CAF12: Legacy Audio, Sherbourn

“You need big speakers to make big sound.” I’m sure someone said that once, somewhere, but I’m not going to bother looking it up. I said it, and that should be enough for you! Ahem.

Look, I have nothing against small speakers. In fact, I have several here at chez moi as we speak. But no matter how precise their imaging, or how point-sourcey they are, there’s a simple fact that remains — if you want to really do justice to the Philharmonic, you’re going to need more than a 5″ driver to do it. Sorry. Physics isn’t terribly forgiving.

Here’s another truism. Full range speakers are expensive. They just are! I’m not exactly sure why this is, but it seems to be the case that pricing for full range speakers isn’t simply a function of the parts costs. Something seems to go awry with the normal calculus when we start talking about full range. Again, I don’t know why — but like you, I can speculate.

Which is one reason why Legacy Audio is interesting.

Here at the Capital Audiofest, Bill Duddleston and crew were showing off a pair of Legacy Audio’s monster full range speakers. And yes, I mean monster. The “smaller” of the two speakers on display, the $9,200 Focus SE (Silver Anniversary), is 198lbs. Each. Yeah! As you’d expect, it’s also imposing — this is a big cabinet, a four-way, with big drivers in it. At 95dB, 4ohm, with an F2 of 18Hz, and cabinet with no parallel walls, you’re going to be hard pressed to find any speaker that can touch it for less than $20k. Go ahead, look. Have fun with that.

Now, the Focus SE is a big loudspeaker. Big cabinet. Big sound. There’s very little in the world of audio’s high-end that can actually make this speaker look small. Enter, Whisper.

I’ve always thought “Whisper” was a cool name for a loudspeaker, especially for one so bloody big. “Speak softly and carry a giant woofer.” Or, in this case, several of them. And a million years ago, when I started reading Stereophile’s “Recommended Components” list, the Whisper from Legacy was the speaker that made that a Class A rating but “only” cost something like $15k, making it a relative bargain. I like that.

Instantly recognizable, the open-baffle design is a couple of inches over 5′ tall. At both the top and bottom of the baffle are 15″ drivers — think subwoofers. There are two more mounted in the rear baffle. That’s four 15″ drivers per cabinet — all powered by integral 500wpc ICE-power amplifiers. The Whisper also doubles the number of mid-woofers a Focus SE carries, to four.

The Whisper XD is a 4-way speaker with a total of 10 drivers. Pricing starts at $20,500 and includes the external 24-bit DSP crossover system. It’s an open design, that is open baffle, with bass drivers mounted on the rear of the cabinet, making it something of a dipole. My admittedly limited understanding is that this design is supposed to help with (ie, help eliminate) many of the sonically damaging challenges that side-wall reflections introduce. With subs mounted 5′ off the ground and in a di-pole array, my intuition tells me that the deep bass ought to be fairly balanced, but also not be as slow or bloated as most vented-box speakers. The F2 of the Whisper XD is 22Hz, somewhat unnoticeably higher than the Focus SE, and still way “down there”. They’re also 210lbs each. Ye, gods, these speakers are big.

Okay, all that said, here’s the kicker. I don’t care what your audiophile preconceptions might lead you to believe about a big speaker with a bazillion drivers. Toss that out. Then, queue up that Philharmonic you’ve been keeping in your back pocket. Et voila, monsieur. The entirety of the performance is now before you.

In the show report I wrote for Enjoy The Music, I noted that the Whispers completely owned whatever they were handed. I’ll repeat that and underline it here — there’s some things that big speakers can do that more modestly sized speakers simply cannot. And big music is one of them. Very impressive. Smack!

Bill treated me to a preview that’s coming to both the Focus SE and the Whisper speakers this fall — a brand new tweeter array.

Currently, Team Legacy is using a pair of tweeters for the Focus/Whisper models. A ribbon handles things from ~2.8kHz and drops out at ~5kHz — an AMT takes over from that point. In the new array, there are still two vertically aligned tweeters, but both are now AMT designs.

The new tweeters will be on display at RMAF this year. No word yet on whether this means “new model” or an inline upgrade.

Sherbourn, a recent acquisition for cost-leader Emotiva, provided the electronics in the room, including the $1,299 PA 2-250, a 250Wpc power amplifier that doubles down into 4ohms, matched with the $699 PRE-1 preamplifier. Playback came via the $799 CD-1 CD player. I don’t really have much on Sherbourn, perhaps because they tend to play in the custom-install, home theater market, but the sound here was convincing and, all things considered, oddly affordable. Hard to argue with that.

4 comments

  • Good piano is also tough for small speakers/drivers to duplicate. (my Acoustat III’s , as well as Kef 104ab with 8″ mid’s did piano oh so beautifully)
    However there are those big /little speaker anomalies: eons ago I had a pair of biamplified Philips motional feedback speakers about 11″ X 10″ X 15″ (8″ 3 ways including 2 amplifiers in each in cabinet) giant killers (but I agree the mini monitors with the unreal postage stamp image just doesn’t satisfy the orchestral desires of my mind and heart. Yeah, my Philips Motional Feedback speaks were a gas but now: Let me have those big dawg speakers and let me hear them whisper.

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  • “the Whispers completely owned whatever they were handed”- agreed!
    These speakers are incredible performers, with a beautiful fit and finish.

    Jayz, you should check out the smaller Legacy speakers, if maximum performance per square inch is what you’re looking for. They certainly inherit the performance of their bigger brothers, as you mentioned, in a smaller size format. Legacy speakers are incredible designs- both in the performance they acquire out of their smaller size speakers and in their value.

  • Sure, I would agree totally that big speakers do full-range well. But then clever engineering goes way beyond that direct correlation right?

    Imagine building a bridge, a century ago, builders would start with the strongest material. Today we look at it from a different perspective, the clever designers of today would build a bridge with just enough strength and no more.

    The same applies to speaker design; a modern-day speaker designer will attempt to extract 90% of the performance of a big speaker whilst being only 40% in size. Yes there is that elusive 10% of performace remaining but if 90% of audiophiles find the smalller speakers a better overall choice then that would still be a clear design win.

    The unfortunate reality today is about making clever compromises, yes its that word again that goes against our very own notion of perfectionism, but the designers who have learnt to accept these tight restrictions will continue to do well in the audiophile marketplace for many years to come.