There comes a moment in everyone’s hifi life, a defining moment, when they acquire an acoustic component that absolutely re-writes their expectations of their music collection, and they find themselves going through old favourite music, seeking out the newly revealed details, thinking “Wow, what was that?”.
I’ve just had one with a new loudspeaker we have under development. Where the Dundee6 pushed me to explore new music and sounds during it’s development and proving period, the new one has opened my eyes to the past, and the opportunity to release new and unheard-of levels of detail from very familiar music. I realised it while playing New Model Army’s Thunder and Consolation, from 1989. A well loved and much played album, it is now full of sounds that are surprising and unfamiliar to me, while at the same time the familiar elements are presented in surprising and unfamiliar detail.
The first track (I Love The World) starts slowly, with perfectly defined cymbals emerging from ‘the depths’ to swirl through the sound stage, along with the plucking of ‘edgy’ guitars. But as Jullian Sullivan starts his vocals, a slight quiver to his voice easilly rendered by these new speakers and clearly front and center of the mix, he is joined by a rhythm, but I can’t say played on what instrument. I’d always assumed it was an electric guitar, but now I’m not sure. Or rather, I’m sure it’s not! What I am sure of, however, is the crackling emotion in Jullian’s voice and the intimately close microphone setup.
Bass guitar and bass drum are so well separated and discerned by these speakers. The drummer, Robert Heaton, is belting that bass drum in a really complicated rhythm that is inhumanly fast. I can feel the pressure waves. It’s so realistic, I just want to play it over and over.
The acoustic guitars at the start of track two are incredibly crisp and well defined, and seem etched into the air. Again, Jullian’s voice is clear, crisp and ‘intimate’; every breath, every inflection and every bit of spittle is revealed in full glory. The bassist is very active, like Lemmy in Hawkwind, doing “something interesting in ‘D’ “. Every string is revealed with full power and authority. I want to turn the system up even more, see how far I can go (but I already know; as far as I want until the police arrive…:-)
Ah, track three, and I know now that the unidentified instrument in track1 was a guitar synth (or maybe just a synth?). The bass drum is amazing again, pummeling me in the chest. It’s like I’m sat in front of a real kick-drum.
All the elements of the mix are so well separated, yet so cohesively presented.
Even the usually bleak “Family” (track 4) grabbed my full attention, with the drum-kit almost naked against the vocals; the speakers perfectly positioning every drum skin and every cymbal, placing them dancing round the vocals. And where did that cheeky tambourine come from? I’ve never heard that before. Completely and clearly separate from the rest of the percussion, it holds it’s own place in the mix without standing out from the mix.
How could I miss that for 20+ years?
It’s the way these new speakers reveal details that really surprises me. And I mean ‘reveal’, as opposed to ‘dig’ or ‘project’ or ‘focus-on’; it’s an effortless presentation, as if the speakers are surprised that no other speaker has done that before because it comes so naturally to them.
And the layering of the over-dubs is equally charming and succinct.
I actually wrote “Oh, my” about track five in my notes. The introduction starts with a thunderstorm fading in, complete with rain and thunder. The rain sounds stunning, as you can clearly hear distant rain and near-field rain, as if standing at an open door. But if recorded at an open door, you’d need two mics to get that effect, one on a boom and one sat on the doorstep. But it’s in STEREO, so did they use FOUR microphones? Because the thunder is spatially present in the rain, definitely not a separate audio track!
I always loved this album, but I never knew it was THIS good.
Then the steel string acoustic guitar is caressed most expertly, and the way it sits so easily on the ear makes me shiver. Sawmill Studios, in Cornwall, is famous for this ‘sound’ in their recordings, being chosen for seminal albums by the likes of John Martyn and the Stone Roses, amongst others. It’s the closest I’ve ever heard to an actual Neve mixing desk. Tom Dowd (“Layla”, E. Clapton, et al) was MC in the studio for the duration as well, haha, almost a ‘perfect storm’; a combination that brought the best out of all present.
Hmm, I’m absolutely falling in love with this album again, but for completely different reasons than the first time. And again, more subtle over-dubs (which I had previously assumed to be a Chorus effect) resolve themselves into individual figures behind the front-most vocals. I can even hear the echo around a snare-drum that is right in the middle of the mix. And again, the emotional power behind the enunciation of the lyrics is so strongly conveyed by these new speakers. It seems to by-pass the ears and go straight through to the heart. It’s almost overwhelming.
Wow, and that was only side one. So, look out for our new 5″ floorstander, coming soon. Contact us directly if you’d like to pre-order, with a significant ‘early-adopter’ discount.