An Inside Look at 'Something Special' from Wisdom Audio

7/27/2011 1:44:40 PM
by Dennis Burger

If you ever happen to find yourself in the Carson City, NV, area and feeling a bit peckish, do yourself a favor and drive a few miles south—not exactly to the Middle of Nowhere, because that would connote some sort of geographical significance, but definitely on the edge of Nowhere’s police jurisdiction—and check out the amazing Buona Sera Ristorante & Bar. The food is beyond amazing, the wine selection is superb, and if you’re lucky enough to be there on an evening when the hostess Claire serenades the crowd, you’re in for a truly tear-jerking voice unlike any you’ve likely ever heard in person.

And amazingly enough, dinner at Buona Sera was not the highlight of my recent trip to Carson City. I spent a good chunk of last week at the headquarters of Wisdom Audio, attending a couple of days of dealer training, touring the manufacturing facilities, and spending some private quality time with the company’s new flagship LS4 speakers (not that kind of private quality time, you perverts! Although... given the noises I uttered, you could be forgiven for making that mistake).

If you’re a Wisdom dealer (or thinking very seriously about becoming one), it’s two days well spent, if you have the opportunity. Day one begins with an overview of the demo room—a nice, cozy theater with acoustical treatments by Anthony Grimani and a modular wall design that allows the folks at Wisdom to easily interchange Sage Series in-wall speakers one for another in mere minutes.

What followed was a jam-packed 48 hours’ worth of intense listening sessions, technology overviews, walkthroughs and demonstrations of system setups and system design software, and a lot of surprisingly frank discussions with key company players (many of whom you probably know from their years with Madrigal/Mark Levinson).

Executive vice president David Graebener (of Speakerlab fame) sat down with us to discuss everything from the quirks of planar-magnetic transducer design in general to the differences between point source and line source speakers (with plenty of visual aids along the way) to the very specific innovations he’s made at Wisdom, and he even took the time to show us a super secret pet project he’s working on that could take the company into new and unexpected places.

David Graebener  
David Graebener showing us the film for the PMT drivers that go into the LS4. For more photos from the Wisdom Audio headquarters tour, check out the slide show here.

The highlight of day two was a tour of Wisdom’s manufacturing facilities behind the offices. And I specifically avoided the word “factory” there, despite the fact that our itinerary listed a “factory tour,” because to me the word connotes a massive, industrialized, automated to-do; in contrast, the area in which all of Wisdom’s speakers are hand-assembled (from all-American-made parts, I might add, save the conventional low-frequency drivers) and packed for shipping (in custom crates or very swanky boxes, all shipped on a pallet for the utmost in shipping and handling care) is a far more modest facility than I would have imagined given the quality of the speakers themselves. Extruded aluminum casings line the walls. There’s a bit of clutter to the place that’s quite frankly reassuring. It looks more like my dad’s workshop at home than any factory I’ve ever visited, and I mean that in a good way. The machinery looks positively old-school, but don’t let that fool you: casings are cut and screw holes are routed to tolerances of less than the width of a human hair.

For me, the tour drove home the message that president Mark Glazier and vice president of sales Jon Herron had conveyed in words up to that point: Wisdom is trying to do something really special here—hand-build world-class in-wall and on-wall speakers that don’t just compete with, but positively clobber some of the world’s finest floorstanding offerings, and do so with unparalleled craftsmanship, reliability, and flexibility. At one point in our tour of the facilities, Herron and vice president of manufacturing Eric Graul pointed out that because all of the speaker enclosures are cut to length and assembled by hand, truly custom options aren’t that much harder to produce. One client, for example, had a custom soundbar made from P20 speakers at a specific length to match the design of his room, and I have to admit, I’m a bit shocked to discover how much extra he didn’t pay for the custom design.  

During a break between the production facilities tour and an overview of Wisdom’s subwoofer technology—from the S90i to the suitcase-sized SCS on to the positively steamer-trunkesque STS subwoofer—I asked Roger Owings and Bryan Tosh from The Phonograph in Tulsa why they took two days out of what is obviously a busy schedule to attend two days of training for a speaker line they already sell. “Confidence.” That was Tosh’s response. “I come away from this more confident in the support I’m going to get from the team, more confident in the product itself. If I don’t believe in it, I can’t sell it.”
Eric Graul tour 
Vice president of manufacturing Eric Graul demonstrates how the in-walls are put together. For more photos from the Wisdom Audio headquarters tour, check out the slide show here.

For Owings, though, it’s a different kind of confidence. “I’m not the one selling these systems; I’m the one installing them. So for me, it’s more about familiarity with all the different ways these systems can be configured. You’ve heard Jon [Herron] talk about how the line source speakers sound best when installed all the way in the corners? It’s completely counterintuitive. It goes against everything we know about speaker placement. But that’s how they’re installed in our showroom, and as good as you’ve heard them sound here in the demo room, I can tell you they sound even better in the corners. So I can go back and tell that to a client with the utmost confidence... and also sell them a larger screen in the process.”

That’s perhaps my only regret about the training—the fact that we didn’t get to hear the speakers installed in the corners of the room. But Herron explained the technical reasoning behind it: given the narrow width of the line source driver itself, when you put them right up into a corner, the first reflection ends up being really close to the front wall, and in phase to boot. It means that you have to think about room acoustics a little differently if you go that route, but it also allows you to use the entire width of the front wall for the projection screen, and gives you a positively huge front soundstage.

And what a soundstage it is. Every speaker we heard in the Sage Series—from the little P20 all the way up to the C150 (without a doubt the finest center channel I’ve ever heard)—delivers some of the most detailed, effortless, penetrating audio I’ve ever heard. And mind you, that’s from in-walls. Without a doubt, these speakers have demolished the notion that in-wall speakers have to be a sonic compromise.

They’re not simple speakers, though. Every Sage Series system you install also requires an SC-1 controller, with built-in Audyssey MultEQ Pro room correction, and as many as five channels of amplification for one channel alone in the case of the C150.

And then there’s the behemoth LS4, the flagship of the company’s new Wisdom Series. As I said, after the training was complete, I got to spend the better part of a day locked in the Wisdom demo room with a pair of these big boys, supported by a pair of S90i subs. For my full thoughts on those, though, you’ll have to wait for my full review in the next issue of Residential Systems.


For more photos from the Wisdom Audio headquarters tour, check out the slide show here.


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