The name Boston Acoustics refers not only to a geographic location and famous speaker company, but also to the rich New England hifi tradition. Over time, a number of performance-minded speaker companies have sprung up near Boston, including Acoustic Research, Advent, Cambridge SoundWorks, KLH, Snell Acoustics, and others. The common denominator that connects these firms is their shared, passionate belief that loudspeakers ought to be faithful, accurate, and uncolored conduits for the music they reproduce. Where some manufacturers treat speaker design as an impressionistic art form, Boston Acoustics has always held itself to a higher standard. Sonic impressionism is not the Boston Acoustics way, which is why you’ll hear the firm’s representatives speak in reverent terms of their desire to preserve the famously neutral “Boston sound.”
In this review the Boston sound is represented by the reasonably priced Bravo II speaker system. At $1599, it consists of five Bravo II “multipurpose” speakers, which serve as both L/C/R and surround speakers, plus an XB4 powered subwoofer. Let me tell you up front that, despite its deceptively modest price, the Bravo II rig is a very serious performer.
Boston calls the Bravo II a multipurpose speaker for good reason. The slender two-way monitor features an enclosure made of rugged molded ABS and comes with an ingenious mounting bracket that offers positioning options galore. To wit: The Bravo II can be placed on a wall, in a corner, on a stand, or positioned on a shelf or tabletop, either vertically or horizontally. In short, you can put the Bravo II just about anywhere. Rounding out the picture, the 100-watt XB4 features a 10-inch woofer and Boston’s proprietary BassTrac circuit, which “tracks the input signal to the subwoofer and prevents its amplifier from being driven into distortion.”
From the moment it was fired up, the Bravo II system impressed us with the evenness and neutrality of its voicing. All parts of the audio spectrum get equal emphasis, with no obvious colorations to be heard anywhere. In practice this means the Bravo IIs tend to be sonic chameleons in that they faithfully reflect the sonic characteristics of whatever material you choose to play. Put on a warm, rich, threedimensional recording such as Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez’s “Tumbao No. 5” from Cachaito [Nonesuch], and the Bravo II system gives you the dark, earthy sound of Cachaito’s acoustic bass as captured in the resonant interior of an old studio in Havana. But put on a recording that features bright, clear, crisp sounds, such as master vibraphonist Gary Burton’s Like Minds [Concord, SACD], and you’ll hear the Bravo IIs nail the sharp ping of Burton’s mallets striking the vibraphone, and the ringing, tubular, chime-like resonance of each note as it decays. Imaging was generally excellent, I think in part because the rounded baffles of the Bravo II enclosure do a great job of nipping potentially distracting edge reflections in the bud. The point is that the Bravo IIs do not have an identifiable sound of their own; instead, they simply show you how your favorite recordings really sound.
Apart from its essential honesty, the Bravo II system also wowed me with its dynamic capabilities. Unlike many systems in this price class, it seemed downright eager to play large-scale, dynamically challenging material. During the jungle chase scene in The Incredibles, for example, the speakers stuck right with the demands of the soundtrack, capturing all the action, blow for blow and explosion by explosion. The system also did a remarkable job with the brutal “Omaha Beach” scene from Saving Private Ryan. Though not capable of reproducing extremely deep bass, the XB4 sub acquitted itself well in all other respects—perhaps owing to its well-thought-out BassTrac circuit.
I identified only a few drawbacks in the Bravo II system, and they were minor. First, highs sometimes sounded a bit dry—meaning the high overtones of instruments such as cymbals lost some of their natural harmonic richness, sounding slightly washed out. Second, overall transparency was very good but not quite on a par with that of the best sub-$2k systems I’ve heard. In other words, the sound was sometimes less “alive” than I would have liked. I would temper my comments, however, with the observation that the sound quality of the Bravo II system rises to the level of the recordings themselves, meaning the better the recording, the more spectacular the system sounds.