Let me provide some real-world examples to show the system’s strengths. Of late, I have been using the soundtrack of the film Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the US-David Fincher version, not the earlier Swedish release) as a test for home theater systems, as it includes a compelling mix of natural real-world sounds and a powerful and deeply evocative score. One of my favourite scenes involves the moment when journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) first arrives at the long driveway to the Vanger estate on Hedeby Island in the midst of a snowstorm. The scene is dark, cold, brooding, and a little mysterious and to reflect this fact the sound designer uses very realistic snippets of winds gusts overlaid upon the murmuring engine sounds of the Mercedes sedan in which Blomkvist is riding. As you hear those gusts blowing, you can’t help but feel a chill creeping up the small of your back. But, then, to add just the right touch of mystery and intrigue, the sound designer also injects a score featuring the eerily percussive sounds of a gamelan ensemble, whose sound penetrates between the swirling wind gusts. From a cultural perspective, the gamelan music seems out of place with the Swedish setting, but perhaps that is the point: the images onscreen and the rich, resonant, realistic sound of the gamelan ensemble seem discordant, as if to say, “something’s not quite right here.” The further point, though, is that the sheer realism of the PSB speakers really helps the scene to come alive, leaving the viewer feeling (as I imagine the sound designer intended) both chilled and more than a little unnerved.
Later, in one of the penultimate action scenes from the same film, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) hops on her rag-tag motorcycle to give chase to the escaping serial killer Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgard). In the dark of night, Salander winds her bike’s throttle to the stops as she pursues Vanger’s fleeing SUV down a narrow road through a wooded area and then across a bridge. Speaking as a former motorcyclist, I can vouch for the energy and accuracy of the sounds of the straining engine, punctuated, at times, by the sound of Salander’s furious upshifts. But a really impressive (albeit subtle) sonic moment occurs on the bridge, as we hear—from both sides—the frantic sound of the engine rapidly rise and fall as the bike passes by the acoustically reflective surfaces of the steel bridge girders. It’s the sort of sound that demands turn-on-a-dim dynamic response from the speaker system and the T2 system is fully up to the challenge, making the scene feel believable and full of tension.
Now, let’s turn to a musical example. I am very fond of using recordings produced Günther Pauler (of Pauler Acoustics) for my surround sound system tests. More so than many working in his field, Pauler has embraced multichannel surround technologies as his preferred creative milieu and this shows in his finished products. One of my favourites is the Blue Chamber Quartet’s debut album First Impressions [Stockfisch Records, multichannel SACD]. The quartet consists of pianist Julia Bartha, harpist Angelika Siman, bassist Holger Michalski, and vibraphonist Thomas Schindl. All four musicians were conservatory trained and raised in the classical music tradition, but First Impressions shows the foursome applying its formidable chops to what might best be called “chamber jazz.” A perfect vehicle for their talents is the Astor Piazzolla composition “Kicho”, which opens within a brief statement from Bartha’s piano followed by an arco bass solo from Michalski, where—amazingly—Michalski ranges way up high into the bass’s uppermost registers before eventually plunging downward to the bottom of the bass’ range. This passage alone speaks volumes for the smooth integration that can be achieved between the SubSeries 300 subwoofer and the rest of the system, as there are few if any noticeable discontinuities between the sub and the main system.
But, as the track unfolds, an even more difficult challenge arises as there are moments where the piano, harp, and vibraphone play intersecting lines and at times operate in overlapping pitch ranges. In many home theater speaker systems, this musical scenario would be an invitation to turn subtle textures, timbres and the like into a muddled mess, but the articulacy of the T2 system is such that this never happens. Instead, even in moments where the instruments temporarily land on the same note and at the same pitch, the piano, harp, and vibes are easy to distinguish by their attack, decay, and overtone signatures. It’s a quite a tour de force.