|The affordable CP-6381,
ushers in the music
As many of you may know, Dr. Joe is best known for the D’Appolito
configuration, wherein a fourth-order crossover handles a mid-tweeter-mid
driver arrangement, that is now an international staple among speaker
builders.For Lien-Shui’s Usher Audio, D’Appolito handles
crossover design and driver testing. He also does the final tuning
for all Usher speakers sold in North America. Which may go a long
way toward explaining the magical sonics achieved with the CP-6381
speakers under review.
by Jerry Kindela
Maybe it was the 10-degree rearward rake.
Or the flawlessly radiused, seamless edges. Or the way
the creamy white exterior melded so readily with my listening
space. Whatever the reason, or the confluence of a number
of sensate-evoking reasons, one word leapt into mind to
describe the visual essence of the Usher CP-6381 speakers:
Sensuous. Despite their size and finish—and these alone speak high-end—I
wanted to believe that their allure could seduce even the
most reluctant significant other.
Yes, call me crazy, insane, mad, ready for the men in lab
coats to come and wrap me in the canvas blazer, arms securely
restrained, but damn, I love the way these speakers look
and feel. Yet, this reaction, is only a small part of the
story. There’s more, so much more, about what portends
to be a love affair.
The largest-selling loudspeaker company in Taiwan, Usher
is the brainchild of Tsai Lien-Shui (in English, his name
sounds very much like usher) who, after years of repairing
equipment, turned to electronics and, eventually, loudspeaker
manufacturing around the same time that John Travolta did
the Latin hustle in Saturday Night Fever. Around the turn
of the new century, Lien-Shui enlisted the consultancy of
Joseph D’Appolito, whose assorted degrees in things
electronic from several world-class institutions and more
than 30 journal articles and conference presentations could
completely paper the walls of numerous listening rooms.
Appearance & Set-up
In addition to the rearward cant, which is designed to aid time alignment and
phase accuracy of signals arriving at the listening position, each speaker
has thick wooden cheeks affixed to the sides adjacent to the tweeter-mid
drivers. Beautifully finished, these may be more than a design element, as
they likely add further rigidity, and vibration control, to an already inert-feeling
Each speaker is indeed a heavy beast,
stabilized by a 30-pound cast iron base, the attachment of which took some
ingenuity. I recall reading that one reviewer threatened to crush the tweeter
assembly, which rises above the speaker’s top not unlike B&W models,
by inverting the speaker onto its head in order to attach the base plate. I
placed the 6381 on its side, propping up the bottom with a rather large dictionary.
In this position it was much easier to affix the base to the bottom, though
holding up 30-pounds with one hand while tightening the attachment bolts with
the other does require some skill, dexterity and strength. Much easier to have
a friend help with this.
Once assembled, the 6381s were placed in the usual speaker position in my listening
room, approximately 24 inches from the front wall and 36 inches from the side
walls. Surprisingly, while most speakers fare best in this position, the 6381’s
bass overwhelmed the room, which measures 15’ x 25’ x 18’ (W
x D x H). Fiddling and diddling with the position resulted in speaker placement
well into the room, approximately four feet from the front wall and three feet
from the side walls. As anomalous as this placement was, the sound (more on
this later) that filled the space indicated that the positioning was spot on.
At this point, the speakers were spiked (with heavy cones) and, thanks to each
speaker’s sheer solidity and mass, the spikes drove comfortably through
the carpet and padding, anchoring themselves on the plywood subflooring.
On each speaker’s back side, you’ll find two sizable ports, one
for the tweeter-mid drivers, and the other for the woofer section. At the very
bottom of the back side, you’ll find a plate secured by bolts. Behind
the plate is a cavity into which you can load sand or shot and, according to
Usher, doing so will tighten an already good bass response. Just above the
cavity door, one finds a recessed cavity containing a pair of binding posts.
The cavity is such that large WBT-style spade lugs will not likely fit: Fitting
the modest Nordost Valhalla spades proved to be enough of a problem. You’ll
be best served using banana plugs in this rather tight environment.
For this review, the all-tube (now you know my bias) core system contained
a Singerman-modified (audio circuit) Jolida JD100 CD player, Song Audio SA-1linestage,
and conrad-johnson Premier 140 amplifier. During the review I would rotate
in and out a conrad-johnson 17LS linestage and the Antique Sound Lab Hurricane
monoblock amplifiers. Other staples of the system included the Nordost Thor
distribution system (reviewed in Vol. 16 No. 4) and (updated) Sound Application
CF-X conditioner. Nordost’s Valhalla wired the entire system.
Irrespective of whether the core system was in use or substitutions were inserted,
the one incontrovertible pronouncement that can be made about the Usher CP-6381
is that it presented holographic musical sound-scapes that surprised and delighted.
With the core system, I found a finely textured presentation. Plucked guitar
strings, whether steel or gut, had the requisite bite, yet also a density of
harmonic structure. The piano’s high notes had that special sting while
the notes below middle C had a fundamental fullness and richness. I could readily
distinguish between the strike on the bell portion of a cymbal and the strike
on its broader surface. These qualities alone made listening to everything
from rock to jazz to string quartets to larger-scale orchestras an engaging,
and often revelatory, joy.
Today, the term ‘transparent’ is lobbed about in reviews with such
regularity that I hesitate to use it. However, with the core system driving
the Ushers, I sensed a see-throughness into the sound space that is rare, especially
with many speakers in this price range. After a great deal of thought, the
best answer I can muster for this seems to lie in the speaker’s ability
first to easily identify the various harmonic layers presented to the drivers
and then deliver them into the room (room interactions, aside) without congealing
or melding them into less coherent structures. The net result is that one hears
more of the musical line, the interactions between notes and chords and the
like, across the soundspace, from drum heads to bowed bass strings, from metal
horns to reeds. Music makes more sense this way.
When it came to dynamics, I was indeed surprised by the power of the small
eight-inch bass drivers. Although my room does bass exceedingly well, with
the Usher’s in place it sounded tight and resolute without being overly
dry or boomy. Bass was precise enough, even though the speakers don’t
handle the last half-octave of bass. Never mind that, my viscera have no need
of peristaltic activation, thank you. But a good kick drum, exploding from
the back of a stage is something else, the anchor for so much rock, and with
the Usher’s you get plenty of that, most often in appropriate size as
Whether I played the core system or dropped in the 17LS or the
Hurricanes (each substitution tending toward just a bit more coolness
than the core system), the results were similar: Musicality, density,
solid image placement, dynamics and listenability. Regardless of
system set-up, I found I could listen for extended periods, enjoying
||While the music of small
groups had appropriate scale between the speakers, even often
outside the speakers’ edges, with large, demanding orchestral
works the stage became smaller. But so what? I’ve never
been one to believe that it’s possible to bring the full
glory of an entire orchestra, with appropriate real-world scale,
into most listening environments anyway, so this critique is
but gnat-sized clearing of the throat. Of course, even with small groups, when
the Ushers were pushed to beyond ear-drum shattering levels, the sound hardened
a bit, losing some of its harmonic layering. But again, for $3,400 the pair that’s
an entirely acceptable carp; show me a speaker at this price point that maintains
its composure at such levels, and I’ll tell you to buy it, live happily
ever after and stop reading audio magazines.
One final observation: Many listeners prefer their music to be laid out way behind
the speakers. Anything that moves closer to the front plane of the speakers is
discounted by some, which is a listener’s right. With the Ushers the acoustic
space was presented just a bit more forward, not egregiously by any measure,
but you have been warned. To my ears, this mattered not a bit. The speakers themselves
simply vanished and I found an acoustic pocket, often broad and deep, with music
filling the space, and that’s all that ultimately matters.
At $3,400 per pair, the Usher CP-6381 is a magnificent bargain, especially for
the tube-loving fool. You’ll likely understand your music collection better,
appreciate it a helluva lot more, and consider yourself no one’s fool when
it comes to sparing your cheque book. Of course, I cannot tell how these speakers
would fare with solid-state gear, but I suspect the team of Lien-Shui/D’Appolito
has taken that into consideration. At each of Usher’s hi-fi show outings,
the entire Usher speaker line has been driven by solid-state gear (Usher’s
own brand, in fact), and it has not failed to impress the crowds.
The Usher CP-6381 may not deliver the ultimate in presentation refinement or
sense of air delivered by other brands, but then those other brands will cost
you significantly more for that incremental pleasure. Thus, the CP-6381 becomes,
at its price, a visual statement and sonic masterpiece for real-world audiophiles
who desire a goodly taste of the indescribable that is music.
||Piano Black, White,
Silver; Ferrari Red;
|51” (h) 13.8 ” (w) 25.6 ” (d)