As a longtime audio reviewer, I’ve heard a lot of products in my room -- but not all of them. Nowhere even close to most of them, actually. So when I hear about a new product that I find interesting, I often do what most audiophiles do: I search for it online and see what information I can find. Generally, I come across two types of information: the marketing materials released by the manufacturer, and the reactions to those marketing materials posted by audiophiles on online forums.
Often, both the marketing and the reactions to it are predictable. For instance, I know that a solid, budget-oriented product with real-world claims -- think a new PSB subwoofer -- is often met with enthusiasm from those on the hunt for just that type of product. That same budget sub will elicit a more muted response from most audiophiles. In other words, it flies under their radar. Which is why they’re precisely the types of products that we at SoundStage! try to tell our readers about.
Then there are the less predictable reactions. Consider the products that are released with one of these characteristics: 1) something made of unobtanium and priced accordingly, 2) something marketed with claims for its performance that eclipse those made for every competing product, and 3) something with a claimed ratio of value to sound quality that seems implausible.
It gets really fun when a product is released with marketing that meets all three of the above criteria. Cases in point are two forthcoming loudspeakers: the Devialet Gold Phantom and the Wilson Audio Specialties WAMM Master Chronosonic. I’ll start with the latter.
The WAMM Master Chronosonic is promised to be the magnum opus of industry legend Dave Wilson. I suspect it might turn out to be the last speaker he designs before officially handing over the reins to his son, Daryl, who reportedly has been responsible for such recent Wilson designs as the Alexx and Yvette. What we know so far, courtesy the staged rollout on Wilson Audio’s Facebook page as of the time of this writing: The new WAMM will be huge, probably in the neighborhood of 1000 pounds per channel; its driver count will exceed the six in the company’s previous flagship, the Alexandria XLF; and for those wanting more bass than even this beast can put out, optional woofer towers will be available. What we don’t yet know is exactly what it looks like, its specifications or dimensions, or its price. Forum posters guesstimate anywhere from $380,000 to $1,000,000 per set. At this point, most of the facts about the WAMM MC are anyone’s guess.
Reactions have been all over the map. Many have scoffed at whatever they think the price will be. Others have speculated about the design, armchair-quarterbacking each little detail as it’s revealed (e.g., the exposed driver-mounting hardware). Then there are those who are giddy with excitement, reveling in the fact that, day by day, they can follow along in real time with this product introduction from the comfort of their computer screen.
Although not quite giddy, I, too, feel a certain amount of anticipation. I want to see the next photo of the WAMM MC. I want to see its specs. I want to know how much it costs. But a stronger reaction than any of those is that I applaud Wilson’s attempt to use their marketing to get folks excited. Is there anyone who doesn’t understand that the WAMM MC is a super-luxury purchase? Do you really think it would be a good idea to do a soft rollout, or a standard debut in a musty hotel room at an audio show? C’mon, guys -- it’s 2016. Facebook posts are a great way to spread the word, and Wilson Audio is doing an admirable job of it. I have no idea how this thing will sound, and I don’t have a guess at the price, but I do know that getting people interested -- no, excited -- about the high end is a good thing.
The Devialet Gold Phantom is a little different -- OK, a lot different, at least in some ways. First, it’s a lot smaller. Forget half a ton -- it weighs less than 50 pounds. And there’s no seven- or six-figure price tag, or even one in five figures. The Gold Phantom costs $2990 apiece. It’s similar to the Wilson in that Devialet is trying to drum up excitement about it with their marketing claims. On their website, Devialet claims that the introduction of the Gold Phantom “forever changes the world of sound.” While this type of language is sure to rile many audiophiles, it doesn’t bother me. I’m not sure even Devialet believes that the Gold Phantom will actually trounce a pair of upper-level Vivid speakers, or the latest extreme-tech Magico. But for someone who has no interest in those speakers, but whose living room may contain a good portable wireless speaker -- maybe a Bose or a Bowers & Wilkins -- well, maybe the Gold Phantom could change that person’s world, at least in terms of sound.
I’m not bothered by these products, or by the marketing campaigns their makers have come up with to launch them. Both Wilson and Devialet are trying to sell gear and stay in business in an era when most people’s audio purchases don’t go much further than a set of nice headphones. I can forgive some of the over-the-top language if the marketing department thinks those words will best grab people’s attention. I want the high end to remain relevant -- don’t you?
As for whether these products live up to the claims made for them, well that’s another story. We need good professional reviews of them that include real acoustic measurements, reports from the field, etc. Then we’ll know what’s up. Until then, don’t get bent out of shape by the marketing. Grab your popcorn and watch the show with the rest of us -- soon enough, we’ll know what the real deal is.
. . . Jeff Fritz