My final bass test was Michael Jackson's Number Ones album. "The Way You Make Me Feel" proved one of the rare occasions where the PX-5HS betrayed their studio origins. On this ultra-dry and ultra-digital recording, their refusal to add even a hint of dewiness entailed that the presentation began to lean towards the forensic. But even this album was not without its significant compensations. "Billie Jean" reminded me for instance how many different textures went into creating the sound of that famous bass line. Revealed throughout was just how effective these speakers are at defining the individual low-end notes that others often present as a single-mass splodge.
Shifting gear, next up was Manu Katché's Neighbourhood. It's a lovely pure recording but this time around, I was a bit underwhelmed. The microdynamic shifts so particularly present in Katché's trademark drumming style were a bit homogenized. Cymbals lacked some metallic shimmer, too. And Marcin Wasilewski's piano was missing some of the tone colour and harmonic density that I know is there. It was still enjoyable, mind you. The bass was full, timing was good and imaging too but overall, I had definitely heard more nuanced renditions. This came as a bit of a surprise because the same upper midband performance that had proved so adept at opening out dense Rock and Pop mixes now seemed somewhat truncated with real acoustic instruments. And that missing extension at the very top had become more of a pressing issue.

 
However, not prepared to give up on the Jazz kick quite yet, I reached for José James' recent Blue Note release Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday featuring Jason Moran on piano, John Patitucci on bass along with a real favourite of mine, drummer Eric Harland. You can expect this record to turn up at a hifi show near you soon. In fact, I'll go out on a limb here and predict it will win the Grammy for best-engineered vocal Jazz album next time round. Although it might be just a shade larger than life overall, it has a naturally warm almost cosseting acoustic within which every instrument sounds just so present. José's voice itself is as rich as a Christmas pudding and couldn't be further removed from Billie's. This Don Was production really succeeds both as a tribute and as a unique offering in its own right. Here the PX-5HS performed better. Sonorous double bass convinced way beyond what speakers of such diminutive size have any right to, and the overall clarity meant that José's unique vocal stylings could be followed with the keenest of focus. Overall there was a velvety seamlessness to the presentation, totally in keeping with the program material and production values. Minus the relentless high-frequency demands present on the Manu Katché disc, this time the top end did just fine. Piano again emerged as something of a blind spot however, displaying some upper midband hash which could result in a hardening of the sound.


Finally, the John Williams & John Etheridge Live in Dublin disc is a gloriously enjoyable testament to what towering technical facility can achieve when pressed into service of the music rather than indulgent arcane noodling. Happily the Fostex seemed wholly in sync with the duo's artistic intentions. Both William's soft nylon ping and Etheridge's steely acoustic zest were rendered with character to spare. The speakers' core strengths of finely fashioned midband articulation, wide dispersion and subtle timing all successfully came to the fore. I always find it somewhat specious when reviewers can't resist the temptation to compare the gear on test to far more expensive offerings that just happen to be serendipitously lying around their home. Do car reviewers ever conclude a family hatchback group test by throwing a Lamborghini Aventador into the mix? But it can be difficult to avoid such comparisons completely, especially if one's own reference equipment happens to reside firmly in a higher price bracket. So it's worth pointing out that it's mainly in comparison to my own far pricier Esoteric MG-10 standmounts (£3'500) that the shortcomings of the little Fostex were exposed. Sheen, shimmer and sparkle as well as a particular affinity with piano music are the MG's raison d'être. The PX-5HS are victims of their own success to some degree because if the bass and midrange didn't so clearly punch above their respective weights, the high-frequency performance would seem less ordinary in comparison. In this sense they positively encourage the reviewer to give them a tough ride. When the sticker is brought back into focus, the criticisms I have pointed out could be seen as nit-picking to a large degree.


In light of the company's goal of offering a more expansive-sounding version of their PX-5 nearfield monitors, it's maybe a little ironic that I firmly believe most PX-5HS buyers will indeed end up sitting pretty close to them as part of a desktop system. Why? Well, that brings us back to the question of exactly why the PXs might be worthy of the term disruptor.