Sonics Anima loudspeaker Page 2

Another example of this was John Atkinson's unreleased recording of Attention Screen performing live at Otto's Shrunken Head, a bar on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The recording isn't fancy—JA just set up an ORTF pair of DPA cardioid microphones and recorded direct to his PowerBook's hard drive at 24/88.2. He left the intervals between the songs intact, so there's lots of ambient crowd chatter and bar business going on throughout the recording. And between songs, someone received a cell-phone call—one of the sounds of the real world we're all too familiar with. JA gave me a copy of the downsampled CD he'd distributed to the bandmembers when I dropped by his house one afternoon to return a book, but almost as an afterthought, he burned me a 24/88.2 DVD-A as well. "Listen to the phone ring," he said, "then tell me what you heard."

On the CD, it sounds like a room full of people having fun—I hear the volume of the room, I can almost follow conversations, and I can definitely hear that dang phone ringing. On the DVD, however, when the phone rang I started slapping my pockets, jumping to answer my phone. It's alive!

Of course, I heard that effect with a variety of loudspeakers. The resolution is inherent in the recording, but some speakers deliver it with greater fidelity than others, and the Anima was among the best at doing this—right up there with the Wilson WATT/Puppy 8.

Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (Stereophile STPH018-2), although merely a CD, clearly showed another of the Anima's strengths: that little sucker really packed a wallop. It delivered the energy and dynamic impact of the band with a vengeance.

The Anima sports only a 6" woofer, and Joachim Gerhard can't rewrite the laws of physics, so this little speaker didn't go exceedingly deep. But what it reproduced, it reproduced with dynamic articulation, to borrow Robert Reina's turn of phrase. I'd say it started to roll off seriously around 60Hz, but it was still generating useful information at 40Hz. What it did reproduce sounded true to the source, without excess warmth or any kind of puddingy bottom to warm up the sound. The lack of deep bass meant that the Anima's tonal balance emphasized clarity rather than bloom. Because the speaker was so well tempered from bottom to top, I felt as though I were hearing quite deep into the performances.

Listening to Tierney Sutton's On the Other Side (SACD, Telarc SACD-63650), I even had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't hearing deep bass. The heft of Ray Brinker's bass drum tolling in "Get Happy" was suitably ominous—and I could swear I heard the skin actually sigh as each drumbeat decayed into silence. Then Sutton's voice comes sliding in, her wordless wail seeming more moan than song, until she begins the verse: "Forget your troubles..."

It's pure theater: The tolling drum, the skittering bass, the dirge-like vocal are all calculated to make you question the very idea of happiness. Like all high-concept theater, Sutton's On the Other Side relies on its execution to succeed, and the Anima delivered all the drama and atmosphere it needed. I was immersed in that disc's very real sonic reality.

Sutton's voice is a marvel, and the Anima made me want to paw through my pile for all kinds of other amazing singers. When Jack Sheldon's trumpet enters during Sutton's cover of "You Are My Sunshine," the clarity and sheen of his tone made me want to pull out my favorite Miles Davis and Freddy Hubbard discs. The bass-and-drum interplay that begins "Sometimes I'm Happy" had me contemplating pulling out Richard Davis and Elvin Jones' "Summertime." But in the end I just sat there hypnotized, like a dog sitting equidistant between two pork chops. As tantalizing as all those possibilities were, I was so happy inhabiting the sonic world in which I already found myself.

Whew—that was close. I almost trotted out that old audio trope: I stayed up all night rediscovering old favorites. There are different versions of that old saw, though. Sometime, ISUANROF because a loudspeaker has allowed me to hear things I never heard before—deep-bass notes, for instance, or details buried deep in the mix. That's fun, but ultimately it's a gimmick. Sooner or later, I'll have heard all those things I've never heard on my OFs—and then what? With the Anima, I just wanted to SUANROF because I wanted to.

Never underestimate the value of enjoyment.

No rhymes, no magic
The $5200/pair Dynaudio Special Twenty-Five is exactly twice the Anima's price and nearly three times its size, but both are two-way, stand-mounted monitors, and the Special Twenty-Fives are my yardstick for that breed. Besides, I had a pair in the house.

The Dynaudios are actually a bit harder to place in a room than the Sonics. While the Anima benefited from careful placement, the Special Twenty-Five demands it—otherwise its top end sounds too forward, almost discontinuous from the rest of the spectrum.

On Lift, the Twenty-Five obviously had deeper bass, but the Anima matched it for clarity and sparkle. However, the Animas' seamless presentation was more impressively three-dimensional. It was deeper, denser, and more believable.

With both Attention Screen recordings, the Special Twenty-Fives fleshed out Chris Jones' bass with greater body, but the Animas hung right with 'em in the slam department, other than that bottom octave—and the Sonics' ability to deliver crisp transients and quicksilver dynamic changes preserved the band's sound of surprise. In my smaller listening room, the Twenty-Fives' ability to play louder and deeper was not as decisive a factor as it might have been in a larger room. Did I think the Special Twenty-Five came closer to the live sound of Attention Screen than the Anima? Sure. I always want to hear all of Chris Jones, but what the Anima did, it did right.

Oddly, the Animas owned the Tierney Sutton disc. Yes, the Special Twenty-Fives grabbed more bass goodness, perhaps even a bit more of the mix's room acoustic, but the Animas put me right there. I wasn't an observer, more like a passive participant. This kind of disappearing act is something small speakers do extremely well, of course—and the Special Twenty-Fives aren't exactly slouches at it, either. The Animas re-created Sutton's sonic universe with such solidity and believability that I could have built a house there.

Emotion, thought, and magic sound
Context is, as the old saw goes, everything. If you have a large room, revel in high-dB playback, or have an extensive collection of contrabass sarrusophone recordings, a small two-way monitor is probably not the tool for you. On the other hand, if you don't have to fill a large space and don't demand deep bass, then perhaps it is.

If so, you should check out the Sonics by Joachim Gerhard Anima. It is well sorted out, as my editor is wont to say. It is well engineered. It is well built. It gets out of the way of the music. It is a speaker that any engineer would be proud to put his name on.

Allen Perkins had it right all along. It is magical.

Sonics by Joachim Gerhard
US distributor: Immedia
1101 Eighth Street, Suite 210
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 559-2050