The Spatial Character of Things and the Impressions of Instruments
The uniformity of tonal character with respect to changes of listener position is a key part of a second aspect of the speaker. One really feels immersed in a soundfield rather than listening into a soundfield in front of one. Now to some extent one can get this feeling from ordinary speakers if one sits very close to them. But here one gets the “nearfield” experience in tonal terms as well as in immersion terms over the whole room. One could move almost anywhere, and the tonal character of the sound would remain effectively constant. This is, of course, what happens at a concert—most of the sound there is diffuse field (cf., regonaudio.com/Records%20and%20Reality.html), so there is little of the variation one typically gets with even relatively small changes in listener position.
The immersion in the soundfield is, however, more than a matter of tonal stability and accuracy. The imaging of the PX1s is also very distinctive. First of all, the images are rounded and not quite as tightly focused as with directional speakers. But at the same time, they are very stable. One gets a rounded image, which one might think of as more natural than a tightly focused image (whatever stereo theory might say); moreover, this image does not shift nearly as much with respect to sideways movement of the listener as it would with more directional speakers. And large ensembles sound large, too. This is all very impressive, though one cannot help thinking for a moment that much of the scope and immersion of the experience here (and the uniformity with listener position, too) is offered in a somewhat different but effective way by the Carver ALS at a much lower price (Issue 256).
Not surprisingly, the imaging is a lot different than that provided by speakers that emphasize direct arrival. Stereo reproduced anechoically tends to make the speakers more audible as sources unless the recordings are done exactly right, and the image, while very tightly focused in anechoic stereo, is unstable with respect to head position. Here the opposite happens. The image is built in good part out of room sound and it acquires stability while losing somewhat the sense of exact focus.
This effect can be quite startling and very convincing. The Chopin Nocturne Opus 9, No. 1 in B-flat minor played by Janne Mertanen [Gradient] sounded to me considerably more like a real piano than one usually hears from a stereo system. The tonal character was exceptionally realistic, and so was the size and presence of the instrument.
By comparison, most speakers—even really good speakers— sound too small, too specific, not extended in the bass, and artificially focused in position. Grand pianos are large. A real concert piano in Paul’s room would stretch almost from wall to wall (along the shorter direction). And the sound would have enormous depth and power. The PX1s were creating this impression to a surprising extent.
Similarly, Harnoy and Dussek’s recording of the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata [RCA] had a size that matched the reality of cello and piano at relatively close range.
On orchestral music, the PX1’s anti-miniaturization effect, if I may call it that, came into its own in a big way, as it were. My Rachmaninoff favorite, Symphonic Dances [ProArte], sounded enormous not just in the “soundstage” sense—which never really happens without trick signal processing (orchestras never sound 60 feet wide reproduced in a living room of moderate size)—but in the sense that one felt immersed in a large acoustic space with instruments of power and substance before one.
All this was, of course, hugely gratifying, almost hypnotically so. One had a wonderful time listening and experienced a remarkable suspension of disbelief. One could sink into the music and forget all about audio and its categories.
At the same time, smaller-scale music that was precisely recorded—Tiden Bar Gaar, Blumlein-recorded on Opus 3 for instance—sounded sufficiently focused to be natural, albeit without the “X marks the spot” imaging of highly directional speakers. It was different, but it was still convincing.
Also convincing were recordings of nonmusical material. The Sherlock Holmes “Boscombe Valley Mystery” recorded as a radio play by the BBC had natural speech timbres and very realistic sound effects, which could make one really jump from being startled.
If one thought about the matter in terms of, say, reverberant versus non-reverberant halls, one might suspect that more sound coming off the walls would somehow reduce resolution, would tend to obscure details. But this turned out not to be true. Pieces like the often subtle harpsichord continuo part in the Bach/Sitkovetsky recording of the Goldberg Variations arranged for string orchestra were easily audible, unmasked, and very well resolved. The main effects of the extra sound off the walls turned out to be in keeping with the previously discussed tonal and imaging matters.