|Morel Octwin 5.2M Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers|
|Written by Ben Shyman|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2004|
Page 2 of 3
I began my listening with a record with which I am intimately familiar, The Beatles’ Revolver (Apple, 1966). The Beatles’ seventh album, Revolver is considered by many to be their most important because it began a massive transition for the band from songs about love and happiness to songs about drugs, death, loneliness and taxes. The Beatles fourth, fifth and sixth records, Beatles for Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul, were all released in a span of two years just prior to Revolver and all portray a more “good boy” image and relay a more positive message than Revolver.
Right from the opening track, “Taxman,” I was immediately struck by the Octwin’s low frequency response, which is surprisingly deep, tight and smooth coming from only a 5.25-inch driver and relatively modest-sized enclosure. Paul McCartney’s repetitive bass line and George Harrison’s twangy guitar riff drive the groove of “Taxman” and the Morels delivered with clarity and only modest midrange coloration, particularly on Harrison’s vocals.
Listening to The Beatles for me on a new pair of speakers is always exciting, because I am likely to discover a new sound, instrument or vocal arrangement that refreshes the experience, despite hundreds of prior times I may have listened to the recording. This was true with the Morels, which reveal subtleties and nuances in McCartney’s doubled vocals and the violin and cello arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby” without imparting unwanted distractions between myself and the music. “Eleanor Rigby” is one of the Beatles’ most complex songs, not only musically buy poetically, telling the story of a woman, lonely and wanting marriage but single until her death, and the failed priest Father McKenzie. I appreciated the Octwins’ ability to fill the room with music and not interfere with my desire to emotionally connect with McCartney and Lennon’s story.
Seeing the Derek Trucks Band perform at Town Hall in New York City recently was a musical experience that I will not soon forget. It hooked me so greatly that I ran straight from the show to Tower Records, which in my neighborhood is open until midnight, and bought their albums, including my favorite, Soul Serenade (Columbia Records, 2003). The band draws its influences from jazz, rock, blues, Latin and Eastern Indian and in my view has a more naturally refreshing sound than most of the other newer releases in my recent memory. Guitarist Derek Trucks is most well known as the youthful-looking slide guitar virtuoso touring with the Allman Brothers. The recording quality of Soul Serenade is simply awesome - I wish it were available on SACD or DVD-Audio - and is expertly produced by influential jazz producer John Snyder.
The title track, “Soul Serenade/Rasta Man Chant,” is a loosely arranged instrumental led by guitar and flute. The Morel Octwins were transparent and instruments in the thickly arranged title track were easily discernable, never muddy or lost in the mix. Kofi Burbridge’s flute solo had a round and open tone; it was easy to hear each breath behind his playing. On “Bock to Bock,” I admired the Octwins’ smooth delivery in the mid-bass, particularly on the drums, which were punchy, fast and clear. Finally, on the bluesy “Drown in My Own Tears,” guest vocalist Gregg Allman’s voice had remarkable presence and was natural and balanced with Trucks’ guitar accompaniment. If I were to criticize, I would have preferred the Morels to be slightly more open and forward in their presentation of Soul Serenade, especially vs. other speakers at its price point, but the deep bass extension and natural sound made up for most of this shortcoming.
If you own a SACD player and have not yet bought David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & Spiders From Mars (EMI, 2003), well then, shame on you. This hybrid multi-channel SACD is a worthy addition to any high-resolution music collection. Ziggy Stardust is a 5.1 channel mix, but I listened in high-resolution stereo, given the nature of this two-channel speaker review. Ziggy Stardust, with its rock and roll groove combined with horns, harpsichords (Rick Wakeman as a guest on “It Ain’t Easy”) and unique vocal arrangements, would prove a worthy test for the Octwins.
Listening to “Soul Love,” I was impressed by the Octwins’ quickness on Mick Woodmansey’s drums and percussion, as well as accurate placement of Bowie’s saxophone, which appears alone in the right channel and frequently moves back to the left channel throughout the song. Furthermore, the acoustic guitar on the title track, “Ziggy Stardust,” was also expertly handled by the Octwins, never becoming washed out or lost in the mix despite the song’s dynamic and distorted electric guitars in the choruses. Perhaps the most emotionally charged song on Ziggy Stardust is its final track and ballad, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.” I found the buildup of instruments behind Bowie’s emotional vocals to be nicely handled by the Octwins and the soundstage to be especially broad. This was particularly true with the background vocals, which chant “wonderful,” giving a near-eerie spaciousness in the tapestry of sounds behind Bowie’s centered vocals.
When Abkco re-released The Rolling Stones catalog on SACD in 2002, many early SACD adopters were no doubt confused because, despite being located in the SACD section of their local music retailer, the disc’s exterior packaging is totally void of the familiar SACD and DSD logos. In fact, nowhere on the exterior of the disc is there anything that might inform the consumer that Let It Bleed is a SACD. Being a big Stones fan, I bought the mysteriously mislabeled Let It Bleed (Abkco Music and Records, Inc., 2002) SACD and have been in rock ‘n’ roll heaven ever since. I cannot give Abkco enough praise for a job well done with Let It Bleed. I am eager to replace my old Rolling Stones CDs with the remastered editions on SACD. Smartly, Abkco re-released Let It Bleed as hybrid-SACD, so if you are thinking of purchasing any Rolling Stones for your music collection and do not yet own a SACD player, you should still buy the remastered SACD versions, which contain a CD layer that will still play on any conventional CD player, albeit just not in high-resolution mode.
The Octwins did an excellent job of portraying the natural texture and live ambiance of Let It Bleed in ways that are totally nonexistent with the original release. The texture and grit of Keith Richards’ guitars on “Midnight Rambler” can finally be heard with an excitement probably found only on the original master tapes. The familiar harmonica throughout the track sounded about as live as one could expect and Mick Jagger’s vocals never sounded throaty or unnatural. In listening to the Stones’ rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain,” the picking and separation between every string on the acoustic guitars was clear. On “Monkey Man,” even at very loud levels, the Morels showed no signs of strain delivering the opening piano, tambourine and all too familiar guitar riff with precision and a broad soundstage. The Octwins’ ability to correctly image the opening of this track made listening to the Rolling Stones more enjoyable, which is the ultimate goal with any quality loudspeaker.
Finally, I decided to give Cannonball Adderley with Bill Evans’ Know What I Mean? (Riverside, 2002) hybrid SACD a spin. Adderley and Evans both played in the Miles Davis Sextet in 1958, so to say that the chemistry between these two jazz legends is anything short of magical would be criminal. The album was originally recorded in New York City, early 1961. The disc liner notes mention that in order to preserve the recording’s original lush and natural sound, the result of using only vacuum-tube components, mastering for this SACD was done from the original master tapes using proprietary all-tube electronics until the final digital conversion. It is comforting to see that record companies like Riverside take so seriously the responsibility of bringing the best production quality they muster to SACD. Riverside was even thoughtful enough to add four bonus tracks, which were alternate takes from the original sessions. This is one of the best-sounding jazz SACDs in my collection.
I began my listening with “Waltz for Debby” and was immediately struck by Evan’s piano and Adderley’s saxophone, which had a genuine realism that one almost never hears on recordings of this vintage. In all the listening I did with the Morels, they are no doubt at their best here, communicating Adderley’s emotional and spirited play with a sense of ease. Connie Kay’s drums are as clear as a bell, particularly the ride cymbal, which has a lively resonance that I enjoyed. On “Toy,” the crispness of the percussion, the airiness of Adderley’s saxophone and Evan’s piano accompaniment impart a natural feel to the presentation and an intimacy to the performance. Finally, on “Goodbye,” an emotional horn solo by Adderley with a delicate piano accompaniment by Evans, the Morel performed admirably. I imagined myself listening to Adderley and Evans in performance in a smoky nightclub. While the Octwins are an excellent speaker for rocking out, they are equally capable of handling jazz.