All told, the PipeDreams are the best loudspeakers I've heard. Thanks to their superb dynamic range they have real-life presence; their redundancy of low-mass/high-energy drivers and excellent subwoofers makes them sensationally quick, powerful, and detailed from the bottom to the very top; and their soundfield must be heard to be believed. We're not just talking about a little difference in soundstage depth or width; we're talking an entirely different gestalt–an almost surround-like presentation that wraps around speaker boundaries, blows out walls, and so pressurizes the room that, with certain discs, the music seems to envelop you.
With extensive cross-bracing, super-dense Corian walls, and further absorptive treatments throughout. Laminated to this incredibly rigid enclosure is an outer box of select hardwood-mine is antique walnut. What you end up seeing on the surface–a tall, deep narrow, beautifully fitted and finished hardwood box-lies the complexity of the engineering inside. However, this is one of those cased where the old knuckle-rap on the side panel will put you wise (and cost you a knuckle). These things are literally hard as a rock.
One of the obvious advantages of using lots of drivers in a line array is the sheer amounts of air lot of drivers can move–big columnar wavefronts with big impact. One of the not so obvious advantages–and the chief reason behind the Pipedream's incredible redundancy of tweeters and midrange/woofers–is that using lots of drivers makes the job of moving all that air easier for each individual driver.
Consider your average three-way point source loudspeaker. To reach concert-hall sound-pressure levels, each drive has to work its tail off to move its own mass (because the air's impedance is so low that not as much of the energy comes out as sound). The harder each driver works, the more its cone or diaphragm flexes and potentially distorts, and the more it rings on the rebound.
Now, hook two identical in-phase drivers up in parallel to cover the same passband that your single driver was covering, and guess what? Output increases over that passband by 6dB SPL! That's almost twice the loud-ness for the same level of input (at one-half the electrical impedance). All of which means you can lower the volume knob on your preamp by 6dB, and get the same SPLs you were getting with that single driver. Meanwhile, those two paralleled drivers are working only half as hard as the single one did to put out the same amount of energy. You've halved the current flow through their voice coils and halved the excursions of their cones or diaphragms, and that means they will produce considerably less ringing and distortion, even at loud levels, better and more effortlessly track dynamic swings, and reproduce inner details with greater clarity.
Let us turn to the 18-inch, push-pull, upward firing, subwoofers. This is a good place to start because they happen to be the best subs I've heard–and I have heard (where is that decoder ring?) a lot of subwoofers.
Mine are sensationally quick, robust, transparent, and dynamic at all frequencies in which they make music–and, perhaps, just as importantly, through the crossover region, where they pass the job of music-making off to the towers. Indeed, this is as close as I've heard a true subwoofer come to matching the speed, transparency, and dynamics of its satellites–or of live music. Piano, drum kits of all varieties, cello, bass fiddles, Fender bass, pipe organ, Hammond B-3, tuba bassoon, contrabassoon, contrabass clarinet, trombone–name an instrument that plays hard, clear, and loud down into the midbass and blow, and you will hear transients reproduced with greater life-likeness than you've heard before from a stereo system.
We are talking about drivers–eight 18-inchers–that move air in very near the same proportions as the instruments they mimicking. Indeed, something like a well-recorded drum kit–say Keith Moon's on The Who's Live At Leeds [MCA]–no longer sound like an analog, a flat miniaturized facsimile on an instrument; it sounds like an actual drum kit set up in your room, moving air with close to the same lightening speed, massive acoustical power (20 watts and 122 dB SPL peaks) and signature directional properties you'd hear in life. Talk about slam! If they do nothing else to light your fire, the PipeDreams will make you jump.
But the PipeDreams subs aren't just phenomenal pile-drivers. What I most like about them isn't just their sock, but the near seamless way they carry that impact into the lower midrange. As I once said about another sub system, the crossover between satellite and a large-diameter subwoofer is analogous to a sprinter passing the baton to a weightlifter–there is always an audible discontinuity between the bas range and the midrange. Not so here (or only the slightest bit of veiling)
First and foremost, (at least musically) is their dynamic range and scaling. I've just extolled these virtues in the Pipe' subwoofers, and what is true for the woofs is equally true for the towers. Whether they're reproducing a delicate pianissimo like the lightly brushed and picked E-flat chords of Guitar Gabriel's guitar on "Keys to the Highway" [Came So Far; MusicMakers], or towering orchestral fortississimos like the three great climaxes of Harrison Birtwistle's The Triumph of Time [Argo], or a mix of each like the remarkable second movement of Ruth Crawford's Seeger's remarkable (and well-recorded) String Quartet (Columbia)–a movement based solely on tremolo-like dynamic contrasts–from low bass to upper midrange, from pianissimo to fortississimo, the PipeDreams serve up dynamic contrasts with ease and tremendous impact.
Moreover, this is the one of the few speaker systems I've heard in my home that "scales" large instruments, like pianos, timps, or contrabasses as realistically as it does smaller ones like guitars, flutes, violins, or voices–that accurately matches an instrument's acoustical output with its directional characteristics to produce virtual instruments and vocalists that are sized and shaped–and that project their transients–like the real things.
To make this plain, the PipeDreams are the most present-sounding loudspeakers–in the sense of making instruments and instrumentalists sound as if they are there, present in the room with you–I've yet heard. You'd simply have to hear–and I hope that you do–a well recorded solo voice like Guitar Gabriel singing "Keys To The Highway" or an infectiously good pop mix like Bonnie Raitt's "Something To Talk About" on Luck of the Draw [DCC/Capitol], or a great orchestral recording like the Leinsdorf Bartok Concerto for Orchestra [BMG] to hear how present–how life-like–a stereo system can get. Once again, we are talking about the difference between loudspeakers that give you a scaled-down (in every sense) analog of musicians–toy bands–and something that really does move you a step or two closer to the physical size, acoustical power, and presence of real musicians playing in your room.
The second of the PipeDreams' great virtues–and the one that most audiophile hearts will skip a beat to–is their phenomenal soundfield. HP has already tipped the hand on this, in his earlier discussion of the PipeDreams' prototype. What we have here is a speaker that simply redefines the stereo stage. You wouldn't think that a system that consists of 136 drivers, two very large boxes and four fair-sized cylinders could "disappear" as completely as a pair of two-way stand-mounted minis can, and yet that PipeDreams do that very thing.
I don't know that I can impress on you strongly enough how wide and deep and tall and open, how subtly layered and impressively three-dimensional the PipDream's soundfield is. I've never heard anything remotely like it in my home–and I've listened to some pretty darned good loudspeakers. We are talking here about a loudspeaker system that breaks down that "fourth wall" between you and the music-makers. Indeed, the PipeDreams blow out all the walls in your listening room.
You want to hear imaging outside boundaries of the speaker enclosures? You want that wall at the back of your room to disappear? These speakers don't carve an ambient rectangle out of the acoustic of your listening room–they give you a whole new room. Or, should I say, new rooms, for whatever the size or acoustic of the recording venue, that's the size and acoustic you get. These things scale acoustics, in much the same way that they scale instrumental dynamics. Indeed the PipeDreams are the cheapest room-remodeling program I've ever come across.
Let me close with this thought: Music is never just sound. It is a sensation felt as well as heard–felt as a brush or a wave or a pulse of rhythmically charged air, felt in our bodies. It is by means of synaesthetic sensation, physical and aural, that music first affects us, generating that thrilling rush of endorphins that raises Goosebumps–that starts feet tapping and hips swaying and voices singing along. Better than any loudspeaker I've yet heard, the PipeDreams get this first step right.
-DIAMOND JON VALIN
The Absolute Sound
December 1999/January 2000