Reviewer: Edward Barker
Scheu Premier II with Schroeder DPS arm and Allaerts MC1B MK II cartridge, Garrard 301 (custom plinth) with Hadcock 242 SE and Music Makers models 2 & 3; Systemdek Transcription with Mission 774 and Empire MC1000; Thorens 160/Thorens/Shure ED75; Sansui 719 Tuner
Phonostages Tom Evans Groove Plus; Loricraft Missing Link Mk II [on extended loan]; Gram Slee Era Gold Mk 5 [ on extended loan]
Digital: Audiomeca Mephisto 2.X
Preamplifier: Canary 803 four-box preamplifier with NOS valves
Rogue 150 Monoblocks with Siemens EL34s; Rogue 88 Magnum; BBC AM84A Monoblocks restored & recapped
Speakers: Marten Design Coltrane Altos; Living Voice OBXR2 [on extended loan]
Ancillaries: Clearlight Audio NFT cabling; Audiomagic Mini Stealth conditioner for digital
Review Component Retail: £4000 in the UK; $8,295 in the US/Canada, $395 upcharge for premium finishes

Think back to the moments of your life that have stood out, the ones that are etched in your memory. All of them will, I bet, be connected to and have an emotional origin and impact. In the same way the music that means most to us doesn't do so because it represents a rationally 'truer' interpretation of reality. No, its power comes from the artists' ability to bypass our rational responses and connect viscerally with our emotional life in such a way that it expands and deepens our personal sense of who we are and why we do what we do - in other words the history and development of our identity. We are, quite simply, bigger human beings through and because of the music which we listen to.

As audiophiles, I suspect each one of us can trace back to a piece of music with a kind of electric charge that had the power to begin the process of changing who we are and gave us a new understanding of what 'the business of living' is actually about. And of course, the process keeps on going. Patti Smith's "Horses" might evolve into Bach, into Ben Webster, Elvis or Bulgarian acapella chants. Each of us will have our own individual journey and identity. Each of us responds to music in a particularly intense way. Hence the drug-like obsession with the medium. We want equipment that will take us to that extraordinary high music has the ability to deliver, creating an impact with what is most profound about our life experience and in the process of doing so, continually refining and redefining who we truly are. On the surface nerds, boffins, eccentrics, yes - but underneath we are uniquely privileged to be able to respond to and really live one of life's most powerful and profound realities.

Let's imagine for a moment that you set out to design an audio component - a speaker. You can choose, at one extreme, to adopt a purely engineering-driven approach and collect together the components which will match a series of scientific imperatives. Your goals might be flat frequency response, low resonance, phase coherence and accurate temporal reproduction etc. These are all worthwhile and admirable targets. At the other extreme, you can spend a lifetime trying to understand, react to and interpret music in a spiritually meaningful way. While I have no doubt that Kevin Scott, the designer of Living Voice speakers, has a deep understanding of the science and engineering behind speaker design, it is obvious from even a cursory listening to these speakers that he is one of those rare designers whose journey is dominated not by engineering imperatives but instead by a need to re-create music that really fulfills. In fact talking to him provides a fascinating insight into just these musical realities. Put simply, he talks like someone who puts the music first and he knows that his creations are simply a means to an end. The result is a pair of speakers which are able to communicate not just the architecture and interrelationships of a piece of music, but far more important, its meaning and above all the emotions which spurred creation of the piece in the first place.

Frankly, I've been quite uncomfortable with the problem of discussing emotion in audio reproduction. It seems such a catch-all generic word, so easy to use as a cop-out like its sister word musicality. But there is no question it exists in a tangible and genuine sense. Recently I read the Italian audiophile magazine Suono, a serious, highly cultured publication which even sported a review of the venerable Beam Echo monoblocks. Their last issue contains a shoot-out of six CD players, and one of the key parameters they used in their graphic digest was in fact the term emotion. So obviously it's not just an issue a few audiophiles have to confront. Let's just say that understanding how a piece of audio equipment can better reproduce emotion is still a work in progress. The fact remains that some components do this better than others. The OBXR2 is, in my opinion, an excellent speaker but what really makes it stand out is that it reproduces whatever the cues are that allow us to respond emotionally in a way I don't believe I've heard bettered.

So, what's in the box? On the surface, the R2 is only marginally different from the original OBXRs that have given me so much pleasure for at least the last two years. It's the same small floorstander made of an undisclosed density hardwood composite particle board which itself stands on a little plinth that the speaker is attached to via blu tac. Hardwood composites have a very different mechanical Q or resonant quality to MDF and the difference between these and the last iteration of the speakers bears out the success of the new material. The cabinet is also built differently, employing a fully mitered construction. The new cabinet has a flush back where previously there was a picture frame recess on the rear baffle. There has also been a big hike in quality of finishes, My example came in very elegant Yew which comes in a rare single sheet of premium grade wood. No butted small leaves, no grain filler, no dye, hence the £400 premium over standard finishes.

The drivers are the Scanspeak Revelator set between two highly modified Vifa mid/bass units in a d'Appolito formation. The out- board crossovers, set in the same large black boxes, contain a circuit which has been further simplified from the original. The Zobel network is gone and Hovland Musicaps are used. All in all, these are not huge changes and I wouldn't have thought they would make a big impact. But I would have been wrong. These are changes that have evolved over roughly six years and it simply goes to
show that attention to small details can deliver the kind of musical insight which is hard to credit. So how do they compare to the originals? The caricature version is that they have greater punch at the bottom end, more air and transparency in the mids, slightly purer highs and more tonal colour and resolution of timbre across the spectrum. It's when you start listening to music, not just the quality of sound, that the difference between the two models becomes more startling The 2s are capable of reproducing music so that with some instruments, in some recordings, the sound that emerges is surprisingly close to what was going into the original mikes. In other words, real - the holy Grail itself. In fact whole recordings produce this effect.