And the Differences: Who is Right?
From the early days of The Absolute Sound, and even earlier elsewhere, controversy has raged—sometimes almost literally raged—about how stereo recordings should be reproduced. If you go back into the early years of TAS, you will find arguments made vigorously on both sides of the question of whether speakers should be directional and generate as much direct sound as possible, or whether speakers should spread sound around the room, so as to use its characteristics to help recreate an acoustic environment.
This controversy ultimately it is not a matter of right or wrong, but of what sounds most natural and convincing to you, the listener.
I am in the position of admiring good speakers of both types. When I first encountered the PX1s at the 2014 Newport show, I picked them as having the best sound—but tied with Sanders speakers, which are highly directional and about as far from the omni sound as possible. For me, either approach can work wonderfully if it is done right. And the quite-directional Janszen ZA1.1s that I was reviewing at the same time as the PX1s also offer some wonderful qualities, but quite different ones from the PX1s.
Each approach has its virtues and its drawbacks—I would not call them failings in either case—compared to the other. The omni approach with its room-filling sound has a kind of scale and an independence of listener position that gives some truly compelling naturalness. At the same time, one could have a certain sense that all that sound bouncing around the room was not exactly on the recording and that the space generated is in part generated by the room, and thus tends to be somewhat similar from recording to recording. And the imaging is less tightly focused and more impressionistic, albeit convincing in its stability. The choice is a personal one, since of course one cannot have both things at once.
The PX1s are one of the all-time triumphs of speaker design. The goals that were envisioned are so nearly perfectly accomplished that one is stunned with admiration and, for me, musical pleasure. The in-room smoothness is all but incomparable, the bass is superb, the midrange and treble are not only neutral but pure and clear in true electrostatic style, and the desired radiation pattern is realized to perfection. This is really a landmark in speakers, a huge step in a new direction that previously hardly figured in anyone else’s imagination, much less in reality.
And musically, I was enchanted. But the question remains: “Is this the form of enchantment you want?” If it is, if the omni sound is your audio goal, this is a speaker almost without competition. On the other hand, the controlled-radiation-pattern speakers have their own enchantments. I think of the closing lines of “St. James Infirmary”: “She can search this whole wide world over, she won’t find another man like me”—or a speaker like this one. A nonpareil if ever there was one.
Paul Seydor comments:
With his customary thoroughness, REG has covered all the important bases in his review of the Muraudio PX1, and I concur with his enthusiastic evaluation. If, like me, you get a little tired of the way audio reviewers seem to discover fresh masterpieces each month, to say nothing of so-called breakthroughs and innovations that are in reality little else than reworkings of long-established technology, it may be difficult fully to appreciate a truly unique and unprecedented design such as this omnidirectional electrostatic. It represents the most original thinking in loudspeaker design since Jorma Salmi found a way to suppress the backwave in his aptly named Gradient Revolution loudspeakers. The observations that follow will involve some criticisms, but I should like them to be understood in the context of my conviction that the PX1 belongs right up there with a small handful of the finest loudspeakers ever made, and it is superior to most of them and all in all, inferior to none. My enthusiasm should also be understood in another context: I have never been a great fan of omnidirectional loudspeakers, or for that matter even wide dispersion. I prefer the greater precision and accuracy of restricted dispersion that’s found in speakers such as Quad ESLs and several classic designs from the BBC school, designs that attempt to excite the acoustic characteristics of the listening space as little as possible.
As REG has explained, perhaps the paramount reason for the PX1’s success is its exceptionally smooth, extended, and uniform frequency response. This is one really neutral-sounding transducer. It’s truly uncanny to be able to walk around a loudspeaker and perceive virtually no alteration in tonal balance from front to side to back to the other side. Allied to this neutrality is a dynamic range that approaches lifelike (though you do need gobs of power). Robert’s observations about how it reproduces a piano are well worth paying attention to, since the room adjoining my listening room houses a gorgeous Bluthner grand piano. Yes, the speaker does have a slight forgiving character in the presence region, but while audible, it really is slight and in no way, at least to my ears, detracts from any sense of lifelikeness, vitality, or excitement. In any case, this is something I tend to prefer inasmuch as the vast majority of recordings are so closely miked and thus peaked in that very region.
Most omnidirectional loudspeakers and most other loudspeakers that reflect a lot of sound from room surfaces image terribly. Not so the PX1. No, it doesn’t have the absolute pinpoint accuracy that, source permitting, something like my Quads or Harbeths do, but neither is there any sense of image wander, instability, nine-foot violins or vocalists, or other such anomalies. On the contrary, all the staged-for-the-microphone sources I regularly use for evaluating imaging and soundstaging—The Christmas Revels, the Bernstein Carmen, the Water Lily Mahler Fifth, the Solti Ring —are beautifully reproduced in an enveloping acoustic space that recreates a very convincing realism, one that frees the presentation from the impression it’s restricted to one end of the listening space. Furthermore, owing to the omnidirectional radiation, I can sit well out of the so-called sweet spot—in fact, practically across from one or the other speaker—and with judicious application of the balance control (one of the reasons I detest control units without one) hear an essentially perfect soundstage that does not collapse into one or the other speaker or compromise the tonal balance. In this specific sense, the PX1 is a rare and absolute triumph.