Let me share two illustrations to show what the EM-ESL system can do with well-recorded musical material.
First, let’s talk about the way the MartinLogans handled the Chicago Symphony Orchestra brass and percussion sections handling of Silvestre Revueltas’ Sensamoyá from Chicago Symphony Orchestra Brass Live (CSO-Resound, multichannel SACD). This remarkable modern composition features the orchestra’s brass section (including a tuba solo), clarinet, string bass, and many of the instruments of the percussion section. The theme, according to Philip Huscher’s liner notes from the recording, is to musically recreate the feel of a Cuban poem about “a ritual Afro-Cuban chant performed while killing a snake.”
Accordingly the piece is rhythmic, angular, and very powerful—at times almost dissonantly so, and yet it also has moments of great delicacy. What caught my ear was both the timbral purity and relative ease with which the EM-ESL system navigated the sounds of the lowest pitched brass and percussion instruments right on up to the highest pitched ones. What touched me, really, was the system’s ability to faithfully capture the diverse tonalities, textures, and orchestral personalities of the individual instruments, while showing how their distinctive voices became woven together to create the sound of the overall orchestral section. You expect high-priced high-end speakers to get subtle timbres and textures right, but it’s refreshing to hear a relatively low-cost high-end system pull off this feat in such an accomplished way.
Tonal balance seemed pretty much ideal, with the EM-ESL main speakers contributing, through their dipolar electrostatic panels, much less in the way of room interactions than I expected. Thus, it was easy to feel myself transported away from the acoustics of The Perfect Vision listening room and into the three-dimensional acoustics of Chicago’s Orchestra Hall at Symphony Center, where this recording was made. Importantly, output from the system’s front channel speakers combined to create an almost perfectly seamless sound that did a great job of conveying in a three-dimensional way the sound of the ensemble arrayed in an arc upon the stage. In turn, the surround speakers, acting both alone and in conjunction with the front main speakers, masterfully revealed the acoustics and dimensions of the recording space, yet without drawing too much attention to themselves.
Yet another fine musical example comes from the Maya trio’s performance of Robert Paterson’s The Book of Goddesses [American Music Recordings, CD]. I wanted to include this recording because A) it is very well made, and B) it afforded an opportunity to evaluate the EM-ESL system both in a purist-oriented stereo context, but also—with surround sound processing engaged—to see how well other system elements matched the voicing of the main EM-ESL speakers.
The Maya trio features Sato Moughalian on flutes of various types, Jacqueline Kerrod on harp, and John Hadfield on percussion. The Trio commissioned Paterson to write The Book of Goddesses, which a collection of nine short, highly evocative pieces that each attempts to capture the personality of an historical goddess, with sources drawn from various cultures and story traditions from around the world. My favorite vignette (at least this week) is the third of the pieces in the series, named for the Greek goddess Aphrodite. I like this track in part because it includes all the members of the trio (not all of the pieces include percussion, but this one does), and because it introduces a light, jazzy, propulsive dance rhythm and beautifully reveals the voices of the trio’s instruments.
Even if you sit down to listen to “Aphrodite” in a casual way through the ElectroMotion ESL system, my bet is that it won’t be long before you get drawn in and start tapping your toes in time to the music. The sound of the EM-ESL speakers—in stereo—is so clean and taut that they make child’s play of capturing subtle variations in rhythm and syncopation. But what is more, they dig down deep to retrieve inner details that capture the very essence of the sound of the harp and flute—so that you have a sense of the speakers having more than enough transient speed to keep up with the attack, sustain, and decay of sounds from each of the instruments, whether heard in isolation or in combination with the others. In short, you have the sense that the electrostatic panels have more than sufficient speed to stay ahead of the music—a sensation that, quite frankly, few other types of speakers can convey.
I wondered if engaging a surround sound processor (e.g., Dolby Digital ProLogic IIx Music or the like) and thus engaging the other speakers in the system would cause the sound to become slower, more diffuse, or to lose focus, but my concerns proved unfounded. When I turned on the surround processor neither the voicing nor the textural acuity of the system changed much at all, though I did note a heightened sense of ambience and front-to-back depth. This suggests to me that, while the EM-C2 and EM-FX2 speakers may not sound identical in voicing to the superb EM-ESLs, they get close enough that, even on a very revealing record like this one, the changes you hear will be small and largely beneficial in nature. The point is that this is one surround system you can trust not only for movie playback, but for serious, critical music listening.