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Usher Audio Dancer CP-8571 II Loudspeaker

Usher’s three-way Dancer CP-8571 II is a dead-serious high-end speaker that offers innovative design, Rolex-like construction, exceptionally high-performance drivers, and—most importantly—sound so good that it easily competes with American and European speakers selling for thousands more.

Founded in 1972, Usher Audio Technology has become well-known throughout Asia for its speakers and high-quality OEM driver units. Usher drivers feature a proprietary technology called Symme-Motion, which is said to give the company’s speakers highly symmetrical long-throw excursion capabilities and the ability to play with low distortion at both high- and low-output levels. Usher’s president, Lien-Shui Tsai, hired Dr. Joseph D’Appolito as product design and development collaborator. Tsai defines the overall speaker configuration, chooses drive units, and oversees enclosure design, while D’Appolito takes responsibility for crossover design and speaker voicing. This melding of the minds yields products with a magical sound.

The Dancer is highly focused, thanks largely to its Beryllium tweeter that supplies gobs of high-frequency and upper-midrange detail without a trace of edge or glare. Similarly, the speaker’s 7″ mid/woofer can resolve extremely fine textures and nuances, yet offers enough power to capture explosive transients and enough reach to handle upper-bass frequencies with authority. I wouldn’t have thought a 7″ driver could sound so agile and versatile, but this one tracks complex waveforms more faithfully than most. Finally, the Dancer’s low-resonance/low-diffraction baffle plates contribute to the sense of focus by allowing listeners to hear exactly what the drive units have to say.

On recordings such as Philip Hii’s acoustic-guitar transcription of the Chopin Nocturnes [GSP] that capture natural hall ambience, air, and fine details, the Usher presents delicate overtones, subtle instrumental resonances, and small finger and string sounds so realistically that you would swear the performer was standing directly across the room. On closely miked recordings like Patricia Barber’s recent Blue Note CDs, the Usher has a deliciously intimate, personal quality; musical details just appear as a natural and balanced part of the performance. But the Ushers also have sufficient resolving power to handle large-scale orchestral works, remaining composed even when orchestration becomes dense and complicated (on Mahler symphonies, for example). Together, these characteristics allow you to savor fine details in recordings much like the way a magnifying glass lets you appreciate small textures you can’t ordinarily see in everyday objects. The only downside is, once you grow accustomed to the Dancer, most other speakers sound either out-of-focus or etched and exaggerated.

 

The Usher is among the most holographic speakers you could hope to hear, producing images that float free from its surfaces. On a first-rate disc like the Richter/Munch/Boston reading of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 [JVC XRCD], it precisely delineates the onstage positions of the orchestra sections as well as interactions between the orchestra and the venue’s acoustics. On smaller-scale recordings, the Dancer also presents spatial and textural cues that suggest the sizes and shapes of instruments. The only drawback is that the Dancer is not terribly tolerant of poorly mixed recordings. So if an engineer pans certain instruments into one channel, the three-dimensionality of the soundstage may collapse, leaving instruments “trapped” inside their assigned speaker. Yet under normal circumstances, the Dancer sounds highly three-dimensional— you may want to place the speakers far apart in order to enjoy the huge, deep, realistic soundstage they can produce.

The Dancer is so free of dynamic constriction that when you first hear it, you may think that the audio signal has been run through an expander. But the longer you listen, the more the big, fullbodied dynamics seem expressive and to scale. What’s more, the powerful dynamics carry right on down into the bass region, which extends to the upper-20Hz range. As a visiting colleague put it, “It’s hard to believe the bass Usher gets from a single 8″ woofer. If you told me it was using dual 10″ woofers, I’d believe you.” Granted, when you push the Dancer very hard, you might hear faint strain—a subtle “shouting” quality—from the 7″ mid/woofer. But on the whole, the Usher’s dynamic qualities are exemplary.

There are only a few nits to pick. While driver integration is very good, there remains an ever-so-slight qualitative difference between the sound of the Beryllium tweeter and 7″ mid/bass driver. To be fair, this difference is much less noticeable than, say, the disparity between the ribbon tweeter and non-ribbon midrange driver in Magnepans. There is also a slightly strained “shouting” quality when you push the 7″ midrange driver to very high levels (a problem I also hear, and to about the same degree, in Wilson’s costlier Watt/Puppy speaker system).

While I do not find the Dancer’s mid and low bass to be underdamped, some listeners might, although damping materials can be added to the massloading chamber to further tighten the bass. Finally, low-frequency aficionados might wish for a dab of bass reinforcement to add weight to the half-octave between 20-30Hz.

Usher’s Dancer CP-8571 II is a wonderfully capable speaker that gives you nearly top-tier performance at a nottoo- outlandish price. If you’ve dreamed of owning speakers like Wilson Audio’s $22,400 Watt/Puppies or $11,700 Sophias, but can’t fit them into the budget, the great news is that the Dancer puts you in that performance range for a much more manageable $7735—a price/performance “math” that works for me.

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