How important are dynamics?

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My very first pair of high-performance loudspeakers were Magneplanars but the marriage didn’t last long. I soon found myself enamored with a different kind of panel speaker, an electrostat which was so much more revealing than the planar that I made the switch. This added window-like clarity was a result of a lighter membrane able to move quicker in response to transients. Instead of dragging the planar’s heavy copper-laden sheets of plastic back and forth with powerful magnets—struggling to keep up with the demands of musical transients—the ultra-thin electrostatic membrane snapped back and forth to the push and pull of electrostatic forces with the speed of Hermes. But while both were fast and clear, they weren’t perfect.

Neither the Magnepans nor the electrostats (first the Acoustat brand and later Martin Logans) had adequate bass and even fewer dynamics, though the Maggies certainly outdid the Acoustats on both accounts. The lack of bass was ameliorated on the Maggies with a subwoofer, the MLs had their own hybrid woofer. Their lack of dynamics was simply unsolvable—a trade-off I was apparently willing to make until one fateful meeting with my dear friend, Harry Pearson, founder of the magazine, TAS.

“What do you have against dynamics?” he would ask me in his deepest, most authoritative voice. “What had they ever done to you to ignore them so?”

His needlings were constant and it didn’t take more than a few outings to live symphonic concerts with my ears attuned to the investigation of dynamic contrasts to convince me HP was right. I sold my panel speakers and moved to Infinity products that had plenty of all I had been missing.

Harry was a man that wanted it all: speed, clarity, transparency, tonal correctness, and dynamics. If I had to guess which of these qualities of reproduced sound he might forego in exchange for the others, dynamics would be the last to go.

And over all these many years I too have come to rearrange the order of importance for my own tastes—and effortless dynamics are highest on my list (though not high enough to sacrifice the tonal imbalance of horns).

Electrostatic speakers were on the mind of one of my Ask Paul viewers and I answered his question here.