But this system can also sound extremely full-bodied and dynamically authoritative when the situation warrants. Drawing another example from Inside Man, listen to the film score’s boisterous opening song, a variation on the Indian-themed “Chaiyya Chaiyya”, unfold during the opening chapter “Who, What, Where, When, Why.” The song juxtaposes high-pitched Indian percussion, wind, and string instruments against both male and female vocals, with prodigiously loud and intensely modulated rhythmic pulses from bass synthesizers underpinning the entire mix. The Radiance system not only renders this complicated song with great clarity, but also presents it with an exuberant kind of dynamic swagger few systems this size or price can match.
Acoustic Energy describes its Radiance speakers as being equally well suited for playing music as for reproducing movie soundtracks—something that, in my experience, is easier said than done. But happily the Radiance system not only “talks the talk,” but also “walks the walk.” To give the system a thorough workout, I tried it first on some revealing 2-channel material and then on good multichannel recordings.
First up was the lovely track “Senia’s Lament” from Jerry Douglas’ Lookout for Hope [Sugar Hill, SACD]. Over time I’ve come to regard this track as a bellwether recording of sorts, because it can sound rich, warm, and gloriously full-bodied when reproduced properly, but thin, edgy, and a little shrill on equipment that doesn’t make the grade. Fortunately, the Radiance system did a great job with Douglas’ solo dobro, showing how the instrument, which is played with a slide, carves swooping, soaring, incisive lines with the precision of a scalpel. Yet the Radiance speakers never fell into the sonic trap that ensnares so many speaker systems on this cut; namely, the tendency to make the dobro sound overly “jangly,” glassy or hard-edged. Frankly, getting this track to sound right—and it certainly did sound right through the Radiance system—requires speakers that can deliver a full measure of detail, yet without overemphasizing or etching the edges of notes. What also helped the overall presentation was the rich, sumptuous sound the system revealed in Viktor Krauss’s acoustic bass accompaniment and in Larry Atamanuik’s tasteful percussion work and judiciously placed kick drum accents. On very good systems, “Senia’s Lament” can take on an intensely evocative and almost larger-than-life sound, which is exactly what I heard through the Radiance system.
Next, I played a track many listeners regard as an old favorite: Rebecca Pidgeon’s rendition of the Phil Spector classic “Spanish Harlem,” from Pidgeon’s The Raven [Chesky, multichannel SACD]. At its best, this track should be rendered with a delicate, lilting, almost “liquid” quality that allows Pidgeon’s voice to break free from the speakers and to float, as if on a pillow of air, at the center of the stage. Here, I felt, the Acoustic Energy tweeter/DXT lens system really demonstrated its worth; the Radiance main speakers let me hear the treble textures and subtle inflections in Pidgeon’s voice, as well as the elusive, reverberant cushion of air surrounding the voice—all without ever sounding excessively bright or in any way overwrought. What is more, the system did a fine job of capturing the deep yet tautly defined sound of David Finck’s gently syncopated acoustic bass lines—lines that in a very real sense give the song its rhythmic foundation and pulse. My past experience has been that some systems are able to get the depth and weight of the bass right, but that they smear its textures just enough to make it sound a bit muddy. But not so the Radiance Sub; it showed the power of the bass while at the same time letting me hear the higher register textures and sonic details that help define the instrument’s deep, complex, woody voice.
The Acoustic Energy Radiance system earned our respect, partly because of the many things it does well, but also because of the sonic pitfalls it manages to avoid. Strengths include the ability to deliver good measures of detail and textural nuance, articulate mids, and potent yet well-defined bass, while also serving up expressive dynamics. At the same time, the system consistently avoids sounding edgy, overwrought, or boomy and overblown. Together, these qualities add up to a sound that is clear and rich, with fine natural warmth and well-focused imaging. The Radiance system offers good value for money and produces a “big” sound from mid-sized speakers that, while certainly attractive and well made, are compact enough that they tend not to draw too much attention to themselves.