August 1, 2009
Anat Reference II Professional
Wilson Audio Specialties
Alexandria X-2 Series 2
TWBAS: The Great North American
Have you heard the current iteration of the [insert
favorite loudspeaker] in your system?
Have you heard the latest model from [insert favorite
loudspeaker company] at their [insert location] dealers showroom?
Have you visited the factory to hear the newest creation
from [insert favorite loudspeaker designer]?
Lately, the above has been the story of my audio-reviewing
life. Ever since The Worlds Best Audio System 2009 event, in March, Ive been
asked these questions with increasing frequency. Curiously enough (or maybe not), the
questions are as often posed by current owners of these products as they are by those
seeking guidance about a future purchase. Intrigued by this phenomenon, Ive wondered
why these questions are so frequent.
Think and wonder, wonder and think
I guess its not so hard to understand: Its
normal for consumers to seek affirmation that they made the right decision, and
audiophiles (including reviewers) are no different. Audiophiles have always actively
promoted whatever products they find perform the best -- read any audio-related Internet
message board. Audiophiles who purchase a great pair of loudspeakers are, typically,
overtly enthusiastic about them because they think theyve made a great choice
and want to share their pleasure in it. After all, theyve bought their audio system
because theyve concluded that these components were the right fits for their budgets
and tastes -- and yours might be the same. Enthusiasm is contagious.
When it comes to the worlds most ambitious
loudspeakers, the chorus of support from their owners can ring a convincing tone. Name any
commercially successful überspeaker, and theres a group of passionate lifelong
audiophiles who have finally completed their dream systems, each of those systems built
around that one fantastic speaker model. Naturally, these audiophiles feel an overwhelming
sense of pride of ownership. But why did they choose what they chose? The reasons
they went to such extremes are largely related to how these people experience music. Their
experience of live music -- and their experience of reproduced music -- made these
loudspeakers the only ones that would do.
If I could only channel those experiences, the live and the
reproduced, then Id have a more complete understanding of a given audiophiles
musical perspective. Id also then have a much better comprehension of a market
segment that in many ways defines high-end audio. But how to do that while reviewing these
products in my home is an overwhelmingly complex and expensive task that could take years
to complete. Only one or two such products might appear at any given Consumer Electronics
Show, and even then, only in a hotel room after minimal setup time. And how does one
factory tour in isolation, followed by another tour six months to a year later, provide
any useful context?
Then the light bulb popped on.
As an encore to TWBAS 2009, Ive decided to take on
the task of putting myself in the well-heeled shoes of those flagship-owning audiophiles
-- or at least following in their footsteps as closely as 21st-century travel will allow.
This will be hard work. No, really.
The questions burning in my mind: What are these people
hearing? What makes these loudspeakers so special? What are the manufacturers of these
great loudspeakers trying to achieve? Can I experience these products in a way that gives
me a complete understanding of why these specific loudspeakers are able to
communicate music so effectively?
Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers
TWBAS: The Great North American Loudspeaker Tour
will be launched August 28, 2009. The journey will take me to six destinations over the
course of nine days. At five of these I will experience the great loudspeakers that make
up this grand conversation. The sixth stop will be a bonus: to hear not a complete
loudspeaker, but perhaps the most ambitious powered subwoofer ever to come to market.
Sounds like fun, eh?
Oh, the places youll go!
Manufacturer: YG Acoustics
Location: Arvada, Colorado
Model: Anat Reference II Professional
Price: $107,000 USD/pair
Manufacturer: Wilson Audio Specialties
Location: Provo, Utah
Model: Alexandria X-2 Series 2
Manufacturer: Verity Audio
Location: Quebec City, Canada
Model: Lohengrin II
Manufacturer: Rockport Technologies
Location: Rockport, Maine
Model: Arrakis (active version)
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
And that sixth, bonus stop? Youll have to
check in to find out!
How can you read about all this?
You wont have to wait months, or even weeks, to hear
about each of these visits -- merely hours. Well be updating the "TWBAS"
column the day after each experience. Just keep checking back between August 31 and
September 8 for the full, ongoing scoop.
. . . Jeff Fritz
Note: My thanks to the companies listed above for their
support in making TWBAS: The Great North American Loudspeaker Tour happen. They all
exhibited maximum flexibility to make possible my fairly complex itinerary.