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 World’s 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 World’s 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 stroke’s 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. Young’s guitar is striking in its clarity, his voice singularly clear, and the crowd ambience should transform your room into Toronto’s Massey Hall, where it was performed and recorded. TWBAS 2009 made this track sound "as real as I’ve 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 Couldn’t 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. I’d like to hear about your experiences with it through your own system.

. . . Jeff Fritz


footer.jpg (5527 bytes)