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Wilson Benesch Curve Floorstanding Speaker Review

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It seemed incongruent in my mind that Craig had said the Curves were absent crossover components, yet the manual states, “First order bass roll-off” and a 2nd order midrange and tweeter crossover. I asked Craig exactly what that discrepancy meant. What it meant was a lot of high tech design!

The twin Tactic drivers are fundamentally identical, with noted design distinctions. Craig once again explained, “In mass terms, the dynamic parts are identical. However, the mass of the cone and the coil are quite different in each driver according to the specific duty of the driver.” The midrange is tuned to the air volume of the cabinet so as to eliminate the need for any crossover! Think of it this way; in the midrange, the cone is lighter and the coil heavier, and just the opposite with the bass Tactic. The bass driver is controlled again by the volume of the cabinet and the port in the rear. The midrange driver is suitable to achieve frequencies above 5,000 Hz!

All this full signal to the drivers would damage the tweeter, so a simple filter is inserted at that point to roll off frequencies below 5k Hz. The advantage is that, absent the crossover points in the ear’s sensitive regions, the speakers present a full spectrum of sound in the most critical part of the frequency spectrum. Craig asserts that this results in, “…the most sincere relationship to the original signal.”

Initially, I was surprised that WB has sworn off three way designs, “We will never make a three way.” However, when one sees the efforts made to blend the performance parameters of a mid and bass Tactic so as to remove crossovers, it becomes apparent what WB is attempting to accomplish. The 2.5 way is promoted as more natural, more phase accurate and precise – hence the eschewing of larger drivers for bass. It makes sense to me that if there is an avoidance of more sizable bass drivers and the midrange can be produced by the same 7” as the bass driver, why bother with three way design? However, the listener must determine if something is being sacrificed by that decision, and I listened very carefully for it in my sessions.

Those sessions reinforced that the composite cabinet is undeniably solid when the Curves are run hard. There is no waffling on the bass notes, no overtones of wooden structures. In this respect, the Curves are much more like a planar speaker than most dynamic speakers. There have been very few dynamic speakers where I have heard the driver more so than the driver and the cabinet. The lush Von Schweikert VR-4 SR MkII’s with all their clarity in the midrange clearly have a cabinet sound worked into the presentation. This is normal, typical of dynamic speakers. What’s not so normal is to have such a cave-like depth to a cabinet, especially a conservatively sized one, where there is so little resonance detectable.

Yet, there is a cabinet sound. When one stops to consider, it would be impossible to construct a dynamic speaker without one, so the cabinet must contribute to the final sound. What I sensed was a metallic character to the cabinet. Was this due to the fact that I was aware that under the skin lies an aluminum core, or was it that I heard the deep-end as vaguely metallic and my mind connected the dots? It’s impossible to say. I wonder if the lossy material on the inside of the metallic cabinet is necessary to prevent ringing of the cabinet. It would only make sense. A crude but not entirely off-the-mark comparison would be the way that a rust inhibitor sprayed on the underside of the carriage of a car would muffle sound traveling through the body of the car. I would think nearly any metallic body would benefit from muffling of metallic ringing if coated with a lossy substance.

The next obvious question then would be, which is preferable, the duller “thud-like” MDF woofer sound or the more “popping” metallic cabinet sound? Each has its merits, and I certainly would not suggest that across the board one is superior to the other. It was clear to me that the forcefulness of the bass was much appreciable with the Curves than almost any other speaker I’ve had in my room.

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I was surprised by the bass, the sheer amount of it. As far as quantity of bass presence is concerned, the Curves actually out-bassed the Von Schweikert VR-4 SR MkII’s! The palpable sensation of waves upon skin was more pronounced with the Curves than any speaker I had on hand (including the Chapman T-77’s and Eminent Technology LFT-8A’s). Just as the ride of a supercar is tight and its suspension stiff, I also found the bass tight and stiff in the Curves. Do not misread this; by tight and stiff I do not mean stilted, but rather clean and strong. It was not a relaxed or laid back low-end.

A bass presentation in a speaker can lean toward ease or intensity, depending partly upon the drivers. Larger drivers, typically 8” or greater and in combination, often sound like they’re not working as hard to get the bass generated. More diminutive bass drivers can sound like their straining to punch out the notes. Some people prefer the punchiness of the taut bass, and some like the ease of the laid back bass. Use of the 7” drivers in the Curves put them somewhere in the middle of the pack, however mated with the rigidity of the cabinet and the smaller space, the bass fairly blasted out of the rear port. It exhibited the most air movement from a port I’ve encountered in a smaller speaker.

As a result the Curves are capable of the musical intensity of a rifle, extremely potent and focused if detail-oriented front-end components are used. I put the combination of the Saturn cdp as transport running into the Benchmark DAC1, Magnan Cable IC’s, an Eastern Electric BBA Buffer Amp and the very affordable Dussun V8i (amp section) to the test with the Curves. The combination of the ability of the BBA to “explode” the soundstage and the sheer power of the V8i worked well.

With this configuration, on Larry Carlton’s Deep Into It, his “Like Butta” impressed me with how well the looseness of the electric bass strings are reproduced. It wasn’t loose-sounding; it was accurately portraying the wobbling of the low bass strings – this coming from speakers that are made tight as a drum.

In finding matching components for the Curves, I would not necessarily assume that pricier preamps and amps will automatically mate with it ideally. I recommend that one pursue the level of quality desired, then seek either warm-sounding or brighter-sounding electronics, depending on how revealing or laid back you want the Curves to sound. I paired the Curves with my Pathos Classic One MkII bridged integrated’s to experience their softest, kindest presentation. I could push the levels to what would be uncomfortable with other speakers and they didn’t flinch, nor did I. I usually give speakers the Celine Dion shriek test to see if my ears tingle when she hits a high note. No tingling – very comfy sound!

Because the Curves are naturally reserved, foisting edgier sources and preamps on them will not ruin their sound. If you desire an edgier presentation, you may want to consider all solid-state components and ones with a reputation for detail. To bring out the midrange, one needs to use brighter-sounding source and amplification.

I found the midrange tactics of the Curves to be tantalizing. Sometimes I wanted more midrange emphasis. When compared to the B&W CM-7 speakers on hand, which utilize Kevlar 5” mids, the Curve’s midrange seemed to be less robust. But, that was only because the CM-7’s mids are much brighter and more forward than the Curve’s. Certainly, part of this is due to the fact that the CM-7’s are an $1,800 speaker, and are not as refined as the Curves. The midrange content is present in the Tactic driver’s sound, but it’s very low key. There is no forced, in-your-face element to the Tactic drivers. I would think it almost impossible to get them to offend with even poorly recorded sources.

Therein lies one of the strongest qualities of the Curves; they will unfailingly produce listenable music. Solid-state amp? No problem. Older recording? Bring it on! An owner can POUND on these speakers all day long and never get listening fatigue! I found that I enjoyed the Curves with sources and amplification which emphasized detail as much as any speaker I’ve heard in recent memory. In so many cases, I’ve tried to calm the mids and highs of speakers. With the Curves, I was seeking to draw out more of them. Many of the artists and discs that I’ve not played for fear of assault on my poor ears were a joy to hear through the Curves.

To see just how much edge I could bring forth from the Curves, I had to play fast and loose with the front-end to get the forwardness I was seeking. Adding my “wildcard” component, the Eastern Electric BBA Buffer Amp, opened up the speakers and brightened them fabulously. While the Curves sounded the equivalent to a dark beer, with a dense but potent punch, the BBA lightened them up to become an amber draft. Douglas Towbridge’s Songs Unspoken has a track, “Unending Melody”, which skips along to a cadence of a trio of piano keys in the upper register which are hammered at intervals. Here is where I am grateful to WB for using a fabric tweeter! Even the high-pitch controlled mayhem of this piano chord didn’t hammer on my ears. The Curves have a Vandersteen-like politeness to them in the higher frequencies. The Von Schweikert VR-4 SR MkII in the tradition of the American “more detail is better” vein rendered the chord a bit “spikey”, a bit hot. The Curves took that last bit of edge off it. If you listen to a lot of program material which has generous treble, highs which can be hard to take, the Curves are a panacea. I would think that if you desire to hear chamber music at some volume, you’ll enjoy the warmth of the Curves.

My room may have played a factor in the sense of the Curves being bass prominent and top-end shy. I have tuned the room to accommodate very revealing, brighter American speakers and planars, of which the Curve unquestionably is not. I sense the Curves would grace a wood floor with area rug marvelously. A room with reflectivity would be just fine, as the Curves will not toss about harshly on the treble. With these speakers I wish my rig was still in the living room with its larger open spaces and hardwood flooring. I think I would have been enraptured by the experience. As it was, I could appreciate the “reservedness” of the Curves, but I got the distinct feeling they will open up and run in a bit more reflective room. This, of course, is superb news for those in limited living spaces for listening. With their tremendous looks, modest dimensions and outsized performance with plenteous bass, they are candidates for listeners in smaller quarters who demand quality without compromise.

My mind normally associates fast with bright, dark with slow. Maybe that’s the result of knowing light from the sun travels at miles per second, and that we get groggy and sleep at night. Dark and fast seem oxymoronic in audiophile terms. But that’s what I ultimately characterize the Curves as dark-, rich-, deep-, smooth-sounding speakers which are blazingly quick. One almost needs powerful, sharp edged electronics to push them to their limits. Throw the most powerful solid-state amps at them and they’ll love you. If you consider tube components, do not skimp on the horsepower since the Curves sound their most exciting with it.

One of the things that made the Curves so unique was this combination of easy going upper end and pounding, aggressive lower end. It was quite the interesting presentation! I’ve not encountered too many speakers which have an utterly forgiving treble and fierce bass. It was like having a Vandersteen upper end mated with the lower end of a frequency limited subwoofer.

Smaller bass drivers can “chuff” from the wind punched out when the cone is driven in the confines of the cabinet. The Curves at higher levels displayed this quality, so I experimented by adding a pair of Vandersteen subs, which made for a delightful pairing. All vestiges of pumping of the air resolved themselves as the subs covered them. The extension of the low-end was welcomed, and the Curves took on “large floorstander” status.
However, this militated against another of WB’s axioms, that the Curves are not to be used with subwoofers. When I mentioned that I had paired up the Curves with the Vandersteen subs, Craig straightened me out, “I do not think that sub woofers work with high-end products like the Curve, [which] are extremely fast and phase accurate.” What I think he meant was that the curves are a supercar and a subwoofer a trailer. Supposedly, even very good subs can’t keep up.

While that may be the case in theory, in experience I heard the opposite. The addition of the subs allowed the Curves to flourish.

In this “subs added” status, I put on Shilts’ Head Boppin’ and I was absolutely loving the full and punchy low-end. With proper subs, the Curves’ bottom-end retained everthing I liked and lost all that I disliked. They played much more like 200lb. towers with a completely smooth, powerful and precise air without any “chuffing” effect. The Curves have enough low-end punch at 35 Hz to make the transition seamlessly. The extension of the low-end also helped to “spread the spectrum” so that the polite highs sounded to my ear more extended at the top. The addition of the subs was definitely a win/win sound in my mind. Maybe WB sees this as putting a trailer on a sports car, but in a listening environment, I do what my ear says works, and in this case the supercar sounded better with a trailer!

Truly high performance machines are not for everyone. They have particular characteristics which set them apart, and as such they appeal to a select group of people. So it is with the Curve speakers, which are capable of thrills and excitement. They are taut, racy things which pound the acoustic pavement with sure-footedness. For their dimensions, they produce prodigious bass. They are not a detail-phile’s dream, but rather a sophisticated music lover’s object of desire, playable at obnoxious levels without a care for quiet. They are dark and swift, smooth and seductive. They have drop dead looks and never-say-die listenability. If this is what you’re looking for, you’ve found your super-speaker.

Comment from Wilson Benesch:

Christina and I have read the review and have enjoyed it enormously. The strategy of discussing the Curve under the umbrella of the Saleen Super car was a great idea. That Doug was able to illustrate how the technology actually translates into better performance with the aid of this, made the article much more relevant and interesting as it provides a good analogy of the advanced materials that we have pioneered. We are of course sorry to hear that in the process Doug was fined for playing the system too loud. We hope that it was worth it!

Here is a discussion point that I would like to throw into the mix and see what readers come back with. No one can dispute that materials technology is central to the design of all high performance audio systems. As a company that invests heavily in research and development, as well as manufacturing of extremely expensive composites made from carbon fibre and high performance aerospace core materials, we believe that some people, though no fault of their own, are not being given all the information about more and more new loudspeakers that use “composites”.

It is indisputable that all materials have technological names and can be easily described in a way that is understandable by other technologists. These technologies are widely appreciated by many interested consumers also. Consumers are entitled to know what it is they are buying. If you are paying to eat from a bag of chips that cost a few cents, you are entitled to know exactly what is on the inside! Is it not reasonable to expect this of a system costing tens of thousands of dollars?

All consumers deserve to know what the “composite” in the loudspeaker is made from. Ply wood and MDF are wood based composites but behave in a totally different way to composites made up of carbon fibre or advanced composites, as in the case of Wilson Benesch loudspeakers. In a world of hype, it is important that consumers be cautious of “composite” materials that are not accurately described in technical terms that any materials technologist can evaluate and give an opinion. Similarly, comments by those whose views consumers use to make choices should respect the need for transparency. A reviewer will provide details on many details of the speaker, for example, is it silver or copper wire on the inside. Is it teflon or PVC on the insulation. Are they polyprop caps, are they iron core inductors even the solder used to make the joints is often described. Next to the cabinet materials technology, I would argue that these are trivial differences. If a manufacturer cannot tell you exactly what the material is that is used in the cabinet, then the next question should be “why?”

Thank you for a great piece of writing, we are delighted to read someone right about our work with such enthusiasm and interest. Keep up the good work! We hope that we can start a campaign to make people clear about the need for transparency in materials technology as well as sound!
From Everyone at Wilson Benesch, thank you.

Sincerely,
Craig and Christina Milnes
Directors

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