One small word of caution is in order, though. Because the Mini Dancer two can play very loudly without apparent distress, it can be tempting to turn up volume levels higher than is wise. The Ushers will let you get away with this, up to a point, but if really big crescendos come along when volume levels are already cranked to the nines, it is possible to overload the Mini Dancer Two, causing the sound to become congested and, if further provoked, to take on a somewhat raw edge that tells you it’s time to back things down.
The Mini Dancer Twos are never more fully in their element than when playing really well-recorded acoustic jazz material, a great example of which would be Jen Chapin’s delightful reVisions [Chesky, SACD], which features reinterpretations of classic songs of Stevie Wonder as performed by a masterful jazz trio. I put on “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” and was floored by several aspects of the performance at once.
First, the Mini Dancer Two’s gave a powerful and breathtakingly nuanced rendition of Stephan Crump’s nimble, syncopated acoustic bass lines. The Usher’s not only conveyed the size and sound of the wooden body of the bass, but also let me hear subtle cues that let me know when Crump was leaning forward to dig in and apply more pressure as he plucked the instrument’s strings—giving some phrases an extra bit of “pop” or giving others more emphasis by teasing out a deeper, more sustained “growl.”
Similarly, the Ushers did a phenomenal job with Chris Cheeks’ gorgeous sax performance. Cheeks stands to the left side of the side of the stage, which the Mini Dancer Twos clearly revealed, and as he plays the speakers exposed even the subtlest shifts in dynamics, revealing delicate reed sounds and mouthpiece noises, Cheeks’ breathing between phrases, and the sound of his fingertips flying from one fingering position to another as soaring lines erupt from his horn. The sound of the sax was so compelling through the Ushers, in fact, that it was easy to let my attention be drawn to that instrument alone.
But in the center of the stage, and standing a few feet further back than Crump and Cheeks, is Jen Chapin—a vocalist whose evocative and at times feisty style fits Wonder’s music to a “T.” The Ushers quickly revealed Chapin’s gift for modulating both the dynamics and pitch of her voice to turn lines some singers would pass over lightly into unforgettable hooks. At some points in “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” , for example, the Mini Dancer Two’s let you hear Chapin wind up, like an athlete preparing for a surge of exertion, and then explode into a musical phrase with full force, belting out certain lines an intense burst of exuberance.
Finally, throughout reVisions, the Ushers do the trick that all really fine speakers do, which is to show how the acoustics and reverberant qualities of the recording space (St Peter’s Episcopal Church in New York City, in this case) are, in a sense, “phantom performers” that contribute much to the overall feel and vibe of the recording. Because the trio is so open and exposed in this record, you can easily hear how individual musical lines and phrases sometimes energize the room, and then slowly and gracefully decay back into silence.
In all the ways I’ve outlined above, the Mini Dancer Two’s served and enlivened, but did not embellish upon, this spectacular recording. Who could ask more than that?
To answer questions about the Mini Dancer Two’s low bass capabilities, I put on the third movement (“Landscape: Lento”) of Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia antartica [Bakels/Bournemouth; Naxos, CD], which features recurrent pipe organ passages and themes that vary in pitch, timbre, and volume levels. I felt the Mini Dancer Two acquitted itself very well, never flinching or faltering as organ pedal notes descended lower and lower. I’ve played this movement many times on systems with and without subwoofers, and my sense was that the Usher’s offered sufficient depth and power that a sub wasn’t really necessary (although once again, low bass aficionados might beg to differ and want a sub to extract the last few ounces of low frequency “shudder” of which the pipe organ is capable on this track). My only critical observation would be that the Ushers might be a touch under damped down at the very bottom of their response range.