R – E – S – P – E – S – P

Show conditions usually make getting sufficient bass out of a system a real challenge. In the case of the ESP Concert Grand speakers ($40,000/pr), driven by Wavestream Kinetics V-8 tube amplification (300 watt monoblocks, as shown, $35,000, 150 watt stereo model, $20,000), the opposite appeared to be true. Even with the speakers about eight feet out from the wall behind them and a bevy of sound absorbing panels (they looked like widescreen Magneplaner panels, an irony not lost on me) the ESP were definitely coming on strong in the bass though they were in no way muddled.

If you've never seen ESP speakers, they look a lot like Magnepan 3.6 speakers from a certain angle. Inside, however, instead of a complex of magnetic planer and ribbons, you'll find conventional dynamic drivers. The Concert Grand are, effectively, dipole speakers, though they vent through their sides, not directly from the back. Their sound reminded me of the combination of openness and immediacy of the Audio Artistry Beethovens (exit for Memory Lane, two miles on left). ESP has substantially redesigned their ESP Concert Grand since I last heard them some five or six years ago, so I sat down.

They were spinning vinyl when I came in, or a rig consisting of a Brinkman Balance turntable (shout out to Bucky!) with a Lyra Titan cartridge feeding the Messenger phono preamp that in turn directly drove the Wavestream amps. I perused their selection of LPs and quickly pulled out a song from Ricky Lee Jones' self-titled first album that so many times left me adrift in a sea of revelry, "Last Chance Texaco."

The soundstage was deep and, more than alluring, it was magnetic. It didn't hurt that the Brinkman/Lyra/Messenger front end was totally (hey, I'm in L.A.) in control. Great sound from one of my favorite recordings, and I really enjoyed it.