Frequently Asked Questions
When speakers using this technology are implemented well, they reproduce tremendous detail and create an involving experience that is hard to forget. For people who like to “get away from it all” in the comfort and privacy of their home, it is tough to beat a quality A/V system based on excellent planar magnetic drivers.
Many people wrongly assume they won’t be able to hear the difference between a decent system and a truly great one. This is a shame, since the enjoyment that can be derived from a great system is almost unlimited, and almost everyone can appreciate the difference. In fact, about the only people who lack the “golden ears” to which you refer are people whose hearing has been badly damaged, whether by an prolonged exposure to excessive noise or by advanced age.
If you don’t use hearing aids, you can hear the difference. We encourage you to listen to a truly great system, and hear what you’ve been missing.
It depends on what you’ve seen.
Some “flat” speakers are essentially the same as the common cones-and-domes you have seen elsewhere, except that the diaphragms have been flattened out, sometimes for purely aesthetic reasons, and sometimes for performance reasons. But the underlying technology of these speakers is the same as all the others you typically see.
Other “flat” speakers are “electrostatic” in nature. They use a different technology, but share similar goals to planar magnetics in terms of fine detail and accuracy. Electrostatic speakers tend to be quite large, however, and are sometimes difficult to integrate into the home’s decor.
Finally, we come to our preferred technology, planar magnetic speakers. In our opinion, planar magnetics offer the best combination of detail, dynamics and low distortion.
If you are interested in learning more about how all these speaker technologies work, you might want to read our white paper on Planar Magnetic Technology. It reviews the major types of speaker technology, giving the strengths and weaknesses of each.
There is confusion around this terminology, and it is true that some companies wrongly refer to planar magnetics as “ribbons.” However, there is an important distinction between the two. If you would like detailed information, we suggest reading our Planar Magnetic Technology white paper, which goes into detail on both these and other types of speakers.
For the purposes of this FAQ, you can tell the difference between a true ribbon speaker and a true planar magnetic speaker this way: a ribbon speaker’s magnets flank both edges of a tall, narrow “ribbon” of pleated metal (usually aluminum) that is attached only at the two ends; a planar magnetic speaker’s magnets lie behind and/or in front of the diaphragm, which is flat and under some tension, like a trampoline. In general, ribbons tend to be quite delicate, whereas planar magnetics are quite robust. Both can deliver exceptional sound quality.
For one thing, planar magnetic devices (PMDs) are difficult to manufacture, particularly at the level required for the performance Wisdom Audio demands. This is one reason why we design and build all our own drivers — PMDs represent a fairly specialized technology that is little understood outside a small group of people.
High performance planar magnetic devices also require advanced materials technology of a kind that is more common in the aerospace industry than in the music business. In fact, the type of film used in Wisdom Audio PMDs is also in use today on the Mars Rovers. Few speaker designers have the necessary experience to evaluate such materials. Frankly, it is a lot easier to design and build conventional cones-and-domes.
One of the great things about planar magnetic speakers is that they are extremely robust. Unlike some “audiophile” designs, you can get rowdy with Wisdom Audio speakers without undue concern. In fact, when you compare our planar magnetic drivers to the next-best design approach, you discover that you would need an electrostatic speaker to be between 10-20 times the size of a Wisdom Audio speaker before it could reproduce a similar dynamic range.
Absolutely. When an amplifier runs out of power, it generates a large amount of high frequency distortion, effectively skewing the distribution of power toward the tweeter. In severe cases, a tweeter that might normally handle between 5-10% of the total power coming from the amplifier might suddenly be exposed to 40% of the amplifier’s total power. Most tweeters are damaged quickly under these conditions.
Wisdom Audio planar magnetic speakers are quite sensitive (meaning, they produce a lot of sound for a given amount of power), so your amplifiers will not have to work as hard. The planar magnetic drivers are also extremely easy loads for your amplifier to drive, ensuring that it is not unduly taxed. They also handle extreme power levels more easily than traditional speakers. Ultimately, they are less susceptible to this sort of distortion-induced abuse than most speakers. But no speaker is completely immune from it. Besides, even if nothing is damaged, you won’t like the sound of a distorting amplifier.
Our advice: buy more, high quality power than you think you will need. That way, you can relax and enjoy your system without wondering whether the next climax is going to harm anything.
Probably. Most modern televisions, whether they use plasma, LCD, LCOS, or DLP technology, are not sensitive to magnetic fields. The only ones you need to be concerned about are the old-fashioned “tube” televisions. Such televisions should probably be kept at least a three feet (roughly 1m) away from the closest Wisdom Audio speaker.
We make some speakers that behave as “point sources” and others that behave as “line sources.” This distinction bears some explanation.
Most speakers in this world are point sources, whose sound expands away from the speaker as an ever enlarging sphere. The reason for this is that the vibrating diaphragm is small compared to the sound waves it is producing. The sound spreads out like ripples from a pebble thrown into a pond… except in three dimensions.
When the vibrating diaphragm approaches the size of the sound wave it is producing, the sound becomes more directional, moving away from the speaker like a spot light instead of a flood light.
When you have an extremely tall and narrow driver like those in our tallest speakers, the sound radiates outward in a cylindrical fashion. This is because the width of the diaphragm is small compared to the sound waves (wide dispersion), while the height of the diaphragm is large (resulting in controlled directivity in the vertical plane).
Because more of the sound is being focused where your ears are (somewhere in the horizontal plane of the speaker, not up on the ceiling or down on the floor), the difference in volume as you move away from the speaker is significantly less. In technical terms, it falls off in a linear way rather than as the square of the distance.
In more common language, the perceived volume is quite uniform throughout the listening area. This is a big advantage when entertaining, since even in a large room you can set a single volume that supports conversation for all… even those close to the speakers.
In a typical home environment, a true line source must be on the order of five to six feet tall (or more). While this setup isn’t for everyone, the result is a level of realism that few people have experienced. It is genuinely like “being there,” whether that means attending a great concert or feeling as though you are there in the action of your favorite movie or TV show. Both musical detail and dialog intelligibility are significantly improved, and you can expect more consistent results since the nature of the way the speaker radiates sound into the room allows you to hear more of the speaker itself, and less of the room.
There are solid technical reasons for true line sources having this subjective effect. They project sound into the room as an expanding cylinder, which minimizes unwanted reflections from the floor and ceiling. (Most speakers generally act as “point sources” whose sound radiates outward in all directions.) This same behavior also serves to create a more uniform level of sound throughout the room (people sitting near the speakers are not overwhelmed by the volume as they tend to be with normal speakers). In effect, the sound is focused where the people are, and minimized in other directions, creating an even envelopment while minimizing potential adverse room interactions.