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Now that I've got all the background and technical particulars covered, it's time to talk about the speakers' prowess at sonics and musicality. Describing a fine meal by the ingredients in the recipe tells you part of the story but not how successful the chef was at creating a taste treat for your palate. Such is the case with sonics and musicality. Sonics can intrigue and tease the mind but it is the overall musicality that brings satisfaction to the auditory and emotional palate. The ART Emotion Signature loudspeakers are an ultra-quality and high-performance design that excels sonically at soundstaging, imaging, capturing the sense of space in a recording and detail recovery. The Emotion Signatures are relatively neutral in their overall voicing, being neither cool and bright nor warm and dark and are excellent in portraying a realistic and natural sense of timbre. The Emotion Signatures are smooth, clean, extended and articulate throughout their claimed range. They are particularly adept at pitch definition in the bass and they are light on their feet as only two-way designs seem to be. That's a quick snap shot into sonics.
Now let's explore the musical prowess. When listening for the level of musical accomplishment of HiFi gear the first thing I listen for is how well the signature timbre or voice of the band is portrayed. There should be no confusing the Beatles' or Grateful Dead's unique voice with Jimi Hendrix's regardless of what song is playing. Effectively portraying the complexity of the tonal color, textures and feel that make up the signature voice or timbre of musicians at the band level is the single most important element for convincing musicality in a hifi rig. While listening to albums, I was struck by the Emotion Signatures prowess at portraying the timbre at the band level.
|For example, while listening to the Crosby, Stills, Nash &Young's Déjà vu LP, I was impressed with how well the Emotion Signatures captured the textures and tonal colors that create the signature feel of this rock 'n' roll group, and how believably they portrayed the sense of those musicians enjoying playing music together. The ART Emotion Signatures (in this case combined with the Shindo gear) nailed the emotive feel of the music and gave the Déjà vu LP a beautifully warm, mellow and relaxed feel without a hint of edge, grit or glare. Listening to CSNY's music made me feel good and I felt like I got what the band was about. I felt that I understood the feeling they put into their music and the creativity of it all. The ability of the Emotion Signatures to preserve the voice of the music at the band level so convincingly isn't as easy as it might seem. A lot of contemporary high-performance audio gear gets the timbre at the group level totally wrong. Have you ever listened to a song on a high-end rig and then after the song was over, asked what was playing andwere totally shocked to find out that it was music you knew well? That will not happen with the Emotion Signatures. They don't distort or alter the most important element of musical reproduction - getting the signature voice right at the band level. They get it right on the money.
|After cueing into the signature timbre of the band, I almost instantaneously tune into the melody of the song playing. At the song level, the melody is the music's most memorable attribute and it's the one that you 'whistle while you work'. I consider the second most important aspect of quality playback in a hifi rig to be how well it preserves the overall melodic flow and motion of the music over time at the song level. It doesn't matter how good gear sounds in the audiophile sense of imaging, soundstaging, resolution or whatever: if it can't get the band's overall timbre correct and convincingly portray the melodic flow over time in a song, you'll grow to hate it without even realizing why. Distortions in timbre at the band level or of the flow of melody at the song level will alter the music's fundamental character. It will throw off the whole musical message the musicians intended you to hear and feel.
|I've been listening to a lot of Barney Kessel lately. The man was one of the greatest jazz guitarists who ever lived and he left behind a treasure trove of recorded music. One of my favorite recordings of Barney's is Live in Los Angeles at P.J.'s Club, which comes as close to capturing the feel and mood of a live jazz band as any recording ever made. Live in Los Angeles at P.J.'s Club through the combination of the Emotion Signatures, Leben CS600 integrated and Sony PS1 captured the melodic flow of Slow Burn to perfection. In fact for a week or two, I couldn't get the melodic line of "Slow Burn" out of my|
|head. It was like the Siggies did a quick burn of "Slow Burn" into my memory! Live highlighted some of the rather formidable strengths of the Emotion Signatures too: The timbre of instruments was impeccable, naturally warm and vibrant, with lots of tone color though not overdone and colored in the pejorative sense. The bass playing of Jerry Scheff was positively otherworldly in the way he was caressing and articulating the notes from the strings. The Siggies don't disappoint in the bass, letting you hear every little musical nuance of Jerry's playing in very realistic fashion. The Siggies have the most musically realistic bass articulation I have heard from any loudspeaker - bar none. The Emotion Signatures also captured a huge sense of intimate natural space on Live at P.J.'s Club that made it easy to fall for the fantasy that you're there listening to the guys playing. There's a fabulous bonus medley of "Manha de Carnaval & Samba de Orfeu" on the album that was recorded in Denmark. The drum playing on that cut by Don Lamond is something to behold, and the way the cymbals are recorded is one of the finest example I've yet come across for capturing their musical personality: they shimmer and dance to the strike of the sticks in a way that is totally consonant with people making music in real life.
|Another fantastic recording of great jazz guitar playing is Wes Montgomery's Full House recorded live at Tsubo's jazz club in Berkeley, California. Like P.J.'s, Full House allows you to believe you're there, enjoying the music with a live, spontaneous world-class jazz band. The Emotion Signatures capture a huge acoustic and cast a wide and deep soundstage with lots of resolved detail that is pin-point imaged. On high-quality recordings like P.J.'s or Full House, the ART Emotion Signatures are stunning. If you listen primarily to reasonably well-recorded music, you'll be in heaven. However, to obtain this ultra-high level of sonic performance and resolution, the ART Emotion Signatures have necessarily sacrificed some of their tolerance for recordings of lesser quality. The work-around for this is to choose warm and musical associated equipment and cables so as to not narrow too much the range of recordings that can be enjoyed.
|While I was writing this review, jazz guitar great Howard Alden stepped into town and played a couple of benefit concerts to help out a young couple whose new baby had some serious health complications. The usual location for concerts, the terrific little Battelle Auditorium, was all booked. So Dave Clark, the pastor of a local church and a noted local jazz musician, came to the rescue by offering up his sanctuary. Getting a chance to take in a concert by a world-class musician like Howard Alden is always a treat - and even more so when I'm in a small and intimate setting like the Richland Alliance Church. I was seated right in front, about as far from Howard as I normally am from my loudspeakers at home.
Being a music-loving audio dork, I couldn't help but reflect on the live versus audio experience. It's really impossible to compare the two from an emotional perspective. Watching and hearing Howard Alden live was such a powerful experience. Seeing Howard's astonishing fingerwork on the fretboard of his 7-string Benedetto guitar (an extra bass string tuned an octave below the normal A-string if I remember correctly), his amazing right-hand technique and his silky-smooth high-speed playing evoked a sense of awe that just will not be duplicated with a recording no matter how well done. Howard's Polytone Mega-Brute amp had a microphone on it which fed into the PA system in normal jazz fashion so I didn't exactly get pinpoint imaging like I do from my hifi rig either. And because the microphone was on the Brute and not the guitar, you didn't get the exaggerated sense of finger movement and fret and string noise you get from some recordings. Even sitting about as close to Howard as I sit to my loudspeakers, I didn't hear those mechanical workings of making music. With a live concert, you also don't notice recording artifacts like a 'sense of space' or 'soundstage' . You're immersed in the space so it's not separate from you but just a natural extension of the venue. The ghostly representations of soundstaging and imaging of hifi gear? They just aren't there.
|So - what I want to hear when I’m listening to playback is recorded music rendered such that it has a good measure of the emotional wallop of live music. I want the timbre preserved both at the macro band level and individual instrument level. The melody must flow and move like music does in life and the beat must engage me. I enjoy good sonics but only to the extent that the sonics don’t draw my attention away from the music by over-emphasizing the non-musical elements of the recording process. Take Howard Alden (guitar), Jimmy Bruno (guitar), Michael Moore (bass), and Alan Dawson (drums) on Full Circle for example: the ART Emotion Signatures absolutely nail the emotional feel of Howard Alden playing live. The tone of this album through the ART|
|Emotion Signatures (this time with the Leben CS600 integrated) was achingly beautiful and the melody carried me along just the way it did live. The timbre was perfection both on the macro level and for individual instruments. With this album, the sonic prowess of the Emotion Signature adds to the experience with an exciting sense of space around the drum heads, natural and life-like timbral textures and some of the most life-like portrayal of cymbals I've come across. There is really nothing to fault in that oh-so-tricky delicate balance of sonic prowess and musicality when the ART Emotion Signatures are playing decent recordings like Full Circle. They are simply breathtaking.
|Bringing ultimate sonics and ultimate musicality together in a pair of loudspeakers is unimaginably difficult. It’s even more difficult when you want the loudspeakers to perform well across a spectrum from very poorly to extremely well recorded music. It is probably not possible. What designers like Derek and Ramsay have to do is make voicing choices to get their desired balance of sonic performance and musicality across for an acceptably broad range of recording quality. The ART Emotion Signature loudspeakers are a finely balanced product with extraordinary sonic performance that maintains musicality to the greatest extent|
|possible over a reasonably wide range of recordings. On the worst recordings, the ART Emotion Signatures gives the recordings nowhere to hide to save face but on average to exceptional recordings, the ART Emotion Signatures are true magic.
|The ART Emotion Signature loudspeakers are beautifully crafted, unique in execution and expensive at $18,850. They are full range, articulate, smooth and capable of fully developed tone color if your electronics are up to it. The Emotion Signatures are sensitive enough to accommodate the best in single-ended-triode amplification and will reward you for it; and they are unmatched in my experience for a deep, lively and articulated bass response. The Siggies faithfully capture the signature timbre of a band and they excel at reproducing the melodic flow of music over time, which are the two most important factors for keeping musicality intact. They are certainly at the cutting edge sonically and cast a vast soundspace with a deep and wide soundstage and pin-point imaging with a lot of image density. The ART|
|Emotion Signatures are a careful balancing act and the sonic performance has been taken as far as is possible without unnecessarily diminishing musicality. For those who highly value cutting-edge sonic performance; the ability to get the essence of the music across in convincing fashion; all in a full-range loudspeaker that can be driven with even low-powered SET amplifiers - I highly recommend you give the ART Emotion Signature loudspeakers serious consideration. If you're going to CES in January, you'll want to stop in and visit with Yujean and Derek. I think you'll be impressed by what's been accomplished with the ART Emotion Signature. I may even see you there...|
Quality of packing: Best packaging design I’ve ever encountered with a pair of loudspeakers. Ships in double-boxed cardboard cartons with foam inserts which showed only a little evidence of wear. With the boxes sitting upright, the boxes can be opened like a pair of French doors and the loudspeakers pulled out with almost zero effort, which is something of a miracle considering their size and weight. It’s easy to place and set up the speakers as a result. Very nicely done.
Reusability of packing: Easily more than once.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy as can be.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: Complete except for owner's manual (not that one is needed).
Quality of owner's manual: No manual provided.
Website comments: Both the manufacturer's and importer’s websites are nicely done and informative.
Warranty: No information provided.
Human interactions: Professional, enjoyable and very courteous.
Pricing: No doubt about it, these are expensive loudspeakers. However, their level of fit and finish is remarkable, and the quality of materials and construction is extraordinarily good. Price commensurate with being a state-of-the-art product.
Application conditions: Needs only a little power and I would suggest following ART’s guidelines of a minimum of 8 watts generally, but I also found the 3-watt Fi 2A3 monos to work well when coupled with the Leben preamp, which has more drive than most preamps and shows off low-powered SETs to their best advantage.
Final comments & suggestions: These speakers are at their best when angled to face the listening position directly so that only their front face is visible to the listener. Of the cables I had on hand, the Audio Tekne copper Litz cables were the best match. They are also best matched with warmer and more musical electronics and sources or they can become intolerant of poor recordings. I found the Shindo, Leben and Pass amplification to work well.