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German Physiks Borderland Mk IV Loudspeaker Review

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German Physiks Borderland LoudspeakerI am way into German engineering.

From my Mercedes to the Glashuette Original watch I would wear if I were a white collar kind of guy, the Germans have left a very powerful mark on consumer goods design and execution. I really guzzled down the cool aid the first time I heard my Behold system.

When it comes to high-end audio, the Germans are in full stride. My Behold System and the Lansche Audio speakers I use as a reference are kept company by a Clear Audio Stradivarius cartridge in my system. All of the above mentioned embody the kind of attention to detail, aesthetic acuity and forward-thinking engineering that results in components that bow to no one.

Enter the German Physiks Borderlands Mk IV Omni-directional stereo speaker system. Employing their own patented carbon fiber omni-directional full-range driver, the Dicks Dipole Driver (henceforth “DDD) is coupled to a downward-firing 12-inch bass driver and housed in a unique Octagonal cabinet. The Borderland looks and sounds like few that have come before it. (Per Sam Laufer of Laufer Teknik, the U.S. importer, the DDD has a frequency response from 70 to 24kHz for up to a medium power of 50 watts continuous. The company’s Unicorn model uses a single DDD driver operating full range from 45 to 24kHz. The DDD driver in the Borderland, on the other hand, is operated in a quasi full-range mode from 190 to 24kHz). The wide frequency response capability of the DDD driver is a very important feature, which the company wishes the readers to be aware of. -Publisher)

The Octagonal Cabinet is dead as dead can get. Nothing in the knuckle rap test indicated a contradiction with what the listening would concur. Based on what I was or was not hearing in the bass, I can attest that there are miniscule to no cabinet-induced distortions that, more often than not, are primary issues in poor bass performance. The carbon DDD Drivers sit atop the beveled top edge and are secured to the cabinet by six high-tensile stainless steel screws. The construction is elegant and rigid as could be. Though titanium drivers are optional, the review samples were fitted with the carbon fiber version, and are very hearty. Prying fingers will do little to damage the driver. The speaker is available in a myriad of finishes. The review pair came in a high gloss Macassar ebony that looks killer. I have owned a few speakers with wood veneer finish worthy of preserving, and these along with the Lansche 4.1 top the list. The MSRP is $53,400. My only gripe is the spikes are short which make it tough to locate the floor protection cups under the tip of the spike.

The speaker is bi-wireable and a treble control on the back of the cabinet provides boost and cut. The settings are -2dB, Flat, +2dB, +4dB. Impedance is 3.7 Ohms at 375Hz. The crossover point is at 190Hz. The lack of crossover in the mid band or treble is readily apparent when listening.

System

My front end is the Behold transport and preamp/DAC. Feeding the signal on to the Behold BPA 300-watt stereo amplifier. There are no interconnects in my system due to the proprietary linkage system employed by Behold. Speaker wire was both the Sunny 1000 and the Transparent Reference MM SS. Power chords and conditioners are a harmonious mixture of Sunny and Bybee.

The speakers un-crate with ease, and are up and running within minutes. The Borderlands were dropped into the position previously held by the Lansche. Based on what I heard early on, there was no reason to second-guess this initial position.

360 degree sound?

My first impression was dominated by the sense of the tonal balance being a bit tipped up for my taste. Pulling up the correction curve on the Behold preamp showed the existing curve for the Lansche which enjoyed a gentle push-up from around 3K on up. The exact opposite is true of the Borderland. A few clicks of a mouse later, the tonal balance felt right to me, so on I went with the music. This observation does not suggest there is anything wrong with the Borderland nor right with the Lansche; it is always a coin toss as to how a speaker will interact with a room.

The first thing that floored me was how clear and spacious the sound was. From the lowest bass (around 28 Hz) on up, the sound was so open and transparent. The lack of a box around the carbon fiber DDD driver allows for single voiced, fast-as-get-out-of-town sound. If you have never heard a driver of this level of competency play in free air, no box surrounding it, you may not know how uncolored sound reproduction can be. The mid band is simply stunning. Vocals such as Elton John singing “Candle in the Wind” (from an unknown sampler) accompanied by three guitars and background singers was a revelation. The image was just so vivid…too vivid? Perhaps I would trade some of the sizzle for a bit more steak. While quite “visible” the image could be a bit more solid or dense as with the Lansche. On the other hand, the Lansche misses a good dose of that see-through quality and edge definition of the Borderlands.

The ability of the Borderland to reveal inner detail is staggering. The Steely Dan Gold sounded like a different recording in many ways. The silence within the soundstage was blacker than before. Instrumental details, particularly those examples related to exposing texture and timbre is something really special. Synth notes exploded into view, guitars rang out and chimed in ways I have never quite heard to this degree. The down side is that the tone seems to thin a touch as the signal ascends into the upper mid/ lower treble. Not too much, but just a bit. I was able to work some of this out with the uber-capable Behold room correction.

A quick thought about room correction. As the name implies, products like these correct for room induced anomalies, not fundamental faults that lie within the speaker itself. If a driver behaves poorly, rings or displays other crossover non-linearities, you will hear it whether you apply frequency related correction or not. You can often improve a speaker with a little correction sleight of hand, but some of the baby usually goes out with the bathwater in these cases. In the case of the Borderland, the 2dB in-room rise (to my ears) at 3K Hz was gently reduced, restoring balance. It really does not take large shifts to dramatically alter the sound.

Wonderful openness describes the bass as well. The bass on tried-and-true, Stanley Clark’s East River Drive lays it out plain as day. Track 4 features Stanley working a double bass, and the Borderlands exposed the air in and around the lowest of low bass notes minus any of the fuzzies that normally obscure such renderings. This recording goes about as low as you can hear, and each touch of vibrato, each tone trailing off into silence was rendered in full view. As a former bass player, this quality sings directly to me.

As I was describing these traits to David Beetles of Hammertone Audio, importer of the soon-to-be-reviewed Allnic tube gear from Korea, he responded to my initial impressions with, “Yes, but is it musical.” The short answer is yes. However, listening to Layla from Clapton’s “Unplugged” I noticed a slightly lighter than usual tonal presentation of Clapton’s voice. At the same time the soundstage was illuminated in a way I have not heard before, thanks again to the lightning quick transient response from top to bottom. My guess is the next model up may address this trade off of transparency for tonal density in some way, but as I sit here listening to “Running on Faith” from the same album, I am just struck at how lively and spontaneous the sound is. Compared to how homogenized some speakers can sound, the Borderland eschews that approach and blazes its own trail. The thrust is, the Borderland keeps my attention riveted if in a different way from the Lansche.

Having established a grip on the tonal balance presented by the Borderland, I next focused on image specificity, another beneficiary of the clean presentation. Silence between and around the instrumental image was enthralling. Not being a sound stage freak, I may have just been indoctrinated. Clapton’s band was alive in space in a way that omnis can, yet do not often get right to this degree. I have heard that these speakers can sound a bit vague…..,uh, I would check the upstream components or room placement as the culprit. Speaking of rooms, to give a little context, mine is 33 x 60 x14’. This cavern that doubles as living room/audio haven can eat into the image and create a bit of image/soundstage vagueness. Despite the lack of sidewalls for enforcement, the omni –directional Borderland seems to be working as advertised.

The imaging and staging sounded and appeared not only great in the sweet spot but from anywhere in the house. This may sound like a pound of bull, but I could “hear” the staging and imaging from an adjacent room – the sound is that well specified in both the space and the definition of the image itself. Perspective is a bit more forward than the Lansche, but rather than forward I would call them “immediate” and “sudden” sounding due to the super-clean transient response and black background.

The Borderlands are lively not only because of their transient speed, but also their dynamic response. Micro dynamics are spritely and very nicely integrated into view. The larger scale thrusts come on with outstanding power and control allowing for shades and gradients that bolster the spontaneity mentioned earlier. I find that at a certain point the driver gives up and becomes a bit brittle. This can happen at very loud upper mid band/lower treble peaks. That said, I listen LOUD at times. Filling this space with the air pressure necessary to re create the live experience cries out for one of the German Physiks’ larger siblings (hear that, Mr. Sam Laufer, US importer of German Physics?).

A tell-tale area in the competency of a speaker design lay in the transition from the mid bass to the mid range. Here, the Borderland makes a strong case. There is ZERO bloat into the lower mid range. You may be used to at least a little creeping warmth, but here the discipline of the speakers design keeps it from depending on that old parlor trick. This trait goes a long way in defining the character, or lack of character presented by the Borderland. Listening to Cowboy Junkies “Lay it down,” the bass on this album exposes any and all added mid bass bloat or excess warmth. Through the Borderland, the bass stays right where it should be despite the upper bass’ tonal resonance.

Staying with the Cowboy Junkies, the guitar is airy yet focused. All that passes through the part of the palette is kissed with this injection of oxygen, greatly enhancing the sunny lithe character of the recording. Delicate, lilting even.

“Who Knows Where The Time Goes” on Eva Cassidys’ Imagine re-enforces this lilting portrayal of dynamic shading. From a whisper to a roar, the track displays all that we audiophiles and music lovers alike get giddy about. Guitars push to their limit, as does Eva’s voice midway through the song, yet the quiet moments contain just as much entertainment value and feel every bit as alive. Easier said than done.

Conclusion

Could I live with the Borderland over the long haul? You bet. Despite it sounding different in the ways I described from what I’m used to, it took little time to fall for its many charms. Stellar top-to-bottom coherency, speed and dynamics make for a solid foundation upon which the bass with its power, speed and pitch make it a bass-freaks’ master. The rest of the spectrum is just as well rendered with an infinitely open and detailed sound. Stay away from pushing them beyond their limits and use the best possible gear up front, and you may never find any fault with them whatsoever.

Manufacturer’s comment:

Thank you very much for taking the time and effort to produce such an in-depth and perceptive review of our Borderland Mk IV loudspeakers. You have successfully picked up all the points that make these loudspeakers so special and so enjoyable to listen to. I would like to deal with a couple of important points that you raised.

Regarding the size of the spikes on the review sample, we are now using a larger spike, which I think will address your concern here.

You commented that, “at a certain point the driver gives up and becomes a bit brittle”. You have to push the DDD driver very hard before this happens. I see that your room size is about 2,000 sq. ft. This is nearly twice the maximum room size we normally recommend for the Borderland Mk IV. The fact that it coped so well I think speaks volumes, quite literally, for the capability of the DDD driver. For your room, I would suggest a pair of our PQS-402s fitted with carbon fibre DDD drivers. These can produce a maximum output level of 118dB, which should allow you to play as loud as you want and have some margin in hand. Like you, I hope that Mr. Laufer at our U.S. distributor Laufer Teknik will soon place an order for a pair.

Best regards,
Holger Mueller, Owner
German Physiks (DDD Manufactur GmbH)

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