Wilson Benesch

Some of world's finest audio products utilising space-age materials and technology incl. Speakers, Turntables & Racks - Hand-Made in-house in Sheffield England
The FUTURE is CARBON

WILSON BENESCH was founded in 1989. Since then, all structural elements of every component it designs and manufactures has sought to push the boundaries of manufacturing and materials technology. 

From the world's first tapered Carbon Fibre tonearm, to the world's first curved Carbon Fibre loudspeaker, the novel Clamshell Isobaric tactic driver and the patented Torus Infrasonic Generator; Wilson Benesch has pushed the envelope of what is possible within Audio Engineering. 

Every component is manufactured using high precision tooling and advanced moulding technologies under one roof in Sheffield.

A fitting tribute to the illustrious engineering history of the city and its pioneers such as Bessemer. It is only standing on the shoulders of the great thinkers and engineers of this time that the modern world can look beyond the horizon of time.

A testament to Wilson Benesch's continued pursuit of perfection can be seen right through the product line Most notably in the Geometry series, and special entry level Square 2 Series.

"THE FUTURE IS CARBON"

THE ENTRY SQUARE II SERIES:
The Square Series II exists because of our belief that the companies design philosophy, technology and expert craftsmanship, developed though ambitious research and development for the companies reference line loudspeaker ranges, could be distilled in a beautiful, hand-crafted loudspeaker line based on a more traditional aesthetic and cabinet material choice.

THE GEOMETRY SERIES:
The Geometry Series aspires to be the evolutionary development of the time tested Odyssey Series that is now in its tenth year. This collection provides the summation of many years of considered thought and re-evaluation, encouraged in part, by new technologies and new manufacturing capabilities.

The Carbon Fiber A.C.T. Monocoque requires no additional bracing. Each element has been carefully selected and developed by Wilson Benesch. Once bonded, each element works to mutually self damp the other. As a result the Vertex has a relatively large internal volume to surface area ratio, with the lowest possible signal to noise ratio of any speaker cabinet design

The flagship series of the Wilson Benesch product range showcases the pinnacle of the company's extensive research and development in carbon fibre composites, advanced materials science and drive unit design. Deriving its name from the forms used to generate each component's architecture, each speaker in the range is presented to the highest qualities of fit and finish. signed, machined and assembled in-house at Wilson Benesch, each speaker  excels in dynamic, honest and clear sound reproduction.

From the 1960s, brands like KEF and Bowers & Wilkins pioneered the use of new materials in drive unit technology, but arguably no company pushes the envelope of materials science these days quite like Wilson Benesch....... Alan Sircom, Editor, HiFi+

Featured

All Products

Reviews

Awards

Featured

WB 01 SM SQ1
NZ$ 4,500.00 (incl. GST)
"These speakers are amazing! They deliver superb music. Perceived quality is matched by the intrinsic quality and the care that has been taken in the design and manufacture of components, making the...
EXTENDED REVIEW: For many years, I've been a fan of the loudspeakers made by the British audio...
Square Series II – Square One, “BEST BUY” – Haute Fidelite, France
WB 02 FS SQ2
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 4,250.00 (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 6,995.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 2,745.00 (incl. GST)
THIS IS A ONE OFF SPECIAL INTRODUCTORY OFFER for our SHOWROOM SPEAKERS in WALNUT HG FINISH:
EXTENDED REVIEW: With the new version of the Square Two, Wilson Benesch introduces a floorstanding...
WB 25 FS VEC
NZ$ 17,995.00 (incl. GST)
"The Vector enclosure astonished us with it's transparency, it's speed is first class... A revelation, high performance yet very accessible.”…… Diapason Magazine
EXTENDED REVIEW: Wilson Benesch’s Geometry Series is a real grower, in both senses. If you play a...
WB 28 FS ACT
NZ$ 39,995.00 (incl. GST)
“The A.C.T. One Evolution is the distillation of all the engineering and materials science development that Wilson Benesch can throw at a loudspeaker… where the original A.C.T. One began ‘tabula rasa...
The A.C.T. One Evolution is a full range, 4-way acoustical, 2.5-way electrical, floor standing...
EXTENDED TEVIEW: The A.C.T. One Evolution is a late descendant of perhaps the most sustainable...
WB 37 FS RES P
NZ$ 76,995.00 (incl. GST)
The Wilson Benesch Resolution is a superb loudspeaker. It is beautifully engineered from high-tech, high-quality materials. Looking at it, you will never find yourself wondering why it costs what it...
CONSTRUCTIONPoly-alloy hybrid constructionHigh performance carbon composite A.C.T. monocoqueHigh...
EXTENDED REVIEW: There’s an argument that says naming a speaker Resolution is just asking for...
4th August, 2018 – Wilson Benesch today announces that it has been named a ‘Golden Ear’ Award...

All Products

Book Shelf/Stand Mtg

WB 01 SM SQ1
NZ$ 4,500.00 pr (incl. GST)
"These speakers are amazing! They deliver superb music. Perceived quality is matched by the intrinsic quality and the care that has been taken in the design and manufacture of components, making the...
EXTENDED REVIEW: For many years, I've been a fan of the loudspeakers made by the British audio...
Square Series II – Square One, “BEST BUY” – Haute Fidelite, France
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
WB 01 SM SQ1 STD
NZ$ 1,500.00 pr (incl. GST)
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
WB 15 SM VER
NZ$ 9,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
VERTEX S T A N D   M O U N T   L O U D S P E A K E R"From the 1960s, brands like KEF and Bowers & Wilkins pioneered the use of new materials in drive unit technology, but...
The Carbon Fibre A.C.T. Monocoque requires no additional bracing. Each element has been carefully...
EXTENDED REVIEW: When is a standmount not a standmount? When it’s a Vertex. OK, on a scale of one...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
WB 16 SM VER W
NZ$ 10,495.00 pr (incl. GST)
VERTEX S T A N D   M O U N T   L O U D S P E A K E R"From the 1960s, brands like KEF and Bowers & Wilkins pioneered the use of new materials in drive unit technology, but...
The Carbon Fibre A.C.T. Monocoque requires no additional bracing. Each element has been carefully...
EXTENDED REVIEW: When is a standmount not a standmount? When it’s a Vertex. OK, on a scale of one...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
WB 18 SM DIS
NZ$ 29,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
"Every Wilson Benesch product I’ve heard presents music with startling clarity. It comes at you with blistering speed from a velvety-black backdrop. Dynamics are incredible and the detailing always...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
WB 19 SM DIS W
NZ$ 30,495.00 pr (incl. GST)
"Every Wilson Benesch product I’ve heard presents music with startling clarity. It comes at you with blistering speed from a velvety-black backdrop. Dynamics are incredible and the detailing always...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
WB 20 SM DIS P
NZ$ 32,495.00 pr (incl. GST)
"Every Wilson Benesch product I’ve heard presents music with startling clarity. It comes at you with blistering speed from a velvety-black backdrop. Dynamics are incredible and the detailing always...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
WB 22 SM END
NZ$ 54,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
"The Endeavour turns accepted notions of the established audio swings and roundabouts on their head, surprising and delighting in equal measure. But most of all it succeeds in achieving that quality...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
WB 23 SM END W
NZ$ 56,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
"The Endeavour turns accepted notions of the established audio swings and roundabouts on their head, surprising and delighting in equal measure. But most of all it succeeds in achieving that quality...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg
WB 24 SM END P
NZ$ 57,995.01 pr (incl. GST)
"The Endeavour turns accepted notions of the established audio swings and roundabouts on their head, surprising and delighting in equal measure. But most of all it succeeds in achieving that quality...
Book Shelf/Stand Mtg

Floor Standing

WB 02 FS SQ2
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 4,250.00 pr (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 6,995.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 2,745.00 (incl. GST)
THIS IS A ONE OFF SPECIAL INTRODUCTORY OFFER for our SHOWROOM SPEAKERS in WALNUT HG FINISH:
EXTENDED REVIEW: With the new version of the Square Two, Wilson Benesch introduces a floorstanding...
Floor Standing
WB 03 FS SQ3
NZ$ 9,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
Wilson Benesch’s new Square Three is a very special loudspeaker. Breathtakingly fast and dynamic, it’s tactility and visceral speed is remarkable at the price”….. Jason Kennedy - HiFi Choice 5...
The New Wilson Benesch Square Series 2 continues to receive excellent press and feedback globally...
Floor Standing
WB 05 FS SQ5
NZ$ 19,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
"Its performance is so beautifully balanced, so unusually natural and expressive that even one listen should reveal its superiority. It really does deliver on the promise of trickle-down technology,...
EXTENDED REVIEW: Wilson Benesch’s recent brush with the top-end of loudspeaker design – the...
Floor Standing
WB 25 FS VEC
NZ$ 17,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
"The Vector enclosure astonished us with it's transparency, it's speed is first class... A revelation, high performance yet very accessible.”…… Diapason Magazine
EXTENDED REVIEW: Wilson Benesch’s Geometry Series is a real grower, in both senses. If you play a...
Floor Standing
WB 26 FS VEC W
NZ$ 18,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
"The Vector enclosure astonished us with it's transparency, it's speed is first class... A revelation, high performance yet very accessible.”…… Diapason Magazine
EXTENDED REVIEW: Wilson Benesch’s Geometry Series is a real grower, in both senses. If you play a...
Floor Standing
WB 28 FS ACT
NZ$ 39,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
“The A.C.T. One Evolution is the distillation of all the engineering and materials science development that Wilson Benesch can throw at a loudspeaker… where the original A.C.T. One began ‘tabula rasa...
The A.C.T. One Evolution is a full range, 4-way acoustical, 2.5-way electrical, floor standing...
EXTENDED TEVIEW: The A.C.T. One Evolution is a late descendant of perhaps the most sustainable...
Floor Standing
WB 29 FS ACT W
NZ$ 41,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
“The A.C.T. One Evolution is the distillation of all the engineering and materials science development that Wilson Benesch can throw at a loudspeaker… where the original A.C.T. One began ‘tabula rasa...
The A.C.T. One Evolution is a full range, 4-way acoustical, 2.5-way electrical, floor standing...
EXTENDED TEVIEW: The A.C.T. One Evolution is a late descendant of perhaps the most sustainable...
Floor Standing
WB 30 FS ACT P
NZ$ 42,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
“The A.C.T. One Evolution is the distillation of all the engineering and materials science development that Wilson Benesch can throw at a loudspeaker… where the original A.C.T. One began ‘tabula rasa...
The A.C.T. One Evolution is a full range, 4-way acoustical, 2.5-way electrical, floor standing...
EXTENDED TEVIEW: The A.C.T. One Evolution is a late descendant of perhaps the most sustainable...
Floor Standing
WB 35 FS RES
NZ$ 69,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
The Wilson Benesch Resolution is a superb loudspeaker. It is beautifully engineered from high-tech, high-quality materials. Looking at it, you will never find yourself wondering why it costs what it...
CONSTRUCTIONPoly-alloy hybrid constructionHigh performance carbon composite A.C.T. monocoqueHigh...
4th August, 2018 – Wilson Benesch today announces that it has been named a ‘Golden Ear’ Award...
Floor Standing
WB 36 FS RES W
NZ$ 74,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
The Wilson Benesch Resolution is a superb loudspeaker. It is beautifully engineered from high-tech, high-quality materials. Looking at it, you will never find yourself wondering why it costs what it...
CONSTRUCTIONPoly-alloy hybrid constructionHigh performance carbon composite A.C.T. monocoqueHigh...
4th August, 2018 – Wilson Benesch today announces that it has been named a ‘Golden Ear’ Award...
Floor Standing
WB 37 FS RES P
NZ$ 76,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
The Wilson Benesch Resolution is a superb loudspeaker. It is beautifully engineered from high-tech, high-quality materials. Looking at it, you will never find yourself wondering why it costs what it...
CONSTRUCTIONPoly-alloy hybrid constructionHigh performance carbon composite A.C.T. monocoqueHigh...
EXTENDED REVIEW: There’s an argument that says naming a speaker Resolution is just asking for...
4th August, 2018 – Wilson Benesch today announces that it has been named a ‘Golden Ear’ Award...
Floor Standing
WB 40 FS CAR
NZ$ 129,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
 “The Cardinal represents the tip of a long and perfectly mapped development path, stretching back across multiple models. But the pace of advance isn’t necessarily even and the Cardinal...
A VERY EXTENDED REVIEW: In case anybody missed it, hi-fi geography is on the move. The Old World,...
Floor Standing
WB 41 FS CAR W
NZ$ 134,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
 “The Cardinal represents the tip of a long and perfectly mapped development path, stretching back across multiple models. But the pace of advance isn’t necessarily even and the Cardinal...
A VERY EXTENDED REVIEW: In case anybody missed it, hi-fi geography is on the move. The Old World,...
Floor Standing
WB 42 FS CAR P
NZ$ 137,995.00 pr (incl. GST)
 “The Cardinal represents the tip of a long and perfectly mapped development path, stretching back across multiple models. But the pace of advance isn’t necessarily even and the Cardinal...
A VERY EXTENDED REVIEW: In case anybody missed it, hi-fi geography is on the move. The Old World,...
Floor Standing
WB 44 FS EMIN B
NZ$ 275,000.01 pr (incl. GST)
Floor Standing

Home Theatre

WB 06 CS SQC
NZ$ 3,998.45 ea (incl. GST)
The Square Centre Channel weighs into deliver a staggering performance that is very hard to challenge. Discrete and understated it provides the perfect additional channel where a multi channel system...
Home Theatre
WB 06 CS SQC STD
NZ$ 1,500.00 ea (incl. GST)
Home Theatre
WB 45 CS FUL
NZ$ 7,500.00 ea (incl. GST)
A dedicated centre channel to compliment the entire Geometry Series shares in common with the flagship Cardinal state-of-the-art Wilson Benesch drive technology hand built, bespoke finish...
Home Theatre
WB 46 CS FUL W
NZ$ 7,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
A dedicated centre channel to compliment the entire Geometry Series shares in common with the flagship Cardinal state-of-the-art Wilson Benesch drive technology hand built, bespoke finish...
Home Theatre
WB 48 CS FUL STD
NZ$ 1,200.00 ea (incl. GST)
Home Theatre
WB 50 SW TORSUB
NZ$ 8,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Adding the Torus transforms the timing and integration of the instruments. The picked melody is more fluid... the snare more snappy... the space around the instruments much more apparent. Suddenly...
Home Theatre
WB 51 SW TOR AMP
NZ$ 5,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Adding the Torus transforms the timing and integration of the instruments. The picked melody is more fluid... the snare more snappy... the space around the instruments much more apparent. Suddenly...
Independent frequency adjustment and gain controls Fully adjustable phase control Discrete Bipolar...
Home Theatre
WB 52 SW TORCOM
NZ$ 14,995.06 ea (incl. GST)
Adding the Torus transforms the timing and integration of the instruments. The picked melody is more fluid... the snare more snappy... the space around the instruments much more apparent. Suddenly...
Home Theatre

Turntables

WB 60 TT C25
NZ$ 4,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
In any design, ultimate high performance can only be attained when all the components have been optimised to work in harmony. Following this philosophy Wilson Benesch have taken all design and...
Despite the music industry’s struggles to maintain sales, the small but trendy world of turntables...
Turntables

Tonearms

WB 61 TA ACT
NZ$ 4,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
Launched to celebrate the company’s 25th Silver Jubilee, the A.C.T. 25 is a precision-engineered reference level tonearm. Constructed from carbon fibre composite, the A.C.T. 25 is one of the world’s...
Tonearms
WB 62 TA NAN
NZ$ 5,250.00 ea (incl. GST)
Using identical geometry to the A.C.T. 25 Tonearm, superficially the Nanotube THE FUTURE IS CARBON One appears almost indistinguishable. However, the Nanotube One derives its name from carbon...
Tonearms

Accessories

WB 63 TA STAND
NZ$ 1,500.00 ea (incl. GST)
Accessories
WB 64 TA CLAMP
NZ$ 450.00 ea (incl. GST)
Accessories
WB 70 RK R1 BASE
NZ$ 9,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
WILSON BENESCH R1 HI-END - HI-FI RACKEngineered to perfection - The R1 Hi-Fi Rack is a modular rack solution designed to provide optimal conditions for the operation of state-of-the-art digital and...
Accessories
WB 71 RK R1 SHEL
NZ$ 9,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
WILSON BENESCH HI_END HI-FI RACKEngineered to perfection - The R1 Hi-Fi Rack is a modular rack solution designed to provide optimal conditions for the operation of state-of-the-art digital and...
Accessories

Reviews

A.C.T. One Evolution are technologies that set the loudspeaker apart and create a new Wilson Benesch loudspeaker of stunning pedigree.

The A.C.T. One Evolution is a full range, 4-­‐way acoustical, 2.5-­‐way electrical, floor standing loudspeaker that incorporates the latest drive unit and cabinet construction technology derived from the company’s Cardinal loudspeaker.

Standing at 1.2m (47”) in height, the A.C.T. One Evolution is a combination of precision-­‐machined alloy baffle, alloy side panels and the Advanced Composite Technology ‘A.C.T.’ Monocoque. The A.C.T. Monocoque is a geometrically optimised carbon fibre composite structure that exhibits “industry leading” resonance damping and signal-­‐to-­‐noise characteristics. The inherent stiffness of the A.C.T. Monocoque allows the removal of complex internal bracing commonly used to control cabinet resonance.

Each A.C.T. One Evolution is fitted with three Wilson Benesch Tactic II drive units and a Wilson Benesch Hybrid Dome Technology Semisphere Tweeter. Every element of the drive technologies and the cabinet in the A.C.T. One Evolution has been designed and developed using Wilson Benesch’s 3D Dassault CAD/CAM systems. The degree of control over the design of every component, allows ground up optimisation of the A.C.T. One Evolution and has led to the development of unique drive unit topology and cabinet construction.

In the midrange, Wilson Benesch introduces technology taken directly from the flagship Cardinal loudspeaker. A two part cabinet construction sees a single 7” upper midrange Tactic II drive unit and Semisphere Tweeter operate in a volume-­‐optimised enclosure, allowing acoustical roll off of the drive unit. Directly below the Semisphere Tweeter in the main enclosure, a 7” lower midrange Tactic II drive unit resides -­‐ placing the Semisphere at the heart of the midrange design in a formation known as the Troika System. “The reduction in complex crossover elements translates directly into a highly articulate and natural midrange sound and marks a significant advance in the performance of the midrange to Wilson Benesch” says the company’s press release.

At the centre of the Troika System is the Hybrid Dome Technology Semisphere Tweeter -­‐ a highly engineered solution for high frequency sound reproduction. Wilson Benesch drew upon more than two-­‐decades of knowledge and expertise to create a hybrid diaphragm for the Semisphere consisting of carbon fibre and silk. The hybrid dome is a direct departure from hard dome technologies now used as standard across the industry for wide bandwidth tweeter design. “The natural sound produced by the Semisphere dovetails directly into the open sound of the midrange to create a highly integrated system, with stunning soundstaging and detail” .

The A.C.T. One Evolution bass frequencies are delivered by a 7” Tactic II Bass Drive Unit. Like the midrange drive units, it features a powerful Neodymium rare earth magnet encased in a motor assembly developed with the Sheffield University to optimise flux across its geometry. This exotic magnet design is combined with a streamline basket and a light stiff Isotactic Polypropylene cone to create a powerful bass drive unit. By installing the Tactic II Bass Drive Unit inside the 26-­‐litre lower enclosure of the A.C.T. One Evolution, maximum dynamics, deep powerful bass frequency response and precision are achieved.

The A.C.T. One Evolution is a distinctive Wilson Benesch design drawing direct references to the company’s A.C.T. loudspeaker lineage. Its sculptured, curved and sloped top is a direct descendant of the original A.C.T.

Despite references to a classic design before it, when distilled the design philosophy of the A.C.T. One Evolution is a clear descendant of other Geometry Series designs before it. Aesthetic cues can be observed in the foot design, where hand wheels and the partnering kinematic cups sit either side of the distinctive curves that form the A.C.T. One Evolution foot. Like the Cardinal and the Endeavour, the terminal is recessed underside of the foot; whilst upfront the baffle features the subtle machine finishing as seen in the Vertex and Vector loudspeakers. But the Geometric cues are more than skin deep and at the heart of the

A.C.T. One Evolution are technologies that set the loudspeaker apart and create a new Wilson Benesch loudspeaker of stunning pedigree.

What a way to honour the Wilson Benesch turntable legacy. This will undoubtedly become a firm favourite for years to come. Hats off to the good people of Falcon House, Sheffield.
Trond Torgnesskar - Norway,
SUMMARY: Launched in celebration of the company’s 25th Anniversary in 2014, the Circle 25 Turntable was re-engineered from the original classic Circle that attracted an almost cult like following due to its unique design and its totally different approach to suspension design that sees carbon fibre materials technology used in a cantilever design.
 
And herein lies, at least in my humble opinion, the genius that is the WB Circle 25.
It carries the torch of former WB turntables and has all of the qualities of the earlier models, but it also has a more insisting way about it. A bit more torque, so to speak. It literally leans a bit more forward, not in the sense of sounding forward as such, but in sounding a bit more alert, a little bit bigger and an ounce more dynamic, with more generous amounts of information, especially in the depths that the music might plunge into. And it handles it all with guts.
......Trond Torgnesskar, Fidelity Magazine, Norway,

This player of jubilee pedigree has more momentum and drive, not only than its cousins in the Wilson Benesch stable, but more than most of its competition. That quality, along with an ability to plunge into the deepest of signal-bearing abysses without losing sight of the music and said signal, makes this one hell of a player to enjoy, to cherish and to keep playing records on......Trond Torgnesskar, Fidelity Magazine, Norway

EXTENDED REVIEW: Since I actually use this players spiritual grandfather as my long time reference, I was naturally eager to listen to the new Circle 25 in my own set-up over a period of time. The standard WB Circle, insofar as such an iconic player can even be called «standard», is one of my all-time favourites in high end vinyl replay, and has even had its stint as player of choice in our magazines reference setup. It surfaced in the late nineties, but is now out of production, so the Wilson Benesch analog torch has been taken over by the Circle 25. A very thorough revision of a classic of The Circle's magnitude naturally takes both time and effort, simply because one would not like to leave a stone unturned, I should think. The classic design elements of the Circle are still very much the same, I am very glad to say… but the finish seem to have been taken further up a notch..
Arms and development

At first glance, there does not seem to be too many alterations done, actually. But then you look closer, only to realise that in such a product, there are both beauty and upgrades that are more than skin deep. The circular plinth itself is now made of a composite called POM, which is much more dense, a full 3kgs heavier and has better anti-vibrational properties than the former mdf..That translates into an altogether better base, even better at withstanding resonant- and vibrational energies, simply put.

The carbon fibre rods that form the sub-chassis together with the pontoon - like structures have also gained diameter, to better drain away vibration. The platter bearing is a even better version of the old phosphor bronze/steel one used in the original Circle, resulting in ultra low friction, noise and wear. This means gains in dynamics, absolute silence and the blackness between the notes, so to speak. The supplied ACT 25 arm is in fact a reworking of the old top-of-the-range ACT Two, and that says a lot about the ambitions of the C25-project. The old ACT Two is an arm of the utmost quality, capable of giving many of its «mega-buck-and then-some»-competitors a run for its money. It is my personal reference, and short of getting a Nanotube, I have never felt like upgrading. The fact that the 25 arm betters the old is nothing short of remarkable.

All the effort that has been put into the development of this arm are really easily appreciated. With such total control of the vibrational energies created by the cartridge and sent via the armtube, not to mention the bearing noise and the resonances of vinyl replay, you as a listener will undoubtedly find the sound to be free of haze and distortion, cleaner, more alive, vibrant, detailed and very natural. Like all Wilson Benesch pick up-arms, the 25 has a tapered carbon fibre armtube of ultra high rigidity, stiffness and anti-resonant properties. Granted, there are other manufacturers also championing carbon fibre armtubes, but a mere glance at the 25 arm tells you that what you see here is of quite another class and character. After all, Wilson Benesch started using and mastering carbon fibre long before the rest of the trade even knew how to even pronounce it.

Subtle? I think not. 

We are not talking subtle changes here, in other words. Another change is the fact that the Circle 25 comes without a cartridge, unlike its predecessor. The Benz-sourced, but carbon-fibre-injected WB Ply of earlier days is no longer in production, so a prospective buyer must choose another supplier of «needlework». Given the aforementioned qualities of the 25 arm, that should not be a difficult task. The newcomer was placed on my Wilson Benesch Triptych turntable stand, and equipped with my Koetsu Urushi Signature cartridge, its signals being fed into the riaa- stage of my Hovland HP 100 i

preamp. For some weeks of the review period, the Circle 25 was also connected to a PS Audio P10 Power Plant.

The Circle 25 is made in such a way that it is easy to live with and relate to. The instruction manual is virtually impossible not to understand, and the player itself is as «set-and-forget» as it is possible to be. Once you have set it up and found a place to put it, you do really not have to bother with springs, further adjustments or other things bugging you. On the subject of placement, there is actually a Circle turntable stand that makes the whole setup look even more futuristic and simplistically elegant, but I did not have the chance to try it. The material used for the plinth makes the C25 quite immune to vibration, and therefore not too critical when it comes to placement, but to make it perform its best and display what it can really do, care must be taken. There are differences!

A felt mat? Really?

Upon placing the C25 on my dedicated stand, I really had to think about the fact that the good guys of Falcon House really did not see the need to upgrade the felt mat. What is it with our friends in the U.K and their persistence when it comes to using felt on a turntable?? Could anyone please tell me? It does not seem to be an integral part of such a masterful design, but well, I will give it a chance, even though I have my thoughts. In my view, felt is ok used in slippers, Christmas decorations and on pool tables, but it has no place on a turntable, and certainly not on one of this calibre.

Wilson Benesch tells me that they are launching a series of upgrades to further enhance the inherit qualities of the Circle 25, the first one of these being a record clamp of matte black composite, with an aluminium tightener, complete with the company logo. Quite a beauty to behold, and in keeping with the players aesthetic qualities. Now, is a new and far better mat too much to wish for, Gentlemen? It makes a difference, you know! Since it is supposed so screw down on the centre spindle, this needs to be grooved, but for some reason, the grooves do not run down long enough to allow the clamp to be used if the felt mat is taken off. After having adjusted the setup, the first record to make this beautiful summer Saturday even better, was one that to me is quintessentially British. We are talking «Abbey Road», of course. And one of the finest songs of the last fifty years, George Harrison's «Here comes the sun» is first off.

Layers upon layers 

There are many layers to be found in George Martin´s beautifully crafted production, and the Circle 25 really displays such an open and uncluttered window into the music making of the Fab Four that i really felt transported to the world's most famous recording studio on those summer days of 1969. I have had this recording since I was nine or so, but i still found details, rhythmic shifts and tone colours that I honestly can't say I have experienced before. The Circle 25 has such a tremendous grip on both rhythm and bass reproduction that it sounded like a layer of grit had been torn aside, exposing McCartneys bass work and the fluid quality of his playing like no record deck I have ever used, apart form my own. That is really saying something! The music just swings along, feet tapping, giving me, the lucky listener , first hand knowledge of

the goings on in the studio during the recording of one of the best records of all time. . Or at least that was what it all felt like. The music ebbs and flows, it feels so natural and right, giving goosebumps to all that came into the room. My girlfriend just stood there, totally amazed. This is one of her favourite records ever. The Circle 25 gives such tremendous insight, it delivers such uncanny openness, but it does this without ever sounding dry. It strikes a fantastic balance between openness and palpability, tone colour, naturalness and sheer rhythmic heft. There is nothing anaemic about the music coming off
the Circle 25. It has an openness and an insight that stretches down to the deepest abyss, telling the listener just what is in the signal. And what is not.

If you have been doing a fair bit of listening to recorded music, you probably know that getting this balance so right is one of the most difficult things a maker of stereo equipment can undertake, and one it seems that many do not fully master. That is why many components sound like hifi, and others, like the Circle 25, simply do not. They sound like music being played. That is quite another thing. Here, Wilson Benesch's knowledge of how to deal with a fragile signal becomes very apparent, especially when it comes to seeing that no harm comes to it by not submitting it to vibration and resonances of all kinds. But such insight would not really matter if it was not followed by just as deep a knowledge of the effects of interplay, timing, tonal shadings and instrumental qualities. In short, how making music on different instruments sounds like in real life. There is a profound difference in giving you as a listener an utterly believable experience of a recording of a piano being played and the experience of the actual sound of the piano. That is the kind of quality I am talking about.

The sheer size of the «three-dimensionality» of sound that the C 25 gives the listener is really rather remarkable. An airy, palpable, colourful, breathing, realistic sound-field with gorgeous tone colours and a really deeply rooted, utterly solid, but still almost transparent bass quality. This transparent way of going about the bass gives the C25 both a potentially thunderous, but also nimble quality not easily described. But trust me, it is there.

Furthermore, the Circle 25 has an insisting, eager quality to its music making that was not apparent in the more laid back older Circle. It has a faster way with its transient response, and seem to be on the altogether faster, snappier side. it also sounds larger and more generous, giving a more enveloping experience, like it is even easier to reach out and touch the players in the orchestra. I think that all translates into sounding a wee bit more «live». The classic Circle really had a way with making records sound more «real», and the 25 has actually upped the ante here. Musicians and their instruments are rendered with such generous helpings of both musical insight and sheer weight. Listening to the 25, you will not miss a single detail of what is on the recording, provided you are awake enough. But this tremendous amount of recorded detail is not hurled at you like fragments, but presented as a dynamic, natural and coercive whole, devoid of the signal break-up tendencies of lesser components, that often sound unnaturally detailed. Here, you get fluidity, rhythm, control and musical realism. The qualities of the abyss…and that of cardboard.

This player of jubilee pedigree has more momentum and drive, not only than its cousins in the Wilson Benesch stable, but more than most of its competition. That quality, along with an ability to plunge into the deepest of signal-bearing abysses without losing sight of the music and said signal, makes this one hell of a player to enjoy, to cherish and to keep playing records on. The sheer impulsiveness of its deepest bass, the fluidity of its playing and the amounts of information it transports back to the listener is nothing short of immense. When subjected to such colourful cascades of information, it is advised that you sit down, or else you might just fall over. Given that you have a system that can take it. The force and impulsiveness, the sound of air set in motion, gives you bass that is full of information, not one that is more akin to the sound of a frustrated man kicking a wet cardboard box. If the latter is more to your taste, you are kindly asked to look elsewhere. All this display of inherit qualities does of course demand a more than decent cartridge. You would be wise to look in the direction of Kiseki, Koetsu, Acoustical Systems, VdH or the upmarket Dynavectors. It really is that good. 

It really insists that you listen to what is being played, and that was very apparent on Rickie Lee Jones famous debut release of 1979, and on Bill Evans and Monica Zetterlunds utterly wonderful «Waltz for Debby» of 1964. The Circle 25 played both these two releases like there was no tomorrow, energy, colour and drive by the spades. Especially the latter was rendered in a way that really told us what was being played in an old movie studio in Gothenburg three magical days in July fifty-two years ago. The totally unforced shifts that the Circle 25 displays between laidback musings and full-force,

commanding dynamism is really uncanny, and not easily found at any price. Furthermore, it really is the backbone of naturalness. The Circle 25 delivers it all without seemingly even breaking a sweat. That is what is really impressive! And herein lies, at least in my humble opinion, the genius that is the WB Circle 25. It carries the torch of former WB turntables and has all of the qualities of the earlier models, but it also has a more insisting way about it. A bit more torque, so to speak. It literally leans a bit more forward, not in the sense of sounding forward as such, but in sounding a bit more alert. a little bit bigger and an ounce more dynamic, with more generous amounts of information, especially in the depths that the music might plunge into. And it handles it all with guts.

On Robert Plants masterful desert-rock epic «Lullaby..and the ceaseless roar», a recording difficult enough to make sense of regardless of equipment, the insight, colourful naturalness and open, unforced qualities of the 25 comes to the rescue, delivering a sea of sounds, structures, rhythms and musicality that transforms into a intoxicating brew that you just want to play again and again. The 25 really cuts through layers of fog and distortion, giving a much more coherent picture of the musical events. It gives you the masterpiece this record really is. Oh, how slow and sirupy many other decks tend to sound in comparison! The same thing happened when I played the track «Fifth of Firth» from my old Prog-rock heroes of

Genesis. More speed, drive, complexity and timbre than I am accustomed to, making the record sounding faster, but with the same amount of weight. The 25 really gives you the full picture, or circle, if you will. It lays bare the soul-wrenching heartache of Rickie Lee Jones´ «Rainbow Sleeves», just as it exposes her intense joy for all to hear in «Under the boardwalk», not to mention every ounce of angst in David Bowies personal requiem, «Black Star» I very much doubt you will miss anything with the Circle 25. You get the music of your records delivered to your sensory system with all the nerve, drive, timbre, emotion and colour there is. Some of it you probably knew about, but some will be a totally new experience. Making this kind of a record player is quite an accomplishment, but it strikes me as an even greater one given the price. And on the subject of the price, if you are considering the Circle 25, a word about the effect of the record clamp. Apart from the fact that it really looks the business, it makes the bottom end seem a bit fuller (not that you , being of sound mind, will ever miss the fullness if you use the 25 nee clamp…) and the sound-fields seem to stretch a bit further to the back. It adds a certain depth to the image, and imparts a certain calmness to the treble that might suit some types of music, but take the edge off others.

Since the Circle 25 has an acrylic platter, and acrylic probably is the chosen material due to its acoustical qualities being close to those of vinyl, some might want to use the 25 without the mat. I mentioned the fact that the spindle is not sufficiently grooved for the clamp to be used without mat to the good people at Wilson Benesch, and this is being looked into, and may well be sorted by the time you read this. 

Like the Circle of yore, even the 25 responds to different tweaks in a way that makes it relatively easy, if not necessarily cheap, to customise the sound, or even make it an even better player.For example, I know of no other player that respond to such a degree by changing the power cord to a more upmarket one. By going for one from Transparent, PS or  Wireworld, it sort of tidied up a bit, and made the sound even more dimensional, the contrasts becoming more vivid. It has such a wide open signature that you should be able to hear even quite small changes to the infrastructure. And when you use a player of this pedigree and caliber, why not go all the way?

We few and fortunate ones that call ourselves audiophiles, always searching for the lost chord, so to speak, are not known for listening with any sort of handbrake engaged. Our stereo setup tend to be the main piece of furniture, and it must be a revelation to be able to tweak or upgrade a turntable of immense quality in small increments, making it into a player that takes no prisoners at all. So, with all this in mind, what happens when you throw away the felt mat, my personal gripe?

Well, I ended up using the mat that I use on my WB ACT One TT. that two-piece little number from FoQ Components of Japan. One thin, rubbery mat with large holes, one thicker, plain one to be put on top. That resulted inn a bass quality of even more resolution and detail, and slightly more open and fluid midrange. Definite steps upwards, if you ask me. And in a sense, you do, don't you? You simply hear even more of what is there, or at least, it becomes even more vivid.

With these small adjustments (or without them, by all means!) the Circle 25 is in my opinion impossible not to take into consideration if you are looking for a turntable the of utmost quality, without braking the bank and taking out yet another mortgage. For what it actually is, the price of the C 25 is really a bargain. It, like its predecessors ACT One and Circle, really redefines the amount of quality available at a given price. This really is a piece of democratic high-end turntablery, no less.  I use the term «democratic» because this player enables the owner to enjoy qualities that stretches far beyond its price, and in a time when high end hifi are often priced in the extremes, this gives the C25 a certain «democratic» quality.

Taken my preferences into account, and the fact that I use the Circle 25´s spiritual ancestor as a reference, albeit with a better power cord and cables, upgraded PSU, a large PS power Plant and better mat, of course…), I can honestly say that I struggle to come up with a competitor that even comes close to delivering this kind of quality at anything near this price.
The Circle 25 turned out to be even more of an accomplished giant-slayer than the Circle. Time will tell what kind of resistance it can offer.

The Circle 25 is significant upgrade on what is one of Fidelity's all time favourite turntables. The 25 really is quite a lot better, and succeeds in showing even much more expensive competitors how it is done. What a way to honour the Wilson Benesch turntable legacy. This will undoubtedly become a firm favourite for years to come. Hats off to the good people of Falcon House, Sheffield.

You have really done me proud.
....... Trond Torgnesskar

 
The A.C.T. One Evolution is the best sound I have achieved in my listening room……as with a real stage diva, you like it, because it can do things, of which others only dream.
Andreas Wenderoth - German / English translation

SUMMARY: Perhaps the most impressive thing for me, however, is how the loudspeaker practically dissolves itself: the music does not play from the housings at any moment, it IS in the room. 
I am amazed at how far you can pull the loudspeaker apart without the sound imaging collapsing. The A.C.T. One Evolution is the best sound I have achieved in my listening room. 
The loudspeaker makes a great impression at the top and never gets tight even in the low frequencies. Timeless and extremely dynamic - despite its versatility, a loudspeaker from a single cask. “Dry and cultivated, like a really good martini,” which I say in an American manner, which is a good thing. In order to remain in the comparison of spirits, it also has the lemony freshness of a good whisky sour.

it remains tonally undisturbed in all its dynamic presence. The stage is fluid, the space impressive, the musicians close to touch. The detachment from the sense of their being a loudspeaker there at all reaches a degree, which I know so of no other! At the end of the last bar, you feel so drawn into the concert hall that you are involuntarily exhorting yourself not to be the first to applaud because you do not want to destroy the exciting reverberation of the music and the wonderful moment. Bravo!

EXTENDED TEVIEW: The A.C.T. One Evolution is a late descendant of perhaps the most sustainable design in the history of Wilson Benesch. In 1994, the first floorstanding loudspeaker in the then entirely new shell construction with carbon fibre caused a furore on the market - and countless awards. Three generations of loudspeakers and almost a quarter of a century later Wilson Benesch wants their new A.C.T. One Evolution to again stir up the market.

With the new replacement I admit that I overslept some developments in Wilson Benesch. I associate with the British company from Sheffield first and foremost the turntable with the unusual carbon tonearm, which annoyed me when it was in a friend’s rack - because it sounded much better than my former LP12 - Good, I had already noticed that at some point in the product range, at the other end of the chain, the speakers appeared (which also used the carbon fibre). But their new ”Tactic Drive Unit" (which replaced the earlier Scan Speak chassis) and their revolutionary Torus subwoofer system had gone straight past me. Luckily, with the A.C.T.One Evolution, I have my hands on a speaker that is widening my gaze. A kind of tutoring in terms of innovative speaker construction. 

To better understand the genesis of the speaker, it helps to go back to the beginnings of the company. In 1989, the current owners Christina and Craig Milnes founded Wilson Benesch with start-up capital of only £10,000 and soon another 25,000 pounds from the English Industry Ministry as part of a research project was made available. But today, together they are leading an extremely successful high-end company forge with 16 permanent employees. 
The background of the couple could not be more different: Christina Milnes studied psychology, sociology and business administration with a focus on human resources. As Chief Executive she is responsible for the strategic development of the company. Her husband, Craig, chief designer of Wilson Benesch, learned engineering at British Steel and joined art studies at Loughborough University. In the third year of study, their daughter was born, Craig wanted to introduce her early to audio with a used Armstrong tube amplifier and the construction of his first speaker to the music. He did not let go of the topic: Besides studying, he explored the high-end market and found that there was no company that worked with groundbreaking innovative materials. Carbon fibre became increasingly popular with the success of the McLaren MP4 / 1, but no one had until then come up with the idea to use the high-tech material for turntables or speakers. A.C.T. means "Advanced Composite Technology" and means: the use of carbon fibre.

This is because it has a very high stiffness and internal damping and so should virtually exclude possible discolouration of colours through the loudspeaker enclosure. "More mass always leads to the problem of a lower resonant frequency," says Craig Milnes. But combine a material of low mass (carbon fibre in the side frames and headboard) with a material of high tensile strength (high-strength steel or hybrid compounds of aluminium and steel in front, back and foot), resulting in a positive effect, a kind of mutual self-damping. That's exactly the reason for the layered structure of the speaker. Due to the shell construction, the entire structure in the vertical axis, the longest length of the speaker, is controlled better, so resonances are avoided. 

The A.C.T. One Evolution is the logical evolution of the loudspeaker, which was introduced in 1994 as A.C.T. Then A.C.T One appeared and the A.C.T. C 60 continued. "It is Like a Porsche 911, "says Craig Milnes (pointing with this handsome comparison to the league in which he sees Wilson Benesch), In its development, no one would get the idea to tamper with the Basic form or to change the essential ingredients - but probably the technical subtleties and the current interpretation. The utilisation of the high-tech 3-D Cad / Cam process developed loudspeaker still strongly associated with the original (at that time still in Greaves manufactured) A.C.T. just as are also many elements of the current flagship "Geometry" series, whose latest model represents: sculptural lines, a head plate sloping forward (to increase stage presence), the arched, elegantly backwards rejuvenating body designed to prevent standing waves.

Thus the exterior (not the inner) of the loudspeaker developed in the 3D-CAD/CAM still strongly leans on the original A.C.T. One (Then still made in Greaves). However, many elements of the current flagship series “Geometry” have also been incorporated, the latest model of which is represented by: sculptural lines, a forwardly sloping headboard (to increase the stage and presence), the arched, elegantly rearward tapering body, each of which helps reduce the incidence of standing waves. 

One of the obvious differences of the Evolution from its predecessors is the colour: carbon fibre has always been black, in the A.C.T. One Evolution P1 version, colour is introduced to the fibre for the first time: thanks to a collaboration with Hypetex, a team of Formula 1 engineers who have developed the process, in this sample, it is not simply any colour, but a very strong one: “Enzo Red” - in line with the famous red of the Enzo Ferrari. So the speed and dynamics with which the box performs acoustically is also expressed visually. And in fact she is real eye-candy. An almost petite fine spirit, which emanates an extraordinary quality. 

In the foot of the loudspeaker is a comparatively rare tri-wiring terminal, which allows the owner a lot of connection possibilities. The original silver bridges can optionally be converted to bi-wiring or single-wiring. So that I do not have to put the loudspeaker every time on the side, when I change the speaker cable, the distributor had sent me a bridge made by Phonosophie, with which the wiring can be done outside the speaker base. I do not especially like the terminal-in-foot solution, but this is not the manufacturer’s fault, looking at the back of the speaker, apart from the two reflex ports for the midrange driver units (the one for the woofer radiates out of the foot down) there are no other elements and thus this is a choice made on the basis of design aesthetics. Also, because one assumes at Wilson Benesch reasons that the owner of this loudspeaker will not be constantly changing the cable back and forth.

However, one should connect pay close attention when connecting the six cables of the terminal. I had swapped between two different cable types, yet the acoustic result was irritating and sobering: the sound produced by the loudspeaker, was a bit flat, with practically no bass. When I described to Michael Hannig of IBEX Audio, the importer of Wilson Benesch, how the loudspeaker sounds, he says, no, he knows the A.C.T. One Evolution very well, and my sound description certainly does not describe it. When the connection error was identified, the loudspeaker plays however it was still not quite “free”. And so now begins a little odyssey, in the search for how the loudspeaker can elicit its quality (which for the time being it does not share). Should i throw the review because a completely satisfactory result did not arrive at first? If I had followed this impulse, I would have deprived myself of a great experience - and it would not have been fair to this wonderful speaker! Instead an angel (in the form of Carsten Thiele of local hifi-studio 10) hovered, with the necessary calmness and experience - after all he sells the loudspeaker - and helped with its unfolding. By remote diagnostics, Michael Hannig had previously insisted that the Grandinote amplifier might not drive the loudspeaker sufficiently. Although rated with an efficiency of 89 dB combined with four to six ohms impedance is not exactly a hard load to drive, but the speaker does indeed benefit from slightly more power, such as a 200 Watt full-gain amplifier, with this the loudspeaker is dynamic, full-bodied and fleet footed. I then looked at the cabling again. After changing the power cables feeding the preamp and power stage to PS-Audio cables, the sound picture is even better, with discernible gains in the low frequency and imaging. Fine tuning. Now it becomes clear that before me is no “plug and play loudspeaker”, but one that is quite selective with regard to its partnered equipment. But as with a real stage diva, you like it, because it can do things, of which others only dream.

In order to get her full potential, Thiele brings – just for fun - a CH Precision power amp ( of course other amps a few steps below do also work). There was a slight sense before that the bass was kicking and slightly over zealous which has now completely disappeared. Once again, the location of the loudspeakers is fine tuned and some equipment feet later, the A.C.T. One Evolution is now so that I have trouble leaving the listening room at all. Now she literally grabbed me. 

A first rehearsal: electronic music is certainly not my preferred style, but I like to make an exception in the case of Trentemøller’s intelligent minimal album ‘The Last Resort’ from 2006 (Poker Flat, PFRLP 18, 2-LP). The reason why, among other things, is that the loudspeaker can be put to work immediately. 

First surprise: The bass goes very low, which was not to be expected in the face of the modest (though probably average) sized living room dimensions. In addition to the clever reflex tuning, this is attributable to the fact that the loudspeaker can dispense entirely with internal bracing due to its innovative design, which thus increases the internal air volume relative to other loudspeakers of a comparable size and in this aspect there is therefore more air for the bass reflex.

The piece “Into the trees” traverses between ambient and techno; Refined sound layers build up over a driving beat, gently building: When looking behind the chassis, several layers of insulating material appear. The Wilson Benesch speaker is totally connected from top to bottom (a very clear, free-playing tweeter!) putting you directly on the dance floor with primordial force. Very good focus, exploding dynamics and mids, all elements sound great and natural, but their greatest strength is that they have no one particular strength, it is therefore in their balance. Perhaps the most impressive thing for me, however, is how the loudspeaker practically dissolves itself: the music does not play from the housings at any moment, it IS in the room. 

I am amazed at how far you can pull the loudspeaker apart without the sound imaging collapsing (my own loudspeakers do not do that). The A.C.T. One Evolution is the best sound I have achieved in my listening room. 

Normally, says Design Director Craig Milnes, different materials are used in different drive units in the loudspeaker chassis, these have with different resonance characteristics, damping properties, efficiency and linearity. These materials lead to distortions, phase shifts and a negative influence on the impulse behaviour. Electrostatics bypass the problem, but must be quite large to achieve reasonable output. Wilson Benesch solves these problems, says Milnes by using the one and the same drive unit for quite different tasks, with the exception of small modifications which serve the purpose of optimising the frequency response. 

Like the flagship of the company, the Cardinal, the A.C.T. One Evolution is a two-and-a-half-way speaker, but with four chassis. A new, relatively large 25 mm tweeter with a linear response of up to 30 kHz and a drop of -6 dB up to 35 kHz and a very light hybrid membrane made of carbon and silk, with the speed of a hard dome material but the tonal direction and broadband of a classic, rather soft tweeter. Three 170 mm Tactic II drive units made of so-called isotactic polypropylene (IPP), a polymer developed at the Leeds University, is five times stiffer than ordinary xxx polypropylene and, according to Wilson Benesch, in terms of stiffness and damping it has so-called "visco-elastic" absorption properties by virtue of its chemical characteristics, in a simplified manner, that is to say, it is possible for the material to absorb more resonant energy. This in turn makes for an altogether natural acoustic presentation that is free of sibilance. The lowest driver is responsible for the lower bass (up to 34 hertz!). The two others flank the tweeter, the lower one is responsible for the upper midrange, the upper one for the lower midrange: A so-called "Troika" structure (which is also used in the Cardinal) and its independent chambers within the loudspeaker, this is one of the main differences to any other A.C.T. before the Evolution. 

The magnet driving the Tactic II was developed in developed in cooperation with the physics department at the Sheffield University. The neodymium magnet motor has been refined to increase and maximise the magnetic flux in the driver. A polypropylene cone in a streamlined basket combines the requirements of the lightweight construction with a guaranteed high stiffness. The two midrange drive units can be driven directly from the amplifier without any filters. As a result, particular attention has been paid to the critical midrange which is intended to play free of phase shifts, extremely linear and almost completely distortion-free and free from dis-coloration. 

This is clear from another example: Misty is an album that I normally only pick when the system is well tuned. The Yamamoto Tsuyoshi Trio (TBM 30, LP) is in this excellent recording from the year 1974 in the Tokyo Aoi studio - the best performance. The A.C.T. One Evolution is happy with this “diet” and is setting up a stage that I have not yet heard so extensively and plastically. To the left is the piano, with chanting, sometimes hard, and then almost caressing attacks, so eagerly lingering in the room as if you were there. What a breathtaking naturalness: through the filter-liberated midrange drive units, the piano does not only sound like a piano but creates an almost perfect illusion of a real piano. You can see the hand on the keys, the hammer pressing on the steel sides, the sound that resonates and enters the room. To the right is the contrabassist, who reaches deeply into the strings, and the percussionist, whose jazz beads so casually (and yet precisely) sweeps across the skins, as if he were reading a newspaper. The loudspeaker makes a great impression at the top and never gets tight even in the low frequencies. Timeless and extremely dynamic - despite its versatility, a loudspeaker from a single cask. “Dry and cultivated, like a really good martini,” which I say in an American manner, which is a good thing. In order to remain in the comparison of spirits, it also has the lemony freshness of a good whisky sour.

On Fink’s superbly produced 2 LP live album (Ninja Tune, ZEN 201) from 2013, the singer-songwriter kindly hands over the last album page to the previously accompanying Royal Concert Orchestra, which concludes with a composition by Charles Ives From 1908: “The unfinished question,” which revolves around the “perpetual question of being”. An almost meditative string theme, in which a glittering “questioning” trumpet bumps from the right, and as a disturbing element and a reverberation a flute quartet, which moves tonally into the quiet chords of the strings. The piece presents some acoustic cliffs, but the A.C.T. One Evolution turns them all in a sovereign manner. Despite the considerable aggressiveness of the flute, which represent a challenge for each loudspeaker, it remains tonally undisturbed in all its dynamic presence. The stage is fluid, the space impressive, the musicians close to touch. The detachment from the sense of their being a loudspeaker there at all reaches a degree, which I know so of no other! At the end of the last bar, you feel so drawn into the concert hall that you are involuntarily exhorting yourself not to be the first to applaud because you do not want to destroy the exciting reverberation of the music and the wonderful moment. Bravo!
........ A
ndreas Wenderoth 

That naturalness and honesty creeps up on you from the bottom up;
Alan Sircom

SUMMARY: Given the proximity of the reviews in print, in fact the performance of the Vector is very much in line with the Magico way of thinking. It’s not hard to imagine someone trying on a pair of Magicos S1s, and choosing the Vector and a nice car instead. Both have got the same sense of rightness to the sound, both need some energy behind them to make them sing, and both give good bass. Of course, in this case that bass is constrained by the sheer physical nature of the Vector’s size and lack of a pair of 250mm drivers, but while it loses a few notes from that last octave, and a lot of the resolution of the bigger speakers, they have a lot more in common than they have apart. Most notably, lack of distortion.

The Wilson Benesch Vector is an outstanding loudspeaker. You need to take some care in what it works with, but when suitably fettled, the Vector tells you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you want to know how your music sounds, it sounds like this.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Wilson Benesch’s Geometry Series is a real grower, in both senses. If you play a pair, they quickly grow on you, and where first there was just a Vertex, now there’s a Vector, a Fulcrum centre channel and even a Cardinal. There’s a clever play on words here, because W-B’s previous flagship was called the Bishop. Mixing mathematics and religion... how very Pythagorean.

The Vector is the floorstanding bigger brother of the Vertex we liked so much in issue 88. It retains the same boat-tailed shape and the monocoque ACT/poly alloy bodyshell structure that has more in common with Formula One design than the gluin’ and screwin’ woodwork that often passes for speaker engineering. The advantage to this is it means the rear-ported tower is so damn stiff, it needs no internal bracing, which means the internal volume is dramatically increased. It’s not bigger on the inside – this is the application of science, not a treatment for a Dr. Who episode – but it does mean a larger sounding loudspeaker in a smaller than expected cabinet. It also gives the Vector a powerful physicality for what is a relatively small floorstander. This is a pseud’s way of saying “it looks the business”, and it feels the business too. Sitting on four well-constructed feet on a skeletal, yet solid plinth, and offset by the glossy top plate, the whole Vector loudspeaker looks purposeful and elegant.

If you read the Vertex review in issue 88, two of the two-and-a-half way loudspeaker drivers are familiar; the 170mm Tactic II mid-bass unit and the 25mm Semisphere tweeter. They are successfully redeployed here, with a second, but not identical 170mm Tactic II unit used purely for bass purposes. Here’s where it gets really clever: the Tactic II units crossover at a extraordinarily high 5kHz, meaning the tweeter really does just do the job of tweeting (in the birdy, rather than the social media, sense) and the minimalist 1st order crossover at the top and at the bass roll-off, means a simple crossover network. Saying goodbye to most of the crossover network also says goodbye to phase distortion and – because they are designed to work this way – integration issues. It’s also like having one big active loudspeaker! Of course, this means there’s a lot of onus on getting the mid and bass units absolutely right.

Just because the tweeter has less of a job to do, doesn’t mean it is an afterthought. In fact, as I discussed with the Vertex, it took Wilson Benesch a decade of R&D to realise. It’s a tweeter dome material with a very low mass, sitting in a very high mass assembly, with both side-and-rear venting into a silencing chamber, a first resonance point at nearly 6kHz and with no distortion in the audible band. The loudspeaker tops out at around 30kHz (just enough to keep the high-rezzers sweet) and hits a realistic 35Hz in room.

The specs make it seem like a reasonably easy load; 89dB sensitivity, six ohm nominal and four ohm minimum impedance, and no big, scary phase angles and not much of a crossover in the way all point to a loudspeaker that is a friend to amplifiers worldwide. But in reality that’s not the whole story. Yes it’s easy to drive, but easy doesn’t mean it also forgives electronics that don’t sound up to the mark. You might not need an amp the size of a Buick to drive the Vector, but you do need an amp that is either fundamentally neutral, or one that makes a sound you are really, really sure you like. Too much one way and the sound is very uneven, too much the other and its bland. This is not a fault of the loudspeakers and in fact they should be praised for being so open and honest that they show up the limitations of what comes before them. But it does mean you can’t build a random and haphazard system without it sounding, well, random and haphazard. The loudspeakers spent their first couple of days in the company of a Naim SUPERNAIT; a fine amp, and one that sounds good on the Vector, but you can do better. I moved over to the Devialet D-Premier and the speakers came to life, and they stayed there when I moved over to the Edge G3 integrated. You could clearly hear the benefits and limits of the SUPERNAIT, and you could even hear something close to the integration point between Class A and Class D amplifiers on the D-Premier too.

The Naim amp gave the sound a taut sense of rhythm and a deep, powerful bass, but it also gave the midrange some grain and shine. Swapping to the D-Premier sacrificed some of the timing precision, but gave the mid and top a clean and open presentation that on balance won the day. The Edge (the amp not the guitarist) then managed to do the Goldilocks thing and have a just right balance between the two. It’s a mark of how little the Vector holds things back that these differences in amp were thrown into sharp repose.

In some respects, this is unimportant next to the final result. The way it highlights the performance of the upstream electronics is fascinating for a reviewer and good to know when building a system, but when it the system-building is done, the demand switches to how good it is at playing music. And the Vector doesn’t disappoint.

Wilson Benesch loudspeakers are detail extractors. They give you near enough the unvarnished truth when it comes to extracting information from record, disc or disk. And the Vector is no exception. The loudspeaker is extremely detailed, a profound insight into what was going on in the studio, concert hall and control room. It’s odd, but the noise floor of a loudspeaker shouldn’t be a major concern compared to electronics, but this one seems quieter than most (this might also be why the SUPERNAIT wouldn’t be my first choice of amps, you can hear the baseline noise of the amp that would usually be below the threshold of audibility from the loudspeaker itself).

You want big imagery, find a disc that throws out a big image. You want effortless edge of the seat dynamics... buy the Ring cycle. You want a loudspeaker that plays along with the music... go look for something else. For me, the greatest strength of the Vector, like the Vertex before it, is it has no strengths. Or weaknesses. It simply gets on with the job of playing what it is given, without grace or favour.

While that kind of honesty makes the job pig-difficult for a reviewer (put disc on, disc sounds like disc, repeat until frustrated), it does make for one heck of a loudspeaker. That naturalness and honesty creeps up on you from the bottom up; you notice it first on basslines and the resolution of the left hand of the piano. Musical intervals in those last octaves seem more clearly defined, not simply an amorphous low clang, but very obviously a low note that was a whole tone apart from the last one. Not only could musos use the speaker for ear training, but it means bass notes are clearer and more defined. Then you begin to notice the same across the frequency range. No moments of revelation, no obvious musical examples, just pulling ahead of the pack cleaner.

Given the proximity of the reviews in print, in fact the performance of the Vector is very much in line with the Magico way of thinking. It’s not hard to imagine someone trying on a pair of Magicos, and choosing the Vector and a nice car instead. Both have got the same sense of rightness to the sound, both need some energy behind them to make them sing, and both give good bass. Of course, in this case that bass is constrained by the sheer physical nature of the Vector’s size and lack of a pair of 250mm drivers, but while it loses a few notes from that last octave, and a lot of the resolution of the bigger speakers, they have a lot more in common than they have apart. Most notably, lack of distortion.

The Wilson Benesch Vector is an outstanding loudspeaker. You need to take some care in what it works with, but when suitably fettled, the Vector tells you the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you want to know how your music sounds, it sounds like this.
......... Alan Sircom

The Full Circle follows a lineage chock-full of careful research..... the piano now dances around the soundstage with a syncopated swing, as the bass provides a steady underpinning in contrast to the flighty keys
Paul Rigby

SUMMARY: The vocals finally reveal the multi-tracked nature of the recording in clear tones, providing new focus to the delivery.  The upper midrange, supported here by the synth backing and guitar, is now calm and smooth, without a hint of brightness.  Superb instrumental separation also allows the ear to hear each instrument from different angles as each settles into the soundstage.

The bass offers a low-frequency tone and shade that extends the melodic range of the song, with the overall soundstage now showing a new depth and height.

EXTENDED REVIEW: You could save up what it would cost to buy yourself a Porsche Cayman S or a two-week holiday in the Bahamas, and still not be able to afford a set of Wilson Benesch’s top-of-the-range Cardinal speakers.  So when the British manufacturer offered its Full Circle turntable up for review, I was initially wondering just how many circles would be on the price tag—surprisingly, not many.  In fact, the Full Circle (complete with the company’s A.C.T. 0.5 tonearm and Ply MC cartridge) turned out to be a relatively low-cost, high-value bundle.!

And, while some decks look like they are all elbows and sharp angles, the Full Circle is all curves, once I got it out of the packaging and put it together.  The assembly took about 30 minutes.

The Full Circle follows a lineage chock-full of careful research.  The deck is a direct descendent of the company’s first turntable effort, which it released in 1990 as the first deck to feature carbon-composite structures and which Wilson Benesch soon followed with the world’s first hyperbolic curved tonearm.  To create the current iteration of the table, the company upgraded the motor and dropped the sprung suspension, which it replaced with a combination of compliant rubber and carbon-fibre cantilevers.

In terms of the chassis design, the Full Circle “is constructed of two component parts,” says Craig Milnes, Wilson Benesch’s Design Director.  “The lower part has the motor attached to it.  The upper part is where the vinyl is transcribed and so it has to be isolated from the vibrations of the motor.  The task was to link the two systems but isolate them at the same time.  Between the top sandwich and the bottom sandwich, you have rubber compliant feet that deal with the load frequency coming from the motor.”

A secondary system, says Milnes, tackles the high frequencies, utilising thin carbon-fibre rods that sit between three aluminium pillars, which are on top of the second sandwich.  A stainless-steel sub-platter features a phosphor-bronze bearing and also serves as the host for the belt.  A piece of felt lies on top of the acrylic platter.

The 0.5 tonearm sits on a carbon-infused steel rod and utilises an intriguing kinematic bearing system, which is formed by three captive ball bearings, with a fourth bearing dropped into the centre to locate the arm.  This system, says Milnes, is superior to a normal ball-race system, because it removes the stiction problems that require a force to change the bearing’s state from stop to go, and also eliminates the unipivot design, which can suffer from excess wear around the bearing tip.  “Even if the kinematic balls wear,” says Milnes, “the rate of change will be the same on every one of the balls and will have no effect on the centre of the point of movement.”

But perhaps the most integral feature of the tonearm is its carbon-fibre tube.  While carbon fiber is a popular design material, it is often poorly implemented, according to Milnes.  “Off-the-shelf carbon rods might be stiff, but they’re not damped,” he says.  “To do it correctly, it has to be optimised.”  For the 0.5, doing it correctly entailed creating a one-off tool that enabled the company to produce an arm with a homogeneous, integrated headshell and enhanced dampening by allowing the carbon fibre to flow in a twin-walled, overlapping, double-helix pattern.  “Everything about the tonearm is unique,” says Milnes.  “We went out on a limb to prove that the result was possible.  The headshell has to have different characteristics than the arm.  It requires super stiffness and super damping, but you also want it to flow naturally into the tube so that the energy that flows from the headshell goes into the rest of the tonearm, where it can be absorbed and damped.  This is the stiffest tonearm in the world and it’s the most highly damped tonearm in the world.”

The final part of the Full Circle package is the Ply cartridge, which utilizes a generator from Benz Glider.  Wilson Benesch then adds its own carbon-fibre body.

Sounding Off

There are two reasons to buy a Full Circle: to invest in a new midrange system, or to take the first step in a hi-fi upgrade.  For the latter, I wanted to find out exactly what a Full Circle offers, so I hooked up a Rega RP3 turntable, Rega Brio-R integrated amp and Spendor S3/5R2 speakers with Tellurium Q Blue speaker cables.

Mounting the Full Circle on its pedestal stand, I played “Tribal Statistics,” from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band 1983 album Somewhere in Afrika.  Attempting to replicate a bare-bones upgrade, I temporarily shunned a phono amp and plugged the Full Circle directly into the Brio-R’s phono section.  I immediately detect a dramatic reduction in distortion, an increase in clarity and an ordered, structured soundstage, while each instrumentalist now has space to manoeuvre.  The music flows, rather than sounding squeezed out of the speakers.  The bass is not necessarily weightier, but it is full of character and integrated within the mix, while synths have a textural, informative presentation.  The vocals prove to be nuanced and delicate.

I then add the Trichord Dino phono amp to better support the Ply moving-coil cartridge, and the music jumps from very good to spectacular.  The entire soundstage opens up, with the bass roaring from the Full Circle with both mass and authority, while the percussion provides a forceful rhythm that grounds the entire track.  The vocal performance is full and rich, and the midrange is dynamic, offering greater breath and reach.

Turning to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Bewitched,” via Speakers Corner’s reissue of the Rodgers & Hart Songbook, I find the smooth tones of the vocals both clear and free from stress, while the lazy percussion, which normally sits hidden behind the piano, is now visible, adding depth to the mix.  The piano now dances around the soundstage with a syncopated swing, as the bass provides a steady underpinning in contrast to the flighty keys.

So how far can the Full Circle go?  I integrate it with my reference system, replacing the Circle stand with a Decent Audio wall stand. Starting this time with Fitzgerald, I notice a new layering within her intonation changing the focus of the delivery.  The track’s guitar, which was almost unnoticeable previously, now emerges like a butterfly from a cocoon, providing added depth and complexity to the overall performance.  The piano also has a new grandeur that takes nothing away from its jazz tones but that does give the song added gravitas and weight.  Meanwhile, the bass offers a low-frequency tone and shade that extends the melodic range of the song, with the overall soundstage now showing a new depth and height.

When I move back to Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, the Full Circle almost pins me to the rear wall.  The bass is shatteringly powerful, pushing me to the rear of my chair with its drive, while extending the range of the lower frequencies.  The vocals finally reveal the multi-tracked nature of the recording in clear tones, providing new focus to the delivery.  The upper midrange, supported here by the synth backing and guitar, is now calm and smooth, without a hint of brightness.  Superb instrumental separation also allows the ear to hear each instrument from different angles as each settles into the soundstage.

Tweakable

The Full Circle proves that it is highly tweakable.  For example, I replace the supplied felt mat with an Oyaide BR-12 mat (approx. $140), which opens up the soundstage further, tightens up the bass, reduces the distortion and improves clarity, while adding focus to the overall presentation.

Topping the Full Circle off with an Oyaide STB-MS vinyl stabiliser (approx. $250) gives the music a sharp emphasis and adds to the weight of the lower frequencies, providing much greater stability to the overall presentation.  The whole delivery of the soundstage exudes control and solidity.

Elegantly designed, well made and easy to install, the Wilson Benesch Full Circle gives a typical hi-fi system a confident and commanding suite of lower frequencies, with an airy midrange that oozes detail.  Showing that it also responds well to tweaks and other improvements, the Full Circle will prove an ideal purchase for beginners as well as audiophiles and hi-fi enthusiasts.
......  Paul Rigby

A wonderful loudspeaker, if this were a sane and fair world, the A.C.T. One Evolution would be considered in the same breath as that handful of big names at the top of the audiophile tree. Very highly recommended.
Alan Sircom 

SUMMARY: The A.C.T. One Evolution is also extraordinarily detailed from top to toe. These are great loudspeakers for musical analysis, for listening into the music and extracting both a lot of information and – more significantly – a lot of fun......and the kind of thing that makes vocals and pianos come to life in normal domestic listening rooms. 
What the speaker also does extraordinarily well is create a good soundstage. There was greater depth and width that extended far beyond the limits of the room.
I don’t want to get carried away by the bass. There is a lot more to this loudspeaker than bottom end. It’s just that the loudspeaker does bass so well, and so deep: that unbraced cabinet makes it TARDIS like and far bigger on the inside than you’d expect and that means more cabinet volume and that means more bass – but the level of control the A.C.T. One Evolution has over that bass is insane

EXTENDED REVIEW: When Wilson Benesch stopped being ‘just’ a maker of turntables and started branching out into those transducers at the other end of the system, the company’s first and arguably most important design was the A.C.T. One. Using the company’s ‘Advanced Composite Technology’ monocoque, this floorstander hit the streets in 1995 and won a dozen awards. The A.C.T. One has passed through three iterations to date, including the ACT C60 and A.C.T. The A.C.T. One Evolution is a fitting name for a truly evolving design.

The A.C.T. One Evolution is the distillation of all the engineering and materials science development that Wilson Benesch can throw at a loudspeaker. Of course, 20 years later, there is a lot more loudspeaker history and engineering to throw around, and where the original A.C.T. One began ‘tabula rasa’, the A.C.T. One Evolution draws upon drive unit and high compression cabinet construction derived from two decades of loudspeaker design, which includes the company’s Cardinal flagship.

Like the Cardinal, the A.C.T. One Evolution is a four-driver, two-and-a-half way floorstander, featuring Wilson-Benesch’s novel Semisphere hybrid silk-meets-carbon dome tweeter with a series of Tactic II drivers. The hybrid nature of the 25mm company’s own Semisphere driver is a method of harnessing the speed of modern hard dome tweeters with the frequency extension and tonal accuracy of a classic soft dome. This innovative tweeter unit remains one of the jewels in Wilson Benesch’s crown.

The 170mm Tactic II is also unique to Wilson Benesch, a development produced in association with Sheffield University (its physics department designed a unique motor assembly encasing neodymium magnets that optimised flux across the geometry of the driver). The driver features a light-yet-stiff isotactic (hence the name) polypropylene cone in a streamlined basket.

Clever officially starts here: the Tactic II is a multi-purpose drive unit. So, the Tactic II driver in its own 26 litre chamber is built precisely for its function as a bass driver, while the one below the tweeter is devoid of any crossover and built as a pure midrange. Wilson Benesch class the Tactic II as a ‘multirole’ drive unit, rather like a multirole combat aircraft like a Dassault Rafale, but with fewer hard-points and gun platform options.

That last line wasn’t as throwaway as it might have first seemed, because Dassault – the group that includes the makers of the French fighter – developed the 3D CAD/CAM software that Wilson Benesch uses in the development of all its products, including the A.C.T. One. While CAD/CAM is not a new thing in loudspeaker design, it’s relatively rare for a company of Wilson Benesch’s size to use the technology so thoroughly. When you look at the design of the company’s speakers, you can see precisely why that design program is money well spent.

Nevertheless, the carbon-fibre monocoque design found in the original A.C.T. One is still a vital part of the new loudspeaker’s development. It means the loudspeaker can be completely unbraced internally, and yet retain the level of stiffness required of a loudspeaker at this level. And that means the internal volume of the cabinet is far larger than most loudspeakers of the A.C.T. One Evolution’s footprint, which spells deceptive amounts of bass for the size of speaker. It also uses Wilson Benesch’s ‘Troika’ arrangement of upper and lower midrange units flanking the tweeter. This is not a typical ‘MTM’ or ‘D’Appolito’ arrangement, because the upper driver sits in its own enclosure. This also acts as a lower midrange/bass unit, instead of another midrange driver, as befits the Tactic II’s ‘multirole’ use. The look also harks back to the original A.C.T. One, with its sculptured and curved lines, and sloping top, but there are also clear elements of the company’s other Geometry Series speakers at work here. A lot of this comes down to what other companies might dismiss as ‘trimmings’ but in fact are vital components of how the A.C.T. One Evolution is sited in its surroundings, with hand wheels, inverted cones and – if need be, cups – can be used for installation. The biwire loudspeaker terminals are set into the integrated plinth, and the rear panel just features two small rear ports for the upper and lower midrange chambers.

Wilson Benesch loudspeakers present a relatively easy load (89dB sensitivity, a nominal six-ohm impedance with a four-ohm minimum and no evil phase angles in the impedance plot) but they do like being driven hard. Good, solid-state power and plenty of it is the order of the day. They were in their element on the end of a Devialet 250 and this suggests a brute force amplifier that can deliver enough current to drive an arc welder is not as important as an amplifier with good power delivery. The function of a beneath the plinth cable entry system precluded significant cable playtime, and perhaps not surprisingly the A.C.T. One Evolution seemed perfectly comfortable on the end of a squillion pounds worth of Nordost Odin 2.

Positioning is key with these speakers, although not perhaps as ‘millimetre-sensitive’ as some of the Geometry Series seem to require. The A.C.T. One Evolution is surprisingly room tolerant, working well in big and small rooms. Naturally, the more you can nuance the system in terms of installation, room acoustics, and precise adjustment, the better. This is a loudspeaker that always gets to ‘good’ but with some fine-tuning can easily get to ‘great’. The one caveat to the small room demands is it does need some free-space at the rear in order to deliver bass properly. Put it less than a metre from the rear wall and those two ports begin to interact with the surroundings.

I’m very fond of Wilson Benesch loudspeakers. They are extremely focused and precise. That doesn’t mean they constrain the life out of music, however. They are just dry and sophisticated, like a really good Martini. They are also extremely dynamic when correctly partnered; not in the writ-large style of Wilson loudspeakers, or horn designs, but more than capable of showing precisely what dynamic range is in your recordings. But I understand that this combination is not for everyone, and some would like a bit more bottom end authority to match that mid and top. Yes, that powerful bass comes with the Cardinal and when using the company’s Torus not-a-subwoofer Infrasonic Generator, but in some respects the gusto of cheaper models like the Square Five is hard to find in the brand’s top models.

The A.C.T. One Evolution changes that. It has the perfect combination of extraordinary control and deep, primal bass: not in a wild way, this is no rabid, Jekyll and Hyde speaker, more a classical guitarist who plays bass for Iron Maiden in his spare time. The A.C.T. One Evolution has all the cerebral, sophisticated properties people have come to expect from Wilson Benesch loudspeakers, but these are harnessed to a deep, potent, powerful bass line that could easily be set to threatening levels. What is truly inspiring here is these two elements combine naturally in the way Guinness and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate do: it’s the kind of combination that shouldn’t work, but does… and does magnificently. Try it!

In the case of the Wilson Benesch A.C.T. One Evolution, the precision of the midrange and treble do not seem like comfortable bedfellows with that much bass, but the level of clarity and control into the deepest recesses of the loudspeaker make for an excellent loudspeaker. ‘Dayvan Cowboy’ from Boards of Canada’s The Campfire Headphase LP [Warp Records] is a deceptive slice of mid 2000s electronica – there doesn’t seem like much bass going on at all, except that it completely underpins the treated, distorted, synthesised sounds and tremolo guitar, making everything seem less of a swirling, cacophonous mess and more like a slice of post rock brilliance.

I don’t want to get carried away by the bass. There is a lot more to this loudspeaker than bottom end. It’s just that the loudspeaker does bass so well, and so deep: that unbraced cabinet makes it TARDIS like and far bigger on the inside than you’d expect and that means more cabinet volume and that means more bass – but the level of control the A.C.T. One Evolution has over that bass is insane. But, let’s move on. What the speaker also does extraordinarily well is create a good soundstage. That requires some space around the loudspeakers that my tiny room generally precludes, but even here it was clear the loudspeakers were doing something remarkable to the soundstage. There was greater depth and width that extended far beyond the limits of the room: so deep in fact, I kept expecting passers-by to be hit in the face by an invisible tympani player!

The A.C.T. One Evolution is also extraordinarily detailed from top to toe. These are great loudspeakers for musical analysis, for listening into the music and extracting both a lot of information and – more significantly – a lot of fun. Play something like Bach’s Art of Fugue [Emerson String Quartet, DG] and you need to hear both the cerebral and the visceral. This should be extremely precise and very clearly a string quartet, but it should also come with a sense of musical joy and vivacity, taking the birthplace of modern music and making it their own. Less detailed loudspeakers fail at one of these two aspects, either making the precision or the fun-factor disappear. Wilson Benesch’s A.C.T. One Evolution combines both elements of the recording with lithe elegance. Paradoxically though, what the A.C.T. One Evolution doesn’t do is pretend to be a studio monitor. If you want that stark, flat sound… look elsewhere. By comparison to that monitor-like sound, the Wilson Benesch has a slight zing in the upper mid to treble. Not much, and the kind of thing that makes vocals and pianos come to life in normal domestic listening rooms. Ultimately, I’d prefer this presentation in the home to a flatter, more dreary sound.

Some of the reason why this isn’t a monitor sound is the A.C.T. One Evolution appears more dynamic than many monitors. This is perhaps excusable in monitor loudspeakers (that close to the real instruments, dynamic range is something studio monitors ‘tame’ rather than ‘exploit’), but the Wilson Benesch loudspeakers do present an effortless, and easy dynamic range.

The A.C.T. One Evolution also go loud. OK, so not as loud as that other Wilson product line, but for real world users who aren’t looking at using their £20,000 loudspeakers in endless party mode, they will play ‘La Grange’ by ZZ Top [Tres Hombres, London] at air guitar levels quite, quite happily.

In short, this is a great all-rounder. You could happily spend hour upon hour sitting in front of these loudspeakers loving every minute. Alongside the analysis and the soundstaging and all the other great aspects of this loudspeaker, that ‘sitinfrontability’ (a poor neologism, I know) is all important. This is a loudspeaker that simply works for long term listening.

The interesting thing with loudspeaker buyers is sometimes we have a taste for the exotic. This means UK high-enders often buy products from far away lands, and ignore home-grown devices, where our international counterparts will consider a UK based loudspeaker on its own merits, because it has its own taste of the exotic if you are on the other side of the world. While ‘designed and built in the UK’ has significant traction outside of the UK, many British people may well skip over the A.C.T. One Evolution because of its local origin, and it’s very much their loss. This is a wonderful loudspeaker, capable of great subtlety at the same time as deep bass wigging out. If this were a sane and fair world, the A.C.T. One Evolution would be considered in the same breath as that other Wilson loudspeaker brand, as well as that handful of big names at the top of the audiophile tree. Very highly recommended!
........Alan Sircom 

7 OWNERS REVIEWS = 5 ★★★★★ / out of 5

 7 REVIEWS - 5★★★★★ / out of 5

Dlam Audio Enthusiast

STRENGTH:

Very neutral! easy to drive, top end sweet, full body of mid range and deep bottom end. Easy to position in a room slightly toe in. Very transperant and musical. Not as much ingradient as sonus faber but all round singer. The string music is still excellence!

WEAKNESS:

very expensive for new but good retain of value for 2nd hand market

I have the wilison benesch act 1 mk2 speaker for one year. Very good match with my goldmund CD player and modified old model NAD3130 amp.Thin silver plated speaker cables and standard copper interconnect cable. 

The amp is modified by a master of sound engineer. Very dynamic, very good balance of full range of sound. The excellence control of bass is unbeatable. The high range is also very sweet and transperant. I compare it to the e new version ACT 2 and ACT, the ACT 1 is sweeter in high and mid range. More musical indeed. 

The stereo image is excellent. Lots of detail! The speaker suitable for all kinds of music! Very neutral! I like the system very much!

OVERALL RATING5 - ★★★★★

VALUE RATING5 - ★★★★★

 

Jim Audiophile

STRENGTH:

Clarity, responsiveness, open, smooth, controlled, dynamic

WEAKNESS:

Lowest bass response, but the cabinet shape minimises internal volume available

These speakers are very open and dynamic, the clarity is wonderful and the bass, though not the deepest, is well controlled and responsive. One of the best i've ever heard, in fact! (System was Chord Electronics SPM1600 range, which sounded wonderful with them.

OVERALL RATING5 - ★★★★★

VALUE RATING5 - ★★★★★

 

David Antonelli Audiophile

STRENGTH:

Seamless integration, timbral accuracy, clear imaging, musicality, tonal richness, easy to drive

WEAKNESS:

None, but must make sure speaker is placed correctly to get right bass

I finally got to home demo these speakers after about six months of trying (thanks to the guys at tricell for bringing them down) and although I was prepared to be disappointed I ended up being completely enthralled with what I heard.

I have an all naim system with CDS 2/52/250 and very fine Royd Albions. My dilemma was whether or not to go to super speakers first (and which ones as taste and system matching is always important) or to get a nap 500 and accept the limitations of the albions until I could get great speakers later. I thought on the basis of what I had heard over the internet and in private conversations that the ACT 1s would be a poor match with naim and would be difficult to drive. So I was more than pleasantly surprised at what happened.

When the speakers were first plugged in they needed about half an hour to charge up before they sounded smooth. After this half hour I was convinced that the mid range and treble crushed that of the albions, already considered by many as having one of the best mid ranges below ten grand. At times it seemed a bit edgy, however, and the bass transients had a jumpiness and slam quality to them that didn't suit the music. So I moved them out from the wall by six inches and the bass receded and smoothed out. It was now quick and tight and had a great tunefulness about it. Things were much better integrated from the silky highs and subtle ebbs and flows of the music down to the grit and punch of the bass. They were much more detailed, yet more controlled, sweet, fast, and rich than the albions and had all the advantages of JM Lab mezzo utopias (although I heard these in the context of infereor Mark Levinson electronics - yes, inferior to naim in spite of their 85 K label) but they were more lively and sounded real as opposed to manufactured. At times, though, they were a bit too quick sounding in a way that was not quite musical.

Then my dealer suggested I try a new speaker cable. I was a bit reluctant as changing cable in a naim system is violation of the holy of holies, but he assured me that the cable was of similar specs only much higher quality. The new cable smoothed everything out and gave a redoubled effortlessness and fullness that solved the slight problems mentioned above regarding the all-too-sudden transients. It made the naim cable seem thin and brittle in comparison.

As it was this was enough to convince me that a) I am buying ACT TWOs. They are said to have an even better mid range (approaching or surpassing that of a full blown audio-note or quad system) while having improved dynamics, greater fluidity, and deeper bass along with a super revelatory rather than the revelatory on the ACT 1s. 

I was also surprised that the 250 had such little trouble with them. I know ACT 1s are supposed to be a moderate load, but the 250 is said to struggle with quite a few non-naim speakers. I now know I am spending my money right and I may never even need to get the mighty nap 500 when the 250 does such a nice job with these. I know the 500 would improve things immeasurably, but when it costs as much as a nice car, one has to have a few doubts. For the cost of a 500 while keeping my limited but OK albions, I could get ACT 2s and 135s and not have to worry about replacing the speakers later.

Another thing, these speakers have the most natural and effortless musical presentation I have ever heard with a clarity and liquidity that make the albions seem strident and grainy. They truly vanish and there is never the sense that the speakers are even there or that the soundstage and imaging is un natural and taking the music out of the system as is so common with high end US stuff. And with naim speakers you get all the rhythm and control but an unnaturally narrow soundstage and dry shut-in quality that is at the end of the day just as heinous as the overblown US systems with their utter lack of musicality but pin point imaging and hyper-detailed sound.

They are also great on poor recordings (although I do have what many regard as the best source and preamp ever made, so be careful!) and I enjoyed the Live Birthday Party CD as much as I did my Bach or jazz

OVERALL RATING5 - ★★★★★


Ray Hunter
Audio Enthusiast

STRENGTH:

Stereo focus

WEAKNESS:

absolutely none (of course you have to buy quality components as companions.)

I have a stable set-up of:
Meridian 506 CD player,
Krell KRC III pre amp,
FPB 300 power amp
Wilson Benesch Act 1 Loudspeakers
Transparent Music Wave interconnects & speaker cables.

The whole system sounds just great, looks just great, and works extremely well together.

I originally went into the hi-fi shop looking for some replacements for my ancient ARC 101's, fully convinced that I would not hear a great improvement on my previous system. I had already listened to some fully active Meridian 5000 & 5500DSPs but thought they were thoroughly rotten. Unusual, I thought because I love the Meridian CD player.

I saw these Act One speakers ex. demo at an unbelievable bargain price. They had maybe one scratch on the wood finish, and I had several weeks of home use before I had to decide to buy.

The soundstage is frighteningly accurate. Things seemed to just appear in recordings that I previously thought I knew. The level of detail that was exposed even when normally it would be masked by other competing loud instruments was amazing. I kept on putting on old CDs and wanting to listen more and more.

Other reviewers have talked about lack of bass. Well that could be the amp or room, because I certainly have discovered an extra octave or so of low end. Just try Massive Attack or the Crystal Method to hear the effect.

I can honestly say I've never heard anything better.

Nothing this expensive can be worth a five out of five for value. IMHO Value in hi-fi stops at around five hundred dollars... invite your normal friends round one evening and play "guess the hi-fi price" with some of this esoteric stuff. Then you'll see what I mean.

I also can't recommend these speakers to those on any sort of a budget, or those with a partner who want some of those nice small white Bose speakers that can be mounted in the corner of the room.

But I won't even be looking for anything else or walk into a hifi shop for around another year or two.... no constant stream of upgrades for me.

In the meantime its a real pleasure every time I hit the "play" button.

OVERALL RATING5 - ★★★★★


Bora Hatanaka
an Audio Enthusiast

I'm not sure what sort of reception the ACT ONE's have had in the states, but they have become a fairly popular high-end choice in Japan as well as Europe.They are not a light purchase, and the most expensive audio component I have yet owned. But I must rave that in my many years of listening experience I have never been so totally captivated by an audio product.My previous speakers have run through Martin Logans, Quad's, Ensemble, ProAc response 3.5 most recently and finally on to the Newcomer Benesch. Where all these speakers have shined in particular areas, only the ProAc's came close to the ACT ONE's integrity, but lacked that little extra magic that makes the Benesch so complete. And the ProAc's speed and dynamics are far behind the ACT ONE's, as one one expect with the ACT ONE's total Carbon Fibre design. The newer ProAc response 2.5 with the carbon fibre bass/mid is better in this are than its 3.5 big brother, but 3.5 makes that up in granduer and integrity of sound. 

The Benesch has the best of both worlds and the result is stunning, nothing can quite explode with sudden power like carbon fibre drivers. 

The scene in The John Eliot Gardiner version of Don Giovanni on Archiv where the Don is dragged down to hell burst forth with such ferocity and clarity on the ACT ONE's compared to my old Pro Ac faves that I seriously wondered if I wasn't witnessing the birth of a new era of loudspeakers! 

Well, I came back to my senses later and realised there are much higher price ranges of speakers which no doubt excel the ACT ONE's, but in my long listening experience I safely repeat that nothing has touched these gems. 

Again, integrity is the word that comes to my lips. A deep rarely achieved integrity that allows a unique naturalness to the sound. Enough said for interested parties to inquire further on their own.

All in all then, a gem of a product and wonder of wonders, a speaker that looks almost as good as it sounds. For further info, check out the Wilson Benesch web site
OVERALL RATING5 - ★★★★★


Brian Edwards 
an Audiophile

I first heard these speakers at Bora's recommendation and now own them. They have purity and grace all their own. However I went through *a lot* of ancillary components before I was happy with them. They need a lot of power, are exceedingly sensitive and will show up any harshness of ancillaries in a very revealing way.

The cabinets are finished on the outside in beautiful wood in a design reminiscent of the BW 805 Nautilus, but much slimmer and more elegant. In fact I'm sure B&W pinched the sloping top design from the ACT ONE's. However the cabinets themselves, rather than MDF, are 80% carbon fibre panels. This material is extremely inert meaning two things

1) This speaker is so pure it will knock your socks off. There is absolutely *no* smearing or smudging, even way down into the bass. This is the single most important aspect of the design I think

2) Those inert cabinets need a lot of juice to get vibrating. This is why these 89db speaker really need powerful amps to sound good. The problem is that amps with lots of power that sound totally smooth in the upper registers are very expensive. I was not happy until I got the LAMM m1.1s, magnificent amps that match the ACT ONE's perfectly yes, but 15000$ OUCH! 

Overall the ACT ONE's presentation leans slightly towards cool--I think this comes from all the carbon fibre. I would definitely not pair them with cool sounding ancillaries. Again I recommend the LAMM's as the absolute reference. That is after going through a huge range of amps, two of which I bought and sold again after several months because the ACT ONE's exposed them.


But give them a lot of warm musical power and you will be gifted with the most incredibly pure presentation imaginable. After hearing lots of music on the ACT ONE's then going to most other speakers you will miss the palpable clarity, the freedom, the lack of smudge, especially from the lower mids down. Others have praised the upper reaches, finding them electrostatic like in upper midrange integrity.

Their overall balance is very neutral, perhaps slightly too delicate on top and some slightly over impressive slam in the bass. This slam is particularly impressive because it is so pure.

But like all high end works of art they have a definite character which you may or may not like. As I said before they might be too cooly intelligent for some tastes. But those who hate romantic speakers yet love musical speakers may find their holy grail in them. Certainly have a listen if your budget is around 10000$.

Oh, they look gorgeous, another plus.

Wilson Benesch ACT ONE speakers, bass/mid/treble triwirable
Lamm m1.1 monoblocks
Lamm L1 linestage
Audio Note Anvz interconnects Anspz speaker cables, two runs with jumpers
Mccormack DAC-1 deluxe, Denon D1 transport
Nirvana digital cable
Magnan reference power cable/conditioner

OVERALL RATING5 - ★★★★★


Jim
an Audiophile

It was by pure luck that I found these speakers since there are no Wilson Benesch dealers in Arizona. Someone traded them in after owning them for several months, for what other speaker, is a mystery.
I have auditioned many speakers including some of the newest like the Reval Salon, Reval Gem, Linn Keltik (Fully Active), Linn Kaber (fully Active), ProAC 2.5, B&W 801 Nautilus, Wilson Watt/Puppy 5.1, etc. In my listening experience, I have yet come across a speaker that has such pure delivery of music then these Act One's. There are much more expensive speakers out there but when I brought these home, I could not believe the accuracy of pure music that flowed through these speakers. 

The key attribute to these speakers that sold me was the its ability to sound good with many types of amplifiers. Several other speakers that I have auditioned only sound good with specific types of amplifiers. I initially tri-amped this speaker with Linn Klouts using Tara Lab Ref Gen 2 speaker cables. Using the Wadia 9 dac with Wadia 2000 transport with P2S upgrade with Auro symphonic AT&T optical cable and Tara One interconnects. The sound was glorious in every sense of the word. The dimension of my room is about 20 feet X 34 feet with 15 foot vaulted ceilings. These Wilson Benesch Act One speakers filled the room and delivered all of the punch that I wanted. The special thing about this is that it delivered the large sound with accuracy and liquidity of the best small 2 way monitors (like the ultimate Gem or some of the extremely expensive European monitors), except it also has a lot of clear, tight bass. The best of all worlds. 

Then I recently replaced my Linn Klouts with my new reference amps (Linn Klimax Mono) with Tara Labs One speaker cables and Kimber KS 1130 balanced interconnects. WOW!!! The sound stage was unbelievable. The speakers absolutely disappears in your room. Almost like the speakers are not there. These speakers image so well that they need very slight toe. After experimenting in my large room, I have them 8.25 feet apart and 1.5 feet from rear wall, and 3 feet from right wall and 8 feet from left wall due to the walk way. These speakers do not have a tight sweet spot. I almost feel guilty because I picked these up at half of the cost of the new pair since they were used. I continue to go to my favourite high end shops and listen to their best systems, and then come home to my Act One's and I feel that the Wilson Act One's with the setup that I have beats every high end the stores have on display. Which include the Reval Salons with ML33, Linn Keltik with 4 pairs of Linn Klimax (Fully active) using Linn Sondek CD12 and all using the same Tara One speaker cables and Tara One interconnects, Wilson Watt/Puppies using Jeff Rowland and Transparent XXL cables. 

If you have not heard these speakers it would be wise to take a listen to these before shelling out the funds. 

If you are interested in purchasing these speakers, you also want to drive them with ample power, at least 80 - 100 watt rated class A amps. . Like I always say, listen for your self and be your own judge. 

OVERALL RATING5 - ★★★★★


Stephen

STRENGTH:

Clean, clarity, very focused image, detail, warmth

WEAKNESS:

None

I made a trip to Hong Kong and stop by a hi fi shop demonstrating a pair of WB ACT 1 speaker drive by a pair of 300B amp. Sound was very attractive especially the high and mid range, but bass was too lean and seems like not synchronised well with high and mid. At that time the shop manager told me that the bass unit was Scan Speak. Earlier this year, I went to Hong Kong again for a business trip and was wandering again around the area, I don't know why I stop by that shop again and look through the window glass. Then I saw a pair of new ACT 1 (solid Cherry wood finishing as compare to old Reddish solid wood), it was so beautiful that I can't control myself to step in. The same shop manager was demonstrating to a few customers at that time. The magic came once I step in, I can't imagine that the tonal sound change so much compare to old version. The same 300B map drive it so well that all ranges are very balanced. The shop manager explain to the customer that the bass unit was a new version and not the Scan Speak any more, that is the major break through to improve the sound quality of the hi tech designed speaker. I almost missed an appointment I made with my boss after staying at the shop for 2 hours. I went out with a copy of my credit card slip and 2 weeks later the speaker arrived my apartment in Taipei....this is the best speaker I have ever used and it is not cheap at all when the credit card billed me .....with no regret.

OVERALL RATING5 - ★★★★★

VALUE RATING5 - ★★★★★

CH PRECISION C1, D1, A1 AND WILSON BENESCH A.C.T. ONE EVOLUTION

SUMMARY: you could argue that this model is more music oriented. Instead of listening from a certain distance, the listener gets closer to the music and involvement is increased...... the presentation of the high frequencies has a softer character, totally devoid of hardness or false accents. Together with the fuller mid bass presentation, this results in a - so eloquently called by a colleague from The Absolute Sound - ‘bottom up’ balance. In other words a characteristic which is full blooded and rich instead of shrill, thin or threadbare. And yet, this character never veers into colouration and is in essence close to the sound you can perceive in concert halls. 

EXTENDED REVIEW: In the first part of my story about these special and ground breaking products, I explained the ideas and thoughts of these two totally different - but in a way connected - companies through the means of two interviews. CH Precision with its historic and heroic Goldmund background and forward thinking Anagram Technologies experience and Wilson Benesch as the innovator and pioneer in the use of carbon fibre in their products. In this second part my available space will be dedicated to a thorough review of the most recent designs of both parties involved. Products that made me wonder if they would be innovative not only technologically, but sonically as well.

CH Precision 
After some deliberation with Garmt van der Zel from Audio Ingang - distributor for both brands, we decided to choose an illustrious foursome for this particular review. A combination in which the C1 D-to-A convertor with built-in streaming facility served as the nerve centre and two ‘small’ A1 stereo amplifiers - bridged to mono - would take care of power amplification. The last candidate in the system was to be the very prestigious and most of all very weighty D1 SACD/ CD transport/player. This might seem a strange and in this case expensive choice in an age where streaming audio is the default, but as a supporter of the still unbeaten control simplicity and typically engaging sound quality of the different existing disc media, I find this type of high end products still enormously captivating. 

C1 ‘D/A controller’ 
On first acquaintance with CH Precision, these products turn out to be the most solid, weighty and different audio products I have ever had the privilege to meet. Although the looks are not alike, both the choice of materials and certain aspects of their implementation make me think of another well-known Swiss brand: Soulution. In both cases, the enclosure of thick and beautifully machined aluminium ooks as if it is one single part and the pricing for both is also comparable. Additionally, both Soulution and CH Precision design for almost endless (power supply) stability and the widest possible bandwidth / shortest rise times. That’s where similarities between both companies stop and it turns out their design methodology, functionality and musical approach are very different. Despite earlier encounters with CH Precision during shows, I must confess being surprised by the substantial weigth of the C1 when lifting it from the box. No thin metal sheet, no tolerance in the fit of the controls and no visible screws or other imperfections... Just a simple but elegant design that feels like it is made out of a single block of solid aluminium. With dimension 44 cm wide, 12 cm high and 44 cm deep, its dimensions are not out of the ordinary. The looks are though... It’s beautifully curved fascia featuring only one big two-part turn/press dial and a big AMOLED display looks very balanced and uncluttered. 

A beautiful and subtle detail is the red LED in the second ‘leg’ of the ‘H’ in the CH logo that shows operating status. By turning and pressing the two-part dial, most of the functionalities of the C1 can be controlled. A very complete set of options can also be accessed through a specially developed Android App. For an owner of very conventional high end products, this really was an eye opener! Apart from configuring display info and sources, a vast amount of other options can be changed. To keep this short, I would like to point to the first part of this story, where these possibilities are detailed. A very solid all-metal remote is also included for the most basic functions. This handsome device is felt-lined on the bottom and can be attached to the side of the C1 by magnetic force. What a great detail! Simple but clever is the mechanical coupling present in each CH Precision product. By using adjustable spikes hidden within the structure of the enclosure, the devices can be easily stacked. Not only does this sound better, it looks fantastic as well. Very smart and practical!

A1 stereo power amplifier 
In the next two boxes, both A1 stereo power amplifiers are packed and these turn out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. Not because they look so much different from the D/A Controller, but the weight has been increased from 24 kg to a back breaking 43 kg! Just as the C1, the A1 is a token of elegance. Not the least because next to the big AMOLED display, only five very tiny round knobs can be found. Although a networked CH Precision system can be fully controlled with a tablet, it is comforting to have a way to control the devices from the front panel.

The A1 can be used in a number of ways: as a stereo power amplifier, bi-amped (both passive and active), bridged or mono (with double power supply). For maximum control and grip on the Wilson Benesch A.C.T. One Evolution, the A1’s were set for bridged operation. A big advantage of this is an increase of the nominal 2 x 100 W (8 Ohm) power to 1 x 350 W. But don’t let these numbers fool you, because in use I have found the A1 to be the most stabile and powerful power amplifier that has ever graced my listening room, regardless of its configuration!

D1 (SA)CD transport/player 
Although I am used to (I might even say, spoiled by) high end audio, the D1 (SA)CD transport/player still makes a deep impression from the very first moment. Not by its looks, which are mostly identical to the C1, but by its 32 kg weight. A mass which is to my knowledge only surpassed by the famous Japanese manufacturer Esoteric with their Grandioso models. Speaking of Esoteric: CH Precision makes use of their beautifully constructed Esoteric VMK-5 VRDS-Neo in the D1. A mechanism right in line with the amazing touch that makes the World’s best turntables such desirable objects. In this case, it is almost a shame the user is unable to see the beautiful insides of this machine, except enjoying the smooth and silky movement of the solid aluminium tray. The extremely stabile and musically convincing presentation however leaves no doubt! 

A state of the art optical transport is of course just one (although very important) shackle within a digital disc player’s chain and other aspects like mechanical decoupling, construction and digital/analog engineering are just as important. Like mentioned earlier, CH Precision takes great care in the mechanical construction of its products. Other aspects of it’s design are just as accomplished however, thanks to the combined Anagram/Goldmund background of its designers. The D1 is a completely modular device, like the other models. This means a very wide choice of output options, including high end surround! As expected, extreme care has been taken to ensure extremely low jitter by means of a VCXO (Voltage Controlled Crystal Oscillator). If this is not enough, a possibility also exists to buy an optional synchronisation board. When combined with a similar board in the C1, all clocking will be externally controlled by the C1. To be able to transport uncompressed DSD streams for ultimate performance from the D1 to the C1, CH Precision developed encrypted ‘CH Link’. Icing on the cake are the completely discrete, zero feedback, fully balanced circuits, completely biased in class A. 

WILSON BENESCH A.C.T. One Evolution speakers
The full meaning of the acronym A.C.T. is ‘Advanced Composite Technology’ and refers to the carbon fiber technology that started Wilson Benesch as a venture in 1989 and made the company known and famous. A.C.T is also the name of the first loudspeaker - actually, it was called A.C.T. One - Wilson Benesch made in 1991. The fact that designer Craig Milnes and his team again have chosen for this historical, almost ‘sacred’ name, adding ‘Evolution’ to point to the new technologies inside, says a lot about the significance of this new Wilson Benesch model in the line-up.

The sloping top, which is so typical for this model has been present in every incarnation of the A.C.T. and the One Evolution version is no exception. Nevertheless, together with the comparable dimension of earlier models, any similarities end. Not only is the Evolution a much taller speaker with it’s majestic 119 cm height, it’s 2.5 way bass reflex driver layout with three independently tuned internal compartments is completely different. Apart from the lowest woofer, the main trio of drivers form the Troika system: a concept for optimal tonal coherence and linearity of phase in the very important midrange for a more natural rendition of the original recording. As you may have gathered - Troika is Russian for ‘group of three’. The upper 17 cm bass/midrange unit is completely unfiltered and plays uninhibited, while the two other Tactic II units are only filtered by a first order crossover. The ‘Semisphere’ tweeter, also made in house by Wilson Benesch, has an upper range limit of 30 kHz and is filtered below 5000 (!) Hz by a second order high-pass. In tandem, these drivers are responsible for the completely natural presentation which is so typical of the Geometry series, according to Wilson Benesch. Specifications are quite normal (apart from the weight of 50 kg): frequency range is quoted from 34 Hz - 30 kHz +/- 2 dB and sensitivity is a highish 89 dB. Nominal impedance is 6 Ohm, with 4 Ohm minimum. In theory, it should present a benign load. The A.C.T. One Evolution easily competes with the International elite regarding concept, design and choice of materials.

CH Precision listening test 
Although I was completely unknown with the CH Precision brand before this review, I wasn’t with Wilson Benesch. Not only have I been playing for more than 10 years with the ‘Arc’ monitor from the ‘Odyssey’ series in my second system in the living room with total satisfaction, I also have tested several models from this lovely and technologically advanced 66tested NEXT company during the last decennium. If I had to describe the sound of all these earlier WB models, it would be characterised as composed, without any exaggerated edges or frills and with a very spacious sound completely free from the cabinets. Tonal balance is usually very even and combines a slightly warm touch with very controlled bass and open sounding treble. Wilson Benesch speakers generally are not bought to go through life jumping on the beat, but for deep and conscious musical satisfaction. One of the main reasons for the described sound characteristic with basically all WB models is the extremely low degree of cabinet colouration and smearing, thanks to the stiff and resonance free carbon fibre enclosure.

Because the A.C.T. One Evolution was delivered a few weeks later that the CH Precision equipment, it was the ideal time to explore the operation and sound of the electronics hailing from Switzerland. The first round of listening begins with streaming audio from the C1 through the means of a separate Synology NAS running Minimserver, supplied to me by the distributor. During the complete evaluation, the unit was used in its complete form, using the built in volume control. It can also be used as a DAC/streamer with the volume at a fixed level. 

Although the range of musical expression of these Swiss components almost reaches into the extreme, I found the rated album ‘Electrified’ by Yello cofounder Boris Blank (Polydor 4708870) to be extremely well suited to these electronics, especially because this very tastefully produced electronic music spans the complete creative gamut of Mr. Blank. Played back through a system that starts and stops the music as perfectly as this one, musical information - hidden on most systems - is brought to the fore almost as transformed. The rendition of tiny sounds in the stereo image - in focus and out of focus and especially the reordering of chaos both in tonal colours and transients always remaining completely in line, makes for extremely compelling listening. The influence of the adjustable amount of feedback in 20% steps in the A1 power amplifiers can also be traced very vividly with this type of music. The CH Precision components show all the typical solid state virtues from the first moment. Not a cosy emulation of something resembling tubes or fake behaviour trying to confuse the listener. Instead, I immediately hear a very high degree of definition, extreme ease and drive and near perfect control over the loudspeakers connected. Never does the playback have a ‘dead’ or mechanical character - it remains realistic and relaxed at all times.

Extreme current delivery 
How powerful, even and stable the qualities of these CH Precision components truly are, was quickly evidenced when I received the very impressive YG Carmel II loudspeakers during the review period. As my own Master Contemporary C loudspeakers or the A.C.T. One Evolution were dissipating a ‘mere’ 140 W during peaks (the track ‘Amuseum’ from ‘James Newton Howard & Friends’ - Sheffield Lab CD 23), the YGs were coping with very real extreme levels of 1200 W power, as read from the A1 display. Ouch... That is intense and a testament to the extreme undistorted (!) performance on musical peaks from the bridged A1 power amplifiers with their 350 W (8 Ohm) rating. Just when you were wondering if I might be crazy playing so extremely loudly... I can tell u that these extreme peaks in the music were short and not perceived as overly loudly. Fortunately however, the performance of these amplifiers entails so much more than mere brawn! Generally, they are not flustered or impressed by any single genre, dynamic jump, loud or soft passage - no matter how extreme. I would describe the total tonal signature as ‘fast transistor realism’ without any frills or false accents.

It’s funny most people think that ‘fast’ amplifiers sound analytical, thin or even shrill - in other words: unmusical. In practice, the opposite is the case most of the time. Anyone fortunate enough to have a listen to the latest generation amplifiers from Spectral Audio, Soulution, Constellation Audio or - for that matter - CH Precision, will realise that the sound instead becomes more fluid, softer, more informative and accurate. Where the confusing may come from, is the fact that all these brands - despite their individual sound signatures - in a way sound very neutral. No excess fat, vagueness or ‘blowing up’ and no exaggeration of harmonics. The latest generation of Spectral Audio amplifiers for example tend to be tonally saturated with a beautiful and infectious combination of ambience and musical realism. The latest Soulution products are tuned richer and more powerful than their predecessors, with extreme bass definition and performance, irrespective of volume level. Constellation Audio has very different priorities and combines a remarkable softness with extreme levels of delicacy and very airy ambience. With CH Precision, aspects like sobriety, endless ease, almost limitless dynamic contrasts without any form of exaggeration and a natural direct form of communication come to the fore. Although each of these brands have their own positive traits, it is CH Precision that forms the most beautiful package of qualities in these products tested. Together with the super solid construction and almost endless tuning/configuration possibilities, I have met a brand that in my opinion belongs in the top echelons of High End audio. Not bad for such a relatively ‘young’ brand!

C1 versus D1 
Personally interesting for me is the ‘battle’ between the disc based versus streaming audio. As more or less expected in this price class, I immediately hear the extreme composure and stability that also comes naturally to the top Esoteric players, with which the D1 shares its mechanism. The extreme care taken with the retrieval of information makes the following data handling an easy job and this is what clearly can be heard. In practice, a very even tonal balance without disturbing dissonance can be heard with the D1 and beautifully fleshed out powerful tonal colours. The stereo image is placed ultimately stable and rock solid before, behind and outside of the speakers. Streaming the exact same music, the presentation changes subtly. You could call it more finely pitched and clean, but in absolute terms also less grand, less colourful and in my experience also a bit less emotionally involving. Not less in quality, but ultimately, my preference tends to be (like usual) the physical disc medium. 

Listening to Wilson Benesch ACT ONE EVOs
In this second and last listening report, you can meet the beautifully formed Wilson Benesch A.C.T. One Evolution. Beautiful in a way that made me subtly but blatantly greedy when these beauties were gently towed into my listening room.

Wow, these loudspeakers look truly beautiful! Just the right use of materials (in my opinion), dimensions and design befitting a pair of loudspeakers costing € 28.500,-/pair. Not particularly ‘cheap’, but you get a lot in return, like with the CH Precision components.

Besides being partnered with CH Precision, the A.C.T. One Evolution was evaluated with a large array of top amplifiers from the likes of Accuphase, T+A HV series, Constellation Audio and Zanden. And although the differences were at times big between these amplifiers, the general impression of this Wilson Benesch remained surprisingly comparable.

The first thing that struck me, when compared to its predecessors and other WB models, was the much greater power and drive especially in the lows and lower mids and a much ‘softer’ tweeter presentation. Where earlier generations could sometimes be described as somewhat ‘static’ and less involving, the same could not be said about the One Evolution. Stated differently, you could argue that this model is more music oriented. Instead of listening from a certain distance, the listener gets closer to the music and involvement is increased. I did have to get used to the somewhat shy high frequencies. Not that it can be called reticent or even dull, but the presentation of the high frequencies has a softer character, totally devoid of hardness or false accents. Together with the fuller mid bass presentation, this results in a - so eloquently called by a colleague from The Absolute Sound - ‘bottom up’ balance. In other words a characteristic which is full blooded and rich instead of shrill, thin or threadbare. And yet, this character never veers into colouration and is in essence close to the sound you can perceive in concert halls. 

Trying to describe the sound of this speaker with typical audiophile parameters is of no real use because of the almost 1:1 sense of scale and rich live experience. Everything is there and everything is in perfect balance. Just like it needs to be, but is seldom experienced with hifi. To further illustrate my take on the musical presentation of the A.C.T. One Evolution, I would like to let the great American composer David Maslanka describe it himself through his ‘Garden of Dreams’ (Reference Recordings RR-108) album. This album is full of mysterious music full of sweet promise. The sound comes on at once, can be enormously layered and triumphant, to end again in silence. The tonal colours of this album, it’s enormous stereo image and the suspenseful atmosphere are brought fully alive by the CH Precision and A.C.T. One Evolution system, by virtue of its qualities that perfectly match the sound of the album. Together, music and system form a wonderful unity and it makes me think this is how high end music playback should be sounding, totally forgetting all technicalities and be one with the music.

Conclusion 
The system tested here has been the most expensive one to have ever graced my listening room. It is truly a top notch system however that never ever puts a foot wrong and especially shares a lot of common ground with real music. The best thing is that this time the theoretical backgrounds beautifully match the hard reality. Both the CH Precision as Wilson Benesch components share a common and clear vision: a solid and matured design as a basis, moulded together into a completely natural and self evident unity with knowledge and craftsmanship. In the first phase, I was very much busy trying out all of the equipments’ settings and possibilities – as an example, playing with the amount of global feedback within the A1 amplifiers, 0% of feedback turned out to be the most natural in my room (the distributor had found different values to be applicable for other loudspeaker designs, rooms or tastes, quoting 40% as the most chosen). But during the course of the review I found myself relaxing - and in the end totally giving in to - the grand musical scale, communication and grandeur. Again, the total cost of the system is quite high and for less it also possible to find musically satisfying products. If you however search for technological, technical and musical perfection in one complete single package, this system scores extremely high. Despite the ambition of both Wilson Benesch as CH Precision to make the best they can make, the best thing is that both companies remain very modest and sober and let the products speak for themselves: beautifully built pieces of art with a deeply rooted vision of quality, but without the false (commercial) bling that typifies so many other brands of the same breed.

Despite the music industry’s struggles to maintain sales, the small but trendy world of turntables continue to surge in popularity.
Robert Archer

Despite the music industry’s struggles to maintain sales, the small but trendy world of turntables continue to surge in popularity. Not too long ago, Audio Reference, a high-end audio New Zealand based importer / distributor added the British turntable and analog product manufacturer Wilson Benesch to its product line.

Serving the high-performance audio category for decades, the U.K. company recently announced that it is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the release of its Circle 25 Turntable and A.C.T. 25 Tonearm.

According to the company, like past Wilson Benesch products, the turntable and tonearm utilize carbon fiber for the rigidity and lightweight properties the material offers, as well as other materials to support its goals of state-of-the-art performance. Starting with the turntable’s plinth, Wilson Benesch says the Circle 25 features a plinth made in-house from the material homopolymer that is said to provide the table with a stiff and dense plinth with high levels of damping across the audio band.

Wilson Benesch also points out that it has made improvements to its turntable designs in the area of its bearings. The company says its latest bearing has been redesigned with a multi-element construction that it says reduces friction and noise levels.

Looking at the A.C.T. 25 Tonearm, Wilson Benesch claims its carbon fiber-based solution is the world’s lightest and stiffest tonearm, offering 10 times the stiffness of titanium and half the mass of aluminum. The company adds the tonearm’s kinematic bearing features three 1mm carbon-chrome ball bearings that are held in place by a brass ball cap that is located at the end of the arm stem. A fourth ball is retained by a brass mount located in the egg-shaped housing at the end of the tonearm.

Summing up the Circle 25 Turntable and A.C.T. 25 Tonearm, Wilson Benesch notes that more than 90 percent of the products are manufactured in-house from raw materials.

It’s more than just the added detail that you hearing, but it’s the combination of factors that allow a recital or an interpretation of the music in a refreshingly natural way. I’m hooked!
Mark Gusew

SUMMARY: Looking back over the review period, I believe that I listened to lots of the dynamic tracks slightly louder than usual. The sound was so clean, so transparent and detailed; you simply don’t realise just how loud it is really playing. Though at other times, because it was so punchy and naturally dynamic, you really don’t need much volume at all because the music is all there, it sounds complete and satisfying. After a few days of background listening while I work in my study, I’m struck by the realisation that these speakers, even at low volume settings, have the ability to convey the musical intent, the very substance of a musical track in a manner that I am unaccustomed to. It’s simply operating at a higher level than I am used to hearing. The body of the sound is there, smooth and very life like. And this I believe is what all of us are looking for, something that can hold our attention, even after many hours and provide a new and clearer insight into our music collection. It’s more than just the added detail that you hearing, but it’s the combination of factors that allow a recital or an interpretation of the music in a refreshingly natural way. I’m hooked! 

PRO'S - ability to play at all volume settings with low distortion, low coloration and transparency. Dynamics, Tonal balance, Large soundstage, Unfussy placement, Overall quality.

EXTENDED REVIEW: I remember getting the call from the publisher saying “Come over to my place to grab the Wilsons, you need to review them.” “Wilsons?” I asked. “Yes the Wilson Benesch Vectors” Ah, I had thought it was going to be a speaker by Wilson Audio, whose products I know reasonably well. I have to say that I was slightly excited at the prospect. Sadly, I have to admit not knowing very much at all about Wilson Benesch. All that was about to change, in a very positive way.

WILSON BENESCH

I started off by researching Wilson Benesch on the internet and corresponded with their head office. Wilson Benesch was founded in 1989 and last year they celebrated their 25th Silver Jubilee Anniversary. They are a family owned business, with members of the family sharing a common passion for creating great sounding, highly technical designs. Based in Sheffield, England, the company has benefited from their city’s remodelling as an engineering and manufacturing technology powerhouse. The transformation of Sheffield followed the closure of traditional industries such as coal and steel, which by the 70s and 80s had mostly disappeared. Sheffield has an international reputation for metallurgy and steel-making. Today Wilson Benesch collaborate with the city’s two leading Universities and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, which is home to companies such as Boeing, Rolls Royce and other major centres of research.

First and foremost Wilson Benesch is a manufacturing company. Rather than spending large amounts of money on aggressive marketing strategies, they choose to reinvest their profits in manufacturing. That is perhaps why many of us have not heard of Wilson Benesch. They spend the money on things like carefully developing a totally unique range of true high tech products.

Wilson Benesch makes a number of audio products including turntables, tonearms and loudspeakers. They were the first in the world with a carbon fibre sub chassis turntable. Their website explains: “In retrospect, one can now see how the knowledge acquired during the turntable sub chassis and subsequently the tonearm development, gave rise to a fundamental understanding of the how sonic borne energy effects the perception of sound. It was this work that would eventually lead to the world’s first curved carbon fibre loudspeaker design that would be seen for the first time in 1995.”

Today, the Wilson Benesch design and engineering team is fully integrated within the design and build of every product. They use the very latest Dassault 3D CAD / CAM systems. New parts can move from a sketch pad to a CAD drawing and directly onto the bed of a machine within a day, allowing rapid prototyping and development of state-of-the-art high end audio components.

Luke MilnesMedia and Communications Manager for Wilson Benesch told StereoNET: "It is only when you have control over design in one hand and manufacturing in the other that a closed loop exists and it is then that something remarkable can be achieved".

DESCRIPTION

The subject of this review is the Wilson Benesch Vector loudspeaker with a RRP of $17,000/pr in Australia. The brand has been sold in Australia since 2009. They are a 2.5 way, utilising 1 x 170mm (7”) mid-range unit, 1 x 170mm (7”) bass unit and 1 x 25mm (1”) tweeter. All of the drivers are custom made by Wilson Benesch.

The drivers are housed in a precision CNC machined enclosure that is designed as floor standing, approximately 900mm tall, which is not particularly tall for a floor stander. They sit off the ground upon a large metal plate that ensures stability and has provision for metal spikes underneath the plate. It is a vented design with the port at the rear. The front grills are made with a solid metal frame and are removable.

Milnes continues:"The Vector is part of the companies’ reference line, Geometry Series. This range of products is constructed from carbon fibre composites, steel, aluminium and a range of advanced polymers, 90% of which the company has manufactured in house from raw materials. Today the company moulds all carbon fibre composite components on a range of Advanced Resin Transfer Mould (RTM) machines and it also machines aluminium, steel and polyoxymethylene components using a fleet of CNC machines".

The Vector consists of an Advanced Composite Technology or ‘A.C.T.’ Carbon Monocoque, two Wilson Benesch Tactic II Drive Units, one Wilson Benesch Semisphere Tweeter and an alloy baffle and foot. Every single component has been designed in house, and all alloy, carbon composite and steel components have been machined in-house.

The Vector can be finished in a range of polymer and bespoke high gloss and satin natural wood finishes which have been applied by Bentley Motors trained craftsmen to ensure the finest quality wood veneer in the industry. Remarkable.

SETUP

The review pair has a carbon fibre body finished in a perfect high gloss with gloss silver trimming. It really looks unique and feels very special. Everything about the speakers, from the packaging, styling, finishing and ultimately the sound, speaks of luxury goods standards of quality. I believe that they would complement almost anyone’s listening room, especially considering that they are available in 14 finishing options. The instruction manual is a bound A4 size booklet of 15 pages, and a copy is also freely available from the Wilson Benesch website. It contains details pertaining to room acoustics, manufacturing information and general use and care.

Contained within the packaging is a small plastic briefcase that contains the metal spikes to go underneath each speaker, along with a spanner to tighten the binding posts. It’s a nice touch and is in keeping with the asking price.

With the Vectors weighing approximately 30 kg each they are not exactly feather weight for a single person, so care needs to be taken when handling them and when setting them up. The manual suggests that it is a task for 2 persons. I placed the Vectors in the usual position for speakers in my listening room and found them to immediately blend in well and sound great without the need to fiddle with the positioning too much. A little ‘toe-in’ was all that was required to fine tune them for my listening position.

The owner’s manual discusses the fine tuning of the vertical angle and toe-in, recommending that you experiment to find what works best for you. Finding that the tweeter was slightly below my ear level, I angled the front of the speaker up about 25-30mm with some Black Diamond Racing pyramid cones, with good success. The speaker binding posts are high quality multi-ways, manufactured in-house from Rhodium plated copper alloy, with two sets of posts, suitable for bi-amping and/or bi-wiring. Supplied are 4 short lengths of connecting wires, rather than solid links, which are of very high quality and Wilson Benesch recommends the use of 8mm ring or spade connector terminations. The terminals will also accept banana plugs, which is what I used.

BURN-IN AND INITIAL LISTENING IMPRESSIONS

Wilson Benesch recommends a minimum running in time of 170 hours. They state that “like anything of good quality a period of running in tends to see improvements in performance. The drivers require time to bed in physically and relax materially. The carbon panels actually improve in structural integrity as they age.” I found this to be absolutely true, as there were huge improvements in the sound quality over the length of the review period. I felt that even after 300-400 hours, they were still evolving and improving with constant use. If the carbon panels really do improve with age and I have no doubt that they do, it is something to look forward to.

When I first listened to the Vectors, the pair had already had around 50 hours of playing time under their belt. I heard them in a very large listening room and was struck by the ability of the speakers to fill that room with a very large soundstage and to sound full and natural. At this stage, the dynamics were still a little threadbare and not quite filled out as yet, with a slightly flat sound, though still pleasing.

After installing them in my own system with more familiar equipment, the same initial perceptions persisted. I have a habit of giving a helping hand to new equipment by running the speakers with the burn-in track from the Tellurium Q “Cable and System Preparation / Refresh” CD. You can use others, but this one works very well. It particularly assists the speakers by exercising the speaker drivers quite aggressively. The track provides a wide range of sweeping frequencies and tonal changes that heavily work all of the speaker’s components, allowing your equipment to season in a concentrated manner, much faster and more thoroughly than usual. After about a week of playing the track 24/7, the Vectors had noticeably increased their efficiency, i.e. they were playing louder at the same volume setting. They were ready for some critical listening.

CRITICAL LISTENING

I used the Vectors driven by the NAD Master Series M22/M12 pair connected with Kubala Sosna Elation XLR cable, which turned out to be a great combination. Immediately apparent was a cleaner punchier sound than was heard before the additional burn in period, with a huge increase in the dynamics and liveness of music. The Vectors have the ability to throw out a very large soundstage that extends far beyond the speakers themselves. I was a little worried that having the tweeter below my ear level might truncate the height of the soundstage, but that was absolutely not the case. It filled the entire room with floor to ceiling detail, which is often the hallmark of much larger panel speakers.

Tonally the balance was spot on, very neutral and natural, without particular emphasis on any one region. It was very smooth from top to bottom and listening to well recorded piano was a delight. The Wilson Benesch Semisphere tweeter and Tactic II drivers are obviously well integrated and are complimented by optimised crossovers with minimal phase distortion. Both male and female voices are reproduced with stunning clarity and yet without any hint of etched irritability. There was absolutely no harshness at all.

Probably the standout feature of the Vectors is the dynamics and lack of box coloration particularly in the bottom registers. I lined up “Use Me” by Junior Wells, which is a really funky take on the song that Bill Withers wrote but Grace Jones made popular on her “Nightclubbing” album. Junior and his band really get on down with this track. The track really has swagger and the Vector has no problem connecting with the music and passing it on with great alacrity. The soul funk bassist Willie Weekshas some tasty riffs and frankly I just wanted to turn it up and revel in the bass extension and overall musicality.

Generally speaking, average or mediocre speakers tend to mix up the bass guitar and the kick drum and turn it into aural mush, especially when they are tonally similar and operate around the same frequency. The Junior Wells track is a good example of a track with tonally similar instruments. Yet, the Vectors clearly separated the two instruments and allowed clear distinction between them. They were so clean and when asked, punched when they should and sustained when they should. The level that these speakers do this is quite incredible; very impressive.

I couldn’t wait to hear the next familiar track. “These Bones” by the Fairfield Four is a soul gospel track, with incredible deep and resonating voices by the American male vocalists. I’ve heard this track played at demos before, but I would say that the Vector produces the most natural rendition that I’ve heard so far. It doesn’t overdo it with the depth, or extension, but nails the natural timbres of each of the vocalists.

On the album “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk is the track “Giorgio by Moroder”. About 6 or 7 minutes into the track, it gets fast and heavy with lots going on. Again the speakers separate all the bass content into distinct instruments in a way that I have not heard before. Everything was kept clean and distinct, and doesn’t allow the sound to get chaotic or confused. It doesn’t seem to matter what the volume is, they remain controlled and composed.

I have often heard both the LP and CD version of “Improvisations” by Jim Keltner on “The Sheffield Drum Record”, but not in recent memory have I heard it sound so impactful and realistic as through the Vectors. In my youth I played drums with my brother and friends in a small band. A real drum kit has so much snap it can take your head off if you don’t wear some form of ear protection. When recorded it sounds almost always somewhat compressed, lacking in comparison to its natural raw state. I’ve always found the LP recording of the “Sheffield Drum Record” always sounds more real when played back through a good turntable. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by doing a lot of listening to the incredible quality sound of the Continuum Caliburn, a company I have worked for in the past. It’s hard to go back from that level quality of sound output. Sadly not being in a position to afford such a component, these days I use almost exclusively the digital format.

So with that Analog level of performance still in my aural memory, I was quite shocked at how good it sounded on CD when used with the Vectors. Being a very dynamic recording, you need to watch the volume as to not damage your speakers, and like it or not most of us have a child like desire to see how loud you can go without blowing something up. So it was with a generous helping of volume that I discovered that Wilson Benesch have done an extraordinary job of creating a loudspeaker that will play loud and cleanly, at levels that lesser engineered speakers may be starting to experience distress or even failure. There was no artificial compression, no overhang, no sudden lack of spatial information, just truckloads of clean punch and snap, as needed and as much as is desired.

This makes the Vector a special speaker indeed. I’m sure that the carbon fibre & aluminium composite enclosure contributes to the overall transparency and lack of artefacts in the sound. If you want to excite a cabinet just hit it, and you will soon hear the resonance of the enclosure coming back at you. That sound will colour whatever is being played. When you tap the Vectors, it’s an inert sound, a dull thunk; engineered to be that way, with its metal reinforcing on the rear and side surfaces. I know that the use of metal has been carefully placed in strategic areas and the design really works in everyday listening. But it also continues to work when under stress of heavy notes and severe vibrational modes. As they say, it separates the men from the boys. The Vector is no pretender, it is solidly and cleverly engineered to work in all circumstances and to suit a wide variety of its owner’s musical tastes and genres.

The fact that they weigh only 30 kg each and yet are so inert and strong, is proof that the light weight carbon fibre design certainly does work and greatly assists in creating a slimmed down loudspeaker. Wilson Benesch state on their website:

The resulting complex hybrid construction is virtually inaudible, exhibiting one of the lowest signal to noise ratios of any loudspeaker in the world, yet is capable of delivering all the dynamic energy from the ultra-powerful drive units.

The introduction to “November Hotel” from Mad Season starts with a ‘close miked’ large drum, probably the floor tom being gently tapped in rhythm with the high hat and kick drum. A floor tom is a double-headed tom-tom drum which usually stands on the floor, the largest of the toms. You can hear its surface vibrating with every tap. Then you hear a large ride cymbal being excited and rumbling. You hear some guitars coming in, with the amplifier gain turned way up, before all hell breaks loose and it gets fast and loud at 1:50. I listened to this many times as it’s a great test of a speaker’s ability to resolve deep notes cleanly. The best that I’ve heard it was with my dual 15” band pass subwoofers setup in a previous system in a large purpose built listening room. With large coned speakers and lots of surface area, you get a sense of ‘touch’, a feeling that you can reach out and actually touch it, it’s partly a physical sensation as well as aural. Hearing it when it’s done right is sublime.

Strictly speaking the Vectors are reasonably small speakers and do not have large cone area. But what they get absolutely right is all the detail of the floor tom and the cymbal, and all of the natural harmonics and reverb tails. They are able to separate each and every instrument, especially those that sound similar or that tend to bleed into each other. When a speaker gets this wrong, it masks the instrument’s true sound and personality. It still gave me a sense of touch, though in smaller quantities. Better than I have heard before on this track, the Vectors separate everything and just do their thing without coloration or compression. The lack of box coloration is obvious and everything sounds clearer and more musical as a result.

Among the classical tracks that I tried was the “Horn Sonata in F Major, Op17: 1. Allegro Moderato” by the brilliant Beethoven. There is what almost seems like a duel between the piano and horn as they weave and complement each other. Both instruments are difficult to get sounding just right, but the Vector does it, with aplomb. There is no harmonic bleaching or short-changing in the exquisite decay just after each note as it leaves the room. Each instrument keeps its unique texture and touch. 

“Days of Wine And Roses” by the Oscar Peterson Trio was so engaging, you are almost commanded to stop and listen. The soundstage that the Vectors portray is huge, yet the spatial information retrieval is incredible, with pin point accuracy for each of the instruments. Oscar has the ability to make the piano sound ever so slightly honkey tonk in the upper registers when he wants and that is the way that it should sound on this recording. The cymbal work is so precise and well timed, a real toe tapper of a track and the Vectors are easily fast enough to convey the timing cues without breaking into a sweat.

“Kol Nidrei, Op. 47” played by Friedrich Kleinhapl & the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra is a very special and emotional piece of music. The tenderness and care of his playing is self-evident, he really has the mastery of his cello. Through these speakers, it’s easy to forget that you are listening to an audio system, and for moment you believe that you are actually there. The depth of the soundstage is staggering, the natural decay of the auditorium is sublime. Every detail, every note, every inflection is faithfully reproduced. The tonal accuracy is virtually perfect.

Looking back over the review period, I believe that I listened to lots of the dynamic tracks slightly louder than usual. The sound was so clean, so transparent and detailed; you simply don’t realise just how loud it is really playing. Though at other times, because it was so punchy and naturally dynamic, you really don’t need much volume at all because the music is all there, it sounds complete and satisfying.

After a few days of background listening while I work in my study, I’m struck by the realisation that these speakers, even at low volume settings, have the ability to convey the musical intent, the very substance of a musical track in a manner that I am unaccustomed to. It’s simply operating at a higher level than I am used to hearing. The body of the sound is there, smooth and very life like. And this I believe is what all of us are looking for, something that can hold our attention, even after many hours and provide a new and clearer insight into our music collection. It’s more than just the added detail that you hearing, but it’s the combination of factors that allow a recital or an interpretation of the music in a refreshingly natural way. I’m hooked!  

CONCLUSION

I enjoyed looking into the Wilson Benesch design philosophy and it is clear that they believe that carbon fibre will play a large role in our future. It certainly is today’s reality for many high tech modern products, including its use in aircraft and Formula 1, and you can add audio to that growing list. Although it is difficult and expensive to manufacture, Wilson Benesch have used the inherent qualities of carbon fibre, like its light weight and self-damping properties to create loudspeakers that greatly benefit from the considered use of the exotic material.

At AUD $17,000 / NZ$17,995 to purchase in NZ, I believe the Wilson Benesch Vector loudspeakers represent good value. They have the ability to get out of the way of the music entirely and disappear in a manner that most others find difficult to accomplish to this level. They certainly play at the high end of the audio spectrum with immaculate levels of fit and finish and overall quality that is expected by discerning enthusiasts.

It was very easy to love these loudspeakers. It is rare when I experience a component that ticks all the boxes. They seem to do everything that they are supposed to do, essentially that is to look attractive and to make beautiful music. I could easily live with a pair and be thoroughly content with my choice, either for use in professional reviewing or to simply listen and enjoy hearing all of my favourite tracks.
........Mark Gusew

The Square Two is manufactured with class leading components, the design makes them unique, they are very easy to drive, they create a unique musical presentation for their size, this is a great speaker at a great price
Patrice Philippe

VERDICT  - Perfectly manufactured, beautifully designed, integrating very high quality transducers, the Wilson Benesch Square Two speakers suit perfectly any home interior. They deliver a musical message with a surprisingly extended bass presentation and have the ability to be adapted to the tastes of the listener by simply altering their position relative to the rear wall. With the Square Series II and the Square Two, the English brand achieves the feat of producing a large sound from a small cabinet volume.

CONSTRUCTION 6/6 

COMPONENTS 6/6 

BASS 6/6 

MID-RANGE 6/6 

HIGH FREQ. 6/6 

DYNAMICS 6/6 

ATTACK 5/6 

SOUNDSTAGE 5/6 

TRANSPARENCY 6/6 

QUALITY / PRICE 6/6
When did you last see any speaker with a score card tis high?

EXTENDED REVIEW: With the new version of the Square Two, Wilson Benesch introduces a floorstanding speaker whose speciality is to interact with the rear to amplify and modulate the return of low frequencies.

Fnding that users often position their speakers near to the rear wall, Wilson Benesch developed a principle of acoustic load using the wall to give the lower register a dimension impossible to find with conventional speakers of a comparable size. The Square Two is a two-way speaker destined for placement directly on the ground. It has two drivers and a passive radiator located toward the top of the rear of the cabinet. It is charged with the role of passive radiator, whilst the two ports at the bottom of the cabinet form a conventional bass-reflex system. The relative position of the ports is fixed, allowing Wilson Benesch to perfectly control their acoustic behaviour. We really value the opportunity to settle the bass level simply by adjusting the position of the speakers relative to the back wall. The passive radiator of the Square Two benefits from a stiff suspension which aids the quality of the sound reproduction. The consideration here though, is that you need to run the speakers in for a long time before you can appreciate the best of the Square Two. The manufacturer recommends around 70-hours running time before you reach this phase. It would be a mistake to judge the qualities of the speaker and in particular its performance before the active and passive transducers have settled fully.

Manufacturing and Listening Construction: 

All products from Wilson Benesch benefit from a perfect finish, the Square Two is no exception to the rule. There are no less than nine species of wood available to build your finish in addition to the black and white lacquer. We especially appreciate the grill used to hide the drive units which constitutes two metal aluminium plates holding captive the acoustically transparent jersey. Contrary to most design employed in the industry, the minimalist grill minimises the sound diffraction associated with thick covers.

Components: The Square Two uses 17cm Tactic Drive Units manufactured by Wilson Benesch and a 25mm ultra-linear silk dome. Whilst the passive radiator is composed of isotactic polypropylene with a predetermined mass to tune its response. The second order passive filter (12dB per octave cutoff at 5kHz) utilises polypropylene capacitors of audiophile quality and air-cored inductors. The connections are mounted on an optimised circuit board to shorten the length and the internal wiring is made from teflon insulated, high purity silver plated copper. This is not simply a detail - the speaker terminates with two-pairs of gold plated inputs allowing biamplification.

Bass:

It is clear, once the Square Two is well run in, the bass is one of its strengths. Not only is it easily adjustable by positioning the enclosure but moreover, the bass response continues to be perceptible even at very low volumes. When replayed at high volume levels the Square Two will supply serious levels of bass, that is very taught and “fast” - you can really appreciate these qualities in Rachmaninoff ’s ‘Symphonic Dances’ interpreted by the Minnesota Orchestra led by Eiji Oue. Although the speakers have a small footprint, they deliver the energy of a full orchestra with poise.

Mid-Range:

The timbre is very beautiful, the voices rich and carnal. On the CD, ‘Roadhouses & Automobiles’ by Chris Jones, the guitar is presented with all its inflections and its most subtle vibrations. ‘Hope’ by Hugh Masekela (CD), the strings are delivered with all their harmonic wealth, Hugh Masekela’s trumpet is omnipotent, but not aggressive, very balanced and credible. The presentation has a lot of weight, but it remains very natural. In a word the presentation is beautiful.

High Frequency:

The soft dome tweeter delivers the high frequencies with good precision and without aggressiveness. The violins in ‘Fabio Blondi the Italian cantata and sonata’ by Vivaldi is reproduced without sibilance and sounds natural throughout. There is a perfect balance across the speakers highs, mids and bass without over emphasis on any element.

Dynamics:

The soundstage is incredibly natural and an absolutely stunning sense of scale. The specifications state the sensitivity as 87dB, but in fact they prove to be very easy to drive and the amplifier does not suffer. The dynamics are perfectly satisfactory and the soundstage does not fail in anyway to capture the character, we heard all the most subtle inflections and also the most aggressive surges in the presentation. The key changes in the Series II designs is probably responsible for these enviable results.

Attack:

The biting acoustic guitars of Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Al di Meola’s famous guitar trio present for us the qualities of the transient response of Wilson Benesch products. The English gratify us with beautifully realistic guitars with varied tonalities, and the attack in the notes, like their decay is marked by truth.

Soundstage:

The soundstage is secure, stable and each element is fully defined. Precision within each dimension of the staging is the rule across all frequencies. The piano is in space, equally on the right as it is the left. We have before us a beautiful 3D image, the sense of openness and naturalness dominates.

Transparency:

The Wilson Benesch Square Two creates a direct relationship between music and the listener, the speaker does not “disagree” and in this sense they are perfectly transparent. The high crossover frequency from driver to tweeter contributes to this result. On “Una furtive lagryma” the voice of the singer Izzy is very pleasant and smooth, there is no unnatural emphasis on her performance, the more we listen the more we want to listen

Quality / Price:

The Square Two is a classic design and manufactured with class leading components, the design makes them unique in the current landscape of high-fidelity. Able to integrate with ease regardless of their size, they are very easy to drive. The icing on the cake is that they create a unique musical presentation for their size. In summary, this is a great speaker at a great price.

VERDICT

Perfectly manufactured, beautifully designed, integrating very high quality transducers, the Wilson Benesch Square Two speakers suit perfectly any home interior. They deliver a musical message with a surprisingly extended bass presentation and have the ability to be adapted to the tastes of the listener by simply altering their position relative to the rear wall. With the Square Series II and the Square Two, the English brand achieves the feat of producing a large sound from a small cabinet volume.

...... Patrice Philippe

They've since gone on to produce some of the world's finest products utilising space-age materials and technology.
Marc Rushton

U.K manufacturer Wilson Benesch started in 1999 with just £10,000 in the bank and a £15,000 overdraft. They've since gone on to produce some of the world's finest products utilising space-age materials and technology.

The latest release, the R1 HiFi rack is no exception. Modular in design, Wilson Benesch make no claim this is a cheap rack. It's sole design and purpose is for ultra high-end, state of the art digital and analogue audio equipment.

The R1 was designed and engineered to achieve core principles:

  • to provide stable and robust positioning
  • to transmit energy away frmo highly sensitive components, including CD lasers, analogue cartridges and internal electronic circuitry, and subsequently absorb energy within the racking system
  • to isolate components from energy generated by loudspeakers in the listening space, transferred through the structure of the racking from the ground
  • to isolate each component from energy generated by other audio equipment installed on the racking system

Craig Milnes, owner and director of Wilson Benesch told StereoNET:

In these respects, we believe that the performance of the new Wilson Benesch R1 system is superior to any other product currently available today.

Using laser scanning vibrometry with Sheffield Hallam University and extensively live tested using some of the world's finest digital and analogue products, the R1 is a statement. It attests to quality and British engineering excellence. Put simply, the R1 forms the perfect partner to the world's finest high-end audio equipment.

Precision machined in-house, each upright of the R1 rack is assembled from multiple sections of polyoxymethylene (POM), a dense high-performance engineering polymer. With a crystalline structure that results in a material hardness equivalent to aluminium, however unlike aluminimum POM has an inherently high damping co-officient.

Each tier of the R1 rack uses two multiaxial carbon fibre tubes acting as cross members between the uprights to form a key structural element of the racking system. The cross members role is critical in dictating the flow of energy both from each audio component into the surrounding and vice versa.

The calculations speak for themselves, each carbon fibre tube weighing just 200 grams, is capable of withstanding a theoretical axis load of 5 tons, or 25,000 times it's own mass!

Wilson Benesch use multiple material with different damping characteristics for good reason. Each material works in harmony to absorb and damp the natural resonant frequency. The addition of a 14mm steel bar at the centre of each cross member clamps the carbon fibre tube. This further damps the resonant frequencies.

The result is a phenomenally stiff structure constructed from several materials that mutually self-damp one another. The ensures that any structural borne resonance within the R1 structure is not transferred to the high-end components residing within the audio system.

And it doesn't stop there. The R1 is referenced to the ground with four threaded steel spikes which each hold a captive ball bearing. Each tier is seperated by four 500 gram chrome steel spheres that couple and locate kinetically with four sockets on the adjoining level to restrict all six degrees of mechanical freedom.

Multi-layered Birch ply is known for it's naturally innate and broad bandwidth damping ability. That's why the shelving itself was an easy choice for Wilson Benesch with the R1 rack and sits atop the carbon fibre cross members.

Two components make up the R1 rack system. A base level, and the desired number of standard levels.

     Base Level - (120H x 700W x 480D mm). Weight 22kgs.
     Standard Level - (260H x 700W x 480D mm). Weight 33kgs.

The Wilson Benesch R1 rack was premiered at the recent High End Show in Munich, and full production has now commenced.

The Discoveries float their images in a natural manner that’s both self-effacing and realistic at the same time. Images hang free in all planes and are realistically placed in space
Jason Thorpe (review covers earlier May 2003 - MkI model)

SUMMARY: Although the Discoveries are expensive -- given that they are essentially a large monitor speaker with integral stand -- there’s a lot of engineering and high-tech materials wrapped up in their design. Wilson Benesch has made its design choices carefully and by doing so have created a speaker that sounds as good as it looks.
SOUND 
"Present every inflection of every note with almost holographic delineation"; "the upper bass through the lower treble had a slight sense of weight that added body to instruments and voices"; bass has "room-filling sound," but "it’s still steel-trap tight."
FEATURES 
"With the Discovery loudspeaker, Wilson Benesch has managed to build a transducer exclusively from synthetic materials," mainly carbon fibre and aluminium; 1" tweeter and a trio of 7" woofers, two of which are used in an isobaric configuration; the cabinet has no parallel surfaces, and the stand (if you can call it that) is integral, not optional.
USE
"goose the throttle just a touch past the background-listening level and they truly do blossom and come alive."
VALUE
"Few speakers "are as subtly accurate, tonally right, and visually arresting as the Wilson Benesch Discoveries."

EXTENDED REVIEW: Plato was on to something when he suggested that there exists, in potential, the essence of a thing -- the Platonic Conception. I doubt he had speakers in mind when he raised this idea, but it works well anyway. The perfect speaker's form would follow its function to the nth degree, and that form would be an elegant extension of its need. Such a speaker wouldn't be any larger than it needed to be. It would be uncolored, with deep bass that belied its size. Its cabinet would contribute nothing to its sound. It would be audibly invisible. And, man, would it be beautiful, because you have to look at it and sculpture is part of any visible object's purpose.

Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion

When it comes to epitomising true speakerness, the Wilson Benesch Discovery, the subject of this review, comes exceptionally close. These beautifully made black and silver (wood finishes are available) British speakers have a visual presence about them that verges on unsettling. There’s a barely restrained malevolence about their carbon-fibre and aluminium monocoque chassis that is both exciting and smoothly sophisticated at the same time. I half expect to see them gliding across the floor in an attempt to herd me into the disintegration chamber that I foolishly had installed. Am I anthropomorphising? Maybe, but however you look at it, the Discoveries stand out visually.

Wilson Benesch is a British company that made its name by specialising in the use and integration of aluminium and carbon fiber in audio products. While they first surfaced on the audiophile radar with their analog products -- the ACT 1 turntable and matching tonearm -- they soon turned their attention toward building speakers. With the Discovery loudspeaker, Wilson Benesch has managed to build a transducer exclusively from synthetic materials -- the product literature supplied with the Discoveries described alloy stock and various resins coming in one door of the factory, and finished speakers coming out the other.

The three-way Discovery certainly is a striking speaker, but a close inspection shows that there’s very little about it that’s done solely for appearance’s sake. The complex cabinet design, characterised by its curved flanks and downward-tilted forehead, results in an enclosure without a single parallel surface. The carbon-fibre side panels are very stiff, and their gently curved flanks exhibit very little vibration, while the immaculate, high-gloss finish shows off the weave of this high-tech material to great effect. Optional finishes include glossy stained red cherry; birds-eye maple or burr walnut; and satin cherry, maple or oak. At first the carbon fibre seems like an extravagance until you consider how much thicker (and hence larger) the cabinet would need to be if made of, say, MDF and still retain the same stiffness.

Although the Discovery has the initial appearance of a stand-mounted mini-monitor, you should realise that the "stand" is actually an integral, non-removable part of the speaker. The aluminium beam that runs down the back of the speaker and forms its spine is solid enough that, when combined with the thick base plate, the Discovery shows no play or wobble. There are two practical reasons why the speaker’s supporting aluminium beam is at its rear. First off, since the stand doesn’t protrude from the bottom of the baffle, there’s no chance of any possible diffraction -- in essence, it’s like hanging the speaker from the ceiling by a chain. Secondly, the Discovery utilises a unique bass-driver technology. Tactic is Wilson Benesch’s name for what is essentially an isobaric system, with two bottom-mounted drivers facing each other in a clamshell configuration. Bass is radiated both from inside the cabinet by way of two unequal-length ports, and from the inverted driver, which protrudes from the bottom of the cabinet. This is what precludes the use of any stand attached to the bottom of the speaker -- the lower woofer would be in the way.

Isobaric loading generally enables a system to play lower than with one driver -- and in a smaller box -- but at the expense of sensitivity. It’s a clever, expensive, and thoughtful way of getting a small speaker to generate the bass that you’d expect to come from one that's much larger. The Discovery's isobaric woofers cross over at 500Hz with a 6dB slope and overlap the front-firing woofer/midrange, which plays full range through the bass and rolls off 6dB at 5kHz. The three 7" drivers are identical units manufactured by Wilson Benesch. The 1" tweeter has a silk dome, and it crosses over from the woofer at 5kHz at 12dB. Sensitivity is given as 88dB, and impedance as 6 ohms nominal and 4 ohms minimum. The quoted frequency response is 42Hz and 25kHz +/-3dB. The Discovery measures 43 3/8"H x 9"W x 14 1/2"D and weighs 77 pounds.

The Discoveries come with exceptionally high-quality binding posts that are set up for bi-wiring, and Wilson Benesch includes a wrench (spanner, in Britspeak) with which to tighten the posts. On the bottom of the speaker, Wilson Benesch has fitted possibly the most lethal spikes in all of hi-fi. These long, pointy, and very sharp tempered-steel weapons command instant respect.

Finest quality, superior workmanship

Setup of the Discoveries was a fairly painless process. When I first received them, I placed them in my larger room about three feet in from the front wall and two feet from the side walls. This meant that each speaker ended up eight feet apart and nine feet from my listening position. After listening for a while, I pushed them back about six inches in order to add a touch more bass reinforcement. I also toed them in slightly.

I initially drove the Discoveries with an Orpheus Labs Three solid-state amplifier, but this combination proved slightly dry and uninvolving for my tastes, so I swapped that out for my EAR 509 tube monoblocks, which provided some welcome lushness. For the duration of the review, cabling was Acoustic Zen Matrix to the speakers and Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval between the Meitner Bidat (which has a volume control) and the amps. An Analysis Plus Digital Oval cable connected my Rotel RCD-975 CD player (used as a transport) to the Meitner. AC was fed directly from the wall.

When I moved the Discoveries down to my smaller room, the source was my Roksan Xerxes/Artemiz/Shiraz analog setup. This fed my Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamplifier by way of a Sonic Frontiers SFP-1 Signature phono stage. I also used a Musical Fidelity A3 CD player. The EAR 509s followed behind the speakers from the other room; a Musical Fidelity A3cr was also in use. Cables here were Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8 to the speakers and Solo Crystal Oval interconnects.

Not fish. Snake.

My initial impression of the Discoveries was that they present every inflection of every note with almost holographic delineation. From the leading-edge transients of electric guitar to the percussive attack of drums, these British speakers helped me see into the music and laid its meaning out in front of me.

Lately I’ve been on a John Zorn kick; the contrast between his rich, soothing nuevo Klezmer tapestry and the nasty, pornographic album liners never ceases to amaze me. The Gift [Tzadik TZ7732] is a blend of surfin’ guitar licks and traditional Jewish folk music that ends up working better than you’d imagine from my description. It’s a beautiful, introspective album, and I repeatedly returned to it during my time with these British speakers, as the music showed how carefully the Discoveries can craft a musical landscape. The speakers portrayed the interplay between the electric guitar and the drums on "Makahaa" in a delicate manner, with each note clearly articulated both tonally and spatially. Although the transients on this track had plenty of snap, there was no sense of thinness and no lack of harmonic body. On the contrary, the upper bass through the lower treble had a slight sense of weight that added body to instruments and voices.

In order to get the best from the Discoveries, though, I found that they do need to be cranked up. At low volumes they sound rather flat and uninvolving, with a lack of dynamics that definitely don’t do them justice. But goose the throttle just a touch past the background-listening level and they truly do blossom and come alive. At extremely low levels, the bass sounds muffled and indistinct, but in the same way as with the midrange, it tightens up and gains definition once the volume is raised. I don’t view this as much of a liability, as these are high-performance loudspeakers and using them for background listening is like using a Lamborghini V12 to power a log splitter.

While the bass does open up with increased volume, it retains a distinctive, poised character that reminds me in some ways of an electrostatic or planar speaker's low end. With many dynamic loudspeakers, the impact of instruments such as kick drum has a feeling of force that strikes you in the chest. Perhaps due to the downward-firing woofers, the Discovery’s bass has more of a diffuse, room-filling sound. But mark my words -- it’s still steel-trap tight. Low bass in a bookshelf-sized speaker is usually a tradeoff. You can either have extension or volume from a small box, but rarely both. The Tactic driver system in the Discovery is a very good compromise. Other than with organ and synthesiser notes, I never lacked for bass extension, and within reason I could listen as loud as I wanted without the low-end giving up the ghost.

So even at party levels, the bass remained tight and accurate, and didn’t bottom out or distort. Judging by the small size of the Discoveries, you wouldn’t think that they could rock out at high volumes. But you’d be sorely mistaken. When I was placing Pink Floyd’s The Wall[Sony 4OAP 1750-1] onto the turntable, I felt vaguely guilty, as if playing a rock album on these sophisticated transducers was akin to yelling out a request for "Zeppelin!" at a Cecilia Bartoli recital. But the speakers didn’t flinch. On "Run Like Hell," the Discoveries lashed out with plenty of tight, quick, deep bass. The kick drum that starts the song off did lack just that last bit of visceral impact, but considering the size of their cabinets, these speakers work miracles down low. And keep in mind that this was in a 14' x 32' room, which is likely larger than optimum for these fairly small speakers. When I put on a naturally recorded album, the Discoveries portrayed instruments such as acoustic bass with all the depth and definition that I could ask for. On Herbie Hancock’s Gershwin’s World [Verve 314 557 797-2], the bass on "The Man I Love" was completely believable, with a large, physical body and a rich, woody overtone.

At first I was under the impression that these British speakers were rolled off in the upper treble, but I slowly realised that the treble extension is all there -- it’s just missing any additive coloration, grit or hash. What’s left is the pure tone without any clue that it’s emanating from a box. This isn’t sweet or analytical treble; its personality is as close to non-existent as I’ve yet found in a speaker. I came to this realisation while I was listening to Stereolab’s Dots and Loops [Drag City DC-140] and trying to find a way to describe this characteristic. The notes were all there -- the cymbals floated free in space and were portrayed as neither too hot nor even slightly recessed. Without calling attention to itself, the Wilson Benesch tweeter portrayed only what was there, but without stabbing out in a hi-fi manner.

A major benefit of the Discovery’s unforced high frequencies was that I didn’t find myself avoiding poor-sounding albums. I’m not implying that the speakers homogenised recordings -- not in the least; instead a screechy album still sounded screechy, but the trait wasn’t exacerbated, and the music could still be enjoyed. But feed the Discoveries a well-recorded album and they extract every nuance of the information coming to them.

While listening to Debussy’s Iberia from the Classic Records reissue of the same name [Classic/RCA LSC-2222], I was drawn to the layered, uncoloured depths of the Discovery’s imaging. There’s a lot going on in this recording, and the Discoveries sorted out the dense, multifaceted images without thrusting them out in a showy manner. There’s nothing muddy or even remotely smeared about the way these speakers portray images, and I get the distinct feeling that the cabinets themselves contribute nothing to the sound. Music emanates from a pitch-black, velvety silence, and sparse instrumental music shows this off to great effect. Film works, another John Zorn project, is a prime example of this. This British speaker dealt out the atmospheric and lyrical melodies on Filmworks III [Tzadik TZ7309] with a scalpel-like precision. I must emphasise here that the precise nature of the Discovery’s imaging is not achieved in any way by an aggressive or abrasive edge to the midrange or treble. Instead, the speaker is simply exceptionally competent, capable and clear, and has an invisible nature that leaves only the music front and centre.

The Discovery’s midrange integrates seamlessly with its bass and treble. I was never aware of a crossover point either at the low or the high end of the midrange. The speakers remained composed at all times through this region. The lack of any brightness or glare might at first make this speaker seem boring, but if you listen without expectation, the Discoveries can take you by surprise.

But on some recordings, the lower midrange could sound just a bit overly rich, such as on Cassandra Wilson and Jackie Terrason’s Rendezvous [Blue Note 7243 8 55484 20]. Wilson’s voice is rather smoky to begin with, and this recording is already a touch opaque, but the Wilson Benesch speakers added just the smallest hint of additional darkness. Leonard Cohen’s subterranean baritone on Best of Leonard Cohen [Columbia CK 68636] was completely realistic and believable, but it did have just a tiny amount of extra chestsurrounding it. To tell the truth, I found this a pleasing characteristic, as it’s never overdone. The midrange never comes close to becoming thick, and a change over to a different amplifier, such as the Musical Fidelity A3cr, almost completely eradicated this trait, albeit with a loss of some lushness.

My friends are toys. I make them. It's a hobby.

While the Discoveries are essentially a monitor speaker, they can easily stand comparison to a full-size floorstander such as my Hales Transcendence Fives. While the Hales speakers do ultimately have more deep bass, as should be expected from their larger cabinets and bass drivers, when it comes to pretty much any form of acoustic music, there isn’t much of a significant quantitative difference between the Hales' and Discoveries' bottom-end performance.

Qualitatively, though, the Hales’ bass is significantly dryer than that of the Discoveries. This doesn’t mean that the Wilson Benesch speakers are sloppy in any way. Instead, the bass that the British speaker delivers is more organic and realistic, and the impression that it’s coming from a speaker is minimised. Take "Philipino Box Spring Hog" from Tom Waits’ Mule Variations [Anti/Epitaph 86547-1]. On this track, the Hales speakers thrust the bass at you, and although it’s down in the omnidirectional range, there’s no doubt that it’s coming from a 10" woofer that’s inside a box. The Discoveries, on the other hand, simply fill the room with bass that’s more in line with what you’d hear from a real instrument.

Up in the midrange, it’s the same story. Tonally the Hales are slightly leaner, but that’s not what stands out as the real nut to be cracked here. What is important is how there’s no sense of a speaker with the Discoveries, and although the Hales Fives are no slouches through the midrange, they are still audible in comparison. Higher up in frequency, the Hales speakers are somewhat brighter, but not in a way that detracts from the music. Still, when compared to the Discoveries, the Hales speakers have a slightly coarse edge that is lacking in the British speakers.

While the Hales Transcendence Fives project a beautiful centre image that’s completely independent from the speakers, they sound hi-fi-ish in comparison to the Discoveries. The Discoveries float their images in a natural manner that’s both self-effacing and realistic at the same time. Images hang free in all planes and are realistically placed in space, rather than clustered between the speakers as with the Hales.

The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

While there are other speakers out there that will immediately grab your attention with audio pyrotechnics, there are few in my experience that are as subtly accurate, tonally right, and visually arresting as the Wilson Benesch Discoveries. Their combination of a rich yet defined bass along with an articulate midrange and relaxed and detailed treble makes for a speaker that will provide listening pleasure and musical insight long after the initial glow of a more flowery speaker has worn off. If you want party speakers that’ll make you dance, there are plenty of them out there to choose from. If you want to unearth every nuance on every recording you own, the Wilson Benesch Discoveries will dig them out, place them in real space and time, and give you access to the meaning contained within.
...............
 Jason Thorpe (review covers earlier May 2003 - MkI model)

he Trinity Session (CD, RCA/Classic RTHCD8568)—were as plangent and as emotionally engaging as I have ever heard them, with, again, remarkable depth of soundstage.
John Marks 

SUMMARY: The Square Ones are a premium-priced product, to be sure. However, they have much of the same technology and the same build quality as Wilson Benesch's more expensive models, and provide a smaller-scaled version of WB's house sound: "extremely low distortion, seamless coherence, unfussy easefulness, rounded liquidity of tone, articulate dynamics, and seductively natural imaging and soundstaging." The price tier of CA$5,000/pair (including stands) is crowded and competitive, but the Square One is a standout performer that I think absolutely deserves a very high Class B (Restricted LF) rating in our "Recommended Components." It very well may be over the line into Class A (Restricted Extreme LF).

EXTENDED REVIEW: For many years, I've been a fan of the loudspeakers made by the British audio company Wilson Benesch. Their speakers definitely have their own personality. I first reviewed a Wilson Benesch loudspeaker while a columnist and reviewer for The Abso!ute Sound, and how that came about was amusing. As WB's then US importer was packing up his exhibit at the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show, by mistake he put labels with my address on them on the boxes containing the show samples of WB's revolutionary A.C.T. One, the first loudspeaker to have a curved carbon-fiber enclosure, a sloping top, and a baffle of cut steel. And a very nice late Christmas present they were, too.

My comments on the A.C.T. One ran in the August/September 1999 TAS, issue 119. I praised it to the skies; even Harry Pearson himself had to admit that, had he not listened to the A.C.T. One (which at the time cost CA$10,000/pair), he would not have been able to "put his finger on" what was not quite right in the midrange of CA$80,000/pr speaker prominently featured in that issue.

Of all the audio equipment I've heard in my three decades as an audio writer, the A.C.T. One and darTZeel's NHB-108 stereo power amplifier tie for first place in terms of my regret at not having bought them. Enlightened Audio Designs' Ultradisc 2000 CD player is in second place. It's telling that A.C.T. Ones rarely seem to come up for sale on eBay or Audiogon.

In 2000 I moved from TAS to Stereophile, and in September 2004 I wrote of the A.C.T. One's successor, the ACT, "The hallmarks of Wilson Benesch's 'house sound' are extremely low distortion, seamless coherence, unfussy easefulness, rounded liquidity of tone, articulate dynamics, and seductively natural imaging and soundstaging." For what many might perceive as American tastes, I also had to note that WB's house sound favored elegant bass quality over bass quantity, and further, that the combination of high tech and high style meant that WB speakers, tier by tier, cost more than those of their built-in-the-US competition.

So, despite a small but committed fan base, a sprinkling of committed dealers, lots of respect, and some great reviews, Wilson Benesch's presence in the US market has not been uninterrupted. In 2014, WB reconnected with Steve Daniels of The Sound Organisation, importers of Rega Research and other brands. Together, they've been rebuilding WB's US dealer base, starting with the Series II edition of WB's entry-level speaker, the petite, rectilinear, non–carbon-fiber Square One.

I had a wide-ranging conversation with Wilson Benesch's owners, Christina and Craig Milnes, who believe that their company offers to audio-enthusiast music lovers a unique combination of values and benefits. First, their speakers embody 25 years of fundamental research in materials science, much of it funded by Her Majesty's Government. They have in-house control over the complete manufacturing process. Then there's WB's design aesthetic, revolutionary 20 years ago but since picked up by others. Finally, they offer a sound quality they feel is different from that of any other speaker company. "Voicing a loudspeaker is a very personal thing, I think," Craig told me.

Craig Milnes stated that the Square One is the least-expensive speaker WB can make without deviating from their technical, aesthetic, and sound-design heritage—that it is, in fact, at $3800/pair, something of a loss leader. That said, he thinks that the Square Five ($17,000/pair) is their highest-value product, in that all of its technology is borrowed from WB's flagship model, the Cardinal ($115,000/pair). The Cardinal has sold even better than was hoped, especially in Germany, about which the Milneses pronounce themselves "more than happy." Christina noted that the entry-level Square One boasts the Cardinal's quality of veneer, from the same supplier.

Description

Wilson Benesch's Series II Square One is a stand-mounted, dynamic loudspeaker measuring 12.8" high by 8" wide by 11.2" deep and having an internal volume of 10 liters. A vented two-way design, it has a 1" soft-dome tweeter, a 7" mid/woofer, and, on the rear panel, a 7" Assisted Bass Radiator (ABR or passive radiator). Unusually, both ports vent through the bottom panel. Therefore, the speaker enclosure has, at the four corners of its base, metal standoffs. These can be covered with small, compliant, self-adhesive hemispheres (supplied) for installation on a bookshelf or sideboard. Alternatively, the standoffs accept the supplied hefty machine screws, installed upward through holes in the dedicated, all-metal stands. The stands cost CA$1,395/pair, for a total system cost of CA$5,195/pair.

Securely locking a loudspeaker to its stand is a concept I heartily endorse. One doesn't want toddlers to pull speakers down on top of themselves by their cables. Nor does one want an adult guest to inadvertently hip-check one's speaker onto the floor.

In addition to the unusual combination of bottom ports and ABR, the Square One's design includes "critical mass damping pads." A Square One on its own weighs 22 lbs; each hefty spiked stand (available only in black, front spikes permanently attached) weighs 26 lbs. The standard finishes are Natural Cherry Stain; or, in Gloss, Black, White, Birds Eye, Red Birds Eye, Red Tulip, Walnut, Burr Walnut, Ebonized Walnut, and Zebrano; or, in Satin, Maple and Oak. The review pair was in Ebonized Walnut Gloss, which looked almost black, except in full daylight.

The fit and finish were second to none. The Square Ones came with the most purposeful steel-framed grilles I have ever beheld. I admired them once, then left them in the shipping cartons. The four speaker-cable terminals are machined in-house from rhodium-plated copper alloy; high-quality jumper wires are supplied for single wiring.

Wilson Benesch's specifications for the Square One include: a sensitivity of 87dB/2.83V/m, on axis; impedances of 6 ohms nominal, 4 ohms minimum; a crossover frequency of 5kHz (first-order bass rolloff, second-order tweeter crossover); a frequency range of 45Hz–24kHz; and a power-handling capacity of "200W, peak unclipped program."

I checked the bass-extension claim by listening to the "Full Glide Tone" from Ayre Acoustics' Irrational, But Efficacious! System Enhancement Disc, Version 1.2. At the moment in the tone's sweep upward—it starts at 4Hz—when I believed that the Square One's woofer was actually producing "tone" and not just fecklessly flopping, I hit Pause on the CD players remote control, noted the elapsed time on the CD 1's display, and, using the Amadeus Pro II app, opened the "Full Glide Tone" digital-audio .wav file, and captured a small sample that included about one second to either side of the indicated time. From the "Analyze" pull-down menu I selected "Spectrum." The spectrum I obtained was centered on 44.1Hz. Keeping in mind unavoidable experimental error, I find WB's claim of 45Hz credible—and very impressive for a speaker with an internal volume of only 10 liters.

Listening

My review samples of the Square Ones had come from a dealer's showroom floor. Even so, they required a certain amount of break-in (or re-break-in). The rear-mounted ABR's inverted surround was very stiff. Even very loud music with significant bass content didn't cause large excursions.

Wilson Benesch does not state a minimum recommended amplifier power, but, with its ABR and claimed 87dB sensitivity—and its characteristic WB trait of favoring bass quality over bass quantity (or extension)—I'd say that 50W would be the bare minimum, and that the amplifier should have great current drive and exemplary damping factor. Doubtless a safer bet would be 100Wpc. Luxman's M-600A (30Wpc) just could not deliver the goods to the Square Ones. But when I switched to the slightly more "modern"-sounding M-700u (120Wpc), what I heard sounded almost like another full octave of bass extension.

In among all that, I experimented with positioning. I moved the Square Ones closer to the front wall than I've placed most speakers in my room, which firmed up the bass without causing any bothersome side effects. I ended up with the Square Ones completely toed in to the listening position, and with the center of each rear panel 12" from the wall behind it. Placing each speaker a third of the way along the front wall made the distance between the centers of the front panels about 5.5', and resulted in the speakers and listening position describing a slightly elongated isosceles triangle.

The opening movement, Trauermarsch, of Mahler's Symphony 5, from Eliahu Inbal's underrated (I think) recording with the Frankfurt RSO (CD, Denon CO79737), had startling dynamics and amazing depth of soundstage, the brasses and percussion sounding surprisingly powerful for a speaker of so small a footprint. That said, while there was a suggestion of bass impact, there wasn't much slam. (One workaround would be to partner the Square Ones with Wilson Benesch's Torus, a passive subwoofer with vertically firing, 18" driver).

Standard audio reference recordings of female voices—eg, Jennifer Warnes on her Famous Blue Raincoat: The Songs of Leonard Cohen (CD, Attic ACD-1227), and Margo Timmins in "To Love Is to Bury," from the Cowboy Junkies' The Trinity Session (CD, RCA/Classic RTHCD8568)—were as plangent and as emotionally engaging as I have ever heard them, with, again, remarkable depth of soundstage.

A rare find indeed is an almost-unknown French-Swiss recording of a Tommy Flanagan New York City studio date from 1993, Lady Be Good . . . For Ella, with bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash (CD, Groovin' High 521 617-2). Flanagan spent many years as Fitzgerald's music director, and all of the songs here are associated with or at least reminiscent of her. For what it is—a multimiked studio recording with an arbitrary stereo perspective—it's a fabulous recording. The playing is soulful, in places elegiac. It took me a while to figure out that Flanagan's slow solo-piano intro to the first of two iterations of "Oh, Lady Be Good!" fit the words to the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb." A message in a bottle, perhaps?

The Square Ones were the perfect match for this music. Their soundstaging abilities made the studio's sound larger and freer, while the music's bass demands didn't outrun the speakers' bass capabilities. The clarity of the sound of Flanagan's piano was exemplary. While the Square One didn't sound "analytical," it also didn't sound like a traditional British BBC-heritage loudspeaker, by which I mean a tailored frequency response with midrange warmth on almost all recordings.

Back to Mahler, this time Des Knaben Wunderhorn, for mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly's luminous, nearly heartbreaking "Urlicht" in the recording by Philippe Herreweghe directing the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées (CD, Harmonia Mundi 901920). Yes, the Historically Informed Performance Practices crowd has caught up with Mahler (though despite the claim of period instruments, A is here 440Hz, not 432Hz). Fear not—it's a stupendous performance. It sounded stunning through the Square Ones, in part because this is the Gustav Mahler of dimly remembered Lutheran chorales played by brass choirs, without any huge side-drum thwacks. Given the Square One's rather high crossover frequency of 5kHz—an octave higher than the norm—I kept listening for some discontinuity between midrange and treble, but heard none. In my estimate, Connolly's performance is as treasurable as Anne Sophie von Otter's. And what a way to end a listening session!

Conclusions

The Square Ones are a premium-priced product, to be sure. However, they have much of the same technology and the same build quality as Wilson Benesch's more expensive models, and provide a smaller-scaled version of WB's house sound: "extremely low distortion, seamless coherence, unfussy easefulness, rounded liquidity of tone, articulate dynamics, and seductively natural imaging and soundstaging." The price tier of CA$5,000/pair (including stands) is crowded and competitive, but the Square One is a standout performer that I think absolutely deserves a very high Class B (Restricted LF) rating in our "Recommended Components." It very well may be over the line into Class A (Restricted Extreme LF).
........ 
John Marks

I believe that I have found my own sonic nirvana in a very compact form factor using the latest technologies.
Audio-simply (Audio Enthusiast)

Having gone through various stages of audio equipment ownership, I have now reached a phase where simplicity and elegance are of paramount importance. I was looking for reasonably small speakers with best in class sound to replace my pair of B&W 804s. Having considered Sonus Faber (Cremona M), Leedh, Focal, PMC (Fact.8), Pioneer and to a lesser extend Magico, I did finally settle for a pair of Wilson Benesch Vectors. 

Other components in the system include a Devialet D-Premier mostly fed by high res files. 

The Vectors have received surprisingly little press coverage. Yet, I hear that there is a growing base of happy owners spreading the word away from the commercial channels. 

I am personally very impressed by these speakers. I believe that I have found my own sonic nirvana in a very compact form factor using the latest technologies. My room is currently of a strange asymmetric shape with an average size of 4.5m x 6m x 2.5m. I have positioned the speakers about 0.3 m from the back wall with a slight toe in of approximately 10 degrees. 

ADVANTAGES: 
- Amazingly transparent and fast, yet non fatiguing (the piano of Keith Jarrett has never sounded so cristal clear). Does therefore perform extremely well at low volumes also thanks to this excellent signal to noise ratio (there is real bass at low volumes also!), 
- Lack of harshness enables them to perform reasonably well with non optimally recorded CDs also (could be related to the soft dome tweeter), 
- Breathtaking dynamics, bass can be surprisingly powerful with well recorded CDs yet remains very well defined (Musica Nuda, Hadouk Trio, some of Tricky's recent releases for example), the Devialet is for sure partially responsible for this remarkable performance, 
- Smooth transition across the drivers, could be mistaken for electrostatics, 
- Pretty bluffing 3D like soundstage when listened to from the sweet spot, but this sweet spot is of modest width I found, 
- Easy load with high sensitivity, a given sound output volume requires 4 or 5 dB less power from the amplifier compared to the 804s. 
- Rare combination of discretion and high end looks, well suited for urban apartments, 
- Manageable weight, easy on those moving around a lot, 
- Real spikes are great for stability on speaker boards but require care when moving the speakers,

OVERALL RATING: ★★★★★

The Square 1 V2: These speakers are amazon and they deliver superb music. Perceived quality is matched by the intrinsic quality and the care that has been taken in the design and the manufacture of components makes the product highly desirable.
Patrice Philippe

VERDICT: The Wilson Benesch Square 1 V2 is a beautiful speaker, perfect finish and very rewarding. The departure from the concept that speakers must be placed away from a wall appeals to anyone who does not have the space to stick to this rule. The musical qualities of the speaker can be seriously adjusted depending on the distance they are placed from the wall, aording them a decisive advantage whenever the room is small. Ideal for urban dwellers, where these beautiful English speakers will provide many years of intense musical pleasure to their happy owner.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Wilson Benesch is one of the iconic brands of high-delity, made famous by the use of carbon technologies previously reserved for aerospace industries, which the company originally used in the Wilson Benesch tonearm and turntable. But Wilson Benesch also produces specialist speakers, which the British brand manufacture using the same carbon technologies.

The design and manufacture of a loudspeaker’s acoustics has obligations dictated by the laws of physics. There are very many parameters that must be taken into account and each manufacturer denes its products by the choices they make. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon that users ignore manufacturer's recommendations, either through ignorance or disregard. A criterion very often ignored is the minimum distance to be observed between the wall and the speakers. Too often, speakers are against or very close to the back wall when they really need 50-70cm or more to express themselves properly. A recent trend among manufacturers is to position the speakers bass-reex ports on the bottom, which makes the positioning less critical vis-a-vis the back wall. Wilson Benesch, with its Square Series II, furthers the argument by adapting the design of its products to allow for the speakers in this range to be placed in the immediate vicinity of the rear wall.

The principal load of the Square is carefully managed by a passive speaker located at the rear of the cabinet, which also includes two ports opening in the base of the speaker. Its ideal placement is anywhere up to four feet from the rear wall.In fact, the back wall distance can very simply adjust the bass level. In our room, we got the best result with the speakers about 8 inches from the wall, but it will of course be adapted to each particular situation. The Square 1 version 2 is a two-way bookshelf speaker that has three speakers and for once, can actually be used on a shelf if required. It is possible to have them near a wall without aecting its operation. However it is still preferable to place the speakers on quality speaker stands.

Build Quality & Listening

Construction:
The entire Wilson Benesch range enjoys outstanding nish quality, the rst impression you get when opening the box is the varnish and quality of the veneers is impressive. We know that ten species of wood are available as well as black and white lacquered finishes.

The grill is perfectly neutral and oers all the guarantees of rigidity. You can witness the care taken in their manufacture, the speaker cover, which snaps on the front is made of two metal plates perfectly machined and sandwiching an acoustically transparent jersey. This original layout is far from the usual grilles, whereby the aforementioned jersey is more often simply glued in place. Every details of the manufacturing exude: very high end.

Components:
Wilson Benesch manufactures its own drive units, both bass/mid, to master the ensemble's parameters. On the Square 1 V2, we nd the 17cm Tactic and an ultra linear dome tweeter, which in hand is 25mm. The crossover is second order (12dB per octave), consisting of a polypropylene capacitor and air-cored inductor. The ensemble of components are audiophile quality, right down to the included link leads which are copper stranded cables of a very high purity, silver plated with Teon isolation. The icing on the cake: the terminal and the lter are designed to enable bi-wiring.

Bass:
We were surprised by the ability of the speaker to adapt to our demands in matters of bass. We can say having experimented, simply that, the alignment of the back wall determines the perceived bass level. Subjectively it also determines the sense of depth and the ability
  to drop the systems frequency. After some trial and error, we adopted a satisfactory position, which allowed us to obtain both serious low bass that remained very clean, crisp, tight and perfectly balanced with the midrange and treble.

Mid-range:
As is often the case with small speakers and in particular the two-way speaker, where the bass and the mid is delivered by one woofer, the integration up to 5KHz is more pure. Therefore the low registers with the mid-range and the high treble with the mid integration is absolute. The Patricia Barber 'A fortnight in France' attests, voices and instruments are very clear and pure but rich in warmth, sensuality and renement.

Tweeter:
The tweeter frequency rises through the soft dome without aggressiveness, without gloss, but rather with beautiful precision. Sibilants presented in the voices sound very natural. We played 'Musik wie von enema andiron Stern, Jazz Variants by the Ozone Percussion Group', which is a dicult disc to manage. The harmonics and extension notes of the speaker are very realistic and we perceive fully the nature of dierent materials on the constituent instruments. The metallic character in particular is precisely reproduced without stress or exaggeration. We also appreciate the integration of the treble; you never directly "hear" the tweeter, which is great.

Dynamics:
The Wilson Benesch's are easy to handle and despite their 88dB sensitivity - which ranks among speakers of average eciency - they are happy with watts in the framework of a small to medium room. However with our much more powerful amplier, degradation of the dynamics has never been put in diculty even at very high SPL. Dynamics are quite satisfactory and it remains as strong with weak signals, where the beautiful microdynamics give you the feeling you hear everything.

Attack:
We enjoyed the accuracy of the speaker. The performance of the bass / midrange and tweeter perfectly aligned with phase, the result very nice percussion such as cymbals, but also guitar notes. The qualities of the attack are also delightfully presented on the highs in Tchaikovsky's Overture 1812 or the explosive cannons.

Sound Scene:
Often we are able to obtain the most beautiful scenes in sound when the speakers are placed a signicant distance from the back wall. Here, it is not possible since the Square 1 V2 is designed to be placed in the immediate vicinity of the wall. However, we found that the Square 1 V2 stereo image is wide and very realistic. As long as one closes his eyes, the sound stage extends deep beyond the rear wall.

Transparency:
The bass of d'Ugonna Okwego from the album 'Reach de Jacky Terrasson' is clear and without confusion, low notes are clearly dierentiated and the melody is very true and dened. Transparency is the meeting point, which enables us to perceive the tiniest details: Keith Jarret and the album 'Rarum' CD1, track 'Book of Ways', whispers at us with great clarity.

Quality / Price:
The Square 1 V2: These speakers are amazon and they deliver superb music. Perceived quality is matched by the intrinsic quality and the care that has been taken in the design and the manufacture of components makes the product highly desirable. We can’t say that the product is cheap, but the price is more than justied, because these speakers are actually big hitters. For those who want to go further, these remarkable small speakers open a wide universe of bi-amping which in itself is a unique opportunity presented by this speaker.

VERDICT

The Wilson Benesch Square 1 V2 is a beautiful speaker, perfect finish and very rewarding. The departure from the concept that speakers must be placed away from a wall appeals to anyone who does not have the space to stick to this rule. The musical qualities of the speaker can be seriously adjusted depending on the distance they are placed from the wall, aording them a decisive advantage whenever the room is small. Ideal for urban dwellers, where these beautiful English speakers will provide many years of intense musical pleasure to their happy owner.

…………. Patrice Philippe

There’s no magic, no special pleading for the beat, no power of the pace, just a very natural sounding speaker.
Alan Sircom 

SUMMARY:  the thing about the Wilson Benesch Vertex. It couldn’t be more truthful if it were sworn in on the courtroom floor. If you want a speaker system that adds ‘that certain something’ to the sound, this isn’t it.  But if you are after a mature approach to sound reproduction that doesn’t come with the usual baggage of favouritism, a speaker that genuinely reproduces whatever signals its fed honestly, accurately and without prejudice – and especially if you are either seeking these goals in a small room, or accept that the best way to make full-range stereo sound is through a 2.1 or even 2.2 channel system – the Vertex should be very high on the list.

EXTENDED REVIEW: When is a standmount not a standmount? When it’s a Vertex. OK, on a scale of one to 10 of jokes, that hardly makes it to a ‘one’, but the stand of the Wilson Benesch Vertex two-way standmount is integral to the structural integrity of the design. It is part of Wilson Benesch’s new four-strong Geometry Series, which includes the floorstanding £8,095 Vector, a new center channel the Fulcrum and a new flagship speaker, the Cardinal which having seen the baffle with my own eyes, I can reliably inform will be vastly larger in size and price relative to the first speakers in this series.

One of the few points of commonality between subjective listeners and their objectively-driven counterparts is the importance good loudspeakers have on the overall sound of hi-fi. Good loudspeakers well set up in the right room is a sure-fire way to good sound. It is also commonly accepted loudspeakers offer the most variation in performance. Many feel that, because of these two fundamental maxims of modern audio, the next great jump forward in sound quality comes from the loudspeaker above all.

When you think about improving the lot of box loudspeakers, there’s potentially not a lot left to do. Every variation of cabinet size, port, drive unit complement, crossover network and box shape has been tried. So, if there’s any significant changes in box loudspeaker design, it may well come from using new materials.

This is not exactly new. For almost as long as there have been cone and dome loudspeakers, manufacturers have been using something more than paper cones and fabric domes. From the 1960s, brands like KEF and Bowers & Wilkins pioneered the use of new materials in drive unit technology, but arguably no company pushes the envelope of materials science these days quite like Wilson Benesch.

The Sheffield-based company has established useful contacts within the university materials science and engineering scene, both in the city itself and around the country. This harks right back to the company’s original turntable and tonearm designs more than 20 years ago, which used carbon fiber long before it was fashionable to do so.

Wilson Benesch describes the Vertex as a “two-way, true phase linear, free space, ported enclosure, stand mounted monitor.” I could do the same expressed over several hundred words, but the terse description fits extremely snugly. It’s all those things, now let’s look at them in detail.

The ‘two-way’ part is absolutely correct. Except these aren’t off-the-shelf drive units. They aren’t even hot-rodded versions of off-the-shelf drive units. They are Wilson Benesch’s own Semisphere 25mm soft dome tweeter and Tactic II 170mm mid-bass unit. It’s easy to dismiss the new Semisphere as just another one-inch soft dome tweeter, but this one took Wilson Benesch a decade of R&D, involving lots of experimentation with new dome materials, (increasingly) rare earth magnet materials and a distillation of the tweeter-maker’s art to come up with something special. The result is a tweeter dome material with a mass about a third of its predecessor, set in a side-and-rear venting into a silencing chamber, allowing the system to have a first resonance point at nearly 6kHz. The tweeter assembly itself comes in at just over a kilogramme.

The Tactic II mid-bass unit is perhaps better known, if only because it was developed from the Tactic ‘multi-role’ drive unit used in many previous Wilson Benesch designs. Like the Semisphere, this is no ordinary drive unit, and is a product of Wilson Benesch’s pioneering work with Sheffield’s Hallam University. The driver is the result of extremely advanced electrical and mechanical engineering analysis, way beyond the abilities of the vast majority of loudspeaker makers, to produce a highly optimised motor system. Controlled right down to the lines of flux level, the 8mm thick neodymium magnet has increased flux density across the coil by almost 50% on its predecessor, which allows for a cone mass almost a third lighter while achieving a claimed 3dB increase in driver sensitivity. The net result is lower distortion, higher sensitivity drive units. Bolting them to a front baffle of thick alloy means they sit in a rigid environment, and that helps, too.

Surprisingly, as does the death of the cathode-ray tube. Now that loudspeakers go into a land of plasma, LCD and LED monitors, the need for magnetic shielding has effectively evaporated. And yet, manufacturers still mag-shield their drivers, despite some of the deleterious effects such shielding can have on the magnet’s behavior. Wilson Benesch – always the pragmatists – felt there’s no need to compromise a drive unit just to keep a defunct 20th Century technology happy, and the result is a more linear driver.

Drivers alone do not a loudspeaker make, and it’s in the Advanced Composite Technology monocoque cabinet that Wilson Benesch really shows its mettle. The monocoque is made up of a woven carbon fibre bonded to layers of energy absorbing resins, used to form the rear and sides of the cabinet. This material ends up being about as thick as a typical MDF cabinet and is precisely molded in an RTM system the geometry of which is designed to maximise stiffness. The result is both a cabinet material and enclosure structure that has a series of complimentary resonant ‘signatures’ that cancel one another out in the bass and midrange, while high-frequencies are transferred and damped by the carbon fiber. This gets close to the goal of a box loudspeaker free from cabinet coloration.

The twin reflex ports fire down, which goes some way to explain why the stand is an integral part of the Vertex design. Rather than supply speaker and stand in separate boxes, the Vertex is supplied with stand attached… with high-tensile bolts. Short of taking a baseball bat to the speaker, nothing’s going to move it from that stand, and to be honest, you are more likely to break the bat than the speaker. And why are you hitting a loudspeaker with a baseball bat, anyway? The stand also contains a cable management system (rhodium plated bi-wire terminals are at the rear of the base of the stand, the cables are hand-wired, and are sliver-plated copper wires from something hush-hush in the military. If I told you where they came from, you’d be dead before you finish the sentence) and the first order crossover on the tweeter This last features the usual laundry list of greatness, including selected polyprop capacitors and air-cored inductors. The three point stand does come with useful spikes, which are adjustable from the top of the stand, they also allow adjustment of the speaker’s rake angle, which is surprisingly important in the quest for good sound.

The Vertex is all about balance. You need to install them with care, as they aren’t easy to dismiss with a ‘three feet from the rear and side walls’ wave of the hand. Wilson Benesch recommends ‘voicing’ the speakers in the room, finding the best spot where four carefully chosen pieces (spoken word, full orchestral, something you have a personal emotional connection with and something rhythmic) work well, and taking some not inconsiderable time to find this sweet spot. Listen, move, listen again, move again, and so on until you find your best balance. The company also recommends some 70 hours of run in, but the review samples had already had many more hours on the clock so any changes to performance should have been the stuff of history.

Choice of amplifier is extremely important. The Vertex is a window into the soul of the system, and the right amp can make a huge difference to the performance. Put them on lively sound electronics and they sound completely different to something warm and relaxing. In that respect, the Vertex is more of a chimera. The speakers aren’t power hungry, but they come to life on the end of both quantity and quality. The specs (89dB sensitivity, four ohm minimum impedance) belie the Vertex speakers’ desire to be well-fed. We found they got what they crave from the Devialet D-Premier (Wilson Benesch have used one in its own demonstrations) and the Burmester system (ohne speakers) featured in this issue. With such a system, they simply ‘resolved’.

These speakers do this because they are inherently uncoloured. An interesting aside here is that some amp/speaker combinations are designed to even out the idiosyncrasies of the one another. By inserting a speaker that doesn’t play that game, you can sometimes expose the true character of the equipment that goes before the Vertex, and sometimes those electronics come up short. I wouldn’t blame the loudspeakers here.

I’m not the most jingoistic person on the planet, but it’s a fine thing for an Englishman to say that the Vertex shows we are still damn good at making state of the art things, and still know how to make a damn good two-way standmount. Because – even though the stand is integrated – it remains a damn good two-way standmount.

The Vertex does make the reviewer’s job easy and difficult in equal measure. Easy because there’s lots of technology to talk about; difficult because it does its job so well. Some loudspeakers try to be musical instruments, this tries to be a reproducer of music in its entirety. Highlighting specific examples of this is to try and pigeon-hole a loudspeaker that defies classification. Play Blues and it sounds like the Blues. Play an orchestral piece and it sounds orchestral. Ditto, jazz, rock, world music, dance… what have you. If the music has scale and dynamic range, the Vertex portrays it well. If it’s weedy and compressed, it portrays that too. Stereo is simply is what it is supposed to sound like, given the recording and the room. It does what speakers are supposed to do, and so few really achieve; it plays what it is given.

That bespeaks maturity in the speaker, the system and the listener alike. Beautifully made, this is no “mug’s eyeful”; the Vertex demands a listener who doesn’t want fireworks unless the music specifically ordered fireworks. One who is prepared to put in the hours of listening and adjustment to get the best possible sound and who builds systems that are even-handed and well-balanced. If all of this makes you think ‘boring!’, you aren’t ready for the Vertex yet. Come back when shiny things begin to lose their lustre.

One thing that is exceptionally clever about this design is that its double reflex port design is one of the least ‘porty’ sounding loudspeakers around. The speaker has the speed of delivery of a sealed box, and none of that chuffing port sound you get from most ported loudspeakers.

This is the kind of speaker that will never appeal to the ‘musicality’ brigade. There’s no magic, no special pleading for the beat, no power of the pace, just a very natural sounding speaker. Rhythm in the Vertex is a function of the performance and the installation, rather than an intrinsic quality of the loudspeaker or the system. That the can bring out the rhythmic properties of a performance, and that it is demanding enough to make those properties hang on factors such as placement shows just how uncompromisingly honest these loudspeakers are.

With this honesty comes the fact that you cannot bend the laws of physics just to suit loudspeaker sales. This is (effectively) a two-way standmount loudspeaker. It delivers good bass for a loudspeaker of that kind of design, and is ideally suited to work in small rooms of mostly brick; the sort we British pay far too much money for. In a bigger space, or a room that doesn’t have the same construction methods, the bass rolls off honestly and accurately. But it rolls off. In truth, I would rather have a loudspeaker like the Vertex that rolls off predictably than a speaker that introduces its own distinct sub-100Hz booms to make the speaker seem bigger than it really is. Especially as those last few bass notes can be underpinned better by Wilson Benesch’s own Torus infrasonic generator. However, those who have risen through the small speaker ranks looking for the ultimate small-box design might at first find the honesty of the Vertex almost disconcertingly honest.

That’s the thing about the Wilson Benesch Vertex. It couldn’t be more truthful if it were sworn in on the courtroom floor. If you want a speaker system that adds ‘that certain something’ to the sound, this isn’t it. But if you are after a mature approach to sound reproduction that doesn’t come with the usual baggage of favouritism, a speaker that genuinely reproduces whatever signals its fed honestly, accurately and without prejudice – and especially if you are either seeking these goals in a small room, or accept that the best way to make full-range stereo sound is through a 2.1 or even 2.2 channel system – the Vertex should be very high on the list.
.........Alan Sircom 

If you want a loudspeaker that tells it like it is, and you are willing to put the effort in to achieve that goal, the Square Five is the most serious contender at the price and way, way beyond. Highly Recommended.
Alan Sircom

SUMMARY REVIEW: and so it went, whatever I played. The Square Five portrayed the music with accuracy and honesty. Not stark honesty – it’s not a bright loudspeaker at all – but with a sense of precision and clarity that many strive to attain and few others reach at this price point. It’s exquisitely detailed; you can tell why that recent Daft Punk album reputedly cost a million to make – there are real musicians playing professionally and skilfully with no ‘fix it in post’ or ‘clean that up with AutoTune’ mentality, but it also gets past the musical detail and digs up the reason why that album was so absurdly popular last year; its sense of fun and infectious rhythm.That ability to play to both the cerebral and the visceral is what makes the Square Five so remarkable. Its peers tend to be either good at the detail aspect, but leave the music cold and drab, or make everything upbeat and exciting, at the expense of the technical aspects of the music. The Square Five – virtually alone at its price point 

EXTENDED REVIEW: Wilson Benesch’s recent brush with the top-end of loudspeaker design – the Cardinal – was a distinct success, but it remains a top-end loudspeaker, and those who cannot afford top-end loudspeakers, such lofty goals and lofty performance is as nothing unless these things trickle down to less lofty price points. The Square Five is that loudspeaker. Those who judge things by surface might not see any link between the Square Five and Wilson Benesch’s upper slopes. It could be mistaken for just another exercise in stuffing drive units in a nicely veneered MDF box. Look closer… there’s a lot going on in this loudspeaker

In fact, the Square Five is a four-way design, not a three-way as might first be thought. That ‘plinth’ it rests on is in fact a high-mass chamber for a down-firing, isobaric-loaded pair of 170mm Tactic drive units (WB’s own design). Then what looks all the world like a D’Appolito layout of mid-treblemid is in fact what WB dubs its Troika layout. This means the 170mm Tactic unit above the tweeter acts as midrange proper, while the 170mm Tactic driver below acts as a lower-midrange/bass driver. The rear panel gives some clue to the differing arrangement, with a rear-firing ABR and rear ports performing supporting roles for the different driver configurations. This is only possible by the use of a complex series of chambers within the loudspeaker cabinet, reducing the possibilities of drive unit interaction. Aside from the sheer number of drivers and the complexity of the cabinet design, from a driver viewpoint, the Square Five eschews the company’s own Semisphere tweeter and uses a 25mm ScanSpeak soft dome tweeter, modified to WB’s demands

Even that cabinet is out of the ordinary. It’s MDF as opposed to carbon-fibre, but the design is very carefully designed, with strips of carbon-composite bonded to the inner facings of the cabinet, further braced by the internal chambers required to produce the Troika layout and then mass-loaded and tuned by constrained-layer damping blocks of varying mass carefully positioned for the best possible effect. Add to that the extremely high-mass block of solid aluminium that forms the back of the plinth and its outrigger, and even the high-tech spikes/feet WB has designed to isolate the Square Five from its environment, it’s clear this is the Cardinal for us mortals.

The Square Five is about average on the easy to drive stakes; a claimed 87dB sensitivity rating and an impedance plot that hovers around six ohms with the occasional dip into four ohm territory isn’t (on paper, at least) going to prove too great a challenge. But this just gives the Square Five the ability to pick amplifiers of great quality rather than be forced into using tub-thumpin’ powerhouses. As we will see, that’s an important consideration.

The Square Five is a loudspeaker that you need to charm. It doesn’t put out on a first date; it keeps its honour until you prove your worth, wooing the loudspeaker with the finest electronics, and finding the ultimate listening position. This means well clear of the side and rear walls, even to the point of sacrificing some bass depth (fortunately, there’s a lot of bass on offer, even before you go down the optional Torus infrasonic generator route) and painstaking experimentation with fine tuning of placement and toe-in. This is also a relatively long process, one best performed by the listener and associates, rather than someone installing to a deadline. Yes, you can get almost all the way ‘there’ fairly quickly, but the final stages of fine-tuning take time and are well worth the effort

The same applies to the selection of electronics. This is no amp-crusher of a loudspeaker, but it benefits from a quality over quantity approach. It’s a revealing loudspeaker; although it doesn’t demand the best, it’s more than capable of showing what the best is capable of. The net result of this means the Square Five will survive more rounds of upgrades than most components in your system, if that is your audio trajectory. With products picked carefully, the Square Five could be the most expensive part of a system that will see you into dotage, but it could also end up being the cheapest part of a very high-end system and still be capable of resolution to spare. Such is the flexibility of the Square Five. In terms of general care and feeding, the Square Five is happiest with inherently uncoloured electronics; you could argue that so does everything else, but this is not necessarily the case – some speakers tend toward working with slightly warm and soft sounding electronics, some need a bit of pep from the amps to wake them. Do this with the Square Five and you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about. Wilson Benesch’s connection with the German electronics brand Audionet is a good starting place, but the Square Five is capable of not sounding out of place in amongst some true high-end royalty. We’re talking big dCS Vivaldi stacks, Jeff Rowland or Aesthetix amps and so on… in other words, the kinds of electronics normally seen driving Wilson Alexias and beyond. If a £9,000 can keep its head in such esoteric company, then you know you are on to something really quite remarkable.

When everything is in place, what you get is a loudspeaker that combines the analytical powers of a Sherlock Holmes with the entertainment value of the Minions from Despicable Me. Well, almost. 

It seemed logical to begin the process by bringing Sheffield to Sheffield, playing ‘Fair Annie’ from the bonus disc of Martin Simpson’s excellent Vagrant Stanzas [Topic]. This ‘kitchen table’ recording of essentially just voice and acoustic guitar is geographically about as close as it can get to the WB factory. Not that it matters on a musical standing, but locally grown produce sounds wonderful here. Through the Square Fives, his voice reveals all the wisdom of his years and the honesty he brings to these folk tunes. As to the guitar playing… you can here he’s using an alternate tuning (but not one I know well, there’s something a bit odd and droney with the two top strings for DADGAD or Dropped D tuning) and the sound is both melodic enough to almost bring tears to your eyes, and analytical enough for most guitarists to realise just how good a player we have in Martin Simpson

Some speakers produce a sense of space around the music. Some create a tight ball or wall of sound. The Square Five does none of these things. It just makes the recording sound like the recording itself. If the soundfield on the disc is expansive, it will sound like a big soundstage, if it doesn’t, it won’t. There’s no artificial sense of scale or size – big or small – at work here. It presented the music as is. So, after the tidy, cosy sound of man and guitar, I moved on to John Pickard’s The Flight of Icarus, played by the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra, with Martyn Brabbins conducting [BIS]. This powerful piece of modern classical – a tribute to the Apollo space program – is an exercise in dynamic range. Any sense of scaling problems are easily spotted and here the Square Five aced this particular test with consummate ease. From the bombast of the percussion to the subtleties of the strings, from the loudest parts to the quietest this made this sound like a complex, yet coherent work… not incidental music to Planet of the Apes.

And so it went, whatever I played. The Square Five portrayed the music with accuracy and honesty. Not stark honesty – it’s not a bright loudspeaker at all – but with a sense of precision and clarity that many strive to attain and few others reach at this price point. It’s exquisitely detailed; you can tell why that recent Daft Punk album reputedly cost a million to make – there are real musicians playing professionally and skilfully with no ‘fix it in post’ or ‘clean that up with AutoTune’ mentality, but it also gets past the musical detail and digs up the reason why that album was so absurdly popular last year; its sense of fun and infectious rhythm.

That ability to play to both the cerebral and the visceral is what makes the Square Five so remarkable. Its peers tend to be either good at the detail aspect, but leave the music cold and drab, or make everything upbeat and exciting, at the expense of the technical aspects of the music. The Square Five – virtually alone at its price point – combines both aspects perfectly. Yes, there are others that provide some of these aspects of the overall musical picture, but sacrifice others in the process. 

A pair of Square Fives do not look imposing in a small room, and while it’s physically possible to put the speaker into a room 3m wide and 4m deep, you will never get to hear what these speakers are capable of if you do. The slightly thornier issue of personal taste also plays a part, though. Although almost every hi-fi buff on the planet seems to claim what they want is more honesty and less distortion from their loudspeakers, when faced with the unvarnished truth, some go all ‘ignorance is bliss’. That’s not easy to unpack until experienced directly, but I suspect there are some who find the idea of neutrality more attractive than the reality. To those, I’d say the Square Five is not for you, and you can pretty much cross off whole swathes of high-end loudspeaker designs in a single pass. Genuine seekers of musical truth (that sounds a bit culty) will think very differently though, looking at the Square Five as an honest way of extracting £20,000 or even £25,000 loudspeaker performance without crossing the five-figure Rubicon.

It’s more than just a reflection of highend loudspeaker design; it’s an outstanding performer in its own right. If you want a loudspeaker that tells it like it is, and you are willing to put the effort in to achieve that goal, the Square Five is the most serious contender at the price and way, way beyond. Highly Recommended.
……… Alan Sircom

The finest sound at this price, combining the authority of large tower designs with the speed and agility of the finest standmounters

OUR VERDICT- 5/5 STARS: 
Wilson Benesch’s entry-level floor­stander turns out to be one of its finest. As agile, insightful and articulate a performer as you’ll find for the money not particularly fussy about where you place them  about where you place them.
Dig deep for the Square Twos

Practical issues aside, though; partner these stereo speakers with the right equipment, and we truly believe the Wilson Benesch Square Twos deliver the finest sounds available at this price – and you have to spend a lot more to better them.
Hear them in full flow with a classic dance track such as Left­field's Space Shanty or Open Up, and we're sure you'll be in total agreement.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Whatever you do, don't be listening to a brand-new pair of Square Twos. They sound terrible straight from the box.

Thankfully, given a lengthy run-in (at least 72 hours is a good idea), the Square Twos turn in a performance that's quite amazing at this price.When it comes to dynamics, detail resolution or agility, these are good enough to worry many a true high-end speaker – and yes, that includes some of Wilson Beneschs own models.

Rarely do we hear theGadiator's soundtrack so rousing while remaining so utterly composed. Instruments are defined superbly, and it's easy to follow the numerous musical strands, even when the soundtrack gets really busy. Did we mention the Square Twos are fast? Sorry, that's an understatement.

These speakers are faster than fast

To paraphrase Lightning McQueen (the animated hero in Pixar's Cars, these Wilson Benesch speakers are faster than fast – they are speed. We've only heard a handful of speakers that come close to the Square Two's almost supernatural ability to respond to the leading edge of notes.

It's a quality that works particularly well on rhythm-driven music like Prince's  Lolita. As you can probably guess, we like these towers an awful lot. However, their presentation might not be to all tastes.

The bass end is very taut, but not the weightiest around. Again, system-matching rules, Also, part of this speaker's lively nature and resolution is a result of a rather enthusiastic treble performance. The top-quality tweeter stops this from being a problem in a well-matched set-up, but if you favour a rich, warm sound or have a hint of aggression in your electronics, these floorstanders probably aren't the speakers for you.

Finally, note that the Square Twos have a relatively small footprint and just three spikes – a design that brings certain sonic benefits, but which also makes them very easy to knock over. You should bear this in mind if you have kids, pets, or both in your home.

Dig deep for the Square Twos

Practical issues aside, though; partner these stereo speakers with the right equipment, and we truly believe the Wilson Benesch Square Twos deliver the finest sounds available at this price – and you have to spend a lot more to better them.

Hear them in full flow with a classic dance track such as Left­field's Space Shanty or Open Up and we're sure you'll be in total agreement.

I’m not saying that one listen and you’ll fall in love; it’s more like one listen and you’ll feel like you’ve just come home -- and there’re not many speakers about which you can say that, irrespective of price.
Roy Gregory

SUMMARY: In some respects that might stand against it, at least in terms of commercial success; so many audiophiles are more trend-conscious than fashionistas, so easily seduced by the latest, greatest thing that inevitably promises the earth, that a product as prosaic, as plain and as downright sensible as the Square Five might easily be dismissed as a wallflower, the smart girl that never gets asked to dance. Except that its performance is so beautifully balanced, so unusually natural and expressive that even one listen should reveal its superiority. This is a product that is musically, rather than sonically spectacular. It really does deliver on the promise of trickle-down technology, standing head and shoulders above most of the competition.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Is it possible, or even sensible, to describe anything as non-essential as a pair of loudspeakers costing £55,000 as a bargain? Well, clearly that depends on your point of view. From the peculiar perspective established by the pursuit of high-end audio, comparisons based on performance, execution and material content (and in the context of speaker systems costing well over four times that elevated figure) clearly make anything possible. In this rarified environment, there can be little doubt that the Wilson Benesch flagship model, the Cardinal, does indeed represent a considerable bargain -- even if a pair does cost more than the average annual wage in the UK.

So if the Cardinal is a nailed-on bargain, what do you call a speaker that offers virtually the same drivers, arranged using the same novel hybrid acoustic/electrical crossover topology, in a simplified and less extravagant cabinet for less than a sixth of the price?

Okay, so we’ve all heard that one before -- the product that looks the part but is in reality a pale imitation of the flagship that spawned it. Behind the ostentatious styling or distinctive fascia, the corners have been cut where they can’t be seen: motors with magnets a fraction of the size, cones that look the same but are in reality constructed from entirely different materials, crossover components that simply aren’t of the same quality. Even the spikes and terminals generally don’t escape the cost-cutting exercise.

All of which makes the Wilson Benesch Square Five an exception that’s so distinct it’s almost perplexing. It may not look like it, but this really is the Cardinal’s kid brother and the DNA is way more than skin deep. Let’s look at the detail, both in terms of the technology and the actual material content.

Each Cardinal houses no fewer than nine drivers (of six distinct types) all built in-house by Wilson Benesch. Although the Tactic II midrange and bass units all share the same basket, the mechanical behavior of each cone is specifically tailored to purpose. The Isotactic polypropylene material used by Wilson Benesch allows them to tune the bandwidth and roll-off of each driver so precisely that, despite the fact that the Square Five is a genuine four-way system, they can actually dispense with conventional, subtractive electrical crossover filters on three of the driver interfaces. The result is a four-way acoustic system that actually presents the driving amplifier with a two-way, first-order network. That’s an extremely clever trick if you can pull it off -- and the Cardinal definitely does.

Twins -- just like Arnie and Danny!

Take one look at the Cardinal’s imposing and statuesque form and it’s hard to see the link to the almost prosaically bluff exterior of the Square Five. It’s called the Square Series for a reason, and its resolutely rectangular appearance is in stark contrast to that of the Cardinal, which hasn’t a flat face or horizontal surface anywhere on its main cabinet. But look at the midrange drivers and you’ll see that the units used in both designs aren’t just similar -- they’re virtually identical. Look around the back of the Square Five cabinet, or underneath, and you’ll see that the less obvious components, the rear-facing ABR that loads the upper-midrange unit and the downward-firing bass driver are also almost indistinguishable from the ones used in the Cardinal. In fact, the Square Five drivers are built to the original Tactic design, while the Tactic IIs in the Cardinal have refined motor assemblies and voice coils that deliver slightly higher sensitivity. In all other respects they are virtually identical.

Look closely at the Square Five’s frontal array and you’ll see that the cone surface of the two midrange drivers flanking the tweeter is actually different. Now, remember what I said about tailoring the response of the drivers and it should become clear that the different weave employed for each allows them to cover different ranges. Although it might look at first glance like a classic d’Appolito configuration, this is actually a combination of lower midrange (placed below the tweeter) and upper midrange (placed above it) in an arrangement developed specifically for the Cardinal and dubbed the Troika System by Wilson Benesch. In the flagship speaker, the provision of a totally separate lower-mid enclosure to help combat intermodulation distortion actually inverts the arrangement, locating the lower-midrange driver above the tweeter, but the single-cabinet arrangement of the Five allows a more conventional positioning. The topology and midrange drivers (as well as the use of the rear-firing ABR) have been imported straight from the flagship speaker and installed in the Square Five, the only substantial difference being the adoption of a modified ScanSpeak tweeter in place of the company’s own Semisphere design. Familiar from the previous C60 and Chimera models, the 25mm (1") fabric-dome tweeter has a modified magnet assembly and no ferrofluid.

Stand the Square Five next to the Cardinal and the other obvious difference in the driver lineup is the low-frequency leg of the system. The Cardinal boasts a pair of very visible forward-firing bass units, drivers that are actually isobarically loaded by a second pair of identical units, all four mounted on a single massive, and massively machined, aluminum sub-baffle. In contrast, the Square Five has no visible bass drivers -- but that’s because they’re pointing downwards. Rather than the paired ‘barics of the Cardinal, the Square Five makes do with a single, downward-firing bass unit, again isobarically loaded by an identical unit, in this instance mounted above it, also firing down. So the Square Five offers half the swept area of the Cardinal’s low-frequency system, but it makes up for that by placing the driver in close proximity to the floor, gaining all the weight and extension benefits of boundary loading

What’s more, the Square Five also mimics the constructional integrity of its big brother. That black block at the base of the speaker is a single lump of aluminum, machined to accept the two bass units as well as the rear outrigger. This doesn’t just ensure the close mechanical coupling of the two drivers, critical to achieving real performance benefits from an isobaric arrangement, it also ensures direct mechanical grounding to the floor, preventing much of the potentially disruptive mechanical energy generated by the bass units from reaching the rest of the cabinet; the bass chamber is vented by a pair of rear-facing reflex ports, rather than the tuned ABR of the Cardinal. So while the physical arrangement of the Square Five’s bass drivers might differ from the Cardinal’s, the basic topology is identical, but in a layout that is more appropriate to the number of drivers available and the materials used for the cabinet.

Aside from the massive aluminum base, the rest of the Square Five cabinet might be far more conventional than the composite sandwich and aluminum extrusions used in the Cardinal, but that doesn’t mean that it’s without its own carefully considered wrinkles. You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out that this is where a lot of the money has been saved. The carcass itself is built from MDF, but it is heavily braced by both the internal baffles that sub-divide the volume into bass, lower-mid and upper-mid chambers, but also by curved strips of composite sandwich, bonded to the interior walls. It is further tuned with large high-and medium-mass alloy damping pads, constrained-layer blocks critically deployed to ameliorate structural resonance. Overall, it’s a thoughtful and carefully executed response to the problems of creating a well-behaved cabinet from MDF. But then that’s pretty much the hallmark of everything that Wilson Benesch do. The basic material might not be mechanically optimum, so just try harder.

As already noted, the crossover also mimics the one in the Cardinal, with exactly the same hybrid acoustic/electrical topology. The in-house-designed and -built terminals are identical, as effective as they are brutal in appearance, and while the spikes aren’t as massive or complex as the ones on the Cardinal, lacking the dedicated coupling discs, multi-ball interface and the massive hand wheels for adjustment, they’re machined to exactly the same tolerances from the same stainless steel, with beautifully profiled tips, massive lock nuts and a spanner to cinch them up. This is one of the few speakers that I’ve had recently where I haven’t felt an immediate need to replace the supplied spikes with the Track Audio equivalents.

Taken overall, the result is a speaker system that, in physical terms, gives away a pair of bass drivers and the in-house tweeter, along with the fancy composite construction of the Cardinal’s cabinet. In numbers terms the result is two-thirds of the height, two-fifths the weight, 3dB less sensitivity and extension to 34Hz as opposed to 25Hz. But then it’s also only a sixth of the price -- which makes it an astonishing achievement for the money. Indeed, if the Square Five were developed from scratch, I hate to think how much it would have cost. But because it can piggyback on the development costs already invested in the Cardinal, the result is, in technological and material terms, really quite incredible. A true example of trickle-down technology, it’s way beyond a bargain; by any normal measure this is an absolute steal.

The ratings game -- because measurements never lie

Then it comes to setup time, the Square Five enjoys several significant advantages over its larger and more illustrious brother. Being smaller and considerably lighter (though still no lightweight) it’s a lot easier to handle and move. It’s also super stable, with its low center of gravity and wide stance. As usual with such devices, the downward-firing bass driver means that you will need to be super precise with positioning when it comes to getting properly integrated and balanced low frequencies; the good news is that the bass itself is super clean -- I suspect that’s partly down to the isobaric arrangement, partly down to the direct mechanical grounding -- so the benefits (or otherwise) of adjustments in location are clearly audible. As a bonus, the flat top and sides make attitudinal positioning an absolute doddle. In my room I ended up with a slight forward rake on the speakers, reflecting the elevated position of the tweeter, while optimum toe-in had their inner faces pointing at my collarbones. Getting the rake angle spot on is crucial with the Square Five. You really need to have the tweeter axis at seated ear height if you are going to realize the full spatial capabilities of the design. The decent bandwidth sets up a large, coherent acoustic and dialing in the tweeter adds focus and transparency, along with added snap to the timing, really locking the (musical) performance together. It’s not a subtle difference, so it’s worth spending time on this.

The horizontally disposed and non-color-coded, biwireable speaker terminals require a little more care than usual to make sure you’ve got things hooked up right, but I’ll forgive that because the biwireable facility offers an important option. Any speaker with sensitivity below 90dB is going to want power. The wider the bandwidth, the more power -- and control -- it’s going to need. At 87dB and with a -3dB point at 35Hz, the Square Five is in danger of wringing out the sort of power amps it’s going to be partnered with, given its approachable price. The good news is that the relatively benign impedance helps out -- a lot -- while the biwireable topology makes this a natural for biamping, a far more effective way of injecting dynamic range and control into a system if you are on a budget. The Square Fives crave power the way an old soak craves his next drink, but two reasonably powerful stereo amps will do the job for far less money than a real behemoth of equal quality.

The other thing you’ll quickly discover (and another thing that goes hand in hand with lower sensitivity) is that the Square Fives are super critical of volume level. Too quiet and a track will sound shut in and lazy, too loud and -- well, actually too loud isn’t a problem if the amplification is up to the job. But each track will have a precise level where it really clicks, and you’ll need to be prepared to adjust the system volume on a disc-by-disc and even track-by-track basis. As much as I loath remote controls, in this case I can see the appeal.

I partnered the Square Fives with a number of different power amps, ranging from a Naim NAP300 to an Aesthetix Atlas Stereo hybrid, and although the latter worked really well, there was no ignoring the step up in performance that arrived with the introduction of the Audionet Amp 1 v2, a 200Wpc stereo MOSFET amplifier that possesses a most un-MOSFET-like degree of grip and musical authority. There’s none of the softness, rounding or bottom-end vagueness that can plague MOSFET designs. Instead, the amp delivers exactly the clean, quick, transparent and dynamic sound that these speakers thrive on. Crisper and clearer than the Aesthetix, what might stray into clinical in some circumstances in this instance simply allowed the speakers to step away from the music. If the Square Five is a steal, it’s going to take an amp like the Audionet to really reveal its qualities; together they make quite a team -- which perhaps isn’t such a surprise given that Wilson Benesch distribute the Audionet electronics in the UK.

"Hush-hush and strictly on the QT"

Of course, the real question is not how much of the Cardinal’s technological DNA has found its way into the Square Five, but to what degree the flagship speaker’s considerable sonic attributes are reflected in the more affordable product. If the feature count is remarkable, the sonic similarities are even more so. Once again, stand a Square Five next to the Cardinal and you are hardly going to confuse the two, visually or sonically, but separate them from direct comparison and it really is quite uncanny just how similar the two speakers sound.

First things first. What’s missing from the Square Five that you get with the Cardinal? In essence it comes down to two things -- bandwidth and immediacy. The bigger (and far more expensive) speaker goes deeper at the bottom and higher at the top. It also has a responsiveness to input that gives it a more obvious sense of presence, a quality that makes it more accommodating of different amplifiers than the Square Five. The result is a low-frequency performance that breathes with an effortless clarity (doubtless helped by the sophisticated cabinet design) and a natural, unexaggerated air and space that are testament to the quality of the in-house Semisphere tweeter. It’s this easy, unforced and expansive coherence that makes the Cardinal so special.

Having listed what the Square Five lacks relative to its bigger, shinier and far more fancy brother, let’s now consider what it shares -- a list that is long and impressive.

Given that you’ll need to be picky with amplification and assuming that you choose an appropriate partner, what should you expect? The big thing here is the overall coherence and almost physical integrity of the sound. The Square Five sets up a substantial soundstage that is wide, deep and tall -- but more than that, it’s spatially convincing. You don’t sit in front of this speaker and marvel at the image, the transparency or the intra-instrumental space; you sit in front of it and marvel at the sense of performance. Dismantle the soundstage into its constituent parts and you’ll find it’s all present and correct. It’s just devoid of that hyped, spot-lit exaggeration that typifies speakers that "really image." Instead, the musical presentation is based on the absolute continuity and coherence across the speaker’s bandwidth. There are no obvious breaks or transitions between drivers, either tonally or in terms of dynamic response or dispersion. Those cues that normally betray crossover points or subtractive elements used to smooth a speaker’s response are absent here -- along with the crossover elements that cause them. The ability to tailor the driver roll-offs so precisely, along with the consistency of material used across all of the cone drivers in the speaker (and thus the majority of the musically important range) delivers a degree of continuity that would be worthy of comment in any speaker, let alone one as apparently complex yet affordable as this one.

It is the ability to shape each driver’s response with such precision, to fit it so precisely to purpose, that makes the Square Five possible. The result is not just tonally even and dynamically coherent; absent the discontinuities in harmonic color and musical energy that mar so many loudspeakers, the Square Fives achieve a level of musical expression and communication that belies their price and their prosaic, no-nonsense appearance. As plain and simple as this speaker looks, its musical abilities are anything but. Instead it brings a sophistication, nuance and substance to the musical event that makes for both instant engagement and long-term satisfaction.

The tumbling guitar riffs that cascade across the Cure’s "Push" (from The Head On The Door CD [Fiction 964 001-6]) have a substance, momentum and unstoppable, almost gravitational energy that sees them plummet across the soundstage, a sonic Niagra in front of those solid, solid drums. They may not make a case for the speaker’s subtlety, but they’ll pin you to the seat with sheer musical intent. For the gentler end of the artistic palette, look no further than Willie Nelson’s CD To All The Girls [Sony Legacy 887 65425862]. Eighteen duets, each with a different partner, it certainly tests a speaker’s ability to distinguish both individual voices and their expressive range. The Square Five easily identifies and separates the vocal style and characteristics of familiar voices like Carrie Underwood and Shelby Lynne, Alison Krauss and Dolly Parton. It also leaves you in doubt as to the sheer class and enduring elegance of Emmylou Harris. In what amounts to an album of musical mug shots, there’s no problem identifying the singers that stand head and shoulders above the rest -- and those who (despite their audiophile fan base) are found wanting. But the really impressive thing is the way the speakers step away from the process, neither imposing their thumbprint on the signal nor intruding on the parade. The musical performances are front and center -- you don’t even notice how they got there.

The RPO’s performance of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony with Marc Ermler wielding the baton [Centurion SACD 222802-203] is more measured than sprightly, although not without its charms, one of which is a broad, stable and clearly defined soundstage. The Square Fives deliver that dimensionality with impressive clarity and a stability that maintains instrumental separation even through the short "Storm" section. It’s a recording that demands both spatial and dynamic coherence and one that also demonstrates the Square Five's particular perspective. This speaker sets the stage slightly higher than some (a function of the Troika topology?) behind and totally separate from the cabinets themselves. But what’s really impressive is the way that the drums and double basses are perfectly placed and integrated with the rest of the orchestra, despite the distance between the lower-midrange driver and the bass drivers firing through its bottom. What experience suggests might be a problem is, on the contrary, one of the speaker’s strengths. Soundstages are projected free of the plane of the speakers, the music coming from the space around and behind them rather than being anchored to the cabinets. Shut your eyes and these speakers do disappear, not just visually but sonically as well.

Last action hero -- they do big and they do clever

Does that sense of physical coherence and structural integrity come with a cost in terms of agility? Whilst the Square Five will never compete in terms of sheer immediacy with a far more efficient speaker like the Living Voice Avatar IBX-RW, it delivers more in terms of acoustic presence, scale and spatial coherence, stepping back to a more midhall balance and perspective. No, you won’t "hear" the rosin spraying from the bow, but that’s not to say that the speaker lacks expressive intent, the ability to jump when it has to. Just play Gli Incogniti’s impressively lively and vivacious small-group recording of Vivaldi concerti [Zig Zag ZZT080803] to experience just how quickly these speakers can change gear when called upon to do so. Their stability brings weight and meaning to the more measured passages, but as the score speeds up and the players respond, there’s no sense of inhibition or lag -- and no lack of bite or energy either. Side-by-side comparison with a quicker, more efficient speaker may show the Square Five’s limitations, but short of such direct intervention, I seriously doubt you’ll be troubled by any shortcomings. There’s a completeness and balance to the performance -- both of the speaker and the musicians -- that has the happy knack of leaving you satisfied.

While it’s hard to fault Hilary Hahn’s technique, poise and virtuosity, her instrumental voice, when compared to the likes of a Janine Jansen, is undeniably small. It can ill afford any further thinning or shrinkage of the sort that so many recordings, systems and speakers apply, in search of that elusive impression of greater clarity or definition. As each stage in the process applies what it considers a deft or subtle trimming of the sound, the gross effect becomes all too obvious, emasculating instruments of tonal body, depth and identity. Listening to Hahn playing the Higdon Violin Concerto (with Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic [DGG 477 8777]) through the Square Fives is a revelation. What I had down as a typically thin modern recording is suddenly reinstated. The woman is no Heifetz when it comes to power and intensity, no Issac Stern when it comes to the richness of her tone, but the Wilson Benesch speakers deliver every last ounce of the energy and body she squeezes from her instrument -- and they do it without impeding her sheer agility and dexterity. Nor do they impede Petrenko’s authoritative instrumental contrasts and dramatic dynamic swings. The sheer orchestral weight and power generated from such comparatively compact cabinets is as surprising as it is impressive. As a result, this first-ever recording of the Higdon reveals quite a different work to the one I thought it was: fuller of color, broader of palette than I’d suspected, at once thoughtful yet exhilarating.

The coupling on this disc (the Tchaikovsky D Major Violin Concerto) also serves to underline the fact that the bass integration so apparent on the Beethoven extends into the temporal as well as the spatial domain. Hahn’s performance of the Tchaikovsky sensibly avoids any overly romantic flourishes, leaving those to Petrenko and the orchestra. Instead she thrives on the contrast between her solo instrument and the orchestra, working with tempo as well as intensity, an opportunity offered by the use of the original, uncut score. The longer violin passages allow her to stretch out the time signatures, transitioning from a restrained, measured tread to the helter-skelter sprays of notes with which we are all so familiar. It makes for a very different reading of a work in which I thought I knew every nook and cranny. The contrast within the pace of the solo parts creates a far more thoughtful and nuanced piece, the Square Fives mastering the change from fast to slow with grace and confidence that reassure you that the hesitations and almost pauses in those slower passages really are meant to be there. The slower phrases are slow enough to give you pause, yet the switch to lightning-fast occurs without hesitation and almost without warning. Hahn plays the slower parts that much slower, the faster sections with such attack and agility that in places the tempi stray far enough from the norm (and your subconscious expectations) that any failure to track and balance them precisely will rob the music of all shape or forward momentum. But just as the Cure are projected with enough energy to propel the listener straight over a cliff, the Tchaikovsky never, ever falters, the combination of Hahn’s poise and Petrenko’s control establishing a natural sense of flow and musical line. It’s this ability to make present the core, to encompass the rhythm and soul of the music, that makes this speaker so special and so rewarding -- whether that core is all about restraint and delicacy, or sheer, unbridled enthusiasm.

Having spent so long lauding the capabilities and flexibility of the Tactic drivers -- and then describing their not-inconsiderable and collective impact on the Square Five's musical performance, it’s tempting to throw a few sidelong glances in the direction of that "rather ordinary" ScanSpeak tweeter. After all, those corners have to be cut somewhere, no? Except that not only do Wilson Benesch have considerable experience with this unit, that experience was gained in the C60 (amongst other models), one of the company’s most popular products. Despite the plethora of exotic dome materials now available, as well as the recent reemergence of ribbon designs, soft domes still have plenty to offer. A few years back it seemed like you were nobody if you weren’t using a diamond or beryllium tweeter, but now the silk dome is back, carving its own niche (once again) as designers rediscover its merits. In fairness, the ScanSpeak unit doesn’t have the air or textural qualities that the Semisphere used in the Cardinal possesses, but it’s no slouch, and even if it does gloss over some of the finer shadings and upper-instrumental harmonics, it more than makes up for that by integrating so seamlessly with the upper-midrange driver, settling back comfortably into the speaker’s midhall perspective.

True lies -- the ones we should stop telling ourselves

You will hear what the Square Five doesn’t do when referenced against the six-times the price Cardinal, but you not only won’t be aware of the shortfall, you won’t miss it either. Not missing what you don’t notice might seem obvious, but it is remarkable how the editorial aspects of system performance (sins of omission as opposed to commission) can become subliminally intrusive, unsettling the listener without his ever quite understanding why. The wholesome solidity and substance, the coherence and integrity of the Square Five is a refreshing change to the pared-away, almost skeletal sound of some modern speakers. It keeps things present and sufficiently correct that you’ll spend far more time enjoying what is there rather than what isn’t. Yes, in an ideal world, I’d like that little bit of extra air, I’d like extension down to 20Hz, and I’d love to sit that little bit closer to the stage -- but then in that ideal world I’d be able to afford the Cardinal and house it too.

In the real world, the Square Five represents an astonishingly accomplished achievement and satisfying balance of virtues. As with any speaker, its performance will depend on the system context and the driving amplifier. The latter will need to be chosen with care, although it need not be especially expensive, at least in the context of the speakers. This is not one of those products that is affordable to own but extortionate to actually use (various Apogee speakers spring to mind), and it really does deliver the sort of complete musical performance that we’ve only come to expect from far more expensive speakers and systems.

One way of describing the Square Five is as a speaker that has enough. It has enough bandwidth, enough weight, enough dynamic range and is neutral enough to be really convincing. It’s an accurate but far from flattering observation -- because what we crave is excellence. Enough sounds distinctly second best. But in practice what makes the Square Five so successful, so enjoyable, so engaging and so satisfying is not just what it does but the way it does it. It’s not about the dynamic range or integration, the bandwidth or the tonal palette, the rhythmic integrity or the spatial coherence -- it’s about all of those things in combination. Nearly all loudspeakers have that thing they do, that special thing, that thing that sets them apart. In some respects the same can be said of the Wilson Benesch Square Five -- except that its thing is integration -- the way it binds everything else into a single, natural, unexaggerated whole. It’s the antithesis of "look at me" spectacular. It makes the speaker understated and unintrusive. In fact, it’s exactly what makes the speaker so impressive. By stepping back it pushes the music forward to such an extent that you really don’t notice the speakers’ contribution. It makes it a purchase for the long haul, a speaker for music lovers rather than equipment geeks, a product to live with long-term rather than one for a brief affair.

I’m not saying that one listen and you’ll fall in love; it’s more like one listen and you’ll feel like you’ve just come home -- and there’re not many speakers about which you can say that, irrespective of price.
………..Roy Gregory

Hole Shaped World... Craig Milnes of Wilson Benesch talks Torus with Roy Gregory
Roy Gregory

SUMMARY: the Trinity is all about point-source information. When we sell speakers to people we tell them that all our models sound the same – except for the bass. It’s the bass that takes the most effort and is most difficult to extend and improve. We love the (simple, two-way) Arc, and in a design like that you get a lot of music for your money. But for a company that’s about creating sound-scapes and enhancing the sense of “being there”, adding the Torus can create exceptional, spatial reproduction and some of the most realistic sound you’ll ever hear 

EXTENDED REVIEW: The Wilson Benesch Torus marked something of a departure for both the company and sub-woofer design in general. It’s striking, drum-shaped structure and full diameter cone make for a dramatic appearance that only hints at just how different this product really is. Rather than trying to explain the thinking and technology behind the innovative unit, why not let the designer deliver that information direct from the horse’s mouth, so to speak? 

RG. How would you describe the Torus and its operation to somebody who has never seen it before?

CM. Imagine it as a kick drum with a motor either side of the skin. Only the skin isn’t flat; it’s shaped into a cone to deal with the compressive forces that result from the sealed enclosure. So essentially, think of it as a conventional driver, but with two motors, one either side of the diaphragm. Secondly, the energy generated in those motors travels straight to ground, not through the outer enclosure – a key element of the design and what makes it so different.

RG. So it’s almost like an inversion or internalisation of the force cancelling rods that people use between pairs of opposed drivers?

CM. It both internalises it and divorces it from the enclosure. If you take a conventional driver, it is supported by – it depends on – the external enclosure for its structural system. So, if that structure is intrinsically incapable of dealing with the huge energies that are pumped into it – and the low frequency information produced by sub-woofers passes through concrete walls with ease – if you have an MDF cabinet trying to deal with that it simply becomes a vibrant part of the whole system. Rather than a solution it simply becomes an extension of the diaphragm itself. It’s simply impossible for those materials to deal with that kind of energy. 

RG. What is the actual structure of the Torus cabinet? 

CM. It’s laminated MDF with an internal steel structure to reinforce it. 

RG. So, even though you are evacuating most of the mechanical energy directly from the driver, the cabinet itself is still extremely rigid? 

CM. That’s because it has to constrain the considerable air-pressure behind the diaphragm. It has no other function, but being a cylinder it can handle those stresses relatively easily – although it is still a significant structure in and of itself. 

RG. What was the thinking behind, the process that led to the unique structure of the Torus and its use of a separate controller and amp module?

CM. Well, the concept for the drive unit goes all the way back to the first driver we ever developed, the Tactic, because that was based around the idea of creating an isobaric arrangement. When we tried to extend the bottom end of the ACT One by using a 10” driver, everything that was good about the speaker was immediately destroyed. It wasn’t until we employed isobaric loading that the bass had the same speed as the midrange and we got back the things that were good about the system again. So that realisation set the company on a course that was different to what everybody else seemed to be doing. We were saying that you couldn’t generate low frequencies that were dynamically matched to the mid-band by using a large diaphragm, because the mechanical and dynamic behaviour of a big diaphragm is simply so different. Of course, as soon as you take that position you define an avenue that as far as a sub-woofer is concerned, is really hard to resolve. You could use a lot of isobaric elements, and I suppose that might be a solution, but it wouldn’t be simple and it would be very expensive. With a minimum of eight drivers and the cost, reliability and matching problems that go with that, it’s a complete non-starter.

So the solution started with the isobaric configuration, with its two motors, but trying to accelerate and decelerate one diaphragm rather than two was the thinking behind it. At first it appeared totally impossible. If you think about drive units, the biggest problem is the tolerances and consistency of the coil and the very narrow gap in which it operates. So how can you get two coils and two motors in perfect alignment? That was the apparent stumbling block. But in reality, when you machine the parts accurately, alignment becomes axiomatic. It happens by virtue of the way the thing is built…

RG. Around a single axis… 

CM. Yes. But it wasn’t possible to look into this without significant funding, so we got our second SMART Funding research grant, which allowed around £115,000 worth of funding to develop it. We had to match that investment, so you’re talking about a considerable cost in R&D. It took three years to really get to grips with the concept of what we were trying to achieve. Once you get started and you consider the accuracy required, that defines other things; so it became obvious for instance that the amplifier should be external, amongst other things in the design that are also quite different. 

RG. Once you are working around a single axis, pretty soon you run out of places to put an amplifier. 

CM. Well, there’s nowhere to put it if you are working on a circular cabinet. But it was obvious to us anyway that you just do not put an amplifier or electronics in such an aggressive environment. 

RG. Do you think that the fact that so many people do exactly that reflects a feeling that because it’s “only” bass, quality and subtlety just don’t matter? 

CM. I think that’s probably true in the case of cinema systems, where people are less inclined to be so obsessed with timbre or quality of reproduction. They’re looking for something more visceral. But in actual fact, the dynamics of the Torus are faster and more controlled, so you don’t have the same need to blast or reinforce the edge that you’re looking for. It’s easier to hear.

RG. So, you are getting quality of another kind, because of the speed of the driver? It’s offering texture and micro-dynamic detail that simply escapes more conventional systems… 

CM. That’s been the biggest learning curve; the things that have happened with this product after its development. We’ve found a whole range of new people interested in its performance possibilities; people with electrostatics for instance – or horns – I would say are a major part of the customer base that’s invested in this product, because of their need for speed, their desire to have something extremely fast and three dimensional to match their loudspeakers. Conventional subwoofers actually undermine and destroy the quality that attracted them to their loudspeakers in the first place. That’s the kind of customer that we really didn’t anticipate. 

RG. What has the Torus taught you as a speaker designer? 

CM. Well it gave birth to the Trinity, a speaker with extension way out beyond 20kHz – to around 100kHz in fact. It defined the idea that the way forward for our company wasn’t to just design bigger and more expensive loudspeakers, but to produce products that could add to existing systems, ours or other peoples’, and make quite a considerable difference. The Torus is not an inexpensive product, but in a realm where loudspeaker prices reach hundreds of thousands of pounds and you are offering something that’s never been achieved before, it’s also far from expensive. With the Torus, it’s not the frequencies it produces but the way it affects the main loudspeakers that is the most enchanting thing about the design. You hear the chest and body of the singer, rather than just the voice. It’s the way it creates a far more physical and three dimensional soundstage. 

RG. The way it fleshes out the midrange? 

CM. Everything is just so much more natural; exactly what high-end audio should be about – the illusion of recreating the sound from the original event. 

RG. When you move to a much wider bandwidth system, as long as it’s working then one of the things that always strikes me is how much more musically coherent it is in terms of the point and pace at which discrete events occur. 

CM. Yes, the Trinity is all about point-source information. When we sell speakers to people we tell them that all our models sound the same – except for the bass. It’s the bass that takes the most effort and is most difficult to extend and improve. We love the (simple, two-way) Arc, and in a design like that you get a lot of music for your money. But for a company that’s about creating sound-scapes and enhancing the sense of “being there”, adding the Torus can create exceptional, spatial reproduction and some of the most realistic sound you’ll ever hear – without making you change your speakers or power amp. 

RG. Is there a line-level output from the Torus controller, allowing you to use a different amp for instance? 

CM. No. No there isn’t. There are line and high-level inputs but no line-output. In terms of actual control, it allows you to set the Torus’s upper roll-off between 20Hz and 120Hz, and its lower roll-off below 35Hz in 5Hz increments. This actually allows you to use a pair of Torus either as a two stereo units, or to stack their outputs, running one from say, 45Hz down to 29Hz, and then the other below that, allowing you to drive the two modes that most rooms exhibit. It makes them more versatile in difficult situations. 

RG. Is there a high-pass output from the controller? 

CM. No. You always run the main speakers full-range and roll the Torus up underneath them. I think it’s now generally accepted that that gives the best results. If you look at the Trinity, there’s no crossover on its main driver and so no phase shift, making it much easier to achieve the top-to-bottom coherence we were talking about earlier, making the results that much more dramatic. Likewise, the Sphere (supertweeter). The Trinity is a design that demonstrates our views on wide bandwidth, the way it improves dynamics and speed. 

RG. How critical is the Torus of precise positioning? 

CM. It is quite remarkable how sensitive it is to position – but that doesn’t mean that it’s hard to place. The best position is always centrally between the speakers and the same distance as they are from the listener. Move it back even a couple of feet and the effect on coherence is immediately obvious.
……. Craig Milnes - Wilson Benesch and Roy Gregory - HiFi+

WILSON BENESCH COMPANY INTRODUCTION

Wilson Benesch is a British hi-fi manufacturer with a difference, setting great store by the processes used to make its unique products, says David Price

This might sound a little simplistic, but it’s not so wide of the mark. There are two ways to survive in the audio industry – an easy one and a not-so-easy one... 

The former is simple; catch on quickly to what customers appear to want and give it to them fast. Don’t obsess on the quality, it’s all about the feature count. And fancy adverts and sharp-suited PRs don’t come cheap, so best save a few bob on making the kit in the most inexpensive way possible. Follow the fashion of the moment and the audio market is there for the taking – or so the theory goes! 

The latter is a tad more tricky. Indeed it’s not recommended for those after instant returns on their investment. Design things that are intrinsically right, build them beautifully and trust that discerning people want to buy them. It’s a tough and tortuous path to take, one with many twists and turns. I think you can guess which path Wilson Benesch chose... 

Established in 1989, there are two Directors, Craig Milnes, Design Director and Christina Milnes, Managing Director. A true family affair, son Luke Milnes now works as Marketing Manager. Along with fifteen designers, CAD Engineers, Machine Technicians and Speaker Technicians (many of whom have been at the company for most of its 23 year history), the other vital ingredient is the city that the company chooses for its home. As the saying goes, you can take Wilson Benesch products out of Sheffield, but you can’t take Sheffield out of Wilson Benesch!

“It’s a world leading centre of excellence in materials technology, with manufacturing T expertise and a skills base that dates back to the first days of the Industrial revolution”, says Christina. “By way of example, today, Rolls Royce, large sectors of the nuclear industry and Boeing Aerospace have major Research Centres here. It’s a major university city, with excellent locally trained staff and collaborations under the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the Universities.” Craig is a little less expansive, “WB is made in Sheffield and belongs here”, he intones.

Along with the city, the other key constituent of Wilson Benesch’s unique DNA is research and development. Some hi-fi companies make do with a man in a box room with a screwdriver, hacksaw and a bit of four by two. Not so here, though. The company has invested vast sums in researching different ways to do things, and different materials to do them with. Indeed Wilson Benesch’s whole story is dominated by its work with novel, often exotic materials.

For example, back in 1990, the first Wilson Benesch turntable sported what’s said to be the world’s first advanced composite carbon fibre chassis. When most rivals were using pressed steel or plain wood, WB used an ultra-light material that didn’t store energy, had controllable resonances and was super-strong. Craig Milnes, a qualified engineer who then studied fine art, knew this all too well. 

“Much like a musical instrument we proved that whatever the material was that was selected to make the record player, it would be heard. To reduce this noise or distortion to its lowest level our work pointed to the need for low mass and high stiffness. On paper there was no option but to find out more about carbon fibre”, he told me

“In retrospect it all seems obvious and we are still astonished that no one else had done anything in this field. Low-mass and high stiffness equals the highest first resonant frequency; add to that a plethora of other benefits like massive levels of self-damping and the ability to control the direction of energy flow through the material, and you are in a different world of opportunities that transforms the way you design. We are now living in the age of advanced composites and they are going to transform every product on the planet.”

Given the suitability of carbon composites for front ends, it logically followed they’d be ideal for loudspeakers too. So what followed next, 1994’s A.C.T. One loudspeaker, used ‘Advanced Composite Technology’.

Indeed, its development was part funded by HM Government’s Department of Trade and Industry, as had been the turntable and tonearm. Around a year of work from “numerous engineers from a wide variety of technologies including advanced composites engineering and acoustic design”, yielded serious results. Although not so unusual looking now (a testament to its futuristic design), it was the first speaker to use a sloping top to reduce room interactions, as well as being the first to exploit a curved advanced composite structure based upon carbon fibre. 

“Aesthetics is an important engineering concern because if it doesn’t look right, it usually isn’t right,” said Craig. “The curve is simple geometry that imparts benefits to all structures, but especially ones made in advanced carbon composites. It is incredibly important in acoustics, of course, and we have avoided flat panels in our high-end designs from day one”, he adds.

Curve form 

This set the blueprint for a range of loudspeakers that continues to this day, along with the bespoke drive units that they house. In 1999, WB applied for SMART funding to develop a new driver; one of the reasons they succeeded in their application was their investment in manufacturing

“It’s impossible to get anyone to make these kind of components at a commercially viable price, which is why you don’t see carbon fibre systems everywhere. The process sees design as the left hand and manufacture as the right; only when the two work together do you function optimally”, says Craig.

Christina adds that it’s, “all about being in control... quality, consistency, lead times, material costs, everything is constantly under scrutiny. Having this degree of control allows us to deliver something that is unique and represents outstanding value for money”.

A two year, £250,000 programme resulted in the Tactic drive unit, born out of the need to create a “multi-role” driver that could be used both as a midrange drive unit, a bass unit and/ or part of an clamshell Isobaric bass array. It sported a special Isotactic Polypropylene cone material, developed with physicist Professor Ian Ward of Leeds University. This new driver quickly started appearing in a range of loudspeakers, such 1999’s Actor and Orator which used more affordable MDF in an innovative way, introducing curved cabinets. Meanwhile the Bishop speaker used an array of four Tactic drivers in Isobaric formation. 

The A.C.T. Two that followed used the company’s own drivers in the One’s striking cabinet architecture. Soon after, the Discovery brought the driver in Isobaric form to a compact stand mounting chassis. 2002’s Arc was smaller still, while the A.C.T. abandoned MDF for steel and carbon fibre to produce a large floorstander of striking style and sonics. Wilson Benesch were on a run, and the curve form later that year brought the company up to its modern idiom, with a single curved carbon fibre monocoque; this was until then the stuff of science fiction, only otherwise seen on F1 racing car tubs

Exotic Arcs 

A new turntable arrived in 1999. Despite an apparently declining market for vinyl LPs, the company proved its commitment to the format with simple but elegant engineering in the Circle. The new A.C.T. 0.5 tonearm offered a more affordable pick-up arm package and the Ply brought carbon fibre to moving coil cartridges for the first time; all together the package was known as Full Circle

In 2005 WB began working on its next, second loudspeaker drive unit. What was to become the Torus subwoofer in 2006, used a complex carbon Polyethylene Tetrafluoride technology capable of supporting one hundred thousand of times its own mass, it is claimed. The carbon was woven exclusively for Wilson Benesch to achieve the complex curve with fibre direction naturally orientated exactly according to stress lines. 

It  presaged  another  burst  of  activity  on  loudspeakers,  which  brought  the  Square  series.  Ironically,  the  exotic  arcs  of  Wilson  Benesch  loudspeaker  cabinets,  along  with  those  expensive  materials  and  construction  methods,  alienated  a  number  of  potential  purchasers  in  some  of  the  world’s  more  conservative  loudspeaker  markets. 

For this reason, 2007’s Square speakers attempted to give the super-clear, low coloration sound the company was famous for, but in a more conventional package. “It was a major design challenge,” confesses Craig. “We went back to basics and accepted the limits that rectilinear geometry and traditional materials impose, but addressed problems in new ways as in the case of the energy absorber on the rear of the cabinet. We also applied engineering concepts to the internal walls; critical damping courtesy of visco elastically bonded metal damping pads of various mass.” 

The  company  invested  in  new  CNC  machines  and  a  new  technology  called  Resin  Transfer  Mould  Technology.  For  this,  WB  turned  to  an  enigmatic  organisation  called  SCEPTRE  which was  set  up  during  World  War  2  to  do  applied  research  into  advanced  technologies.  Wilson  Benesch  was  the  fourth  company  in  the  UK  to  invest  in  this  new  manufacturing  technology.  The  other  three  were  the  Ministry  of  Defence,  McLaren  and  Lotus  cars.  Wilson  Benesch  has  spent  the  last  twelve  years  developing  this,  and  now  claims  to  be  one  of  the  best  in  the  world.  

Having developed its own low bass and mid/bass drive units, it made sense for the company to fashion its own tweeter. Trouble was, the Scanspeak item used would prove hard to replace. In 2011, WB came up with the Semisphere. Craig says that the Scan designs had moved away from the sound that the company had always liked. “We accelerated our developments, and arrived at an elegant solution, which is a hybrid with some characteristics of a hard dome and some of a soft dome tweeter”

In 2008, the arrestingly beautiful Nanotube one tonearm arrived, using carbon fibre Nanotubes whose hollow cylinders of atoms are 50,000 times thinner than a human hair; they are said to have unique structural, electrical and chemical properties. An upgrade to the Tactic drive unit appeared soon after, offering stronger rare earth magnets for a sensitivity increase of 3dB. 

The Geometry Series of 2011 (the Vertex stand mounter and Vector floorstander) uses no internal bracing, which makes for a greater internal volume than would otherwise be available. It’s only been possible due to the company’s super-stiff monocoque structure and materials. With the new Tactic II mid/ bass driver and Semisphere, it’s the purest expression of the Wilson Benesch art. 

The new flagship Cardinal loudspeaker launched later this year (2018), will be Wilson Benesch’s most important product to date. It employs “ground breaking, patent applied for technologies”, Craig says. Signature carbon fibre structures will contrast with 30kg sections of several alloys, and the Isobaric concept will see a further incarnation “but like nothing anyone has seen before”, he adds.

Every Wilson Benesch product I’ve heard presents music with startling clarity. It comes at you with blistering speed from a velvety-black backdrop. Dynamics are incredible and the detailing always surprises and delights. Now, having visited the company, met the people and taken a closer look at the materials and processes used, I can see why. 

HOMEWARD BOUND

Sheffield feels quite different to other great English cities. Partly because of its dramatic location, within the valleys of the river Don and its four tributaries, and partly because it’s imbued with a profound sense of history. Famous for being the world centre of steel production in the 19th century, it still maintains a fondness for industry which simply passes by many other English cities. It’s a suitably atmospheric background for the Wilson Benesch manufacturing facility

Previously the headquarters of Bachelors Foods, the red brick factory building is a strange mix of faded Industrial Revolution-era glory and ultra high technology – thanks to the manufacturing processes that go on inside, including state-of-the-art CNC machines, an RTM carbon composite suite and the latest computer aided design systems. Every component is manufactured using high precision tooling and advanced moulding

Tonal and temporal coherence are its strengths, its holistic, seamless presentation in some ways more akin to an electrostatic, but a ‘stat with bass and balls.
Roy Gregory

SUMMARY: This is clarity that comes from the effortless ability to let you hear both the length of a note and its natural decay without being swamped or smeared by the next note. It lets you appreciate a singer’s diction, the way he or she shapes a note, as well as the way a player shapes a phrase.t’s all about the whole, and the Semispere’s balance of virtues matches the rest of the Resolution’s drivers, creating a whole rather than a kit of parts, helping to re-create a whole when it comes to recordings. In many ways, it’s the same story -- one of seamless integration, dynamic and tonal coherence -- at the bottom end.....  The result is crisp leading edges, excellent pitch definition and wonderfully natural texture and decay.

I’s the Resolution that is clearer of pitch and timbre, pluck and release, revealing the transition from basses to cellos and the musical progression through the strings. This deft touch and timbral subtlety are what make the Resolution special and what really define its musical character and overall presentation.

It sets up a soundstage and establishes performers that are stable and utterly independent of the speaker enclosures. There are no steps or discontinuities to betray the process, an almost total absence of the usual masking effects that obstruct and obscure, nothing to distract from the music itself. the choice to trade obvious impact for beguiling subtlety is addictively effective when it comes to long-term listening and musical pleasure. No speaker is all things to all people, but in a market that seems increasingly divided and polemic, the Resolution sits astride the middle ground, confidently answering many of the musical questions that other speakers ignore or quietly gloss over.

EXTENDED REVIEW: There’s an argument that says naming a speaker Resolution is just asking for trouble. The word itself is becoming increasingly value-laden in the internecine world of audio commentary, often associated with or used to describe an ultra-detailed, etched, dry, over-damped sound that repels as many listeners as it attracts. That makes such a name a double whammy, with one group of potential customers dismissing it out of hand and others hearing it with certain expectations, and if those expectations aren’t met, they’ll dismiss it too. Of course, there’s always the counterargument, the one that asks what it is you are trying to resolve: detail or information, substance or sensibility? But that’s way too esoteric to play en masse. Then there are the other meanings for the word, suggestive of completion or intent, but they aren’t exactly top of mind in the audio community, merely adding further possible confusion to the name. Such nebulous, semantic distinctions might seem irrelevant, but if bright is a word that sends shudders down the spines of speaker manufacturers and customers alike, it’s getting so that resolution is not far behind. 

Except that the Wilson Benesch speaker isn’t named Resolution in an effort to describe its audio performance or musical aims. So, you may well ask, why call it Resolution at all? To honour a ship is the rather unexpected answer -- but not just any ship. HMS Resolution was the last (and most renowned) ship commanded by the explorer and cartographer Captain James Cook, the man who discovered Australia, mapped New Zealand and debunked the existence of a vast, Southern continent, amongst other things. Born in Yorkshire, where Wilson Benesch is based, he’s something of a hero to the company’s chief engineer, Craig Milnes. Is it too fanciful to suggest parallels between Cook’s spirit of adventure or journeys into the unknown and Wilson Benesch’s quest for new materials and technologies? Possibly, but there’s no escaping the fact that Wilson Benesch has consistently introduced innovative materials and manufacturing techniques throughout its thirty-year history, surmounting significant challenges and incurring considerable financial risk, if not the threat to life and limb that eventually did for Cook, whose other ships included the Discovery and Endeavour. A quick glance at the Wilson Benesch product line and you can see the theme although, while I could envisage products named Adventure and possibly Eagle, Pembroke is way too Tannoy and Grenville is just wrong. I guess that’s why the Cardinal got the name it did.

Mention of the flagship model is apposite and not just because the Cardinal established the technological palette and aesthetic stamp from which the Resolution is drawn. In fact, many listeners hearing the Resolution for the first time have thought they were sitting in front of the Cardinal. Short of standing the two speakers side by side, or counting the drivers, they are all but indistinguishable at a quick glance to untrained eyes. It’s a similarity that goes way more than skin deep.

The Resolution’s drivers employ the same materials and technology (isotactic polypropylene cones, silk domes and neodymium magnets) and are, in several cases, identical to those used in the Cardinal. The split aluminum baffle, deep spine and composite sandwich sides that constitute the cabinet more than just echo the flagship’s external construction, while the overall topology and hallmark Troika midrange/treble array are again all but identical. In every important material and technological respect, Resolution can be considered son of Cardinal -- except that’s a concept that involves its own semantic contradictions, even if the reality all too often gives the lie to theory. Besides which, each speaker also possesses its own distinct character and characteristics.

Where does the Resolution differ? It’s shorter and shallower, with a simple four-way topology, the bass end provided by four Tactic 2 drivers mounted in close-coupled isobaric pairs -- hence the visible baskets facing the listener. It also offers prettier proportions than the top-heavy, slightly overbearing looks of the flagship. The more elegant top cap, combined with its more compact dimensions, makes this the most attractive and most easily accommodated large floorstanding system that Wilson Benesch has ever offered. There are those who frown at the exposed baskets on the bass drivers, but as baskets go, these are beautifully finished, and the exposed-engineering aspect of the design doesn’t offend me. Curved and perforated grilles are supplied as standard, but these should be removed for serious listening, as their sonic impact is all too audible. Thankfully, the three-point fixings are a cinch to use.

Other than that, everything else about the Resolution is, er, resolutely familiar, from the three-point speaker base, with its massive spikes and adjuster wheels, to the multiple input sockets on the rear spine. There are four sets of Wilson Benesch’s in-house binding posts (count ‘em), although they only allow bi-wiring. You select one pair from the three lower sets depending on REPRODUCED FROM theaudiobeat.com REPRODUCED FROM theaudiobeat.com whether you want full bass output, a 2dB cut or a 3dB cut, an arrangement that recognises the fact that the Resolution might well find its way into smaller rooms. I’d really love to see those terminals color-coded and/or labeled, but for most people, hooking the speakers up is a one-time proposition rather than the regular go round of the reviewing cycle, so the black-on-black moulded designators will be less of an issue. Just trust me -- a decent penlight is essential.

One other welcome change is to the spikes themselves, which can now be specified with either the standard ball ends (along with the large-diameter footers, topped with three captive balls to ensure stable angular contact on a hard floor) used by Wilson Benesch since time immemorial, or with actual spiked tips for penetrating carpets. In addition, the front spike is now slightly longer and with a much deeper well to screw into, allowing greater adjustment of rake angle, particularly when it comes to tilting the speaker forward, which is a good thing, given its proportions and the height of the tweeter. There’s also now a locking ring for the front spike, although that wasn’t available as I was writing the review

Put all this together and what you have is a surprisingly compact speaker system (at least in visual terms), standing 159cm (or 62.6”) tall and weighing in at a reassuringly substantial 95kg (211 pounds), a pretty remarkable figure considering that so much of the cabinet is constructed from lightweight composite mouldings. Wilson Benesch quote -3dB figures of 30Hz and 30kHz, 90dB sensitivity and a 6-ohm nominal load with a 3-ohm minimum, all of which looks like pretty standard stuff.

What those specs don’t reveal is the minimal crossover employed for the Resolution. It might not be quite as elegant as the purely mechanical roll-offs employed on multiple legs of the Cardinal, but the excellent out-of-band behaviour of the sophisticated polypropylene cones means that simple first-order filters can be used for all but the tweeter, which gets a second-order instead. That makes for a phase-coherent crossover as well as one that’s a light touch in dynamic terms. Passive crossovers are referred to as subtractive for a reason, so the less crossover you need to actually get the job done, the better off you are likely to be. Naturally, like most things in audio, it isn’t quite that straightforward, but the use of woven isotactic polypropylene creates the ability to tailor the response of the individual drivers, meaning that those long overlaps can be implemented without problems. The result is a beautifully integrated and musically coherent speaker, while the minimalist crossover compensates in part for the fact that polypropylene isn’t as light as some more fashionable materials, the low insertion loss making up for inertia in the cones. All speaker design is a balancing act, and this is one that Wilson Benesch has been practicing for a while. It might be a unique approach, but it’s also one that they’ve mastered over the years and continue to refine.

Having already said that, to my eyes at least, this is the most attractive loudspeaker Wilson Benesch has ever offered, I also have to say that there’s no escaping the engineering focus of its overall aesthetic. If ever a product looked built, this is it, with materials and construction more often associated with high-end electronics than loudspeakers. A world away from flat panels and wooden boxes, with its massive aluminium extrusions and high-gloss carbon panels, the Resolution looks more automotive than audio. Which raises the question, do you really want something that looks like it comes from a sports car in your front room? Fortunately, those wanting to soften or domesticate the look can choose from a range of high-gloss wood veneers for the side panels, or even coloured carbon fibre tinted with the exclusive Hypetex process, a closely guarded technique employed by the likes of Aston Martin to pep up their products, although these options come with costs attached. Personally, I like the unadorned honesty of the standard high-gloss carbon weave, although I might be tempted by the gloss white.

Talking of costs, in a world where the global pricing norm seems to be cracking under the strain, what you’ll be asked to pay for a pair of Resolutions depends on where you live. In the US, the Wilson Benesch speaker weighs in at $69,500 a pair, making it around $11,000 more expensive than the benchmark Wilson Alexia 2. Stand the two speakers side by side and that’s both an obvious and a viable comparison, with the two speakers being broadly similar in scale, bandwidth and ambition. But in the UK, the cost equation is very different indeed. Not only does the Wilson speaker cost more in pounds than it does in dollars (!?!), the Resolution is way cheaper, coming in at almost half the price of the Alexia 2, which actually makes it slightly less than the Wilson Sasha 2. So value becomes a question of geographical location as much as, if not considerably more than, performance. Given that the UK will account for a fraction of total Resolution sales, I’m going to apply the international standard, placing the speaker in the same category as the Alexia 2 and judging accordingly. It’s the sort of company that the Resolution is comfortable keeping, in many ways its natural place in the market. Those of you lucky enough (or unlucky enough, depending on your point of view) to live in the UK should appreciate the fact that in looking at the Resolution, you are staring at one very serious bargain indeed.

When it comes to matching amplification, the Resolution’s benign impedance characteristic and shallow crossover slopes make it an easy load. Just don’t think that you can skimp on quality when it comes to electronics. The natural warmth of the speaker’s sound, devoid of edge or any tendency to etch or stripping of harmonics in pursuit of definition, might make it less brutal than many high-end designs when it comes to exposing system shortcomings, but ultimately it’s no less revealing. I used the Wilson Benesch speakers with amps as varied as the Mark Levinson No.585 integrated, the Berning Quadrature Z OTLs, the Engström Lars (20 watts of push-pull 300B power) and the VTL S-400 II. All worked well, but this was the first speaker I’ve used with the Levinson that has exposed that amplifiers’ characteristic slightly dark and shut-in top end -- at least to the point where it has been a musical issue. You have been warned: just because the Resolutions doesn’t shine a spotlight on partnering electronics doesn’t mean they let issues slide. In fact, in contrast, their combination of overall tonal neutrality and musical and rhythmic coherence means that any discontinuities or aberrations are both unmistakable and become increasingly hard to ignore.

Likewise, although the success of the Bernings and Engström Lars suggest that low-powered amps will have no problems, in both cases it is actually the sheer quality of those amplifiers that carries the day, the speaker fastening on the agile clarity and transparency of the Quadrature Z, the natural textures and immediacy of the Lars. But there’s no escaping the fact that these speakers thrive on power: the Quadrature Zs are both more powerful and more load tolerant than more conventional OTLs, while the VTL S-400 II is massively capable by any standards. Every Wilson Benesch loudspeaker I’ve used has preferred to be bi-wired and positively loved to be biamped, and the Resolution is no exception. As impressive as the results were with the amps already mentioned, combining the Resolutions with the CH Precision M1s running in bi-amp mode was nothing short of spectacular. When it comes to selecting amplification to partner with the Resolutions, or selecting the Resolutions to partner with existing amplification, that’s something to bear in mind, either immediately or as a future upgrade option.

While it’s dangerous to draw straight-line sonic conclusions from the technology used in a speaker, both the use of polypropylene and the way in which it is used suggest that the Resolution should possess plenty of natural warmth and instrumental or vocal texture. What might surprise you is that, far from the cuddly or dynamically flabby sound that so often goes with such qualities, the Resolution is also far more immediate and dynamically agile than you might expect. Sol Gabetta’s Il Progetto Vivaldi album [Sony 88697131691] is a perfect case in point. The rich tonality and varied textures of her 1759 Guadagnini are augmented and made that much more particular by the gut-stringing adopted for this recording, while the small band (just seven strong) allows for plenty of space and focus. The Resolutions deliver all of that tonal range and subtlety, held within a broad, deep soundstage, with plenty of dimensionality to instruments and clear air between them. The acoustic stands independent of the speakers, with no tendency for instruments to cluster around or cling to the cabinets. The careful shaping of the baffles and the vanishingly low signature of the cabinets allow the speakers to disappear, passive guardians to the musical event. 

But what startles isn’t just the rich instrumental colours drawn from the instruments, especially the solo cello, but the combination of attack and the absence of edge or glare in the bowing. When you reach side four and the transcription of RV 297 (“Winter” from The Four Seasons), those familiar opening phrases lull you into a false sense of familiarity, quite unprepared for the dramatic entrance of the solo part, as all that body, substance and colour are tied to quicksilver playing that explodes with such verve and life that it literally has you holding your breath. For once you know, absolutely, that this is a cello -- and you know that the playing is absolutely extraordinary

That combination of natural texture and harmonic resolution brings the Resolutions their convincing sense of proportion, rich tonality and presence. Add their temporal and dynamic coherence into the mix and you have a speaker that’s perfectly equipped to reproduce that most testing instrument of all, the human voice -- “testing” not because of its bandwidth or dynamic range, but because of its familiarity. There’s nothing we recognise more easily, separate more discriminatingly or classify more quickly and accurately than another’s voice. That distinction between singers is rarely as apparent as it is with the Resolutions. Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of “This Year’s Kisses” (Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie LP [Verve V6-4053]) shows that her remarkable voice is as impressive as it is unmistakable. The performance is delicate and airy, jaunty and bittersweet as she uses her effortless range, perfect pitch and fluid phrasing to devastating effect. Let the record run and she brings that same purity and rock-solid pitch to the longer blues lines of “Good Morning Heartache,” a song with none of the tongue-in-cheek, almost girlish flippancy of the track before.

Then reach for Lady Sings the Blues [Clef MG C-721] and Billie Holiday’s version of “Good Morning Heartache” -- a gut-wrenchingly raw and brutally exposed performance without the pristine purity that Ella offers. Rarely can the same song have been sung with such different results; rarely will you hear a speaker that can display the difference between these two voices with such clarity and impact -- the sheer beauty, vocal power and dexterity of Ella; the emotional range and immediacy, the raw edge and pain that underpins Billie. For Ella, that heartache is an inconvenience to be studied or embraced; for Billie it’s an old acquaintance, a familiar ache, deep in the darkest recesses of her soul. There’s a clarity to the reproduction that rests not on the sort of etched or spot-lit sound so familiar from previous “‘high-resolution” designs, with their leading-edge emphasis and pared-away harmonics. This is clarity that comes from the effortless ability to let you hear both the length of a note and its natural decay without being swamped or smeared by the next note. It lets you appreciate a singer’s diction, the way he or she shapes a note, as well as the way a player shapes a phrase.

Just as the shape and sense of those voices are laid bare, so too is the contribution of the driving electronics. Swap from the VTL S-400 II to the Berning Quadrature Zs and you gain nimble agility and dynamic precision at the expense of absolute stability, dimensionality, body and musical shape. Swap in the full bi-amped CH Precision rig and you really 6 REPRODUCED FROM theaudiobeat.com do get pretty much the best of both worlds -- at a considerable price. It’s an important consideration, because just as the Resolutions reveal weaknesses, they also underline strengths and character. This means you need to take care in choosing your perfect partner, but that you’ll hear that much more clearly the benefits of the choice you’ve made. Add the Resolutions to your existing system and you’ll hear much more of the system you already own -- for good or ill.

Of course, the other side of that particular coin is that the speakers make system setup that much easier and clearly reveal both the efficacy and full value of any potential upgrade. By shining a light on musical performance, the Resolutions also decode the sonic integrity of partnering sources and electronics, the vagaries of equipment matching and the state of the system union. Living with a system imbalance? These speakers will tell you all about it. Plan a wrong turn on the upgrade path? The Resolutions will let you know. They may not squawk, “Make a U-turn,” but the message will be almost that clear. You might not thank them initially, but you’ll grow to love their honesty and the music they deliver -- as well as the money they save you.

So far I’ve mainly talked, directly or by inference, about the Resolution’s broad midband. Given the softdome tweeter and smallish bass drivers (and not a lot of them), you might well wonder about the speaker’s performance at the frequency extremes. The Semisphere tweeter is the same doped silk-dome unit developed in-house by Wilson Benesch for the Cardinal. It performs beautifully in that speaker, and it does so here too, partly because, like the rest of the speaker, there’s rather more to it than meets the eye. In this case that consists of a carbon-fibre brace that stiffens the dome and raises the first break-up mode significantly without adding undue moving mass. With a response tailored to fit perfectly into the centre of the Troika three-driver array, integration is seamless, with no dynamic, dispersive or tonal discontinuities to betray the crossover point. The sense of space and air it brings to natural acoustics, the lack of edge, halo or glare on violin or soprano voice, the attack, bite and texture it delivers through the treble are, if not perfect, then a perfect match for the Resolution’s honest midrange. Yes, I’ve heard tweeters that are faster and tweeters that seem more extended. They bring a sense of speed and precision to music -- although those qualities can also come at a price in terms of overall coherence or tonal resolution. The fact is, we don’t listen to tweeters; we listen to complete speaker systems. I’ve heard few high-frequency drivers that are more musically informative or integrate as well with the rest of the range. It’s all about the whole, and the Semispere’s balance of virtues matches the rest of the Resolution’s drivers, creating a whole rather than a kit of parts, helping to re-create a whole when it comes to recordings.

In many ways, it’s the same story -- one of seamless integration, dynamic and tonal coherence -- at the bottom end. But this is where the hard choices are so often made -- and where the Resolution differs from a speaker like the Wilson Alexia 2. Looking at the two speakers side by side, it’s not difficult to discern the difference in approach. Both speakers employ twin bass drivers, reflex-loaded and with very similar efficiency, but there the similarities stop. The Resolution’s twin, 170mm (7”) Tactic II isobaric arrays are mounted in the slim, sealed enclosure, handling the range from 300Hz down to the -3dB point at 30Hz. The midbass driver (the 170mm (7”) unit above the tweeter) handles the range up to 500Hz, where the midrange proper takes over. In stark contrast, the Wilson Alexia 2 uses a pair of differential bass units (one 8” and one 10”) loaded by a far larger volume, the size of the drivers and the volume of the cabinet dictating the thick-set, muscular proportions of the shorter speaker. Together, those drivers offer a significantly greater swept area that, combined with the large internal volume, delivers output down to a -3dB point of 19Hz.

There’s more -- much, much more -- to musical foundations than simple numbers, but you get the picture. I’ve heard the Wilson speaker at a couple of shows and during its UK launch, with various electronics and sources. It moves more air and delves deeper. In comparison, the Resolution’s bottom end seems to roll off more slowly, meaning you get useable output down deeper than the numbers suggest, but it moves a lot less air, although arguably it does so more precisely. The isobaric arrangement delivers notably clean, well-behaved output, reflected in the Resolution’s preference for the lowest damping factor settings on both the Berning and VTL amps. The result is crisp leading edges, excellent pitch definition and wonderfully natural texture and decay -- but the Resolution won’t match the sheer weight, the musical oomph, the unbridled gusto that you get out of the Alexia 2. The Wilson delivers more; the Wilson Benesch delivers enough.

But which one is better? Each approach has its own benefits, qualities that will appeal to different listeners, suit different rooms and place different demands on the driving system. You can argue that the Resolution offers superior transparency and definition -- or that the Alexia 2 delivers greater weight and scale. Ultimately, both propositions are correct, but what matters is how they integrate with and support the rest of the range. The lighter touch of the Resolution will certainly suit it to solid, European construction materials and make it easier to accommodate in smaller rooms, but, rather like KT88s and 6550s, or Reiner’s Chicago Symphony and Barbirolli’s Philharmonia, ultimately you pays your money and makes your choice. Just make sure it is your choice, because the musical results from what are two excellent speakers will be very different in style and highly dependent on the room and driving system.

At its best the Alexia 2 does scale, presence and immediacy like no other speaker of its size. The Resolution relies on a more refined and subtle perspective, as well as its rich, natural tonality. Play the Sibelius Second Symphony (Barbirolli conducting the Hallé Orchestra [EMI Sibelius Edition 7243 567299 2 6]), the opening of the second movement, with its extended pizzicato passage, and the Wilson has the authority to give you the weight of the massed basses and cellos, the familiar volume of Kingsway Hall -- but it’s the Resolution that is clearer of pitch and timbre, pluck and release, revealing the transition from basses to cellos and the musical progression through the strings. Which is more important to you? Only you can -- and only you should -- decide, but this deft touch and timbral subtlety are what make the Resolution special and what really define its musical character and overall presentation. Interestingly, both companies offer superb subwoofers to underpin their quasi-full-range offerings. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Wilson Benesch Torus is the perfect partner and an obvious (and seriously cost effective) upgrade to the Resolution. The floorstander is more than capable in its own right, but adding the Torus brings an added sense of muscle, scale and attitude to the mix, as well as simply offering extra bandwidth to underpin all that subtlety and refinement.

Which, given the price differential, makes comparison to the flagship Cardinal almost inevitable. How do the two relate? They are different products. The Cardinal is bigger boned and handles scale with ease. It is more immediate, more dynamically responsive and breathes more easily -- but it doesn’t match the sheer continuity and tonal refinement of the Resolution, trading ultimate sonic invisibility for energy, presence and impact. Even adding the Torus to the Resolution, it struggles to match that physical presence and impact, but it has its own cards to play. It sets up a soundstage and establishes performers that are stable and utterly independent of the speaker enclosures. There are no steps or discontinuities to betray the process, an almost total absence of the usual masking effects that obstruct and obscure, nothing to distract from the music itself. Perhaps that reflects the benefits of a more carefully executed crossover, or perhaps it’s simply the result of accumulated experience and a smaller enclosure, but, either way, the choice to trade obvious impact for beguiling subtlety is addictively effective when it comes to long-term listening and musical pleasure.

The Wilson Benesch Resolution is a superb loudspeaker. It is beautifully engineered from high-tech, high-quality materials. Looking at it, you will never find yourself wondering why it costs what it does or where the money went. It is the best proportioned and most striking of Wilson Benesch’s floorstanding designs. It offers unique and demonstrably effective solutions to the well-recognised problems of loudspeaker design. Like any speaker, it offers its own particular perspective on the musical event, its own balance of virtues. Tonal and temporal coherence are its strengths, its holistic, seamless presentation in some ways more akin to an electrostatic, but a ‘stat with bass and balls.

The Resolution above all, it delivers a level of musical coherence and insight, a balance of the convincing and the communicative, that puts it at the forefront of current loudspeaker performance. More refined and even than most paper-coned systems, more natural and richer than most aluminium- or ceramic-coned speakers, far more expressive and engaging than the “high-tech, high-res” brigade, for all its obvious engineering, this is at heart an essentially simple and unfailingly musical device. No speaker is all things to all people, but in a market that seems increasingly divided and polemic, the Resolution sits astride the middle ground, confidently answering many of the musical questions that other speakers ignore or quietly gloss over.

Perhaps what this speaker really resolves is that age-old question: how do you make an all-rounder that pleases more people than it disappoints? Listen -- especially at length -- and you, too, may be beguiled by the absence of intrusive discontinuities or colourations, by the Resolution’s simple, musical honesty
……. Roy Gregory

Wilson Benesch, CH Precision system - “This system was built to reproduce the signals generated by a record player.”
Roy Gregory

COMMENT: So why do we keep the faith? Because occasionally, just occasionally, you experience a system that really delivers – one that ticks all the boxes and keeps all the promises; one that is so sonically adept and musically capable that listening and music take on that addictive quality we all remember from the very first good system we heard – the system that set our feet on this path in the first place. This is one of those systems…

EXTENDED REVIEW: Suggesting that high-end audio has anything in common with Little Orphan Annie might seem like a stretch, but in one way at least they share a reality: for audio pilgrims who sign up to the quest for musical and sonic perfection, no matter how hard we try – or how much we spend – the constant evolution of equipment and technology means that the audio state-of-the-art is always a day away. No matter how hard we run we never quite catch up – and to make matters worse, these days the gap between dreams and reality has stretched to a yawning chasm. With more companies offering more and more expensive products, with speakers that shatter the six-figure price barrier seemingly run-of-the-mill, and with even a basic, high-end system costing more than a (very nice) car it’s harder to compete and far more confusing to try – not least because so many of the super-expensive products on offer so often fail to deliver on those rare occasions you get to hear them.

So why do we keep the faith? Because occasionally, just occasionally, you experience a system that really delivers – one that ticks all the boxes and keeps all the promises; one that is so sonically adept and musically capable that listening and music take on that addictive quality we all remember from the very first good system we heard – the system that set our feet on this path in the first place. This is one of those systems…

This combination of CH Precision Electronics and Wilson Benesch speakers, all laced together with Nordost’s ‘value option’ Valhalla 2 (well, it seems like value compared to Odin!) is one of those systems where the music just is. It doesn’t obviously explode into the room or cuddle you seductively, it isn’t propelled ever forwards by a metronomically toe-tapping beat, nor does it exist in a permanently cavernous acoustic. Instead, it just happens; a natural extension and impression of the original event, performance that is all about THE performance; that resides with the performers rather than the equipment in the system, that simply sounds like real people and real instruments. This is still recorded music, but it’s recorded music with that instantly identifiable quality, the gestalt character of the real thing – and that makes it rare and wonderl.

On the basic, material level, this system could be described as impressive, complex, extravagant, or just plain expensive. In fact, expensive doesn’t really cover it: in all honesty it demands the addition of a few adjectives – like “ruinously”, “eye-wateringly” or perhaps the simple, expletive quality of Ireland’s favourite descriptor, “fecking”. But there’s no denying that this system cuts no corners in by Roy Gregory CH Precision, Wilson Benesch, and Nordost system its pursuit of audio and musical excellence. On paper at least, it looks like a classic, high-tech, high-powered solid-state rig, with a stack of front-end boxes feeding a pair of massive mono-blocs – and that’s partly correct. The CH electronics offer levels of software derived control and configuration that go beyond the necessary and well in to the realms of “because we can”. I mean, who needs to control not just the duration and brightness of the displays but the test colour as well – and if the nine colour options on offer don’t match your mood, shirt, or latest motor, there’s always the opportunity to dial in a specific RGB shade! But as easy as it is to poke gentle fun at such electronic excess, there’s a very real purpose behind it, the degree of configuration on offer allowing both topological simplicity and unparalleled versatility, the ability to adapt the amplifiers to the surrounding system to an almost unprecedented degree – and that has a direct, positive, and dramatic impact on performance.

This system is built around the L1 linestage, supported by the X1 power supply and flanked by the P1 phono-stage and a pair of M1 power amps. Of course, it will accept digital sources, but the raison-d’etre for this system and, in a very real sense, the secret of its success is the declared intent to extract the considerable best from record replay. To that end, the P1 offers no fewer than three independently configurable inputs (two current sensing and one voltage driven) with variable gain and loading as appropriate, as well as the option to include switchable EQ curves – all for the princely sum of £22,400 (EQ Filter £1,300). At the other end of the chain you find not one but two M1 amplifiers, a wallet wringing extravagance in the sense that these are not mono-blocs – at least not all of the time! In fact, the M1 is five amps in one: a straight stereo, a bi-amp (one input, two identical outputs), an active bi-amp (two inputs, two independently configurable outputs), a mono-bloc with the whole power supply dedicated to a single output stage, or a high-powered, bridged mono-bloc. Meanwhile, gain, and the ratio of local to global feedback can be set to further match the amplifier to the speaker’s sensitivity and electrical demands. With a rated output of anything between 2x 200 and 700 watts on tap, perhaps it’s not surprising that a single M1 will set you back a slightly gasp-inducing £37,400, making a pair cost £74,800!

Compared to the P1 and M1, the L1 seems almost prosaically simple: inputs, outputs, and a volume knob. But that is to misunderstand both the remarkable care that has gone into the design and construction of the L1 – and the critical role of the line-stage in any genuinely high-end system. I’m afraid that, if you want realistic dynamics, full bandwidth, convincing staging, and a real sense of scale, then neither passives, auto-transformers, nor a direct output from your DAC will deliver. Real systems use active line-stages, despite the demonstrable difficulties of getting one right – and the L1 is one of the select few that actually gets it just right. It is both the heart and soul of this system and is, in a very real sense, the root of its greatness. Having said that, this is a set-up that takes no chances, so both the L1 and the P1 are backed up by the X1 external power-supply – just to be on the safe-side. It’s a wise decision, and the benefits are all too clear to hear, but it does add another £12,400 to a final price-tag of £110,900 for the electronics alone.

Just as well then that we’ve got the budget options from the other suppliers, with neither the cables nor the loudspeakers representing their respective manufacturers’ flagship options. Nordost’s Valhalla 2 might use more conventional shielding and less metal than the Odin 2, but it shares the top product’s core technologies and all-important proprietary connectors – and it’s backed up here by their Q-Kore 6 grounding system, to help reduce system noise-floor and deliver realistic dynamics. Take one look around the back of the CH components and you soon realise what makes V2 make so much sense: when it comes to power cords this is one greedy system, with each power amp requiring two and the P1 and L1 still needing their own, despite the presence of the X1. Look at the price of Odin 2 power cords and all becomes clear…

The Wilson Benesch speakers might look familiar, but these are not the Cardinals. Instead, what we have here are the smaller but easier to accommodate and rather more elegant Resolutions, making up for their reduced internal volume by adding a Torus Infrasonic Generator to the mix. Named for another of Captain Cook’s vessels rather than their undoubted performance attributes, the new speaker shares the same driver and cabinet technologies as the flagship, but in a more compact, simpler and easier to govern package. The tailored response of the drivers makes for a minimal, phase-coherent crossover, while also delivering the often mutually exclusive attributes of tremendous low-level detail and a fully developed harmonic envelope. The cost in this case takes the form of lower than average sensitivity – which could impact dynamics except that the light-touch crossover makes the Resolution sound more efficient than it is while the system topology and L1/M1 combination takes care of the rest. Like other WB speakers this one just loves to be vertically bi-amped, which helps explain the over-kill option of that second M1, while in practice, I found that 10% feedback worked best on both the mid and the bass ranges, allowing me to run the amps in straight bi-amp mode, saving the price of a set of interconnects along the way.

After that? Well, there’s always Odin 2…

There are some systems that simply sound the way they look. There are others that are defined by their chosen technologies, be they direct heated triodes, horn-loaded drivers, Class A solid-state output stages, or more ceramic than you can shake a stick at. But then looks can also be deceptive and technology can be applied in many different ways. Examine this system on paper and – price aside (and Lord knows, that’s no reliable guide) – there’s little to suggest the magic lurking within. The CH Precision electronics, with their near identical styling and muted blue-grey casework couldn’t look more Swiss if they tried. The Wilson Benesch speakers offer, as I’ve already suggested, a familiar appearance and nothing new in terms of their technology. It’s all been done before, in previous WB designs. Yet, just as there’s an air of solid, compact competence about the CH pieces, the Resolutions have a certain confidence that comes from their balanced proportions and the sculpted elements from which they’re built. This is a speaker that just looks right and that alone, even if you think you know what Wilson Benesch speakers sound like, should give you pause for thought. Hear them on the end of this rig and you’ll almost certainly be recalibrating those expectations.

Sadly for the headline writers and bandwagon jumpers, there is no secret sauce in this system. It’s not about the what: it’s all about the how. This is an object lesson in understanding what a given product wants and then making sure it gets it, both in terms of interfacing between components and in designing those components themselves. Rich in terms of tonal colour and instrumental detail, the Resolutions need an amplifier set up that’s capable of delivering emphatic dynamics. Bi-amping helps but it’s all about clean, available headroom and just enough damping. Given their substantial size, you might well consider the M1’s 200 Watt per channel output as modest, but what it really reflects is the size of their power supply. Or as someone once famously said, the quality of the first Watt is really what matters – but then so does the quality of the other 199 just waiting to get past it. Add that to the ability to adjust amplifier damping factor via the feedback ratio and you’ve got pretty much the perfect match for the Resolutions, a match that’s heard in the weight, scale, and impact they bring to the more Zimmer-esque moments of the GOT soundtrack [Sony] as obviously as it contributes to the vivacious attack and intimacy, cut, thrust, and counterpoint of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra’s scintillating performance of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik [Decca], a record that breathes new life into this most hackneyed of Mozart masterworks. Of course, the Resolution’s are getting an awful lot of help from the Torus. Just how much is evident from the totally OTT percussion on the Game Of Thrones recording, but its sheer quality and seamless integration really comes into play on the fleet-footed bass arpeggios of the chamber piece. 

As well as highlighting the temporal and spatial integration of the system, that Stuttgart disc also switches the focus of attention to the other end of the chain. One of the main reasons this Decca SXL recording sounds so wonderfully immediate and present is the ability to replay it with the correct EQ. Switch to the standard RIAA curve and the incisive brilliance in the playing is dulled, the energy level drops, the physicality diminishes, and the band recede. This is no matter of taste or preference. The Decca curve captures the frisson of this remarkable performance and RIAA doesn’t – and as we all know, any chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This system was built to reproduce the signals generated by a record player and I was lucky to have the Grand Prix Monaco v2.0 on hand. But even with a record player of such undoubted excellence, the ability to switch replay EQ on older classical and jazz pressings in particular was often the make or break factor when it came to delivering the difference between a good record from a stunning musical performance – from the self-same disc. Whether you need switchable EQ depends on the nature and content of your record collection, but its availability as an option on the P1 and underlines yet again how the versatility and configurable nature of the CH electronics plays directly into this system’s stellar musical performance.

Meanwhile, sitting quietly at the heart of proceedings, the L1 goes calmly about its business, the anchor to which the system’s absolute spatial and temporal stability are tied, the root of its remarkably low-noise floor and sudden dynamic response. In many ways it’s the understated star turn that sums up the whole system. Is it perfect? No – and nor is it beyond criticism. But the real quality of this system, the thing that makes it a system in the true sense, rather than a simple set of parts, is the fact that its flaws do not intrude. Yes I could ask for more individual dimensionality and intra-instrumental air. I could wish for even deeper bass and a shade more immediacy – but do I notice those things when listening? Not for a moment. Not unless I go looking for them – and I don’t do that because I’m so darned engaged by the music, the performance, and the performers. Perfect? No – but near enough for that not to ruin your enjoyment; near enough to deliver a timely reminder of just what’s possible; near enough to convince you that, as expensive as it is, this is one system that’s worth every penny. If you thought that the light at the end of the audio tunnel had finally flickered out, think again. It’s there, it’s stronger than ever – there’s just more ‘noise’ between you and it. This system isn’t a new dawn – it’s just the same old sun, shining as brightly or brighter than ever.
............. 
Roy Gregory

One Step At a Time… Although this system is both seriously expensive and topologically complex, thanks to its almost modular versatility it’s also surprisingly versatile and stepby-step achievable – assuming that you’ve got access to the considerable necessary funds! You could start with the P1, L1 and a single M1 driving just the Resolutions. Then you could add the X1 – which I have to say is pretty much essential to either the L1 or P1, or the pair if you are lucky enough to own both. Next you could add the second M1 and run bi-amped. Along the way you could also add the Torus, which would bring you up to the level of the system reviewed here. Somewhat alarmingly, that’s only the start…The next obvious step would be to add the second Torus – but after that things get seriously silly. Both the L1 and the P1 offer dual mono options, with a single chassis for each channel. Of course, that would necessitate an X1 for each pair, as it will only drive two external units. But then, having got this far, why wouldn’t you dedicate an X1 for each individual, mono L1 or P1 chassis, making for an eight-box pre-amp. You could then add a second pair of M1s and run them all as monoblocs and I’m sure that, if you really put your mind to it you could add two more and use those to run the Torus subs – although you’d need to meet the crossover requirement, surely a minor issue for anybody with this much invested, as between them I’m sure that CH and Wilson Benesch could be ‘persuaded’ to run something up… 
............. 
Roy Gregory

The Square Three is very good in building three-dimensional pictures in a semi-circle in front of the loudspeakers.
Max Delissen for Art's Excellence,

The New Wilson Benesch Square Series 2 continues to receive excellent press and feedback globally as the Square 3 receives an excellent review from Dutch Journalist Max Delissen.

The new Square Series 2 has seen a whole scale upgrade and re-work from the old series which sees an improvement in the all round performance of the speaker, with special attention paid to the 2-channel performance of the Square Series 2. Originally designed around the concept that the average British living room requires wall placement of the loudspeaker, the original Square Series was a massive hit for home cinema enthusiasts and 2-channel purveyors with space limitations. However with improved drive technology and some innovative cabinet construction methods, which include internal Carbon Fibre ribs, allowed Wilson Benesch to improve the overall output of the new Square Series 2, with added bass output, whilst maintaining all the characteristics of the Wilson Benesch sound: incredibly tight bass, breath taking dynamics and incredibly clarity of sound. The result: a true High End range, capable of performing in even the largest rooms without wall placement.

As Max found, the Square 3, with it’s mid and bass Tactic Drive Units is a true thoroughbred and sits at the top of the new Square Series 2 as the best all round performer.

It didn’t take long to hear that the Square Three beats the smaller sibling on all parameters. The ‘family sound’ is obvious (speed, dynamics, neutrality, absence of distortion) and on top of that the Square Three has richer mids that provide better intelligibility of voices. And because of the extra driver it has a lot more punch in the lower frequency range…… Max Delissen, 

As Max found, the Square 3 offers users a new level of High End 2-channel performance.

With more dynamism and authority than the Square Two, this 2.5-way has even more presence and plays louder and deeper in the low with the openness and speed characteristic of Wilson Benesch......Max Delissen for Art's Excellence

The Square Three is very good in building three-dimensional pictures in a semi-circle in front of the loudspeakers. And the musical image stretches backwards quite far and with great ease when there is musical information in the depth of the soundfield…… Max Delissen for Art's Excellence,

With the Wilson Benesch Square 3 you get a wonderful loudspeaker in your house that will be able to find a place because of its relatively modest size and many finishes in every interior. There are, however, some preconditions that must be met in order to get the most out of Square 3. A good amplifier, ditto source and cabling are actually required. The progressive technique of this loudspeaker will be little more than a given for many, but that is not what it is all about. It is the musical result that counts. And making music is the Wilson Benesch Square 3!…… Max Delissen for Art's Excellence

By some considerable margin and on any terms, the best speaker that Wilson Benesch has ever made.
Roy Gregory

SUMMARY: Generally, it is the transducers in any system that introduce the greatest degrees of colouration or character. But the sound produced by the Cardinal is uncannily coherent and well-integrated, musically, spatially and temporally contiguous – to a degree that is frankly astonishing for a speaker system in which each cabinet consists of two enclosures and nine drivers. It speaks volumes for the precision with which Wilson Benesch have been able to tailor the mechanical behavior of their drivers and cabinet, achieving better results across the mid-band transitions than most speaker designers achieve with subtractive crossover designs. It also underlines the special benefits of parts and materials continuity across so many of the drive-units. It’s something that is impossible to achieve unless you build all those drivers yourself, specifically tailored for purpose.

If you want a product that manages to combine cuttingedge technology with artisanal audiophile sensibilities then this is it. If you want precision engineering fused with artistic nuance, look no further. Me? I just love the unburstable, uninhibited, uncoloured enthusiasm and honesty of the Cardinal. Any speaker that can deliver this much music with this much conviction gets my vote. On that basis the Wilson Benesch Cardinal joins a very select short list indeed.

EXTENDED REVIEW: The world of high-end loudspeakers is increasingly falling into two camps: the (traditional) one where ‘specially modified’ OEM drivers are combined with in-house cabinets – and where just about everything is built in-house. But, what happens if you take that recipe a stage further? That’s exactly what Wilson Benesch has done in its latest flagship design, the Cardinal; but then, that should come as no surprise, it’s a path it has been actively pursuing for nearly two decades. As befits a company based in Sheffield, it is a design approach dedicated to sound engineering and materials technology. Here you have a speaker that contains a unique cone material, in-house drivers, a composite cabinet and not a bit of wood anywhere. One look at the Cardinal and you can’t mistake its high-tech credentials, but what you can see is only half the story

The massive, extruded aluminium baffle is carefully shaped to reduce diffraction, but also minimize resonance and bending modes. Variable thickness and curved “returns” that extend a full 50mm back from the baffle face make for an incredibly rigid element. Behind this, the rear half of the cabinet is formed from a curved, W-section, formed with combined carbon-fibre and fibre-glass skins, sandwiching a thick structural foam core. The result is incredibly stiff and extremely light, while the foam core material and mixed material skins make for excellent self-damping. This carbon composite channel is the result of a proprietary production process, the materials, expertise and plant required making it an incredibly costly element – a fact that Wilson Benesch off-sets by using it across its range of products. 

The composite channel is linked to the baffle by extruded ‘cheeks’. By varying the depth of these, the volume can be dialed in for different systems, while again, the extruded profile allows extreme shaping of the elements to increase stiffness and resist resonance. These side panels on the Cardinal are fully 180mm in depth. Finally, the back of the cabinet is finished with a beautifully sculpted and extruded aluminium post that adds another clamping element as well as significant additional stiffness. The end result is an enclosure that involves clamped, mixed materials in a self-damping sandwich structure, virtually devoid of parallel internal walls, with all the benefits of a stiff material like aluminium, but with none of the ringing that normally goes with it. Throw in the low energy storage characteristics of the composite channel section and this could be a theoretically near perfect cabinet.

The internal volume itself is constructed from two separate elements. The large, upper enclosure houses the tweeter and lower-midrange unit. The lower cabinet contains the midrange driver in its own, separate enclosure, loaded by an electromechanically damped ABR that vents through the slot between the two sections of the cabinet. The remainder of the lower enclosure contains the bass system, comprising a pair of isobarically loaded woofers, in turn loaded by another ABR. The rear isobaric drivers are mounted as closely as possible behind the front units, on their own 35lb aluminium sub baffle, bringing the driver complement in total to nine a side.

The top of the cabinet looks like it would be more at home in the Olympic velodrome than gracing the top of a loudspeaker. Whilst it has an undeniably powerful visual impact, again the purpose is to eliminate resonance and any parallel surfaces inside the cabinet. The Cardinal stands on the most substantial base I’ve yet come across, machined in-house from a single slab of aluminium. If the purpose of the massive baffle and the stiffness of the cabinet as a whole are designed to offer a stable mechanical reference for the drivers, this is the part that delivers the necessary mechanical ground. It stands on three stainless steel posts, each with a massive but beautifully executed adjusting wheel and tipped with a large tungsten carbide ball. That interfaces with three identical balls captured in the large disc feet provided with the speaker, an arrangement – first seen in the Wilson Benesch tonearm – that guarantees minimal point contact. All these parts, like the driver baskets and motor assemblies, even the four sets of terminals mounted on the speaker’s underside, are all produced in Wilson Benesch’s own CNC shop. 

Which brings us, in turn, to the drivers themselves. At first glance, you could be forgiven for assuming that the Cardinal only uses two different drivers, the in-house tweeter and a 170mm cone unit, but appearances are deceptive. 

Although the 170mm baskets, specially designed to minimize rear reflections, are identical, there are four different 170mm units in play here, each with its own specifically tailored cone and motor assembly. The cone material in the Tactic-II drivers is isotactic polypropylene, a unique fibre that can be formed under temperature and pressure. Under the right conditions, the surface of each fibre melts, bonding the whole into a single monocoque element, combining the self-damping of polypropylene with the structural tuning available from a woven carbon-fibre or Kevlar cone, yet without the additional mass of added resin. This material offers both a versatile and elegant solution to the problem of precisely tailoring a driver’s mechanical and acoustic properties. Like everything else, cone design is a case of balancing virtues. The isotacticpolypropylene material offers the opportunity to maximize the structure’s self-damping characteristics while minimizing the relatively high mass of the material itself. Add in modular neodymium magnet assemblies and motor parts that are also machined in-house and Wilson Benesch is able to create dedicated midrange, lower-mid, bass and ABR drivers, all on the same basket and all precisely tailored to the final system, a factor that becomes particularly critical once you take a look at the crossover topology – or rather, lack of it. 

A firm believer that crossovers really are the root of all evil when it comes to loudspeakers, designer Craig Milnes has opted to run both the midrange units wide-open (the uppermid’s ABR loading a more controlled iteration of an openbaffle). Either side of that very broad mid-band, all crossover slopes are simple first order, an arrangement that maintains phase integrity and minimizes subtractive and electrical losses – but does place a heavy emphasis on the mechanical behaviour of the drivers themselves. It’s an unusual choice for a multi-driver, ultra high-tech system like this one, one more usually found in minimalist, high-efficiency speakers, but it makes perfect sense of the system’s technological strengths – and weaknesses. If you are using a higher order filter with steep slopes and rapid driver roll-off, then, you can concentrate on a narrower pass-band, but the Cardinal’s crossover uses either shallow slopes or an entirely acoustical/ mechanical roll-off in the case of the mid-band drivers. The  ability to tailor the drivers’ mechanical responses so precisely is what makes the approach possible, while the lack of subtractive filter elements between the amp and the drive-unit delivers enhanced control to overcome the heavier mass of the polypropylene cones compared to, for example, ceramics. The result is best described as two-way first-order electrical, but four-way acoustical, with the pseudod’Appolito arrangement of upper and lower-mid drivers flanking the tweeter at its heart, an arrangement that Wilson Benesch feels is so critical to the cardinal’s performance that they’ve dubbed it the “Troika concept”.

The Cardinal’s Semisphere tweeter is relatively low-tech in appearance, with its simple silk dome, but that conceals the carefully engineered carbon-fibre brace behind the dome and the self-contained rear housing, with its incredibly powerful motor and carefully contoured internal chamber. Add in the optimally contoured front plate and you have a unit that delivers the proven benefits of the soft dome approach (excellent tonal and dynamic shading and contrast) with superior dispersion and extension. The Cardinal claims an upper output limit of -3dB at 35kHz, which puts its tweeter not far behind some pretty exotic alternatives – without the complex crossovers those drivers demand, or the tonal and integration issues that so often bedevil their application. 

The base is over 60cm in each dimension, while the tall, narrow (20cm wide) cabinet rises 175cm from the floor and is 56cm deep. Each speaker weighs in at 180kg, testament to the sheer amount of aluminium in each cabinet, a sobering consideration given that around half the volume is delivered by the lightweight composite sandwich! Efficiency is quoted as 90dB, underlining the important contribution of that lowloss crossover topology, while nominal impedance is stated as 6 Ohms, with a 3 Ohm minimum. The upshot is a speaker that is neither particularly easy to install or drive – but it is well worth the effort. The ball-bearing interfaces on the feet (together with the substantial weight) made it surprisingly difficult to slide the speaker even on my wooden floor, and I eventually resorted to some felt-based footers for placement purposes, before installing the dedicated feet. The four sets of terminals beneath each base-plate accept both spades and bananas, which is just as well, as most of you will need jumpers to bridge the gaps left by single/bi-wired cables – as well as a second pair of hands and a ratchet socket wrench to make the necessary connections.

Generally, it is the transducers in any system that introduce the greatest degrees of colouration or character. But the sound produced by the Cardinal is uncannily coherent and well-integrated, musically, spatially and temporally contiguous – to a degree that is frankly astonishing for a speaker system in which each cabinet consists of two enclosures and nine drivers. It speaks volumes for the precision with which Wilson Benesch have been able to tailor the mechanical behavior of their drivers and cabinet, achieving better results across the mid-band transitions than most speaker designers achieve with subtractive crossover designs. It also underlines the special benefits of parts and materials continuity across so many of the drive-units. It’s something that is impossible to achieve unless you build all those drivers yourself, specifically tailored for purpose.

The Cardinal’s lack of intrusive or identifiable character makes it one of the most self-effacing loudspeakers that I’ve ever used, surpassed in this regard only by various Avalons. Yet this essential honesty is a double-edged sword, throwing the performance of the driving amplifier into stark relief. In the same way that sugar in tea masks the complexities of its flavor, subtractive crossovers and cabinet colouration draw an obscuring veil across a host of sins. Eliminate them from your loudspeaker and suddenly you have to deal with problems you never realized you had. It leaves the Cardinal in the unfortunate position of a messenger delivering unwelcome news. But rather than “shooting” the speaker, consider how good it can sound with amplification that really does deliver. I was lucky enough to have electronics from Connoisseur/ Berning, VTL, Avantgarde and Siltech to hand and the results were spectacular, especially with Siltech’s ruinously expensive but stunningly good SAGA set up. 

Working at their best the Cardinals simply disappear from the musical equation, physically and sonically. The soundfield that contains the musicians steps away from the speakers completely, with no sense of the mechanics behind the reproduction. Ringing the changes between different amps and source components, you realize that the Cardinal is capable of delivering the full range of instrumental colour and musical expression, instrumental or vocal – as long as your system delivers the signal. The speaker is so devoid of subtractive/intrusive obstruction that performances arrive intact, with proper form and full of sense and purpose. In no small part that is down to the wide open, lucid and responsive mid-band, but as with all large speakers it’s also about the top and bottom and how they integrate with the whole. 

The Semisphere tweeter is a masterpiece, retaining all the proven virtues of silk domes, but using novel bracing techniques and its optimised rear chamber to extend the performance envelope far higher than you’d expect. The result is a natural sense of air and space, positional clarity and musical articulation that, until now, has been the preserve of exotic tweeters and speakers with dedicated super tweeters built in. The seamless transition between the midrange driver and tweeter help in this regard, but like all really good highfrequency units, you also hear their impact at the other end of the spectrum, where the clarity and transparency of the bass is remarkable. Overlapping bass notes are easily distinguished, pitch and placement effortlessly clear. The result is music with a stability, clarity and uncluttered sense of natural pace and timing; the Cardinals let music and musicians breathe. The multiple small drivers don’t have the generosity or weight that comes from large cones in even larger cabinets, but they don’t have the additive elements that go with them either. The Cardinal’s bottom end is all about poise, information and control. It’s not trying to sound bigger than it is and that’s one of the principle reasons it doesn’t suffer from “big speaker” syndrome; the sense of weight without that weight being quite right…

One implication of the speakers’ honesty is that the character and differences between sources becomes significantly more obvious. So, for instance, the different nature of CD and SACD layers of the same disc is more apparent, while the presentational distinctions between vinyl/analogue and digital sources becomes a gaping chasm. Of course, the flipside of that is that good orchestral recordings on CD have a presence, tonality and stability that’s all too rare, while vocals from vinyl take on a new sense of natural presence and shape, instruments – especially drums – a new solidity and substance. If the Cardinal has a weakness, it is in the realm of micro-dynamics and instrumental texture, areas in which higher efficiency designs or those with super light drivers excel. But the Wilson Benesch is hardly deficient in these areas, while it’s other (considerable) strengths more than tip the balance. So when Joe Jackson sings that, “It’s different for girls”, he really sounds like he means it, and the band sound like they feel his pain; or when Sonny Rollins exchanges licks with Clifford Brown the richer, rounded tone, the sheer length and volume of his sax is perfectly differentiated from the shorter, sharper bark of the trumpet

The Wilson Benesch Cardinal is as impressive from a sonic perspective as it is in pure engineering terms – and that’s really saying something. Here we have a product where innovation and execution are perfectly in accord with purpose. As expensive as it is, for once it’s not hard to see (or hear – or rather, not hear) where the money has gone, in terms of materials, manufacturing or performance. It also represents the tip of a long and perfectly mapped development path, stretching back across multiple models. But the pace of advance isn’t necessarily even and the Cardinal represents a genuine step change in both ambition and performance. It might be demanding but it can also be mightily rewarding and is, by some considerable margin and on any terms, the best speaker that Wilson Benesch has ever made. 

If you want a product that manages to combine cuttingedge technology with artisanal audiophile sensibilities then this is it. If you want precision engineering fused with artistic nuance, look no further. Me? I just love the unburstable, uninhibited, uncoloured enthusiasm and honesty of the Cardinal. Any speaker that can deliver this much music with this much conviction gets my vote. On that basis the Wilson Benesch Cardinal joins a very select short list indeed.

If I had to sum up the Wilson Benesch Cardinal in a single word, that word would be integrity: The Cardinal/Torus combination deserves to be taken very, very seriously indeed.
Roy Gregory

CONCLUSIONS: This is not just an impressive product, it is a loudspeaker that confronts the cost/content/performance question head on and delivers an emphatic response. In an industry and at a time when products just seem to get more and more expensive and those price tags are harder and harder to justify, the Cardinal is quietly saying, "We can do better." This is an industry that needs to listen to that message. Look at the proprietary engineering, unique materials technology and attention to detail in the Cardinal. Look at the total absence of any spurious BS. Now look at the price tag, and anybody who is anything other than seriously impressed either doesn’t understand or is simply ignoring the economic realities of small-scale specialist manufacturing.
Of course, the interlocking set of technologies and capabilities that make the Cardinal possible are no happy accident and perhaps the most important thing to take from this review is that the flagship product is a natural evolution of the existing range. In other words, you find the same level of engineering excellence and thoughtful implementation right across the Wilson Benesch product line. The Cardinal might take it to the nth degree, but essentially the approach, materials and philosophy are there in every speaker the company produces -- in a range that starts at £2000 a pair.
If I had to sum up the Wilson Benesch Cardinal in a single word, that word would be integrity: the integrity of the people and company behind it; the integrity of the thinking that underpins the design, the manufacturing processes and materials that produce it; but most important of all, the integrity of the musical performances that it in turn produces. This is a tool, and like all really good tools, you’ll recognise its quality as soon as you use it.

A VERY EXTENDED REVIEW: In case anybody missed it, hi-fi geography is on the move. The Old World, the cozy set of relationships and established order of things, is shifting. Not so long ago you could divide the industry into manufacturers, distributors and dealers, each with a neatly defined and clearly understood role -- and woe betide anybody who stepped outside his or her allotted place in the great scheme of things. But the Internet and economic meltdown (not to mention the minor inconvenience of the globalization of retail markets) has bent things well and truly out of shape. The once carefully respected gap that existed between dealers and distributors has all but disappeared; the number of dealers who now also import products has mushroomed, while distributors have responded by increasingly offering their products directly to the end use.

Meanwhile, the internal differentiation between the various elements that constitute "manufacturers" has become significantly more apparent -- and arguably more important. Offshore manufacturing, increasingly complex technologies and the subsequent increase in specialization have meant that the increase in subcontracting has widened the gulf between those who genuinely manufacture and those who, in reality, simply assemble. And nowhere is that development more obvious than in the realm of high-end loudspeakers. After all, it doesn’t take a lot of upfront investment or expertise to buy a few drivers off the shelf, knock together a wooden box and run a bit of software to lace it all together. Throw in the possibility of some fancy CNCed MDF cabinetwork and a lacquer finish, courtesy of any number of large-scale Far Eastern woodshops, and suddenly anybody can be a speaker producer. It is a reality that has left established loudspeaker manufacturers that still rely on wooden cabinets and OEM drivers scrabbling for credibility in a panicky dash to distance themselves from the tsunami of imitators and pretenders bearing down on them. It’s a barbarian horde that includes more than a few names that not so long ago stood shoulder to shoulder with those selfsame, august members of the audio aristocracy.

It’s a brave new world and a whole new reality, where reputations are suddenly diminished in importance, and it’s not what you do or where you do it but how you do it that matters. There’s a new set of value judgments to be made and almost overnight (at least in audio evolutionary terms) there’s a chasm opened between those who build in-house and those who simply buy-in. Now, it’s not simply a question of whether you build parts or cabinets yourself, but how much of the finished speaker you actually produce and how much is built by third parties and shipped in. Of course, subcontracting isn’t in itself a bad thing, and the whole equation is further complicated by questions of oversight, quality control and parts cost. It’s entirely possible that you can get a result that’s both better and cheaper by buying core elements from a third party.

But one argument in favor of in-house production remains almost unassailable. We refer to "loudspeaker systems" for a reason; they consist of a cabinet, drivers and (generally) a crossover. For optimum performance those elements must all be engineered in concert to create a single, balanced whole. Each adjustment or accommodation, each acceptance of what is available, as opposed to what you really want, diminishes that whole. It means that if, for instance, you rely on OEM drivers, your relationship with the supplier must attain the level of virtual partnership to offer any chance of serious success. It’s one advantage that the established high-end manufacturers still enjoy, but even that is coming under threat, as the traditional driver suppliers feel the pinch. Now, seemingly anybody can order the "special," assembled from a menu of existing parts (which is just a recipe for broader compromise) while prices are spiraling ever upwards.

Set against this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that those loudspeaker companies that seem to be flourishing are the ones that put more and more in-house effort into their designs. In a market where recent prices seem to defy gravity and many manufacturers use minor reengineering of existing systems to justify major price hikes, it should come as no surprise that it is a product like the KEF Blade, a speaker that is not only entirely in-house engineered and built, but manages to creatively combine UK and Chinese manufacturing, that has set a new price and performance benchmark -- ruffling more than a few establishment feathers along the way.

Which rather raises the question, Where does that leave the dedicated high-end manufacturer? One answer might well be Sheffield, a steel town with a dour reputation, located deep in the heart of the UK’s industrial midlands and immortalized in the title of that great Joe Cocker album. Since the dark days when the British steel and coal industries collapsed, Sheffield has reinvented itself as a center of high-tech manufacturing, with composites, advanced materials and manufacturing processes all well to the fore. Look about and you’ll see everything from aerospace and Formula 1 to extreme sports represented -- as well as Wilson Benesch, purveyors of no-nonsense engineering solutions dedicated to the pursuit of audio excellence. This is the story of their latest and most ambitious loudspeaker to date. It is also a story of dedication to sound engineering principles and innovative materials and manufacturing techniques. How much of this loudspeaker is built in-house? Pretty much every last little bit.

Engineering solutions

Let’s start with the drive units used in the Cardinal. At first glance, you could be forgiven for assuming that this speaker only uses two different drivers, the in-house tweeter and a 7" cone unit, but appearances are deceptive. One look at the carefully machined driver basket and beautifully turned motor housings on the 7" units, all calculated to minimize rear reflections and maximize airflow, should tell you that these are no ordinary, off-the-shelf drivers. In fact, every metal element that goes into them, apart from the voice coil wire and the incredibly powerful rare earth magnets, is produced in the Wilson Benesch machine shop. Less obvious is the fact that the cones are also produced in-house from what is (in hi-fi terms) a unique material: isotactic polypropylene. This is a thread that can be woven into various patterns or shapes and then subjected to pressure and temperature. Under the right conditions the surface of the fibers melts and then re-solidifies into a single composite whole. The nature of the polypropylene itself, along with the versatility afforded by the woven construction, allows the creation of incredibly stiff, consistent yet self-damped cones whose mechanical behavior can be precisely tuned. The absence of a resin bonding the fibers removes both extra weight (a good thing, as polypropylene isn’t the lightest material) and the potential for sample-to-sample variability. Look closely at the Cardinal and you’ll see that there are actually three different cones on show. Starting from the top of the baffle, these cover the lower midrange, the midrange, and the bass, covered by two bass drivers and an ABR. But that’s not the whole story, as there are actually three more drivers hidden from view inside the cabinet -- but before we get to that, let’s take a look at the tweeter.

The Semi-Sphere is Wilson Benesch’s new flagship high-frequency unit, and once again, at first glance, it might seem like a peculiar choice. Given the inclusion of the Murata super-tweeter in the company’s Trinity and ACT C60 designs, a factor that clearly indicates an appreciation of wide bandwidth, the use of a silk dome might seem like a step backwards. But look beyond the faceplate and again appearances are deceptive. The silk dome is supported from behind by a tiny, precision-engineered carbon-fiber brace, while the rear chamber, behind the motor, is carefully sculpted to minimize reflections and resonance within the enclosed air-mass. Add in the optimally contoured front plate and you have a unit that delivers the proven benefits of the soft-dome approach (excellent tonal and dynamic shading and contrast) with superior dispersion and extension, features that together deliver an impressive claimed high-frequency roll-off of -3dB at 35kHz. Okay, that might not be in diamond-dome territory, but it comes in combination with the proven performance benefits of silk-dome technology, with its enviable reputation for accurate tonal reproduction, a natural energy envelope for notes and a lack of glare. It is also well suited to low-order crossover implementation and that, as we shall see, is key.

So when you look at the crowded front baffle of the Cardinal, what you are actually seeing are five different drivers, all produced in-house. It represents a level of engineering and investment that is only possible because of the use of innovative materials like the isotactic polypropylene, both a versatile and elegant solution to the problem of precisely tailoring the mechanical response and acoustic properties of all those different drivers. Add in what amounts to a modular system of baskets, magnet assemblies and motor parts and Wilson Benesch are able to create dedicated midrange, lower-mid, bass and ABR drivers, all precisely tailored to the final system, without upfront parts costs killing the project. But the implications run deeper than that. The configurable nature of the driver technology doesn’t just enable the design of the speaker system, it’s a fundamental consideration within it, a fact that becomes only too apparent once you take a look at the crossover topology -- or rather, lack of it.

One place where less is definitely more

firm believer that crossovers really are the root of all evil, Wilson Benesch director of engineering and chief designer Craig Milnes has opted to take the unusual step of running both the midrange and lower-midrange units wide open, with no subtractive crossover elements at all. He has also disposed them symmetrically around the tweeter, with the lower mid in the upper position, in what amounts to a pseudo d’Appolito arrangement, although the midrange drivers are obviously carrying different frequency ranges. The Semi-Sphere tweeter is rolled in using a simple first-order crossover to minimize phase and timing errors. Together, this three-driver array constitutes a unique arrangement (at least as far as I’m aware) that Wilson Benesch refer to as the Troika Concept. Below the midrange array, the bass leg is another first-order slope, again maintaining system coherence and phase integrity, and minimizing subtractive and electrical losses.

This light-touch approach to driver integration offers considerable musical benefits, but it does place a heavy emphasis on the mechanical behavior of the drivers themselves, especially their out-of-bandwidth break-up modes. It’s an unusual choice for a multi-driver, ultra-high-tech system like this one, one more usually found in minimalist, high-efficiency speakers, but it makes perfect sense of the Cardinal’s technological strengths -- and weaknesses. If you are using a higher-order filter with steep slopes and rapid driver roll-off, then you can concentrate on a narrower pass band, but the Cardinal’s crossover uses either shallow slopes or an entirely acoustical/mechanical roll-off in the case of the midband drivers. What makes this possible is the ability to tailor the drivers’ mechanical responses so precisely, while the lack of subtractive filter elements between the amp and the drive unit delivers enhanced control to overcome the heavier mass of the polypropylene cones compared to, for example, ceramics. The result is a highly unusual crossover that is best described as two-way first-order electrical, but four-way acoustical design.

As well as maintaining as much of the drive units’ inherent efficiency as possible, the benign slopes of the Cardinal crossover present the driving amplifier with modest electrical demands -- a 6-ohm nominal impedance with a 3-ohm minimum -- and reduced reactive load. That lack of sharp corners in the impedance plot and the back EMF that would go with them means that the driving amplifier gets a relatively easy ride, an important compensation for the moderate overall system sensitivity of 90dB and a crucial factor if the Cardinal is to deliver convincing dynamic range and musical authority.

Completing the jigsaw

The Cardinal cabinet is also far more complex than its sleek external appearance suggests, both in its construction and internal arrangements. It is based on a series of aluminum extrusions and carbon-fibre-sandwich structural elements that are, like the metalwork for the drivers, modular in nature. The massive extruded-aluminium baffle is carefully shaped to reduce diffraction, but also minimise resonance and bending modes. Variable thickness and curved "returns" that extend a full 50mm back from the baffle face make for an incredibly rigid element. Although the raw extrusion itself is supplied to Wilson Benesch in 5-meter (16’) lengths, all machining and finishing is done in-house. Behind this, the rear half of the cabinet is formed from a curved W-section, formed with combined carbon-fiber and fiberglass skins, sandwiching a thick structural foam core. The result is again incredibly stiff, but it is also extremely light, while the foam core material and mixed-material skins make for excellent self-damping. This carbon composite channel is the result of a closely guarded, proprietary production process, the materials, expertise and plant required making it an incredibly costly element -- a fact that Wilson Benesch offset by using it across their range of products. Of course, one channel section can’t do it all, given that different systems demand different cabinet volumes, but that’s where clever modular construction comes in. The composite channel is linked to the baffle by extruded "cheeks." By varying the depth of these, the volume can be dialed in for different systems, while, again, the extruded profile allows extreme shaping of the elements to increase stiffness and resist resonance. These side panels on the Cardinal are fully 180mm (7") in depth.

Finally, the back of the cabinet is finished with a beautifully sculpted and T post that adds another clamping element as well as significant additional stiffness. The end result is an enclosure that involves clamped mixed materials in a self-damping sandwich structure, virtually devoid of parallel internal walls, with all the benefits of an ultra-stiff material like aluminum, but with none of the ringing that normally goes with it. Throw in the low energy-storage characteristics of the composite-channel section and this could be a theoretically near-perfect cabinet.

The internal volume itself is constructed from two separate elements. The large upper enclosure houses the tweeter and lower-midrange unit. The lower cabinet contains the midrange driver in its own separate enclosure, loaded by an electromechanically damped ABR that vents through the slot between the two sections of the cabinet. That driver disposition might, at first glance, appear quite literally to be upside down, but like so many elements of the Cardinal package, there’s an underlying logic at work. By placing the lower-mid driver in the upper cabinet, along with the high-frequency unit, Milnes manages to reduce mechanical intermodulation distortion between the two units, the lower-mid’s output simply not overlapping with the tweeter’s range. It also allows him to optimise the lower-mid’s loading chamber, in terms of size and shape, without eroding the internal volume available for the low-frequency enclosure or compromising the spacing of the drive units on the front baffle. One physical constraint in the construction of the Cardinal is the length of the composite channel used in the cabinet. This can only be produced in lengths of up to 1 meter, so by placing the upper-midrange driver, with its smaller air chamber, in the lower cabinet, Milnes maximises the volume of his low-frequency chamber without increasing the footprint of the cabinet. He also extends the same elimination of intermodulation effects seen in the upper cabinet across the speaker’s entire range.

Despite the Cardinal being a four-way design, no driver shares its baffle with another driver producing an adjacent frequency range. This is particularly crucial when it comes to the critical lower-midrange driver, where energy transmitted via the cabinet from the bass units would have a seriously detrimental impact on musical pace and dynamic authority, something that is all too apparent in those speakers that try to sound bigger than they really are.

Once you get inside the lower cabinet, things get even more complex. The midrange chamber is loaded by an electromechanically damped ABR, a more controllable implementation of open-baffle design. This ABR vents upwards into the slot between the upper and lower cabinets. The remainder of the lower enclosure contains the bass system. What at first looks like three 7" drivers is actually a pair of isobarically loaded drivers, in turn loaded by another front-mounted ABR. The Isobaric arrangement demands a second pair of drivers, placed immediately behind the units mounted on the front baffle. These are positioned as closely as possible on their own massive aluminium sub-baffle, a part that weighs in at 35 pounds before you mount the drive units. It is this substantial element that underpins the speaker’s bottom-end authority and clarity, preventing any motion in the physical reference seen by the bass drivers. Anybody worried by the apparent lack of cone area for a speaker of this price should be reassured by the paper extension to a -3dB point of 25Hz.

The top of the cabinet looks like it would be more at home in the Olympic velodrome than gracing the uppermost point of a loudspeaker. Whilst it has an undeniably powerful visual impact, again the purpose is to eliminate resonance and any parallel surfaces inside the lower-mid chamber.

The Cardinal stands on the most substantial base I’ve yet come across, machined in-house from a single slab of 50mm (2") aluminium. If the purpose of the massive baffle and the stiffness of the cabinet as a whole is to offer a stable mechanical reference for the drivers, this is the part that delivers the necessary mechanical ground. It stands on three thick stainless-steel posts, one fixed at the front while the two in the rear corners, each having a massive but beautifully executed top-mounted adjusting wheel. These might look like overkill, but let me reassure you that when a speaker weighs 180kg (that’s the best part of 400 pounds!) and the posts responsible for levelling it have threads 25mm (a full inch) in diameter, those large-diameter wheels are not just a bonus -- they are essential to achieving accurate vertical and rake angles. Each of the threaded posts is tipped with a large tungsten-carbide ball. This interfaces with three identical balls captured in the large disc feet provided with the speaker, an arrangement -- first seen in the Wilson Benesch tonearm -- that guarantees minimal point contact. All these parts, like the driver baskets and motor assemblies, even the four sets of terminals mounted on the speaker’s underside, are produced in Wilson Benesch’s own CNC shop.

Standing in front of the Cardinal and describing it as conceptually minimalist or pared-down might seem strange. The base is over two feet in each dimension, while the tall, narrow (8" wide) cabinet rises 69" from the floor and is 22" deep. A quick head count should reveal that, contrary to first impressions, what you are actually looking at is a four-box speaker system with no fewer than eight separate internal acoustic volumes and a grand total of 18 bespoke drive units. The cabinet is entirely constructed from aluminium or engineering composites, with not one piece of wood in sight. In fact, that 180kg weight should act as a sobering indicator as to just how much aluminium there is in the Cardinal -- especially when you consider that around half the cabinet volume is provided by the lightweight composite sandwich section. The upshot is a speaker that is neither particularly easy to install nor drive -- but is well worth the effort.

By now, you should begin to appreciate that this is a "speaker system" in the fullest sense. Virtually every single element has been purpose-built, honed and refined in-house to create an interlocking jigsaw of parts that becomes the whole. The modular cabinet, indeed the whole notion of a wide-bandwidth system based on 7" cones, wouldn’t work without the configurable drivers; the use of extruded sections and the sandwich cabinet are only possible because the costs are defrayed across the range; the system only works because the engineering incorporated is repeatable and manageable -- and that’s only because the entire process is carried out in-house. These are mutually dependent conditions, a set of circumstances that can only exist in concert. Remove any one and the whole thing collapses like a house of cards -- which helps explain why, in an industry awash with me-too product and more bandwagons than the Calgary Stampede, the Cardinal is physically, materially and topologically unique. In an industry that seems to venerate over-engineering, this is the opposite; this is a true system solution, with appropriate engineering applied to each and every aspect. The mantra might be, "enough and no more," because in a loudspeaker, each and every additional, unnecessary element comes with its own additive cost, its own sonic signature. It might seem ridiculous to describe any speaker costing nearly £55,000 as a bargain, but in pure engineering and technology terms, that’s exactly what the Cardinal represents.

Any large multi-driver speaker inevitably adds complexity to the equation. The challenge is to ensure that the benefits from the increased size, cost and complication outweigh the drawbacks. It’s an acid test the Cardinal bypasses with flying colours, sidestepping the issue neatly through a combination of conceptual elegance and engineering excellence. In fact, one of the greatest complements I can pay the Cardinal is to say that it doesn’t sound like a big loudspeaker. But that is only half the story. In fact it doesn’t sound much like a speaker at all.

System setup

Despite its substantial weight, the Cardinal is surprisingly easy to manhandle, simply because it offers a plethora of secure handholds. Unlike with many high-end speakers, you can actually get ahold of it! Unfortunately, that’s the easy bit.

The ball-bearing interfaces on the feet (together with the substantial weight) made it surprisingly difficult to slide the speaker, even on my wooden floor, making small positional changes extremely difficult. I eventually resorted to some felt-based footers for placement purposes, before installing the dedicated feet. The other practical difficulty concerns connecting the speaker cables. Wilson Benesch have created their own combination terminals/binding posts. These use a short post (for bananas) and a large-diameter nut for spades. The design is simple, low-mass and secure -- all commendable virtues. However, the fact that the Cardinal crossover offers separate inputs for each leg, each positioned beneath the speaker and only identified by engravings on the black anodised undersurface of the base, presents a challenge. That’s eight almost inaccessible terminals that you don’t just need to connect, you also need to identify for polarity and purpose. Given that most people won’t be quad-wiring the speakers, you’ll also be using jumpers, meaning that you’ll be making multiple connections to several of those terminals. It’s a scenario where a little bit of planning and the right tools go a long, long way.

The first thing to ensure is that your cable configuration is correct. That means having enough jumpers that match your speaker cables (you really don’t want to spoil this ship for a happeth of tar!) to wire all four sets of terminals. If you use single wires, that means three sets of jumpers; if you use bi-wires, two sets. Next -- install the jumpers while the speakers are horizontal, and ideally make sure that you visually identify the polarity and orientation of the terminals. A strip of red tape, positioned to one side and with a bottom-to-top arrow at one end will do nicely (and can always be removed after installation is complete). Finally, once the speaker is upright and roughly in position, one person should tilt it while you connect the speaker cables to the correct terminals. This will be considerably easier if you have a small flashlight on hand and the cables are terminated with clearly colour-coded bananas. The last thing you want to be doing is wondering whether that’s a positive or negative connector while your hands are underneath a 400-pound loudspeaker. If your cables use spades, this whole process is considerably more awkward, although ensuring that you have a 13mm ratchet socket wrench (that’s a shade over 1/2") will at least make it possible. In one of those ill-advised fits of enthusiasm that often accompanies the arrival of new products, I attempted to swap the cables on the Cardinal from the original setup to a bi-amped, bi-jumpered, all-spade configuration using a standard spanner. The air was well past blue and somewhere close to a deep, deep purple before I bit the bullet and finally dug out the socket set. Rest secure in the knowledge that I suffer so that you don’t have to -- and learn the lessons of my stubborn stupidity!

The other key aspects of Cardinal configuration are to do with positioning and angles. With any wide-bandwidth loudspeaker, placement is critical, and this one is no exception. But equally important is ensuring that the speakers are deployed perfectly symmetrically, in terms of attitude and toe-in. I found that they performed best pointing at the outer edges of a seated listener’s shoulders, with distance and symmetry established using a laser level. Also critical is getting the cabinets absolutely vertical in the lateral plane, and to ensure that they have identical rake angles. My lowish seating position meant tilting the speakers very slightly forward for optimum midband linearity and presence, which is where those massive adjustment wheels and the speakers’ stable footprint really come into their own.

I drove the Cardinals with a range of different amps, including the VTL MB-450 IIIs, the Berning Quadrature Z monoblocks and the fascinating Avantgarde XA combination. All of these amps, ranging between 150 and over 400 watts in terms of rated output, were perfectly happy driving the Cardinals, but there was no mistaking the character of each. That’s a double-edged sword; if you love your amps and the system is really well sorted, then you’ll just get even more of what you already like. But the speakers’ lack of coloration or subtractive tendencies certainly lay bare the quality of the driving system, so make sure you understand just what they’re telling you. Where complex crossovers and intrusive cabinets cover a multitude of sins, the Cardinals deliver their message with a forthright honesty that can be a bit on the bracing side if there are problems you weren’t aware of lurking upstream.

Just as differences between amps were unusually stark, so too were differences between cables; the contrasting attractions of the Nordost Odin and Crystal Cable Absolute Dream have rarely been so obvious. What was even more obvious was any discontinuity within the cable loom -- hence my earlier note regarding matching jumpers. But get everything just so and the Wilson Benesch speakers really let you hear the benefits. Whilst each of the amp and cable options listed above held their own appeal and particular fascination, it was bi-amping the speakers with the Siltech SAGA amplification system that was to prove spectacularly successful. Naturally, that reflects the quality of these exceptional electronics, but the speakers have to be able to respond, and the Cardinals did -- with gusto!

It’s not what you see

We’d like to think that we all pretty much know what music sounds like, but here’s a question: do you know what your loudspeakers sound like? If the answer is, "They sound like music," then the chances are that more often than not you’ve acclimated to the point where reproduction and reality have blended to such a degree that what you hear is governed as much by expectation as fact. Listening to the sound of live, acoustic music (as opposed to listening to the music itself) is a sobering experience. How an orchestra or group presents, the effect of the space in and around the musicians, the clarity and independence of each individual musical line and the physical energy high- and low-level that they produce: you quickly realize just how flawed many audio systems are and, ironically, how often those that excel sonically also fail musically -- and spectacularly so.

Now, let’s play a little game of spot the speaker. Imagine if you will that you are sitting in front of an acoustically transparent curtain, behind which is a pair of speakers playing a familiar recording. Do you think you could identify the type of speaker playing? Not whether it is a KEF or a B&W, a Wilson or an Avalon. No, I’m interested in far broader groupings than that. Is it a dipole electrostatic, a dynamic system, a horn or a mini-monitor? That’s right -- as simple as, Is it big or small? Is it built into a box or not? The answer should be yes, you can identify speakers by broad type -- most of the time. Not always and you will get fooled occasionally, partly because in many cases the speaker designer is trying to do exactly that: making his little box sound bigger than it is, or vice versa. But the point is that each of these broad design approaches brings with it its own set of strengths and weaknesses, its thumbprint that it imposes, more or less, clearly on each signal that passes through it. We talk about hearing the box, the crossover, tweeter breakup or comb-filtered low frequencies, each in turn narrowing the possible type or identity of the mystery device.

Except that in this instance, the speaker behind the curtain doesn’t conform to expectation, doesn’t represent an identifiable thumbprint -- it’s not in CODIS, the NFR, the NPPD or any of your other available databanks. Instead, what you hear, what you experience, is a bundle of apparent contradictions. Absolutely seamless top-to-bottom integration suggests a single-driver design -- like an electrostatic -- a notion backed up by the lack of any thickness or obvious boxy coloration. In fact, the even dynamic and harmonic spectrum is almost spookily consistent. Has to be a single driver! But it’s consistent right down to the bottom of its range, and that range runs deep. Nor does it have the exaggerated, spacious soundstage that so many find attractive in dipole designs.

So if it’s not a dipole and it is wide bandwidth, if it is an electrostatic, it’s either a very clever or a very strange one. But there are other telltales we can look for: the crisp, etched leading edge and snappy dynamics of ceramic (and other ultra-stiff) cones? Nope -- nowhere to be heard. There is no dome-tweeter fizz and edge that come from early breakup modes, nor is there the almost muted-energy effect of the small-diameter diamond domes, so clean and devoid are they of added distortion or ringing. Likewise, there’s none of the thump of a really big driver in an even bigger box, none of the hyped midbass dynamics that many larger speakers use to justify their size (and price). It’s obviously not a horn -- it doesn’t have the sheer immediacy -- but it doesn’t have the integration, coloration or bandwidth limitations either. Nor does the bass sound constipated or extruded, which it would if this were a little speaker sounding bigger than it is. Maybe it’s a closed-box electrostatic hybrid with a really big and seriously well-integrated subwoofer. However, not only am I unaware of any such system (except the Wisdoms), the bass, while it does run deep, doesn’t go as deep as any designer would run it if that was the approach. At this point I’d be beyond clutching at straws and ready to admit defeat.

The speaker behind the curtain is of course the Cardinal. Why the fan dance? To make you realise two things about this speaker: what you see is not what you hear, and what you hear is both unusual and very special -- but because this speaker doesn’t play the game by the same rules of so many existing high-end designs, its virtues are easy to miss. Where the bigger, flashier and noisier competition shouts, "Look at me! Look at what I can do!", the Cardinal is all about what it doesn’t do. Speakers with 15" woofers whack you in the chest with bass beats -- because that’s what you expect. Electrostatics sound spacious and ethereal -- because that’s what you expect. Minimonitors give pinpoint placement and separation -- because that’s what you expect. Too many designers make a virtue of the speaker’s strengths rather than trying to ameliorate its weaknesses, because it’s easier to sell the spectacular virtue that stands out from the crowd than it is to market self-effacing honesty. The Cardinal sounds understated and unexaggerated. It certainly doesn’t sound like most listeners would expect a £55,000 speaker (roughly $80,000) to sound. In fact, as I said earlier, it doesn’t sound much at all.

What does the Cardinal sound like? Let’s ask a different question: what does music sound like through the Cardinal?

Thinking big

Plenty of people faced with a small speaker reach straight for the biggest, most demanding recording they have to hand. Me, I’m the exact opposite. Show me a big speaker and the first thing I want to do is play something really small and delicate. Why? Well, all those drivers, that great big box; playing big and loud is what it’s been designed to do. I want to know what happens when all that hardware becomes an embarrassment -- a bit like taking a Ferrari to the supermarket. If it’s your only car, it sure as shootin’ needs to handle the shopping. You don’t get much more delicate, fluid or demanding of system articulation than Julia Fischer’s Bach sonatas and partitas [PentaTone SACD 5186 072], an object lesson in sinuous musical precision. Play them on the Cardinals and it’s an instructive experience.

Firstly, the speakers establish a remarkably clear and totally independent acoustic space. There is no sense that those forbidding black towers full of drive units are the source of the sound -- or that they have anything at all to do with what you are hearing. The acoustic simply exists, created in front of you, and within it is the remarkably stable, solid image of Fischer’s violin, not as a separate entity but intimately connected to its environment, the instrument and the air around it. We call it an "acoustic" for a reason. There’s none of the etched over-separation or hyper definition that passes for high-end sound. What there is is a musical event, with player, place and the relationship between them preserved intact.

Secondly, it stays that way. With a lot of speakers you can use the volume control like a zoom lens; turn it up and that central image will get bigger or closer -- and often both! When I describe the soundstage established by the Cardinals as stable, what I mean by that is that it stays the same size and in the same place, irrespective of volume. Turn it up and the music just gets louder. Even more impressively, turn it down and it just gets quieter -- no collapsing dimensionality, no loss of dynamic range. With a lot of speakers, especially those with a lot of drivers or a complex crossover, there’s a threshold for every recording, below which it doesn’t really come alive. If the Cardinals have such a threshold it’s subtle enough that I haven’t noticed it -- and it’s something that normally I pick up on in a flash.

Thirdly, despite the fact that we are discussing solo violin here, the dexterity, rhythmic fluidity and sheer range of tonal and dynamic shadings required to really do Fischer’s performance justice are way beyond the capabilities of most audio systems, and speakers in particular. The sheer intensity of the live experience is quickly eroded by the gating imposed by so many audio setups. Their inability to track the expressive fluidity in the playing is starkly apparent as lines collapse and bowing becomes clumsy. Yet these are system impacts; they are not there in the performance. The Cardinals deliver a sense of musical concentration and focus on the event that is quite uncanny. The control and precision, the position and juxtaposition of the notes that Fischer plays is so unencumbered, so precise that you are left in no doubt as to both her musical and technical abilities. The contrast between phrases, the harmonic palette of the different strings -- these things are starkly, beautifully apparent. It’s not that she sounds like a better player (with a better fiddle). Instead, you can really hear just how good she is, just how good her instrument is and that it’s a Guadagnini, more subtle and harmonically complex but less powerful than a Strad. This is all about the music and the speakers as window onto that music -- and that’s just how it should be.

Thinking small

That’s seriously impressive performance for any speaker. It’s doubly impressive given the number of different drivers involved here. But that is exactly the point. The Cardinal looks like a big, super-complex system, yet electrically speaking and in many ways mechanically speaking too, it’s far less complex than most speakers out there. Think back to my description of the unusual crossover topology employed. Despite the nine-drivers-per-cabinet component count, the Cardinal uses a first-order, shallow-slope, two-way electrical crossover -- about as simple and (in time and phase terms) as unobtrusive as it gets. Yet this is a four-way speaker, those other three-driver transitions being handled mechanically, by tailoring the acoustic output of the mid and lower-mid drivers.

Yet, what my description of Ms. Fischer’s performance should tell you is that this is arguably one of the best-integrated multiway speaker systems I’ve ever heard. Or, in other words, Wilson Benesch have achieved mechanically better and certainly far less musically intrusive results than you can get from an electrical/subtractive approach. Whilst we’ve always understood the benefits of running drivers wide open -- especially when it comes to preserving musical nuance and expression, it was never taken really seriously in the high end because of perceived issues with poor control and absolute accuracy. Now, what EgglestonWorks and Reference 3A have been doing for years, Wilson Benesch have both extended and improved, with not just one midrange driver running wide open but two, broadening the range and refining the approach to a point where it’s not just a viable alternative to electrical/subtractive crossovers, it’s superior to all but the very best of them. The Cardinal might look like a big, butch high-tech monster, but inside beats the heart and sensibilities of an ultra-purist little two-way. But don’t be fooled. Even a small speaker can hide a very big club behind its back!

Another way in which the Cardinal has more in common with small speakers than large is the way it sounds at low frequencies. When I said that too many large-driver designs feel the need to remind you that yes, that really is an 11", 12", 15" or whatever-sized bass unit it might be, I should point out that whilst that voicing is in part down to the designer, it also reflects the nature of the drivers themselves. There really is a difference between bass from one big driver and bass from a lot of little ones. One reason for that is simply how much air a big driver moves, with its massive cone area and long throw. The other reason is that the big, heavy cone is hard to accelerate or control, demanding a stiff suspension to keep things heading in the right direction -- all of which adds up to a speed of response that simply can’t match smaller drivers (although there will be rather more to say on that score later). So, are you therefore much better off with a load of small drivers? Not necessarily. Firstly, you have to get them all heading in the same way at exactly the same time (which isn’t as easy as it sounds) and then you have to have enough of them to move sufficient air. Of course, the more drivers you have, the harder it is to keep them all in synch.

For Wilson Benesch, the small-driver approach was always going to be the preferred path, imposed by the constraints of their cabinet construction. The challenge was to overcome the limitations. The isobaric solution adopted might be expensive, adding little or no perceived value to the finished article, but it works -- it really, really works, especially in the context of this speaker. Not only does the arrangement overcome the inherent frequency restrictions normally imposed by smaller drivers, the close-coupled air cavity acts to average the response of the four units, units that are already pretty precisely matched, having been built for purpose entirely in-house. Add to that the fact that the physical and material similarities between the different drivers in the system, as well as their dispersion, brings a "cut from the same cloth" quality to their integration, and it should be no surprise that the Cardinal's bottom end is a seamlessly natural extension of that expressive and fluid midrange. This is bass that’s about articulation, clarity and finesse. It is not about great, clumsy, clod-hopping drum beats flying out of the soundstage like cannonballs in a bad 3D movie.

Instead, the bass is tactile and mobile, with a sense of pace and shape, attack and decay that matches the midband for unobstructed ebb and flow. This One’s for Blanton [Analogue Productions CAPJ015] provides an acid test for bass pitch and timing. With only two instruments at work, the relationship between them is crucial, and if the low frequencies are even slightly out in terms of weight, pace or placement, it’s not just obvious, the music loses any sense of shape or interest. It was a test the Cardinal passed with flying colors, Ray Brown’s agile fingering a captivating counterpoint to Ellington’s percussive piano interjections. Instead of stark and disjointed as it can so often be, this was music with a deeply ingrained groove, played with an obvious affection by two stellar performers. Likewise, "Little Triggers" from Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model [Radar RAD 3 LP]. The shape and substance of each bass note, each bar is crucial to the undulating rhythm of the song, its sense and sensibility. It’s no exaggeration to say that the entire edifice rests on that simple, repeated, rising and falling sequence, its steps and hesitations underpinning the angst and agony in the vocal. The drums are delivered with not just impact, but texture, volume and (dare I say it?) personality. There’s no mistaking them for a drum machine, and again it adds to the humanity and emotional connection of both the song and the performance.

This is bass that’s about integration and musical understanding. It’s not about impressing your mates. So, separating bass and cello on orchestral recordings is simplicity itself, even with unfamiliar pieces, making the musical roadmap that much easier to read. Likewise bassoon, tuba, timps and double bass -- all have their own distinctive place and timbral identity. Orchestral tuttis don’t homogenize into a single low-frequency grunt, but even more importantly, the sort of faint echoes in the distant deepest bass that underpin the sparse almost-silences so beloved by Shostakovich are full of texture and character, a pulse with shape and color, rather than just a dull thud. Whilst Petrenko’s recording of the Fifth Symphony is possibly the finest example of this, if you want to hear orchestral layering at its very best, the third movement of his First Symphony performance [Naxos 8.572396] reveals not just his total mastery of the score, but the Cardinal’s ability to deliver that performance intact and in your room. As alternatives you could take almost anything from the Berglund cycle on EMI, or the Gorecki Third Symphony on Polskie Radio [PR SACD2], with the composer conducting the Polish National Symphony Orchestra. Any one of these will clearly reveal the clarity and intelligibility that the Cardinal brings to the musical foundations, a clarity and lack of clutter that extends up through the entire range. Living with the Cardinal, you soon realize just how much most speakers add: a little here, a little there. You may not notice each little addition, but collectively they hold back the performance, the music and your enjoyment.

Playing really large-scale works reminds that the Cardinal is a large speaker rather than a full-range design. It doesn’t match a Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF or Focal Grande Utopia when it comes to sheer scale or bottom-end wallop. There will be those who will bemoan a lack of obvious weight from a speaker of this size and price -- but that misses the point. Yes, you could have more weight, but it would cost you and be a bill paid in musical terms, with an interest rate that would make a payday-loan company blush. The Cardinal excels within its range, precisely because it doesn’t attempt to push the boundaries of that range. As we’ll see, what comes out depends more than normal on what you put in, but like the big-driver debate, I’ll return to that later. But first. . . .

And smaller still

Let another surprise element in the Cardinal’s composition, at least as far as appearances go, is the inclusion of a silk-dome tweeter. With most of the competition boasting ribbons, diamonds or beryllium, even those with a fabric driver go for something a bit more modern than a simple dome -- the ring-radiators being the obvious example. But there it is, Wilson Benesch’s Semi-Sphere tweeter, looking little different to the sort of driver that graces many a sub-$1000 design. Of course, as we know, there’s a lot more to the driver than the way it looks, and arguably its external appearance is even more misleading than that of the other drivers here, but the proof of the pudding is in the listening, and when it comes to music, the Semi-Sphere delivers on all its promises.

Habituated as I am to RAAL and Raidho ribbons, various diamonds and other exotic tweeters, the Cardinal was up against stiff competition. Yet there was no lack of extension, no edge or breakup modes to be heard. Nor was there any softening or smearing of high-frequency detail. On the contrary, texture and microdynamic shading on cymbal work, string harmonics and vocals were exceedingly natural and contiguous with the rest of the range, without being spot-lit or lifted. Tonal shadings were excellent, bringing real, identifiable character to different singers and instruments, but the most impressive element of all was the sense of substance. In the same way that air and harmonics were a natural extension of the instrument and notes producing them, the core of each instrument or voice had substance and identity, a real sense of direction and energy. Anybody who has heard a piccolo cut across an orchestral tutti will know exactly what I mean. The Cardinal manages exactly the same trick, embodying the smallest instrument with a solid presence, irrespective of what is happening around it.

In part at least, this is down to the seamless integration with that uncluttered, unimpeded midband, but it is also about the tweeter’s ability to match that 180mm driver when it comes to delivering energy within its range. There’s no ghostly, ethereal extension here -- just good old-fashioned life and energy. Yes, you get the air, purity and locational precision that come with superior high-frequency performance, but they are almost extras after the fact of the music -- another reminder that technical performance is all very well, but actually it’s the musical performance that matters.

Putting it all together

By now, you will have realized that I rate the Cardinal very highly indeed. It is capable of remarkable levels of performance. But the key word in that sentence is "capable." Like any truly transparent loudspeaker, it is a slave to the system you hang it on the end of. The problem is that, just as the Cardinal doesn’t sound the way it looks, the ideal choice of matching equipment is less than obvious too. To make matters worse, it flies in the face of conventional audio wisdom.

There’s a deeply engrained compensation culture in audio. Got a bright-sounding CD player? Get some nice, dull, rounded interconnects and that will restore the balance -- at least so the logic goes. The problem is that those same interconnects will also slug and obscure the very qualities (brightness aside) that made you choose the player in the first place. This color-by-numbers approach is what often passes for system matching, whereas in fact it's actually completely the opposite, simply papering over the cracks. Faced with a speaker described as honest, self-effacing and (although I hesitate to use the term) neutral, a lot of dealers or listeners would reach straight for a valve amp to warm things up, and whilst there are valve amps that work with the Cardinal, it’s not the driving device that’s critical. It’s the nature of the amplifier itself.

The beauty, the phenomenal strength of the Cardinal, is just how little of itself it adds to the process. Tamper with that aural invisibility and you throw the baby out with the bath water. In normal circumstances, nothing papers over system cracks (and obscures the music) more than the loudspeakers. The bigger the speaker and the more complex the crossover, the greater the potential damage, the greater the depth and spread of that sonic polyfiller. To get the best from the Cardinal you need electronics with a similarly shy personality -- amps that won’t gate the demands of the musical signal (subtractive tendencies) or bend, add to or exaggerate it for effect (additive tendencies). Throw in an amp with a fat bottom end to pump up the bass weight and all you’ll achieve is to undo all of the work that Wilson Benesch have put into the speaker -- and you’ve just paid for, assuming you own them.

I used a pair of VTL MB-450 Series III monoblocks with great success. They drove the Cardinals beautifully -- but not because they are valve amps. They succeeded because they ticked the right boxes. In turn, those are:

  • Power: At 90dB sensitivity, the Cardinal’s weakest suit is its dynamic range -- if under-driven. Unless the speaker receives sufficient power that arrives sufficiently quickly, it will sound flat and constricted compared to live dynamics. Of course, that will just place it in the same boat as most of the competition, but why accept ordinary when you can have extraordinary?
  • Delivery: the crucial facility in making the '450s work with the Cardinals was their variable damping factor, allowing better matching between driving amp and loudspeaker load.
  • Nature: the '450s are neither overly warm nor romantic in nature. Instead, they are remarkably even top to bottom. Just as importantly, that evenness extends to their energy spectrum, a key factor in getting the best out of the Cardinal.

So, in looking for a matching amp, you are seeking large amounts of unfettered power that can be delivered across the full bandwidth -- from a clean, quick source. The best example of this came from the remarkable Siltech SAGA electronics, used to bi-amp the Wilson Benesch speakers, producing results that were really quite special. Seldom have I heard a system that can respond so easily and effortlessly to the demands of the musical signal. The uninhibited enthusiasm combined with the absolute honesty made for a winning combination that stopped several listeners in their tracks. But remarkable as they are, the four-box SAGA setup is also remarkably expensive -- a cool €100,000! At that price they should sound good.

So, is the Cardinal another of those speakers that isn’t just expensive to buy, it’s even more expensive to run? I achieved fantastic results from the Connoisseur 4.2LE/Berning Quadrature Z combination at around half that price, but perhaps best value of all was the Avantgarde XA preamp and power amp, a combination that comes in the right side of €20,000 and also ticks all the boxes. This fully balanced, part battery, solid-state setup will be getting its own review shortly, but believe me, it’s very, very good.

So when it comes to matching amps to the Cardinal, you are looking for quick, clean and above all uninhibited. And remember, however that amp sounds, you are going to hear it. But get it right and you’ll be laying on the icing atop the musical cake. How does the Cardinal sound? By now you know the answer: It doesn’t really sound at all, so devoid is it of inherent character. Yes, you need to encourage it, and yes, it needs that rarest of commodities, quick, clean power, but do the due diligence and it will reward you with musical performances that step away, not just from the speakers but from the system as a whole. Their limitations are those of bandwidth and capability, the price of honesty and the lack of glamour that goes with it. These are not dramatic performers; as I said earlier, they don’t shout, "Look at me!" Instead they rely on the music and musicians to deliver the drama, a strength that is also potentially their greatest weakness. Many listeners will want more, will expect more. The ones who buy the Cardinal will be those who really get it, who understand that less really is more.

It would be possible to read this review and conclude that here you have a speaker that is admirable, honest, a bit bass shy, more intellectual than emotive in its presentation. Or, to put it another way, worthy rather than lovable. You could well conclude that, but you’d be wrong, and you’d be wrong for the same reasons that all our other assumptions about this speaker are wrong. You see, it is genuinely different; it doesn’t fit that "accurate but boring" stereotype we’ve become so familiar with in the past. There is nothing pinched, sterile or bland about the Cardinal. It is rich of color in the same way that real instruments are rich: wholesome and solid with presence and energy that’s refreshingly familiar. It’s expressive, fluid and above all unobtrusive. If you want to hear your speaker, look elsewhere -- but if you want to hear your recordings, this is the real deal, not some pale imitation.

The cherry on the icing on the cake

When it comes to the bottom end, -3dB at 25Hz is not to be sniffed at, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The Cardinal isn’t, nor does it pretend to be, a genuinely full-range design. But before you dismiss it and move on, know this: It can be full-range, and surprisingly easily.

If you really want to hear what these speakers can do, then add a Torus Infrasonic Generator. Given the size (and price) of the Cardinal, you might well wonder why you should need to add a subwoofer, and what exactly a subwoofer can add anyway? Well, the answer to that is that the Torus is no ordinary subwoofer. Remember those issues with large-diameter drivers? Typically, Wilson Benesch have taken the bull by the horns and gone back to first principles. The result is a surprisingly compact "drum" 17" in diameter and a little over a foot tall. Lift the lid and you’ll see a single upward-facing 15" carbon-coned bass driver, with a central boss that looks like it’s from a pimped Caddy. What’s so different? The Torus motor is a push-pull design with a voice coil either side of the cone. The motors are built onto a massive central post that serves as a mechanical ground, sinking energy directly to earth, rather than allowing it to enter the cabinet. The cone is incredibly stiff yet light, coupled to an unusually soft suspension. Control over the diaphragm is exerted by the motors, driven from an external amplifier/crossover box with plenty of real watts on tap and a large linear power supply. No wimpy class-D chipsets here!

The result is astonishingly clean, fast and well-defined bass fundamentals from a package that is compact, elegant and, at £6400, refreshingly affordable for the performance on offer. I reviewed the Torus some years ago, as part of WB’s Trinity system, and if I had the luxury of a settled system, the Torus would be an essential part of it. Instead, I’ll have to settle for it being an essential add-on for the Cardinal.

Because Wilson Benesch weren’t prepared to go for the "big-driver and added padding" solution to low-frequency weight, the Cardinal depends on speed and precision to deliver its bottom-end substance, a balance it strikes with remarkable success. Indeed, simply listening to the Cardinal won’t leave you feeling short-changed -- until you hear it with the Torus. The main cabinets might be only 3dB down at 25Hz, but there’s no mistaking what the Torus adds to the party. Play the moody, somber opening to Rachmaninov’s "Isle of the Dead" [Jurowski/LPO 0004] and the Cardinals give you a convincing sense of space and presence, but add the Torus and the acoustic simply expands, taking on a new height and greater space between and around instruments. The bass notes offer more texture and timbre, with a blossoming of tonal color across the rest of the orchestra. All of which is to be expected from an orchestral heavyweight like this. But what you probably aren’t expecting is the shift in pace and timing. Using the Torus makes the Cardinal on its own sound clipped and hurried, something you’d never pick up on listening to the speaker in isolation. Adding the bass unit brings a stability and anchored sense of timing that allow the music to swell and breath, to take on a more stately and far more effective tempo, transforming the emotional intensity and impact of this live performance. The Torus raises the Cardinal’s already impressively communicative performance to a whole new emotive level.

The Torus couldn’t do all that unless it integrated really well. The good news is that it does -- and does so very easily. Its preferred positioning, central between the speakers and the same distance from the listener to its center as to the speaker baffles, certainly helps, but there’s more to it than that. The unit’s clever design, super-stiff cone and astonishing level of control are what allow it to keep up with the Cardinal, while the lack of boxy coloration further aids the seamless integration; if you want to know just how seamless, try it on something small and intimate. Those bass lines on "Little Triggers" become even more tactile, the drums more sudden, the song more affecting. Solo voices soar, while the acoustic space around recordings, already separate and distinct from the speakers, gains presence, boundaries, height and a floor -- at least it does if those details are on the recording. But it’s the added fluidity, the increase in expressive range, that make what the Torus does not just impressive but essential. The Cardinal on its own is a mighty impressive package. The Torus lifts it to a whole new level and does so without costing the earth. It also adds yet another arrow to the Cardinal’s quiver, offering not just a genuinely full-range option, but a ready-made upgrade path from Cardinal to Torus to second Torus, serious musical improvements in bite-sized chunks.

The Cardinal’s (relatively) limited bandwidth was all that stood between it and the high-end’s top table. The Torus removes that reservation, emphatically, elegantly and cost effectively. The Cardinal/Torus combination deserves to be taken very, very seriously indeed. Don’t let the price put you off; I know it’s not as expensive as the competition, but price has never been a guarantee of performance when it comes to high-end audio.

Conclusions, conclusions

This is not just an impressive product, it is a loudspeaker that confronts the cost/content/performance question head on and delivers an emphatic response. In an industry and at a time when products just seem to get more and more expensive and those price tags are harder and harder to justify, the Cardinal is quietly saying, "We can do better." This is an industry that needs to listen to that message. Look at the proprietary engineering, unique materials technology and attention to detail in the Cardinal. Look at the total absence of any spurious BS. Now look at the price tag, and anybody who is anything other than seriously impressed either doesn’t understand or is simply ignoring the economic realities of small-scale specialist manufacturing.

Of course, the interlocking set of technologies and capabilities that make the Cardinal possible are no happy accident and perhaps the most important thing to take from this review is that the flagship product is a natural evolution of the existing range. In other words, you find the same level of engineering excellence and thoughtful implementation right across the Wilson Benesch product line. The Cardinal might take it to the nth degree, but essentially the approach, materials and philosophy are there in every speaker the company produces -- in a range that starts at £2000 a pair.

If I had to sum up the Wilson Benesch Cardinal in a single word, that word would be integrity: the integrity of the people and company behind it; the integrity of the thinking that underpins the design, the manufacturing processes and materials that produce it; but most important of all, the integrity of the musical performances that it in turn produces. This is a tool, and like all really good tools, you’ll recognise its quality as soon as you use it.
.......... 
Roy Gregory

That’s engineering:
Wilson Benesch was established in 1989, its first product a belt-drive, sprung turntable employing a carbon-fibre sub-chassis. Next up was a tonearm, the ACT One, another design using innovative materials and engineering. A variation on the unipivot principle, the 'arm employed a three-point kinematic bearing (one ball resting against three others) to prevent bearing chatter or wander. It’s an arrangement that can be seen embodied in the feet fitted to the Cardinal. There was a clever underhung counterweight, but the star of the show was the massively tapered one-piece carbon-fibre armtube incorporating both the headshell and a stubby but entirely practical finger lift. It looked impressive, it looked different and it sounded impressive too.

But most impressive of all is that the basic design is still in production. Now morphed into three different but externally similar models that share those same essential ingredients. The flagship employs nanotube technology to further improve the stiffness and drop the weight of the armtube, while the ACT Two is an improved version of the original, using superior carbon for its armtube. But the model that impresses me is the entry point, the ACT 0.5. Essentially this is mechanically and materially identical to the original 'arm, with the same utter simplicity and innovative materials and engineering. Fit and finish are flawless, and the performance is remarkable for the price. Oh yes, the price? That would be £1035 -- around $1500. As I said, that’s engineering.
....... Roy Gregory

Awards

Square Series II – Square One, “BEST BUY” – Haute Fidelite, France

Square Series II – Square One, “BEST BUY” – Haute Fidelite, France

Wilson Benesch continues it’s fine run of excellent reviews with the third glowing review for the Square Series II in as many months, following the HIFI Choice Square Three review and the Max Delissen Square Three review. This time around it was the smallest speaker in the range, the standmounted Square One V2 which has[...]

 

 

Award: Square One, Stereophile USA Recommended Component

Award: Square One, Stereophile USA Recommended Component 2016

Hot off the press, we are delighted to report that our entry level bookshelf / stand mounted loudspeaker, the Square One, has been featured in ‘Stereophile Magazine USA – Recommended Components List of 2016’. Third party endorsement such as this is always well received by all the team here at at the Wilson Benesch HQ. Each[...]

Square One wins What Hi Fi group test

Square One wins What Hi Fi group test

WHAT HI FI SOUND AND VISION GROUP TEST APRIL 2007Its back to Square One for the competition. Square One technology triumphs against leading rivals in the mid price loudspeaker group test in this months What Hi Fi Sound and Vision. Endorsement from the largest and arguably most influential audio journal in the world. 

Wilson Benesch has been named a ‘Golden Ear’ Award winner by The Absolute Sound USA for its Resolution floorstanding loudspeaker.

4th August, 2018 – Wilson Benesch today announces that it has been named a ‘Golden Ear’ Award winner by The Absolute Sound USA for its Resolution floorstanding loudspeaker.

Wilson Benesch’s Resolution loudspeaker was launched in 2017 and has received praise from across the industry, winning a Los Angeles Audio Show ‘Alfie’ the summer of its launch, with Jonathan Valin commenting,

“On a roll lately, Wilson Benesch was debuting the Resolution, a seven-driver three-way (four clamshell-mounted Tactic II woofers, two Tactic II midranges, and a single silk-dome/carbon-fiber tweeter in a monocoque carbon-fiber-composite cabinet). In the first room… the sound was stat-like in its clarity and absence of enclosure coloration… in the second room the sound was… reminiscent of the Rockport Cygnus in the Soulution room—beautiful in color, with superior pace and definition in the low end. Wilson Benesch makes swell loudspeakers.”

The Resolution has since been submitted for review with the Audiobeat’s Roy Gregory who added,

“The Wilson Benesch Resolution is a superb loudspeaker… it delivers a level of musical coherence and insight, a balance of the convincing and the communicative, that puts it at the forefront of current loudspeaker performance.”

The full Absolute Sound review to compliment this award will be available in winter 2018. Until then you can read both the Audiobeat Resolution review and the recently published HIFI+ system review of Resolution with CH Precision.