Essential music is music that must sound good on any system you listen to because it’s important in one way or another. It may have little to do with recording quality, but when listening to essential music the system needs to get the hell out of the way. If it doesn’t, you need to move quickly on. After all, if a system isn’t engaging with the music you care most about, does anything else really matter?
One of these essential pieces of music for me is John Prine singing Steve Goodman’s “My Old Man” from Tribute to Steve Goodman [Red Pajamas Records]. This is off a two-LP set recorded live in Chicago’s Arie Crown Theater in 1985. Steve Goodman is best known as the writer of “City of New Orleans” (made famous by Arlo Guthrie), and some big names show up for a very heartfelt tribute. The aforementioned Arlo Guthrie, John Prine, Richie Havens, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Bonnie Raitt, Brian Bromberg, and many others are there in performances that are occasionally lacking in polish (doesn’t sound like there was a great deal of rehearsal) but are always in the best spirit of remembrance.
John Prine’s introduction, and then performance of “My Old Man” gets me most every time. I’m not completely sure why. This song is about the loss of Steve Goodman’s father, but John Prine also delivers the song with the double power of the recent loss of his friend and frequent road companion, Steve Goodman. My father is living, and I’m now the father of two young sons. The raw honesty of John Prine’s delivery that carries this double sense of loss is, for me, overwhelming. The lyrics are simple, almost childlike. But they cut to the core of loss and grieving. Through the 705 S2s? Well, they weren’t fake tears welling up.
How would one analyze this? Recalling the opening of this review, there are technical attributes of the thing. There are technical attributes of the sound the thing produces. We make efforts to elucidate aspects of both. And the experience of the thing in use itself? As a listener, which do we encounter first and most importantly? All I know is that some components possess the capability to allow the essential to shine through, and many do not. I’d suggest you own the ones that do.
Conclusion (Or, “Oh yeah? That’s what you think!”)
I’m sure everyone in the hobby has at one time asked himself and others what kind of system he’d own if he won the lottery or had unlimited funds. I’m well past the point of believing that any one system can do it all, and so for me, I’d have to have at least three systems (money’s no object remember). One would probably be some kind of planar, perhaps a Quad-based system. Another would be a big set of horns with lots of glowing bottles to drive them. The “anchor” system would be built around a big set of dynamic speakers. The planar and horn systems offer an almost specialized set of strengths and perspectives, while the dynamic speakers serve as the “all-rounders.”
The Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2s are all-rounders. If they had a medical degree they’d be a great family doctor, not a gastroenterologist or plastic surgeon. The music mentioned in this review is a sampling of the selections I listened to through them, and I always looked forward to firing the system up and following that day’s musical muse. The 705s never slapped my hands and said, “No, we won’t hang with you if you want to play that.”
The 705 S2 is a product that few companies would have the ability and resources to match. It’s also a wonderful case where a company’s claims for technical advances line up with listening impressions. Resonances are well controlled, and the speakers present a natural, extremely precise, and engaging soundfield. The sound is vividly present without edge or annoyance. Overall, the 705 S2s are both coherent and self-effacing.
I can’t speak for what each reader looks/listens for when he chooses a system or a new component. My needs are simple: I want to enjoy music in the comfort of my home. Well, during this review I tapped and stomped my feet. I air-guitared like a real rock star (better, if I’m honest). I had tears well up considering fatherhood, friendship, and loss. I closed my eyes to bathe in the best of the BSO. I headbanged. I had fun. Those are facts (not fake news).
I’d say that these are the responses to a great design. If your design enables me to do all that, then you can be sure I’ll make a strong recommendation. Which I do.