As I sit here listening to Ayreons debut album â€œThe Final Experimentâ€, Iâ€™ve finally decided to sit down and write up my experiences and travels that have bought me to this particular audio setup.
A few months ago, I made a few threads, feeling out what sort of setup to look at for an amazing two channel, blow my pants off setup. During the ensuing conversations and correspondence, I got lots of good suggestions, made some friends, met great people and travelled around this great country of ours. I went as far north as Noosa and as far south as Melbourne, all the while keeping a short little log of what I listened to and what I thought of it.
I decided to type some of it up and condense my thoughts into a sort of mini-review/journal/journey or what-have-you. I'm sure someone will be interested.
So here we go.
My first step was to go to Noosa Hi-Fi, which was familiar territory to me, having been my fatherâ€™s stamping grounds during my childhood; Iâ€™ve still several memories of sitting there on his lap while listening to the latest and greatest speaker setup. Perhaps thatâ€™s where my love for truly good audio came from? Who knows.
I demoed a pair of Dali IKON 2â€™s, paired with an Electrocompaniet integrated amplifier. Not really impressed, didnâ€™t take me into the music. The sound stage was all over the place, the mid-range was thin and overall unimpressive. Was quite surprised, remember thinking to myself "Gosh, and these are meant to be good? Hard work ahead of me..."
My next stop was Northside Hi-Fi, where I had another sit down and commenced my listening, this time on a pair of B&W 805Sâ€™s, also paired with an Electrocompaniet integrated amp.
I was left disappointed, to my ear they sounded identical to my fathers B&W CDM7NTâ€™s, which while I enjoyed the sound, I was expecting so much more. So, I left and had a think and though to myself, well, perhaps Iâ€™m going about this wrong. Iâ€™ve been listening to speakers, while Iâ€™m aiming for complete setups. Perhaps Iâ€™ve just not hit the right combination?
So I started talking to more people. Somewhere around this point in time, WarwickF contacted me and told me about WLM and their Diva Monitor speakers. Now, this sounded interesting! Front ported, real wood veneer, 10 inch coaxial driver? Oh look, theyâ€™re pretty sensitive too. And oh look, Melody amplifiers?
I was intrigued, so a few phone calls later, Iâ€™m on a plane towards Melbourne, meeting up with Stygian and off we went to Warwicks to have a listen.
After a fun drive there, we walked in and I was instantly amazed at how imposing the speakers are. I mean, I knew mentally how big they were, in pure maths, but looking upon them, they justâ€¦ theyâ€™re really big! And the veneering, oh god the veneering, itâ€™s utterly perfect. Everything just oozes quality from them, itâ€™s ridiculous.
So, without having listened to them, they were doing pretty well, but as we all know, itâ€™s how it sounds that counts.
Starting off with a Melody I34R (EL34 based push pull integrated), I was blown away at the sheerâ€¦ you cannot put this into words. It just sort of just, made me sit and smile and try to contain just how happy I was listening to music. The sound was sweet and so utterly, utterly different to everything Iâ€™d heard previous to this.
Moving from CD to some vinyl was an awesome experience, with another new layer coming out of the speaker/amp combination, just silky smoothness.
I was sold on it, but decided to have a listen to the amplifiers I flew down to see, a pair of Melody M880â€™s (KT88 push pull monoblocks), initially paired with a Melody P1688 pre-amp.
Jesus, damnable Christ. What a difference. If I was sold on the I34R, god only knows what I was on these.
The monoblocks sort of picked up the speakers, told them â€œyou bastards listen here, this is what youâ€™re doingâ€ in a surly British accent and then proceeded to beat the living tar out of them. Just amazing. Effortless power, the Divas projecting into a huge open plan room was enough to border on â€œholy crap turn that down I need my hearingâ€ territory on some passages, and the amplifiers still had more to give. There was amazing amounts of tight, well controlled bass, deceptive amounts for a pair of stand mounts, enough to be felt during several tracks of my demo CD.
But it wasn't all power. When asked, they just oozed beautiful silence, with just the right amount of... magic, for lack of a better word, imparted onto the music.
I knew instantly that the M880 and Diva combination was almost certain purchases. The only problem, was that I was already quite above budget, and a P1688 brings itâ€¦ well, yeah. Unless I wanted to stop eating for another six months, it simply wasnâ€™t realistic.
So Warwick went out and bought a little silver box and connected it up. And I was going â€œHrm, bit of a difference size wise..."; The P1688 is a huge, imposing monster with an amazing black gloss, while the WLM Pre/Passive he was now connecting is a little non-descript box, made with what looks like anodized aluminum. Itâ€™s tiny, and has five controls; volume, equalizer, and three switches. Input 1 to 3, a Sat+Sub/Fullrange Switch, and Harmonic Wave switch.
Truthfully, I was a bit dubious as to what sort of downgrade this would be and if I should just stop eating.
And then I heard it.
In the words of myself after we finished, â€œI like it better than the Melody!â€ (or something similar, I was quite excited as you could imagine!).
Itâ€™s utterly transparent. You have a beautiful, utterly flawless passive preamp, with Bass EQ to make up for the natural roll off of the Divas, +3db to the high frequencies via the Harmonic Wave function (which is brilliant for some songs, and makes some sound a little bright and chirpy, but thatâ€™s why itâ€™s a switch!) and flexibility for the future with ability to biamp/offload the bass to a subwoofer/etc.
So, the combination of WLM Pre/Passive Control + Melody M880 Monoblock + WLM Diva Monitor was the standard, so down to more listening!
The sound staging was incredible. I managed to follow the humming of a triangle as it moved around; I nearly fell over when Warwick passed in front of a speaker to change a track, I was so involved in the positioning and staging of the music. It electrified everything, pushing a three dimensional, fully fleshed out representation of exactly what was going on. I think this is helped by the coaxial mounting of the tweeters, because Iâ€™ve never heard anything like it.
The simplest things sound utterly amazing. Listening to the introduction of SÃ¦glÃ³pur, by Sigur RÃ³s was a revelation. These bells, theyâ€™re so utterly, utterly beautiful. Theyâ€™re alive. And the piano is there, with incredible tonality, you can just see the strings stop vibrating. Then you get JÃ³nsi falsetto voice come in, and oh my god everything just goes berserk from then on when it comes to that song.
Moving onto some more music, I bought out one of the more unusual selection of my test CD, a song from the Battlestar Galactica Season 2 Original Sound Track, Prelude To War by Bear McCreary. This song has such amazing qualities for a test track, it has some frankly amazing violin work, amazing drums and just a feel that something huge is happening and if done right, itâ€™s extremely powerful.
It was done right.
I was left there after it finished, just marveling at how engaging it was. There was several sections involving drums that physically attacked me, such pervasive amounts of bass with such power and control was amazing. It was quite shocking, as I was quite familiar with it on several other system, some with subwoofer assistance and it never, ever sounded as rich and tight and controlled. Sure, you throw a subwoofer in there and you might feel it a bit more, but my god, these little speakers sure can put out some deceptive amounts of low frequency volume, and they sound so punchy.
So that blew the pants off me, and we moved on to something different (Well, it was all strewn about, Iâ€™m just typing it up as I remember), I spun up some Ayreon, specifically the track Day Nineteen: Disclosure from The Human Equation, one of my favorite albums. Sure, the mastering could be better (god Iâ€™d kill to get a well done copy on vinyl), but the overall feel and mood of the music is complex enough that without a strong system, I feel itâ€™s lost. You lose the harmonics in the voices, the guitars, the soul of the song.
I was utterly floored at how different the song was for me. From Wifes beautiful voice, filled for the first time with a new level of details and warmth, to Best Friends soulful, conflicted opening lines, itâ€™s just so, so stunning. Love makes its mark with a gorgeous, warm loving voice while a distorted guitar in the background made me nod and smile, just absolutely engaging. Truly what music is meant to do.
(If you're wondering what I'm talking about when I talk about Wife, Best Friend and Love, they're characters in the album, each voiced by a different person. Quite an interesting concept, and I suggest if you like progressive metal you give them it a listen. Anyway back on track.)
That was it, as far as I was concerned. We listened to more, but Iâ€™m sure youâ€™re all getting tired of hearing me talk. Needless to say everything that was thrown at the setup was engulfed in the pure maelstrom of audio nirvana and spat out with a beautiful sheen. It was magical.
So, a quick chat with Warwick, and I was back on the road, back home, to try and make some decisions.
After my flight landed, I went home and listened to my setup. I was left feelingâ€¦ well, it was a HUGE step down in quality and overall enjoyment.
This was good, because thatâ€™s the exact thing I was aiming for. The sheer amount of superiority the WLM + Diva setup had was hard to believe. Just beat it to death.
So after that, I went to COEM Audio and had a listen to a pair of Mark and Daniels Maximus-Monitors. I was left impressed with their bass output and high frequency response, but the mid-range wasâ€¦ Iâ€™m not sure. I liked it, but I liked the Divas better. I enjoyed the listen, and chances are will be going to buy some other gear from them in the near future, but the speakers just didnâ€™t do it for me.
So, later on, a pallet arrives for me.
Oh goodie, I live on the sixth floor and have no direct access to an elevator. So, unpack the pallet, and transport everything up individually, then a few mates help bring them down the stairs.
And boy my room is all of a sudden much, much smaller. I have a very, very impressive looking near field monitor setup, and damned if they donâ€™t sound awesome when I sit back. They do need a lot more room though, without a doubt. They sound magical, but you just know that given a bit of space, and a bit more room to play with, they'll be so much more. But that's for the future.
So, in summary: WLM Pre/Passive Control, WLM Diva Monitor, Melody M880. There is an amazing transparency from the pre control, with the ability to do whatever you want it to do, along with absolute control and beautiful detail out of the amplifiers. The speakers finish it with unfettered, liquid beauty beaming from them with a lovely enveloping feel that just makes you all warm and fuzzy.
I love it, and hopefully in a few years when I have more than a shoebox to play with, I can get it set up properly and you can all come over and love it too. And if you donâ€™t love it, well too damn bad, I do!
Thanks to everyone who helped me along the journey, you all know who you are, I hope in the future I can be such a valuable resource to you in some way.
Special thanks to Stygian who picked me up from the Airport and then drove me to Warwicks, you were great company and the trip down wouldn't have been the same without you.