As is so often the case in evaluating surround sound speaker systems, the true cinematic worth of the Bronze BX system becomes most apparent in scenes whose soundtracks deliberately contrast small, detailed, and highly realistic sounds (often including delicate moments of dialog) with much more dramatic, large scale sound effects or swells in the musical score. Some systems are good at one end of the spectrum or the others, but the most desirable systems can handle both with equal aplomb, which is certainly the case with the Bronze BX package. Let me provide a good example drawn from the film Batman Begins.
An intriguing and quietly dramatic scene unfolds early in the film as League of Shadows member Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) stages a softly spoken yet intense confrontation with Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in the midst of a swordsmanship lesson being conducted upon the surface of a frozen pond. In between sword strokes, where the Bronze BX system faithfully reproduces the whistling sound of blades slicing through the air, and the penetrating, gong-like “clang” of blade striking blade, Ducard softly but somberly informs Wayne that the death of his parents was attributable to failure on the part of Wayne’s beloved father to show the appropriate “will to act” at the critical moment. To Wayne, the comment is an outright provocation, and his sword blows at once become fiercer but less well controlled, so that Ducard beats him easily. All the while, the ice underfoot emits periodic loud, low-pitched groans and creaks, captured with ominous power by the Bronze BX main speakers and subwoofer, reminding us that the footing for both swordsmen is far from solid. Ducard persists in his comments, however, asking Wayne if he would have allowed himself to be thwarted—as Ducard insists that his father was—by a lack of will. Suddenly, Wayne’s fiery anger is transformed into icy fury, so that he regains self control (or at first seems to), makes a daring move to reclaim the sword he has dropped, knocks Ducard’s sword aside and stands over Ducard, demanding that he “Yield!”
Ducard smiles knowingly and, looking up at Wayne, softly informs him that not only has he not prevailed, but rather that he has “sacrificed secure footing” in hopes of achieving “a killing blow.” Ducard then gently touches the tip of his sword to the ice at Wayne’s feet, which immediately shatters, allowing Wayne to plunge into the frigid water below. What makes the scene click is the soft but persistent power of Ducard’s words as contrasted against Wayne’s more loudly expressed emotions, all set against the backdrop of natural sounds from the environment (in particular, the low-pitched warning groans from the ice), which has the last say. The crackling collapse of the ice near the end of the scene sounds positively terrifying. The Bronze BX system has more than enough refinement to reveal the subtle shades of meaning and emotion in the actors’ dialog, while also showing sufficient power to show the danger inherent in the frozen pond. This, of course, gives Ducard’s final word in the scene, as he offers this simple warning: “…always mind your surroundings.”
To hear how well the Bronze BX system can handle complex, large-scale orchestral material, I put on the Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony recording of the Beethoven Symphony No. 5 (SFS Media, multichannel SACD), focusing in particular on the symphony’s powerful opening movement (Allegro con brio). Several aspects of the Bronze BX’s performance were noteworthy. First, they did a fine job of capturing the weight, sonority, and power of the low strings on the movement’s signature descending theme (“bom-bom-bom-DOM”). They also did justice to the incisive and penetrating yet also golden-hued voices of brass instruments taking up the melodic theme later in the movement, capturing the “bite” of the horns with overdoing things. Finally, throughout the movement, I was enchanted by the way this relatively inexpensive system caught the sense and sound of a muscular orchestra performing a vigorous symphonic piece within the confines of a large recording venue. The Bronzes conveyed qualities of spaciousness and dynamic expansiveness as few small systems can.
But to explore the quieter and more intimate side of the Bronze BX system, I played the Blue Chamber Quartet’s interpretation of Chick Corea’s “Children’s Song 12” as captured on BCQ’s debut album, First Impressions [Stockfisch, multichannel SACD]. Producer Günter Pauler is known for his uncanny ability to capture beautifully and precisely focused, wraparound 3D soundstages with spectacularly vibrant tonal colors, and that certainly is the case with this recording. But what I didn’t see coming was the seemingly effortless and almost offhand grace and ease with which the Bronze BX system would capture the voices and stage positions of the instruments used by the quartet. BCQ could be consider a “chamber jazz” quartet and as such its instrumentation is a bit unusual; here you have classically trained musicians Julia Bartha on piano, Angelika Siman on harp (the stringed kind, not the handheld “harp” blues players use), Thomas Schindl on vibraphones, and Holger Michalski on acoustic bass (which, in Michalski’s skilled hands, can sound at times almost like a giant cello).