Wisdom Audio L150i Sage Series System Reviewed

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Loudspeakers are all pretty much the same and have been for years. Conventional drivers in varying arrangements with passive crossovers that deliver sound from focal points that emanate out into the room in a spherical wave. This can be a very effective way to reproduce sound and works quite well when properly implemented, but there are other options. Line sources are not nearly as common as point source speakers. The subject of this review is the Wisdom Audio Sage Series, a large line source in-wall speaker system designed for those looking for the absolute sound performance without the loss of floor space found with typical speaker systems.

Additional Resources
• Read more in-wall speaker reviews by the Home Theater Review staff.
• Find an amplifier that pairs well with the Sage Series.
• Search for audiophile-grade source components.

The system reviewed was installed in one of the Sound Components demo rooms in Coral Gables, Miami, which is where I conducted this logistically difficult review. The system consisted of three L150i for the front left, right and center ($13,300 each); four P20i surrounds ($2,225 each); the STS subwoofer ($10,000) and the required system controller the SC-1 ($6,500). Mounting hardware added a few thousand more to the system, bringing the total price for the speakers and controller to $72,500.

Line sources have been around for years but aren’t very common. They do however have a small but highly dedicated fan base. This is because the propagation of sound from a point source spreads out in all directions, like a sphere, and is subject to reflections from the floor and ceiling. In a line source, the sound spreads out as an ever-expanding cylinder and eliminates these reflections. Basic calculus also shows us that since the sound expands in one plane (relatively), the sound pressure level drops off much less from a line source than a point source. This can be appreciated by walking around the room with each of the two types of speakers playing. Point sources drop off quickly in volume with distance while line sources do not. This, coupled with the elimination of reflections from the ceiling and floor make for a much larger sweet spot. No longer do you need to have your head in a vice for the perfect sound; the perfect sound is everywhere in the room.

The Wisdom Sage series are unique and revolutionarily designed loudspeakers. Rather than conventional drivers handling a limited range of the audio frequency spectrum, Wisdom has created a planar magnetic driver that does things no conventional driver could dream of. First off, the driver surface is huge, and I mean huge – 75 inches long. The entire surface of this panel is the voice coil as well, so heat is dissipated at an unthinkable rate and the driver is almost impossible to damage or blow even with the most powerful amplifiers. The panel is also ultra-light, making it far more responsive than traditional dome tweeters for amazing clarity and dynamics as well as efficiency. They offer a fixed resistive load to the amplifier, making them the easiest load any amplifier will ever see. These planar magnetic films are then housed between super strong Neodymium magnets, giving high sensitivity with extremely rapid and tight control.

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The L150i’s consist of two cabinets: one for three 24-inch planar magnetic panels, the other houses 12 proprietary woofers. This allows for a very large line source. The SC-1 controller houses the active crossover and outputs high pass and low pass channels to your (or Wisdom’s) amplifiers. The woofer cabinet uses two channels of amplification: each drives 6 woofers while the third channel of power covers the planar magnetic panel. Frequency response goes down to 30Hz with a single crossover point at 275Hz. The L150’s sport a 96dB efficiency rating at 2.83 Volt/Meter sensitivity. The planar magnetic panel covers frequencies from 275Hz to 20kHz so there are no problems induced by crossovers in the midrange.

The P20i’s utilize two of the same bass drivers and extend down to 40Hz. A much smaller, folded two inch planar magnetic tweeter handles everything above the 650Hz crossover point. The two inch square driver is partially hidden behind an acoustic ‘lens’ that optimizes dispersion of the high frequencies while allowing the midrange to pass freely. The seemingly small tweeter can still output massive volume and dynamics thanks to its large surface area that allow it to keep pace with the bigger models in the line. Despite the smaller size, the P20i’s still manage a relatively efficient 87dB at 2.83Volts/meter sensitivity.

The workhorse of the low end in this system is the Wisdom Audio STS subwoofer. When I first saw this piece at CEDIA I immediately fell in love with it. First off, it’s huge; thus the STS name, which is short for Steamer Trunk Subwoofer. Employing two 15 inch woofers and a port that can be located on any of three sides, the STS can be used in the room or installed in the ceiling, floor, closet or wall. This thing is a beast, offering 101dB efficiency at 2.83Volts/Meter, yet is capable of outputting 130dB at 20Hz. The STS can handle up to 5,000 Watts into its four-Ohm load.

Every Wisdom system requires the SC-1 system controller. The SC-1 is an active crossover and DSP processor utilizing the top of the line Audyssey Pro room correction. Passive crossovers, meaning a crossover downstream from the amplifier, have inherent problems. By dividing the frequencies to the different drivers, they effectively rob power from the amplifier and make speakers less efficient. Putting the crossover before the amplifier means that each channel of the amplifier only has to amplify the spectrum of frequencies that its driver is reproducing. This effectively lessens the work of the amplifier and improves performance, albeit at a price. Active speakers require a separate channel of amplification for each driver, adding to the expense of such systems.

Setup
The Wisdom Sage series speakers are active, meaning the crossover is powered and in line before the amplifiers, so each L150i requires three channels of amplification and the P20’s need two. In the setup I demoed for this review, the rest of the system consisted of a Classe’s CT-SSP AV preamp, three Mark Levinson No 533H amplifiers, one for each of the L150i’s and two Anthem A5 series amplifiers for the four P20i’s. A pro-level Crown amplifier outputting some 3,000 plus Watts powered the STS subwoofer. The rest of the system was pretty simple with a Mac Mini server for digital music and a Kaleidescape for Blu-ray. The entire system was wired with Transparent cable. The planar magnetic drivers of the main speakers were tucked up against the sidewall of the room with the bass modules inside them. The front speakers were hidden behind fabric, as were the surrounds. Despite the room’s relatively small 15-foot width, it still played host to a 13 foot 2.35:1 acoustically transparent screen, which covered most of the front wall of the room during theater applications.

I won’t lie to you, I have done the setup of a Wisdom system, and as each speaker is bi or tri-amplified, there is a ton of wiring and equally as many chances to make an error in that wiring – so please, let your dealer install your system. Once they are installed they can be covered with a host of grill options from Wisdom or covered completely with a fabric wall.

Performance
I first cued up Peter Gabriel’s new album Scratch My Back (EMI) and started off with a favorite track in “Listening Wind.” The piece showed amazing space and air while the bottom end was deep yet tight and frankly palpable, especially at higher volumes. Vocals were smooth and clear while the strings came in and out with total independence. The balance was perfect from top to bottom. “My Body is a Cage” showed the amazing power a piano could have to a level I have almost never heard from a stereo system; the lone notes attacked and decayed perfectly with the power and weight I expect of a live piano. Bass lines again were completely clean and musical. The space of this piece was so impressive, vocals had exceptional separation and hung in the air entirely on their own.

Read more about the performance of the Wisdom Audio Sage Series on Page 2.

Wisdom_Audio_Sage_Series_in-wall_Speaker_review_SC-1.gifWe switched the system around and ran the P20i’s with the smaller Wisdom SCS subwoofer ($4,000) on these same tracks for comparison. The room is set up for home theater application, so the rear wall is designed to diffuse sound but the little P20i’s and SCS gave an impressive sound. They offered almost identical voicing to the L150i’s, and only lost a little space and ability to output volume and dynamics to their big brothers. The space of the large line source was obviously better but sonically this little combo was still a really impressive system.

Moving to some more aggressive music, I cued up Tool’s Aenemia (Volcano) and from the opening of “Stinkfist” I fell in love with the STS subwoofer. We cranked this up quite a bit and when the bass lines came through, my silk shirt was literally flapping in the breeze created by this massive subwoofer, yet the bottom end stayed musical and never got boomy. Rim shots on the snare came through with such speed they caused you to blink at higher volumes. The L150i’s and STS subwoofer were very capable – they output a volume level I would be afraid to listen to for more than a few minutes, and did so with clarity and finesse. “H.” showed the dynamic range of these speakers, with the quieter passages as clean and clear as the louder, more chaotic ones. While the near-white noise portions of the song came through at insane listening levels, the subtle tempo in the background remained perfectly defined.

We moved to some classical surround discs starting with “Daniel Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin: Beethoven Piano Concertos 1-5” (Euroarts) for the fifth concerto and also used “The Pyongyang Concert – New York Philharmonic & Lorin Maazel” (Euroarts), both on Blu-ray, to demo multi-channel audio. The piano of the fifth concerto had such power and weight, it was scary how real it sounded. Strings had energy and attack that were beyond reproach. The STS subwoofer filled in the bottom end of the larger strings and had no trouble keeping up with the deepest of notes or most powerful drums. The thing that impressed me most was how well the Wisdom system did at giving the feel of the two different halls. You could tell the difference almost from the first note and both halls had insanely well defined space, making for an unbelievable surround experience.

For a movie demo, I cued up “XXX” on Blu-ray (Columbia). The opening scene of this movie has so many things that make for a great audio demo. The shot of the bolt from the back left of the room to front dead center had such incredible dynamics it made me jump from my seat even knowing it was coming. The transition across the sound field was perfect as well and this system made for the best reproduction of that effect I have ever heard. Ramstein’s performance in the club was equally impressive with powerful dynamics yet subtle detail even at high volumes. The fire breathing sounded so real I thought I might get burned and the blowing out of the Absinthe in the end of the scene felt so real I could almost feel his breath. Explosions were no problem for this system and we never taxed either the planar magnetic driver’s or the subwoofer’s ability. The massive screen made for an almost Imax-like experience, even in this relatively small room.

Competition and Comparisons
When it comes to high end in-walls, Wisdom stands atop the ranks but for those looking for the floor savings on a more conservative budget, HTR’s editor Jerry Del Colliano is very happy with his PSB CW800E and CWS10 in-wall speakers and subwoofer. RBH makes a reference in-wall as well in the SI-6100/R. Paradigm also makes a reference in-wall in their SIG-LCR 5 but none of these are line sources -remember, line source loudspeakers are rare, especially in-wall line sources.

For more information on in-wall loudspeakers including the latest news and reviews please check out Home Theater Review’s In-Wall Loudspeaker page.

The Downside
The Wisdom Sage series does so much, so well it’s tough to fault them, but they aren’t without a downside. First off, these speakers are complicated to install and setup, but this is something your dealer should be doing for you. Once they are setup they will only require an occasional tweaking of the room correction if you change the room. These speakers are installed into the walls of your room, and as moving brings up issues, you could easily have the speakers removed and take them with you, but you will need to repair the walls in the old room and pay to have them re-installed in the new one or simply sell them as part of the home, which I’m sure would go over very well with the new owners.

Conclusion
The Wisdom Audio Sage series is a revolutionary loudspeaker system and one that has to be heard to be believed. These speakers rival or surpass any of the finest conventional speakers on the planet yet can be completely hidden from view. This is a case where technology trumps the old dog. The Wisdom Sage in-walls do things conventional driver-based speakers simply can’t. If you are in the market for a world-class speaker system, be it two channel or multi-channel, you need to hear a complete Sage Series demo. The Wisdom Sage series are some of the finest loudspeakers on the planet that just happen to be in-walls.

Additional Resources
• Read more in-wall speaker reviews by the Home Theater Review staff.
• Find an amplifier that pairs well with the Sage Series.
• Search for audiophile-grade source components.

SOURCE:http://hometheaterreview.com/wisdom-audio-l150i-sage-series-system-reviewed/