The Spatial Hologram M4’s that I reviewed a couple of months ago now have well over 100 hours of play time on them, so the moment seemed right for some further reflections on how they’ve evolved.
The No Hype Zone
One reassuring aspect of the Spatial ownership experience has been a complete lack of marketing-speak or hyperbole on the part of the manufacturer. All the expectations that Clayton Shaw sets for the Holograms, whether in phone conversations, on the web site or in the Owner’s Manual, have proven in my experience to be either fully met or exceeded, and every bit of set-up advice in the Manual has been right on the money.
For example, the Owner’s Manual for the M4 suggests that during the initial, 24-hour warm-up period, “bass will fill out and deepen, treble will smooth out and soundstage open up.” My experience has confirmed these instructions, although it seems to me that the break-in changes described in the manual are ongoing even after the first 100 hours. My M4’s continue to regularly surprise me with added nuance, spatial presentation and a more relaxed, musical sound. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean.
“Dreaming Of Mercy Street”
Peter Gabriel’s So is full of wonderful, inventive music, and the production by the great Daniel Lanois is stunning, awash in exotic instrumental textures, both acoustic and electronic (especially bass and percussion) as well as floating synth lines mixed so that the listener is enveloped in waves of sound from wall to wall.
I’ve listened to this album countless times, yet during a session last night, the M4’s revealed levels of beauty and complexity I’d never felt or heard before.
Take, for example, Mercy Street. Throughout the various verses of the song (e.g., “Looking out on empty streets / All she can see…”) Gabriel’s voice is doubled: one line in his natural range, and another line one octave lower. There is something in the way the Spatial’s render voices that makes these moments tug at one’s heart; the effect is both chillingly creepy and deeply sad, all at once, and it’s riveting. And when the harmonized voices sing “dreaming of Mercy Street” on each chorus, the rendering of the singers is deeply realistic. If I had to put this into words, I’d say that my reaction was “what beautiful, moving music” and not, “what great speakers.” When you get a window into the artist’s intent like that, it’s quite a thrill.
Then there’s We Do What We’re Told. Prominent in the opening bars is a highly processed percussion line combining several distinct timbres, floating above the tops of the M4’s in mid space. There is an almost “wet” quality to the initial attack of one of these percussive textures that the M4’s absolutely nail, along with the impact of the processed (sampled keyboard?) “ahhhhh” background vocals that come and go as the measures pass by. Listening to this song on the Spatial’s is a thrill ride…
Lest I try your patience here, I’ll share just one other example.
“I Could Aim, But I Could Not Fire…”
The opening bars of Sade’s War Of The Hearts (from their Promise” LP) begin with the pitter patter of a drum machine rendered dead center in the sound stage, followed immediately by a lush, bluesy alto sax solo. The sax floats on a cushion of organ chords panned W-I-D-E to the left and right. If a speaker can do the “disappearing act,” the effect of suddenly moving from the little clickety-clack of the drum machine to the enormity of the sax/organ entry (and that breathy, sensual saxophone sound) will make you grin with delight – it’s gorgeous, and you feel a sense of gratitude to the artists who conceived this music. That’s another moment when you know how good the M4’s truly are.
The M4 Owner’s Manual recommends that you revisit the positioning of the speakers after a few weeks to do some final tweaking. I’d never taken this step – the M4’s were still right where they’d been since the initial 24-hour warm up period. But I had a niggling feeling that some adjustment was in order. The speakers didn’t seem to be “disappearing” quite as well as they used to. As much as I felt the urge to leave well enough alone, one night last week I finally got up the courage to mess with placement a bit.
I needn’t have worried. Going on instinct, I toed the speakers in ever so slightly from their previous position, moving the outside corner of each speaker another 1 inch from the wall but leaving the inside corner alone. Things just snapped into place after that. The sound stage completely detached from the physical location of the speakers. It also widened and deepened quite a bit, with more of an overall three dimensional presentation. To say I was delighted would be a major understatement. And again, the Owner’s Manual was spot on:
Use a tape measure to make adjustments. Differences of an inch or less between right and left speakers is audible.
So, the M4’s continue to thrill. If you have a chance to hear them at a show or elsewhere, do take advantage of the opportunity!
Digital Audio Review Takes On The M4!
Aussie John Darko of Digital Audio Review (which is a great blog, by the way) recently posted a thorough review of the M4. It includes two great video interviews with Clayton Shaw. Highly recommended!
As the summer (and more leisure time to listen and write) approaches, I hope to be able to share some interesting new things with you, including a comparison of a favorite album on CD, HDTracks download and (most recently) vinyl. We may also be looking at a portable, lossless, hi-res Digital Audio Player. And, if the stars align properly, there may also be a new Audio Note Kits build in the works.
How’s that for a tease, eh? 😉
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Until next time, be kind to others and enjoy your music!