Let’s take ‘Somewhere somebody’ from the Jennifer Warnes album The Hunter (Sony BMG/Impex 6007) as an example. It’s sparse arrangement, with lead vocal, a backing harmony, bass and percussion leaves nowhere to hide. Sonic and musical differences are writ large and in this case, almost brutally apparent. In terms of scale and perspective there’s almost nothing to choose between the two renditions. But there, all similarities end. Although this is clearly the same performance, the presentation on the four-box P10 is dramatically more present and natural. The Jennifer Warnes vocal becomes more solid and dimensional, locked in space, believable. Listening on the two-box, you’d never describe it as floating or insubstantial, but switching to the four-box locks in both the location and the physical presence. You can hear the shape of the mouth, the chest behind it, the way she forms the words and the way she works her lips and palate. The diction, the subtle nuances and timing cues that we hear every day in other peoples’ voices and speech are suddenly not just present, but almost preternaturally correct, in the way that only a microphone can capture. Max Carl’s backing vocal is just as solidly projected and located, precisely in space, three feet behind Jennie. The sheer clarity with which the vocal lines are separated yet relate, the intelligibility of the words themselves, is not just more natural, it raises the song and the sense of the song to a more powerful level. The pitch, shape and timing of the bass notes is also clearer and more precise, its tactile quality again, more natural, but also more naturally integrated into the musical whole. It’s this combination of clarity and coherence that elevates the performance. It really does become incredibly easy to place yourself in the same space as that original event, to understand the presentation as real people and real instruments, right in front of you. Is it real? Not in the sense that it’s indistinguishable from reality. But it’s certainly easy to appreciate the reality that the recording captures.
Larger works, like the Colin Davis/Boston – Sibelius 2nd Symphony gain that same body and stability, temporal continuity and natural sense of musical momentum. But here the four-box renders the expansive orchestral score even more compelling and the emotional sweep even greater. The instrumental presence and harmonic density creates a stage with real scale and substance and I’ve never heard the horns, so critical to Sibelius, reproduced so naturally. At the other end of the scale, play Caroline Shaw and the Attaca Quartet’s Orange (New Amsterdam/Nonesuch 075597921434) and that same focussed density and substance is beautifully translated into the dynamic tension, textures and intensity of this modern quartet. The four-box P10 reproduces the sense of bow on string, the length and pressure of the stroke, with such immediacy and in a way that, once again, recreates the musical event right in front of you. It’s not so much reach out and touch as the music reaching out and touching you.