I had pretty well given up on subs, at least for serious high end listening. It wasn’t for lack of trying. When I was in college, I did a stint with a subwoofer/satellite system comprised of some Radio Shack bookshelves and an NEC subwoofer. It was a sloppy system with little to commend the NEC as a serious subwoofer. But, as a college student it was the best I could do.
Once I became more serious about sound, I acquired a pair of Vandersteen 2W Subs which were ultimately disappointing. Initially, the extra emphasis on the low end was appreciated, but similar to my experience with a pair of Vandersteen 2C, the subs chronically sounded indistinct. (Different sound to different ears. – Pub.) Even with their trio of 8” drivers they never gave me the crispness I wanted in the bass, though I had tried several variations of preamps and amps to tighten them up. I wanted more output from them as well. I found the passive filter frustrating to implement while trying to make the subs coherent with Magnepans. In the end, I tired of the slightly anemic, slightly indistinct character of the subs, so I sold them. I determined to focus on true, full range speakers which were able to play in the 30Hz-and-below region. This was far more satisfying than my previous attempts to integrate subs, and for a long time I tried to convince myself they were not absolutely necessary to attain a fully satisfying experience.
Two things happened which changed my mind about the desirability of subs. The first was that I acquired two reference-class speakers as my reviewing mainstays – the Kingsound King ESL and the Legacy Audio Whisper DSW. The King is what I call a “Line Source ESL,” meaning it uses multiple smaller drivers in two arrays forming the Bass and Mid/Tweeter, a massive two-way panel speaker. The Legacy Whisper DSW is a unique product, a result of collaboration between me and Legacy Audio. It is similar to the Whisper HD in that it can be run with the Legacy Wavelaunch active crossover, but it also offers complete flexibility to operate as a hybrid having active Bass and passive Mid/Treble, or more traditionally as an entirely passively crossed (internal crossovers) speaker with tri-wire capability. An additional difference is that the DSW version does not have internal amplification, thus it requires six channels of outboard amplification. It is an ultimately configurable expression of the Whisper design, suitable for any audio system application. Both of these speakers, while not requiring subwoofers to be considered full range, do benefit from them.
Previously, when using the Legacy Focus SE, subs had been unnecessary since it delves to 18Hz. Now that my low end extension for a Legacy speaker had risen to 22Hz, and despite the quality of the bass of the Whisper DSW being superior, I still felt I was handing something away, a situation intolerable in the long term. While I was initially quite content with the low end performance of the Kingsound King at approximately 28Hz, over time I kept wondering what a subwoofer could bring to its performance. Knowing that previous experience with the Vandersteen had brought disappointment, I tabled the thought.
More recently, I reviewed the Wharfdale Opus series of speakers, the 2-3 Tower, 2-M2 Bookshelf Speaker and the SW380 Subwoofer. I found them to have an agreeable character, with not a hint of harshness due to soft dome drivers being used for the 3” Mid as well as the Tweeter. The bass was full but not the last word in terms of precision. The exercise of using the same line of Book Shelf speaker or a Tower combined with the subwoofer reinforced my perspective that ultimately I prefer a full range speaker with subs versus a sub/monitor arrangement. The experience, though satisfying, was not enough to cause me to pull the trigger and purchase.
Pushed to act
We all at times are hesitant to act, pending unresolved questions or inhibitions. I was well aware of the reputations of REL, JL Audio and other subwoofers which boasted fine integration and top end performance parameters. Yet, I had no direct impetus to mess with subwoofers, as the King and Whisper DSW were performing quite well. It was ownership of a speaker I consider, according to state of the art criteria, deficient in the bass which prompted the search for suitable LF (Low Frequency) companions.
A rare opportunity had presented itself with the acquisition of the Kingsound King Tower, an omnidirectional speaker not to be confused with the Kingsound King, a full range ESL. I had enjoyed hearing “Omni” speakers in the past and was in the right place at the right time to secure the only pair in North America. While the vastness of their soundstage was captivating, it was obvious that they needed low end support, namely a pair of subwoofers. A speaker that casts that gratuitous of a canopy of sound needs subs which match it in terms of speed, intensity and depth lest the speakers sound like untethered balloons.
Meanwhile, I had been in talks with Legacy and Clarity Cable to develop another concept speaker, the Whisper DSW outfitted with Clarity Cable internally. That project has gone much further than initially thought; owner’s review to come. In discussion with Bill Dudleston of Legacy I was briefed on their lineup including the latest testing with subwoofers. Since the Whisper DSW has undergone a transformation beyond an internal cabling upgrade, I decided to pursue a true statement speaker system review which would include a pair of XTREME XD subs along with the new Whisper DSW. They also would make for a perfect complement to the bass-shy King Tower omni.
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