The patient survived, although, without its "bikini," the Hybrid 6 lost much of its elegance.

This time around I used all Jadis electronics, with the Jadis JA-200 monoblock amps complementing the JP-80MC preamp. Except for the power amp, the rest of the chain was unchanged.

If by "too thick" Meitner meant that the grillecloth was muffling the upper registers, he was right. But the difference was small. It wasn't as if someone had pulled cotton balls out of my ears. Soundstage transparency improved a bit, but not enough to dispel the impression of being outside the hall looking in through a dirty window. Time and again, I was frustrated by being unable to get a decent feel for the hall. Ambient information was subdued to the point that Carnegie Hall sounded no different from your average studio acoustic. Because much of a hall's acoustic signature lies in the lower mids and upper bass region, it's quite likely that the Hybrid's tonal deficiency through this range is the major reason it failed to communicate a convincing impression of being there.

The coarseness and grain of the upper mids were in no way mitigated. Massed strings and soprano upper registers still lacked the smoothness of the real thing. If anything, some of the upper-octave resonances (which had apparently been damped by the grillecloth) were even more obvious now than before. Not even some of the finest tube gear money can buy could adequately soothe harmonic textures.

In short, removal of the grillecloth did little to change my overall sonic impression.

Final thoughts
Writing a negative review is not an easy matter. The temptation is to write it along the lines of the world's shortest movie, Bambi Meets Godzilla: Smash the critter and be done with it. Instead, I've tried to give you a blow-by-blow description of my listening impressions. It's also true that the negative ripples of such a review have a way of spilling over to other products in the line. Please note that I in no way intend these findings to be taken as an overall indictment of Museatex's RTRE technology. A couple of months ago, at a Colorado Springs dealership, I very briefly heard the Melior 2 (with a powered subwoofer) playing an Anita Baker album. My casual reaction was positive, the sound impressing me as being far superior to what I got out of the Hybrid 6. In truth, I find the RTRE approach to sound reproduction to be both exciting and full of promise. Thus, my reaction to the Hybrid 6 should not be taken out of context. It represents a new design, and from where I sit, one that isn't yet ready for the big time.

To loosely quote from the Wizard of Oz poster that hangs in my listening room: Music can take you anywhere—even over the rainbow. But you need the right vehicle. Unfortunately, the visually appealing Hybrid 6 isn't it: It doesn't come equipped with the necessary ruby slippers.—Dick Olsher

Just before going to press, we learned that, following the Canadian company's merger with a/d/s/ (see "Industry Update," April '93), Museatex was to discontinue all of its loudspeaker models, including the Hybrid 6, and relaunch a redesigned range under the a/d/s/ brandname. There might seem little point, therefore, in Stereophile publishing this review. However, I never abort a review once the final version—that has taken into account points raised by the manufacturer regarding sample-to-sample consistency and possible failures in the field—has been scheduled for publication. (In this case, for example, I delayed publishing this report for two months while DO and I investigated Museatex's claim that the Hybrid 6 samples we were testing had grillecloths that were too thick.)

Were I not to have such a policy, it would be all too easy for any manufacturer about to receive a negative review from Stereophile to abort publication of that review. All they would have to do would be to tell me, upon receiving the preprint of the review for their perusal and comment, that the product was a prototype that never went into production, or that the product has been withdrawn from the market.

In the first case, my policy is that we do not review prototypes; manufacturers are told that all samples received for review are assumed to be representative of production. In the second case, I assume that even if the product is no longer available, there is still a population of units in retailers' demonstration rooms, even if that population is small (as I understand it was in the case of the Hybrid 6).

I believe that Museatex's hearts are pure in this affair. Nevertheless, given the apparently early stage of their RTRE drive-unit's development, I feel it best to get our thoughts on this technology out there for public discussion.—John Atkinson

Museatex Audio Inc.
Calgary, Alberta T2B 1N5