Boston Acoustics VS 240 Speaker System Page 2
Associated gear included my trusty old Rotel RSX-1065 A/V receiver, Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, Integra DPS-10.5 universal player, Rega Planar 25 turntable, and Shure V97xE cartridge. All movie selections were Blu-rays.
Mayhem in Romania
The sub’s bottom-octave authority asserted itself in the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack of 7 Seconds, a Wesley Snipes thriller that uses Bucharest as the background for art theft and violent betrayal. Even before the louder effects began, the sub played deep pitches with a firm foundation and very little overhang. I was impressed that it could do so at such a low volume. These almost subliminal bass effects enhanced the storytelling. When the usual car chases and gunplay did kick in, the speakers played aggressive effects loud without making them abrasive. Voices in a dank white-tiled torture chamber sounded precisely defined by the hard surfaces and dimensions of the room. The system turned this sonically conventional material into a treat, showing off its dynamic range.
Dynamic range was considerably reduced on the next title. But really, how loud do you have to play Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay? Even from the backward-compatible core of the DTS-HD Master Audio stream? Dialogue was intelligible at a considerably lower volume. Off-axis response was excellent—it let me assume various positions on the sofa without missing anything. Apart from the occasional shotgun or hip-hop interlude, the movie doesn’t include much to challenge the speakers. The humor lacks the wordplay and sophistication of a Larry the Cable Guy movie but subsists on the goofy charm of the leads.
10,000 BC in Dolby TrueHD brought dynamic range back with a vengeance. The struggles-of-ancient-peoples scenario has both striking visuals and an eventful soundtrack. I played it at 60 increments out of a possible 90, or about two-thirds of my receiver’s volume-control range. I used a higher volume setting than I’ve ever used for a movie with my receiver. These speakers love power and know what to do with it. Barrages of midrange-centered effects were smooth, listenable, and layered, with orchestral sweetening. Stomping woolly mammoth feet that evoked Jurassic Park stood out among the many effects. Even though the sub ran at only a third of its potential level control setting, it took no prisoners in these loud low-frequency bombardments. Yet, it also startled me when a character awakened to a distant rumble. That was the quietest bass effect that ever made me jump. Altogether, the Vision and Sounds mustered an epic sweep that left a deep impression.
Pictures at Three Exhibitions
To celebrate Telarc’s new SACD release of Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, I played the work in every possible format.
The SACD is a 5.1-channel recording of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with conductor Paavo Järvi using the familiar Ravel orchestration of the original piano work. In the opening passage of massed brass instruments, the speakers took full advantage of the SACD’s resolution. A Red Book CD could never have summoned such luminous and holographic textures.
Järvi proceeds at a fairly slow and deliberate tempo and doesn’t hesitate to drop quiet passages to a whispering pianissimo. The VS 240’s low-level resolution was very good, but not the best I’ve heard, so I bumped the master volume to another all-time high. Would that require a panicky lunge for lower volume when the work reached its high-decibel finale? Actually, no. The more I used these speakers, the more I trusted their power handling and essential musicality. I especially trusted the pinned-in-the-center fabric tweeter, which remained well behaved even in high-stress situations. The soundfield was the largest I’ve ever heard in my room.
Emerson Lake & Palmer’s prog-rock demolition of Pictures rearranges the piece for Hammond organ, Moog synthesizer, acoustic guitar, bass, and drums. It introduces elements that Mussorgsky probably didn’t have in mind, such as lyrics, wah-wah bass parts, and full-frontal synth freakouts. Lester Bangs—the first-generation Rolling Stone critic lionized in Almost Famous—wrote approvingly of it, saying, “Tastelessness has never been far from the sense of fun at the core of rock ’n’ roll.” So there. Longtime Home Theater readers may recall bassist/singer Greg Lake as an early-days contributor who defended the use of surround sound as a music medium. Around that time, ELP re-recorded a shortened version of Pictures in Dolby Surround. But I felt my 37-year-old vinyl, channeled through Dolby Pro Logic II, offered the definitive experience.
Emerson pioneered the use of the Moog synthesizer in a rock context. And it was the Moog that jumped out of the speakers, especially when DPLII picked up panning effects and flung them all over the soundfield. The sub took good advantage of the Moog’s growling, floor-shaking low end and Carl Palmer’s frenetic bass drum. At the 80-hertz crossover, the speakers and sub split the reproduction of the thundering tom-toms in the way that a good full-range speaker would do. Midrange elements prospered, including Lake’s silver-trumpet voice, the distinctive twangy component of his bass, and Emerson’s chunky and rhythmically exciting Hammond organ playing.
Of course my listening session had to end with the original piano arrangement. Of the versions in my library, the best recorded is Lazar Berman’s 1979 DG performance—one side of an LP, paired with Carlo Maria Giulini’s Chicago Symphony version. Vinyl’s limited dynamics don’t fully accommodate Berman’s powerful technique. But those old black grooves do support his rainbow of tone colors. With his varied touch, he makes the piano sound like three or four different pianos. Although I’m a big believer in DPLII, especially in a system with matched speakers, stereo’s more solid soundstage was the right listening-mode pick. The two VS 240s spread the piano slightly around and in back of the speakers. As with everything above, I played it loud—and tried to approximate the level of the piano, if it had been in the room with me. The results were startlingly lifelike and moving.
Return to Form
With the Vision and Sound Series, Boston Acoustics reclaims its reputation as one of the world’s best speaker makers for a new generation. The sheer originality that went into shaping this product makes me a little dizzy. Quality of construction is the best-case scenario. And its aesthetics are both eye-catching and distinctive. I can’t think of another speaker that shares the look of the VS 240. And there’s certainly nothing in captivity that resembles the VPS 210 sub.
The looks of these products, especially the bell shape, are more than just window dressing. They’re part of Boston’s coordinated strategy to produce the best speaker possible with current technology. I’m especially impressed by the dimpled tweeter, high power handling, Grand Canyon–sized soundfield, and the smallest amount of listener fatigue I’ve ever experienced with a set of high-resolution speakers. Be warned, though: To get the best out of these speakers, your receiver will need large reserves of clean power.
For Boston Acoustics, the Vision and Sound Series is a triumphant return to form. You will want to hear what these speakers can do.