The slow burn

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Throughout one’s life, there are milestones we never forget: the birth of a child, a wedding, the passing of loved ones, that first big promotion, a new car, a first-time experience. I am fortunate to have had many such treasures in my life, but one that is hifi related and will never diminish is my first listen to the magnificent Infinity IRS loudspeaker.

Before the IRS I had, of course, heard many great speakers: JBL corner horns, Quads, Magnepans, Acoustats, the work of Harold Beveridge, hybrids of Jantzen electrostats and Cerwin Vega woofers. I knew my first audition of this strange monolith to sound would be memorable if for no other reason than being in a room with 1.2 tons of speakers divided amongst 4 Brazillian rosewood columns, though I had another reason: it would be my first meeting with Harry Pearson—HP of The Absolute Sound magazine.

Here’s the story.

We arrived at 176 Prospect Ave. in Sea Cliff New York on a Friday. We were ushered into HP’s room that wasn’t all that large—long and rectangular, with high ceilings. At the far end were four loudspeakers bigger than anything I’d ever seen. Facing us were two wide, rounded “wings” of Brazilian rosewood, each channel served by 12 ribbon midrange drivers and 36 tweeters. Behind each wing was a massive tower with six 12-inch woofers, each tower driven by a 1500-watt power amplifier. Along the sidewalls were row upon row of record albums, a turntable, and next to it a stack of electronics.

Harry put on a record: “The Look of Love,” a song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, from Bacharach’s original score for the 1967 film Casino Royale. Holy moly. I’d heard the recording before but never like this. I was instantly aware that Springfield and the orchestra had been recorded in entirely different environments. I could hear her breathe, and that she’d been recorded in a small isolation booth; I could also hear the ambience of the large studio in which the orchestra had been recorded. I realized at that moment that the wealth of information captured on recordings was far greater than I had ever imagined. Not only could I hear the upper harmonics, the sibilance, the breathing of the players and singer, but the beauty of the performance itself was enhanced because I could hear the recording techniques, warts and all.

It might sound as if revealing all the underlying artifacts and tricks to making the recording would be a bad thing—like a sharp lens revealing layers of caked makeup on an actress face where before we only saw a beautifully smooth complexion. But suddenly I understood this music, this performance, the effort it took to make the recording and the skills of the musicians finally revealed. Maybe describing it as the difference between listening to a recording or being in the studio as it is being recorded would better describe what I was sensing. I have been to studio recordings and there I captured not only the sound but the facial expressions of the artists, the positioning of instruments between players, the vibe of the day and the moment. And that is what this system helped me feel when I listened to this recording. It put me in touch with the musicians who made it—as if I could hear their facial expressions—and it happened through the process of removing veils of obscuring distortion and system limitations. HP’s setup was transparent and before I had sat to listen I hadn’t even known that term—like cleaning a window and finally being able to see outside.

It was then and there I determined to have this pair of loudspeakers available for the work I knew was ahead. It took nearly 40 years of hard work and patience to get the speakers and build a room worthy of them—and then to have their designer, Arnie Nudell, set them up and help us rebuild their crossovers to new heights of performance.

Today, these speakers are truly one of a kind. If you’d like a tour of the room and to see what they look like, please go here and watch this video tour I have assembled for you.