July 8, 2019 § Leave a comment
“The midrange of the Empyreans is truly exceptional. With a full and complete body weight, the midrange is emotive while also being balanced, detailed, and organic. As with the HiFiMAN Edition X, the Empyreans exhibit a tonally agreeable sound that has a touch of warmth, but with larger amounts of crispness, clarity, and texturing. It is nice to see how forgiving the Empyreans are, as they really are headphones that, combined with their comfort, can be listened to for hours on end. With the alcantara pads, the midrange does possess a wider soundstage and airier presence. This is contrast to the leather pad’s more solid and slightly closer midrange within the overall soundstage. While the HiFiMAN Susvara’s midrange does output greater detailing and decay, the Empyreans offer a subjectively more addictive and involving tuning. In London Grammar’s “Help,” Reid’s vocals are captivating and sonically immersive. Similarly, in “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, vocals are crisp and detailed without ever sounding clinical or devoid of engagement. Also impressive is how the Empyreans manage to portray detailed transients in the midst of a musically affable sound signature.”
June 30, 2019 § Leave a comment
“More to the point, some amplifiers that veer toward the warm and smooth side of the sonic continuum can produce boredom by softening transients, and sometimes by obscuring inner detail in a pleasant fog. The M1.1s never went there. You’d be sure of that if you’d been with me to hear them play Binaural Baroque, a direct-to-disc binaural recording by the Locrian Ensemble of London (Chasing the Dragon VALDC005). While binaural is best enjoyed via headphones, the presentation through my Wilson Audio Specialties Alexx loudspeakers, driven by the M1.1s, was vividly three-dimensional, especially the Vivaldi Guitar Concerto, which placed guitarist Morgan Szymanski solidly and convincingly in front of the ensemble.
Did the presentation on that Elgar recording, and on other exceptional-sounding, minimally miked recordings, lose a bit of hall reverberation and air, compared to what I was used to? Yes, slightly so—but other attractive sonic qualities were gained in the trade-off.
June 29, 2019 § Leave a comment
“Although many loudspeakers have very flat frequency response, the Eminence went a step further by combining tonal neutrality with a colorlessness that served as a blank canvas upon which instrumental timbre could be portrayed with sensational realism and vividness. The speaker didn’t impose its own tincture on tone colors that would have diluted their vibrance. Not only did instrumental and vocal timbres sound more “alive”; they were also differentiated from each other more clearly. The result was that each instrument in an ensemble was its own entity, more vividly present. It was like looking at a multi-hued photograph printed on pure white, rather than slightly grey, paper. This impression was heightened by a stunning sense of openness through the midrange and top octaves. There was a gossamer-like sense of the music existing independently of the speakers, unencumbered, and with the impression that a lid had been removed from the top octave.
The midrange had an electrostat-like directness and immediacy that were sensational. Brass and woodwinds were reproduced with an unfettered dynamic life and visceral presence. Trumpets had a full measure of high-frequency energy without sounding hard, brittle, or metallic. Freddie Hubbard’s instrument on his composition “Byrdlike” from the George Cables album Cables’ Vision was richly portrayed, with just the right balance of immediacy and liquidity. Piano was particularly well-served by the Eminence’s freedom from dynamic constraints, the purity and clarity of its midband, and its exquisite resolution of lower registers. I particularly enjoyed how the Eminence conveyed the way pianist Brad Mehldau’s left hand creates counterpoint with his right, weaving in melodic developments with equal facility in his right and left hands (and sometimes simultaneously) and in the process seemingly improvising an entirely new composition. The colorlessness of the midrange was apparent on vocals, rendering them with outstanding clarity. The Eminence’s reproduction of vocals was a bit understated spatially compared with many other speakers, presenting voices along the loudspeaker plane rather than projecting them forward. It was a more subtle and sophisticated perspective that tended to draw me in.”
June 5, 2019 § Leave a comment
“The BAT VK-56SE had a fine talent for pumping bass out of Harbeth’s M30.2s, but no one would mistake it for a solid-state amp. With the M30.2s, the VK-56SE’s midrange was exceedingly lush and overtly textured. But with Harbeth’s smaller P3ESR speakers it sounded distinctly not lush. Driving the mini-Harbeths, the BAT sounded more precisely focused, more like solid-state. Consequently, it made the P3ESRs “disappear” even more than they usually do. Björk’s Gling-Gló was depicted with a surprising, bright clarity and a breathy, wide-open effortlessness. The soundstage was big in every direction. Björk was now better described and easier to “see.” I noticed less electronic-ness in the space between her and her voice mike. In my room, the BAT amp sounded its absolute best with the little Harbeth P3ESRs. But . . .
When I removed the VK-56SE and connected the P3ESRs to First Watt’s astute, 25Wpc SIT-3 solid-state amplifier ($4000), which I reviewed in February 2019, I noticed, first, a slight loss in apparent woofer grip, which I perceived as a reduction in image contrast. Punch and drive were also reduced. However, these losses were accompanied by a radical increase in the density of small-scale information. The SIT-3 made trumpets, drums, guitars, and human voices sound more complex—more fully expressed, and microscopically textured. Both amplifiers sounded extremely good with the extremely good Harbeth P3ESRs, but I think I favored the BAT’s extra oomph and push.