This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

The live/playback duality. To appreciate the inherent issue raised by the HRS-120, we need to pause a moment. To put it at its most elemental, live sound = eyes + ears and in that sequence. Even for audiophiles eyesight remains their dominant sense. With live sound we don't need ultra-precise aural localization markers. We still get perfect image/distance lock. Our eyes fill in those data the very moment the musicians sit down. We know exactly where everyone is relative to us whether they make a sound or not. Each time the bass player plucks his strings we see it. This fills in whatever aural component might actually be masked. At home there's zero original eye information. We literally navigate blind. Now the higher beaming frequencies become the localization beacons of our virtual imaging. And therein lies the crux. Whilst the more diffusive somewhat amorphous German Physiks-type presentation—a wall of sound and as such somewhat homogenous—is actually far closer to live sound per se, this presumed advantage doesn't fully account for playback's absence of visual cues. Meanwhile the very directional radiation pattern of conventional tweeters plays to it. As a purely aural effect it's unnatural. In the absence of visual data it's the better approximation however.

Still looking for the optimal setup, this inter-speaker spacing here had narrowed over the first attempt but the front-wall distance was still insufficient.

This is at the heart of widespread audiophile obsession with soundstaging, imaging, performer outlines, layering etc. First and foremost these are visual qualities translated into the aural domain. By themselves they're completely artificial and unrelated to live sound. But because playback itself is unnatural—no visual data, just two sound sources faking up as many sources as there are performers—one artifice overlaid on another makes for a more complete experience. In its own way it appeals a bit to our visual perception which during a live performance is automatically cross-coupled to our ears and constantly processed by our brain. By design the HRS-120 homogenizes the intensity of localization cues because its tweeter is an omni. Whether you approve or not shall very much depend on whether you subscribe to the stereophonic ideal; or to live sound minus its natural visual dimension (which would be like a blind person hears). For those in the first group, could the HRS-120 be a natural-born super tweeter candidate to add purely directional treble cues over and above its native 360° radiation pattern? With ENIGMAcoustics' Sopranino inbound for its own review, I'd find out.

Have you ever turned to a friend during a performance and gushed over just how airy it all sounded? If you think closely, live sound really is far more midrange-y and bassy than the typical hifi sound. Qualities like performer halos, endless decays, spiderwebby venue reflections and such mostly don't occur in real life because our ear isn't a microphone pickup clipped to the bridge of a guitar. The practice of multi-tracked close-mic'd recordings played back over just front-firing speakers has conditioned us to call a quite unnatural energy balance right. If it's airy you crave, you have your work cut out with the German Physiks.

With Apple/SOtM/Metrum/Nagra front end and SIT1 monos in the final position.

Here we must distinguish between just sound where The Abso!ute Sound abstract is the gold standard; and subjective experience. Do we expect playback to be an acoustic clone of the live event, sound for sound identical? Do we expect a similar experience? The latter is very different. Since playback shrinks the multi-sensory live experience down to just our ears, even if the sound were a carbon copy the total experience could never be. Different venue, different seat, solo vs. crowd listening. So listeners hoping to be emotionally stimulated as though they responded to real musicians in their room welcome alterations to 'just the sound' if those changes deepen their emotional response. If it's a suspension of disbelief we crave, whatever promotes it isn't merely allowable. It's key. If we mean to change our experience's flavor to become more visually or mentally stimulating—or in various ways other than the live experience to exploit the freedom that as an artificial construct we can make it anything we damn well please—whatever serves our purpose is fair game. Back to airy diaphanous treble energetics, if those trigger points are a must, the HRS-120's radiation pattern and subsequent weighting of the at-ear response first and foremost require space.

After my setup had arrived, the obligatory march through my amp inventory progressed from cost-effective but quality Wyred4Sound high-power D-class mAMP monos to class A/B Goldmund/Job 225 to class A FirstWatt SIT1. It called the first too warm, the last slightly too soft and mellow and the DC-coupled wide bandwidth jobbie in the middle just right. Whilst Nelson's monos did the even more spectacular ambient recovery and depth mining, the higher-power Swiss amp with its stiffer damping factor was the crisper around the edges, the most controlled/articulated in the bass and in this context also the most lit up overall. This combo of traits best suited the German Physiks.

Another very happy observation was the perfectly matched sealed bass loading and downfire orientation of the German woofers with my infrasonic Submission sub from Zu. This made for a terrifically seamless handover in the very first octave (and the nearly matching white lacquer didn't hurt either to complete a visual match). My mental psych eval had morphed from disappointed to promising to thoroughly thrilled over just two days. This exam would conclude with top marks.