Boston Acoustics A 25 Speaker System Page 2

Mayhem Spurting
Saw3D: The Final Chapter is a Blu-ray Disc with DTS-HD Master Audio. The lossless soundtrack and lost limbs somehow went together, don’t ask me how. This is the only installment in the Saw series that opens with a crowd scene, with mayhem spurting behind the glass of a store window. The crowd’s oohs and aahs filled all five channels, enlivening the predictable frontchannel screams and the whizzing saws. With four matched A 25s anchoring the four corners of the soundfield, I felt as though I were right there in the crowd. Loud, sadistic action movies aren’t the ideal vehicles for establishing a comfort zone. However, it didn’t take long to find a master volume level that was high enough to make the dialogue intelligible and low enough to make the effects bearable.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the final episode of the Stieg Larsson trilogy—the Swedish originals, not the American remakes. I used the English-dubbed Dolby Digital soundtrack. The film opens with a procession of disturbing images that reprise past plot points.

These were accompanied by an aggressive rumble in the sub. While it was far from unpleasant, it seemed to eclipse all other effects, so I dropped the A/V receiver’s subwoofer output level a couple of decibels below my usual default setting, leaving the sub’s volume knob set at 33 percent of its volume control’s range. Even at these conservative settings, the sub delivered bountiful low frequencies. By the time the orchestra began pounding through a hospital murder scene, the basses were in the right proportion to the rest of the strings.

The dialed-in sub became critical in Unstoppable, an action movie with Denzel Washington and Chris “Captain Kirk” Pine as railroaders who desperately need to tame a runaway freight train loaded with toxic chemicals. There’s nothing quite like the trundling roar of a train—the ultimate low-frequency effect—and the DVD’s use of lossy Dolby Digital did nothing to diminish the controlled ferocity of the sub’s bass output. Shouted dialogue continued to come in loud and clear above the roar. With the sub crossover set at 80 hertz, the monitor speakers had to produce considerable mid and upper bass above that point. But that burden didn’t seem to collapse the soundfield even at the most bass-rich moments.

What didn’t happen during the movie demos was as remarkable as what did happen. The system didn’t noticeably compress, despite an abundance of bass and surround effects. Highs weren’t hyped, and mids weren’t too strongly outlined. The sub didn’t bloat beyond my room’s customary standing wave. I didn’t strain to hear dialogue, suffer from listening fatigue, or repeatedly cut the volume.

Fresh Brahms
Nikolaus Harnoncourt offers a fresh interpretation of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem with a smaller orchestra and choir on a new Sony Classical CD. The orchestra is the formidable Vienna Philharmonic, recorded in the gilded jewel box of the Vienna Musikverein, with the Arnold Schoenberg Choir. In the Dolby Pro Logic II Music mode, which I prefer to stereo playback about three-quarters of the time, the soundfield broke free of the speakers, especially in the front of the room, where the evocation of the sonically ideal Musikverein seemed both wider and taller than the speaker layout. (This was without the use of any width- or height-enhanced listening modes such as Audyssey DSX or Dolby Pro Logic IIz.) There was a notable contrast between solo vocals, which were tightly and almost holographically imaged, versus choral vocals, which were painted in larger and bolder strokes. The soft-dome-delivered top end of the string sound was so sweet and luminous, I could barely believe I was listening to a regular CD. It had the overall feel (if not all the characteristics) of a higherresolution presentation.

SuperBass 2 is a 5.1-channel Telarc hybrid SACD recorded live at the Blue Note in New York. This all-bass band features Ray Brown, John Clayton, and Christian McBride. The three string basses were deployed across the soundstage, though not in the most predictable fashion. Rather than assign the middle instrument to the center channel, the surround mix imaged it between the left and right channels,

with the other two instruments dominating the sides. Of course, with the subwoofer crossover at 80 Hz, everything below that frequency merged into the sub. What does a string bass offer above that frequency? Quite a lot, as it turns out. The soundstage was loaded with twanging, slapping, bowing, string popping, and knuckle rapping. The tweeters, woofers, and subwoofer sculpted all of these activities in their correct proportions, giving the three basses a neat combination of voice-like midrange liveliness and convincingly pitched low-frequency impact.

Nick Drake’s Pink Moon does more with an unadorned voice and acoustic guitar than most albums do with an entire band. My first-generation CD has a slightly hard top end, which the speakers did nothing to conceal, although they didn’t exaggerate it, either. The midrange was vivid and alive. When I switched between DPLII and stereo, it did little to affect the voice, which indicates good timbre matching between the monitors and the center. Even just two A 25s playing in stereo could provide excellent results—and solid two-channel performance is always the mark of a good speaker. The sub filled out the guitar’s bottom strings in a tuneful manner. Voice and guitar traversed the sub crossover with no obvious ill effects: They seemed to dovetail perfectly.

The rebirth of the Boston Acoustics A Series is a boon to budget-conscious listeners. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better stand-mount speaker than the A 25 for $150 each, and the A 225C center is a more than adequate match. As you’ll have noticed by the amount of attention I’ve devoted to the ASW 250 subwoofer, it’s a truly impressive performer for $350. Subs are typically the weakest performers among budget speakers, so the strength of this one is especially heartening. Altogether, this is one of the most well-rounded sets of affordably priced speakers I’ve ever heard. For this price, you can’t go wrong.

Boston Acoustics
(201) 762-6429