Wilson Benesch, a British manufacturer known for its elegant line of loudspeakers, has had an on-and-off presence in the U.S. market. During the times when its products were available here, the company’s “house sound” of detail, ease and pinpoint imaging attracted a cult following.
After another absence, the brand marked its return to U.S. shores with a splash at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. New domestic partner Aaudio Imports, was showing the A.C.T. One Evolution P1 ($40,300), an update of Wilson Benesch’s most famous design.
The loudspeakers were difficult to miss. Not only was the sound they were producing impressive, but the A.C.T. One’s carbon-fiber-composite cabinets were outfitted in a special finish called “Ettore Blue.” The striking color was created as both an homage to auto-racing legend Ettore Bugatti and a way to celebrate Wilson Benesch’s deal with Colorado-based Aaudio Imports.
Underneath that luxurious exterior, I found, is a 4-way layout, consisting of a 1-inch “Semisphere” tweeter, two 7-inch midrange drivers and a 7-inch woofer. There are ports for the upper and lower mids, and for the bass.
Frequency response is listed at 34-30,000 Hz. Sensitivity is 89 decibels.
When I arrived at the room, a rep was playing Ray Charles‘ and Willie Nelson’s version of “It Was a Very Good Year” from Genius Loves Company. Normally, this song is not my favorite and the album’s slick production disappoints. Emerging from the A.C.T. One, however, the two legends’ performances conquered these hurdles and made the track appealing in a way I had not encountered before.
I asked politely if I could dig through the vinyl stacked against a side wall (there was no CD player — a growing trend this year) to find something more contemporary, I selected Dido’s No Angel and asked for the single, “Thank You.”
This moody composition, a mix of despair and elation in everyday life, contains a propulsive groove and a variety of staccato background-vocal accents popping out of the left and right channels.
The A.C.T. One isolated these elements and its very low noise floor allowed them to be followed easily as individual sounds. Dido’s world-weary voice, which slips haltingly into falsetto at times, also was nicely textured and free of sibilants.
The bass was deep and tuneful. Here, the A.C.T. One was aided and abetted by Wilson Benesch’s intriguing Torus infrasonic generator ($12,500). The single speaker, which looks something like the wheel and tire of a 1972 Corvette sitting horizontally, was positioned flat on the floor between the floor-standers.
The powered, low-bass speaker contains an 18-inch driver with what the company says is a particularly powerful push-pull motor. The Torus operates from a toe-curling 10 Hz up to 150 Hz. According to Wilson Benesch, the subwoofer not only enhances the low notes, it also improves the timing and fluidity of the A.C.T. Ones and increases the amount of perceived air in the presentation.
The Torus did its job subtly, avoiding any home-theater wall-shaking. Bass tones sounded rounded and full, and the unit did, in fact, seem to deepen the soundstage and snap instruments into focus.
Other associated components in the Aaudio Imports room included a trio from Ypsillon: the Phaethon integrated amp ($25,000), the VPS-100 valve phono stage ($26,000) and the MC26L step-up transformer ($6,200). Turntable was the Thales TTT Compact II ($14,500), outfitted with a Simplicity II zero-tracking-angle arm ($9,200) and an Ikeda Kai MC cartridge ($8,500).
Wire was by Stage III, and featured its Medusa speaker cables ($18,500), Gorgon interconnects ($7,600), Analord Master phono cable ($5,300) and a mix of Leviathan ($14,500) and Kraken ($8,400) AC cables. Power conditioning was via HB Cable Design’s PowerSlave Marble unit ($13,500).
That gear seemed to be serving the Wilson Benesch speakers very well. Done up in Bugatti blue and even appearing to have a performance-tire sitting between them, these sporty aural vehicles are going to do well on the U.S. circuit.