Perhaps as a result of their inherent smoothness and refinement, the Bird satellites exhibit imaging characteristic that are very fine indeed with a just-right amount of specificity and focus, so that he little system produces wide, deep, precise soundstages that belie its size. While the Bird satellites may not be, in an absolute sense, the most revealing or resolving speakers you have ever heard, they offer very high levels of what I would term “usable resolution.” In practice this means that the system provides almost all of the information necessary to render musical timbres and textures faithfully, yet without pushing the performance envelope so hard that there is a risk of the system becoming edgy or analytical (qualities that can be particularly annoying in systems designed for small room and/or desktop use)
But perhaps the real pièce-de-résistance here involves the unexpectedly excellent integration that the Power Bird achieves with the Bird satellites. As anyone who has spent much time with sat/subwoofer-type home theater systems can tell you, proper subwoofer integration is hard to achieve and rarely approaches the theoretical ideal under the best of circumstances. But in sharp contrast to most competing sat/subwoofer rigs I’ve head, the Bird system achieves excellent integration in an instant and painless way—all with the flick of a few DIP switches on the Power Bird’s rear panel. The manual provides simple pictorial guidance to show which settings to use for the Little Bird, Bird, or Super Bird satellites, so it’s easy to get things right.
The key is that the upper range of the Power Bird woofer matches the lower range of the Bird satellite in terms of transient speed and resolving power, so that the sonic seam lines between the two for the most part melt away. What is more, the sub judiciously avoids overreaching its own performance envelope, so that it eschews big, billowy, overblown bass and instead opts for overall bass quality. While the Power Bird trades away bottom-octave extension (which would probably be out of reach for such a small woofer in any event), it delivers in exchange quite impressive levels of transient speed and pitch definition. This is a very wise design choice on Focal’s part because it gives the system sufficient depth and weight to sound full-bodied, while also providing enough finesse to impart a quality of sonic sophistication that far exceeds most listeners’ expectation given the Bird rig’s modest price and diminutive size.
Dynamics are better than you might ever expect for a system of this size or type, though it pays to respect the inherent output limits of the compact powered woofer. On many types of music, and for many listeners, the system will play as loudly as desired in small-to-mid-size rooms, but if you push the system hard with music that is rich in low bass content you will eventually hear subtle signs of distress from the Power Bird module. These are your cue to turn volume levels down to more manageable levels.
I’ve praised the integration between the Power Bird woofer and the Little Bird satellites, and if you would like to hear a musical piece that really highlights the excellence of the Bird system in this area let me recommend the track “Bass Suite #1” from jazz bassist Avishai Cohen’s album Adama [Stretch Records]. The track opens with Cohen gently playing a trilled pattern on the high strings of his bass, and then soon introducing a deep, alternating drone-like figure played down on the bass’ lowest-pitched string. Later, as the solo unfolds, Cohen brings forth a quasi-scalar run that begins in the bass’ lowest register and that gradually climbs way up high into the instrument’s uppermost range.
As you can imagine, these passages move back and forth through the potentially tricky transition region between the woofer and the satellites and can therefore expose any discontinuities there might be. But with the Bird system there really aren’t any to report; Cohen’s bass sounds full-bodied, articulate, and wonderfully coherent throughout, and its position within the soundstage remains perfectly stable—never wandering or losing focus as pitches descend lower and lower. If you played this same track through many sat/sub systems, you would reach a point where you became aware, at least to some degree, that either the sub or the satellites were shouldering the majority of the workload at any given moment, but the Bird system proves its sophistication by maintaining a certain “cut-from-whole-cloth” integrity almost all of the time. The only exception involves instances where volumes are turned up to fairly high and very low-frequency material is playing, when you might hear occasional signs of compression or—in extreme cases—outright distress from the woofer. But on the whole, the Bird system’s bass performance is surprisingly good in light of the Power Bird module’s compact size.