I love reviewing speakers but haven't done much of it lately. Why such conflicting tension? The former is because, of all the components in the chain, the mechanical, analogue-crossover, passive loudspeaker remains the dim-witted Neanderthal of audio. It's most prone to high-level nonlinearities that would be completely unacceptable in any other audio device. The resultant voicing is thus often instantly apparent, making for a potentially far more interesting story -- about readily discernable personality traits -- than agonizing into the wee hours over the latest-greatest digital ace that measures like a champ but sounds, for all intents and purposes, identical to the last such temporary visitor that haunted your abode.

The reason I haven't done many speaker reviews? It's the blasted Avantgarde DUO. This high-efficiency hornspeaker so excels at what it does well (dynamics, immediacy, grab-ya-by-the-shorthairs intensity) that most other designs which would fare splendidly against more conventional competitors just end up sounding - well, tame, lame, veiled and challenged when substituting for the German wonders. Not that it's fair to expect of 'em to keep up. But when you do audio reviewing for a living, with complete control over what you write about, it becomes mandatory for your long-term juice to pre-select things which you believe or intuit to be up not your f-hole but alley to bliss - or at least fundamental appreciation. Wasting time and bad ink on things you're pretty sure won't float your boat in advance is simply asking for piercing headaches - stupidity. There'd be grotesque conceptual dance moves on the keyboard and the likelihood that personal bias prevented an uncolored stance during the process from the word go. And who'd be served by that? Nobody.

Hence you see me concentrating on low-powered tube designs unless, as with Bel Canto, 47Lab, Coda or the forthcoming First Watt marquee, I'm darn certain I'll dig transistorized results. The current expansion of 6moons' stable of writers assures that any mainstream product category imaginable can get a fair shake. Someone will be in possession of the requisite system context, experience and preferences to volunteer for the job. All this fancy preluding by way of explanation: When it comes to speakers, I'm extremely selective. Because, like the dog lubricating his hairy manliness, I can. When manufacturers push against my better instincts as unfortunately happened with Israel Blume of Coincident Technologies, the outcome may not be what they hoped for.

The DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 8 was requested because people put me up to it whose hearing I trust implicitly - and they were right as usual, which is why I trust' em in the first place. The Rethm review of The Second or Third, forthcoming in the first quarter of 2004, will be a function of having heard the Second at both CES and VSAC and fallen hard for it, twice. The pending Marten Design Mingus review follows the Gibbon precedent as a trusted insider tip. Today's request was in direct response to Bunge's hard-hitting demo during HE2003 [above]. While you can never know for certain until the aliens actually land in your own backyard to beam you up -- will they be the nasty grey kind with the triangular faces, or nubile nymphs from the Indian pantheon -- such selective preparation had thus far boded well. The Loreleis, fully pre-conditioned as requested, instantly acquitted themselves as the friendly ETs I'd hoped for - but far more ballsy than any two-way lover could have expected. Call 'em high-heel'd vixens in whips and chains. How do I know? Because my Cairn transport, from the previous night's Techno fest with my DUOs, still held Bajofondo's TangoClub [Vibre/Surco, Universal B0000564-02].

That recording continues seamlessly where Gotan Project's La Revancha de Tango left off - edgy, minimalist Uruguaian bandoneon or violin motifs above HipHop/House slam beats and cool DanceHall grooves. The artwork's telltale fishnet stockings (what part of the divine feminine anatomy are we looking at, exactly?) say all that need be said. This ain't audiophile-approved fare. It's get-down funky stuff I play at high levels during my Pilates ab routines. Having clear expectations about the bass hiding in them thar grooves, it didn't take pointy adjustable ears like those fancy Lorelei footer cones above to realize that the quoted 32Hz extension was rather conservative. Yes, conservative. While not moving the same amount of air as the twin 10-inchers of my horns, the sheer extension and muscular demeanor 'down there' -- they're knees on that cover, you know? -- was quite a shock. You probably get 25Hz at minus 5 or 6dB. Wowie.

This means that for all but the largest rooms, the Lorelei will serve full-range duty. This made the coincident presence of the new TBI Magellan VI-su subwoofers currently in for review a mere high-brow curiosity. I never once felt even remotely tempted to strap them into the system. It would have been ludicrous overkill. Compare that against the celebrated and far more expensive Merlin tower which, despite its uptown lacquer finish, isn't in the same ballpark even with the optional BAM module. 'Nuff said. Surveying the sonic landscape in toto, what you'd notice with these speakers a mere few seconds into your first track? A very gutsy, full-bodied presentation - nothing wispy or malnourished about these ladies. Directly on-axis, the extreme treble was slightly emphasized but quickly remedied by facing the boxes straight out. My intuition predicts a gently rising response above 6kHz on the scope, to complement the astounding LF extension as a necessary counterweight and to prevent undue shadowing or congealing.

Even when spread 10' apart, center fill neither collapsed nor thinned out, allowing for the projection of a truly wide screen soundstage - without annoying black bars. Where the Loreleis made minor concessions to common sense? In the last word of midrange transparency. It's something that'd occur to you as nearly a given when considering that a 7-inch driver performs double-duty for extreme low bass and vocals. Accordingly, the Loreleis frolicked on the warm side of neutral. Capable of higher-than-good-for-you decibels without obvious compression or nastiness, they reminded me of the nOrh SM6.9s in their feisty mien, but with a more lit-up treble than the implementation of Vifa's ring radiator in the Thai drums manages. That latter ingredient is vital to Rolf Gemein's design. Without it, the bass prowess of these towers would nearly be too much of a good thing. As it stands, he strikes a judicious balance of control and bloom; midrange communicativeness and tonal density. He then adds a sparkly top for apparent speed and openess which counteract the weight from the lower midrange on down.

Another speaker that comes to mind is the earlier-mentioned Proac 2.5. My friend Brian Kurtz of Austin's Sound Mind Audio used to sell 'em. This prompted numerous chats between us, about how the Brit compared to the Soliloquy 6.2 I represented at the time. The Proac went about things in an equally warm, "musical" fashion to today's Odyssey but, in LF heft and reach, found itself completely outclassed by the 6.2's far stouter chassis and Phil Jones-designed bass alignment. Having lived with the 6.2 during my SM tenure with the firm (sales & marketing, that is) I can categorically state that the Lorelei would slaughter the version I then had in a sudden-death bass session.

Triangulating back to the Proac? Lorelei would have devoured the now-discontinued $4,500 2.5 during a one-gob power breakfast appetizer. Where the Proac clearly outperformed the Soliloquys was in treble finesse and midrange mellifluousness. The British design benefitted from significantly dearer drivers which showed. That cannot be said for the Lorelei which uses the Proac's identical mid/woofer. If the Brit then used the Revelator tweeter -- I can't remember -- it would have come in one notch higher on the transducer totem pole than the Odyssey. But Klaus Bunge insisted that Rolf Gemein had experimented with Monsieur Rev and found the chosen unit to be the better performer in this application.

Compared to the even dearer Merlin [above]? Thoughts on what a speaker should accomplish would now diverge in opposite directions. Bobby Palkovich's design is the quintessential and now evolutionary progression of a recording studio monitor. Its key criteria are honesty and absolute transparency, the twin poles of the mastering engineer's trade which, incidentally, has made them very popular with certain writers as a reviewer's tool par excellence. Proac and Sonus Faber designs -- and now the Lorelei model -- disagree with this notion. Their designers don't believe that the home-based music lover needs a ruthless microscope to sift through the molecular layers of the musical matrix. Hence their creations favor the grande gesture over the minuscule, the overall flow to the individual ripple. The Meadowlark Shearwater would fall somewhere in-between these two camps. That first-order design was inherently leaner and less overtly buff than the Lorelei - drier yet more pellucid. Which by now nearly begs a male appellation: Senior Lorelus perhaps? Or Lorelei the butch?

Lest you infer that my earlier comments dissed the VSM -- which, incidentally, also uses the Scanspeak carbonfiber woofer but mates it to the Dynaudio Esotar D330/A -- stand corrected. The Merlin tower is a brilliant and now classic design that fulfils its designer's objective to a 'T'. Its lone Achilles heel to my way of thinking? A very steep tariff for what it really is: A bandwidth-limited two-way that even with its electronic crutch wouldn't reach the subterranean basement the Lorelei boogies on. You could rightfully argue that ultimate extension never was a significant goal - and I wouldn't argue with you one bit. But from a music lover's rather than audiophile perspective, I'd take the Lorelei and pocket a significant chunka change with a huge grin. By comparison, the DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 8 -- which really rang my bells in Hemingway style both during its review and recently at VSAC -- reminds me of Jean-Jacques Annaud's movie Seven Days in Tibet. There's a scene in which Brad Pitt's arrogant Heinrich Harrer character demonstrates his rappeling skills off the wall of a multi-storied Tibetan building. He hopes to impress a local beauty who seems far more interested in his brainier, dorkier-looking comrade played to perfection by David Thewlis.

Watching this strange display of Western-style sportsmanship with incredulity, the object of his misplaced affections merely comments that her people treasure community spirit which always benefits the group even if it entailed personal sacrifice for the individual. To her, the West seems to applaud self-referential showmanship and an individual's efforts to set himself apart over and above the crowd. My recent re-encounter with the Gibbon confirmed my earlier review descriptions of poetic no-effort and getting out of the way without a trace - a Tibetan monk serenely smiling into the face of complete Chinese ethnic cleansing disaster. The Lorelei's the athletic Austrian in this picture - extremely fit, extremely self-confident, but endowed with clear personality. Unlike the film's pre-permutation Harrer, I don't believe any listener would consider Lorelei's personality in need of transcendence. It's musically entirely unobjectionable though a nothing-but-the-truth devotee could justifiably accuse it of additive meddling - with fullness of tone, density of musical substance, vibrancy of richness.

Likely due to the massive inductive filtering, there's nothing sloppy, ill-defined or fuzzy about the Lorelei's complimentary warmth. Call it the loudspeaker equivalent of a high-power, exceedingly well-damped push-pull tube amplifier like a big VTL. Think scaled slightly larger than life, endowed with honking reserves, capable of gut wrenching impact but falling slightly short of that peculiar, finely filigreed finesse of the best modern single-endeds, that between-the-notes "speed" of microdynamic nuance I recall from the Shearwater. Seeing that each speaker will interface differently with different systems, the above character sketch oughta be sufficient to paint you a recognizably broad picture of today's contender. Fine strokes must be filled in by each listener. It should be clear beyond any reasonable doubt that the Odyssey Audio Lorelei is a monster value in the sub $6,000 two-way category. It's eminently capable of filling a large space to thunderous levels with a modest 30 watts; remains clearly in the service of synthesis rather than analysis and thus won't be called a machine of ultimate exactitude like your proverbial Wilson or Thiel, but rather a poetic device in the Proac or Sonus Faber vein. I'm certain you can appreciate the redundancy of value attachments here - it's merely a matter of orientation and need. Effective HF shimmer and sparkle can be dialed in via toe-in positioning with more variability than common with many soft-dome tweeters. Full frontal nudity of head-on directivity adds zing and blister on struck strings as you'd find in Jesse Cook's outstanding new Nomad [Narada World 72435-90797-2-1] which Jim Saxon recommended highly despite his general mistrust of my musical tastes. With this Flamenco crossover release, he bluntly nailed my metier. I cheerfully challenge him to mistrust away - again. Gracias, padrone.

In conclusion, for $2,700/pr and in this Lorelei, a prospective purchaser acquires a well-finished, nicely appointed loudspeaker with top-notch parts and a Humvee of a crossover. It offers broad off-axis dispersion to support wide lateral spreads; completely genre-defying bass extension unless you thought Platinum of yore or Phil Jones' latter-day efforts under the 2000-Series umbrella of AAD; a rich rather than lean presentation with excellent speed but not the last word in penetrating see-throughness; and the kind of corporeal rather than mental moxy one tends to associate with paralleled pentodes. Like the Mesa Baron during its haydays, this design conveys power and scale, color and elan - and with it, a charming tendency to over- rather than understate, to enhance rather than dare failing to impress.

Impressive? Hellaciously so. If my HE2003 memories remain trustworthy after all these months, Klaus Bunge's $4,500 system-sans-source could turn out to be the proverbial no-brainer dragon slayer, with the high-current 150wpc Stratos amp adding yet further control over this Harvard biker chick than my zero NFB SEP monos were designed to do. Saludos to Herren Gemein and Bunge - for the budget-conscious music lover, their latest collaboration opens yet another -- straight as an arrow -- pathway to enjoy a full dose of undiluted High-End without hawking off the family farm. And that's far more impressive than drooling over the latest three-story monstrosity that remains flat to 18Hz at 120dB RMS and looks like Ming the Merciless. Look for dissenting or parallel opinions on Madame Lorelei somewhere on The SoundStage Network, possibly even with the new $1,000 pre/power combo for a complete Odyssey system on GoodSound!, my old haunt. Now that's a review I'd be looking forward to myself - and I won't even have to sweat writing it. Hey, life's good all around!

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