Wilson Benesch Vector Loudspeakers Review
I remember getting the call from the publisher saying “Come over to my place to grab the Wilsons, you need to review them.” “Wilsons?” I asked. “Yes the Wilson Benesch Vectors” Ah, I had thought it was going to be a speaker by Wilson Audio, whose products I know reasonably well. I have to say that I was slightly excited at the prospect. Sadly, I have to admit not knowing very much at all about Wilson Benesch. All that was about to change, in a very positive way.
I started off by researching Wilson Benesch on the internet and corresponded with their head office. Wilson Benesch was founded in 1989 and last year they celebrated their 25th Silver Jubilee Anniversary. They are a family owned business, with members of the family sharing a common passion for creating great sounding, highly technical designs. Based in Sheffield, England, the company has benefited from their city’s remodelling as an engineering and manufacturing technology powerhouse. The transformation of Sheffield followed the closure of traditional industries such as coal and steel, which by the 70s and 80s had mostly disappeared. Sheffield has an international reputation for metallurgy and steel-making. Today Wilson Benesch collaborate with the city’s two leading Universities and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, which is home to companies such as Boeing, Rolls Royce and other major centres of research.
First and foremost Wilson Benesch is a manufacturing company. Rather than spending large amounts of money on aggressive marketing strategies, they choose to reinvest their profits in manufacturing. That is perhaps why many of us have not heard of Wilson Benesch. They spend the money on things like carefully developing a totally unique range of true high tech products.
Wilson Benesch makes a number of audio products including turntables, tonearms and loudspeakers. They were the first in the world with a carbon fibre sub chassis turntable. Their website explains: “In retrospect, one can now see how the knowledge acquired during the turntable sub chassis and subsequently the tonearm development, gave rise to a fundamental understanding of the how sonic borne energy effects the perception of sound. It was this work that would eventually lead to the world’s first curved carbon fibre loudspeaker design that would be seen for the first time in 1995.”
Today, the Wilson Benesch design and engineering team is fully integrated within the design and build of every product. They use the very latest Dassault 3D CAD / CAM systems. New parts can move from a sketch pad to a CAD drawing and directly onto the bed of a machine within a day, allowing rapid prototyping and development of state-of-the-art high end audio components.
Luke Milnes, Media and Communications Manager for Wilson Benesch told StereoNET:
It is only when you have control over design in one hand and manufacturing in the other that a closed loop exists and it is then that something remarkable can be achieved.
The subject of this review is the Wilson Benesch Vector loudspeaker with a RRP of $16,990 in Australia distributed by Absolute Hi End. The brand has been sold in Australia since 2009. They are a 2.5 way, utilising 1 x 170mm (7”) mid-range unit, 1 x 170mm (7”) bass unit and 1 x 25mm (1”) tweeter. All of the drivers are custom made by Wilson Benesch.
The drivers are housed in a precision CNC machined enclosure that is designed as floor standing, approximately 900mm tall, which is not particularly tall for a floor stander. They sit off the ground upon a large metal plate that ensures stability and has provision for metal spikes underneath the plate. It is a vented design with the port at the rear. The front grills are made with a solid metal frame and are removable.
The Vector is part of the companies’ reference line, Geometry Series. This range of products is constructed from carbon fibre composites, steel, aluminium and a range of advanced polymers, 90% of which the company has manufactured in house from raw materials. Today the company moulds all carbon fibre composite components on a range of Advanced Resin Transfer Mould (RTM) machines and it also machines aluminium, steel and polyoxymethylene components using a fleet of CNC machines.
The Vector consists of an Advanced Composite Technology or ‘A.C.T.’ Carbon Monocoque, two Wilson Benesch Tactic II Drive Units, one Wilson Benesch Semisphere Tweeter and an alloy baffle and foot. Every single component has been designed in house, and all alloy, carbon composite and steel components have been machined in-house.
The Vector can be finished in a range of polymer and bespoke high gloss and satin natural wood finishes which have been applied by Bentley Motors trained craftsmen to ensure the finest quality wood veneer in the industry. Remarkable.
The review pair has a carbon fibre body finished in a perfect high gloss with gloss silver trimming. It really looks unique and feels very special. Everything about the speakers, from the packaging, styling, finishing and ultimately the sound, speaks of luxury goods standards of quality. I believe that they would complement almost anyone’s listening room, especially considering that they are available in 14 finishing options. The instruction manual is a bound A4 size booklet of 15 pages, and a copy is also freely available from the Wilson Benesch website. It contains details pertaining to room acoustics, manufacturing information and general use and care.
Contained within the packaging is a small plastic briefcase that contains the metal spikes to go underneath each speaker, along with a spanner to tighten the binding posts. It’s a nice touch and is in keeping with the asking price.
With the Vectors weighing approximately 30 kg each they are not exactly feather weight for a single person, so care needs to be taken when handling them and when setting them up. The manual suggests that it is a task for 2 persons. I placed the Vectors in the usual position for speakers in my listening room and found them to immediately blend in well and sound great without the need to fiddle with the positioning too much. A little ‘toe-in’ was all that was required to fine tune them for my listening position.
The owner’s manual discusses the fine tuning of the vertical angle and toe-in, recommending that you experiment to find what works best for you. Finding that the tweeter was slightly below my ear level, I angled the front of the speaker up about 25-30mm with some Black Diamond Racing pyramid cones, with good success. The speaker binding posts are high quality multi-ways, manufactured in-house from Rhodium plated copper alloy, with two sets of posts, suitable for bi-amping and/or bi-wiring. Supplied are 4 short lengths of connecting wires, rather than solid links, which are of very high quality and Wilson Benesch recommends the use of 8mm ring or spade connector terminations. The terminals will also accept banana plugs, which is what I used.
Burn-in and initial listening impressions
Wilson Benesch recommends a minimum running in time of 70 hours. They state that “like anything of good quality a period of running in tends to see improvements in performance. The drivers require time to bed in physically and relax materially. The carbon panels actually improve in structural integrity as they age.” I found this to be absolutely true, as there were huge improvements in the sound quality over the length of the review period. I felt that even after 300-400 hours, they were still evolving and improving with constant use. If the carbon panels really do improve with age and I have no doubt that they do, it is something to look forward to.
When I first listened to the Vectors, the pair had already had around 50 hours of playing time under their belt. I heard them in a very large listening room and was struck by the ability of the speakers to fill that room with a very large soundstage and to sound full and natural. At this stage, the dynamics were still a little threadbare and not quite filled out as yet, with a slightly flat sound, though still pleasing.
After installing them in my own system with more familiar equipment, the same initial perceptions persisted. I have a habit of giving a helping hand to new equipment by running the speakers with the burn-in track from the Tellurium Q “Cable and System Preparation / Refresh” CD. You can use others, but this one works very well. It particularly assists the speakers by exercising the speaker drivers quite aggressively. The track provides a wide range of sweeping frequencies and tonal changes that heavily work all of the speaker’s components, allowing your equipment to season in a concentrated manner, much faster and more thoroughly than usual. After about a week of playing the track 24/7, the Vectors had noticeably increased their efficiency, i.e. they were playing louder at the same volume setting. They were ready for some critical listening.
I used the Vectors driven by the NAD Master Series M22/M12 pair connected with Kubala Sosna Elation XLR cable, which turned out to be a great combination. Immediately apparent was a cleaner punchier sound than was heard before the additional burn in period, with a huge increase in the dynamics and liveness of music. The Vectors have the ability to throw out a very large soundstage that extends far beyond the speakers themselves. I was a little worried that having the tweeter below my ear level might truncate the height of the soundstage, but that was absolutely not the case. It filled the entire room with floor to ceiling detail, which is often the hallmark of much larger panel speakers.
Tonally the balance was spot on, very neutral and natural, without particular emphasis on any one region. It was very smooth from top to bottom and listening to well recorded piano was a delight. The Wilson Benesch Semisphere tweeter and Tactic II drivers are obviously well integrated and are complimented by optimised crossovers with minimal phase distortion. Both male and female voices are reproduced with stunning clarity and yet without any hint of etched irritability. There was absolutely no harshness at all.
Probably the standout feature of the Vectors is the dynamics and lack of box coloration particularly in the bottom registers. I lined up “Use Me” by Junior Wells, which is a really funky take on the song that Bill Withers wrote but Grace Jones made popular on her “Nightclubbing” album. Junior and his band really get on down with this track. The track really has swagger and the Vector has no problem connecting with the music and passing it on with great alacrity. The soul funk bassist Willie Weeks has some tasty riffs and frankly I just wanted to turn it up and revel in the bass extension and overall musicality.
Generally speaking, average or mediocre speakers tend to mix up the bass guitar and the kick drum and turn it into aural mush, especially when they are tonally similar and operate around the same frequency. The Junior Wells track is a good example of a track with tonally similar instruments. Yet, the Vectors clearly separated the two instruments and allowed clear distinction between them. They were so clean and when asked, punched when they should and sustained when they should. The level that these speakers do this is quite incredible; very impressive.
I couldn’t wait to hear the next familiar track. “These Bones” by the Fairfield Four is a soul gospel track, with incredible deep and resonating voices by the American male vocalists. I’ve heard this track played at demos before, but I would say that the Vector produces the most natural rendition that I’ve heard so far. It doesn’t overdo it with the depth, or extension, but nails the natural timbres of each of the vocalists.
On the album “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk is the track “Giorgio by Moroder”. About 6 or 7 minutes into the track, it gets fast and heavy with lots going on. Again the speakers separate all the bass content into distinct instruments in a way that I have not heard before. Everything was kept clean and distinct, and doesn’t allow the sound to get chaotic or confused. It doesn’t seem to matter what the volume is, they remain controlled and composed.
I have often heard both the LP and CD version of “Improvisations” by Jim Keltner on “The Sheffield Drum Record”, but not in recent memory have I heard it sound so impactful and realistic as through the Vectors. In my youth I played drums with my brother and friends in a small band. A real drum kit has so much snap it can take your head off if you don’t wear some form of ear protection. When recorded it sounds almost always somewhat compressed, lacking in comparison to its natural raw state. I’ve always found the LP recording of the “Sheffield Drum Record” always sounds more real when played back through a good turntable. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by doing a lot of listening to the incredible quality sound of the Continuum Caliburn, a company I have worked for in the past. It’s hard to go back from that level quality of sound output. Sadly not being in a position to afford such a component, these days I use almost exclusively the digital format.
So with that Analog level of performance still in my aural memory, I was quite shocked at how good it sounded on CD when used with the Vectors. Being a very dynamic recording, you need to watch the volume as to not damage your speakers, and like it or not most of us have a child like desire to see how loud you can go without blowing something up. So it was with a generous helping of volume that I discovered that Wilson Benesch have done an extraordinary job of creating a loudspeaker that will play loud and cleanly, at levels that lesser engineered speakers may be starting to experience distress or even failure. There was no artificial compression, no overhang, no sudden lack of spatial information, just truckloads of clean punch and snap, as needed and as much as is desired.
This makes the Vector a special speaker indeed. I’m sure that the carbon fibre & aluminium composite enclosure contributes to the overall transparency and lack of artefacts in the sound. If you want to excite a cabinet just hit it, and you will soon hear the resonance of the enclosure coming back at you. That sound will colour whatever is being played. When you tap the Vectors, it’s an inert sound, a dull thunk; engineered to be that way, with its metal reinforcing on the rear and side surfaces. I know that the use of metal has been carefully placed in strategic areas and the design really works in everyday listening. But it also continues to work when under stress of heavy notes and severe vibrational modes. As they say, it separates the men from the boys. The Vector is no pretender, it is solidly and cleverly engineered to work in all circumstances and to suit a wide variety of its owner’s musical tastes and genres.
The fact that they weigh only 30 kg each and yet are so inert and strong, is proof that the light weight carbon fibre design certainly does work and greatly assists in creating a slimmed down loudspeaker. Wilson Benesch state on their website:
The resulting complex hybrid construction is virtually inaudible, exhibiting one of the lowest signal to noise ratios of any loudspeaker in the world, yet is capable of delivering all the dynamic energy from the ultra-powerful drive units.
The introduction to “November Hotel” from Mad Season starts with a ‘close miked’ large drum, probably the floor tom being gently tapped in rhythm with the high hat and kick drum. A floor tom is a double-headed tom-tom drum which usually stands on the floor, the largest of the toms. You can hear its surface vibrating with every tap. Then you hear a large ride cymbal being excited and rumbling. You hear some guitars coming in, with the amplifier gain turned way up, before all hell breaks loose and it gets fast and loud at 1:50. I listened to this many times as it’s a great test of a speaker’s ability to resolve deep notes cleanly. The best that I’ve heard it was with my dual 15” band pass subwoofers setup in a previous system in a large purpose built listening room. With large coned speakers and lots of surface area, you get a sense of ‘touch’, a feeling that you can reach out and actually touch it, it’s partly a physical sensation as well as aural. Hearing it when it’s done right is sublime.
Strictly speaking the Vectors are reasonably small speakers and do not have large cone area. But what they get absolutely right is all the detail of the floor tom and the cymbal, and all of the natural harmonics and reverb tails. They are able to separate each and every instrument, especially those that sound similar or that tend to bleed into each other. When a speaker gets this wrong, it masks the instrument’s true sound and personality. It still gave me a sense of touch, though in smaller quantities. Better than I have heard before on this track, the Vectors separate everything and just do their thing without coloration or compression. The lack of box coloration is obvious and everything sounds clearer and more musical as a result.
Among the classical tracks that I tried was the “Horn Sonata in F Major, Op17: 1. Allegro Moderato” by the brilliant Beethoven. There is what almost seems like a duel between the piano and horn as they weave and complement each other. Both instruments are difficult to get sounding just right, but the Vector does it, with aplomb. There is no harmonic bleaching or short-changing in the exquisite decay just after each note as it leaves the room. Each instrument keeps its unique texture and touch.
“Days of Wine And Roses” by the Oscar Peterson Trio was so engaging, you are almost commanded to stop and listen. The soundstage that the Vectors portray is huge, yet the spatial information retrieval is incredible, with pin point accuracy for each of the instruments. Oscar has the ability to make the piano sound ever so slightly honkey tonk in the upper registers when he wants and that is the way that it should sound on this recording. The cymbal work is so precise and well timed, a real toe tapper of a track and the Vectors are easily fast enough to convey the timing cues without breaking into a sweat.
“Kol Nidrei, Op. 47” played by Friedrich Kleinhapl & the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra is a very special and emotional piece of music. The tenderness and care of his playing is self-evident, he really has the mastery of his cello. Through these speakers, it’s easy to forget that you are listening to an audio system, and for moment you believe that you are actually there. The depth of the soundstage is staggering, the natural decay of the auditorium is sublime. Every detail, every note, every inflection is faithfully reproduced. The tonal accuracy is virtually perfect.
Looking back over the review period, I believe that I listened to lots of the dynamic tracks slightly louder than usual. The sound was so clean, so transparent and detailed; you simply don’t realise just how loud it is really playing. Though at other times, because it was so punchy and naturally dynamic, you really don’t need much volume at all because the music is all there, it sounds complete and satisfying.
After a few days of background listening while I work in my study, I’m struck by the realisation that these speakers, even at low volume settings, have the ability to convey the musical intent, the very substance of a musical track in a manner that I am unaccustomed to. It’s simply operating at a higher level than I am used to hearing. The body of the sound is there, smooth and very life like. And this I believe is what all of us are looking for, something that can hold our attention, even after many hours and provide a new and clearer insight into our music collection. It’s more than just the added detail that you hearing, but it’s the combination of factors that allow a recital or an interpretation of the music in a refreshingly natural way. I’m hooked!
I enjoyed looking into the Wilson Benesch design philosophy and it is clear that they believe that carbon fibre will play a large role in our future. It certainly is today’s reality for many high tech modern products, including its use in aircraft and Formula 1, and you can add audio to that growing list. Although it is difficult and expensive to manufacture, Wilson Benesch have used the inherent qualities of carbon fibre, like its light weight and self-damping properties to create loudspeakers that greatly benefit from the considered use of the exotic material.
At $17,000 to purchase in Australia, I believe the Wilson Benesch Vector loudspeakers represent good value. They have the ability to get out of the way of the music entirely and disappear in a manner that most others find difficult to accomplish to this level. They certainly play at the high end of the audio spectrum with immaculate levels of fit and finish and overall quality that is expected by discerning enthusiasts.
It was very easy to love these loudspeakers. It is rare when I experience a component that ticks all the boxes. They seem to do everything that they are supposed to do, essentially that is to look attractive and to make beautiful music. I could easily live with a pair and be thoroughly content with my choice, either for use in professional reviewing or to simply listen and enjoy hearing all of my favourite tracks.
Ability to play at all volume settings with low distortion, low coloration and transparency. Dynamics, Tonal balance, Large soundstage, Unfussy placement, Overall quality.
Slightly short for a floor stander, Cost.
Wilson Benesch is distributed in Australia by Absolute Hi End.
Publishers Note: StereoNET would like to acknowledge the willingness and approachable nature of Wilson Benesch who were only too happy to provide technical information, assistance and company background information in order to complete this in-depth look at the Vector loudspeakers.
- Description: 2.5 way, true linear phase, free space, ported enclosure, floor standing monitor
- Drive units: 1 x 170mm (7”) Wilson Benesch Tactic II Mid/Bass unit, 1 x 170mm (7”) Wilson Benesch Tactic II Bass unit, 1 x 25mm (1”) Wilson Benesch Semisphere Soft dome Tweeter
- Low frequency loading: Bessel alignment of fourth order reflex. Double chamber differential tuning
- Frequency range -6dB at 30Hz and 35kHz -3dB at 35Hz and 25kHz
- Frequency response 35Hz to 30kHz +- 2dB on axis
- Sensitivity 89dB spl at 1metre on axis. 2.83V input
- Impedance 6 Ohms nominal, 4 ohms minimum
- Crossover: First Order tweeter crossover, First Order Bass roll-off, selected polypropylene capacitors and air cored inductors
- Crossover Frequencies 500 Hz / 5 KHz
- Internal wiring Hand-made loom comprised of Multi stranded military specification silver plated copper with PTFE jacket soldered connections throughout.
- Input connections Bi-wireable, in house machined rhodium plated copper alloy terminals
- Maximum SPL 118dB at 1 metre
- Power handling 200W peak unclipped programme
- Height 910mm, Width 230mm, Depth 370mm
- Internal Volume 44 litres
- Net Weight 31Kg
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.