Ken Taraszka M.D. is an anesthesiologist by trade based in Tampa Bay, Florida. Ken is also a professional audiophile and home theater writer specializing in AV preamps and all facets of the audiophile market. In the past, Ken has been a staff writer and editor at AVRev.com. He has also at times been a frequent contributor at AudiophileReview.com.
The modern world of AV gear is expanding. Speakers that were once simple boxes filled with drivers have grown into complex designs, thanks to the increase in available technology and experience the years have offered. With these technological advances, speakers don't need to be seen to be heard. They can be built right into existing walls. Early in-wall designs were weak, to be polite, but they have evolved, as has the in-wall market. Top speaker manufacturers continue to push the limits of the genre, none more than Wisdom Audio. Historically, Wisdom has been another audiophile speaker company with floor-standing speakers that cost more than the newest prancing horse from Marinello. Today, the company has been completely revamped from the executive team to additional investors and a whole new product offering that is very forward-thinking. Most of Wisdom's speakers come in, dare I say, "out of the box" forms, including relatively thin free-standing on-wall and even in-wall designs. Wisdom's collaboration with Audyssey to custom-tailor their room correction software to their speakers allows them to offer their products to those in the market for top-level sound with zero loss of floor space. Along with Audyssey EQ, the Wisdom speakers can further be tailored to a listener's liking through the use of amplification, for all Wisdom Speakers require two separate amplifiers. Most systems include one amp from Wisdom and one of the customer's choosing however you can use your own amps for the bass drivers if they are powerful enough. You also can use two Wisdom amps if you choose.
The subject of this review is a complete Wisdom Sage system, their highest line, and consists of a pair of L75i in-wall speakers ($16,000), a C20 center channel ($3,500) and a pair P48 free-standing speakers ($12,000) for surrounds. Included for the review were the SC-1 system controller that houses the crossovers and Audyssey system ($6,000), one each of Wisdom Audio's ICE amplifiers, a two channel SA-2 ($3,500) and a three-channel SA-3 ($4,000), bringing the total system price to $45,000. Your Wisdom dealer can work with you to tailor their speakers to your budget with systems starting around $20.000 and maxing out around $100,000.
The L75i employs a 48-inch planar magnetic panel and four six-inch woofers, giving it a sensitivity of 95 dB at one watt/meter. The C20 utilizes two of the six-inch custom bass drivers and a two-inch planar magnetic tweeter, while the P48s employ four of the proprietary bass drivers and a unique planar magnetic midrange and tweeter for the top end. In the P48s and other speakers in the Sage series using this set-up, Wisdom has left a crossover in the midrange and tweeter array to limit the requirements to two channels of amplification per speaker. All these speakers have a quoted frequency response to 40 Hz and offer a four-ohm load. Both the C20 and P48 speakers are 91 dB efficient at one watt/meter. Every one of these speakers can handle over 1,000 watts and can easily reproduce over 100 dB sound levels. The in-walls are encased in sturdy aircraft aluminum boxes, while the free-standing and on-wall models are housed in elegant cabinets that are charcoal, except for the clear anodized trim bezels.
Wisdom utilizes active crossovers in their design, placing a powered crossover upstream from the amplifiers, which means each set of drivers must have their own channels of amplification. The Wisdom L75i system is a two-way design, with planar magnetic drivers for the upper end and small long-throw drivers for the lower end. While the P48 is truly a three-way design, Wisdom has kept a small crossover for the tweeter in these speakers to avoid the need for three channels of amplification. Placing the crossover in the signal path before the amplifier means that the amplifier only sees the frequencies its drivers are reproducing, thereby offloading the amplifier and allowing it to maximize a more limited frequency range.
Wisdom has maximized their systems to each of the environments they can adapt to with in-wall, on-wall and free-standing designs and has worked extensively with Audyssey to design a system that maximizes performance for each application. The Audyssey MultiEQ XT system allows up to 32 different points of testing, giving you the best sound possible from these speakers when your dealer is done with the install. Yes, I said dealer. This is no do-it-yourself system. Mine came shipped in 15 boxes and weighed over 600 pounds. Thankfully, Jon Herron, vice president of sales for Wisdom Audio, came to assist me with the install and to insure everything was set up to the company's exacting standards.
For those of you who have never ran a bi-amplified system, imagine wiring two systems together in the same room. Any time complexity increases, so can errors, so care is a must when wiring such a system. I proved this by miswiring the bass outputs between the SC-1 and the amps during our install; Jon was kind enough to fix it for me. This is the reason Wisdom will only honor warranties if the system is installed by an authorized dealer. Note I said "installed": they will fully honor the warranty of their electronics, panels and drivers if resold, they just don't want to have to cover for the DIYers' potential mistakes.
The basis of the Wisdom design involves the use of a line array that projects sound from a continuous vertical linear source, rather than the conventional design of a single-point driver. Speaker builders use this technique for good reasons. While it often creates the need for a multitude of drivers, Wisdom's use of planar magnetic panels for the upper end allows them to make their higher-frequency drivers as long as they need. In my L75i speakers, the planar magnetic drivers are four feet long. The lower two feet are filled with multiple small long-throw woofers.
Wisdom is able to reproduce a wide spectrum of sound from their planar magnetic drivers, thanks to the nature of their design. A planar magnetic driver is a super-light panel that is strung tautly between two magnets, in this case, ultra-strong rare earth Neodymium. This makes the panel, which is the moving part of the driver, able to be manufactured to be amazingly light and capable of rapidly responding to small changes in the signal. It also allows for large excursions. This is how these drivers can go down to 275 Hz. The large surface area of the panels and their open nature allow them to dissipate heat extremely quickly, permitting the panels to handle up to 1,000 watts or more with ease. It also means they can play loud, as they can move a large amount of air.
One thing that is truly unique to the planar magnetic drivers is their resistance. While many if not all speakers vary in their impedance to different frequencies, the planar magnetic drivers Wisdom uses offer a completely fixed resistive load to the amplifier powering them. Basically, this means the amplifier powering the panels is seeing the easiest load possible and even the simplest amplifier should have no issues with driving them. Audiophiles will be able to run high-powered solid state or high-end tube amps without issue with these speakers. Throughout history, most amplifiers have been over-built for the simplistic resistive load the planar magnetic panels offer.
Wisdom uses an array of small long-throw woofers to fill in the lower end. These are no ordinary drivers. Wisdom spent over two years designing them and they owe some thanks to the race car industry for manufacturing a way to stabilize the surrounds, allowing these small drivers to have huge excursions and reproduce serious bass without significant distortion. Wisdom Audio recommends using their amplifiers to power the woofers, as they have been specially designed for this application, while you can use more of their amplifiers or your own amplifiers to power the planar magnetic panels.
Setting up this system took two people an entire day. I was glad Jon Herron came to help, as this would have been an entire weekend project by myself. With his help, we managed to get the system installed in my reference rig in a single day.
The SC-1 controller houses the active crossover and balanced outputs for up to 14.3 channels. This was fed by my Krell Evolution 707 AV preamp, the new EMM Labs TSD1/DAC2 CD/SACD transport and DAC, a Sony BDP-S350, my Sony PS3 and a Scientific Atlanta 8300 HD DVR. We ran the bass channels for the Wisdom speakers with Wisdom digital amplifiers and my Krell Evolution 403 for the fronts and a Proceed HPA-2 for the rears, powered the planar magnetic panels. Wiring came from my trusty Transparent Reference balanced interconnects, as well as a healthy loan from Straightwire of their Serenade balanced interconnects. I keep coming back to this idea: when you go active, you multiply the number of wires from the preamp to the speakers by the number of ways you cross over the system, which in this case are two. Manufacturers make similar systems that have three, four and even five-way crossovers possibilities.
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