World Premiere Review!
As a reviewer, you get used to things being delivered fairly frequently. However, when a driver is at your door telling you he has two huge crates to deliver, you know "the loudspeakers" have arrived. Walking out with the driver, he asked me what was in the crates. I told him they were loudspeakers. He could not believe loudspeakers that big could really be used in a home. Despite his disbelief, we moved each of the 520 pound crates into the garage and I began the process of removing the PBN Audio WAS-2 loudspeakers from their crates.
Standing the crates vertical while making a mental note of the "this side up is up", I began working away at the plethora of woodscrews. Once all of the screws were removed, the loudspeakers were pulled out of their cocoon. The WAS-2s are very well packed and protected. I decided to leave the protection on for their trip through the house and down the stairs to the music room. The WAS-2s are a one piece loudspeaker weighing 405 pounds each and are 6' 2" tall. The cabinets are designed in the latest style of short length walls, made out of 2" thick solid maple fascia, which helps prevent the cabinet from having any type of resonance. This odd shape makes it very difficult to grab hold of, and despite using the best refrigerator dolly, it took four men to muscle them down the stairs. My son has since suggested installing an elevator for the music room.
Now that they are finally in the music room, I removed the 8 to10 inches of protection from the loudspeakers. The WAS-2 speakers received here are finished in rosewood and looked impeccable in their fit and finish. Thumping these loudspeakers to see if they are inert is like thumping granite, of which there is no question, you get nothing but a sore knuckle. The loudspeakers are elegant but at the same time so huge that you fully expect to suddenly find them transforming into a Caterpillar D9 tractor and heading out to the fields to go to work. My music room is 32' wide and 28' long and is an open room with a 9' ceiling. I was wondering if it would be big enough to let these monoliths really perform their best.
Before one discusses and reviews a loudspeaker or component, I think it is interesting to get some insight into the person who designed it, for that is the initial source of a component's direction and ultimate success. Peter Norbaek, the owner of PBN Audio and the designer of all of the PBN loudspeakers, grew up in Denmark. His first interest in loudspeakers came from his grandfather. When Peter was 10 years old, his grandfather asked him to help rebuild a pair of Tandberg loudspeakers. Peter was inquisitive on how it all worked and learned what he could; keeping that piqued interest for many years. Peter later moved to the US with an electrical degree, which he used initially to get a job as an electrical engineer on large ships. Peter soon gave up working at sea to pursue his youth's interest in audio. He went to work in the industry to learn more about the business and hone his technical skills. After a short time, with dreams and ideas ready, Peter decided to start his own loudspeaker company in San Diego, California. PBN Audio was born.
Peter The Perfectionist
Each loudspeaker has two 15" ultra long throw subwoofers that are driven by a 1 Kilowatt Ice Power subwoofer amplifier that is installed at the bottom of each loudspeaker. The two 8" mid-woofers have pulp coated cones and extra large magnets that are complemented by two 5.25" mid-range drivers with Nextel pulp coated cones using the Hexadym Magnet system. The final driver is a 1.125" high efficiency, low distortion fabric dome tweeter utilizing the Hexadym Magnet system. The mid-woofers are wired to the lower pair of binding posts and the tweeter and the mid-range are wired to the upper pair, which you can bi-wire or bi-amp if you feel it necessary.
The DSP system is all internal and to balance the DSP amplifier output with your external amplifier(s), all you have to do is use the D-Pro program supplied with the loudspeakers, install the program on your laptop and make a quick adjustment and then you are almost ready to go. There are special power cords supplied for the DSP amplifier and a pair of ICs has to be used to connect the DSP amplifier to your preamp and then you are ready to make some sound.
The WAS-2s have metal feet extending from the base that are threaded on all four corners of the loudspeaker where you can install spikes that are supplied with the loudspeakers. I have found, at least in my system and room, which by using 2" or thicker granite slabs, the music sounds more natural than using the spikes. As an added bonus, sliding the loudspeakers on the granite makes it easier to move the WAS-2 for large or small adjustments.
The WAS-2s, looking from the front of the loudspeaker are 18.25" wide, with the beveled walls each being 4.5" long, which go into an 18" length wall that tapers into the rear wall which is 13.25" long. This is an asymmetrical hexagon, which with the 2" thick walls, reinforced braces and a construction method that provides no parallel surfaces within the cabinet, virtually eliminates any internal standing waves. The loudspeakers at 6' 2" tall are large; however, the loudspeaker gets a lot of weight from the 2" thick cabinet and the massive metal base which supports the loudspeaker and the extensions for the spikes. This is a real monolith because it is one inert loudspeaker that makes granite seem soft. If you have seen 2001 Space Odyssey, one cannot help but remember the monoliths at the beginning of the movie with The Planets by Gustav Holst ominously playing in the background.
One of several high tech systems in the WAS-2s; the 1000 watt Ice subwoofer system, which has DSP and D-Pro software that controls the crossovers, can be used to adjust and tailor the loudspeakers to your room. Using the 109 page manual and your trusty laptop, you can adjust and test different crossover settings to suit your room and taste. Although using the manual to make changes is a snap, I decided not to adjust the crossovers and only made an adjustment between the bass amplifiers and my tube amplifiers to balance the bass with the main drivers. Peter chooses to use an active system on the woofers because they typically are used in a large room. The benefit is being able to boost the lower register and tailor them to the room, which adds tremendous flexibility to the system. This allows the main amplifier not to have to deal with the very demanding current needed to drive the woofers and concentrate on the rest of the frequency spectrum.
I did the usual system turn on by giving the Canary's their normal two hours to warm up but quickly found that the bass was really out of balance with the rest of the music. I realized that the D-Pro had to be adjusted down by a few dB, which in this case turned out to be 8dB. Now that everything was in balance, warmed up and there was no longer a danger of the house being lifted off of the foundation by the excess bass, I sat down to listen.
That First Listen
The sub-bass and mid-bass are tight, controlled and fast with punch that will blow your socks off. Bass in any range on this loudspeaker is a 5.0 and writing two words or 500 will not say it any better; in fact, a new word for the feeling of music this loudspeaker conveys in the bass is the "impact" that is conveyed into the music. If you are an organ player or love organ music, this speaker will take you to places you probably have never heard before, like 18Hz.
I switched the CD to Linda Ronstadt's For Sentimental Reasons [Asylum 9-60474-2] and cut number 9 "Straighten Up and Fly Right" to get an idea of how the mid-range and high frequencies sounded. The Western Electric 300Bs were apparently sending the WAS-2s some great signal because the mid-range was very transparent, detailed, vivid and dynamic. The upper frequencies were tight, great definition, transparent, and in several passages, Linda's voice plus the violins were crystal clear and clean without the slightest hint of any edge, harmonics or high end grunge. The mid-range and upper end were, despite the Reference Ones and WE tubes, not the least bit warm in their presentation but very "analytical". In a very brief amount of time I came to the conclusion that this was a very truthful and revealing loudspeaker that performed exceptionally well with anything that was asked of it in all areas save one; the WAS-2s were not musical or perhaps the more appropriate word would be natural in their presentation. This perplexed me because clearly all of the pieces were there, it just seemed like when it was all put together there was no "natural" blending of the music; it was technically correct but not smooth.
I decided that perhaps there might be an issue with how the speakers were placed in the room, or the tube components rather than transistor and then I considered the wiring. So, I did the easiest thing first and removed the Analysis Plus gold ICs and speaker cables and replaced them with Analysis Plus copper ICs and speaker cable. It was quickly clear that this was not the problem as some of the transparency, detail and upper end clarity was gone. My next idea was to remove my Canary Reference Ones and put in an Edge NL 12.2 power amplifier that I had just gotten in for review. Although it only had 50 hours on it, I hoped it would tell me if I was on the right track; the definitive answer was no. Despite the Edge being out of the box "new" as it was, it produced the same basic sound results as the Canary, only giving up a little, as one would expect being new, in the upper end. The amplifiers were not the issue, so I decided it had to be room placement.
Peter had mentioned to me that the WAS-2s liked to be close to the back wall and to use a little "toe-in". Initially I put the WAS-2s the same 26" off of the back wall as my B&W Matrix 800s. I moved the speakers back an inch and listened again without getting any change. I moved them back two more inches and no change. Finally, I moved them back an additional three inches, which made them 20" off the back wall and found nirvana. They were suddenly very musical and natural and while some of the previous percussion, like the cymbals or wooden blocks were audible; now they were very definitive in timbre and placement. I quickly put the Analysis Plus gold ICs and speaker cable back in and found even more transparency, detail, clarity and extension. Prior to this adjustment, I had some concerns regarding the loudspeaker's performance in attack and decay. That was quickly resolved by moving the speakers. The attack is deadly quick and rim shots in listening to Keb' Mo' had me wondering if I was the drummer, which is as quick as you are going to hear it. Decay was there until the last nuance of the note shimmered and passed; staying definitive, vivid and clear to the end. There was no issue for inner resolution as I was able to clearly hear and define the wood block or cymbal percussion instruments, which when played next to a loud guitar might not be audible; not only is it audible and well detailed, transparent and dynamic, but it is well defined within the soundstage.
The WAS-2s throw a wide soundstage, well beyond the loudspeakers sides. Frontal stage extension into the listening room and the halls information is a well rated 4.5, providing sound that has been recorded near the back side of the hall into and past your listening position. The WAS-2s do not quite "disappear", but they do convey such a wide, deep and large soundscape, and depending on the source music, they will on occasion disappear away into the music. Imaging seems to be effortless for the WAS-2s; the smallest of percussion can be heard in detail and clarity, regardless of how far back it may be positioned in the hall or recording room. The WAS-2s do well at pinpointing the source and placing it correctly within the forward projection of the music to your listening position and, when presented, it is dynamic, transparent and detailed, even when it is apparent that the source material is being played at a lower volume then the main stream of music.
The loudspeakers are built with the fit and finish of a craftsman from times gone by. To confirm they are solid and well constructed, one only has to look at the 2" thick Maple outer wall and the size of the inner partitions and supports that make the cabinet (see schematic) and if that does not convince you, moving their 405 pound bulk will quickly let you know how "solid" they are. The best of drivers and electronics, like the 24dB Octave Acoustical L/R crossover with premium components and the Jensen Copper-Teflon ultra high grade high pass capacitor help earn this loudspeaker a well justified "reference" nametag.
The WAS-2s are speakers that require a large room to perform their best. Being so large will probably cause some significant other issues, assuming you have already gotten past the $55,000 price. However, if you have the big room, the $55,000 and the loudspeaker size is not an issue, you are one person who will soon be enjoying audio nirvana. The WAS-2s will really let you "Enjoy the Music".