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a Audio EnthusiastDate Reviewed:
February 7, 2003Bottom Line:
These are the best speakers by far I have ever listened to. The problem is that it reveals the lack of quality of a recording. So if something was recorded poorly, it will show. I can hear background noise, such as (movement, whispers) that I could never hear before on other speakers. You can't go wrong with 10 drivers! Whispers give great frequency response from the lowest lows, to the highest highs. Can't compare cabinet quality to anything I have seen. Best money I have ever spent.
Used product for: Less than 1 month
Duration Product Used: Audio Enthusiast
Product model year: 2002
a AudioPhileDate Reviewed:
March 8, 2002Bottom Line:
Since so much good has been said already about these speakers let me keep it simple for you. Listen carefully- Imagine the sensitivity, clarity and explosive dynamics of the best horn speakers combined with the mystical transparency of the finest planar speakers and you have the new pagan god known as Whisper. These speakers are so revealing that even if you change a power cord you go, "Whoa I can hear that!" no exaggeration. Anything you put in the sound chain is immediately revealed for what it is. Lousy recordings are known instantly for their wusyness and great recordings and performances have the tears flowing in abundance. I have owned these speakers for over three years and I will never give them up! I just keep upgrading everything else but there will never be a need to change speakers. Get these speakers! You will never regret it.
Used product for: More than 1 year
Duration Product Used: AudioPhile
Purchased At: Legacy
a Audio EnthusiastDate Reviewed:
August 30, 2000Bottom Line:
The Whispers are fantastic speakers, with a very realistic sound reproduction. Despite a multiple driver array, they sound seamlessly integrated. Deep, tight, authoritative bass, rich, smooth, beautiful, luxurious midrange, detailed, crisp, accurate highs. Extremely broad dynamic range. Easy to tailor the bass responce to the actual room in which they are used owing to the adjustability of the Whisper Bass processor. I have listened to and compared these speakers in the same set-up with Legacy Focus, System Audio 950s, Genesis 300s, ESP Harps and Concert Grands, and Audiostatic DCI-4 full range elctrostatics. The Whispers gave the most transparent, detailed, and satisfying sound with an unsurpassed realism, and the widest sweetspot I have ever experienced, making even off-axis listening a joy. Their imaging and sounstaging are equally superb. Whether for pristine stereo listening, or for Home theater excitement, my highest recommendation.
Used product for: More than 1 year
Duration Product Used: Audio Enthusiast
Product model year: 1997
a AudiophileDate Reviewed:
March 8, 2000Bottom Line:
Understand first that, unlike most folks these days, but like some of the reviewers at TAS, I still use the absolute sound of live acoustic instruments playing (usually classical) music in the hall in which they are recorded as a standard against which to judge the sound of audio equipment. I hear such music regularly, both as a performer in choirs and choruses and from the audience at unamplified classical concerts. Also understand that tonal balance, dynamics, and the ability to play large orchestral works at subjectively realistic levels are quite important to me.
When judged against this standard, to my ears, most serious audiophile speakers, even with most recordings having audiophile aspirations, sound tonally more than a bit thin (meaning lacking tonal weight from the bass through lower midrange) and more than a bit bright (meaning exaggerated upper mids through lower highs). Most such speakers are also totally unable to compass the dynamics of live music at any frequency, much less with the effortlessness of the real thing. And especially in the bass, most such speakers just don’t move enough air to at all resemble the sense of tremendous power and scale one hears from organ, bass drum, tympani, lower strings, and the lower brass in a hall. For example, as extraordinary as the sculpted soundstage of the Merlin VSM may be, to my ears, even with BAM, their tonal balance is laughably thin and tinny, and therefore I would never consider purchasing them.
In my last post about these speakers I mentioned that I had decided to replace the Cello Stradavari Premieres I have owned for four years with the Whispers after extensive auditioning of the Whispers and the competition.
I dismissed many audiophile-approved brands rather quickly: Martin Logans (too bright, vague and ghostly imaging, poor dynamics); B&W Nautilus 801, 802 (outclassed in realism from my perspective by even the Magnepan 3.6 at a fraction of the price); Thiels (still too darn bright); Hales (ditto); Genesis (the larger models are too physically large for my room and the tonal balance of those is uneven, having at once too much bass and very exposed mid-highs); Revel Salon (up-front and canned sounding with powerful but not detailed bass--great for home theater, ridiculous for music); Eggleston Andra (I just don't hear the excellence Stereophile apparently did).
Among the others seriously considered but earlier rejected were the Harbeth Monitor 40 (never found a pair to audition, despite rave reviews by REG in TAS), Crosby-modified Quad ESL-63 (limited dynamic range more of handicap in the digital age), Nearfield Pipe Dreams (unimpressive to me both at Hi-Fi '99 and sole Chicago-area dealer), Cello Stradavari Masters (expensive and lack of certainty as to future of company), Avalon Eidolon (frequency response anomalies not to my liking), and Sound Labs M-1 or Ultimate (no local audition site and probably too physically wide for my room).
The Whispers beat out the very fine Magnepan MG 20 (ultimate doubts about bass response flatness and overall dynamic range) and Vandersteen 5 (doubts about the dynamic range capabilities of the built-in subs) as my final choice.
I made the decision to purchase on November 16, 1999. A 6 to 8 week "lead time" was mentioned. The speakers were delivered to me on February 4, a little more than 10 weeks after ordering, not too bad considering the holidays and Legacy's current heavy off-site show schedule and apparent good response to their new Manhattan home theater line. The speakers arrived in rough-looking chip-wood crates (not at all like the class-act Cello crates in which I was shipping the Premieres to Legacy in trade), one of which had suffered abuse apparently due to an errant fork lift piercing the crate somewhere in transit. Fortunately, there was only minor damage to the speaker's base, which I repaired the day they arrived.
Due to the size and weight of the Whispers and the lack of a dealer network, Legacy is forced to use common carrier trucking/moving companies to deliver the Whispers to your home. In my case, this required a combination of Yellow Freight to get to my town and then a specialty mover to deliver the Whispers inside to my basement listening room and haul my equally-heavy Cellos back to Yellow Freight to send back to Legacy in trade.
There were no unpacking instructions on the crates. I had downloaded the Whisper manual from Legacy's web site, but the manual's unpacking instructions really did not match my crates or packing methods. For one thing, there are now only four shipping containers, not five, as the manual says, and the bases are now pre-attached when the speakers are shipped. The manual talked about removing only the screws on the crates "circled in blue." None of the exterior screws were circled, and only on the inside of one of the crates were any screws circled. Fortunately, the movers who delivered the pair were able to figure everything out well enough.
My Whispers were among the first with which Legacy was "experimenting" with mounting the speakers on casters recessed into the base. Many may cringe at the idea of mounting speakers on casters rather than spikes, but given my past experience with casters v. spikes v. stands (on B&W 801 Series II speakers), I am inclined to agree with those who argue against spikes on the grounds that they blur the sound by tightly coupling the speaker cabinet's own sound to the building and transmitting that sound to the listener more quickly through the building materials than the sound from the drivers travels through the air to the listener. Spikes may well help prevent Doppler effect blurring of the upper ranges due to back and forth cabinet movement in response to large woofer excursions, but the open air mounting of the Whisper woofers eliminates or at least greatly reduces any tendency of the cabinet to move in response to woofer cone motions and the resonant frequency of any back and forth cabinet motion permitted by the casters on my carpet is far below any audio frequency. (Those who believe that any spike coupling isolates one item from another by some sort of "acoustic diode" effect need remedial physics--spikes couple, they don't isolate, and the bass frequencies get through the point of the spike no matter how small the contact area is.) The damage I mentioned took the form of a broken caster. I found an exact replacement at Menard's for less than $2 and replaced it in all of ten minutes. If the owner doesn't like the casters, it would probably take less than half an hour to remove them with an electric screw driver. Then the bases could either sit flat on the floor or the user could put three cones under the base of each speaker--there is plenty of room under the base for this despite the recessed areas in which the casters are mounted.
Fit, Finish, and Appearance
The rosewood finish is very nice, although by no means a match for the extraordinary high-gloss rosewood of my departed Cellos. The carpentry and joinery exhibited by the cabinet assembly are really first-rate--I would call it cunning, in fact. The speakers are beautiful to look at both with and without their grill (at least from the front, as in the listening position) and as far as I can tell, the grills are totally transparent sonically, almost unheard of in my experience. So take your pick of elegant (with grill) or high tech (without grills) art object appearance. My wife actually likes the appearance more sans grills, but she definitely thinks they are the most attractive speakers I’ve ever owned either way.
When I attempted to remove one of the jumpers linking the bi-wireable binding posts, the binding post began to turn. So I determined that the first order of business would be to tighten all the posts. Now why wouldn't the binding post panel (a nice thick, non conductive, non-magnetic wooden panel) come off after I removed the big gold screws holding it in place? A third screw, hidden beneath the adhesively-attached Legacy logo at the bottom center of this rear wood panel was the answer.
The binding posts are actually some of the finest and most flexible I have seen, with good solid all-metal construction with hex-heads and are capable of really torquing down on thick bare wires, banana plugs, spades, or pins. The internal speaker wires are connected to the posts with the best possible connection, gold plated O-rings.
The trick to tightening this type of posts (apparently as yet unknown to Legacy) is to insert a thin screw driver through the bare-wire hole on the external side of the post to hold the post steady as your crank down on the nut and lock washer assembly on the internal side of the mounting panel. This makes it easy to ensure the post is now tight and that the orientation of the bare-wire hole stays vertical with respect to the speaker. While I was at it, I applied Pro-Gold to all the internal connections of the binding posts.
There are two non-soldered connections between the binding posts and the four woofers of each speaker. To see and access these connections, you must remove the rear grill, easier said than done until you find the black screws holding the bottom of the grill to the cabinet in the middle of a couple of black grill pin recesses at the bottom of the black grill.
I suppose the rationale for these connections is to facilitate replacing a woofer without having to re-solder any connections. These connections use the same high quality posts as are used as speaker cable binding posts, except the non-soldered connections are made by joining two of Legacy's own16-gauge copper wires in the bare-wire connection hole of the post. On my speakers, these connections were sloppy loose. I first applied Pro-Gold to these posts and wires and then carefully tightened the posts to avoid loosening the posts (since the internal nuts and washers securing these posts are much more difficult to get at).
I also tightened all the screws holding the drivers to the cabinet, a good practice with any new speakers, and recommended periodically thereafter. Many of these screws were quite loose, especially those holding the rear woofers in place. Again, to get at these rear-woofer mounting screws, the rear grill must be removed.
So, did the minor lateness in delivery, minor damage, and minor quality control problems cause me to doubt or regret my purchase? Read on.
The Whispers are used in my "reference" audio system which is in a custom built dedicated basement room entirely below ground level. The room dimensions are about 20' L x 13' W x 8' H. All walls and floor are poured concrete. The floor is carpeted and padded with medium weight synthetic materials. The finished walls are painted 5/8" drywall over 2" x 4" studs, 16" on center. There are also 3" thick fiberglass insulation batts in the wall cavities formed by the studs, the drywall, and the poured concrete. The ceiling rafters are 2" x 10" and there is 8" of fiberglass insulation above the ceiling. The room has one solid wood, gasketed door near the right rear of the listening area and there is one 30" x 36" "escape" window midway on the left wall of the listening area. The room is unusually quiet and lets very little sound into the rest of the home.
I use 3" thick Sonex to dampen the walls, ceiling, and floor at the first and second reflection points of any part of either speaker when viewed from the listening seat. (Even with the Whisper's directivity, such dampening, especially of the floor reflections, yields important dividends in achieving the best imaging and soundstaging the system is capable of. Carpeting the floor is not good enough.) I also dampen the eight ceiling and floor tri-corners with small triangles of this Sonex (a la Michael Greene's Corner Tunes).
My home has 400 amp electrical service which is split into two 200-amp panels just past the service entry. The exclusive job of one of these 200-amp panels is to feed 10 dedicated circuits in the listening room. All wiring is 10-gauge solid copper. The wiring for each circuit is separately conduited from the service panel to a single quad of outlets. The outlets are Hubbell hospital grade 20-amp outlets and all circuit breakers are 30-amp rated. I use five of the available 10 circuits. All grounding wires for these five circuits are star-grounded back to the same post in the service box which holds the incoming ground wiring: there is direct copper-to-copper connection between all the grounds used by the system and the incoming ground wire. The grounds are referenced to an 8-foot solid copper post driven into the ground just outside the service entrance. All other unused ground wires are disconnected and insulated from the service entrance and the circuit breakers for the unused circuits are open. The five circuits used are all attached to the same phase of the incoming electrical service. As much as possible of the electrical equipment in the rest of the house which experience has shown can cause electrical interference with audio (e.g., water softener, sump and ejector pump, furnace fan, other audio and video equipment, sprinkler and alarm systems, the lights in the listening room) is connected to circuits which are powered from the other phase of the incoming electrical service, the phase not used by the dedicated outlets in the listening room. For serious listening, I unplug many electronic items not in the listening room such as all other stereo systems, my computer, and any item powered by a "wall wart" AC transformer. I do not currently use any audiophile-oriented power filters or conditioners, having found the above-described methods to work better without them. I have not yet experimented with audiophile power cords.
Associated Equipment and Set Up
Electronics other than the power amps and Whisper Steradian EQ sit on an Arcici Suspense Rack with three air bladders, adjusted more or less as recommended by Arcici. The amps and Steradian are stacked atop an active Vibraplane. No accessory feet are used.
CD Transport: Marantz Professional 620 CDR (Cello recommended)
Preamp: Z-Systems RDP-1 digital preamp/tone control
D/A Converter: Cello Reference DAC
A/D Converter: Z-Systems radc-2
Tuner: Audio by Van Alstine Fet-Valve Tuner; fed by attic-mounted Channel Master 4409 Stereo Probe 9-element Yagi antenna and Belden RG-59 lead-in wire.
Power amps: four Bryston 7B monoblocks, operated in series (higher voltage) mode
Interconnects: 8-meter balanced XLR/XLR Cello Strings 1 between DAC and amps and 1-meter between Steradian and amps; Comprehensive Video female XLR to 2 male XLR 1-foot Y-adapters connecting 8-meter Cello Strings to both high-frequency amps and Steradian; Joseph Grado Signature interconnects for the tuner connections to the A/D converter
Speaker cables: 3-meter bi-wired Cello Strings 3 with spade lugs
Digital links: 1-meter balanced Apogee WydeEye A/D Analog/ Digital AES/EBU for CD; 2-meter unbalanced RCA-RCA Apogee WydeEye A/D Analog/Digital between A/D converter and Z-Systems RDP-1.
Accessories: Radio Shack analog SPL meter mounted on Vivitar camera tripod; Stereophile Test CD 2 test tones
There is no analog preamp, the Z-Systems equipment performing A/D conversion of the tuner signal and EQ and volume adjustments in the digital domain. The speakers are passively bi-amped with the four Brystons. The Y-adapters allow total bypassing of the Steradian box for the amps driving the speakers from 300 hz up.
Two 30-amp circuits feed the Brystons (one circuit per channel) and the Steradian. Three other dedicated 30-amp circuits power the CD transport, the tuner and its A/D converter, and the Z-Systems RDP-1 and Cello Reference DAC.
All third-prong grounds on the power cables are disabled with Eagle "cheater" plugs, except for those on the Bryston amps. On the Brystons, the ground lift switch is activated on three of the four amps. The fourth amp, the right channel bass amp, is fully grounded. Thus the chassis and signal grounds for the entire system are attached to the third neutral wire of the electrical system at only one point, the right channel bass amp connection to the wall outlet. Years of experimentation have again and again shown that audio systems should be grounded only through the power amp for best sound, not through the preamp as recommended in some texts. Also, there is absolutely no audible electrical or mechanical hum even at maximum gain from any part of the system despite the use of multiple amps and multiple circuits.
It takes at least four days for the sound of solid state electronics to stabilize from a cold start. Therefore, I all electronics are left on constantly and the tuner plays music at low levels through the system at all times when I'm not listening, just to keep everything limber, so to speak.
The speakers fire into the long dimension of the room. The listening position is 1/3 of the room length from the wall behind the listening chair. The speakers are 1/3 of the room length from the wall behind them and 1/5 the room width from the nearest side wall. While I have generally preferred 1/3 spacing all around in this and other rooms, the Whispers demand wider placement and the 1/5 spacing from the side walls is the next best solution. The speakers are then towed in so that the outside edge of each speaker is just barely visible from the listening position. The center of the speakers and the listening position form a roughly equilateral triangle.
The speakers sit on the carpet on their casters. All speaker cables and power cords are suspended off the carpet by using glassware where necessary.
All non-soldered electrical connections in the equipment and electrical service have been cleaned with Kontak and then treated with Caig Pro Gold.
Frequency Response, Efficiency, and Power Requirements
If there is controversy about the worth of these speakers, it centers around the "necessity" of equalizing, that is, boosting, the bass frequencies. While the stereo pair uses a total of eight 15-inch long-throw woofers (I have seen the woofers moving back and forth at least 1/2" either side of the resting position with no apparent distortion), without using some sort of low frequency boost, the speakers sound quite lean.
Unequalized Low Frequency Response
How lean? As far as I know, no manufacturer's literature or review of these speakers has ever addressed this point in terms of actual frequency response measurements. My measurements are made with the Radio Shack analog SPL meter mounted on a Vivitar camera tripod standing on the listening chair and pointed straight ahead. The tripod position is adjusted so that the microphone of the meter is 38" from the floor, 1/3 of the room length from the wall behind the listening position, and midway between the sidewalls: basically where my ears are when in the listening chair. Measurements are made with both channels operating at once. I adjust the meter and the system loudness level so that the 1Khz tone from the Stereophile Test CD 2 reads 70 dB on the meter. I then determine the response of the system with respect to this 70 dB @ 1 kHz level. I have used this same method for more than 10 years in this room and in others with various speakers and have thus gained quite a bit of experience with how well this method's numerical results track subjective perception of frequency response deviations. The meter’s readout seems to track subjective flatness of response quite well from the low bass up to about 10kHz. I do not agree with others who feel this meter underestimates the low bass output of speakers.
First let me note that because of the "acoustic gun" nature of the Whisper's low frequency directivity pattern, the measured and subjective low frequency response of the speakers varies far, far less with listener position and speaker position than with any box speaker, sealed or vented. It also varies less in the bass than an ordinary dipole such as a Magnepan. Bass response if quite uniform around the room compared to most other speakers, especially in the area behind the speakers where most box speakers produce very heavy bass. With my chosen speaker positioning, the overall low bass level rises gradually as one moves toward the wall behind the listening position, but becomes less smooth in response.
The four 15" woofers cross over to the four 7" midrange speakers at 300 Hz. My measurements show that the speaker's unequalized response begins to fall from the 1 kHz level at about 250 hz. This unequalized response drops rather smoothly and is down 9 dB at 50 Hz and 13 dB at 25 Hz.
In my opinion, only those who are used to very "tight" or "lean" (pick your adjective) mini-monitors could be satisfied with the bass level produced by unequalized Whispers. The unequalized Whisper bass may well be more satisfying than that produced by a mini-monitor with similar response because of the amount of air being moved, but it is still quite noticeably and objectionably lean to my ears.
Now note that the Whisper literature talks in terms of the Steradian processor boosting the bass "slightly." Well, if you want the flat bass to 25 Hz of which the Whisper is undoubtedly capable with the right low frequency EQ, the amount of bass boost required is not "slight" in my opinion. To produce flat bass at 25 Hz requires boosting the bass by 13 dB with respect to 1 kHz, and that requires the speaker be fed 20 times the power in watts at 25 Hz.
The Rest of the Frequency Response
Above 250 Hz, the measured unequalized frequency response of the Whispers is REMARKABLY flat and needs no correction. I measure +2, -1 dB from 250 Hz up past 10 kHz, the limit of the accurate range of the Radio Shack meter. The only other speaker I have measured in this or any other room which was comparably flat was the Carver Amazing Platinum Mk IV in this room.
The Whispers are very efficient as high end speakers go. Unlike any speaker I have owned, they actually seemed to get more efficient during the break-in process. While I have no way to measure to actual efficiency or sensitivity for a 1-watt input, the Whispers produce any given level as measured by the Radio Shack meter at a setting of the Z-Systems volume control which is 4 to 6 dB lower than was required to produce that same loudness level with my prior speakers in this room, the Cello Stradavari Premieres. The Cellos were themselves seemingly more efficient than any other speaker I have owned and were rated at about 90 dB for 1 watt. The Cellos were subjectively louder for any setting of the Z-Systems volume than either of two different Sequerra speakers I own, both of which are rated at 90 dB for 1 watt. Thus, I believe Legacy's 94.5 dB rating for the Whispers is not exaggerated in any way.
What this means is that at 1 kHz, 10 watts should produce 104.5 dB and 100 watts will produce 114.5 dB. Super powerful amps are obviously not required for the upper ranges.
But even with this high efficiency, the required bass boost means that the low frequencies will need a lot of power. Let's assume, for example, that 40 watts (110.5 dB) is sufficient in the midrange for any likely peak loudness requirement. To produce that same level at 25 Hz will require 20 x 40 watts, or 800 watts. And that is one reason I chose the powerhouse Bryston 7Bs for use with this speaker. They can produce 800 watts and more in series mode at any audio frequency.
The Steradian Processor
There is a lot of talk in Legacy's literature and in the reviews about the proper level of the volume knob on the Steradian as being 10 - 12 o'clock. At that level, the bass is still thin, in my subjective opinion, and it measures as falling off starting at 100 Hz, and is more than 6 dB down at 40 Hz. That may be good enough for many, but it is not good enough for my ears.
At my chosen 3:30 position of the Steradian volume knob, the bass is flat at 80 Hz (the crucial "power range" for bass instruments) and is still flat at 25 Hz. In my room with the speakers and listener placed as described, at this position of the Steradian control, there are high-Q (that is, narrow bandwidth) frequency response humps of +6 dB at 60 Hz and +3 dB at 120 Hz. Even with these humps, the bass frequency response is quite flat subjectively because of the narrow bandwidth of these humps. And, guess what? By setting one of the parametric filters on the Z-Systems for -6 dB at 63 Hz with a slope of 6, and another at -3 dB at 112 Hz with a slope of 6, the measured frequency response of the Whispers at the 3:30 setting of the Steradian volume knob is +2, -1 dB from 25 Hz all the way up past the 10 kHz upper accuracy limit of the Radio Shack meter! I have never achieved comparable full range measured flatness of response from any other speaker in this or any other room. And it sounds flat subjectively, too.
By the way, the bass drops like a rock somewhere below 25 Hz whatever I do, so I have not tried to extend the bandwidth to 20 Hz or below. When set up as just described, the 20 Hz level is -14 dB even though the 25 Hz level is at 0 dB or a little above. This is not a measurement anomaly since other speakers have measured close to flat at 20 Hz in this room with little or no equalization. If you want bass below 25 Hz, you should add the Legacy Low Frequency Extreme subwoofer ($3700 each, including integral 1000 watt amp).
The Steradian v. Z-Systems for Low Frequency EQ
Since my last post about this speaker, I have replaced my Cello Duet 350 amp with a brace of Brystons: four Bryston 7B monoblocks, to be exact. Not so much because the Whispers need all that power (although in the bass, they do, as I explained above), but because bi-amping the Whispers allows me to completely bypass the Whisper electronic equalizer from the 300 hz crossover from the four 15-inch woofers on up.
Several reviews have opined that the Steradian is not an acoustically transparent device or is not worthy of the inherent capabilities of the Whisper. For example, in a conversation I had recently with Tom Port (whose years-old review of the Whispers is available at the Legacy web site) he opined that after further listening to the Whisper Steradian, he concluded it seriously impaired the innate abilities of the speakers. He doesn't even think bi-amping is an adequate solution because the Steradian box effects everything up through the lower midrange (300 hz). Port is currently attempting to EQ the speakers in a more sonically transparent way using exclusively tube equipment. Good luck, Tom.
It was because of opinions like this that I decided to bi-amp the Whispers. At least that way any adverse effects of the Steradian would be primarily limited to the range below 300 Hz. The balanced Y-connector I use allows me to entirely bypass any connections of the upper range amplifiers through the Steradian. (The Steradian offers single-ended but not balanced connections for biamplified systems. The upper range single-ended signal path is a straight wire connection between the input and output jacks of the Steradian, but the Y-connector eliminates a couple of unsoldered connections from the upper range signal path and allows me to maintain my preferred balanced connections from CD transport all the way to amp input.).
The Y-connectors also allow me to easily compare the sound of EQ applied by the Z-Systems RDP-1 with the Steradian. Now, the Z-Systems RDP-1 is widely regarded as the most transparent way of applying equalization since it is done entirely by number crunching in the digital domain. I agree. It bests even the Cello products in this respect, to my ears. And I was easily able to find a combination of settings of the Z-System controls which closely matched the measured low frequency EQ I was getting using the Steradian alone for EQ.
Results: The Steradian does in fact mask some very low level detail in a way which, while allowing you to hear the detail as a sonic event, does not allow you to hear as clearly what that event was. For example, you may hear a tiny squeak or creak with the Steradian and know that it was a mechanical noise generated by one of the musicians' chairs as opposed to a mechanical noise from the instruments or page turning, but with the Z-Systems you will instantly know that this squeak was caused by the violinist's chair creaking as opposed to any of the other musicians.
However, despite biamping and totally bypassing the Steradian for the upper frequencies, the upper frequencies seem somewhat reduced in level and covered or muffled when using the Z-Systems as compared to the Steradian. While some might hear the difference as the Z-Systems being more relaxed or less edgy, to my ears applying the EQ with the Z-Systems leaves the upper ranges a bit on the murky side. Why this should be, I do not know and I certainly did not expect to hear this sort of difference or interpret it this way; I am usually quite intolerant of any upper midrange or lower highs edginess.
Also, the sound of the system using the Z-Systems overall had less dynamic contrasts and less vivid soundstaging and imaging. The vast openness, width, and depth of the soundstage, the pinpoint imaging and three dimensionality of each of those images on the stage were all somewhat reduced by eliminating the Steradian. Now the Steradian is advertised as having circuitry which enhances low frequency separation and perhaps these were the sonic results of that circuitry. And I was not able to replicate the enhanced imaging, soundstaging, or dynamics that the Steradian created by any changes in speaker positioning when using the Z-Systems to perform the EQ.
Finally, the sound of the Whispers with the Steradian is just simply more electrostatic-like than when it is not in the signal path. I mean that as a compliment to the Steradian. Everything is just so clear, clean, and pristine, especially in the midrange, but also throughout the range. The slight murkiness I mentioned above is the opposite of this clarity.
Bottom line: while I know I am missing some of the smallest details, I will not be removing the Steradian from the signal path again any time soon since the benefits of using it with the Whispers far outweigh the downside, to my ears. The sound, as described below with the Steradian in the path, is so convincing, exciting, and enthralling that I don't begrudge the Steradian the slight subtraction of detail.
No use wasting a lot of words here, to echo the Sensible Sound review. The highs are among the cleanest, most extended, and natural sounding in the business. They come as close to just being "there" as any speaker I have heard. Maybe they aren't as obviously open and airy as those produced by the Magnepan MG 20 ribbon, but neither do they have the Maggies' tendency to call a slight bit of attention to themselves, the kind where you find yourself singling out and admiring the highs as in "Man, just listen to that high end!"
Clear and electrostatic-like in detail and lack of distortion, with the dynamics, but not the colorations, of horn drivers. Definitely the best in the business and the heart of the Whisper's overall stunning impression on first listen. Voices are astoundingly lifelike and focused. Again, not much more need be said.
Flat +2, -1 dB down to at least 25 Hz, and it sounds it. That bass is very "quick,” but is still "full" and "generous." The closest thing I have heard in this room to live bass sound from orchestras or jazz or rock bands. The deepest organ pedals could have more room shake for full effect and excitement, but what is there is very, very good. Stand up acoustic bass and bass drums are flawless, period. With my chosen EQ settings, male voices are just right, having neither a pinched nasal quality nor any hint of the "voice in a barrel effect." Getting the bass in the 80 - 160 Hz region flat with respect to the midrange is the key to this truthfulness, in my experience.
Still, if there is a weakness to the Whispers’ presentation, it is in the bass below 100 Hz or so. There is no denying that certain material, such as electric bass and kick drum, could be punchier and have a more physical attack for sound closer to being in the presence of a real band playing such instruments. Legacy’s own Focus speakers provide exemplary reproduction of these aspects of bass sounds: they have tremendously physical slam and gut punch in this range and are fully able to reproduce the effect of fine rock band PA speakers in this range, an effect the Whispers cannot seemingly accomplish. And the Focus goes down another half octave, being flat to 16 Hz, providing astonishing low frequency room ambiance and feel, as well as powerful room lock and shudder from the lowest organ pipes.
But I believe that on balance, only those whose primary or exclusive musical diet is pop and rock will prefer the overall bass presentation of the Focus or any other box-woofer speaker to the Whisper’s bass presentation. On all other types of music, the subtleties of bass tone reproduction and bass detail of which the Whisper is capable more than make up for its relative lack of punch and power compared to big box speakers like the Focus.
I believe this is really the only area where the potential purchaser must make a decision which is at all difficult. In all other areas, the Whispers’ performance is comparable to or eclipses that of other speakers at any price. The ultimate solution may well be the addition of a subwoofer or two, such as Legacy’s own Low Frequency Extreme. I may try this in the future and run the Whispers “full range” but at a reduced setting of the Steradian to get the bass detail and sheer air-moving capability of the Whispers’ eight open-air 15-inch woofers while adding the punch of the box sub-woofers. Even for another $7,500 for two Low Frequency Extreme subwoofers, the total package would list for less than $21,000, far less than most state-of-the-art contenders.
Maybe there are speakers out there which give a greater impression, top to bottom, of the seemingly limitless dynamic range of live music, but there are darn few. The classic Klipschhorn is certainly in the same league, but due to frequency response peaks in the upper ranges don't sound as relaxed as the Whispers. The Whispers compass the dynamics of music at realistic live levels at all frequencies so effortlessly that, after living with the speakers for awhile, you relax and stop getting ready to cringe since you stop wondering whether the speaker is going to "make it" without distorting or becoming edgy as some big cresendo approaches. Once you trust the speaker to react in an effortless way to music's dynamics, the emotional involvement live music's dynamic ebb and flow can produce becomes much stronger.
At the soft end of the scale, the Whispers are the most satisfying speakers I have owned, both in the sense of revealing and integrating the soft nuances of the dynamics of the music into the macro event, and in being emotionally satisfying when listening at peak levels much lower than life.
Perhaps because I am equalizing the bass flat to 25 Hz, I think a bit of congestion begins to creep into the sound on compressed material with very heavy bass (read: pop and rock recordings made in the last few years) at levels where my ears begin to cry "Mercy!" if sustained for more than a few seconds. We are talking sustained levels on compressed program material where the average level is well over 100 dB and the peaks are at 110 dB or more. Even here, the congestion is slight and takes the form of reduced clarity as opposed to any inability of the speakers to play louder or any tendency to compress dynamics. (By the way, the overload lights on the Brystons stay green at these levels so the amps are not clipping.) To put this in perspective, I have never owned speakers which can reproduce such levels on such material without gross distortion, if at all. The effect may be more due to overdriving the room or my ears than any real distortion in the speaker. I mention it only because it might be evidence of a dynamic limitation of the speakers for someone out there. At such levels the woofers appear to be performing excursions of more than 1/2 inch forward and 1/2 backward of their resting positions. This effect does not occur at all at any level I feel is at all lifelike on material with wider, more realistic dynamic range.
Soundstaging and Imaging
A full-sized stage with full-sized instruments, without the sometimes overblown image size of planars. Images have remarkable palpability and three dimensionality: images are not 2-D cut-outs, but 3-D bodies. Small movements of performers on the stage are rendered with exquisite exactness.
Before these speakers, my wife just didn't "get" imaging or soundstaging. Now she does, pointing and gesturing excitedly about the positions of instrumental images and stage dimensions. Centered soloists in particular have a "palpable presence" unmatched by any other speakers in my experience.
You are there in front of a real live stage with real live musicians playing on it, just like the review in The Sensible Sound said. Believe it.
Distortion and Detail
Distortion is low, low, inaudibly low at all frequencies and levels up to the ridiculous.
And despite any limitations of the Steradian noted above, I hear more musical and environmental detail with these speakers than with any other I have owned, and my past Cellos were real champs in this respect. From subways and passing trucks, to vehicles stopping and starting at lights or stop signs near the recording venue, to bird songs, to rustling clothes, creaking chairs and music stands, doors opening and closing, pages turning, fingernails on piano keys, breathing, lips opening, stomach gurgling, to string harmonics, wind noise through wind instruments, flesh on guitar strings--you name it, it's there. While intellectually I can tell myself that there is yet more detail to be heard, the music's message and the gestalt of the musicians and hall are so strong through the Whispers that I cannot concentrate on that thought very long--the music just sweeps me away from such trivializing.
Voice, String, and Piano Sound
I single these out because, for many, these are the sounds most difficult for a stereo to get right, probably because they are the most familiar to us. But, remarkably, these are among the Whispers most overwhelming strengths.
Voices of all types are amazingly real and low in distortion. Before the Whispers voices had never sounded right on any of my reference system speakers. They were more right on car radios and much lesser systems because most serious systems add bass or treble colorations that scream "electronic!" on voices. Like good electrostatics such as the Quads (which I have never owned because of their lack of dynamic range on big orchestral stuff, which has been my favorite listening material), the clarity and lack of distortion in the midrange is utterly convincing on all vocal material. I find myself listening to a lot more vocal material these days, both soloists and ensembles such as classical choral material. Perhaps this is simply because such material now sounds so much more real that the reproduction no longer gets in the way of the music, but instead opens up the magnificence of solo and massed human voices.
Strings, massed or solo, are also just right, being neither homogenized nor edgy, with just the right combination of bite and attack, sustain, and decay. Violin sections float in midair when well recorded, just as in the concert hall. Bass and cello sections have the full measure of weight they should.
And grand pianos sound grand, with full weight, power, dynamics, and size, and with unequaled feel of the iron fist within the velvet glove as the hammers hit the strings. Glorious!
The Excitement Factor
There is no way around it: the Whispers produce a sound which is quite enthralling and an absolute thrill to listen to. "Your system sounds SO EXCITING now!" exclaimed my spouse. My wife, who, bless her heart, has been very supportive and understanding of my audio obsession for more than 25 years, for the first time is actually excited about a component purchase I made. She now asks to hear her favorite music on my big rig, something she has never done in the past. And once she starts listening, it's hard for her to leave the sweet spot. Some might say that is bad, but the Spouse Acceptance Factor of the Whispers is so high it is a Spouse Excitement Factor which I'm sure will result in increased support for my future tweaky purchases.
Used product for: 1 to 3 months
Duration Product Used: Audiophile
Product model year: 2000
a Audio EnthusiastDate Reviewed:
February 15, 2000Bottom Line:
I agree, the Whisper is lacking in bass boom/kick. I did have the JBL L300 many years ago then I grew up into speakers that make music. So I do have a reference for bass. The L300s got loud (and loose) but the bass was non existant below 40 or so hertz. To the guy that mentioned the JBL Cinema system. Get real, if you are into noise buy them and enjoy. When you are into real music got to the nearest Legacy store or any reputable high end store for that matter. Moving on to Audio Physics. Two 8 inch woofers? More bass than the Whisper? My bedroom Maggies have more bass than two 8 inch woofers. Next time you listen, please use a couple of that geek J-10's tweaks. Buy Q tips and clean those ears first before listening and commenting.
Back to the lack of bass in the Whisper. Go to a live event and you will not hear boom, boom, boom. Unfortunately we are so into the walls shaking at high levels that we are not objective about bass. If you don't like the smoothness of Whisper bass do not turn up your Steradian knob. This apparent problem can not be properly tuned with the Steradian unit. Do take that piece of you know what out of your system. Let them run free full range and add the new Extreme bass subwoofer. You will then have a stereo system that Wilson promises but always makes excuses for at the Stereophile shows. Ok, I'm done and we can let some audio geek computer nerd do his thing. JBL? Who let that guy into this site anyhow?
Used product for: More than 1 year
Duration Product Used: Audio Enthusiast
Product model year: 1995
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