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Moving down through the midrange, the Usher maintained a consistent personality. It's clean, reasonably uncolored and smooth. Boxy colorations? While the Dancer series may possibly be better, there were no obvious colorations I could detect from the CP-6381s. These speakers are musical, too. Transparent, open and plenty detailed, they nevertheless never slice or dice the music. One can listen to them all day without undue fatigue. They are the kind of speakers that allow you to forget the equipment and listen to the music.

Be it Joe Jackson, Peter Gabriel or Eva Cassidy, the CP-6381s did voices nicely. They are so well balanced from the upper bass through the midrange that you can't make vocals sound chesty or boomy or even strident or honky - unless that's what's on your disc of course. Of particular fun was Chanticleer's How Sweet The Sound with Bishop Yvette
Flunder, a recording of spirituals and traditional gospel music [Warner R2 60309] or -- as Marc Mickelson said when he recommended the CD to me -- "gospel with attitude". It's a must-have disc for lovers of vocal music and the general genre and it threw the CP-6381s' strengths into sharp relief. The various choral voices explode in a kaleidoscope of colors like fireworks across a darkened July 4th sky, each separate and distinct yet part of a united whole. And when I say explode, I mean explode. These superb singers evidence truly excellent diction and the Usher's snappy dynamics showed it off well. And check out those bass vocals. Such balance and low levels of coloration and resonance are not easy to come by. For sure, the Ushers served the music well - and vice-versa.

The CP-6381s are lithe dynamos, too. I've already discussed how they can play loud and satisfy while playing softly. They rocket between the extremes very nicely as well. On paper, they are easy to drive and while I did use 500 watts of Bryston power, believe me when I say that I can discern when a speaker needs plenty of power and when it doesn't. The CP-6381s exhibit a combination of power and agility that less amplifier-friendly speakers can't muster.

On Dire Straits' title track "One Every Street" [Warner Bros. Records 47772], the Ushers demonstrated a neat and tucked-in demeanor. They produced a wide and deep soundstage, quick concussive bass lines, smoothly articulated vocals and saturated electric Fender tone. But when I set to spinning Peter Gabriel's UP [Geffen Records 49338], I knew that the Ushers had merely been playing the part. The Gabriel disc unleashed a very different kind of bass power and hedonistic heft. Ditto for a soundstage that swelled to monstrous proportions. Usher's smallish woofer in a big box proved a recipe equally adept at reproducing both discs. From the unexaggerated lower registers of the piano from Dire Straits' "One Every Street" to the growling and indistinct gut-penetrating bass lines on Gabriel's "Sky Blue" to the opening bass riff on "No Way Out", each differs in its tonality and tunefulness and in the way you can almost count the bass cycles.

Where soundstaging was concerned, the Ushers did something interesting. Some speakers tuck the stage from corner to corner in front of me and in a straight line across my room (that's not to say that spatial information doesn't fill the room but I'm talking about the location of the stage itself). Other speakers form a panoramic and arched stage in front of me that partially wraps around the listening chair. The CP-6381s did both. What I got in my room varied completely with the discs being played. What didn't vary was the CP-6381s remaining two of
the most visual speakers I've used in a while. I could almost see the performers in the room. However, while rock-solid, the performers didn't have the extreme focus that better speakers do. Listeners can and will debate which is the more natural presentation.

The Ushers did an excellent job of disappearing in the room and overall their imaging and soundstaging left nothing to be desired once one considers their class. I confess to listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Riviera Paradise" [In Step, Epic EK 65874] over the Ushers way too many times. It was just so well balanced, so engaging and so big that I couldn't resist. Stevie's guitar was as big as the man's legend. I could sense the tension on the drum skins and Shannon's bass lines were deep and powerful, in perfect contrast to Layton's ride cymbal that seemed to originate on the other side of my front wall. Simply superb. Throw in some of Reese Wynan's soulful keyboards and one can only contemplate what Stevie would be doing if he was still around today as one listens to the cut over and over and over.

Conclusion: Stating the obvious
The build quality and high degree of fit and finish of the CP-6381s is downright incomprehensible for the money asked. It makes me glad I'm not in the business of speaker building and don't have to compete in today's aggressively competitive market. But ultimately, that isn't what's most important - consider it mere icing on the cake. What is more important and what I liked best about them is their sheer listenability. Listen to them from behind a curtain where you can't see how much speaker your dollar is buying and where their finish can't influence you. What you will hear is a speaker that's dynamic, relatively full-range, smooth and musically satisfying. These are the kind of speakers that will allow you to spend the day at your friend's house listening to his ultra-expensive speakers and then come home to perhaps -- just maybe -- hear what his speakers can do that yours can't but at the same time not really care.

Yes, more highly detailed speakers exist as do more liquid ones; those that will lift your house off its foundation with <20Hz bass and those that will take up a lot more space in your room. But they won't impress your friends with how smart of a customer you are. They won't really make the music more enjoyable or your life more meaningful. They won't leave as much in the kids' college fund. At their price, the Usher CP-6381s aren't cheap but for the high level of fit and finish as well as their unflappable musicality and unusually high degree of panache, they are both a stone-cold bargain and my first recommendation for a Blue Moon Award of 2005.
Manufacturer's website