August 1, 2009

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Verity Audio
Lohengrin II

YG Acoustics
Anat Reference II Professional

Wilson Audio Specialties
Alexandria X-2 Series 2


Rockport Technologies
Active Arrakis


TWBAS: The Great North American Loudspeaker Tour

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] dealer’s 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 World’s Best Audio System 2009 event, in March, I’ve 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, I’ve wondered why these questions are so frequent.

Think and wonder, wonder and think

I guess it’s not so hard to understand: It’s 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 they’ve made a great choice and want to share their pleasure in it. After all, they’ve bought their audio system because they’ve 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 world’s most ambitious loudspeakers, the chorus of support from their owners can ring a convincing tone. Name any commercially successful überspeaker, and there’s 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 I’d have a more complete understanding of a given audiophile’s musical perspective. I’d 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, I’ve 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 are simple

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 you’ll 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
Price: $158,000/pair

Manufacturer: Verity Audio
Location: Quebec City, Canada
Model: Lohengrin II
Price: $80,000/pair

Manufacturer: Rockport Technologies
Location: Rockport, Maine
Model: Arrakis (active version)
Price: TBA

Manufacturer: EgglestonWorks
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Model: Ivy
Price: $110,000/pair

And that sixth, bonus stop? You’ll have to check in to find out!

How can you read about all this?

You won’t have to wait months, or even weeks, to hear about each of these visits -- merely hours. We’ll 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.

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