ONLINE - ISSUE 5
reimer speaker systems McCullough GS loudspeakers
as reviewed by Danny Kaey
Before I dive into my McCullough GS loudspeaker follow-up (part II of III), I want to start with a brief walk down memory lane, to the mid-80s, when I was a teenager growing up in perhaps the most musical city of allVienna. My interest back then wasn't so much in classical music, though I certainly had my fair share of exposure to it. No, it was jazz that left an impression on me. In the summer of 1979, my parents moved into Duerwaringstrasse 59, on the outskirts of Vienna's beautiful and enchanting 18th district. There was a new development of homes that my parents fell in love with, and who could blame them? You had the best of both worldscity life and a peaceful and quiet neighborhood in the hills overlooking downtown Vienna. The development was so new that our main street wasn't yet paved! The Farmer family lived three houses down from us, on Duerwaringstrasse 62. I soon became almost inseparable from George Farmer, my new best friend, and his dad turned out to be Art Farmer, jazz musician extraordinaire. Throughout my teenage years, I would hang out in the recording/demo studio in the basement of their home, marveling at Art's control of the trumpet. George, of course, grew into his father's legacy and became a diverse musician. Unfortunately, his father died several years back, in 1999. I will never forget Art Farmer. He was my link to the world of jazz.
I believe it was Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn who once said that even with the best music playback equipment available, you still only get about 10% of a live musical performance. After reading this, I got flashbacks of Art playing the trumpet in front of me, in all its force and glory. I still get shivers thinking of that! Will it ever be possible to reproduce such moments on audio playback gear? Will we ever capture such intricate and delicate musical information? Will we ever recreate the space in time where the transcribing of musical information took place? In the strictest sense, I doubt we will do this in my lifetime, though we are getting closer and closer every day. Who knows what the future will bring? In the meantime, we have technology that gets the job done, sometimes in a very convincing manner.
To get to the Reimers, how are they performing after seven months in my system? Like the guy who spoils the movie by telling you the outcome before you've had a chance to see the movie, I will say that they are amazing! What you get for a little less than $2000 per pair is on a par with speakers costing many times more. The reasons for this are fairly simpleRick Reimer doesn't have the overhead, brand name recognition, and marketing of the bigger manufacturers. He makes one speaker at a time (well, sometimes two or three) in his rural Cody, Wyoming workspace. Rick has a solid understanding of loudspeaker design, and could easily have gotten a job with a brand-name speaker company for a high salary. However, what makes Rick special is that he doesn't care about such things, and instead focuses on manufacturing the best loudspeakers he can.
The McCullough GSes are "monitor" speakers; referring to them as "bookshelf" speakers would be a bit of a stretch, as they are fairly large. The McCullough is a two-way design, with two mid/bass units flanking ultra-fast ribbon tweeters. All drivers are sourced from Hi-Vi. The "Reimer version" of a series crossover, is a selection of Hovland and Goertz parts each chosen by ear, and as such requires single-wiring via high-quality binding posts. The cabinets are carefully crafted (one at a time!) and veneered with your choice of woods or other finishes. They are essentially the top-of-the-line Tetons sans the bass drivers and larger cabinets.
My room measures about 20 by 14 feet. Placing the speakers on stands about 33 inches in height put the tweeters at ear level in my listening room. Tow-in is very modest. Most of the time, I listen right smack in the sweet spot for maximum enjoyment, though their sweet spot is rather wide, and two people sitting side by side about twelve feet away can both have realistic listening experiences (try that with some of the other brands!). Over the past half-year or so, I have had the opportunity to evaluate cables, CD players, amplifiers, and other assorted goodies. No matter what I threw at the Reimers, I could instantly hear and identify a differencesometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes just a different rendition of familiar music. The GSes faithfully reproduce what you input. Unfortunately, this also translates into my music collection having shrunk from the listenable to the not-so-listenable! I just returned from a local "record" store, where I traded in a bunch of never-to-be-used-again CDs for a little bit of cash and credit. I would love to have these bands, groups, singers, and performers LISTEN TO THEIR MUSIC BEFORE RELEASING IT. Some commercial recordings are so absolutely horrid in sound quality, it amazes me that they get air time! Then again, what do you expect in this age of mp3, boom boxes, and CDRs crammed with techno, pop, kitsch, and otherwise disenchanting music?
Back to the little Reimers that could. I guess the essence of this follow-up is that they do so much so well that I am hard pressed to find flaws. Having returned from CES just a couple of weeks ago, I was even more impressed with the Reimers. I understand that hi-fi show setups won't be the best, but I encountered more than a few rooms of similar size and arrangement to my own, with multi-thousand-dollar ample electronics driving multi-thousand-dollar speakers, and the sound just wasn't right. I had hopes of finding speakers that would match the Reimers, and perhaps surpass them, but in most cases I was left with a so-so impression. Sure, I came across speakers that bettered them, but in most cases the benefits were incremental, and usually associated with an exponential increase in price.
Let's go through the various points. Height, width, and depth are all there, and with certain recordings, you lose all sense of the size of your room. Listening to the Gladiator soundtrack for example, gives you the impression that the orchestra is on a stage in front of you. Instrument placement is simply outstanding. You get the sense of the orchestra, not just individual instruments, yet you can zero in on specific instruments and pinpoint their locations. One of my newly-discovered music favorites, Midival Pundits, on the Six Degrees label, sounds absolutely extraordinary. Picture Indian beats mixed with techno, taken to the tenth power, and recorded extraordinarily well. The music is so encompassing and rhythmically inviting that you want to get up and chant along. Percussion sounds snappy and natural in timbre, and the timing is dead on. This CD is HIGHLY recommended!
Due to their high sensitivity (around 94 dB/4 ohm), the Reimers are almost predestined for small tube amps. After hearing them through a Marsh preamp and power amp combo, I was very fortunate to get my hands on the new Cary amp, preamp, and CD player. It was instant bliss. The 20/40 watts (triode/pentode) of the Cary amp was plenty of drive for the McCulloughs. Most noticeable, however, was that music seemed to take on a new dimension. Dean Martin's two-disc set of his greatest hits on Capitol has exceptional musical value. Dino is swaying, singing, and being himself in front of you! Everything was just right. His voice had an aura that transcribed his tonal inflections as music, not just melodic speech. The Cary gear added that touch of "being there" that was missing from previous encounters. This will be my reference for some time to come. Through the McCulloughs, Martin's voice took on character and life. His singing found me thinking back to times long gone.
The McCulloughs have the ability to sound like monitor speakersairy, extended, and ultra transparentyet without the harshness and over-brightness that some other monitor speakers tend to exhibit. Take, for example, my audition at a local dealer of the Wilson Cubs. Eerily similar to the McCulloughs in size and overall layout, yet in a different price league altogether, the Wilsons are, well, Wilsons. In terms of construction, they are admittedly in a league of their own, yet sonically, at least during this dealer demo, the sound was overly bright and images lacked coherence. Of course, who knows how the Cubs "really" sound?
Hugh Masakela, another favorite of mine, has made some terrific albums filled with amazing detail and topical lyrics. His live recording in Central Park is first rate, ranking right up there with the best live recordings. Through the McCulloughs, Masakela and his band aren't playing and performing as though they are separate entities. The music has an awesome soundstage that is hard to believe for speakers at this price point. The harmonic integrity and space with which each instrument and performer is rendered is something you need to hear for yourselfit's that good! No doubt, the Hi-Vi ribbons allow this airy extension without sounding harsh.
As I said, it is difficult to find any serious flaws with these speakers. I might note their lack of low bassthe magic feel of a kick drum in all its glory, the extension and weight of synthesized bassbut can we call the missing low bass in monitor-style speakers a negative? It is evident that the speakers do have bass. It is perhaps not as extended or forceful as you might like (especially me, as I am a full-range kind of guy), but enough to satisfy with most music. Listening to Kruder & Dorfmeister, for example, there is quite a bit of bottom end. In Dave Clarks' setup, the Tetons, the big brothers of the McCulloughs, go LOW, to approximately 15 cycles, with no trace of heaviness or boom. But on the otherhand the McCulloghs start to drop off at around 50Hz. When I play the same Kruder & Dorfmeister track on the Tetons, of course there is a major difference. The bass is right where I like it. The McCulloughs, on the other hand, while tight and punchy, are not going to shake the room. Are they controlled and focused? Yup. I should add that I always prefer a speaker with limited bass to one that artificially inflates the sound in favor of the "wow" factor, and that lacks realistic definition and control. Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" ends with a lovely double-bass line. I frequently use this track to evaluate speakers because of the nature of the instrument, and the McCulloughs don't disappoint. At normal volume levels, the room fills up with that unmistakable bass line, with all the definition I'd ever need, though alas, without the aforementioned room-shaking bass or "heft."
The McCulloughs are fabulous speakers. They are also an absolute steal, and should be seriously considered by anyone looking to purchase this type of speaker. Based on my evaluations with different components, cables, sources, etc, I can tell you that they can stand the test of time. Sure, there's always room for improvement. As it turns out, I have something special coming my way in about two months. Discussing the bass shortcomings of the McCulloughs with Rick Reimer, he suggested that I could opt for his subwoofers to add that last bit of information to the mix. Therefore, I am due to receive a set of subwoofers that are specifically made for the McCulloughs, featuring twin 10-inch Dayton sourced drivers in each cabinet, and perfectly sized to match the height of the stands I am using. According to Rick, the sound will pretty much be that of the Tetons, with ultra-high-quality bass output down to about 16 cycles! To top it off, the McCulloughs, not being burdened with bass output, will open up even more. I can hardly wait.
I can't say that the McCulloughs are the best speakers I have ever heard, but I can say with certainty that they are pretty darn good. I believe that you would have to spend a great deal more money to get speakers that would yield a higher level of performance. I believe that you need look no further than the McCulloughs for musical speakers that will leave others in the dust at or near this price point.
Stick around for the final part of this three part series, where I will address in more specific terms the McCullough's performance when complimented by their specially designed bass add-ons. Danny Kaey