Vienna Acoustics Mahler loudspeaker Page 4

Natural-sounding reproduction of voices has high priority for me, and this happened to be one of the Mahler's strong suits. A recording I've been playing a lot lately is A Christmas Survival Guide (Car-Jam 2die4 99032, available from Car-Jam), a collection of Christmas songs—some traditional, some sharply satirical—tied together with a mock self-help narrative. The performers include some of Broadway's best, including Christiane Noll, Marin Mazzie, Alice Ripley, and Emily Skinner. Listening to the CD through the Mahlers, I had a strong sense that I was hearing a good facsimile of what these singers sound like live, the distinctive quality of each voice preserved with a minimum of added mechanical resonances.

As chronicled in "Setup," optimization of the Mahler's bass response in my listening room was a difficult task, and I was able to only reduce, not eliminate, a peak in the 50Hz region. I suspect that the problem was mostly—perhaps entirely—a function of the speaker exciting standing waves that are a room characteristic; John Atkinson's measurements should shed light on the extent to which the peak represents the behavior of the speaker rather than the room. Subjectively, the bass peak was generally not intrusive, and sometimes lent a welcome sense of richness to the sound. But occasionally—with string bass or bass guitar recorded in a spotlit manner—the bass could get thumpy and not ideally tight. My listening room is on the small side; the Mahler would be a better match with a larger room in which the speakers could be placed farther from the side and back walls and still retain a wide soundstage. But even in my non-optimal room, the extension and power of the Mahler's bass was most impressive, reaching the low 20s with the sort of authority that is normally the domain of subwoofers and giant full-range speakers.

Vienna Acoustics' stated goals in designing the Mahler were to produce, in a reasonably compact enclosure, a no-compromise loudspeaker capable of reproducing music on a completely convincing scale, and able to transform the listening room and transport the listener. In my view, they have succeeded admirably in meeting these goals.

I have some remaining doubt about the smoothness of the Mahler's bass—a problem that may represent mostly, if not entirely, interaction with my listening room's acoustics—but in every other respect the performance of the Mahler is state-of-the-art. In addition to having all the characteristics that audiophiles want in a loudspeaker—neutral tonal balance, transparency, expansive soundstage, precise imaging, high dynamic capability—the Mahler has the propensity that's perhaps the most important for long-term satisfaction: the ability to sound "musical," and provide a rewarding listening experience with sources that vary widely in quality. The fact that the speaker is sufficiently compact to not dominate the visual environment is a welcome bonus.

The Mahler uses components of the highest quality, and its appearance is enhanced by a level of cabinet finish found only on very expensive furniture. I've been told that the costs of materials and labor are such that the Mahler's retail price represents a smaller-than-usual margin for the manufacturer and distributor, and I don't doubt it. Still, in my book, $10,000 is a lot of money for a pair of speakers—but for those who can afford it, the Mahler represents outstanding performance and value.

Vienna Acoustics
US distributor: Sumiko
2431 Fifth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 843-4500