Warning: This review is a little long. My own writing style reminds me of the bloke who wrote the novel, “The Last Ship”. Words would spill across three pages when all he wanted to say was “Hard right rudder!” so, forewarned, let’s get on with it.
It was with considerable excitement when I drove up to Jason’s (jtwrace
) home in Huntersville, NC back on Dec. 3rd to listen to his Spatial Hologram M3 Turbo S. Yes, I know, it’s been almost a month but business, um, stuff, collided rather forcefully a couple of days after my visit to Jason’s. Rather than being late, let’s just call this post perfect timing.
This listening session took place just one week prior to his trip to Utah to listen to the new Spatial X1 Uniwave. I have purposefully not read a single comment about that trip before getting this review up today.
Jason is a self-professed” low-key guy”. Really, his own words, ACers. I had inquired earlier about bringing lunch and the adult beverage of his choice. He demurred and wrote that I should just bring myself. Well, OK.
I am reasonably familiar with Jason’s posts here on AC. I had this vague sense that I would be going to a place where a substantial, dedicated listening room awaited, tweaked to the gills, combined with a showcase of equipment that would make any mom and pop audio store green with envy. Rather, when Jason greeted me and showed me to his room, I was presented with a typical, ordinary living room such as one finds in most multi-family dwellings, with some sound treatments, the M3s taking center stage in the smallish room and some – but not too much - audio equipment. This was not on the scale I was expecting from reading prior descriptions of his listening space, but this was going to be OK since I would hear the speakers in a room not too un-similar to mine. Turns out, seasons change, as do people or their circumstances.
He had the M3s playing at low volume as I walked in, sounding pretty….underwhelming. We took a walk around the room, I noting the phase shifts in sound. I personally own the Ohm Walsh 5000 and am more accustomed to a wider sound stage with less noticeable changes to the sound, even when being way-off axis.
First Note to Self: Never, ever come to immediate conclusions about anything.
Jason showed me the speakers and associated equipment:
Motorola Modem sb6141> Emo Systems EN-70HD > (6) eero > Synology 1813+ (DSM 6.0), 4TB Seagate NAS Drives, 4GB RAM & Zero Surge & APC XS BX1000G/backup to Synology DX513) > Emo Systems EN-70HD > Micro µRendu > Vinnie Rossi LIO (Silver AVC/Tubestage) > Spatial M3 Turbo S
Most of the computer- associated equipment, Jason told me, was upstairs in a spare bedroom so I was left to try and visualize what all this meant – and discovering later I had done a pretty poor job of it.
We took our seats, I in the sweet spot, with the music still playing at background level and conversed for a while. I am mentally comparing what I am hearing at this volume against my own set-up and I am liking my own at this point.
Refer to my first Note to Self.
I’ll admit that almost as much as I was looking forward to seeing and hearing the M3s was also seeing/hearing the Vinnie Rossi LIO DHT. It was nowhere to be found, out on loan to a friend.
Second Note to Self: I need better friends.
Jason did have another LIO, this with the MOSFET module and Silver AVC/Tubestage. Jason could not say enough good things about this combo, and said the investment in the Silver AVC attenuator was well worth the additional cost. Whether to allay my disappointment in not getting a chance to audition the DHT or not, he said that in many instances, he preferred the MOSFET and Silver AVC/Tubestage over the DHT. Whatever. It must be nice to have your cake AND eat it too, Jason.
Jason pulled up his iPad and asked me if I was ready. Sure, let ’er rip. (I was not ready). I did not see Jason actually dial up the volume. He did and what first burst forth from the M3 Turbo S was like a cannon shot. “Holy Master and Commander, Batman! What was that?”
I was startled. No. Stunned. I could feel the sound wave hit me like a linebacker hitting Cam Newton, except in the chest, not the head. I can only imagine what the cannon shot from the scene in Master and Commander where the French privateer fires on the British warship would sound like on these speakers. I might as well as have had a concussion or been hit by a cannon ball because I failed to immediately get the track info from Jason. Turns out it was “Bass and Drum Intro”
by Nils Lofgren, and that first bass note nearly pummeled me. Jason let this play for a few moments; I later heard the full track.
Jason backed off the volume a bit. Wits gathered, next up was Sarah Jarosz “Come on Up to the House”
. I had not heard of Sarah until now, but I was familiar with Tom Waites and this song. Her cover of it had the same bluesy swagger but a bit more tempered with Southern hospitality.
I should have asked Jason how he put this particular playlist together and in the order he did. It may have been happenstance but I suspect some mad genius was at work here. Next up was Lee Ritenour’s “Am I Wrong”
. I am not a big fan of Ritenour’s voice but there’s no denying he is an incredible musician when it comes to anything with six strings. But on this track, Lee doesn’t appear. Rather it is Keb' Mo' and Taj Mahal. They are a very compatible duo on this light, vaguely funky fusion piece.
I am not going to go into every song. However, I want to highlight the songs that really struck me:
- “Looking for a Home”(Various Artists). I think this was a DSD download (maybe SACD) and “The Dog Song”. Both sounded sublime. Very well recorded. You want beauty and speakers that does justice to the very best recorded music? At an affordable price? These speakers should be on your short list.
- “Rain on a Tin Roof” (Julie Roberts). This melancholy ballad has a lot of self-control, but could have exploded with a different arrangement. Introspective and beautiful.
- (“Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” (Sarah Bareilles). This live version brilliantly highlights the song’s effusive lonesomeness.
- “Creep” (Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox). Maybe my favorite of the day. I recall Radiohead’s version being brooding. This take seems re-done as a sexy, slow-burning anthem performed with a vulnerability turning into triumph. It also switches the gender roles; instead of being the passive object of desire, in this version it’s the woman who affirms her awkwardness and longing. During the whole of this song, my mind was doing this time shift thing, so popular on TV shows today like Quantico or Frequency: First in the here and now, then to PMJ’s own Haley Reinhart brilliant solo on Idol some seasons back, and then to the 90s and back all over again.
- “These Bones” and “Noah” (The Fairfield Four). Performed a Capella, the guys sing with full-bodied voices. I don’t know which member sings the bass, but his voice is subterranean in the depths it can go. The M3s don’t shy away from bass.
By now, we are 22 tracks in according to the playlist Jason had provided. I’ll admit that I had not heard a single song in the version as performed by the artists on Jason’s list. Moreover, I was not that familiar with most of the songs at all so this was truly a new experience for me.
We next listened to six songs I requested which he accessed by Roon. Before coming over, I told Jason I didn’t have the songs downloaded to a file. Would it be OK if I just brought over the CDs?
“What’s a CD?”, he asked.
Third Note to Self: Time to get with the times, Michael.
I was really looking forward to hearing what I thought was the best-recorded song on my own playlist. “South of the Border”
(Chris Isaak). It sounded great, but I realized that after listening to Jason’s own hi-rez music, many carefully recorded and mastered, I was really missing out.
I wanted to test how these speakers sounded with some poorly recorded music. I asked him to play some Reneé Olstead from her debut album. I really love the arrangements and her voice (she was 14 at the time she recorded this album, I think). Unfortunately, the recording engineer compressed the crap out of the music. The M3s faithfully reproduced the crap in all its crapiness.
Fourth Note to Self: Time to get better music, Michael.
My faith in my taste in music was somewhat redeemed by Aaron Neville’s "It Feels Like Rain"
, Alison Krauss + Union Station playing “When You Say Nothing at All
”, and Melody Gardot’s “Worrisome Heart”
. Goosebumps. I mean, I love these songs on my current system, but I really lusted after them on Jason’s rig. Especially on the last. I’ve always imagined Gardot’s song as backdrop to some 40s film noir
, all smoky and dark, with the fog hanging heavily around. It seemed like the room actually filled with fog and everything turned black and white – and no – no fog machine in sight.
Most of Jason’s playlist consisted of refined, beautiful music. He did let his hair down on a few tracks – Nils Lofgren “Bass and Drum Intro”
and Bon Jovi’s “Prayer”
. I knew some of Lofgren’s music and knew the Bon Jovi song, but again, I wasn’t familiar with either the song (Lofgren) or the version (Prayer). Although it doesn’t appear on his playlist, we did listen to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”
First Note to Jason: It’s OK to admit it.
So, I needed to hear something with which I was familiar. I asked Jason to play Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou”
Me: Jason, and please, Crank It.
Jason: Crank It? How loud?
Jason: Wry grin.
This swamp-rock song explodes from the speakers. The guitar riffs come crawling out of the speakers, all eerie, creepy atmospherics. And – dang! An alligator just crashed through the front door!! You want realism? These speakers deliver.
Jason pulls out his decibel meter. 104. Pretty sure the Spatial M3 Turbos S nor the LIO are not even breaking a sweat.
A couple more songs later, and I think it is time to wrap this up. Jason looks over, says, “Look, I know you haven’t asked for this song, but I am going to play it anyway”. Crocodile smile. “Wait! Don’t!! Stop!!!”, screams I. Too late. “Hotel California”
. At least, in keeping with everything that has happened already, it is not a version with which I am familiar.
A few minutes later, he shows me his computer rig. It is an amazing set-up. “Um, Jason, how much to have you come over to my place and set something like this up”? He tells me unless I want to spend a lot of time tweaking it (I don’t), not to bother. He later writes me and says if I want “…a one box solution for Roon and the µRendu I'd look into these
. Silent, purpose built and he does have bundles too”. Thanks, Jason!
So, if you have read this far, I love you for the forbearance. If you just skipped to the end, then here is what I have to say about the Spatial Hologram M3 Turbo S: I want ‘em!
They have this uncanny ability to both front the musicians and instruments, lending a kind of individual reality, but at the same time, offering a sense of presence and space. I know it seems trite to write the following – I had always thought it a cliché talking about how “performers seem to be in the room playing”, and it I guess it is a tired old saw – until you actually experience it. These are the most "live"-sounding speakers in my experience, offering an up-close perspective with the kind of presence and immediacy that are among the chief pleasures of in-person performance. In audiophile terms, they are fast… But their speed and agility does not come… at the expense of beauty.
They are not without fault, at least to what I am accustomed to. Many of you, maybe all of you, will cringe when reading that my system is Sony HAP-Z1ES or Raysonic CD128 > Lector Zoe > Butler TBD5150 > Ohm Walsh 5000. This was cobbled together when I did not know anything about anything.
In my own set-up, I can honestly say the Ohms are not very resolving speakers. What they do, they do wonderfully, and they work very, very well for my own listening habits. You see, I don’t often sit still for long and just listen deeply, deeply, to music. Because I move around a bit, the Ohms’ ability to provide great sound, even when way-off axis, is very valuable to me. In this regard, the Spatials will force me to just sit and listen since the sound does degrade off-axis quite a bit.
I doubt very much I will ever let go of the Ohms. As I wrote, they are not that resolving, at least in my set-up. Still, I am someone who prefers truth, but needs that truth served up in an artful way and the Ohms do that for me. I prefer the truth of beauty.
It wasn’t that long ago that I lived in Fort Mill, SC. When my spouse took a job 50 miles north, we decided to move to North Carolina, splitting the difference and landing in a small town and smaller house. Had we still lived in Ft Mill in my house with room enough for two main systems, the M3 would likely have a home because I have enough room in my life to also admire the beauty of truth.
In closing, I cannot recommend enough that given an opportunity to listen to these speakers that you do so without fail. I wish I could have heard these speakers with more than one source of amplification, but Jason doesn’t live far and when he gets the LIO DHT back, maybe he will invite me back for a second listen. I would love to hear how the M3s sound with tubes.
Thank you, Jason, for being such a wonderful host and for exposing me to another plane of beautiful music! You’ve taken great care to get your system just so and your love of music is clearly evident. If the M3s are up for sale – I have not read anything about your trip to Utah, your impressions of the X1s, and your plans for the M3s were unclear when I left your home - call me.
Happy New Year,