I’m always a bit suspicious of high-end speakers sporting cabinets that cost the designers a chunk of change to manufacture. You know, rare hardwoods, automobile-painted polymer resins, structural foam, even metal.
The result usually is stunning to look at, but I’m not shopping for sculpture. I always wonder if these companies spend so much money on the enclosures that there’s not enough left in the budget to install top-notch drivers, crossovers and internal wiring.
I think we’ve all heard speakers that looked drop-dead gorgeous, but had a tweeter that beamed into your head like a laser, or one-note bass or even just cheap binding posts that broke off under the slight strain of your garden-hose cable.
Personally, I’d rather see a designer go with plain MDF (medium-density fiberboard), glue a nice veneer on top and brace the hell out of the inside. Make the boxes in China if you have to, but then ship them back to your home country and fill them with the highest-grade components you can find. Connect everything inside with ultra-pure copper cable and attach WBT’s heaviest-duty posts.
I know a few speaker manufacturers who actually follow this business plan. And you know what? They all produce great-sounding, high-value products.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re going to go crazy on the cabinet, you better back it up with internal component quality that’s just as great.
That brings us to YG Acoustics. This Colorado-based company burst onto the scene in 2002, and not long after was taking out full-page ads in major audio magazines suggesting its speakers were the best in the world.
Every manufacturer has a key design feature it hangs its hat on, be it time alignment, computer modeling or an exotic driver. With YG, the hook is the speaker’s enclosures are CNC-milled from solid, aircraft-grade aluminum.
I’d heard aluminum enclosures before, with mixed results. Radio Shack, of all people, tried it in the last decade in a speaker that also featured the Linaeum film tweeter. More recently, Krell has been making a line of mighty-looking aluminum-cabinet models. Some of these transducers had their strong points, but none made me want to go hail aluminum as the next big thing.
That was, until I encountered YG.
The company has become a fixture at audio events in recent years. I’ve heard snippets of their sound at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, but the room usually is too packed to do much personal demoing. When Loggie Audio brought YG to the California Audio Show last year, however, I spent a lot of time in the room and came away with a serious hankering for a pair.
Redwood City, California-based Loggie was back this year, showing YG’s Hailey model ($42,800 a pair). They were driven by Bryston 28B SST-2 monoblocks ($19,200), fed by an Esoteric K-01 SACD player ($20,000). Stands and platforms were Harmonic Resolution Systems SXR ($19,000). Cable and power conditioning was the Audio Reference Technologies Analyst brand (price divulged through inquiry only!)
YG’s Hailey is said to bring much of the sound of the company’s Sonja 1.3 flagship ($106,800) to a lower price point. Whether $43,000 can be considered “affordable” is something you’ll have to decide.
Hailey is a three-way system that uses a 10.25-inch woofer, a new 7.25-inch midrange and a dome tweeter. Sensitivity is 87 db with a 4 ohm impedance. Frequency response is quoted at 20 Hz to 40 kHz, with a deviation of only plus or minus 1 db in the audible band. The speakers are 48 inches tall and weigh a hulking 170 pounds each.
Before we get to the sound, I’ll have to say this. You can definitely see where the money is spent with YG speakers. It is spent everywhere – not just on the cabinets. Designer Yoav Geva makes the bass and midrange units in-house, machining them from solid billets of aluminum. The process is as impressive as it is time-consuming. For the woofer, for example, YG starts with a raw billet that is 2.5 inches thick and weighs 16 pounds. Then a machine hyper-accurately removes tiny chips until the cone is 0.008 inches thick and weighs less than 1 ounce. During the procedure, the aluminum is never stretched, stamped, woven or otherwise stressed. This is said to avoid metal fatigue that could affect the performance of the driver. The downside is that each cone takes several hours to cut.
The tweeter, meanwhile, is made with an in-house CNC cutting process that creates 3D geometries within the motor system for lower distortion.
YG doesn’t stop there. The crossover uses a special nonmagnetic core to prevent distortion and crosstalk, and internal wiring and connectors are first-rate. In other words, Geva hasn’t wasted his obsessive streak on just grinding aluminum. He’s taken it all the way through his speakers, top to bottom and inside out.
The result of all this innovation and painstaking attention to detail, I found out at CAS 2013, was a speaker (the Sonja 1.2, $72,800 a pair) that produced uncommonly well-balanced, highly detailed sound, with few shortcomings. The heavy metal cabinets brought a solidity and weight to music, particularly 1970s rock, and the low distortion allowed jazz and orchestral material to emerge with exquisite detail and beauty. YG speakers seemed to be the rare transducer that excelled on whatever a listener chose to play.
This year, I seriously considered getting my hearing checked, since the sound in the Loggie room (the second one I visited on Friday morning) seemed to come up somewhat short of last year. Was it the Haileys, I wondered? Could the Bryston amps be a bad match?
It turns out everyone on the first floor was struggling early at CAS 2014, possibly due to cold equipment and dodgy electrical power. But when I returned Saturday, Loggie had tweaked and sorted out the system, and it was now sounding more like its price tag would indicate.
One thing I always like about visiting Robert Loggie’s room is that I know he’s going to be playing some music I’ve never heard but will want to ask about. This year it was, “I Loved Another Woman,” from Funk ‘n’ Blues by Henrik Freischlader, a German blues guitarist. The slow-burn track was atmospheric, gritty and soulful, just my kind of thing. As Freischlader played, you could hear echoes of his influences, such as Peter Green (the song’s author), B.B. King, Freddie King and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
I had Loggie, who is one of the nicest men in the high-end, by the way, switch to my copy of Roxy Music’s “Avalon.” The opening percussion pattern was rendered with polish and detail, and the entrance of the bass was felt as much as heard. Lounge king Brian Ferry’s voice floated above the subtle rhythms, displaying good image depth as well as accurate timbre.
If your budget allows shopping in this price range, the YGs are a must-listen. You may not be able to resist this metal machine’s music.