Usher Be-718 Speaker System Page 2
Biwired binding posts were a heavy and elaborate affair, the likes of which I had never seen. There appeared to be not one, but two threaded rings. I had to loosen them to get my banana plugs in; afterwards, I re-tightened them. This held the banana plug so securely that pulling it out was impossible. Very impressive.
As usual, my reference A/V receiver was the Rotel RSX-1065. It’s an exceptional receiver, which is why I use it. Otherwise, these speakers deserve separates, and good ones (think Lexicon or Audio Design Associates). The main signal source was an Integra DPS-10.5 universal disc player. I also indulged in some vinyl using a Rega Planar 25 turntable, NAD PP-1 phono preamp, and Shure V97xE cartridge—the latter two items real-world prole products somewhat outclassed by the Ushers.
Three traits immediately asserted themselves during movie auditions, all of them standard-def DVDs with Dolby Digital 5.1. The Be-718 mustered true, but not excessively aggressive bass in this sub-less review system. The midrange was coherent almost (I did say almost) to a fault, so cleanly rendering each movie’s collage of sounds that the underlying artificiality of surround mixing was hard to ignore. Yet the Ushers were not “ruthlessly revealing.” In fact, they unfrocked that phrase and revealed it as the nasty little compromise it’s always been. They maintained listening comfort even in the face of steroidal action-movie sound effects, and I was grateful for that, because it meant I didn’t have to make constant volume adjustments.
Case in point: Live Free or Die Hard. It blended a high-tech plot line with a barrage of ballistics and exploding vehicles. Yet it wasn’t as abrasive as I’d dreaded, perhaps because the speakers didn’t compress or distort noticeably. They delivered the onslaught with excellent dynamics and a kind of aristocratic ease. That, in turn, enabled me to enjoy the elements I really liked—Bruce Willis’ cool deadpan and his interaction with Justin Long, a.k.a. the Mac Guy. The score perfected its pre-carnage threat mode by blending the low rumble of tympani with gleams of brass (trombone would be my guess).
Listening to the dialogue of Ocean’s Thirteen was like walking through a sculpture gallery with each A-list actor’s voice sitting on a pedestal. The baritone of George Clooney held together well—the woofer didn’t exaggerate its bottom octave. More surprising was the low menace of Al Pacino, which took on a velvety sweetness I normally wouldn’t associate with him. The score, a kind of postmodern surf music, had some cool string-bass lines that the Ushers seemed to love.
The Myth ran the gamut of sound effects and Asian film scoring. Part Jackie Chan vehicle, part costume drama, it didn’t contain anything as memorable as the flying-bean scene from House of Flying Daggers. Here, the conventionality of the soundtrack and the smoothness of the speakers kept attention on the visuals.
And Macheath Has Got a Knife
The speakers’ unerring ability to coax the best out of challenging material continued with The Threepenny Opera—the 1958 German-language version supervised by Lotte Lenya, released by CBS on CD. Mine is the Odyssey double-LP set. What previously seemed like a distant, back-row kind of recording stood revealed as a multidimensional wonder with tremendous depth. The jazz influence in Kurt Weill’s score came through with plenty of rhythmic snap. Several of the players emphasized the threepenny nature of the material with a rough, rasping, almost uncouth, decidedly un-operatic singing style. But clothed in newly revealed ambience, these funky performances worked, and I got lost in the thrusting, uncompromising world of Weill’s music and Bertholt Brecht’s lyrics.
Soundstage Presents: Steve Winwood was recorded for PBS in Dolby Digital 5.1 and released on DVD. Here, there was decidedly less ambience. Instead, the Ushers presented the flat, clear recording flatly and clearly—which was fine, because the material from Winwood’s lengthy resume doesn’t need any sweetening. Amazing how the piezo pickup on José Neto’s electric guitar faked such a lifelike acoustic-guitar sound. Winwood was in excellent vocal form, and the speakers scrupulously tracked the unique tonal and dynamic contours of his voice.
There’s a warm analog feel to Bill Morrissey’s Come Running CD. It reminded me of vinyl without the surface noise. A casual play on my desktop system didn’t prepare me for the rich textures the Ushers got out of this reticent, slightly rolled-off recording, especially from Morrissey’s Taylor acoustic guitar and Dave Alvin’s Telecaster. Occasionally, the woofers overextended the resonant bottom notes of Morrissey’s voice. Speakers generally do if they have any bass response at all. The midrange was rich, fully fleshed out, and three-dimensional.
The Usher Be-718 earns its high-end price with beauty, pleasure-giving, and unerring competence—kind of what Paris would be like if you made it into a loudspeaker. I was genuinely surprised at the pleasing revelations afforded by familiar source components and my reference receiver. And the speakers were so attractive, they continued giving me pleasure even when the system was shut down. A brilliant product—warmly and enthusiastically recommended.
Beautiful to look at, beautiful to listen to
Stand-mount with enough bass to dispense with subwoofer