Floor-standing Speakers

Usher Dancer Mini Two Floor-Standing Speakers and BE-616 Center Channel Speaker


Setup and In Use

I moved my PSB Stratus Silver i's out of the room (they were feeling a bit inadequate standing next to the Ushers) and placed the Mini Two's on either side of my 92" Carada screen: about 7' apart, slightly toed in towards the listener. I placed the BE-616 on my Sound Anchors Center Channel speaker stand. I reconnected all of the speakers into my Wyred4Sound MMC5 amp and was ready to go. For music listening I opted to run the Mini Two's full range and disabled my JL Audio F113 sub. An Oppo BDP-95 Blu-ray player was used as a transport, connected via unbalanced XLR cables a Integra 80.2 Processor. For movies, I used an HDMI cable from the Oppo.

Given just a few months ago I watched Phish ring in 2011 in an amazing show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, I decided to start my listening off with studio album "Story of the Ghost" which was produced by the Grammy Award winning engineer Andy Wallace. I love this album for evaluation – it is recorded masterfully and has a little bit of everything.

Phish The Stor of the Ghost

Immediately, I could tell that I was dealing with a different beast entirely; the PSB's have plenty of mid range and bass punch, but the Mini Two's brought an entirely new realm to the music. On the first track, "Story of the Ghost", the base line was pronounced and detailed without being assertive. I was shocked the amount of bass and mid resolution that was being thrown at me by the Mini Two's when compared to the PSB's – I had to check to make sure that my JL F113 wasn't kicking in some support. Vocals were clear and deep. This track is also great for evaluating higher frequencies with large amount of high-hat present right off the bat. Here I could absolutely hear the increased detail that I attribute to Usher's Diamond tweeter. They were incredibly resolving without being too forward. Imaging was also fantastic.

The track "Brian and Robert" is a little more laid back, with Page McConnell's organ providing the rhythm. Here again, that full mid-range shined through with the organ sounding clear and full…all the while I was reminded of the benefit of the Diamond tweeter on this track as the entire percussion section of this song is soft high-hat tapping. "Wading in the Velvet Sea" is also a nice mellow track with a beautiful piano introduction that sounded wonderfully full but never muddy on the Usher's. The Usher's handled the male vocals on this track well, exhibiting a crisp clean sound that never muddied despite its depth.

I was on a Phish kick after listening to "Story of the Ghost", so I decided to keep going and listen to some newly downloaded material that I had just purchased. Several years ago, Phish began offering high quality, unedited soundboard recordings for download on their website. In December of last year they kicked it up a notch by offering high resolution 24 bit / 96KHz downloads. I chose to try out this new format using a concert from Phish's 3 day event: Festival 8. The second night of this event was a 3 set show that included an all acoustic set. I burned these tracks in DVD-A format which my Oppo BDP-95 could read with no problem.

Although recorded live vs. in a controlled studio environment, the increase in resolution was still very noticeable. As I said, the first set of this show entirely acoustic. The Mini Two's resolved the subtleties of the acoustic instruments perfectly. Everything was perfectly crisp but never harsh. The entire set sounds amazing in high resolution, but a few highlights include the opening of "Mountains in the Mist" which feature some lone acoustic guitar. Each note was clear and full. On the song "Wilson" (a big surprise acoustic), the strong bass and guitar blended well, all the more fun to hear in high resolution as the crowd chanted the lyrics back. As I moved to the 2nd set, the full power of the Mini Two's shined. Phish's live shows are full of incredible improvisational energy and that energy was palpable in my room. As I listened to them jam into Also Sprach Zarathustra (the 2001 theme), the bass line from Mike Gordon were full and visceral while the lead guitar from Trey Anastasio just sang.

To round things out a bit I wanted to listen to some more diverse music. One of my go to CDs for this is the 1997's Live on Letterman: Music From the Late Show. This terrific collection features a wide array of artists, from Aretha Franklin, to Elvis Costello, to Jerry Garcia, recorded live at Late Show appearances. Again, I was very happy with how the Mini Two's handled all of this diverse music. Starting from the opening track, "Friend of the Devil", touchingly sung by Jerry Garcia with Grisman on mandolin, the Usher Two's terrifically resolved this delicate acoustical track. Garcia's voice is subtle here and I was pleased with the way in which the voices sounded. Moving to something a little more complex I next listened to the Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach tune "God Give Me Strength". This featured a horn section, strings and both Costello and Bacharach singing. Strong mids and a forward tweeter were all showcased here, but never so much that I felt strained listening.

I wanted to bring the BE-616 Center channel into the mix, so I evaluated several Blu-ray movies using the BE-616 and Usher Mini Two's as a front sound stage. One of my absolute favorite movies of last year was Toy Story 3 and I was lucky enough to find the complete Toy Story Box Set under our tree this year.

Toy Story 3

The DTS-HD Master Audio track on this disc is amazing and provides reference grade sound. The very first thing that I noticed on the Usher's as theater speakers was their depth. The BE-616 can be run as a full speaker. In my system I had the cross-over set at 40Hz. The ability to cross-over the center so low resulted in a clarity to dialog that I have never experienced before – dialog was more uniform and full. Sure, with my original center speaker run as small speakers this work went to the subwoofer, but with the BE-616 handling the lower range there was a seamlessness that my PSB center had lacked. There are quite a few action scenes in Toy Story 3, and the Usher's handled the dynamics were exceptionally well. I thought I might be missing something in the dynamics arena, and while there may be speakers capable of quicker transitions than the Ushers, my ears didn't miss this. The Ushers were plenty dynamic in my setting. This was most exemplified during the climactic escape from Sunnyside. When all of our favorite characters were tumbling towards an incinerator, my front sound stage kept up remarkably well and helped preserve the intensity of this particular scene.

Social Network

One of my favorite films last year was The Social Network. As my wife hadn't had a chance to see this yet, the Blu-ray of this film afforded an opportunity to listen to the Usher's on something a bit more subtle. Again, I was very pleased with the depth that the BE-616 added to the dialog. Much of this movie involves just talking, and I was hearing dialog in my theater with a uniformity that I had never before experienced. But this depth was never muddied. One of the prime examples of this is the scene in which Justin Timberlake, as Sean Parker, is trying to sell Jesse Eisenberg's Mark Zuckerberg on the enormity Facebook's potential. This entire scene takes place in a loud dance club. Despite all that was going on, the dialog was preserved in just the right way, for us to really feel like we were there trying to hear what was going on. I was very impressed.