Grammy Award winning London Symphony Orchestra producer Nicholas Parker picks his favourite tracks which bring P9 Signature to life.
P9 Signature; the headphones that are the result and celebration of 50 years of Bowers & Wilkins existence. In this special column by producer Nicholas Parker, he talks through the music he’s heard from around the globe, pulling together an eclectic mix of tracks that he thinks wonderfully highlights the sonic qualities of P9 Signature.
He’s no stranger to Bowers & Wilkins either:
“My father was a key member of the small EMI team that spent some time in Worthing auditioning their 801 monitors and eventually choosing them above all their competitors when Abbey Road were deciding on a replacement for the Tannoy Lancasters, which had been the staple for so many years. I actually own the very last pair of 801 F-specials that were ever manufactured and I still use them every single day.”
Cantata BWV 249 Easter Oratorio
Johann Sebastian Bach
For a refreshingly celebratory instrumental balance listen to this spectacular Sinfonia from the Easter Oratorio in Gardiner’s recent Cadogan Hall version. Utterly mesmerizing imagery from the P9s, this characteristically punchy and rhythmic performance is greatly enhanced by superb engineering embracing the near-ideal placement of every distinct component. The agile violin solo just under the conductor’s left ear is as it should be; trumpets placed further back on the left and the oboes and bassoons nicely detailed and bubbly in the right mid-ground. The timpani are well-focused but not at all overwhelming (as they are in many other recordings of this piece). Continuo support is perfect, almost subconsciously present, gently supporting all the while – but when your brain’s focus settles on the variety of solo lines you become hardly aware of its constant function. Additionally, the P9s bring out the warmth of the acoustic without any blurring or congestion.
Daphnis & Chloe Suite 2
Here the P9s excel in terms of perspective, allowing an accurate portrayal of the generous panorama of this wonderfully engineered soundstage from Montreal. Winds are perfectly placed half way back in the band with clear and transparent strings in the foreground accompanied by the clarity and warmth in the basses. The image never gets too cluttered – always just the right background of those wavy wind undulations in support of the string melodies without ever being too forward or heavy. The chorus is nicely fused with the surrounding orchestral texture – but importantly remains suitably diffuse and airy.
Get Down and Sruti
Shakti with John McLaughlin
This track features a very wide palette of colours – listen to the vital clarity of the widely spread table with plenty of bite to be felt, but never so busy that it gets in the way. Guitar solos are nicely placed with some carefully controlled freedom around the image and expressive sitar and electric violin-playing, creating an intimate but also slightly spacious sound with quite interesting reflections producing real clarity and excitement. At the end of the day its testament to the great engineering and I think the overall track sounds really fabulous on these headphones.
Rosenkavalier Act iii
It’s great to listen again to this classic early stereo recording from the 50s enhanced by the solidarity and precision of the P9s. These three totally wonderful voices sound so very real – truly astonishing for the period. My experience is that it’s impossible to hear this without the music substantially affecting your whole body. Sounds really wonderful in these cans. The (now sadly lost) warm Kingsway acoustic can be truly felt and enjoyed again.
“In Gradina cu tufani”
You can spend a little time right “in the room” with these wonderful artistes – a fantastic mixture of colours and sounds accompanied by a wonderful voice, beautifully ‘dressed’ right in the front of you. And surrounded by folk instruments idiomatically played, this very well-recorded track comes to life. The image in these cans is thoroughly involving; smooth harmonium solos are complemented by wonderful off-beat string and banjo chords, almost like a Romanian hot-club. This is a fantastic listening experience.
Minuano (Six Eight)
Pat Metheny Group
This precision and focus of the complex melodic components of this track sit very comfortably within the image with all the filigree detail and percussion, gently bathed in a fabulous rich sonic panorama. The bass is punchy and supportive but not overwhelming with the P9s lending a wonderfully balanced and natural colour to the whole listening experience.
Cantata 131 Aus der Tiefe rufe Ich zu dir “So willst Du”
Johann Sebastian Bach
The very carefully composed image on this track has been expertly engineered. The string textures nicely spread across the foreground, obbligati beautifully placed just in front of the chorus and a gently supportive lute pulse that never gets in the way of the characteristically colourful chorus pickup; always clear but never invasive. Organ support is always gently present but never “clogging”. The acoustic field is near ideal- warm and flowing but still managing to avoid any confusing artifacts. In the Arioso the P9s allow us to enjoy the multi-layered compositional approach. Listen to the gently floating lines of the slow chorale from the Sopranos suspended above the undulating arioso Bass solo, decorated by the flowing obbligato from the peerless Marcel Ponseele.
Never Weather-Beaten Sail
Tenebrae / Nigel Short
Fascinating to audition this seminal English repertoire recorded by one of the world’s very best choirs with classic purist techniques in one of London’s best a cappella acoustics. The P9s emphasise the warmth of the acoustic of St Alban’s, Holborn to great effect.
No 7; Nocturne (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Often considered to be a difficult acoustic for orchestral recording, but in this issue the engineers have somehow skillfully captured the available warmth from the Hall but nevertheless managed to keep appropriate placement and clarity in the solo components of this wonderfully magical romantic nocturne. This orchestra plays this repertoire with a particularly intense depth of feeling and precision.