Goodwin’s High End – Rockport, Verity and Magico Audition

April 19, 2009

Image

I am visiting my son in Boston this week and no visit to the area is complete for an audiophile without a trip to Goodwin’s High End in Waltham, a short drive from Cambridge. Goodwin’s has been around a long time and carries some of the best equipment available. You can read about Goodwin’s, its history, philosophy, room design and the like in detail on its website. I’ll not repeat it here.

The goal of my visit was to listen to the Magico V3s and I was not disappointed, but the room was in use when I got there so I took a quick tour. They have three home theater rooms – a small one with a 50” flat panel, a slightly larger one with a 1.85:1 screen and the main room which is not much bigger than the second with a Wolf projector, 2.35:1 screen and Rockport speakers. In the latter room I watched the opening few minutes of one of the worst films ever made – Fantastic Four, Rise of the Silver Surfer. The Blu-ray version was visually stunning. The sound was excellent, but just barely. The four Rockport Mira Grand fronts and rears were, in my judgment, too large and not well set up for the room. The Mira Grands were placed in the corners of the room, pulled out just a bit, and simply did not disappear. Dialog clearly came from the Merak center channel speaker which was raised about 18” from the floor. It takes more than expensive equipment to make great sound. It’s all about balance. Did I say the video was stunning?

There are three two-channel rooms, two of medium size and the main room which is huge. They were breaking in some new speakers in one of the medium size rooms so not much to listen to there. In the other I found the gem of the day, the Verity Finn, a 39” tall three-way with rear-firing woofer. It sounded spectacular with pinpoint imaging and a surprisingly full bottom end. Powered by a Nagra front end and Nagra PMA Pyramid amplifiers, it made for a simple, compact and seductive system. I could have listened to it all day. It is the same system that gained accolades recently at the Montreal show.

By now the big room was free and luckily for me the Magico V3s were primed and ready to go. The front-end was a server based system running Media Monkey and a collection of 24-bit/88.2kHz and 24-bit/176.4 audio files. I do not know what sound card was in play, but it fed a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, and the DAC funneled into Spectral amplifiers through unknown cables (I’m not much of a cable guy so I didn’t ask) to the V3s. I listened to several different works – Rachmaninov’s Études-tableaux, (orch. by Respighi), some Dick Hyman piano selections and a Beethoven string quartet, Op. 59, No. 2. The V3s were pulled out almost halfway into the room and threw the most unbelievable three-dimensional soundstage 35’ wide across the front of the room, disappearing in the process. It was breathtaking. Are they the best speaker made? I don’t know, but I could live happily ever after with them.

What did I learn in the process? A surprising thing. Many recordings simply aren’t believable. In the Verity Finn room I listened to a Rickie Lee Jones compilation. The image was of her sitting on a stool singing dead center. The upright bass was to her left. The accordion player was standing on a stool immediately above the bassist, and the guitarist was standing on a stool to her right. That’s right, the accordion and the guitar were next to the ceiling. I am certain the speakers didn’t arbitrarily place them there. What were the recording engineers thinking?

When I listen to music, I try to visualize the live event. If I can place the performers and instruments in space as they would appear live, then both the recording and playback components are doing their job. How well the visual representation is conveyed reflects on the quality of both. In the main room with the Rachmaninov, the Magicos threw a beautiful 35’ wide soundstage panning across the full orchestra. Cellos, violins, brass and tympani were exactly where they appear at the symphony. At the same time, Dick Hyman’s piano was 35’ wide. More disconcerting were the locations of the artists in the string quartet. The first violinist was against the left wall and the cellist was against the right wall – 35’ feet apart! It was a testament to the Magicos that they could throw such a huge soundstage. It was a mark against the recording engineers that they chose such unrealistic microphone placements. Spectacular, but ultimately unbelievable. I guess for the recording engineers and for the great unwashed audiophile wannabees the sound never moves to the outside of the speakers. The qualities of both the Verity Finns and the Magico V3s laid bare the shortcoming’s of the recordings.

If you’re ever in the Boston area, succumb to the siren call of Goodwin’s. My host, Malcom Becker, was accommodating and gracious. It is an experience not to be missed.