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REVIEW: Audiostatic Wing Speakers

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Model: Wing
Category: Speakers
Suggested Retail Price: $7500, Fin $1500 (inc delivery)
Description: Full Range Line Source Electrostatic Speaker
Manufacturer URL: Audiostatic
Model Picture: View

Review by s.hum ( A ) on January 13, 2004 at 07:59:37
IP Address: 204.101.196.17
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for the Wing


-- Preamble --

While the journey with the fabled MG1.6's was a glorious ride - modded with Jensen XO parts, Grant Mye stands and Symposium Rollerblocks - the iterative cycles of system enhancements eventually came to a crossroad: whether to venture down the possibilities of the active bi-amp pathway or revisit the transducer itself.

Moving up to the MG3.6's was not an option as that would have required wholesale changes to amplification aside from insufficient room size for those speakers. As everything in audio is a compromise of sorts (financial resources, room acoustics, product availability, etc) - and for me, fewer system variables promise a more predictable struggle - the idea of a full range single driver speaker sans crossover or filtering components (capacitors or coils) was something that had an alluring appeal and transcended the debate about bi-amping.

Between Audio Note DAC mods, I found myself contemplating the short comings of the MG1.6's in my current setup. ESL's were in the crystal ball somewhere, which led to the unexpected opportunity to grab a (demo) pair of the latest generation Audiostatic "Wings" from Audiography of the UK - unseen, unheard and on a leap of faith (though, I had investigated the Audiostatic kit some time back).


-- Sources --

Audiostatics are relatively unknown in North America. There is no dealership network that I am aware of. Audiography of the UK (info@audiography.co.uk) is the US distributor. To further confuse matters, there are two versions of the Audiostatics. The Audiostatics originate from the Netherlands (designed by Ben Peters), known as the "DCI-LT", but have a licensing agreement with Michael Geschka GmbH who has further enhanced the speaker which is known as the "Wing".

Differences between the Netherlands version "DCI-LT" and German version "Wing" are as follows:

Netherlands Version "DCI-LT"*:
Minimal packaging
2 year guarantee
No manual
4 transformers
Single circuit board
*Disclaimer: I have no personal experience or knowledge of the DCI-LT version.

German Version "Wing":
Robust packaging for intercontinental shipping
4 year guarantee
Comprehensive manual
4 transformers
2 redesigned circuit boards with superior PCB, parts and construction
Higher grade WBT terminals
Protection circuit so electrostatics cannot be over driven
Auto on/off switching to protect panel life (hence, 4 year guarantee)
Front LED to indicate power/standby mode
Optional add-on "Fins"

This review is of the German built Audiostatic "Wings", by Michael Geschka, with the (optional) add-on "Fin".


-- Caveats --

I have a fondness for the Clarisse brother's line of Audiomat EL34 PP amps - first the Arpege and now it's older brother, the Prelude. Both are similarly designed 30 watt Class A integrated valve amps. And both are amp choices that many in both the Magneplanar and Audiostatic camps would deem underpowered for such demanding speakers. The Audiostatic - on paper at least - is even more inefficient (84 db) than the MG1.6. Nevertheless, these amps have a musical magic about them which I am loath to forsake - a tonal and timbral correctness, timing and ease. Inattentive and passive listening is impossible to do with these amps which I've never obtained with any other setup.

Cabling and other system tweaks, have evolved synergistically with the MG1.6's as the reference. These, may or may not, in the long run be the optimal matches for the Wings. Conclusions are further complicated by the lack of "absolute" baselines: are effects due to the Wings, system synergies, room interactions by virtue of their different physical dimensions and design and positioning requirements, and/or my low level hearing behaviour, etc? With some of these considerations in mind, here are the relatively young impressions of the Audiostatic "Wings".


-- WAF --

First off, from the moment the large packing boxes are opened, the Wings strike you as the most elegant dipole panel out there with their narrow French door profile. These speakers have to be seen - I refer you to the above links. Further, these particular Wings are finished in a satin white which elegantly blend into the current decorum, a listening room with off white walls.

Finish is superb and the dimensions about as agreeable as can be. The 74x12x2.75 (hwd) inch panel with a silver accent along the edge, stands on a 15x13.25 (wd) inch base with 4 adjustable aluminum capped threaded leveling points. The upright frame houses the transparent stator panel in a 56x7 (hw) inch inset window which further blends this speaker into the landscape (unlike the 2001 black monolith presentation of the MG1.6's). Vertical stator channels run the length of the panel with 13 horizontal aluminum positioning braces equidistantly spaced along the vertical.

With a moderate amount of toe in, the 59 (h) inch sculpted Fins which attach to the back of the Wings with an ingenious and simple eye and hook assembly are barely visible - though from the side, the Wings lose their elegant slim line profile and bear instead the silhouette of symmetrical rounded dorsal fins that protrude back at the apex about 5.5 inches from the frame.


-- Configuration --

These speakers have a great deal more mass than the MG1.6s, and with the Fins weigh in at around 80 pounds each. The frame is made from fine grade high density fiber board material contributing to its mass. Two allen key bolts affix the base to the panel from the underside. This design is not totally rigid in that there is the typical fulcrum pitch possible when lateral pressure is applied to the panel - much the same problem which plagues the Magneplanars and their bottom stand mounts. With the Fins mounted, in fact, a touch of forward tilt is required to compensate for their rearward mass and align the frame in the perfect vertical.

WBT connectors are on the backside as is the IEC power cord connector and power switch. A LED on the front of the speaker denotes the power on cycle (red), stand-by (light green) - one of the additional enhancements with the German Wings - and operating mode (bright green). A user selectable jumper connection underneath the lower back plate panel permits voltage selection between 115 and 230 volts. Inside that compartment is housed the modular power supply circuits - which provide overload and impedance correction - and the 4 hefty custom transformers which contribute to the weight of the speaker.

In stand-by mode, there is no charge to the stator, thus reducing the dust collecting properties of the ESL panel when not in use. When a signal is fed to the Wing, the LED turns bright green, indicating the speaker is active. The speaker will stay on for several minutes after no signal before reverting to stand-by mode.


-- Presentation --

The Wings are full range line source drivers with a published frequency response of 28-22K. A resistor network continuously narrows the high frequency spectrum towards the central portion of the membrane to achieve this, while at the same time permitting the lower frequencies to utilize the entire surface area of the membrane. As well, to move the amount of air required for low frequencies, the membrane is capable of a 1/3 inch excursion (which can be seen, depending on lighting and angle of view, in rippled patterns of reflected light off panel membrane!). The resultant design delivers weight and the full range coherency of the single driver with pin point imaging - contrasting the MG1.6's disadvantaged adjacent quasi-ribbon tweeter and planar magnetic bass/mid panel array design.

Large dipoles have a certain scale about their presentation and the Wings are no exception to this. The Wings psycho-acoustically vanish in the precision of their imaging and soundstage depth. The illusion is further aided by the transparent stator - the analogy of the speaker as a window into the music is not lost. Instruments and voices are fleshed out with a greater sense of definition and position within 3 dimensional space.

The Wings project a 3 feet wide sweet spot within the near field (equilateral triangle) listening position, diminishing very gradually as one moves laterally. The Fins which diminish back wave cancellation effects and enhance bass also reduce room modes - possibly accounting for the increased sweet spot width. Positioning of the speakers and their toe in remain critical - the first several weeks were spent dialing these speakers an inch and a degree at a time to obtain the optimal bass and mid range response.


-- Sound --

What is noticeable at the outset in contrast to the MG1.6's is the transparency of the Wings - no small feat considering the quickness of the MG1.6's - with increased speed, macro and micro detail, dynamic contrast and more accurate tonality across the spectrum. Timbres are more authentic, vocals ranges more pure and nuanced without any hint of shrillness, large scale works uncluttered with air and clarity between the instruments and voices. Gone are the (very) minute limitations and colorations of the quasi-ribbon/magnetic planar design.

Everything is simply clean and effortless - no attention is brought to the speakers themselves through any sense of strain. Rather, images fill the room, inner musical lines avail themselves, venue scale and location defy room boundaries. It is a significant order of magnitude which is realized in comparison (to the former reference).

The push-pull design advantage of the ESL panels is readily apparent in the speed of the transients, critical dampening and resultant timbres and decays. That lightning quickness and control simply make everything more real, tangible and clearly defined. Dynamic contrasts and attacks convey a startling immediacy while at the same time the tonal palette becomes more vivid.

Low level listening is now possible with no lack of resolution and musical dynamics. In fact, the Wings seemed louder than they are (in terms of what I have been used to) as a result of their dynamic contrast with more resolution, and ease of presentation and clarity, across the frequency spectrum.

My listening tastes have tilted a lot over the years towards opera and choral music. For this venue, the Wings are enrapturing, conveying the nuance and emotion of the human voice whilst at the same time placing you squarely in the performance setting with the added transparency and spacial cues. Instrumental jazz and classical music are articulated effortlessly and constrained only by the source material.

Music is communicated without embellishment. These ESL's are capable of plumbing much lower reaches than the MG1.6's with authority and definition. Similarly, the top end which is on paper less than the MG1.6's, reaches higher, smoother and sweeter, and with a great deal more resolution and transparency. The entire spectrum through the midrange is accurately portrayed. There is a richness, depth and weight coupled with a clarity and transparency around the notes formed. Everything is simply more tonally and timbrally correct. All of this holds together for a complete balanced presentation of voices and instruments with a visceral emotion that can be gripping.


-- Rollerblocks Jr's --

With cables in a state of flux from the dialing in of the speaker positions, I was eager to see what effect the Symposium Rollerblock Jr's would have on the Wings. Having had such superb results with their application to the MG1.6's (http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/m.pl?forum=MUG&n=42644&review=1), curiosity - if not expectation - was high. In order to stand the WIngs on a set of 3 Rollerblocks, a 3/4 inch thick acrylic base was cut to measure to fit under the base of the speakers. This assembly was positioned on top of the leveled granite and the Wings on top of that.

MG1.6's (with Mye stands) on Rollerblocks improved in terms of tonality, speed and imaging. Such was not the case with the Wings. With the speaker bases flush with the acrylic, the sound was (more) muddy albeit mellower. With the threaded posts down on the acrylic, there was significant improvement - contrary to my expectation of better mechanical coupling with the threads up - but still nowhere near the engaging immediacy of the speakers directly on the granite base, which would seem to confirm a suspicion that structural rigidity of the entire speaker assembly is necessary in order to be effective with Rollerblocks.


-- ESL101 --

Life with ESL's can have its drawbacks. Certain designs need more care and feeding than other speakers on occasion. These panels IMO would not be good candidates for smokers, excessively dusty homes or folks with shedding pets - they need room to breath in more ways than one!

After my initial setup, one Wing developed a faint buzzing sound. Localizing the sound by ear identified where the offending debris was - but you would be surprised how difficult it is to spot a single small hair on the membrane. An air canister, Q-tips, photographic lens paper and some patience were required to remove the offending debris that had lodged itself on the panel behind one of the horizontal stator braces causing the characteristic ESL buzzing or crackling sound. I had only one occurrence of this, probably from the unpacking and assembly of the speakers. They have remained dead quiet since.

Pollutants such as smoke and other irritants will eventually make their way to the membrane surface. I surmise that some of the Wing's transparency is due to the exposed design of the membrane. There is no easy manner to rid the panel of microscopic residue which has adhered itself to the membrane. Thus, after some years - on average 5 I am told - one may need to have the stators cleaned and/or replaced. I have heard of smokers getting only 3 years optimal performance from their Audiostatics before needing replacement, and of other owners still running strong after 10 years.

I'm hoping regular maintenance and the lower levels of pollution in the hinterlands will afford better than the norm. No doubt, this is a huge issue for some but realistically, in the end, everything degrades over time, including voice coil speakers. And if one does replace the stators (vs cleaning), it is effectively getting a brand new speaker - and ones added to well aged transformers at that.


-- Conclusion --

The Audiostatic Wings are magical speakers - in coherency, tonality and expression, not to mention their stunning design. They lack the (minor) colorations of the MG1.6's and are even more decisive in their presentation. The resolute neutrality of the Wings is evident - a reference class speaker.

As with any speaker as transparent as the Wings, inadequate source or setup can be ruthlessly revealing but the ability to hear deeper into the musical venue is well worth the journey. To be able to achieve the gains in coherency, frequency response, dynamic contrast, imaging and resolution without mega wattage was a bonus (and a lucky gamble on my part) - the Audiomat Prelude definitely preferred the Wings despite their inefficiency. No doubt, existing system tweaks will be evaluated in the months ahead and, certainly, such transparency will enable evaluation of future system changes with greater ease.

There is an essence to music that is not measurable, that is not just about rated or published specifications. Without that magic one merely has sound. The audio decisions and compromises we choose are hopefully the ones that get us closer to those elements which comprise musical enjoyment. It is always a matter of degrees when one upgrades and the totality of the system must be considered. Slipping the Wings into this system was an unequivocal huge leap forward in every facet of the listening experience.

S



Product Weakness: Stator panel life/maintenance.
Product Strengths: Transparency, coherency, tonal correctness, imaging. Design. Power requirements.


Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Audiomat Prelude Reference
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): None
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Audio Note CDT-Two / DAC1.2 (modified)
Speakers: Audiostatic Wings plus Fins
Cables/Interconnects: Luminous Audio Technology (Signature, Synchestra, Renaissance)
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Opera, classical, jazz
Room Size (LxWxH): 13 x 21 x 8.5
Room Comments/Treatments: DIY room lenses; carpeted and furnished living room
Time Period/Length of Audition: 4 months
Other (Power Conditioner etc.): Equitech 1.5Q Balance Power, ESP Pro Power (Cords, Distributor), Blue Circle (Noise Hound, BC68)
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner




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Topic - REVIEW: Audiostatic Wing Speakers - s.hum 07:59:37 01/13/04 ( 21)