April 1, 2009
Ultra Sounds: TWBAS 2009 Five-Song Demo
TWBAS 2009 took place March 13-15 in Coastal North
Carolina. More than 20 manufacturers, distributors, and SoundStage! Network writers all
came together for the sole purpose of auditioning The Worlds Best Audio System 2009.
Because the event would take place on a single day, with perhaps just a bit of additional
listening time late on Friday night, it became clear to me that each guest would have only
a limited amount of time in which to enjoy the system. As demo music from the participants
trickled in and promises for more choice selections followed, I began to calculate exactly
how much time each person would have in the sweet spot, and decided to assemble a TWBAS
2009 Five-Song Demo playlist. This would serve to showcase, in a short period of time,
just what sonic capabilities The Worlds Best Audio System possessed. The
demonstration playlist that resulted is by no means comprehensive, but each track was
chosen to highlight a particular sonic area that I deemed critical for the absolute best
home playback. Here they are, in the order they appeared on the playlist.
Eden Atwood, "Blame It On My Youth," from This
Is Always: The Ballad Session (CD, Groove Note 10223)
These clearly recorded female jazz vocals should sound
downright real in your room. You should hear the singing of Atwood reproduced with her
authentic vocal style intact. The double bass that comes in 28 seconds into this song
should be fully differentiated from Atwood in space and perfectly articulate in its
reproduction. About three-and-a-half minutes in, the trumpet should sound restrained yet
simply mesmerizing. With the lights turned off, this track should sound as if Eden Atwood
were standing in your room right in front of you.
Bruno Coulais, "Norbu," from Himalaya
(soundtrack; CD, Virgin France 848478)
The massive drum thwacks should roll through your
room with supreme authority and frequency extension. You should hear the initial stroke of
mallet on drum head, followed by an evenly distributed, natural decay that moves like a
huge ocean wave from the front to the rear of your room. The first and third strokes are
quite powerful; the second strokes reverberation time is shorter. Significant bass
nonlinearities can blur the first stroke and mask the tonality of the drum skin. For this
track to be reproduced realistically, the audio system must be capable of super-low,
super-powerful, super-clean bass.
Neil Young, "Helpless," from Live at Massey
Hall 1971 (CD, Reprise/WEA 43328)
This live recording should simply sound lifelike in your
listening room. Youngs guitar is striking in its clarity, his voice singularly
clear, and the crowd ambience should transform your room into Torontos Massey Hall,
where it was performed and recorded. TWBAS 2009 made this track sound "as real as
Ive ever heard from a stereo" to my wife, who was reading two rooms away -- a
surreal experience for her.
The Fairfield Four, "These Bones," from I
Couldnt Hear Nobody Pray (CD, Warner Bros. 46698)
This recording of an a cappella vocal quintet should lay
out an impressively spacious soundstage, while the spot-on tonality of the recording makes
the singers sound in-your-room present. This track comes about as close as is technically
possible to making you believe that real singers are in the room with you, and the
performance has so much to enjoy: deep, bellowing voices, and the feeling of joy that
comes through them. And the walk-through soundstage is one any audiophile could appreciate
and marvel at.
Vivaldi: Allegro from Concerto No.3 in G, Op.4
No.3, from La Stravaganza; Rachel Podger, violin; Arte Dei Suonatori (Channel
Classics CCS SACD 19503)
The orchestral strings on this work should create a
realistically sized -- read: huge -- soundstage in your room, while remaining
completely uncluttered and vivid with tone color. The sense of pace and tempo the
performers create simply has to remain perfect for this recording to be believable. The
high frequencies must be pristine and the transient response lightning quick. This work
can sound exhilarating when reproduced faithfully.
A great audio system is nothing without great music. This
is a small compilation of music that sounded unbelievably good through TWBAS 2009.
Id like to hear about your experiences with it through your own system.
. . . Jeff Fritz