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Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Review, Part 1 of 3: What If…

Legacy Audio Whisper DSW Review | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers is about people who are at the extremes of accomplishment or ability, not solely due to innate ability or hard work but through capitalizing on unique opportunities afforded them. The book explodes the myth of the “phenom”, the person who is so preternaturally gifted that they easily surpass competitors. It posits that there are many people of similar talent level who never have the right convergence of advantages to allow them to be the phenom. If those opportunities were made available more widely we would have a lot more phenomenal people!

Among the surprising findings is that to become a phenom one does not have to be the best, merely good enough. Above a certain talent or intelligence level anyone can be a phenom; it takes being in the right age cohort, or in the right stream of economic and intellectual change, and certainly a good work ethic. Of particular interest is analysis of the longitudinal study by Lewis Terman, Genetic Studies of Genius, which followed the development of gifted children. Though all were geniuses intellectually, few became the transformers of society Terman envisioned. People significantly beneath their I.Q., who weren’t quite as sharp but were smart enough moved ahead to be the ones to have better track records in terms of real world accomplishment.

infinity razor

The Razor’s Edge

For Father’s Day this year, my sons gave me a tongue-in-cheek (in more ways than one) gift, the Infinity Razor. Wise enough to scoff at the marketing, they wanted to watch my reaction when I opened it. I didn’t disappoint as I laughed loud and long at the audacity of the company to declare it to be, “The last razor you will ever need!”

If one were to judge the Infinity Razor by its packaging and the seemingly ergonomic design, it might appeal. A slick, two-tone contoured handle with the Infinity logo, the Mobius strip, leads to a solidly attached two-blade head. It even has its own display holder. It’s when I attempted to use it that I found it lacking. The curvature of the handle is so pronounced that the hand must be held at an awkward angle for both blades to make contact with the skin. The head is fixed, disallowing pivoting to alleviate the poor posture. Despicably, after only a week of shaving I could see the sign of aging blades, a white film forming along the blades’ trailing edge. Far from being a cut above, it would wear out as quickly as the econo-razors from the dollar store. The Infinity razor is an outlier – an outlier in the wrong direction, as it is among the worst razors I have ever used!

I have a small sampling of disposable four-blade razors, all of which cost less than the Infinity Razor. These are “good enough” razors, all outperform the Infinitely Useless Razor by a wide margin. You can see where I’m going with this. There are many speakers like the Infinity Razor – they look fantastic or are promoted magnificently, but sound less so. A speaker system which is a true outlier is not to be found through a search for that which has the best marketing or the best appearance. It is not necessarily the one with the most graphs and charts indicating unassailable accuracy. The outlier speaker needs to be good enough in the convergence of the correct aspects of speaker design and performance that it operates significantly better than the majority. A good-enough design with good-enough build quality, designed with the right convergence of operational attributes can make for the best speaker for the majority of audiophiles.

Legacy Audio Whisper DSW front panel

Better Than “Perfect”

In terms of construction, Legacy Audio products are not a forerunner in the state-of-the-art, however they are solidly built. Connections on drivers in Legacy speakers are typically by tension clip; drivers are screwed into the baffle as opposed to being bolted to the inside. The internal wiring is acceptable by professional sound standards but is not of exotic boutique quality. One sees Bill’s background in professional audio speaker design at work in Legacy Audio products.

Are these construction techniques of a nature that they will ruin the capacity of the speaker? If Legacy built each speaker by painstaking standards of driver interface with the baffle and soldered joints, or designer internal wiring, I believe it would make a discernable difference in sound. However, at this point as an audiophile I have concluded that it is more important for me to have a speaker with proper speaker driver interfaces and operational modes than having the driver bolted to the baffle or have soldered connections. I am not the only one to think so; Emerald Physics builds speakers with a similar design principle, straightforward and functional but utilizing a crossover system deemed superior to the traditional passive crossover. I think it may be advantageous in an absolute sense in terms of performance if Legacy was to build their speakers to a cost-no-object standard, but that would push the price up significantly. In my opinion, Legacy Audio is one of very few high-end speaker companies, including Vandersteen and Magneplanar, where one can see plainly that high value for the purchaser is an important consideration. To be blunt, Legacy Audio speakers are designed to give the maximum listening experience to audiophiles supposedly, not so much the maximum income to the principles at the company. It is a minor miracle that a speaker brand of such quality is designed and made in Illinois – an actual American speaker! That view may rankle a few audiophiles and speaker makers, but in my listening sessions of the DSW compared to other fine floor standing speakers, it has been apparent.

Since it is a crossover speaker and not dedicated, the DSW has a slightly altered signal path and thus it is not “perfect”. My thinking is, so what? That’s right, so what?
Consider: What if internal speaker wiring controlled, say, 10% of a speaker’s sound quality, which I feel is a very generous assumption. If running a speaker with an active external crossover was potentially advantageous for a larger, maybe 20% jump in sound quality, would you forego the necessary wiring because it was not as perfectly linear as a dedicated speaker?

In one sense, I do not like such scenarios. Ideally I would want the perfect internal wiring and the additional set-up options for the speaker. But it cannot be both ways. I elect for options such that potential losses are more than made up by the planned operational advantages.

What if you could audition such a speaker system both ways, with either an active or a passive crossover?What advantage might that be worth sonically? How about a hybrid system where the bass was actively managed, yet the midrange and treble was passively crossed? Further, you could potentially test these options with solid-state versus tube amplification, or a mixture. With most dynamic speakers this would require the addition of more components in the signal path. Could one of these options possibly yield an overwhelmingly superior sound quality? My thinking was that it would be possible. In principle, the conceptual loss due to the novel wiring system could very well be overwhelmed by the ability to create alternative systems. When given the option I’ll take a theoretical 10% loss for a planned 20%, and likely much larger gain anytime!

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