Wisdom Audio is one of the specialty audio/video industry's great turn-around stories. More than a decade ago, the company was known for making stand-alone audiophile speakers - very expensive, audiophile-only speakers - that today would have competed with the likes of Wilson Audio, YG Acoustics, or Magico. About five years ago, powered by a team of ex-Harman (Madrigal, to be exact) executives, Wisdom Audio was reborn as an audiophile speaker company designed for the real world. This meant in-wall and on-wall speakers that could hang with a Wilson or 800 Series Bowers & Wilkins, but didn't inspire a wife to make that first call to a divorce attorney. Wisdom stayed true to its roots with very elaborate trade- and consumer-show demonstrations that wowed. In-walls and on-walls aren't supposed to sound that good, people said. What also wowed was the price tag of products like Wisdom Audio's LS4 or Sage Series, which started in the low $10,000s and could top out at over $100,000 for larger, more robust systems. Therefore, you needed Magico money to buy into the Wisdom line. That is, until now.
In 2012, Wisdom Audio dropped the price of admission with the introduction of the Insight line of speakers. The P2i speakers we are reviewing are the smallest speakers in the lineup, as well as the least expensive at $1,550 each. The Insight Series differs from the other Wisdom Audio lines in that these speakers use traditional passive crossovers (instead of the active crossovers in the step-up speakers) that allow for one channel of amplification per speaker, and they do not require the use of Wisdom Audio's proprietary controller system. This change in system design allows the listener to utilize a traditional home theater processor and amplification, or even a higher-end receiver-based system, to drive the Insight speakers, which eliminates the cost of the Wisdom Audio controller and extra channels of amplification.
The P2i has some pretty impressive features that have made the Wisdom Audio speakers so successful in recent years. The speaker is a hybrid design with a planar magnetic tweeter flanked by a pair of oval-shaped woofers. Planar magnetic driver technology is similar to that of a ribbon driver with many of the same sonic benefits, including the ability to render the smallest details due to the low mass, while at the same time being much less susceptible to compression when faced with more dynamic signals. The Wisdom Audio website has a clear and easy-to-follow explanation of the driver technology for those who are interested in the technical details.
Hybrid designs such as the P2i can be tricky for speaker designers, as the transition between planar drivers and the traditional cone drivers can lead to sonic discontinuities if not handled carefully. The crossovers in the P2i utilize a 650Hz crossover point, which is below the ear's most sensitive range of 1 kHz to 3 kHz. The crossovers are acoustically symmetrical and phase coherent. The combination of the crossovers and the acoustical centers of the drivers being within one inch of each other (depth-wise) results in a time-aligned speaker, which helps top-to-bottom coherence. Despite the carefully designed crossovers, the non-planar drivers need to be quick enough to keep up with the planar drivers, or the listener will hear a difference in clarity between them. Wisdom Audio addresses this by using multiple smaller drivers that are well-damped. The enclosure is effectively an infinite baffle type, so the damping and control of the woofer comes from the driver's motor and surround, allowing it to be tuned for optimal performance. The smaller woofers limit the low-frequency extension, but the P2i speakers are designed to be utilized with a subwoofer and an 80Hz crossover point. This transition is assisted by eliminating the mid-bass bump that many smaller speakers utilize to create a false sense of bass extension. The elimination of this bump allows for a smoother transition between the P2i speakers and a subwoofer.
The P2i speakers were sent to me for review, along with enclosures that were provided by Wisdom Audio, so I did not need to cut holes in my walls. Each enclosure was the size of a small tower speaker and reportedly has an interior volume area similar to a typical stud bay of an interior wall. Each enclosure came with the cutout and wiring already in place. Otherwise, my installation was the same as what you would experience when mounting the P2i in your walls. The speaker module is easily removed from the Uni-Grip frame by unscrewing it. The frame itself is made out of relatively thick metal and has long clamping rails running vertically down each side. The clamping rails are shaped like a squared-off "U," with an extension coming off the top of one arm at a 90-degree angle. The portion of the frame that extends into the wall cavity is surrounded by the channel of the clamping rail, with the extension of the rail to the outside making it available to clamp the backside of the drywall against the front baffle of the frame. This provides a large clamping area and can accommodate thicknesses up to 1.25 inches, so two layers of 5/8-inch drywall will work if desired. To continue installation, remove one screw and loosen the other to the point where the screws only have a few turns of thread left. Then insert the frame into the wall opening with the drywall between the Uni-Grip rail and the frame, and then tighten the rail to where it is snug but still movable. I then took the rail that I had removed earlier, slid it into place on the frame, and tightened that rail. Both rails can be snugged down once you ensure that the frame is installed level. This large clamping area provides a rigid base for the speaker module, which is then reinserted. This is where another pair of hands can come in handy. Have one person hold the module close to the opening, while the other connects the speaker cables. The module can then be attached to the frame with the screws. The entire assembly is covered by a perforated metal grille that can be painted to match your wall. The grille extends only 2mm from the wall surface and is very unobtrusive.
You may have noticed that I referred to crossovers in the plural above. This is because the P2i speakers feature two sets of crossovers. Looking at the bottom of the speaker baffle, you will see a switch with "Flat" and "Target" positions; each has its own crossovers. Wisdom recommends that you run your processor's room correction with the speaker set to the Flat position and then move the switch to the Target position. Wisdom advises that the Flat position will measure flat but sound bright, and that utilizing the Target position will result in a more balanced-sounding presentation.
I connected the speakers to a Marantz AV8801 processor (review forthcoming) with Kimber's 8TC speaker cables. The first subwoofer I used was Paradigm's SUB 15, but I later switched to the SUB 25, as it was better able to keep up with the speed of the Wisdom speakers.
During the setup process, I had a long conversation with Jon Herron, Wisdom Audio's Vice President of Sales. Jon was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the speakers. After explaining a lot of the technical details, he advised that I set up the speakers a few feet away from the walls. This seemed counterintuitive to me for testing in-wall speakers. Jon explained that he had demonstrated the Wisdom speakers many times utilizing enclosures similar to the ones I was using, and had conducted many measurements while doing so. He advised that moving the enclosure a few feet away from the wall provides measurements much more similar to an in-wall installation than if the enclosures are placed against the wall. Jon also brought up the Wisdom SCS subwoofer, which uses a regenerative transmission line for speed and articulation that allows it to more easily integrate with the in-wall speakers. That would be for a different review, but it's good to know that it's out there.
Read about the performance of the Insight P2i in-wall speakers on Page 2.