Now I want to add a third view, which I think helps explain my positive response to the Vipers even more than the musical perspective. Let’s call this the Kodachrome perspective. Long, long ago, photographs were taken using cameras that recorded their images on chemically-coated film, not on silicon sensors. There were many types of film, and photographers chose a type of film based in part on how well that film’s recording of light and shadow seduced the viewer into the feeling of the image being recorded. Re-read that sentence, please. Yes, I said, “seduced the viewer into the feeling of the image.” Now, photographers and photographic journalists are professionals, so they didn’t talk about it this way. They discussed seemingly neutral terms like “color accuracy” and “contrast” and “resolution.” But somewhere at the core of this discussion everyone knew that this was a seduction process because everyone knew that they were representing a three-dimensional world in a two-dimensional form.
Because they understood that they weren’t literally reproducing reality but were creating a feeling, photographers felt a certain freedom to distort their images. Everyone knew that Kodachome film distorted colors, but some loved it because that distortion did a better job of seducing the viewer into the feeling of the scene than a more technically accurate film would have. Another way of saying this is that accuracy is accuracy-to-feeling and is measured not at the surface of the print but in the mind of the viewer. This is philosophically very different from the way we tend to discuss audio.
Returning to the Nola Vipers, from the Kodachrome perspective I give you this one, final listening note:
• Lots of discs sound very involving versus a few discs sounding stunningly realistic
The “involving” part of this note is interesting. Whenever I hear the phrase “musically natural,” I think, “Yeah, and boring.” But that isn’t the Viper. Music on the Vipers is exciting and enter- taining with the richness and texture of good live music.
The other interesting part of this observation for me is the realization that rather frequently the pursuit of stunning realism on the occasional disc yields products that are close to unlisten- able on most other music. I don’t know if that is because some ultra-high-transparency products actually strive for transparency through some kind of distortion. Or because most recordings are “off” and musical-sounding products are distorted to compensate. It doesn’t really matter to me. I simply note that a few recent products, like the Viper, seem designed to sound good on a lot of material without the side effects of obvious colorations. At the same time these products rarely sound completely amazing on some parameter on certain (very few) discs. That’s a “tradeoff” that I could live with every day of the year.
The Vipers seem to accomplish this consistent listenability in part by being so well balanced across the musical spectrum. The Vipers reproduce the frequency range of each major instrument solidly and clearly. This seems rather mundane, except that when we say most other speakers are balanced we are making a much broader statement, something on the order of “bass, midrange, and treble are in proportion” to one another. That’s true of the Viper, but it also regularly spotlights instruments whose output occurs in narrower frequency