My first thought, given there’s no physical center channel speaker, was to test out a scene that has a lot of sound, including dialog. If the dialog got buried, this great-looking idea would remain just that. I put in Part 7 of the Band of Brothers box set on Blu-ray, chapter 7. This scene, which involves an attack on the town of Foy, is a fantastic test for an audio system. There’s a lot going on — gunshots, mortar explosions, artillery fire, and most important for our demo, voices. (Okay, shouting.) The Portraits performed brilliantly. The soundstage was impressively wide, seeming to come from an area about a foot or two to either side of the television. Voices strongly emanated from the center of the screen. When all hell was breaking loose in the clip, the Portraits never faltered, with detailed metallic pings of the empty M1 clips sounding realistic without ringing or other annoying coloration.
My next selection was chapter 13 from the Kick-Ass Blu-ray. Here, the tiny Hit-Girl juggernauts her way down a narrow hallway and creates a bit of a mess. Even with all the gunfire, music, and ruckus, the Portraits never compressed or muddled the soundtrack, letting one hear everything that was going on.
I moved on to music, as in my mind speakers should be able to handle whatever you throw at them. My first selection was the Fleetwood Mac Live at the BBC DVD-Audio disc. This pre-Stevie Nicks blues band featured (and was indeed founded by) the amazing Peter Green. The Portraits impressed me with their prowess when playing the atmospheric and moody “Jumpin’ at Shadows.” This was in large part to the excellent detail and smoothness of the Vifa tweeter. This tweeter has a natural sound that, as I said above, I’m a big fan of. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the Portraits could easily replace some big bookshelf or tower speakers, but they do hold their own when it comes to music.
One drawback of the system’s “phantom center” was revealed on track 21 of this 5.1-channel music disc, "Baby Please Set a Date." In the main listening position, you get a rock-solid center image. If you’re off to the side, the image pulls towards that side. This can be alleviated somewhat by aiming the tweeters more straight on (in my initial setup, the center channel pair was aimed toward the listening position), but then you lose some of the sharp focus.
My last selection was the last track on The Airborne Toxic Event’s self-titled album, played in stereo. When this track gets going, it’s awash with guitars, synths, drums and vocals. The Portraits handled the track fine, though I have heard it a little less muddled (admittedly, this track will never be “unmuddled”). The big sound inherent in this track came through though. Turning off the rear Stage tweeters helped make the sound more focused — as you’d expect — though the soundstage was decidedly smaller.
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