Usher Audio designs and manufactures loudspeakers, preamplifiers, power amps, and accessories. In consultation with audio industry legend Dr. Joseph D’Appolito—whose name is synonymous with the “D’Appolito Configuration,” a driver array used by dozens of speaker makers worldwide—the company produces five lines of loudspeakers, from the entry-level “Usher” Series to the exotic “Dancer” Series.
A step up from the “Usher” line, “V” Series products include the two models reviewed here, plus the $620 V-603 center channel speaker, and the V-602, a two-driver/two-way floorstander retailing for $1040. The largest of the line, the $1480 V-604 is an attractive and robustly built column featuring a 1" fabric-dome tweeter flanked by two 7" compositecone woofers, while a rectangular port extends the speaker’s low-end response.
The back panel has a recess with two pairs of binding posts, connected via supplied jumper straps. A nice touch is a small graphic showing three hookup possibilities: single wire/single amp, bi-wire/single amp, and bi-amplified. For most of the several weeks that I had the Ushers, I chose the bi-wire configuration.
On 28" sand-filled Target stands, the $700 V-601s were within an inch of the height of their bigger brothers, but their tweeters were above my listening axis, whereas the V-604’s were right at ear level. With some speakers, the tweeterto- ear height relationship can have pronounced effects on perceived spectral balance, imaging, and detail. That proved to be true with both Usher models, but not to any severe extent. They both seem to have relatively large horizontal and vertical dispersion patterns. Placement wasn’t critical for getting the best sound from either speaker.
Alternating between the two Ushers was a fascinating exercise, in that they appear to use the same drivers—the difference being that the V-604 has two woofers and a much larger cabinet, and therefore better, deeper low-frequency potential, which affects not only the speaker’s musical authority, but also its midrange clarity. The V-604’s better bass extension immediately made it my preference of the two. It doesn’t have world-class bottom-octave impact, but rolls off smoothly below a perceptible midbass hump that makes the speaker especially effective with a bass/baritone voice like Leonard Cohen’s, the moody jazz of Patricia Barber, and rock, pop, and country thumpers—The B-52’s Good Stuff [Reprise], Turkish pop star Tarkan’s Dudu [HITT Muzik], or Guy Clark’s Boats to Build [Asylum]. Rocking out at moderately loud levels, the V-604 is totally enjoyable. Danceable even.
The downside to this is that regardless of the material, the V-604 tends to sound thick in the mids and a bit veiled on top. There’s a laborious darkness about it that lingers over every recording like rain clouds over Nebraska cornfields. It doesn’t have that open, airy, effortless quality that lets string instruments leap to life in your listening room or makes female vocals so hauntingly compelling. “Caracol,” Strunz & Farah’s extravagant guitar duet on Americas [Mesa], lacked the dimensionality that I’ve heard with many other loudspeakers.
Likewise, Kathleen Battle’s small-voice interpretation of the Gershwin classic “Summertime,” from Kathleen Battle at Carnegie Hall [Deutsche Grammophon], was short on delicacy and shimmer. Nuance was also not this loudspeaker’s strong suit—Steely Dan’s “Third World Man” on Gaucho [MCA] contains details that simply weren’t fully filled in by the big Ushers. The song depends on poignant, fading instrumentals to underscore the impression of a suburban desperado’s hopeless absurdity, but the Ushers failed to deliver the poignancy.
Their smaller siblings were brighter and more open sounding, and especially enjoyable with female vocals—Kiri Te Kanawa’s glamorous treatment of Cole Porter’s “So in Love,” from Kiri on Broadway [London], Bernadette Peters’ lovely cover of “Blackbird” on I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight [Angel], or the echoheavy “Llorando,” Rebekah Del Rio’s a cappella Spanish language version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” from the Mulholland Dr. soundtrack [Milan].
There’s no downside to bright, open top octaves, of course, but like the V- 604, the V-601’s has a midbass hump, in this case made more pronounced by the sharper low-frequency cutoff. This tended to give bass instruments a lightweight character—Gary Karr’s awesome doublebass on Adagio d’Albinoni [Cisco], for example, sounded more like a cello through the smaller Ushers and more like the real thing through the bigger ones.