Phase Technology V52 Speaker System Page 2
If the first words I’d use to describe these speakers are tolerant and self-effacing, please don’t get the impression I found them dull. Their tolerance of dynamic extremes—both the loudest and quietest moments—had all kinds of gratifying results from action-movie excitement to pastoral hush. When playing loud, they stayed within my comfort zone; when playing quietly, they didn’t challenge my ears to pick out dialogue. As for self-effacement, they had the sense to get out of the way when strong content beckoned but did not exaggerate the faults of weak content. They were not without identifiable traits, which included a solid bottom end in the monitors, an easygoing midrange that favored blending over layering, and a clean top end that held back nothing meaningful and became especially vibrant when confronted with high-resolution material. As for the sub, it was a powerful monster, capable of tremendous output—though it was not terribly controlled, and I would have liked to have more increments of adjustment in the lower echelon of the volume control.
Lockout’s hostage-crisis-in-space scenario plunges a now-muscular Guy Pearce into an action-packed environment with resounding punches, gunshots, a car/motorcycle chase, and explosions, and that was just in the first 10 minutes. The Velocity surprised me by making this onslaught easy to take. I’m a persistent advocate of low-volume listening modes, but I must also admit that when the clean amplification of my Pioneer Elite combines with speakers that support wide dynamics, the need for dynamic tinkering becomes less urgent. A big soundfield extended beyond the speakers. The sub took no prisoners—I actually had to turn it down, my initial meter-approved setting having proven too high. I later turned it up again for the music demos. As a conscientious critic, I do speaker demos without the unpredictable variable of room correction. However, if your receiver has good room correction, you’ll probably have less trouble finding a sub level that works for everything.
Blackthorn—with Sam Shepard as a reflective autumnal Butch Cassidy hiding out in the dramatic landscape of Bolivia—went to the other extreme, rarely rising above a modest volume despite occasional gunshots and thundering-hooves pursuits. With classical guitar murmuring over a subdued orchestra, the movie often played like the slow movement of a guitar concerto, interspersed with Shepard singing American folk tunes in a rural accent. All this was a challenge to both the Velocity’s low-level resolution and its musicality, but it came through every time, never fumbling dialogue or shortchanging timbre.
Cat Run is a comic spy movie with a call girl and two feckless private eyes on the run from a sadistic upper-crust British assassin. In a variety of indoor and outdoor scenes, I was consistently impressed by the integrity of the soundfield, including the back of the room. Some bipole/dipole surrounds strike me as maddeningly vague. These trod the middle path between diffusion and specificity, providing solid surround effects without calling attention to themselves.
Snap Crackle Pop
The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East double LP set crackled with excitement. The Phase Technology soft-dome tweeter drew a distinction between the hard-edged tone of Dickey Betts and the more slippery slide of Duane Allman—which isn’t hard to do because the guitars are mixed well above all the other instruments. But the Velocities didn’t fail to image more subtle elements such as Gregg Allman’s warm, shambling vocals and shimmering Hammond organ. The low undercurrent of dual-drummer percussion didn’t change much when I shifted from 2.1-channel stereo to a pair of the V52 playing in isolation from the sub: The monitors could handle most of the drum sound. The receiver’s pure analog mode (without room correction) had a faintly sweeter midrange, but it wasn’t a night-and-day difference. The V52 was clean but not fussy.
For Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, I pulled out my foil-jacketed Deutsche Grammophon LP with Carlos Kleiber conducting the Vienna Philharmonic: a perfect storm of composition, interpreter, and the world’s finest string section. The tympanist works hard in the Fifth, and I was surprised at how much of the instrument the monitors could support when playing solo, stopping just short of congestion. The sections of the orchestra blended into a ferocious whole, subsumed into the hall’s acoustics, and the speakers did not make any clinical or idiosyncratic attempt to emphasize any one of them—including the strings. However, in the Berlin/Karajan recording of Beethoven’s Eroica from the early 1960s, the strings had a little more bite, as the record demanded.
I have Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch! on CD, but I’ve been getting to know it better in the 24/192 download from HDtracks. Rudy Van Gelder did a great job of recording this album and remastering it for high-resolution digital release, but the V52 had a way of taking intrinsically great sounds and stepping them up another notch. The lead instruments at the far sides (Dolphy’s alto sax, bass clarinet, and flute at left, Freddie Hubbard’s trumpet at right) acquired an in-the-room immediacy. Dolphy’s bass clarinet in particular, always a little startling, came through with an extra translucency. The rhythm section and vibes were well imaged between the speakers, and the V52 woofer proved to be quite a lively one when Tony Williams smacked his kick drum especially hard.
The new version of Phase Technology’s Velocity line is one of the best sets of affordable speakers I’ve ever heard. The speakers outperform most products in their price range and quite a few products above their price range. To get more, you’d have to spend a great deal more. Play them loud, play them soft, assault them with action movies, challenge them with any kind of music, and they come through like champions. While the Power FL-10 sub offered plenty of muscle, the V52, V5520, and V-Surround-II were in a higher class of performance. If you want big sound from small speakers, the Velocity is something you have to hear.