To assess the system’s musical I chops I turned to two of my favorite multichannel reference recordings, first the Marriner/Academy of St. Martin in the Fields recording of Orchestral Works by Gordon Getty (Pentatone Classics, multichannel SACD) and then jazz-inflected First Impressions from Blue Chamber Quartet (Stockfisch, multichannel SACD).
On the Getty recording, I focused in particular on the roughly 12-minute long Overture: “Plump Jack”, which provides a compact sampler of orchestral moods and voices. What caught my ear was the ease with which the BP-8040ST system precisely positioned individual orchestral sections in believable locations on the stage, while at the same time conveying a larger sense of the whole orchestra and of the volume and acoustics of the recording venue. Low percussion sounded appropriately powerful and full of impact, while brass (and especially low brass) had a beautiful and sumptuous burnished glow. Strings, in turn, had appropriate warmth with just a hint, in the case of high strings, of incisive edges (but not unpleasantly incisive edges, thanks to the smoothness of the Definitive tweeters). But the main overarching impression left by the system was one of appropriate scale; when big orchestral moments came along, the system seemed to draw a deep breath and to expand to meet the requirements of the musical situation—something not many systems in this size or price range could do so convincingly.
On First Impressions, I found myself draw, as is often the case, to the quartet’s interpretations of small-scale works by the composer Astor Piazolla. In particular, I was drawn to Blue Chamber Quartet’s rendition of the delicate piece “Tanti Anni Prima”. On this piece, the four instruments that comprise the quartet are beautifully showcased, so that you have time to savor the upper register playing of bassist Holger Michalski, the ringing and downright tubular voice of Thomas Schindl’s vibraphones, the wide-ranging sonorities and lilt of Angelika Siman’s harp, and the vigorous yet never overpowering sound of Julia Bartha’s piano. But frankly, many speakers do a good job with the tonalities of the instruments on the carefully made recording. What made playback through the BP-8040ST system special, was the truly exceptional manner in which it captured (and I mean vividly captured) the placement of the instruments within the soundstage. On some systems, the four instruments can sound a bit “crowded together,” but through the Definitive system the size and scope of the soundstage became more fully apparent, so that I could hear each instrument occupying a distinct piece of “real estate” within the larger stage. This not only gave a heightened sense of realism, but helped to convey a sense of place—reminding the listener that in really good recordings the sound of the instruments become, in a very desirable way, intertwined with the sound of the room in which the performance unfolds. This sense of place is something the Definitive system gives you in spades, which is pretty remarkable in light of its modest size and price.
Finally, as a bit of an over-the-top exercise, I put on one of the new Naxos audio-centric Blu-ray (24-bit/96 kHz) recordings, this one the Wit/Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 (the famous ‘Symphony of a Thousand’). Candidly, the sheer scale of this piece—and especially the scale of its concluding minutes—is so large and demanding that I’m not convinced that any music playback system can fully do it justice, let alone one selling for a tick under $2600. Nevertheless, the BP-8040ST system gave the symphony one heck of a college try, and in the process it won my admiration for maintain its composure in the face of towering sonic demands. While I won’t tell you the system sounded completely realistic during the concluding minutes of the symphony, which would be a stretch even for five-figure or six-figure systems, it did a great many things right. In particular, it did an astonishingly good job of delineating individual vocal lines and passages from individual chorus sections, while keeping all of the orchestral action more or less straight (something that, on the very demanding piece, is much easier said than done). Specifically, the Definitive system sound focused and appropriate ethereal (even mystical) on the haunting passage highlighting the lyric “Blicket auf zum Retterblick, alle rueig Zarten.” What was revealing, I felt, was that the system not only achieves definition in the usual ways, via textures and timbres, but also achieves definition through careful emphasis of stage position. There is no tendency with this system, as there sometimes can be with other systems, for the soundstage to become an ill defined, homogenized mish-mash of voices. Instead, performers and choir/orchestral sections stay put, and are appropriate spread out upon the canvas of a big, broad stage that perfectly complements the scale of the composition.