Almost Forgetting

The sun was rising and the air was cool. Autumn had finally arrived. It would be a few more hours before the Mets game started. I sat down and began to listen.

The Aperion Intimus 532s were already in place, so I decided to start with them. They use a 1" ferrofluid-cooled silk dome tweeter and a 5.25" mineral-filled polypropylene midrange driver. The tweeter's ferrofluid cooling is meant to provide a smooth response with a natural, distortion-free sound, while the mid-woofer's mineral-filled polypropylene is said to offer resonance dampening and the ability to handle the demands of higher midrange frequencies. All of this, of course, is geared toward the recreation of lovely music. And have I mentioned how physically lovely the Aperions are? I know I have, but it's worth noting again. The cabinets are built of solid 1" thick high-density fiberboard and dressed in an attractive grain-matched cherry. The binding posts are the excellent 5-way gold-plated kind that I love the most. Altogether, these are some seriously sweet pieces of furniture, reminiscent of the $2000/pair DeVore Gibbon 3s. I don't know how the Aperions can sell for so little. They cost only $360/pair.

For no real good reason — maybe because it was Saturday morning and I had an unusual amount of time and energy — I messed around with speaker placement for awhile before sitting down and simply listening. I moved the speakers forward, closer to my listening position; I spread them further apart, closer to the side walls; I toed them in and out. I knew the speakers were properly placed when the music compelled me to close my eyes and dance in my seat. At this point, they stood pretty much in their original positions. So it goes. The system was sounding so damn good, I really didn't want to change a thing. I began dancing so wildly, I became afraid of re-injuring my still-delicate back.

I composed myself.

I listened for a bit longer, playing "A Bailar Mi Bomba" over and over again, easily, happily, without tiring of it one bit. The song is filled with so many wonderful percussive sounds and interesting little changes that I think I'll never fall out of love with it. Every beat, every vocal phrase, every aspect of this song — the horns, the flute, the guiro, the bongos, the piano, the electric guitar solo — is perfectly placed and purposefully played. It flat-out rocks, man. It freaking kills. I'll have to play it for you sometime.

I switched over to the PSB Alpha B1s, not expecting much of anything in particular — expecting, in fact, to hear much of the same. The unassuming PSBs have molded plastic front and rear baffles connected by a medium-density fiberboard sleeve, and combine a 5.25" polypropylene-cone woofer with a .75" ferrofluid-cooled, aluminum-dome tweeter. In size and shape, the PSBs are pretty darn similar to the Aperions, though I much prefer the Aperions' sweet cherry finish over the PSBs' rather pedestrian maple veneer, and the Aperions' fancy binding posts totally outclass the PSBs' plastic ones. The Aperions, in general, simply look and feel a lot more solid than the PSBs. This high-quality appearance goes a long way in terms of pride-of-ownership. The PSBs, however, cost a cool $279/pair, $80 less than the Aperions — not exactly an insignificant difference when comparing speakers at this price point, I think.

The difference in sound was subtle, but certain. To my surprise, I consistently preferred the full, rich, stable sound of the PSB Alpha B1s. Again, it's important to note that I conducted these comparisons using a single song, so the results are somewhat limited, but the PSBs seemed to have a better sense of space, placing the musician's solidly in my room. There was an assuredness to their presentation. Bass, piano, and percussion sounds were alive, free, and simply excellent. Vocals were smooth and true. Separation between instruments was well-defined, giving the illusion of a broad performance space — raising the ceiling, dropping the floor, expanding the room so that the music becomes more present. I'm exaggerating a bit, you know — the walls of my apartment stayed put — but you get the point, I hope. What happens is that the music is given priority over all else. I'm coerced into forgetting that I'm listening to a recording. In the song's intro, for instance, the horns make themselves plainly known, one at a time, jumping out from definite, clear-cut locations across the space between the speakers: left, center, left, center, all together, all together!

It's really cool.

And it's not just "really cool" in the gimmicky sense — some cheap trick that'll wear out after a short while. It's, I think, a closer, truer approximation of how the music is meant to sound. At 2:21, in the crazy bongo break, which you really need to hear because it's so damn awesome I almost can't stand it, the performance as played through the PSBs sounds just a bit more like human flesh against buffalo-skin heads. I can even hear Papo Clemente's deep breath, an exhale perfectly in-time with the beat — a small, but ultimately wonderful thing, and something I hadn't noticed through the Aperions.

Overall, there seemed to be a greater depth to the PSBs' presentation. And I don't mean "bass impact," exactly, though that was there, too. I'm talking depth, as in, like, profundity and wisdom and shit, if that makes any sense in terms of hi-fi gear. Of course, I think it makes perfect sense, otherwise I wouldn't have said it. There's a faithfulness to the music and to the performance that transcends the limitations of the recording, of the fact that it is a recording, in a way that allows me to forget I'm listening to a spinning silver disc. I'm less reminded of recording flaws and more reminded of a physical, human act. This might seem like a strange or insignificant thing, until you think about it.

And then, much later on, when you do think about it, it's almost enough to make you forget about the Mets' tragic loss.