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Wisdom Audio Sage Series Speakers Review

Wisdom Audio Sage Series Speakers Review

By: Dr Ken Tarazka

The modern world of AV gear is expanding. Speakers that were once simple boxes filled with drivers have grown into complex designs, thanks to the increase in available technology and experience the years have offered. With these technological advances, speakers don't need to be seen to be heard. They can be built right into existing walls. Early in-wall designs were weak, to be polite, but they have evolved, as has the in-wall market. Top speaker manufacturers continue to push the limits of the genre, none more than Wisdom Audio. Historically, Wisdom has been another audiophile speaker company with floor-standing speakers that cost more than the newest prancing horse from Marinello. Today, the company has been completely revamped from the executive team to additional investors and a whole new product offering that is very forward-thinking. Most of Wisdom's speakers come in, dare I say, "out of the box" forms, including relatively thin free-standing on-wall and even in-wall designs. Wisdom's collaboration with Audyssey to custom-tailor their room correction software to their speakers allows them to offer their products to those in the market for top-level sound with zero loss of floor space. Along with Audyssey EQ, the Wisdom speakers can further be tailored to a listener's liking through the use of amplification, for all Wisdom Speakers require two separate amplifiers. Most systems include one amp from Wisdom and one of the customer's choosing however you can use your own amps for the bass drivers if they are powerful enough. You also can use two Wisdom amps if you choose.

The subject of this review is a complete Wisdom Sage system, their highest line, and consists of a pair of L75i in-wall speakers ($16,000), a C20 center channel ($3,500) and a pair P48 free-standing speakers ($12,000) for surrounds. Included for the review were the SC-1 system controller that houses the crossovers and Audyssey system ($6,000), one each of Wisdom Audio's ICE amplifiers, a two channel SA-2 ($3,500) and a three-channel SA-3 ($4,000), bringing the total system price to $45,000. Your Wisdom dealer can work with you to tailor their speakers to your budget with systems starting around $20.000 and maxing out around $100,000.

The L75i employs a 48-inch planar magnetic panel and four six-inch woofers, giving it a sensitivity of 95 dB at one watt/meter. The C20 utilizes two of the six-inch custom bass drivers and a two-inch planar magnetic tweeter, while the P48s employ four of the proprietary bass drivers and a unique planar magnetic midrange and tweeter for the top end. In the P48s and other speakers in the Sage series using this set-up, Wisdom has left a crossover in the midrange and tweeter array to limit the requirements to two channels of amplification per speaker. All these speakers have a quoted frequency response to 40 Hz and offer a four-ohm load. Both the C20 and P48 speakers are 91 dB efficient at one watt/meter. Every one of these speakers can handle over 1,000 watts and can easily reproduce over 100 dB sound levels. The in-walls are encased in sturdy aircraft aluminum boxes, while the free-standing and on-wall models are housed in elegant cabinets that are charcoal, except for the clear anodized trim bezels.

Wisdom utilizes active crossovers in their design, placing a powered crossover upstream from the amplifiers, which means each set of drivers must have their own channels of amplification. The Wisdom L75i system is a two-way design, with planar magnetic drivers for the upper end and small long-throw drivers for the lower end. While the P48 is truly a three-way design, Wisdom has kept a small crossover for the tweeter in these speakers to avoid the need for three channels of amplification. Placing the crossover in the signal path before the amplifier means that the amplifier only sees the frequencies its drivers are reproducing, thereby offloading the amplifier and allowing it to maximize a more limited frequency range.

Wisdom has maximized their systems to each of the environments they can adapt to with in-wall, on-wall and free-standing designs and has worked extensively with Audyssey to design a system that maximizes performance for each application. The Audyssey MultiEQ XT system allows up to 32 different points of testing, giving you the best sound possible from these speakers when your dealer is done with the install. Yes, I said dealer. This is no do-it-yourself system. Mine came shipped in 15 boxes and weighed over 600 pounds. Thankfully, Jon Herron, vice president of sales for Wisdom Audio, came to assist me with the install and to insure everything was set up to the company's exacting standards.

For those of you who have never ran a bi-amplified system, imagine wiring two systems together in the same room. Any time complexity increases, so can errors, so care is a must when wiring such a system. I proved this by miswiring the bass outputs between the SC-1 and the amps during our install; Jon was kind enough to fix it for me. This is the reason Wisdom will only honor warranties if the system is installed by an authorized dealer. Note I said "installed": they will fully honor the warranty of their electronics, panels and drivers if resold, they just don't want to have to cover for the DIYers' potential mistakes.

The basis of the Wisdom design involves the use of a line array that projects sound from a continuous vertical linear source, rather than the conventional design of a single-point driver. Speaker builders use this technique for good reasons. While it often creates the need for a multitude of drivers, Wisdom's use of planar magnetic panels for the upper end allows them to make their higher-frequency drivers as long as they need. In my L75i speakers, the planar magnetic drivers are four feet long. The lower two feet are filled with multiple small long-throw woofers.

Wisdom is able to reproduce a wide spectrum of sound from their planar magnetic drivers, thanks to the nature of their design. A planar magnetic driver is a super-light panel that is strung tautly between two magnets, in this case, ultra-strong rare earth Neodymium. This makes the panel, which is the moving part of the driver, able to be manufactured to be amazingly light and capable of rapidly responding to small changes in the signal. It also allows for large excursions. This is how these drivers can go down to 275 Hz. The large surface area of the panels and their open nature allow them to dissipate heat extremely quickly, permitting the panels to handle up to 1,000 watts or more with ease. It also means they can play loud, as they can move a large amount of air.

One thing that is truly unique to the planar magnetic drivers is their resistance. While many if not all speakers vary in their impedance to different frequencies, the planar magnetic drivers Wisdom uses offer a completely fixed resistive load to the amplifier powering them. Basically, this means the amplifier powering the panels is seeing the easiest load possible and even the simplest amplifier should have no issues with driving them. Audiophiles will be able to run high-powered solid state or high-end tube amps without issue with these speakers. Throughout history, most amplifiers have been over-built for the simplistic resistive load the planar magnetic panels offer.

Wisdom uses an array of small long-throw woofers to fill in the lower end. These are no ordinary drivers. Wisdom spent over two years designing them and they owe some thanks to the race car industry for manufacturing a way to stabilize the surrounds, allowing these small drivers to have huge excursions and reproduce serious bass without significant distortion. Wisdom Audio recommends using their amplifiers to power the woofers, as they have been specially designed for this application, while you can use more of their amplifiers or your own amplifiers to power the planar magnetic panels.

The Hookup
Setting up this system took two people an entire day. I was glad Jon Herron came to help, as this would have been an entire weekend project by myself. With his help, we managed to get the system installed in my reference rig in a single day.

The SC-1 controller houses the active crossover and balanced outputs for up to 14.3 channels. This was fed by my Krell Evolution 707 AV preamp, the new EMM Labs TSD1/DAC2 CD/SACD transport and DAC, a Sony BDP-S350, my Sony PS3 and a Scientific Atlanta 8300 HD DVR. We ran the bass channels for the Wisdom speakers with Wisdom digital amplifiers and my Krell Evolution 403 for the fronts and a Proceed HPA-2 for the rears, powered the planar magnetic panels. Wiring came from my trusty Transparent Reference balanced interconnects, as well as a healthy loan from Straightwire of their Serenade balanced interconnects. I keep coming back to this idea: when you go active, you multiply the number of wires from the preamp to the speakers by the number of ways you cross over the system, which in this case are two. Manufacturers make similar systems that have three, four and even five-way crossovers possibilities.

Performance
The Wisdom speakers throw a massively wide soundstage that is deep and tall and images very well. Whether I was listening to audiophile recordings like Ray Charles Genius Loves Company (Monster Music) or garage rock like Morphine's Like Swimming (Dreamworks), I was simply enveloped in the music. The small bass drivers put out seriously deep and powerful bass in my room and were flat to just under 40 Hz. Looking at the Wisdom system, you might not think the drivers could go that low, but they can and with power, while not taking up too much real estate in your living room.

The stand-up basses like those in Ray Charles' "Fever" sounded accurate and authentic, as did the sax and bass in Morphine's "French Fries With Pepper." The L75is were amazingly dynamic and delivered a depth of bass I wasn't expecting, thanks to the digital amplifiers specifically designed to power their proprietary bass drivers. The first time I listened to my music with them, I had to check whether my sub was on. It wasn't. That is a huge compliment for a speaker based on small drivers, much less an in-wall speaker. Given the in-room response I heard from my Audyssey plots, being flat to less than 40 Hz, you could easily live without a subwoofer. For larger rooms like mine and for movies, Wisdom recommends a subwoofer.

While the bottom end was impressive, the top planar magnetic driver panel was downright amazing. The ultra-light weight of the panel, combined with the super-strong magnets, allow the drivers to move far faster than conventional drivers, making the top end open and exciting while allowing huge swings in dynamics. Horns jumped from the speakers with an attack that was like nothing I have ever heard outside of actual live horns (the instruments, not horn speakers). This set-up could play with this excitement at seemingly any level, be it quiet background listening or 100-plus decibels, without flinching.

Movies also benefited from the huge soundstage of the Wisdom system making them more absorbing. Whether it was the racing engines of Death Race (Universal Studios Home Video) twirling around me in the room or the more subtle details of birds in Miss Potter (Weinstein Company), the Wisdom system gave an incredibly open presentation of quiet nature sounds to powerful roars without missing a beat. The transition between the speakers was perfect. Despite the small size of the C20 center, it kept up with its bigger siblings, keeping vocals clear and focused. Despite its size and installation advantages, the Wisdom Audio Sage system tested here did things that I have never heard a Wilson, Revel, B&W or top-end MartinLogan do. The speakers' speed is impressive. Their openness is unlike that of any speaker you could put in your wall. This is not your father's audiophile speaker.

I find some of the best surround effects to be from my PS3 games and, once again, the Wisdom system shone. Resistance 2 (Insomniac Games) really utilizes the surround channels, sending them the full gamut of grunts and subtle cues needed to react to the game. The Wisdom system clearly portrayed them all and fully involved me in the game environment. With the accuracy of this system, I was able to play better and live longer, as it was clear where my enemies were coming from.

Low Points
Wisdom is a bi-amplified system, so it is far more complicated to set up than a standard system; it is something you should let your dealer handle. You will need two channels of amplifiers for each speaker, and twice the wire to connect them, adding to the cost of such a system. Installation will add to the price of a system and needs to be factored in when budgeting for a high-end in-wall system. However, if you have read this far, you know this is an expensive in-wall speaker system. A Wisdom Audio system is for somebody looking for top performance and modern form. It delivers in spades.

Conclusion
Wisdom has made the best-sounding in-wall speakers I have ever heard with the L75i and, unless I missed something somewhere, they are flat-out the best in-wall speakers built to date, at any price. They reproduce solid, tight and deep bass with amazingly fast and accurate mids and highs. Their work with Audyssey will make their speakers sound as good in your room as they did in mine. Wisdom Audio allows you to retrofit their speakers into any home, adding top of the line sonics to a room without any loss of floor space. Should you not want to build such a system into your home, Wisdom makes every speaker except their top of the line L150i as in-wall, on-wall and free-standing models that are equally compelling. To me, the idea of a Runco 103-inch plasma or a projector with a masking screen framed by a Wisdom system neatly installed behind a high-end fabric wall is the image of the new standard for a reference system. The ability to run my Krell Evolution amps, EMM Labs audiophile SACD player and other goodies only makes the system more fun for me. It's a whole new way of looking at audiophila. It's less of a hobby and more of a lifestyle. Gone forever are those sawhorse things for the speaker cables on the floor. Wisdom Audio provides audiophile-level (or higher) speaker performance in a package that fits in homes without spoiling the décor. There are no complaints from the wife when you are having Wisdom Audio speakers installed, thank God.

For those who need the best sound but can't sacrifice floor space, I can honestly say Wisdom provides the answer. These speakers are fast and accurate and can show you every detail in whatever your source is, be it two-channel or home theater. They offer a coherent reproduction of sound across the entire musical spectrum and will leave you amazed that they are, in fact, in your walls. Even more impressive is that they can do this from casual listening levels to extreme 100-plus dB levels. I have even heard the L150is output 120-plus dB levels and still sound amazing.

Wisdom Audio speakers aren't cheap, but when you consider the cost of square footage these days, I think you will find rescuing six or more feet off the front wall of your home theater will be well-rewarded and in fact be a huge bonus with this system. When you factor in the sound you want with the room appeal your wife will die for, the Wisdom Sage system is an absolute bargain. I have listened to many terrible in-wall speakers and countless audiophile grade speakers, and can honestly say the Wisdom L75i in-wall speakers are the finest speakers in their genre I have had the pleasure of hearing.


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active speakers , audyssey eq , digital amplifiers , jon herron , mark glazier , planar magnetic drivers , powered speakers , room correction , sage l75i , wisdom audio

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