German Physiks Borderland Mk IV floorstanding loudspeaker

German Physiks Borderland Mk IV

The loudspeaker may appear on paper to be not dissimilar to the HRS-130 model as the Borderland is slightly bigger all round, but all bets are off when you try and lift the things. The Borderland weighs almost twice as much as its smaller protégé. Also, because of that top-mounted driver (which should never be press-ganged into being used as a handle, no matter how tempting that might seem), the 54kg loudspeaker is best dead-lifted from the bottom, which means multiple burly movers. Doubly fortunately, the Borderland is not the kind of loudspeaker that demands armour-piercing spikes into the floor to sound good – so it’s easy to move in the room – and is the antithesis of a fussy design. The loudspeakers demand some room to breathe – a metre from the side and rear walls and at least two and a half metres apart is a good starting place – but pinpoint precision placement and careful tweaking of position is unnecessary. Like any good loudspeaker, it demands careful feeding, so a good source and a relatively powerful amplifier is useful to wake that 86.1dB sensitivity, and unlike the HRS-130 or especially the Unlimited Mk II (where you can skimp on upstream electronics) this loudspeaker demands and deserves the best. We tend not to make system recommendations unless the device specifically demands them, and as a result, we’d tend toward a powerful, solid-state amplifier over a valve design, in order to give a good sense of overall grip over the Borderland.

Its physical size largely determines the dimensional limitations of the room, as you could never fit these loudspeakers into a small listening space, but the Borderland’s forgiving nature as to placement, coupled with a four-position high-frequency adjustment (-2dB, flat, +2dB, and +4dB at 8kHz) makes this German Physiks loudspeaker design able to fit into many more rooms than you might expect.

The Borderland has all those properties we’ve come to expect from German Physiks loudspeakers, but more so. There’s that outstanding imagery, which is not limited to one place in the room. There’s also that fine top-to-bottom coherence of sound, the extension and grace without an overtly ‘audiophile’ faux sound, and so on. But with the Borderland, this all comes together in the shape of a larger, more physically ‘in the room’ presentation that is as potent as it is beguiling.

It’s hard to say where the Borderland Mk IV shines, because it is so consistent, but I’ll start with an obvious example – vocals. Take ‘Serious Doin’ Woman’ from Doug McLeod’s Exactly Like This [Reference Recordings CD] for example. This wonderful recording captures both a small blues band and McLeod’s voice, and the latter is beautifully articulate and focused in the room. This is something of an acid test for omnidirectionals, as vocals can all too easily sound indistinct, diffuse, and too wide, but that’s not the case here. There is a real sense of live musicians doing their thing in a live space, too, rather than a sterile recording. In particular, there’s a swampy sounding beat being played on the snare, and you can really hear the ‘wipe the windscreen’ wrist action of the drummer using his brushes.

Moving to more overproduced music (Lee Ritenour’s Wes Bound, on GRP from the early 1990s), you get the sense of musicianship cutting through. This can easily sound like audiophile bland jazz noodling, but the Borderland cuts through the syrupy mix and defines the intent of the musician; guitarist Ritenour is playing octaves throughout and you can here his interpretive homage to Wes Montgomery, where so many loudspeakers portray this as glorified muzak.

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