Tonal balance

By virtue of limited weight and extension in the bass as offset by clearly exploded HF reach, the Victories' tonal balance, chez nous, performend tipped up a notch. Depending on material, this could invoke a slice of textural brightness. On more frequency-limited cuts without overt bass components, this ultra-sonic presence created a delectable sense of "domed spaciousness". Think of the sort you might experience in a vast cathedral. With so much sheer space above your head, you could feel literally light-headed, lifted partially out of your body. Even if there were catacombs extending to equal measure into the earth down below, the absence of a glass floor would not signal this counter balance to your perceptions. Hence you'd be upwards-bound, somewhat not entirely solidly anchored to the ground. Translation, please?

On Idrissa Diop's dreamily romantic duet with Ralph Thamar ["Africains & Antillais", Yakar, Tinder 861112, 2003], this lift put an emphasis on the cymbal shimmer. It wafted like a cloud of scintillating dust particles lit up in a sunbeam above the two singers for that domed sensation of coruscating air. Phillipe Chayeb's bass didn't at all sound lightweight or undernourished when isolated by exclusive attention. As part of the bigger picture however, the comparatively greater weight and sub-harmonic foundation of my DUOs created a very different balance. It centered lower in the midrange than the Victory, for an earthier, fleshier presentation. But don't necessarily expect a more golden-hued cymbal glisten from the DUOs. The innate quality of the Victory's quasi-ribbon (in the vertical axis most severely dispersion-restricted to make sit-down listening absolutely mandatory) isn't artificially hashy, whitish-silvery or unduly jacked-up at all.
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In fact, taken on its own, its color is golden-warm, well-rounded and thoroughly friendly rather than aggressive or spitty (which it is until broken-in). As a function of relative quantity vis-a-vis the bass though, this high-frequency abundance caused an extra and thus spot-lighted degree of ambient expansiveness. On raunchier, more driven tracks with plenty of propulsive bass energy, this shift of focus subtracted from my personal "gut-wrenching" emotional ledger. How does my personal affectivity to reproduced music operate? It seems most strongly triggered by a powerfully developed midbass, one that combines speed and well-articulated leading edges (which the Victory possesses to a high degree) with the kind of weightily displaced impact that this slim Canadian (no surprise with its twin 6.5-inchers) of course couldn't dish out with my usual 2x10" full-range support, nor the 3 x 6.5" woofers of the Triangles. For that reason, the Victory now marked points on the somewhat more cerebral, analytical side of my score card.

How so? What am I saying?

Take the physical tweeter. It looks to be a heavily modified Hi-Vi Research quasi-ribbon mounted to a cast-iron plate already 1/8" thick on its circumference. The minimally contoured vertical wave guide in the middle adds another 1/8" thickness to most of this plate for solid inertness which, with tweeters especially, always translates as enhanced wavelaunch precision. Due to their minuscule motions that remain invisible to the naked eye, tweeters in particular seem to benefit from over-engineered mounting rigidity since even the tiniest of material "give" creates massive interference. I was introduced to that phenomenon by Phil Jones whose AAD 2000 Series -- and to a lesser extent his Soliloquy 6.5 -- go to extremes in this regard. You will always hear less smearing or cabinet-induced fuzz when tweeter mounting schemes eschew plastic or stamped metal and go for something more dense, solid and thick.

Now remember that image localization and thus specificity of "phantom performers" on the soundstage are directly proportional to HFclarity. Should you be surprised that the Victories focus with the exacting power of a laser beam? Musical items lock into place between them with 3-D precision. Devotees of well-developed, easily maneuvred soundstages will go ape over such exceptional transparency. Likely due to extreme cabinet rigidity plus a narrow profile, the Victory disappears more than most other speakers as the apparent source of sounds.

Analytical, cerebral? To my way of listening, soundstaging, pinpoint imaging, extreme precision are all secondary traits that, if shaded by overriding emotive contact, are fun and additive but, in the absence of the communicative aspect -- and remember, different things communicate very differently to different people -- turn into primary and then somewhat hollow attraction.

"Negev" on Kol Simcha's Klezmer Soul has Oliver Truan open the track by using a physical hammer to excite lower strings on his piano. The Victories failed to fully project its enormous resonant cavity - I clearly heard the string fundamental with its higher harmonics piled one atop the other, but not their opposing sub-harmonics nor the intended bloom of interaction with the sounding board. Ditto for the simultaneous drum accents - they diminished in body and scale. The extensive cymbal work once again evoked sensations of swirling swarms of fireflys or airborne sparks that also bestowed a sense of thereness and immediacy. In the louder passages, Heitlzer's Boehm clarinet inherited a bit more bite and stridency than I'm used to, as function again of upshifted tonal balance.

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Canonge's "Adelante" on Salsa Creole [Tinder, 861092, 2003] is an uptempo scorching Latin-Jazz piano number, with virtuoso key board work, zig-zagging bass lines, flurries of conga whirls and intense ensemble syncopations throughout. The Victory's timing precision -- clearly abetted by absence of ringing, both in the 1st-order network and cabinet -- beautifully conveyed the incredible vitality inherent in this style of high-octane music. Taut, on the money, every riff articulated for maximum intelligibility. The flipside? Canonge's powerful left-hand hammering, most impressively 2'16" into the track, diluted some of its essential ferociousness. Ditto for the bass solo at 3'30" - the notes were all present, but the pop and snap in the attack of the strings was softened, as though a portion of the bass' backside had been removed, the strings now venting into more free air than before.
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Here's the crux of the matter. With this type of music -- which you could call inherently "bright", both for the amount of energy displayed as well as the high number of percussive elements -- the Victory's speed and precision coupled to its very extended tweeter made for a sense of relentlessness, the kind that too much digital resolution can sometimes engender. Your nervous system is overwhelmed with detail, some balancing force lacking to envelop said detail into a less hyped, more relaxed gestalt.

Glancing at the VIctory's specs just conceptually -- 36Hz to 40Khz -- there's one octave missing in the bass, one added to the treble. True, we don't hear beyond 20K, directly. But simply standing up at various heights "equalized" some of that HF energy. Reducing top-end reach to approach the lack of low bass rectified some of this imbalance. Another solution besides experimenting with sitting height? Introduce additional room gain in the bass. Move the speakers closer to the wall. This indeed helped while naturally reducing subjective stage depth. The midbass fattened up to add heft, now at the marginal expense of ultimate speed. But that was readily relinquished in such small fractions. Seeing how much agility this transducer comes with, sacrificing a bit for added warmth seemed a sensible tradeoff. As always, such placement tuning is a matter of balance. While not all -- some is simply intrinsic to certain fixed design choices -- much of it can be custom-tailored to personal preferences.

For example, moving the speakers closer together added further meat in the midrange. Facing the speaker straight out to reduce on-axis tweeter output helped, too. I also noted that the tweeter seemed to be "leading" more at lively levels. Used to across-the-board linearity with my horns even at high levels -- everything gets louder together -- the Victories became more trebl'ized as control over output voltages grew less cautious and more, er - inspired? Conversely, these speakers retained enough air and sparkle at pretty subdued levels that it could make them into ideal apartment dwellers where smaller, less well-sealed rooms and proximity to multiple neighbors all 'round mandates communal rather than selfish spirit. Hey, you might even be told what to listen to.

The verdict on my 30-watt AUDIOPAX monos? Great speed and precision, impeccable timing, superior soundstaging and world-class disappearance act; a tendency toward leanness, with the associated loss of body and weight; if not accounted for with placement, somewhat excessive HF presence which, depending on material, could translate as ambient light (i.e. causing greater visibility of space if the music per se lacked low bass to begin with) or turn a bit overbearing and forward.

Consequently -- and a very personal response that could well differ with you -- a speaker provoking a great deal of respect but offering a bit less to, ahem, warm up to. As a unique feature of the 88s, I shifted the TimbreLock into higher-than-usual bias values. As a function of harmonic distortion interaction, this expanded the overtone envelope and successfully shaved off some remaining edge. This was more for personal edification than main review interest. Since no other amplifier I know of is equipped with this tuning feature, I can't dwell on it.

My next go-around? The Bel Canto eVo 200.4 in bridged 360wpc mode. I had already tested the Victories in my big living room on the Art Audio PX-25. That confirmed how indeed, the Coincidents' high sensitivity translated even a few puny -- but peak-quality, baby! -- watts into higher-than-comfortable listening levels. For critical comments, I'd haul the PX-25 into my main rig. But first, the solid-state eVo. With its widely admired bass prowess especially in bridged mode, it might shed more light on the tonal balance issue.

Tonal balance revisited

I'll be brief. The minor accident-proneness of the previous pairing with the Brazilian amps at first veered into full catastrophe mode. Things turned unacceptably, annoyingly hard, brittle and thin, the kind of brightness you'd encounter when removing all absorbent elements from your room while throwing in some large-scale mirrors just to ruin your cozy evening for good. The eVo's famed resolution, usually a very welcome boon, now acted as mercilessly added weight on the debit side of this tonal balance scale. Aching temporarily for the NBS Black Label's heavy-weight contributions in the mid-bass band that, in the context of my reference system, had proven too much, I now replaced the HMS Grand Finale wiring with my Acoustic Zen setup of Satori and Matrix Reference. In my usual system setups, I know it to be slightly thick or warm in that region.

Aha. While not quite sufficient to turn the corner without occasional screeching, this infusion of warmth did repair much of the initial attempt's shock treatment. An even "warmer" cable than the AZ would likely have meant yet smoother sailing. But, I didn't have any in-house to tell you which one. As an aside, did 360 sand watts produce tighter bass than 30 glowing ones? Leading edges were somewhat crisper but inherent weight or reach identical, proving that de Lima's unique inductance-coupled transformer scheme really works. In fact, in this comparison, I preferred the slightly more rounded, less chiseled bass of the tube amp.