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Thread: The Performance Series: A Fresh Perspective

  1. #1
    Senior Member MikeBrewster77's Avatar
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    The Performance Series: A Fresh Perspective

    Hey LH. Been a while, no? Sorry about that; life gets in the way sometimes. That said, boy do I have a lot of time on my hands now, and I thought it might be worthwhile to do something more than lurk around (yes, I do still do that from time to time.)

    This is where story time begins. Grab a beverage; it’s a long one. I’m drinking scotch. Mmmmm…. That’s good.

    So, as you may recall, I’m the proud owner of a pair of Ti10Ks, which I won’t so go far as to say I’ve advocated for given their scarcity, but of which I’m a fan, as anyone who’s read the associated thread of my adventure with them knows. Unfortunately, one of the speakers has decided it doesn’t want to play nice, and so they’ve had to come out of my main system (more on that in another thread, maybe.) Obviously this is not ideal given the aforementioned time I have on my hands, but 2020 hasn’t exactly been knocking it out of the park thus far, so what did I expect?

    Now, I realize that I am extremely fortunate that in the Ti10K’s absence, the speakers I now have to “live with” in my main system are the Performance Series. It’s hardly the worst problem to have – by far. The upside of this system interruption is it’s allowed to come at the Performance Series with a fresh set of ears. I’ve been living with the Ti10Ks as my reference for at least three years, and while the Performance Series is hooked up and does get used, it’s rarely for critical – or even focused – listening. The other variable – the other reason I’m able to re-evaluate the Performance Series anew – is that the rest of my system has changed fairly radically.

    As of the last time I shared my impressions of the Performance Series (primarily in contrast to the Ti10Ks) I believe I had just scored the NAD Master Series M51 DAC that’s still in use today. Aside from the Rotel CD player that sits atop it and the Sonos unit handling streaming, the rest of my system has, well, uh, been slightly upgraded. For reference, previously the M51 fed into a Luxman CX-100 pre and a McIntosh MC7150 amp. Vinyl was handled by a Pioneer PL-5L turntable with an Audio Technica AT15SS cartridge. Today, the same digital front end is now fed to an Audio Research Reference 3 preamp which then runs to a Mark Levinson No. 532H amp. Vinyl is spun on a Thorens TD 126 MK II which I’ve equipped with a Sumiko Premier FT-3 arm, Talisman-S cartridge, and a few other upgrades. Signal from the turntable is handled by a Musical Surroundings Nova II phono pre. DAC output, and the signal from the pre to the amp, are all via balanced interconnects.

    All of that is to say that the system on which I’m listening to the Performance Series today is quite radically different from the system on which I’d initially evaluated it. And here’s the thing: I didn’t think it would make that much of a difference on these speakers. Sure, I expected a difference with the Ti10Ks – I wouldn’t have bought all of this stuff if I didn’t – but I did not expect it to reshape my impression of the Performance Series as strongly as it has – and it has.

    Now, I’ve heaped love on the PS before, but this shit is at a totally difference level right now – a level I didn’t think they were actually capable of. Sorry for any effusiveness, but I just got done listening to them for a few hours, and I still can’t wipe the stupid grin off my face.

    The first thing you notice if you hear these at any decent volume is the immense sense of scale. Listening to Grimes’ latest album, Miss Anthropocene, the track 4ĂM which is a torture for many loudspeakers – the kind of track where many systems just blurt out the sonic equivalent of a shrug emoji as if saying “we tried” – is reproduced in all its chaotic good with commendable aplomb and a sense of size befitting the production. The rapid, thumping intro bass track of Violence is handled with great speed and attack, letting you know right upfront this loudspeaker is definitely brining the goods in terms of the bountiful bass needed to adequately convey size and weight in music, again contributing to the scale of the presentation. How did I miss this previously? Interestingly, I’d commented in a comparison to the Ti10Ks that I found the Performance Series bafflingly more difficult to drive than I expected. Perhaps it takes more power than my prior amp had to really get a sense of the scale at which these can play?

    Moving on, one area that’s always been important to me in any system is soundstage. Without it, the illusion of stereo is not sufficient to allow me to suspend disbelief and sink into the music. While I’d previously praised the PS’ horizontal soundstaging, I’d felt it didn’t necessarily do as good a job as some others at its price point in terms of depth. Again, system changes appear to have addressed that for me. Listening to Halsey’s track Clementine off her new album Manic, left to right the soundstage is wall-to-wall sound, extending far past the bounds of the speakers themselves. Switching to rubyinsides off of Purity Ring’s WOMB, the soundstage extends both back and in front of the speakers in a way that is slightly disconcerting on first listen. The PT800’s ability to throw sound far beyond the front baffle seemingly almost directly to my ears is uncanny, but oh so wonderfully enveloping The oft-bandied about audiophile term holographic comes to mind, but in this case, it’s not misused; it’s appropriate. I can only imagine the EOS Waveguide is partially responsible for the enveloping – but not artificial or inaccurate – soundstage. Whatever it is that brings the magic, it works wonderfully.

    It’s worth noting here how critical placement is for all of the positive soundstaging attributes I’m talking about. While the PS is certainly among the most versatile speakers out there due to their home theater heritage, for two channel audio I very much so treat them as a traditional loudspeaker and did not derive nearly the sound from them I have now in other positions within the room. Shove these in a corner or wall mount the PT800s at your own peril. They’ll probably sound good, but they’re not going to be bringing their A game. Mine currently rest four and an half feet from the back walls and about two and three quarters from the sides in what is essentially a modified rule of thirds arrangement.
    The Performance Series has always had the ability to startle with its realistic presentation. It is immediately involving – a loudspeaker that so arrests your attention that it’s often impossible to effectively multitask while listening. One evening I tried checking my Instagram feed while listening to a record, and was immediately drawn back into the music, unable to focus on social media – a welcome antidote to a modern addiction.

    I don’t listen to chamber music, and for the purposes of this review, I’m going to assume you don’t either. Do I have a Haydn record in the house? Yes, actually, I do. Do I feel like finding it right now? No, I don’t. That said, I am a classically trained pianist, so I do know what a piano sounds like. Listening to my reference Grainger CD, a piano sounds … well, fairly precisely how a piano should sound. Running through a few orchestral pieces for review purposes, instruments were aligned precisely as they should be, each occupying a distinct place across all axes of reproduction. Choral pieces displayed a sense of distinction across voices, never merging into the vocal blur that often afflicts mass-vocal reproduction. Throughout all my listening, center image stability was excellent.

    Finally, my ultimate test track – a track I’ve used to demo and test components for at least a decade and a half – is Dire Straits’ Telegraph Road. It’s a marvelous cut for evaluating dynamics, attack, rhythm and timing, scale, and raw power. I’ve heard the track on everything from cobbled together low/mid-fi systems, mini-systems, a varied combo of headphones and portable systems, a mid-60’s console to cost no object systems costing well into the six figures. Properly reproduced, it should be almost violent at times, yet never fatiguing. If I close my eyes and it doesn’t feel as if the band is in the room with me, I know whatever is being demoed isn’t for me. If I can’t feel the bass lines, sense the flex of the drum kit and the stress on the sticks, then I know the necessary detail isn’t being retrieved from the groves. Across all the systems I’ve listened to, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard one deliver the unparalleled attack emanating from the Performance Series. Dynamic range was huge, yet never excessively hard or glassy during loud passages. It was, in short, a magical fourteen minutes of listening.

    Now, in the interest of objectivity, all audio involves trade-offs, and the Performance Series makes some, just as all speakers do. None are so glaring that they’re worth dwelling on, particularly at the price point in question, so they only warrant a passing mention. The loudspeakers aren’t the final word in airiness, microdynamics, or very low-end speed. In my opinion, they don’t play as dynamically at low volumes as some others. They can exhibit a slight hardness at higher volumes (about high-90s dB,) even with plenty of headroom, although it’s worth mentioning that it’s rarely if ever fatiguing, and hardly has one grabbing for the remote control.

    This new experience has me questioning a few of my audio assumptions. Although I’ve long regarded a sound system as an ecosystem – more of a melting pot rather than a salad bowl – I would have still maintained speakers are the most important component if pressed as I have been by friends or acquaintances who’ve come to regard me as their audio go to guy. This experience has me very much so falling back to the system-as-ecosystem philosophy, the sum of all parts with no particular component being “the most important,” the question unanswerable by the fact that the word "system" is inherent in it.

    After reading all of this, you may be asking what the point of another glowing write up of the Performance System is on a forum in which it’s already held in high regard? After all, there’s generally no value in preaching to the choir. Yet, at the prices I see today, the Performance Series remains an absolute bargain that properly set up will best speakers costing thousands more. The real eye opener for me has been how much further a high quality signal can push their performance. If there’s a moral to this story, it's that if you've been considering it and can pull it off, don’t be afraid to throw premium components behind these loudspeakers; the results might surprise you just as much as they did me. And while humans are known for our notorious inability to accurately hold sonic signatures in our heads for more than several seconds, I have to say that what the Performance Series brings to the table, and the unexpected synergy with my current system, has me seriously reconsidering where the repaired Ti10Ks may land in my home. Only time – and direct comparisons – will tell.
    PT800/PS1400 | ML No 532H | AR Reference 3 | Thorens TD-126, Sumiko FT-3, Talisman S | Musical Surroundings Nova II | NAD M51

  2. #2
    Super Moderator jblnut's Avatar
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    PS + 10k = Salon 2?

    Great write up Mike!

    Like you, I mostly lurk here and don't post too much any more (AK is where I dwell now). But I have to say that I agree with a lot of what you are saying here and it parallels my own experience. To be specific - small changes upstream can have major effects downstream. I rotated a lot of gear until I couldn't really take the 250Ti's any farther. So I switched up the speakers and got a pretty big leap. But it wasn't until I also switched out the amp and preamp that the new speakers were able to finally strut their stuff.

    I bring this up because I now have what I might consider to be a logical endpoint for you as well - the amazing Revel Salon 2. It combines the inverted Ti driver tech of the PS series with an even more massive and diffraction free cabinet than the Ti10k.

    Listen to a pair at your peril :-) They ruined me and there was no going back....

    jblnut

  3. #3
    Senior Member MikeBrewster77's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jblnut View Post
    [...] I bring this up because I now have what I might consider to be a logical endpoint for you as well - the amazing Revel Salon 2. It combines the inverted Ti driver tech of the PS series with an even more massive and diffraction free cabinet than the Ti10k.
    Thank you for the reply my friend, and hope you and yours are well in what are certainly strange and trying times.

    I've been fortunate enough to spend some time with the Salon2s, and they would absolutely be on the shortlist for any speaker upgrade, along with the B&W 802Ds. As of last listen, the Revels were definitely the favorite, but if I'm going to make this particular leap, unless it was an absolutely killer deal, I'm likely going to want to do an in-home audition with my upstream and room. I know I can pull that off with the B&Ws via a local industry contact, but I'd need to find a Revel dealer willing to play ball. Probably going to sit tight at the moment given the economic upheaval associated with the outbreak, but your advice is, pardon the pun, definitely sound!

    Stay safe and well!
    PT800/PS1400 | ML No 532H | AR Reference 3 | Thorens TD-126, Sumiko FT-3, Talisman S | Musical Surroundings Nova II | NAD M51

  4. #4
    Super Moderator jblnut's Avatar
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    A "sound" choice either way :-)

    There are great deals on Salon 2's out there if you look. I believe that one of our long time members here (audiobeer) is selling his pair. You might want to reach out and see if an agreement can be made.

    The B&Ws are also stellar so you've narrowed the field well. Are the large format JBL's on your list too ? Like 4365/4367/M2 ? I could never hear a pair near me so I sadly had to remove them from the list of contenders.

    Everyone is well here and I hope the same is true for you and yours. It's actually been somewhat of an audio blessing as there hasn't been much else to do except listen to music lately. I've never spent so much time listening as I have these past few months.

    jblnut

  5. #5
    Administrator Mr. Widget's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jblnut View Post
    The B&Ws are also stellar so you've narrowed the field well.
    Agreed... either pair of speakers will give you a step up in performance and are good values even at full retail but are frequently available at really great prices.


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