So far, the Unlimited Mk II remains exactly the same as before. There are several new high gloss finishes (called the Ultimate Unlimited, which includes the gloss black model we tested), and an all carbon-fibre finish called the Unlimited Carbon, which is mostly aimed at Asian markets. The sound is identical to standard Unlimited Mk IIs, but the difference between the acoustic vinyl and black high gloss polyester finish is £2,000; although this is fairly steep given the base price is £8,900, I think the high gloss look is a significant and justifiable improvement over the basic grey, black, white, or brown vinyl.
The big change between the Ultimate Mk II reviewed in issue 102 and the one reviewed in this issue is not simply the high gloss look. The crossover has gone in for a radical redesign, or rather several redesigns over time. This has addressed some of the compatibility issues that made the loudspeaker a bit sensitive in amp choice at its last visit. When last I tested the Ultimate Mk II, I suggested the loudspeaker required current to drive it. That still holds, but it’s less demanding, allowing more valve amplification to come into the mix without a concomitant dip in the high treble as a result. This also has an advantage in sonic terms, even when ideally partnered.
It’s slightly difficult in writing this review because we are inevitably going over old ground. I urge prospective German Physiks customers to check out both my previous review of the Ultimate Mk II and Dick Olsher’s review of the same at The Absolute Sound for the full introduction to the unique properties of the omnidirectional speaker, but the Cliff Notes version of the same is the loudspeaker creates an extremely musical experience, more like you are in the concert hall than the control room of a studio. They work best in a large room because of their omnidirectional nature, but they are far less troubled by the demands of room treatment and don’t require micron-tolerance positioning of speaker or listener to deliver the goods. This perhaps works at its best with orchestral music and at its worst with a close mic’d, right-between-the-speakers, girl-with-guitar style recording (where the omnidirectional nature of the speaker makes such recordings appear a little diffuse), but those who ‘get’ what this kind of speaker can do will either be self-editorial in their music buying or accommodate such limitations.
Comparing the listening notes between old and new, however, this last point now seems a lot better resolved. The sound of Kat Edmonson singing ‘Lucky’ [Way Down Low, Spinnerette] wasn’t as rounded and diffused, and there was still that sense of a singer in the listening room; more like a real person’s voice as it bounces round the room rather than a disembodied vocal ‘thing’ floating between the loudspeakers. Even replaying the a cappella version of Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega once more [Solitude Standing, A&M] showed this to be less diffuse and more focussed. You could always understand the vocals and the meaning behind them, but the German Physiks presentation perhaps lost a little in the hi-fi sense of a musical ‘hologram’ – the revisions help both the naturalistic reproduction and the audiophile-friendly sense of dimensionality.
Moving to the loudspeaker’s true calling – orchestral music – this improved imagery came over as a more cogent orchestra in a larger environment. Once again rolling out the Saint Saens Symphony No 3 [Munch/Boston SO, Living Stereo] the sense of the musical performance the previous Ultimate Mk II delivered was enhanced by an increased sense of spaciousness in the imaging, a deeper bass, and more detail especially in the upper registers. This was not necessarily a night-and-day change in performance, but those who auditioned a pair of German Physiks a few years ago and wished for a bit more heft at the bottom end and more definition at the top, just got their wishes granted.