Jean-Marie Reynaud “Bliss” Loudspeaker
|Miniature Garden of Delight|
If you can pull yourself away from searching through the stacks of vintage recordings found in the cavernous space of “Amoeba Records” located in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco or stop yourself from drooling at the thought of a prosciutto flavored ice cream from the mecca of ice cream, “Humphry Slocombe,” in San Francisco’s Mission District, you might find yourself at the base of Waterfall Hill in the famed Japanese Garden of Golden Gate Park, staring at hundred year old evergreens carpeting this pagoda crowned jewel. Sit on one of the wooden benches and gaze at the brilliant orange Koi fish swimming by in the tranquil pools at your feet, fed by the softly flowing waterfall from above. If you are fortunate enough, you might observe one of the Park’s workers tending to the ancient miniature evergreens with specialty pruning tools. These workers spend hours clipping the many tiny shoots and fragile branches of these ancient pines. The result of this meticulous tending is that each gnarled and twisted branch of these ancient miniatures is perfectly symmetrical from any viewing angle. They present serene rounded or angular shapes, perfectly harmonious in their internal proportionality and their relation to the gentle water flowing underneath. Here is a visual garden of symmetry and delight, (modest in proportion), where Nature has been manipulated by human hands into an Art Form; inviting contemplation into its many splendors of color and texture. Indeed, one perfect analogy to the visual treat of these ancient evergreens is to take a listen to music through a pair of Jean-Marie Reynaud’s Bliss loudspeakers, whose particular sonic signature very much brings to mind these diminutive, beautifully proportioned trees.
The French audio designer, Jean-Marie Reynaud, founded his company (“JM Reynaud”) in 1967. The company has grown into one of France’s most vital high end audio companies with its own production facility that includes an anechoic chamber to fine-tune their loudspeaker designs. The Bliss (formerly known as the “Duet”) is a stand mounted, two-way design that is priced at $1,895.00. As with those miniature evergreens sculpted in the Japanese Garden, there is little to indicate that below the Bliss’s well-crafted wooden surfaces lies an attention to detail that goes well beyond their modest appearance. The Bliss incorporates technology from JM Reynaud’s larger and costlier loudspeaker, the “Offrande Supreme”, including its unique loading system. The Bliss loading system contains coupled internal cavities that are designed to regulate the flow of air into and through its cabinet. The first of these double compression chambers is damped with a visco-elastic compound and is designed to allow for a high velocity of air into the cabinet. Other cavities damp the flow of air at the exit of the compression chamber, with one of the cavities tuned by a port at the frequency resonance of both the cabinet and the woofer. JM Reynaud claims that this design results in lower air elasticity and the ability of the Bliss to reproduce a sound field considerably larger than its modest size and architecture might indicate. As for its drivers, the Bliss incorporates a 7” cone woofer, composed of a paper/carbon compound with an aquaplast core, a phase plug and a 1.5 inch moving coil. Its 1.1” tweeter is composed of a silk dome with a double neodium magnet system. The Bliss’s crossover unit provides a 12 and 12dB octave slope; it contains RC circuitry, air coils and polypropylene capacitors with tin armature on its tweeter cell. JM Reynaud rates the Bliss at an overall sensitivity of 89 dB with a claimed frequency response from 45-25,000 Hz.
In my auditions, the Bliss was fairly sensitive to changes in upstream electronics, stands and cables. It was driven easily by both solid state and tube electronics. The amiable Robert Neill of Amherst Audio (amherstaudio.com), (importer for all JM Reynaud products in the United States), lent me his favorite partner for the Bliss: the Blue Circle FtTH (95 W/ch) hybrid Integrated Amplifier. With this Canadian dance partner, the Bliss was flush with energy, top to bottom; it was like getting closer to inspect the gnarled bark of those ancient evergreens. Quick piano runs had less sheen and more inner detail; acoustic bass lines had more focus (including, for example, Ray Brown’s signature rough-hewed plucks) and female vocal recordings were imparted with more inner warm and a lively luminescence. I also drove the Bliss with the Accuphase E-450 solid state Integrated Amplifier (180 W/ch). The E-450’s qualities of sparkling vitality, unlimited power and a transparency that is riveting, made it too a wonderful match for the Bliss, giving it the best of focus and vitality at the reaches of the Bliss’ frequency range.
The Bliss is offered with the option of JM Reynaud’s Magic Stands ($425) that incorporate an active Helmholtz design to diffract stationary waves created between floor and stand. I found the Magic Stands to be a slight improvement over inert Sound Anchor stands. The Magic Stands provided a shade more layering in the Bliss’s lower midrange region, allowing, for example, Jimmy Smith’s raucous organ (on his fantastic session, Cool Blues [Blue Note 35587]), to be heard more openly and concisely in its midrange. I also tinkered with Nordost’s latest resonance devices, their “AC Sort Kones,” (isolating further the Bliss from the stands) and found these devices improved the Bliss still further, particularly in the areas of image focus, definition and in getting the Bliss to reveal more of a note’s natural decay, particularly from acoustic string instruments. As for cabling, Neill offered the Audio Note An-Vx interconnects and Audio Note Lexus speaker cable for my Bliss audition. These flexible and reasonably priced cables complimented the Bliss superbly, offering an enticingly neutral, fast and lively sounding conduit.
Taking another step up the ladder to the TARA Labs 0.8 ISM On Board interconnects and 0.8 speaker cables elevated the performance of the Bliss to another treetop. With TARA Labs cabling, the Bliss’s ability to convey the substance, weight and spaciousness of instruments and rhythmic lines was much more evident; from the soulful morn of Kim Kashkashian’s viola to the crystalline voice of newcomer Sarah Jarosz, (heard on her excellent debut, Song Up In Her Head [Sugar Hill Records 4049]). All in all, I found the Bliss to be an easy partner with tube or solid state gear, but investment and experimentation with proper stands and associated equipment will make a big difference in getting the Bliss to sound their best.
At their peak, the Bliss’ sonic qualities were analogous to the rich visual experience of observing and contemplating those beautifully proportioned evergreens in the Japanese Garden of San Francisco. Most distinctively, every note of recorded music delivered through the Bliss, (from its enlivened treble to its modestly delivered bass), was of a “Whole”; each “branch” of different instrumental lines perfectly proportionate and naturally coherent with the rest of the sonic picture presented. As with the perfectly rounded miniature evergreens at Waterfall Hill, music was delivered in modest, compact and perfectly proportioned fashion by the Bliss. This was particularly impressive when listening to complex orchestration where it is particularly difficult to convey, with clarity, each musical line and strand within the dense undergrowth of musical ideas.Take, for instance, the swirling creation of “The Willowtwist,” found within Michael Gandolfi’s magnificent sonic re-creation of another landscape garden: the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, [Telarc SACD 60696]. This garden lies in England and is the creation of American architect Charles Jencks and his late wife, Maggie Keswick. (Check out Jencks’ book on the Garden; it is beautifully told and illustrated). The “Willowtwist” is a section of this landscape garden and Gandolfi musically re-creates it with the energy of a Latin-tinged dance, swirling in the wind. Nestled within the whirlwind created by woodwinds, dense string passages and brazen brass eruptions lies the tiny call of birds, played by light cymbal and an eclectic assortment of percussive sounds deep in the soundstage. Through the Bliss, each strand of this fascinating sonic landscape was heard distinctly and coherently; every touch of wood block and breathe on mouthpiece. All musical elements were weaved into a coherent, naturally proportioned musical statement; all a result of the Bliss’ meticulous attention to inner detail, colors, textures and its special way with pruning even the slightest twig of musical color or dynamic into a sonic Whole. This was a glorious feat for such a diminutive loudspeaker. I have auditioned quite a few excellent stand-mounted loudspeakers from the likes of Harbeth, Totem, Acoustic Zen and Focus Audio, and to my recollection, none of them surpassed the continuous life stream of vitality, coherency and natural proportionality to images that the Bliss asserts.
And assert it does; this is a loudspeaker that has the definite perspective of “come hither and listen” with sound projected energetically out front of its speaker plane. Its spatial soundstage is on par with the best I have heard from stand-mounted speakers in my small office space. I could hear distinctly those brazen trombones blasting off from the deep side pockets of Atlanta’s Woodruff Performance Arts Center on the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, and, even more impressively, could easily discern those fragile soft flutes floating in a nicely layered space that could have easily been lost in such dense foliage of musical ideas. The law of Physics does inevitably catch up to the Bliss in its attempt to recreate the sheer deep power of the tuba blows that chase the tiny birds from their treetops in Gandolfi’s “Willowtwist.” Notwithstanding, the Bliss provided the foundation for a very satisfying, enlivening contemplation of Gandolfi’s melodic walk thorough the Garden of Cosmic Speculation.
Before Gandolfi’s time, it was Dvorak who created another masterful musical vision of a visual (and political) landscape, this time, the vast lands of America, in his Symphony No. 9, From The New World. It is a joy to hear the recent live recording of this glorious work, brilliantly recorded and produced by the Canadian independent label, Fidelio, (fideliomusic.com). This recording captures the Youth Orchestra of the Americas, (conducted by Jean-Pascal Hamelin), in a searing, heartfelt performance of Dvorak’s masterpiece held before an audience at Church St-Irenee in Quebec. [Fidelio FACD029]; (also available in CDR Master, providing superb ambient information and unequaled image dimensionality. These recordings also contain splendid performances of a colorful Danzon by Anturo Marques and a beguiling Tarantella by Canadian composer, John Estacio). The Bliss captured all of the robust sensory delights of this gripping live performance, down to getting those brazen Brass in the final Allegro to soar high above the velvety strings, (even with their compatriot, the French Horns, being cut a bit short of their lowest registers by the Bliss’ physical limitations). The Bliss was uncanny in, once again, inviting a deep contemplation into every needle and branch of musical line and texture within the unfolding landscape of Dvorak’s New World.
It is this quality for contemplation that the diminutive Bliss so inspires in a listener; analogous to those modest evergreens on Waterfall Hill that entice one to stop for a moment; view their perfectly symmetrical forms and contemplate their unique character. Like those modest evergreens, the Bliss demands your full attention. Many small independent recording labels are now producing exceptional recordings that place a premium on this ideal of active contemplation with a musical score and performance. They seek to recreate the visceral connection to Music and the ambient qualities of the recording spaces. Some wonderful examples are the recording work of Todd Garfinkle on his continuing eclectic explorations for his independent MA Recordings label (www.marecordings.com) and Barry Diament on his Soundkeeper Recordings (soundkeeperrecordings.com). Another example is from the “Creative Improvised Music Project,” or “CIMP” Label. (cimprecords.com). On one such CIMP recording,Lonely House [CIMP 380], the trio, Cargo House, performs a blistering rendition of Neil Young’s “Cortez The Killer.” Here, cellist Tomas Ulrich pressures his bow to produce angry squeals and off-kilter notes, all delivered in tactile force by the Bliss without any glare or sheen in its highest registers. The Bliss provided all of the midrange depth and textures to Rolf Sturm’s sweeping electric guitar chords as they lay like sheets enveloping Ulrich’s angular cello and pungent spikes from Michael Bisio’s acoustic bass. The Bliss also conveyed the intimate confines of the recording venue, “The Spirit Room” (located in Rossie, New York), illustrating how this modest loudspeaker can nicely recreate an acoustic space when afforded by an excellent recording.
Similarly, the Bliss injected small ensemble jazz recordings with a vivacious, captivating feel. The young jazz guitarist, Graham Dechter, should get some limelight with his swinging new disc, Right On Time [Capri Records 74096], where he is joined by one of the hottest rhythm sections around: John Clayton on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums. The intimate details of every Hamilton swipe on his shimmering cymbals; the thump of Clayton’s full walking bass; (the Bliss gets each step except his deepest and farthest leaps) and how they both ingeniously bob and weave with Dechter’s swashbuckling guitar is a wonder to behold with the Bliss conveying the scene. Turning finally to the bedrock of Rock n’ Roll and Neil Young’s original version of “Cortez The Killer” on Zuma [Reprise 2242], Young’s slow boiling indictment of greed and enslavement is predictably less powerful heard through the diminutive Bliss. Ralph Molina’s huge kick drum and Billy Talbot’s driving bass were certainly present (riding shotgun with Young’s bending guitar), but predictably, their instruments remained unsaturated with deep tone color and visceral punch down low. The Bliss was better tethered to Rock and Blues where vocals were more the center of attention (at lower volume levels), such as taking a listen to the husk and grit of the marvel, Mavis Staples, on her inspired recording, We’ll Never Turn Back [Anti 86830]. The Bliss conveyed all of Staples’ informal belts, growls and breath from deep down in her chest. On her anthem, “My Own Eyes,” bass was still quite pungent and satisfying, chugging along with Ry Cooder’s staccato rhythm guitar, all stuck with air and heat like warm popcorn. “My Own Eyes” was presented as a beautifully proportioned, Whole musical statement by the Bliss; right down to Mavis’ final “Thank you.”
With their foundational qualities, the modest Bliss have that special potential to draw you into the musical action; to get lost in the contemplation of the musical moment; losing track of time as only the best systems can provide. At its price point, the Bliss is in the top of its class as a stand-mounted, two way design. It can easily saturate a small to medium sized room with its lively, vital sound. The Bliss is not a loudspeaker for one seeking sweeping cinematography. Rather, it is an excellent price point choice for one seeking a small loudspeaker system that provides the intricacies, small gestures and intimacies of actors performing on a musical stage. Like those ancient, modest evergreens of Waterfall Hill, the Bliss invites contemplation on Music’s most intimate level.
Bliss Loudspeaker Specifications
Impedance: 4 ohms
Frequency Response: 45-25,000 Hz
Distortion: less than 0.7% (84 dB level)
Connection: single wiring
Dimensions: (W/H/D): 9” x 17” x 11”
Weight: 22 lbs. (each)
Price: $1895.00 per pair
Zone Industrielle de Font Close
16300 Barbezieux, France
Robert Neill, Amherst Audio
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