James L. Darby
First, I want to thank our readers for leading us to the Legacy line of speakers. If you are new to Stereomojo, we are unique in many ways, one being that we actively encourage our readers to send us requests for reviews of anything having to do with stereo audio. Whether they own something that they think is so good others should know about it, too, or they’ve head or heard about something they think needs a professional review. As publisher I can say that over the last year or two, Legacy is by far the most requested speaker brand by our readers, so it is you who spurred us to aggressively pursue this review. We think we have the best, most informed readers anywhere ~ Publisher
After spending years listening to, evaluating, testing, and reveiwing speakers as well as hearing thousands of speakers at various audio shows, you get a pretty good idea of what a speaker is going to sound like just based on the way it looks. A single driver model will have a certain character as will a flat-panel. A ribbon tweeter is going to sound different than a soft dome and an open baffle design is going to have a rather unique signature. I could go on but you get the picture. When I first saw the Legacy Whisper XD, I had a very strong predisposition as to what the speaker would sound like. And it wasn't good.
How about you? Go ahead. Look at the picture above. What do you think it sounds like?
Those two big cones you see are 15-inch subwoofers. Now what if I told you that there are two more 15 inchers in back of the ones you see for a total of four in each cabinet! Add to that a 1 inch dual pole, neo-ribbon tweeter, a 3 inch dual pole neo-ribbon, vapor deposited kapton diaphragm and a total of four 7 inch Rohacell Reinforced Silver Graphite cast frame mid-woofers for a grand total of 10 drivers in each cabinet! Oh yes, each speaker weighs 210 pounds.
Have you guessed yet? Well, if nothing else, the bass is going to be very slow, pretty boomy while lacking detail and texture, and they will probably dislodge your next-door neighbors dentures. With all those different drivers, there's bound to be all kinds of phase anomalies and there is no way there can be any kind of coherent image and with that big flat front surface, there has to be some serious diffraction going on. And you know it’s gonna take a megawatt amp to drive them, too. Who in their right mind would ever design such a monstrosity!
Well, his name is Bill Dudleston and he’s definitely not crazy, and after spending some time with him, it is pretty obvious the guy has some serious brain cells and knows how to use them.
Everything You Know is Wrong
Before we go much farther though, let me tell you this: In the early 70’s there was a rather weird comedy group named the Firesign Theater who’s records (yes, LP’s) were very popular on our college campus. Rumor had it that the only way to listen to them correctly was by first ingesting some mind altering substances, but I wouldn’t know about that… They put out an album entitled “Everything You Know is Wrong”. When it comes to this speaker, we could easily use that title for this review; the Legacy Whisper XD sounds LESS like how it LOOKS than any other speaker of which I know.
I asked Bill if others had commented on how the Whispers look and he smiled knowingly and said, “All the time…”. So let’s find out what he tells people about using so many drivers when the conventional wisdom is that the less drivers the better;
“The ideal speaker would stop and start on cue regardless of the combinations of frequency and level”, he explains. “It would have the same radiation pattern throughout the spectrum. It would sound as true to the last voice in a large choir as it would a soloist, and it would never overload”.
“Back to reality”, he grins. “For a given size diaphragm the displacement requirements for uniform output increase by a factor of four for each octave dropped (frequency halving). Unfortunately distortion is proportional to displacement. Meanwhile transient integrity (waveform tracking ability) is reduced as diaphragm displacement requirements increase with the sound pressure level. A single panel speaker with a thin diaphragm will beam at high frequencies, exhibit traveling waves across its surface, reflect at the clamped edges, have limited excursion and behave inefficiently at lower frequencies. While they can also be sensitive to rear wall placement, the lack of upper bass coloration is appealing, lending an ‘open’ quality to the sound.
Mount instead a woofer and a tweeter in a cabinet and you have the issue of polar tilt with comb filtering (alternating constructive and destructive interference in the region of overlap). This is due to the asymmetry and lack of an acoustic center. Even if the crossover provides an in-phase relationship to the seated listener, it cannot be in-phase relative to its many reflection paths. The tweeter radiates broadly at the crossover frequency while the woofer is beaming narrowly in comparison. Additionally, if you decrease the resonant frequency of the woofer to provide deeper bass, the efficiency drops with the tracing speed.
All of that is true Bill, but what’s your solution?
“What if the drivers were arranged symmetrically? And the resonant woofer enclosure eliminated? And the bass drivers were replaced with four, larger, low mass diaphragms? And these low mass diaphragms were given several milliseconds of a head start to keep pace with the higher frequency section? And the speaker had virtually the same acoustic radiation pattern at all frequencies? And the system was immune to early sidewall reflections? And multiple listeners could share in the sweet spot? And the frequency response could be tailored to the room and negate the effects of the furniture? And a nice guy was willing to tune them for you in your own room!”
That last sentence needs some explanation. Stereomojo’s policy is that no one related to the product is allowed to set them up in our homes like other audio magazines allow. It has always bothered me when a reviewer says, “Dave Wilson spent three days at my house setting up his Wilson Maxx speakers so they sounded absolutely perfect when he left!”. That always made me ask, “I wonder if Dave Wilson (or whoever made the component under review) would come to MY house and spend three days at his own expense to set up my speakers, amp, cables or whatever..”. Let me tell you, in most cases, unless you’re spending close to six figures or more, the answer is “no”. So here’s where I reveal that Bill came to my house, took the 210 lb. speakers out of their custom shipping trunks, wheeled them in the listening room and spent a good 3 hours tuning the speakers via computer and by ear. Did we break our own policy? No. The rest of the policy is, “unless they do the same for ALL their customers”. And that is exactly what they do for the XD (not all Legacy speakers).
“There are a total of six factory trained technicians in the U.S. that travel to Whisper XD setups”, Bill told me. “They are based in Los Angeles, Orlando, Chicago, New York and here in Springfield. However, I have managed to do nearly half of them myself, ranging from San Francisco to some guy’s house in Fort Myers.” That would be me.
What’s interesting is that the Whisper cabinets themselves are very easy to set up. Bill spent zero time adjusting the position of them speakers in the room. In fact, after he left I noticed the right speaker was actually toed in a bit more than the left. The Whisper XD employs an external Digital Signal Processing box that controls nearly every aspect of how the speaker performs in any given room. The XD is quite literally custom tailored for your room. Nearly all his time was spent first setting up a pro-quality microphone attached to his laptop which in turn was hooked up to the DSP unit.
I mentioned to Bill that as soon as many audiophiles see the letters “DSP”, they are going to turn their noses up, never realizing that most of the speakers over which their favorite music is either monitored or mixed involves DSP since it’s been around in studios for many years. I asked him how the benefits of DSP might outweigh the digital stigma; “The Wavelaunch XD Processor utilizes a 24 bit DAC with extraordinary specifications and can synchronize up to 4 additional channels of output. Whisper XD’s differential alignment is analogous to a dual element microphone, signals from the two baffles are combined acoustically with time compensation to steer the low frequency wave-launch forward, while creating a progressively reduced acoustic output to the sides until reaching a null at 90 degree off axis. This eliminates boundary interactions from sidewalls, ceiling and floor. The gradient acoustic pressure reaching the listener at each ear contains far less room noise, allowing the brain to lock in on the natural ambience in the recording. Once a customer has experienced first-hand the degree of refinement in the frequency response and time alignment, there is no doubt regarding its benefits. When I chose this processor I literally chained five units in a row to evaluate its performance (learned this trick from Bob Stuart at Meridian). It outperformed a unit of our own manufacture and three other units in a blind session”.
I think what he’s saying in short is that the design of the Whispers when combined with the DSP, effectively takes the room, any room, essentially out of the equation. The room has always been the most limiting factor in any speaker’s performance, or entire system for that matter.
“At best, the emotional response of the listener is tied to that of the musician. Musically we rely on dynamics, timbre, tempo, tonal color, texture, etc… With loudspeakers we have merely amplitude vs. time to portray. That’s it. With stereo we add dimension. What I am saying is that the role of a loudspeaker is very simple in theory, but in practice the dynamics and timbre are usually audibly compromised. Distortions are added, causing each speaker system to sound different than another. Room effects mask ambience in the recording. Whisper is about getting closer to the music as intended by the performer. I want the participant to listen between the notes, to anticipate and feel the peaks and valleys and hopefully, forget they are listening to a pair of speakers.”
Like I said…
Listening to the Legacy Whisper XD has been an eye/mind opening as well as ear opening experience. One of the many things I love about Stereomojo is that we never stop learning about music, audio, design, physics, electronics and philosophy to name just a few. Linda and I have been listening to the Whisper XD’s for several weeks, often at 4 or more hours at a time. Obviously, ear fatigue, which is symptomatic of distortion in time alignment, phase or overdriving, was never a factor. Just the opposite; the Whispers made us glad the days were getting shorter and darkness coming sooner so we could turn out the lights and turn them on. We can’t recall hearing a speaker that presents such a clean, pure presentation. However, we didn’t really need to turn out the lights because as visually striking as the speakers are, they utterly disappear as a music transducer. Never once did we hear anything like an instrument or voice sounding like it was coming from one of the Whispers. Even early jazz stereo recordings where instruments were so isolated in the mix that they sounded like they were recorded in another room, lost much of their boxiness. Instead you just clearly heard the space around the instrument coming somewhere behind and on the left, but completely free of the boxiness of the speaker.
Part of this has to do with Bill's design that drastically minimizes the early reflections from side walls as well as the floor. The more unwanted reflections and sound waves bouncing around your room that are not directly from the original signal, the more smeared, garbled and innacurate the sound. The ear/brain connection has to work much harder to sort out many reflections than a single original sound. It's like your ears and brain are in a hall of acoustic mirrors. That induces fatique. The clarity of words and articualtions in our room was immaculate, making it very easy to listen to the message in the music, its feelings and emotions, drawing the listener into the music rather than giving the impression that you are listening to a recording.
Perhaps the biggest surprise among many was that there was no sense of listening to 8 honkin’ 15” drivers. I thought sure those big cones at the top of the cabinet would give us a large dose of “bass in your face” and there would be an overall sense of sluggishness and boom. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. The bass never drew attention to itself, it just….happened. It was there; and like great athletes, made what they did seem easy and effortless. “Effortless” is a word that applies to the Whispers in total. Even at levels above 100db, there was never a sense of strain or breakup. Here’s where I mention that your amp doesn’t need to do any heavy lifting on the bottom end because the XD’s come with 500 watt ICE amps in each speaker just to handle those badboy subwoofers. I was using my LSA Statement hybrid integrated amp (with the DPS inserted between the pre and power sections) that’s rated at 150 wpc at 8 ohms, but the amp was always just loafing along, probably using about 50 watts or so except for the big dynamic thumps and whumps and crashes.
Those big dynamic thumps and whumps and crashes were exceptional as well, especially when playing large orchestral pieces like our 2009 Recording of the Year, Reference Recordings HRx version of Percy Grainger's "Lincolnshire Posy” performed by the Dallas Wind Symphony – this is a 172/24 hi-res version.
How do I describe what the Whisper sound is like. Hmmm…women! There’s a big brouhaha going on in the fashion industry over “size 0” or models that are too thin, forced to be that way because designers are using “size 0” garments for their shows. They are sickly thin, right? Almost skeletal. But, after all, they are still women. Some people, I guess, find this look attractive. Then there are the Victoria’s Secret models. Nothing boyish about them, but they’re not overweight or bloated, just a little more curves, meat and sinew than Calvin Klein’s waifs. To me at least, they look more like women. Perhaps even perfect women. But Bar Refaeli (below), not exactly Roseanne Barr, recently said that she can’t find modeling work other than VS because she’s “too big”. No accounting for taste, huh? Well, the Whispers are more like Ms. Refaeli, even the highest frequencies like tiny bells had more substance and solidity to them, more roundness and three-dimensionality.
Another quality that readily became apparent was how, um, well I don’t want to say “perfectly”, but how well the Whispers replicated the positioning of instruments and voices front to back in the soundstage. For example, on classical pianist Angela Hewitt’s wonderful Beethoven Piano Sonatas CD on Hyperion, the piano was placed well behind the speakers and in convincing scale with an outstanding sense of the hall and stage surrounding the piano. Since yours truly has been playing piano concerts in various halls since I was 7 years old, I think I have a pretty good handle on what a real piano sounds like in a real hall, and this was as convincing a recreation as I have heard. On top of that, Angela plays the Fazioli concert grand piano, a relatively new Italian instrument that’s only been around since 1981. I have only had the privilege to play one Fazioli, but it is not a sound or experience one forgets. The piano’s signature characteristics came through to a startling degree. I believed I was listening to exactly what the recording engineer intended, how Ms. Hewitt interpreted Beethoven’s revered sonatas as well as the designed sound of the Fazioli. What more is there?
The closest speaker comparison for me is the $55,000 Nola Baby Grand Reference I reviewed last year. A magnificent speaker, especially with the $150,000 worth of Nordost cable that came with them. The Nolas have the bass drivers enclosed in a box with everything else in free air. The Legacy’s are just the opposite. The Nolas lend a “live in concert” feel to everything that is quite appealing while the Legacy’s are more true to the recording, but like the Nolas, never sound much like “recordings” at all, and they did not have the benefit of the 150 grand wires. In our room, the DSP controlled Whispers worked better.
What about Stereomojo’s 2009 Speaker of the Year, the Vaughn Cabernet? We did A/B the Whispers and the Cabs because I wanted to know the same thing – how did these two outstanding speakers compare? While the Vaughn’s are terrific bargains for their size and cost, there was really no comparison in terms of, well, almost everything. Here’s an interesting point regarding the Law of Diminishing Returns. You know what that is right? If you own a pair of $200 speakers, speeding an extra $200 will give you maybe 100% better sound. However, if you own a pair of $10,000 speakers, you would most likely have to spend $15 - $20k to get, say, a 30% improvement. The higher you go, the more you have to spend to get an ever lower percentage of improvement. Spending twice as much as the already bargain priced Cabernet’s, in our opinion, produced a very healthy bang-for-the-buck, maybe even a 75% difference.
A reviewer at Stereophile reviewed the Whisper model beneath these with no DSP or 500 watt amps. He compared those to MUCH more expensive Wilson Maxx 2’s and Focal Lab Nova Utopian Be and declared the Wilson’s only advantage was the deeper bass. Tell you what. I’d put the Whisper XD’s up against any Wilson or Focal, I’ve heard them all. I’d take the Whispers.
At a recent audio show in Jacksonville, Florida, the Whisper’s driven by an Ayon Triton tube amp (we did the review of the Triton as well) by far drew larger and more consistent crowds that any other room, and there were many more expensive speakers there. The Triton “only” puts out 120 wpc but at times drove the XD’s at floor shaking demo levels for 4 days. They were given our as well as several other publication’s “Best of Show” award.
The sound is big and extremely full from top to bottom, but never exaggerated or out of scale. Where other fine speakers have throw an immense soundstage, there has never been one as fleshed out as this, and we’ve had some very holographic speakers in the system, including one of the acknowledged holograph champs, the Rhythm Saadhanna I’m working on now. It also has powered woofers, but uses a single Lowther driver for most of the sound. Beautiful speaker and immaculate sound in a much smaller package. The Whispers sound more like a single driver than one might think. There is absolutely no sense of listening to multiple drivers, much less 10 per side, at all.
Bill continues his explanation about his design; “The Whisper XD design radically increases piston area in the forward plane extending bandwidth, sensitivity, and frequency range. Because the design is open air, the system is virtually free of enclosure resonance and room limitations. Whisper XD’s differential alignment is analogous to a dual element microphone. Audio pioneer, Harry Olson suggested a loudspeaker design (2nd order differential to be exact) that might be built which could operate with one diaphragm directly behind the other. Signals from the two baffles are combined acoustically with time compensation to steer the low frequency wave-launch forward, while creating a progressively reduced acoustic output to the sides until reaching a null at 90 degree off axis. This eliminates boundary interactions from sidewalls, ceiling and floor. The gradient acoustic pressure reaching the listener at each ear contains far less room noise, allowing the brain to lock in on the natural ambience in the recording”.
But what about the wife factor? Surely a huge tower with lots of drivers peering out at you (though there is a grill that covers them that we never used) would not be the most conducive to the female factor. “The Whispers are my favorite speaker!”, Linda exclaimed after the second multi-hour listening session. But they’re so big... “I don’t care…they sound so incredible and I can hear everything perfectly no matter where I sit! They sound so full and realistic….I just love listening to them”.
Linda, as always, is right on. The ability of multiple listeners to hear a valid stereo soundstage is no accident. Dudleston told us, “The sweet spot is much wider with the Whisper XD design, allowing the listener to move outside the left speaker and still hear a balance with the right speaker, and vice versa. Our manual recommends a strong toe-in, to cast the strongest acoustic shadow across the face. It explains that the imprint of the shadow of the nose into the opposite ear is the other portion of the stereo signal that is usually washed out by excessive room reflections with conventional speakers”.
After listening for a few days and playing some of my own studio recordings It occurred to me that because of it’s tuneability, it’s clean yet full range presentation and it’s relatively low cost compared to commercial studio monitors, the XD’s would make incredible speakers for recording and/or mixing and mastering. I was going to write Bill a message suggesting he market these things to top-line recording studios. Then I found this on the net: “Bill Dudleston has designed and provided Legacy speaker monitors for Arista, Sony, Universal Music Group and archival organizations such as the Stradivari Violin Society. Multi-Grammy award winning producers Rick Rubin, Antonio L.A. Reid, and renowned mastering engineer, Herb Powers, have utilized and publicly touted the Legacy designs as assisting in producing artists Sheryl Crowe, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mariah Carey, and Usher. Re-mastering engineer Steve Hoffman has utilized the Legacy speakers on re-issues of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole”. Guess I was right about how good they’d be in studios…
I could go on for pages about the Legacy Whisper XD’s. If you’re like me, you hate it when it seems like every frickin’ review you read ends with “This is the best (whatever) we’ve ever heard!”. It’s not the best speaker or system we’ve “ever heard”, but it is the best we’ve reviewed. So far.
For a speaker of this size, we’d normally recommend them only for larger rooms, but the fact is they are being used in rooms as small as 10x10. Of course, Legacy does make smaller speakers, but these, according to Bill, are the best he makes, even though he does make a more expensive model. It’s easy to be misled by how these speakers look and it's difficult to imagine who might not benefit from owning these speakers, even those who already own speakers close to or above their $20,000 price. Legacy recommends amp power from 60 watts to 600 per channel. They are rated at a very easy to drive 95db sensitivity which puts them squarely in reach of many tube amps. The Ayon Triton is a great match. If you’re using solid state, I’d suggested at least 100 wpc, more for really big rooms. If you think DSP is a bad thing, just listen to these. In fact, if you love music of any genre and want to hear it about as well as it can be reproduced, you should seek out the Legacy Whisper XD’s.
We know. A $20,000 speaker that's a bargain? Understand, we regularly hear and see speakers that costs as much as a house, well up into 6 figures. We have heard stereo systems, just stereo - no video or surround - that retail for $1,000,000. There are many speakers these days that retail for well over $40,000. It is our opinion, and that of many show goers and other industry professionals that the Legacy Whisper XD in terms of build quality, versatility, technology and overall sound quality competes with speakers that are far more costly. And that does not include the added value of having the designer of the speaker come to your home and custom tailor the sound to your individual listening space. We don't know of any other speaker at or near this pricepoint that gives you so much, and as such we are proud to award them our Stereomojo Maximum Mojo Award.
System Type: 10 driver, 4 way
Tweeter: (1) 1" dual pole neo ribbon, folded Kapton diaphram
Midrange: (1) 3" dual pole neo ribbon, vapor deposited kapton diaphram
Midwoofer: (4) 7" Rohacell reinforced-Silver Graphite, cast frame
Subwoofer: (4) 15" carbon/pulp composite
Low Frequency Alignment: 2nd order differential
Freq. Response (Hz, +/-2dB): 22-30K, includes 24 bit processor
Impedance: 4 Ohm
Sensitivity: (Room, dB@ 2.83V): 95 dB
Recommended Amplification: 10-600 Watts
Crossover: 300, 3K, 10K
Binding Posts 2 Pair
Dimensions: HxWxD (inches) 63 x 17 x 13
Weight: 210 lbs. each
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