Switching to the B1s wrought a shocking improvement, with increased dynamic range, dimensionality, weight, extension, timbral and textural detail, a greater sense of instrumental identity and, for the first time a sense of flow and purpose to the music. Once again, the affect of the B1 was magnified when it was placed front-and-centre, reflecting my own past experience. Given the scale of the improvement instilled by the B1, I was intrigued by the extent to which the B2 might better it. I needn’t have worried. Where the B1 added weight at the bottom end, the B2 sank foundations. Where the B1 added dimensionality, the B2 created images and a soundstage that popped with presence. If the B1 increased the sense of instrumental identity, the B2 gave each player space and time, asking them and their instrument to step forward, not literally, but in the great musical scheme of things. You could hear what was coming before the music even started, as the soundstage opened up in front of you and, once the orchestra started playing you realised just how effectively the recorded space and the instruments had stepped away from the speakers, but most importantly of all, the playing and direction took the musical fluidity to a whole new level. The whole performance took on an almost organic feel, both in terms of the natural tonality and harmonics of the instruments and the ebb and flow of the music itself. Phrases ran effortlessly into each other (so critical to Sibelius) while the broader dynamic envelope allowed the music to advance and swell more dramatically and more convincingly. Normally, I’d have been more than impressed with the B1 – as indeed I always have been – but the B2 raises the bar so significantly and so emphatically that you have no choice but to take it seriously.
What the B2 does for orchestral music it also does for rock and pop, effortlessly sorting out and rhythmically organising the densest mixes. Bill Malonee and Vigilantes Of Love is another band out of Athens, Georgia that deserves far wider recognition. The turn of the century album Audible Sigh (Compass Records 7 4295) is their masterpiece and somebody really should re-release it on vinyl. Meanwhile I’m slumming it with the CD, a disc that taxes many a system. It’s hard to believe that so few people can make so much noise – or that it could be so congested. But once again, the B2s sort out the three-piece plus Hammond recording. Bringing order and direction, energy and focus to proceedings. Just as they seemed to concentrate and localise the musical energy of each instrument in the orchestra, so they lock the guitar riffs, bringing them shape and attitude, nail the bass and separate the drums, in pitch and space. The increase in musical impact and momentum is dramatic, but the B2s save their party trick for the voice, lifting it out of the congested mix, bringing it closer, making the diction more natural and expressive, the delivery much more intimate. And what it does for lead vocals, it does on backing singers too. Listen to the track ‘Resplendent’ and it’s not just the way the B2s both separate the backing vocal but illuminate its harmony with the Malonee lead. What’s really impressive is just how unmistakably that voice becomes Emmylou Harris.