Positive Feedback ISSUE 74
The ONE Personal Reference Loudspeakers - John McDonald's Personal Mystery Gift
as reviewed by Jim Merod
Plowing Back To Go Forward
Long ago I spent considerable time with the Audience design team listening, on multiple occasions; to the development of a multi-driver speaker creation intended to take-no-prisoners and drops a proverbial wake-up bomb on the audiophile world. Those were whopping good sessions of superior fellow-feeling that allowed several chaps with disparate skills and tempers to indulge both friendship and hours of sonic refinement.
Time passes, its long scythe mowing reality to spent chaff. Looking back one recalls the Clinton years urging "global trade partnerships" and, more local here (much happier), Tony Gwynn's eight batting titles despite his team's nearly impossible pennant hopes. These took place before a once great empire's "investment" of four trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They now come into vivid focus since we've entered a vastly distinct era of awkward, potentially incalculable, transformations with ever more rapid technological change and borderless shifts of worldwide populations blurring the boundaries of longstanding nation-states... whether we realize that fact or not.
In short, your happy youthful outback ain't defined by your drunken uncle's backyard wilderness no more. We're moving into nano-space territories where smaller is better and something approaching infinitesimal smallness is the coming norm. There aren't seat belts available for this uninterrupted acceleration. The one thing in common with goofy ol' Uncle Barfbreath's reality is that you've still got to make it all up as you truck along through the unmowed weeds of the future. The weird difference is that your instruction manual is logged in cyberspace, written in Chinese.
First Cadenza in F-Sharp
Our coming dystopia will be too much to gather with a lingering long look. It will also be in your face, too much to miss. You don't want to dodge its avalanche of new stuff, wild adventures, innovative possibilities and mind-boggling manipulative techniques. Who in his right mind would want to trek through the tumult of the twentieth century only to throw his ticket to a Waiting Somewhere into the trash just as the promise (or threat) of kaleidoscopic psychedelic sobriety takes off like a neutron bomb ignited at ground zero?
Think, for example, of all the strange dreams you've had where people blend into one another and time and space seem at once malleable but personally stupefying, incarcerating your dreaming self. Even that is not quite as odd as the way your entire life's good and bad luck seem to appear like accidental apparitions when you take stock of things. Think about this a moment. The whole of the western philosophical tradition from sixth-century Greece down through your favorite modern Socratic hero, Wittgenstein, is a prolonged meditation on what is... and its uncertain possible corollary, what isn't.
Once you begin to wrap your neurons around this ghostly invitation to the world's shimmering oasis you start to GET IT. Thought and language are necessary but limited. They do not clarify as much as we wish for or seek. Therefore, what to do in the face of such demonic allure? Answer: we listen to music which—was it Cicero or St. John of the Cross who said—charms the beast in us.
Cadenza in F-Sharp, No. 2
I'm somewhat astounded that many years of sustained work at Audience to craft a benchmark, unrivaled 32 driver-array behemoth deluxe speaker extraordinaire have culminated (among other outcomes) in the creation of a single-driver speaker that outperforms speakers many times larger and much more expensive. A pair of "One" monitor speakers must be heard to be believed and adequately comprehended.
Take, for instance, a recent occasion when Justin Grinnel, a marvelous bassist residing here in the lower southern region of California, came by Casa BluePort to hear a recording I'd made not long before of the strong ensemble under his command. Although the point of his visit was to receive his discs and listen to 65-plus minutes of music recorded "on location" at DIZZY's Jazz Club in San Diego, Justin clearly "got" what the ONEs were doing. I let him hear his session with the naked directness of the small Audience boxes and, also, with Magnepan 3.6 speakers. Both sets of speakers were driven with Red Dragon M1000mkII amps and Kubala-Sosna speaker cables. Both sounded real and deeply involving both acoustically and emotionally. I did not grill Justin or hold him to interrogated responses, but I was well aware that he was pleased by what he heard—by the way his playing and his compositions were reproduced as if nothing intervened between what he did (what the microphones heard) and what stood square and brilliant in sonic daylight.
Maggie 3.6 speakers cost five times what the sneaky-good small footprint Audience monitors cost. While there are differences in the presentation each makes, the truth of our mutual experience was that EACH was splendid; BOTH were vibrant, accurate and sonically engaging. A discerning listener might prefer one over the other, but no one I've given an audition of the "One" pair has offered anything less than surprise, pleasure, and a degree of outright amazement that such a small speaker can create such three-dimensional power, musical richness and dynamic complexity.
Cadenza for Tommy Flanagan in B-flat
My old pal, legendary pianist Tommy Flanagan, spent many days and nights in my homes in Massachusetts and here in California. Tommy loved listening to fellow pianists, just as Hank Jones did, also. We spent extended hours in front of various sound systems listening to Al Haig, Ahmad Jamal, Kenny Barron, Jimmy Rowles and Art Tatum. One afternoon, with a fresh large bottle of Bombay Sapphire in and out of the freezer, TF and I plowed through several hours of Art Tatum's solo masterpieces. What an amazing experience that was... to hear the genuine "god of the piano" in the company of the man who might have been the single most tasteful and lyrical jazz pianist ever was a PhD-seminar in deep listening.
I recall such moments of relaxed ecstasy because I know that, had TF been able to hear his idol (and mine) dazzle imagination with the pure sonic clarity and palpable vivacity of these brilliant Audience monitors that I've been enjoying, and learning from, his pleasure would have been significantly enhanced and the closeness he felt to the divine Art would have increased by many degrees of intimate proximity.
This momentary B-flat riff is meant to celebrate musicians whose artistic glory can never be preserved with enough love and care; whose artistic craft, deserves the thrill of just such unpretentious fidelity and personal satisfaction on the deepest level possible… as, here and now, once more replicating Art Tatum's improbable mastery and lyrical majesty, these modest yet virtually unequaled Audience speakers offer with effortless ease.
The world's amassing uncertainty and sure stress will catch us off-guard, undefended, or tempt us to new forms of collective self-preservation. Nothing succeeds like whatever preserves one's fleeting sanity each day over the course of a lifetime. Do any of us have time to find new mantras or strategies of strength and liberation? What are the odds of locating such useful tactics previously undiscovered? Songs and musicians who speak to the unnamable place in us that makes us whole and keeps us focused may be our best allies and advocates. I mean this sincerely.
For that reason alone it may be incumbent upon us to create a great personal sound system that delivers music's magic and lets us store cash for a fractious day ahead. I do not know of any speakers at this price that approach the musical reality and aesthetic splendor of these unassuming "One" personal reference monitors from John McDonald's Audience. Jim Merod