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Legacy Audio V Speaker System Review, Part 1

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My initial reaction is that a manufacturer that offers loose specifications is not terribly serious about promotion of their product’s performance. Would you be impressed by a sports car maker that advertises the acceleration as 180 Mph? Would you not want to know the acceleration relative to time, the tight specification on acceleration? Similarly, when speaker manufacturers don’t bother to list tight specifications for frequency response they are not respecting you fully as a consumer. They expect you to accept generalizations about performance. It is a less informative way to describe the performance and it’s not in your best interests. It is possible the performance, if measured with tight specifications, would not be as good as the loose specifications; in other words, they might be implying better performance.

Keeping with our airplane analogy, the Raidho and YG Acoustics speakers would be heavier planes, requiring a lot more powerful amplification, or thrust, to fly higher in performance. The Acapella, Tidal and Evolution speakers would potentially have more dynamic impact and require less thrust, or amp power. All of the speakers would be above average in terms of low-end response and seem acrobatic. Those most extreme and closest to the V would be the Focal, Tidal and Evolution speakers.

What do all the numbers mean? Simply put, if all these speakers were fighter jets it means that inherently the V outperforms most of these other speakers in basic parameters such as a sense of dynamic impact, a feeling of ease to the speakers producing the sound, and sheer depth to which it can play. Those who are shopping for such speakers know this is a $100K plus club, and a fair number of these speakers will set you back more than $200K. So, why is the Legacy V being discussed with all these others? Because it is inherently worthy of such company, yet sports a price multiples less. It is no wonder that Legacy Audio is shipping scads of big gun speakers all over the world; people who know specifications can see what they are getting for their money.

Is this analysis simplistic? In some respects, yes, however the audiophile must not forget that performance of a speaker is absolutely bound by physics, and the physics is expressed in the specifications. You may prefer a certain manufacturer’s house sound, but attention should be paid to what you might be giving up to attain that sound. I tend to operate from the principle that to consider a speaker extreme or world-class it has to meet certain specifications, which the V easily surpasses. Don’t bring me a “frequency limited” speaker that hits above 40Hz and call it a world-class speaker; it has absolute bounds that constrain its performance. Similarly, improving the sensitivity from 88dB to about 92dB increases the number of potential amps capable of making the speaker sound vivid, enormous, and powerful. It is a fundamental reason why fans of highly sensitive horn speakers love them so much, for they have “jump factor” due to being so easy to drive.

The purchaser of the Legacy Audio V reaps great benefit from Bill Dudleston’s involvement in the pro audio world, namely exotic audiophile performance at closer to pro pricing. Is it unfair to the other speaker manufacturers that I point this out? This is a review and as such the pros and cons of the speaker are to be addressed. Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of a Legacy Audio speaker is that the company pushes the envelope on performance limitations for a reasonable cost relative to other “jet fighter” speakers. I like my jet fighters at a more reasonable cost.

 

VECTOR

Legacy is charting a path whereby it is improving what appeared in the Helix and Whisper. Though an imprecise term, as I wish no disrespect to Bill’s design prowess, the V avoids redundancy in driver sets. Gone are the twinned 15” woofers and the quad of 7” mids. The outcome is a noticeably cleaner vector of sound making the V a more linear transducer. Though keeping with the high total cone surface area philosophy of Legacy, the V’s array of drivers is more acoustically accurate than the Whisper. In discussion with Bill he suggested that the V and Aeris image on a par with the Whisper. I cannot speak authoritatively about the Aeris, but having extensive experience with the Whisper my conclusion about the V is that it images far better than the Whisper. The dual woofers top and bottom on the Whisper are wonderful for creating a sense of ripeness, however they also are convoluted compared to the V. Eschewing the Whisper’s paired (stacked fore and aft) bass drivers enhances the V’s precision, bringing it more in line with a super-taut speaker such as the Vivid Audio GIYA. Each driver of the V is time aligned before optimizing the crossover, making the driver transitions less audible.

The same is true of the midrange, as the quad of mid-bass drivers of the Whisper and Helix can each be heard unless set up with perfect alignment. The sum of these drivers presents a very pleasing fullness not matched by non-line source type speakers like the Vivid. However, for some the multiplicity of drivers can be distracting. I can accept the foibles of the variant technologies and appreciate the benefits. But again, there is a loss of coherence, the inevitable price paid. In my systems, moving from the Whisper to the V yields an arresting improvement in resolution and coherence.

 

Shades of the AERIS

Looking at Legacy’s line of domestic speakers one can see how the development of the Aeris influenced the V. The Aeris incorporates the new Wavelet, has minimization of multiple drivers, and uses oversized mid-bass and midrange drivers. These successes were played to when refreshing the flagship. Another development borrowed from the Aeris is power hybridization, the lower half of the speaker being internally powered and the upper half externally.

Not long ago I put the finishing touches on a review of the Sound Lab Ultimate U-4iA, the most diminutive of Sound Lab’s highest line of electrostatic speakers. I was using the First Watt J2 Amplifiers, smallish 25-Watt beauties, my favorites of the Nelson Pass stable so far, to drive the mid and treble of the V. When I reluctantly removed the V for a period of time to continue discovery of the U-4iA I was surprised by the degree of stridency of the upper frequencies from the electrostatic speaker even though fronted by the same source, amps and cables.

I was not worried, however, about the outcome for the U-4iA, as I know how to tame the edginess. Other systems were built and its glamour revealed. The point here is that the V, even with fairly modest amplification of several thousand dollars, versus several tens of thousands, is so smooth and refined that it can make an electrostatic speaker sound edgy. That a multi-way hybrid dynamic speaker can be compared favorably to a full range electrostatic speaker shows the attractiveness of the design of the V.

I did, however, encounter a seeming incompatibility in use of the J2 Amps with the V. Using the supplied microphone and cable along with my own microphone stand I sensed something was amiss when the frequency sweeps initiated during system setup were repeated many times versus just the two times when the V was originally set up. Seemingly they were completed, but when I sought to have them remotely processed as directed by the instructions on the Legacy remote under Setup, the room calculations failed and the room correction would not operate. Looking for a cause I noticed that the variance between the settings for levels of the treble and midrange were pushed out to the extreme high end while the bass and subwoofer were pushed to the opposite limit. I believe the gain differential was so great between the internal ICEpower amps for the bass and subwoofer and external amps for midrange and treble (the J2 amps) that the Bohmer acoustic processing saw the discrepancy as incompatible. Recall that there is a 22dB difference in efficiency between the 14” Midrange drivers and the AMT Tweeters. Bill pointed out that the Wavelet could accommodate up to 15dB of gain differences in electronics. That is not to say the speaker sounded poor. I was able to adjust the output of the treble and bass in the in Settings menu of the remote application and restore much of the frequency balance. However, Legacy’s more powerful Class D amps would reveal the J2 as not the best choice for the speaker. Amp matching comes into play more so with the V than with passive speakers in order to avoid too great a gain differential between the internal amplifiers and the external, owner supplied amps.

Powerbloc4 interior

Arrival of the Legacy Powerbloc4 amplifier

There are potential synergies when a manufacturer provides amplification specifically to complement a speaker. Richard Vandersteen offers the $52K M7-HPA amplifiers to pair with the flagship $62K Model Seven MkII speakers, a case where the amplification is slightly more than 78% of the cost of the speakers. That is a ratio of amplifier cost to speaker cost I consider potentially suspect in terms of amp performance payoff. Legacy Audio is big into Pro sound, so they offer a markedly different solution when it comes to amplifying the V. Let’s assess their four channel amplifier, which costs 6% of the V System’s price tag.

The addition of the Legacy Powerbloc4 ($2,995) results in a complete solution for the V Speaker System. It is an unobtrusive four-channel Class D amplifier in a slim but attractive black chassis with the ubiquitous blue illuminated Legacy logo. There is also a stereo version called the Powerbloc2 at $1,895. Recall that four of the channels of amplification, the subwoofer L/R and bass L/R, are inside the speakers, but four channels to drive the midrange L/R and treble L/R are not. The owner has to secure four channels in whatever form, two stereo amps, four mono amps, or four channels of a multi-channel amplifier.

Legacy Audio usually, through dealerships or its home office in Springfield, Illinois,sends a representative to set up the V in person. I have been privileged to ho st Bill and Doug at my home, and they were gracious to deliver and set up the V. Inevitably, though, during the course of reviewing I break down systems and place new ones. That necessitates charting the connections, which assists wonderfully in guiding the re-setup process.

 

Legacy typically sets up the wavelet as follows:

Outputs 1-4, whether XLR or RCA, are established as 1-Subwoofer; 2-Woofer; 3-Midrange; 4-Treble for the left speaker. The other four outputs are; 5-Subwoofer; 6-Woofer; 7-Midrange; 8-Treble for the right speaker. For the outboard amplification I used channels 3 & 4 for the left midrange and treble, and 7 & 8 for the right midrange and treble.

 

To make setup or tear down of the system easier I left the XLR cables leading from the Wavelet for the Subwoofers and Woofers inserted and lying in place when I removed the speakers. I could have diagrammed and removed them as well, but they were unobtrusive running behind the audio rack, the last two feet tucked into the front corners of the room. That meant diagramming the four outputs for the four channels to drive midrange and treble. Most owners will never touch these connections once setup, but if you do ever move the system the numbering aids in proper setup.

At one point in the review I switched into the system the Red Dragon S500 amplifiers and inadvertently had the line level outputs from the Wavelet to the four amp channels crossed between the midrange and treble. When I ran the frequency sweeps from the Wavelet during setup my error was obvious because the differential in output between the driver sets was too extreme. No damage occurs from such a mistake, but you will never get great sound from the V with driver sets and inputs mismatched!

To aid in system setup the Powerbloc4’s inputs and outputs are numbered and do not have red or white channel indication rings, but only white. The use of numbers versus colors assures that hookup is done properly. The user is free to assign any input and corresponding pair of speaker outputs that have the expected red and black output posts. As long as the numbers match, the connections are good.

The Powerbloc4, a Class D design using the ICEpower module that puts out 350wpc into 8 Ohms, pleasantly surprised me. Previously I have not been a fan of ICEpower modules, but the Powerbloc4 has caused me to reconsider. The Powerbloc4 uses the latest 700ASC2 ICEpower module that includes protection against over-current or high temperature operation. I have heard tubed amps that sound less richly colored, less smooth, but also thinner in the bottom end. I consider the Powerbloc4 the most warm and inviting Class D experience I have had to date. My overall impression was it reminded me of the SST Son of Ampzilla II Amplifier (reviewed).

I have been quite pleased with the Red Dragon S500 Amps to date, but the Powerbloc4 is a better match for the V. It is not simply a matter of power, the Red Dragon S500 being 250wpc into 8 ohms and the Legacy Powerbloc4 350wpc into 8 ohms. It was the mid-bass and midrange richness that caught my ears. I checked this out with the Powerbloc4 driving the Whisper DSW Clarity Edition, and, sure enough, it was succulent, dripping with tonal sweetness, something not often experienced with class D amplification.

The Powerbloc4 was a late request I made of Legacy, as the AVM Ovation SA 6.2 Amplifiers (see below) were being built and I had a month to kill before they arrived. It would have been sinful to have the V in my possession and not enjoy new experiences with it for a month! Legacy had the Powerbloc4 to me in two days and it was hooked up in hours. The Powerbloc4 is is a highly recommendable way to go if you want to stretch for the V but are financially tapped out for more ambitious amplification. I strongly preferred the sound of the V with the Powerbloc4 to all amplifiers used previously with the Whisper. In the past I have used $25-30K of amplification driving the Whisper and I would choose to hear the V with the Powerbloc4 over any of these other amps driving the Whisper. That is not a sleight on the Whisper, but it is a resounding endorsement of the V. If you are planning on dropping $50K in whatever form on speakers and amp(s) you may wish to reconsider. The odds are very good your money would be much better spent moving to the V and the Powerbloc4 setup. This is not a recommendation that arises from thriftiness, but rather allocation of resources to ensure superior performance.

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