PBN Montana SP loudspeaker Page 2

The SP's crossover point is 2.7kHz, 18dB/octave on the top and 6dB/octave on the bottom. PBN crossover networks are available in either standard grade, with Kimber Kaps, or premium, with Hovland MusicCaps, which add $190 to the retail price. The review pair was fitted with the premium crossover.

PBN suggests 100 hours of break-in time before serious listening. This pair had only two hours on them, so I set them up face-to-face, wired out-of-phase, and broke them in at a moderate level with an NAD 7225PE receiver for 10 days before attempting any serious listening.

The Montanas are intended to stand away from the back wall at least 2½', and for good reason: they're ported in the rear, near the floor, and backing them up against a wall tremendously reinforces the bass response. That goes double if both loudspeakers are loading into the same vertical corner, as they will if placed on a 45 degrees diagonal near the walls, as the Dahlquists had been.

The bass was overwhelming with the speakers in this position, to such an extent that I spent many hours moving furniture, and experimenting with speaker placement and room treatments, until I got it balanced. Long story short: after trying the speakers along both the front and side walls, which rendered the room otherwise unusable, I returned to placing them on a diagonal, the difference being that the new diagonal is the hypotenuse of an approximately 30 degrees/60 degrees/90 degrees right triangle, rather than a 45 degrees/45 degrees/90 degrees. One speaker is closer to its back/side wall than the other one is by a few feet. This arrangement, with the futon softening the corner and the bass traps beside and behind the SPs, resulted in a sort of aperiodic taming of the huge 70Hz hump I measured when I first set them up.

Peter Noerbaek agreed that the Kimber 8TC is a cable that offers "a lot of bang for the buck," but insisted that I could squeeze a little more out of the SPs through bi-wiring with 4TC on top. Kimber Kable's Jack King kindly sent me enough of both types to allow experimentation. He also sent two pairs of Kimber's new "Silver Streak"—a braided interconnect with two copper ground wires woven around a silver signal conductor. As might be expected, the Silver Streak's performance is quick and detailed, but without a hint of edginess. Anyone hear me say musical? So musical, in fact, that after installing it I left in the system for the duration of the Montanas' visit. Thanks, Jack.

And what a delightful visit it was. The Montanas have an effortless midrange and transparent treble that begged me to haul out bushels of vocal recordings. Top of the batting order was the lovely Kiri Te Kanawa's Kiri on Broadway (London 440 280-2). The soprano superstar's got some serious pipes, but her opera fans may not know that the girl can also do a smoky contralto with the best of them, as she does on Nelson Riddle's lush arrangement of Cole Porter's "So In Love." Listening to this song through the SPs was like cruising along at 65 in a turbocharged sports car: even when she's holding back, you can feel her enormous power in reserve. Kiri's duets with José Carreras, in which they sing the parts of Maria and Tony from West Side Story, were delivered with full impact. " 'Tonight': fireworks," my simple notes read.

"One Hand, One Heart," which to me is as devout and moving as any of the great sacred or funerary works, was conveyed in all its lachrymose glory. Truly musical audio products don't draw attention to themselves, but instead offer up the soul of the music: right off the bat, I was more caught up in the emotional impact of the music than I was in the critical analysis of the loudspeaker's sonic characteristics. This was the first of many indications that I was dealing with a real high-end performer.

Next up: The King's Singers' Good Vibrations (RCA 60938-2). This a cappella group appeared clearly layered in an arc across the soundstage, which in my room was consistently deeper than it was wide. The separation of voices and the resolution of harmonic textures were revelations—the Singers' polite demeanor and proper diction were an odd contrast to the grittiness of Paul Simon's "The Boxer."

From the Divaphile's diva file I pulled Lesley Garrett's (what else?) Diva! A Soprano at the Movies (Silva America SSD 1007). On this disc Garrett does sweet justice to Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" and many other operatic faves, but the Montanas mercilessly exposed the recording as the overproduced "greatest hits" collection that it is. (What should I expect from a recording made at a place called The Hit Factory? Sigh) My old Dahlquists had been so...forgiving. My fondest guilty pleasure on this CD: Léo Delibes' haunting "Dome epais," a duet in which Miss Garrett sings both parts. There ain't nothin' natural about it—and there's no soundstage to speak of, as there usually isn't when the tracks are layered one-atop-the other like so many coats of paint—but the effect of a singer of Garrett's caliber interacting with herself is both fascinating and musically delightful. It's like watching a pas de deux performed by identical twins.

This led, quite "naturally," into rayon territory. Rayon? What's he babbling about now? I thought this was s'posed to be a dang speaker review. Explanation: Made from naturally occurring cellulose, rayon is a synthetic fabric with a sensuous texture. Therefore, recordings in which natural voices and instruments have been processed for pleasurable effect have a "rayon" quality: think Johnny Mathis's 16 Most Requested Songs or Annie Lennox's Medusa. An excellent example: k.d. lang and the reclines, with backing vocals by Take 6, covering the old Ruby & the Romantics hit "Our Day Will Come" on the Shag soundtrack (Sire 25800-2). The SPs gave themselves over completely to this great tune's compelling rhythm, sailing along like a trimaran in a stiff wind.

But on the same disc, the fi was too hi for me to enjoy LaVerne Baker and Ben E. King's remake of "I'm Leaving It All Up to You"; he's too distant and there's entirely too much echo, perhaps the result of a misguided effort to imitate the original's sonics—a so-so performance badly recorded. That's the high-end paradox: the better the playback gear, the more recorded flaws are exposed. It would be unfair to say such flaws are exaggerated by the SPs—they're simply there for all to hear: a very revealing loudspeaker exposes the bad as well as the good.

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