Going for Broke: Wilson Benesch Wheels Out the Big Guns

by Roy Gregory | January 27, 2013

he Sound & Vision show in Bristol is a dealer event, organized on behalf of the local audio stores. As such it’s all about the brands those stores carry and the products they have in stock. Selling is the name of the game, and that means the traditional product launches and up-market introductions generally take something of a back seat, the show having a resolutely affordable slant.

But this year, long-time exhibitor Wilson Benesch brought their new flagship speaker, the 55,000-per-pair Cardinal, along for its UK debut. A full review is already in the can, so I can tell you that this is one impressive beast. With nine in-house, purpose-built drivers a side, a unique cone material and equally unique system topology, a cabinet that is built entirely from critically shaped aluminum extrusions and lightweight composite sandwich moldings and an attention to detail that needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated, this speaker is the product of an almost obsessive devotion to engineering excellence. Each cabinet gets close to quarter of a metric ton in weight, and there’s not a bit of wood involved anywhere -- apart from the crates the speakers arrive in.

Clearly, they deserve something a little special when it comes to partnering equipment. Starting at the front, dCS provided the Vivaldi DAC, replaying high-res files from both a MacBook and a server-based storage setup. Wilson Benesch provided their Full Circle vinyl replay rig, along with an AudioNet phono stage. Amplification was from Siltech, the innovative and exceptional SAGA system, launched at last year’s Munich show. In its latest guise this adds optical decoupling for the P1 current gain stage, which, combined with the battery-powered C1 line stage and V1 voltage gain stage, creates an entirely galvanically isolated amplification chain. Wilson Benesch employed a pair of P1s to biamp the Cardinals to impressive effect. A pair of Torus infra-bass generators (that’s subs to you and me) completed the setup. The whole system was wired with Clearer Audio silver cables and all electronics were supported on Stillpoints ESS racks or Ultra 5s.

Set up in a large (and largely glass) conservatory area, the system was surprisingly successful, showcasing its coherence, agility and dynamic response. Rarely have I heard any system that can track the demands of the musical signal so accurately and effortlessly, a function of the SAGA’s blindingly quick and controlled response and the Cardinal’s innovative, hybrid electrical/acoustic crossover topology, an arrangement that equates to a four-way acoustical system but a two-way, first-order electrical one. That’s because both the midrange and lower-midrange drivers are run wide open, relying on entirely mechanical roll-offs. It’s an approach that is only possible because of the unique properties of the Isotactic Polypropylene used for their cones.

As you can tell, this is a much longer story than I’ve got time or space for here, but with the Cardinal review done and the SAGA review well on the way, you can enjoy the full skinny shortly. If the Wilson Benesch room at the Bristol Show was anything to go by, these products will be well worth your attention.

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