Pinnacle Black Diamond 650 Series II Speaker System Page 2

As for the Sonic 500 sub, it’s a decent but not exemplary performer. It offers plenty of output, but bass pitches are soft, lacking definition. The speakers outclassed the sub. (I say this from the safe vantage point of the Critic Protection Program.)

Solomon Kane is an action-filled sword-and-sorcery tale about a swashbuckling soldier who renounces violence but takes it up again to fight the forces of evil. Battle scenes use the technology of the 16th century, which means cutlasses, the occasional pistol shot, hand-to-hand combat, and a lot of grunting and ooophing. When I set up the speakers with pink-noise tones, I noticed that the center, bookshelf, and smaller bookshelf each had its own subtly different balance of frequencies—but that didn’t stop the system from providing good envelopment in the heat of battle. A phase-shifted supernatural voice filled all channels with menace. The shring of swords being unsheathed made it through the Black Diamonds’ polite top end. A system with a more etched presentation might have made them ring louder but at the expense of the BDs’ effortless smoothness and high-volume listenability.

The Last Ride is a road movie in which the charm and bad habits of a dying Hank Williams pose a series of challenges to his wet-behind-the-ears long-distance driver. Music is of course a major element. Venerable mono recordings that punctuate much of the movie’s first half benefited from the BDs’ sweetening, as if I were listening through an idealized version of a vintage car radio. Later scenes mix images of musicians onstage with pristine studio recordings (none of them from the real Hank Williams, though his daughter, Jett Williams, sings several songs). It all poured out of the speakers like honey. The system seemed to have no timbre-matching problems in scenes featuring urban street noise, rural crickets, and what my notebook referred to as “slappy rain,” so vivid that it made me feel wet and cold.

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Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale is a John Woo production that pits Taiwanese aborigines (an indomitable and warlike people with a flair for decapitation) against Japanese colonists (who bring schools, post offices, and oppression). Once again, the soundfield filled with tumult, but the Black Diamonds rose to the challenge, juggling varied and dynamic elements with ease and effortless listenability—that’s the second time I’ve used that word, but it fits pretty much every moment I spent with these speakers. One of the Seediq’s more ingenious battle strategies is an induced avalanche. This gave the sub its chance to shine, but whereas I didn’t expect bell-like pitches from this effect, the intended chunky rock-slide roar emerged flabby and unfocused. The movie is unstintingly direct about the impact of violence on women and children, and the speakers poured orchestral violins and bamboo flutes over tragic images like warm bathwater over a battered body. This heightened the intent of the filmmakers while making the viewing experience more tolerable.

Glowing but Complex
The Black Diamonds were perfectly suited to Linda Thompson’s voice. On Won’t Be Long Now (CD), her fourth non-compilation solo album, it’s an older, deeper, more artful voice, yet still emotionally frank and electrifying, capable of provoking any response but apathy. The BD 650 II gave it a golden glow but didn’t conceal a morsel of its considerable timbral complexity. Each track has a unique lineup and sound. The Black Diamonds teased out the characteristic vocal textures of Teddy and Kami Thompson, Linda’s son and daughter. (You’ll want to run out and buy their own albums, if you haven’t already.) Ex-husband Richard Thompson’s distinctive Lowden acoustic guitar graces the first track, and the BDs delivered both the light woody body and the tangy metal strings, with slightly more emphasis on the wood.

Prokofiev 3 Bartók 2 (CD) consists of those two piano concertos as recorded for Sony Classical by Lang Lang, Simon Rattle, and the Berlin Philharmonic. In the short time I’ve had the disc, I’ve played it on every possible combination of equipment, including a Woo headphone amp and several headphones. The Black Diamonds conjured lush, smooth, colorful textures from the orchestra and a splashy, supple, dynamically fluid feel from the pianist. The speakers operating alone were enough to convey the piano, though kettledrum flourishes benefited from addition of the sub, despite its loose pitch definition. The second movement of the Bartók concerto is a particular challenge for low-level resolution as the orchestra dies down to a whisper. A speaker with a lazier top end might have let the faint exhalations of the string section fall below the threshold of clarity. But the diplomacy of the BDs didn’t tip over into vagueness; the strings glimmered quietly but distinctly.

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The demos ended with memorial listening to mark the death of Lou Reed. The Blue Mask(LP) began his association with guitarist Robert Quine as well as the renaissance of his own rudimentary but effective guitar playing, and the Black Diamonds greeted this dual six-string feast with the roiling tone color it deserves. Despite what I’ve said about the sub, it did a good job with the bottom end of Fernando Saunders’ squirmingly tuneful fretless bass. The album runs the full gamut from married bliss to violent terror, and the system kept pace with it, never losing track of the varied textures of the guitarists as they rose from a murmur to a scream. When I moved on to New York (CD), the speakers adapted to the more biting guitar attack of Reed and Mike Rathke. The BDs also made the vocals—if anything—even more rich and resonant. Reed wasn’t a great singer in the conventional sense, but he had a great voice.

All right, no more organized-crime jokes. The Pinnacle Black Diamond II is that particular kind of great loudspeaker line that imparts a little of its greatness to everything it touches, especially in the top end, which is consistently smooth, warm, pleasing, and euphonic without being dumbed down or sterile. Each time I started playing favorite music through them (or otherwise unmentioned Blu-ray Discs of Mad Men), I felt as if I were sitting down with a friend to discuss some subject of mutual enthusiasm. The Sonic 500 sub is good but not great; its strong suit is generous output.

If you’re interested in the Black Diamond Series II—and I hope you are—Pinnacle sells through authorized custom installers but also online through authorized retailers such as Amazon, RadioShack, WOOT, and Dell. If you want sweet sound at a moderate price, maybe it’s time to hear a little of that old Black Diamond magic for yourself.

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