Select anything with a deep, fast, and mobile bass line (‘Tears Inside’ from Art Pepper’s Smack Up [Contemporary] will do nicely) and you’ll hear exactly what I mean. There’s a wonderfully tactile attack and decay to the beautifully pitched, paced, and spaced notes of the bass line, with an absolute security of their weight and tone. And this holds in the way they work with the piano, the way you can follow them as a constant presence under the other instruments, the way they maintain the direction and momentum of the track is all perfectly configured. These are genuine corn-fed, free-range bass notes, not the texture-less, processed nuggets served up by most small standmounts.
That sense of purpose and energy extends across the 35XTs’ whole musical range, from the stabbing brass of small ensemble jazz, to the breathy intimacy of well-recorded vocals, the sudden attack of crisply hit snare drum to the prolonged harmonic decay of an acoustic guitar. These speakers have an uncanny ability to fasten on the sense of life and presence in a recording and project it into a room. It’s a quality that serves them well when fed by modest electronics (Arcam’s A19 for example), but it also allows them to grow and thrive in more exalted company. After hearing what the Motion 15’s could do on the end of the VTL 450 mono amps, the presence of Audio Research’s Ref 10 line-stage and Ref 150SE power amp was too tempting to pass up…
On paper, the price disparity makes this an unlikely combination, but sonically and more importantly musically, it’s perfectly valid. Play Don Henley’s inspired cover of ‘These Days’ from the Jackson Browne tribute album, Looking Into You [Music Road] and the opening guitar that usually lodges firmly in the right-hand speaker with most stand mounts, steps away from the cabinet, its reverberation revealing the extent of the whole soundstage. Henley’s vocal has a natural expressive presence and body, and is beautifully dimensioned and stable. The subtle bass line works the track, the cascading drum patterns have real impact and dynamics. This is one speaker that just gets bigger and better the more you give it, that will play quietly but loves to play loud, and that will surprise you with the musical coherence and insights it brings even to familiar tracks. I’d never really rated Bob Schneider’s cover of ‘Running On Empty’ until I heard it on the ARC/35XT system. Suddenly the measured tempo and melodic extrapolations make sense, the bottom-end locks in and ties it together, while the elongated rhythmic evolutions and that deep, deep, almost flappy bass drum all start to make sense.
One downside of the larger tweeter diaphragm is a more restricted listening window – meaning that you need to pay attention to the speaker’s rake angle and I found myself inverting the speaker and running it with the tweeter below the mid-bass driver. The good news is that the extra bass also adds up to a slightly fuller and more forgiving balance without sacrificing the lucid clarity and natural sense of musical organisation that characterised the Motion 15, making the 35XT an easier speaker to partner, especially with solid-state amps. Experimentation is the name of the game here, but put the effort in and this unassuming little speaker has the capacity to startle and excite in equal measure. The 15s were capable of remarkable performance, especially in smaller rooms, but give the 35XTs a little extra space (and especially if you can give them a lot of extra drive – in quality terms that is) and they simply blow their little brothers away.