The Audiophile Voice:
A Million Dollars can go pretty far these days! The
only real difficulty is you
need to go to Las Vegas to listen to this extraordinary
by Ross Wagner
bother to assemble a $1,000,000.00 audio system?
all, less than a year ago, we heard a very pricey “State-of-the-Art” system
at Stereophile’s Home Entertainment show
in New York, and it was generally acknowledged to be less
in Las Vegas, we were confronted by a far more costly sound
the nature of audiophiles
to carp unmercifully at the
pretensions of having achieved
the state of the art (S.O.T.A.), one cannot help but wonder
why such savvy manufacturers as Wisdom Audio Corporation,
Jeff Rowland Design Group, Synergistic Research and Accuphase
Digital would stick their collective necks out… again.
it’s the same reason that drives other people to
climb Mount Everest or go to the moon.
perhaps, as Jeff Rowland simply put it, “We wanted
to see if we could fill a large hall with quality sound
without resorting to the use of horns.”
happy to report that the trial was successful beyond the
modest goals articulated by Mr. Rowland.
admit it helped that the
Million Dollar System was
not trumpeted as S.O.T.A.
So by eschewing that designation,
yet teasing us with the notion that it was possible to
assemble a million dollars worth of equipment into just
one system with only two channels, mind you, the presenters
invited our curiosity without provoking our enmity.
for the monumental effort had their genesis in the indefatigable
Tom Bohlender of Wisdom Audio. Recall it was his
Adrenaline speakers that were center-stage at the critically
pooh-poohed S.O.T.A. demonstration at the Home Entertainment
Show in New York last May.
stung by the reception of the S.O.T.A. system, Bohlender
and his staff began, only two months later, on July 4th,
2001, to plan the construction of a monumental multi-panel-array
version of the Wisdom speaker. The “Infinite
Wisdom Grande” speaker system would dwarf the 8-food
high Anrenalines familiar to most audiophiles and establish
world-class status for the Wisdom name.
is probably not a surprise that a dream version
of the Adrenalines had been simmering on the back burner
of Bohlender’s mind for many years, and many of the
design considerations had already been worked out. Yet
his task ahead was daunting. There could be no compromise
of quality. The same flawless mirror-finish would
have to be maintained over the now-vast surfaces of the
speaker. (Internal bracing would have to be beefed
up. The “Infinite Wisdom Grande” speaker
system would make a statement to the industry, and would
maintain jewelry-like quality despite massive size.
four months later, on Thanksgiving Day, 2001, the “Infinite
Wisdom Grande” was ready for testing. Another
month of tweaking readied the speaker for its premiere
in Las Vegas this past January.
conversations with Tom Bohlender, he revealed a tangible
motivation for mounting such an ambitious demonstration
of Wisdom technology. Ironically, a new market for
high-end two-channel music systems is opening amount well-healed, non-audiophiles,
who are encountering high quality music for the first time
as they search for ultimate home theater systems to outfit
their mansions. While the huge Infinite Wisdom Grands,
with its $600,000 price tag, is not for everyone, the somewhat
smaller $300,000 “Infinite Wisdom” fits more
easily into more budgets. Look for Wisdom Audio ads
in the flight magazine of the SST Concorde next time you
speed to Europe. There, in a four-color glossy advertisement,
is evidence of Bohlender’s marketing thrust.
get a sense of the scale of the Infinite Wisdom Grande,
conjure this image: The Adrenalines, already around
8-feet tall, bulked up by massive injections of pituitary
hormones and steroids, now soaring to a height of 14 feet. Picture
woofers, too, scaled proportionately. Add the weight
of a Land Rover, decked out for a safari through the Serengeti. You
are now looking at three tons (yep, 6,000 pounds) of speaker
system with the height of a giraffe and the weight of a
hippopotamus. Yet, amazingly, the elegant, almost
svelte lines of the smaller Wisdom speakers are preserved.
ribbons in the front columns are driven selectively be
a phalanx of Jeff Rowland Design Group Model 10 mono-blocks. I
lost count of the number of these amps piled up between
the front columns, but there must have been at least 20
separate pieces. (The Model 10 has a separate power
supply.) Then add two Model 8Ti Hi-Current Amplifiers
to drive the woofers. (To gather this may amps for
the show, Jeff Rowland needed to call back review samples
from all over the country; the resultant sucking noise,
as the afore-mentioned amps were wrested from the hands
of weeping reviews, reached off-scale decibel levels.)
out the system were an Accuphase SACD DP-100 transport
coupled to a DC-101 processor, a Rowland Coherence preamp,
and what appeared to be miles of Synergistic Research active
interconnects and speaker cable.
for the Million Dollar System was a million dollar headache. The
venue was originally set for a banquet hall at Rio Suites
Hotel and Casino. When Mike Maloney pulled his T.H.E.
EXPO out of Rio Suites only a month before the CES Show
was to begin (Oh you don’t know that story? It
reads like a chapter from “Wall Street”), the
Bohlender/Rowland team had to look for new quarters. A
frantic scramble around Las Vegas turned up a 400-seat
amphitheater in the nearby Clark County library.
the hall was much larger space than was originally planned
(particular concern to Jeff Rowland who would have provided
much more amplification for the larger space), the new
venue seemed to offer an unforeseen advantage over a conventional
large space. In the amphitheater, it was possible
to find a sweet spot in the vertical plane as
well as the horizontal plane, because each successive
row of seats was perhaps five inches higher than the one
before it. When listening to 14-foot high speakers,
being centered vertically as well as horizontally turned
out to be an essential factor. The sweet spot(s)
were in rows G and H, which put the listener about 50 feet
from the stage where the Infinite Wisdom Grandes were holding
forth. In those seats the listener sat opposite the vertical center
of the front columns of the speaker system.
turned into serendipity as this reviewer settled in for
what became a two-hour listening session. The handlers (what
else would you call the people who preside over systems
of this size and grandeur?) were gracious and willing to
play our favorite CDs as well as their own. From
time to time, the folks from Synergistic Research would
activate, then de-activate, their interconnects to illustrate
the benefit of enhanced shielding. Other then that,
Arnie Balgalvis, my listening buddy and known Golden Ear,
and I were able to settle back for one of the most remarkable
uninterrupted listening experiences of our audiophile lives.
to describe what we heard? (Assume well-recorded
material, a must).
were thrilled by the lack of apparent overall effort. Huge
dynamics were achieved (Rosewood soundtrack, Sony
Classical SK63031) with ease of an Olympic runner out for
a jog in the park. This, in spite of Jeff Rowland’s
concern that the Infinite Wisdom Grande should have had
more power at its disposal. On the same Rosewood CD,
cut 10, low frequencies were plumbed and levels and depths
to shake your soul, again without apparent effort. (Tom
Bohlender commented that he detected some suck-out at 125
Hz in the hall; said he heard that the frequency just fine
when he went under the wooden stage to inspect some wiring.)
2 of Rosewood features a chorus, beautifully rendered
voice by voice on the Infinite Wisdom Grande, over the
width and depth of the stage of the amphitheater and beyond. There
was naturalness to those voices I have not heard before
on any system. Finesse.
to HeartSounds, a privately produced CD I discuss
elsewhere in this issue, the harp, flute and vocalist might
as well have been on the library’s stage. The
sound was that right. The system was able
to reproduce the appropriate scale of music, whether the
forces were large or small.
the sound never seemed to be contained in space, as it
almost always is in a home system. Even the Nearfield
PipeDreams, noted for their ability to disappear into their
setting, can’t do in my living room what Bohlender’s
Infinite Wisdom Grande was doing in that amphitheatre. Bigger
is surely better with Wisdom speakers.
that the CDs described above are not SACDs nor are they
audiophile recordings. They are well-recorded off-the-shelf
discs, and showed brilliantly. Lesser recordings,
no surprise, did less well. The Million Dollar System
could be said to function as and audiophile MRI. Both
gold and dross are democratically revealed in exquisite
could go on with superlatives. But suffice it to
say that a moment of magic was achieved in the Clark County
library last January, and those of us who were there can
Rumors circulating around Las Vegas that the complete Infinite
Wisdom Grande system was sold to a high-roller from Switzerland,
who intends to install it in a vast chamber blasted out
of solid granite at the base of the Matterhorn, have not
been substantiated … nor have they been denied.