Let me illustrate some of the comments I made under SONIC CHARACTER, above, by describing the T2 Classic’s performance on several real-world pieces of music. First, as a test of overall clarity and neutrality, I put on the track “Timeless” from Larry Coryell, Badi Assad, and John Abercrombie’s Three Guitars [Chesky]. As the title of this album suggests, this album focuses primarily on the distinctive sounds of three masterful, but very different, instrumentalists, each playing acoustic guitar. It perhaps goes without saying that all three instruments play in the exact same pitch range, so that the only way to distinguish one guitar from another is to pay attention to subtle voicing differences between the instruments, to variations in playing technique as practiced by the individual artists, and, of course, the position of each instrument within the broader soundstage.
The T2 Classic did a very good job of differentiating the soundstage positions of the guitars and guitarists, and of highlighting signature differences in the artists’ playing styles. In a sense, the T2’s subtle band of upper midrange/lower treble emphasis worked in a complementary way, here, making differences in plucking techniques or fingering styles stand out in sharp relief. The downside of this band of emphasis, however, was also apparent, as the T2 tended to overemphasis (albeit in a subtle and not terribly oppressive way) certain fast-rising transient sounds, giving them an exciting but also unnatural “jangly” quality.
Three Guitars does not feature much in the way of mid-bass content, but even so the T2’s subtle touch of mid-bass emphasis made itself felt by accentuating certain low-level bass hall resonances, giving the presentation a very subtle “wash” or low-end warmth that made the recording venue sound, if anything, a bit darker and more intimate than it otherwise might. While one could argue that this presentation is not, in a strict sense, entirely faithful to what’s on the record, it is a presentation that complements the music in an appealing and engaging way.
I tried the same track (“Timeless”) through my Ultimate Ears In-Ear Reference Monitors and found that the sound, while losing most of the euphonic embellishments offered by the T2 Classic, at the same time seemed more accurate and naturally balanced, with a just-right quality of midrange balance, beautifully extended highs, and no “jangly” or “edgy” sounds at all. The guitars, in short, sounded like themselves, which is high praise indeed. Down low, the IERMs likewise lost some of the desirable warmth and bass-enriched intimacy of the T2 Classics, but in return gave a more natural and, in the end, more believable sense of three master guitarists performing near the front edge of a stage.
I performed this same type of comparison by listening to the lovely live jazz recording of the Joe Wilder-Marshall Royal Quintet performing “Mood Indigo” from Mostly Ellington [Blueport Jazz] through both the T2 Classics and the IERMs. Much like Three Guitars, Mostly Ellington gives a natural sounding, up close and personal look at jazz performers in a live setting. Once again, the T2 Classics upper midrange/lower treble emphasis made certain low-level performance details, such as reed noises from a saxophone or embouchure noise from the mouthpiece of a trumpet, stand out prominently, while the IERMs gave those same details an equally finely resolved but more naturalistic presentation. The telling difference, though, is that the T2s sometime overemphasized the details they highlighted, while the IERMs did not. An example, here, would be the way the T2 sometimes made saxophone reed sounds, which should be very subtle and almost subliminal, stand out with a very pronounced “buzz” that could be distracting.
The Joe Wilder-Marshall Royal Quintet does feature an acoustic bass, which the T2 Classics rendered with a pleasing degree of extra underlying warmth and darkness that complemented the intimate setting in which the recording was captured. With the IERMs in play, that extra layer of comfortable warmth and darkness went away, but with the result that the bass—though slightly less weighty than before—otherwise sounded more realistic and believable.
Because the colorations of the T2 Classic are subtle and for the most part complement various type of music well, I think many listeners might find them almost irresistible. The IERM, on the other hand, are for listeners who like their music, “straight, no chaser,” meaning their primary goal is to know exactly how the original recording sounds—preferably with as little embellishment on the monitor’s part as possible.