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Flexibility. It can cut two ways. Flex your muscle to screw up more profoundly. It's why many complex machines with lots of buttons and sliders sport a 'factory reset' button. Or, show real ability and get much closer to perfection. On the face of it, active bi- or triamping with the facility to mix output devices and amplification classes suggest more potential for screw-up than trade-up. Not here. After all, it's not a 6-way affair with floating crossover points and tiltable slopes. WLM's active crossover -- System Control to be fancy -- essentially limits you to level adjustments for each amp. The crossover points and slopes are fixed precisely at the same frequency and rate as the passive network you bypass. There's no chance of creating weird narrow-band suckouts or peaks you'd never be able to correct just by ear. Martin Schützenauer wisely gives no access to any of that. The only network change you may make is adding one or two subwoofers. Even then, they enter fixed at 80Hz and a predetermined steep slope and the monitor in that case rolls out at the same frequency and rate.

The main benefit of going offboard and active is to bandwidth-limit your partnering amplifiers. An airy sweet but otherwise underpowered amp perfect for the treble no longer needs to work much below the 800Hz high-pass. A punchy dynamic midrange amp with proper speed and tone works fully only between 80 and 800Hz to neither do the heavy lifting down below nor the pillow talk of harmonic secrets on high. An amp below 80Hz is selected bassed on control and damping, with disregard otherwise for how limited it might be on vocals or cymbals.

And yes, WLM gives you additional tools like the >10,000Hz phase tilt to trim treble balance; and bass boost with a fixed knee but adjustable angle to increase output of either the solo monitor at 30Hz (or the subwoofer if you run a 3-way rig). The only thing you could screw up is being too hamfisted with the boost or relative output of any amp. That'll be fixed with a twirl of a knob similar to operating tone controls.

Running the 2wpc Yamamoto A-08S on the treble and the 30wpc Red Wine Audio Signature 30.2 on the Eminence 10-inchers proved to be a fantastic match. The direct-heated 45 triodes enjoy the edge in harmonic elegance and the inner life of treble while the battery-powered T amp's current did wonders for upper bass transients. Meanwhile my two ultra-reliable AudioSector Patek SEs got bridged to 100-watt mono to each handle one of the vertically opposed 12ers in the hexagonal and passive WLM Duo 12 sub.

Looking at the snake fest of interconnects, power cords and speaker cables wired up, never mind the actual amplification hardware of four amps and two power supplies, the term conspicuous consumption did admittedly suggest itself.

In the listening seat, the most obvious quality of this system is the combination of dense body, lively attacks, great treble resolution and powerful low bass. If one had to distill a singular quality from this mix to characterize the sound, I'd make it feistiness. By comparison, the key word for my Zu Definitions is scale, for the Rethm Saadhanas, presence. Compared to the Lowther system, the WLM 3-way setup has more weight below 30Hz, the physical twosomeness of the Rethm woofer system loads the room differently for even greater solidity. Compared to the Zu towers, the Duo 12 bass kicks harder while extension is equal. On ultimate articulation, the Lowthers beat both the Americans and Austrians. Their sense of holography and hereness is the most powerful, their micro resolution the most keen. While on the m-word of 'most', the Indians also lead in simplicity -- a two-way system with a single low-pass, no high-pass; a single set of speaker cables; a single external amp to drive it all -- and as a result, in value.

On value, these WLMs come in dead last. Their secret weapon -- for which you pay dearly -- is flexibility. You get to butter your toast 10 ways from Sunday. For audiophile civilians with single fixed systems, that appeal is questionable. For audiophile libertines, polygamists and endless experimenters who own multiples of everything and delight in constantly morphing scenarios to accommodate mood and curiosity, it could be the ultimate appeal. Do you need this type of flexibility to make superior sound? As the Saadhanas prove, absolutely not. But wait, they too incorporate bass attenuators, then add a sliding low-pass to mimic the boost slope functionality of WLM's active filter. The Definition Pros and their successors of Presence and Definition 2 do likewise while teasing with an upgrade path of full parametric bass equalization that allows selective notch filtering to combat the most problematic room nodes. Which, for all its expense, WLM's solution does not.

Again, the flexibility of this WLM setup lives in the endless permutations of amplifier swaps it allows with an active 3-way system; plus its analog contour slopes with fixed frequency entries. If your untreated room goes off like a bell at certain frequencies, this type of flexibility won't help. For that you need at minimum a Rives-type electronic or mechanical notch filter (the former their active audio component, the latter their passive Helmholtz resonator acoustic treatments). In short, WLM's isn't a surgical but musical solution. Musicians can make compelling music in great and poor acoustics. Yet they will instinctively adapt their playing in terms of output, vibrato, tuning and other aspects to accommodate a venue. In a similar manner, the ability to assign specific harmonic distortion and tone influences to the frequency bands fed by different amps in WLM's active scheme and then adding contour effects is a powerful musical tuning tool. It adapts the final outcome to your preferences even though technically speaking, your frequency response might still be quite nonlinear. Ever heard a perfectly flat speaker you liked though?

You can of course also approach WLM's full-blown active 3- or 4-piece scheme in multiple stages to avoid sudden financial death. Which about wraps up the various pros and cons of this proposition. Save for one. The specific effect of the Super PAC system relies not only on a predetermined toe-in which is child's play no matter what; it also relies on a predetermined ratio of speaker-to-speaker and speaker-to-listener distance which clearly favors a long-wall setup. A short-wall setup like mine means that either the speakers or listening chair have to move deeply into the room. The speakers perform just fine if you disregard this recommended ratio. To get the 'insane soundstaging' simply mandates adherence, something I verified by moving my chair well forward. I otherwise didn't pursue it since it upsets the layout of my space.

Anoushka Shankar's fourth solo album Rise [EMI/Angel 7243 5 80295 2 9] is worth the cost of admission for the 11-minute closer "Ancient Love"
alone. The endless Alap opener of "Prayer in Passing" is a close second. Rise mixes ambient groove elements with the obvious Indian background of the sitarist who also is active on keyboards and effects. "Solea" explores the Indian connection to the Iberian peninsula by way of the gypsies while "Sinister Grain" is classic chill-out fare. Hardcore Ravi Shankar purists won't forgive the crossover nature of Anoushka's 21st century concept yet those familiar with Ali Akbar Khan's crossover albums will recognize famous precedents and applaud Ravi's daughter. I count myself among the latter and this album a regular spinner in my players.

Tablas readily verify two qualities - timing/attacks and bass. The former is obvious since it's a percussive instrument whose smaller enclosures make for very dry rather than resonant impacts. The latter seems counter-intuitive only if you haven't heard tablas over a bass-endowed system which then shows infrasonics below the fundamental. The Grand Viola Monitors' feistiness manifests in their powerful midbass kick which couples to equivalent low-bass punch when the optional subwoofer is driven from well-damped amplifiers. The infamous staccato trills of tabla virtuosi with their counterpoint accents of the bass tabla are well served by how this speaker's hard-suspended main driver tracks their steep rises. Only the peppery sharpness of these attacks is underplayed a bit compared to the 6.5" DX55 Lowthers with their 2 Tesla magnetic field strength. Those freaky drivers -- to borrow from audiophilia's catalogue of subjective terms -- are faster still to heighten the impression of supreme articulation.

The big Eminence drivers of the GV Monitors are warmer and not quite as crisp on the leading edge while their bigger cone surfaces move more air to emphasize the energetic kickiness -- not kinkiness -- of what immediately follows those transients; when, in boxing parlance, you connect not just with the glove but the shoulder behind it. That's the connection the WLMs make time and again. By combining this action with the kind of tone I hear from big paper cone drivers, the Grand Viola Monitors celebrate the movement and excitement in the music in a way that's not hyped. It's the power zone effect of having excellent reflexes in the 100 - 300Hz band and being able to follow through those impacts with solid displacement.

That aspect the Rethm Saadhanas cannot flesh out to the same extent. My older Zu Definitions can but their treble -- less resolved than the WLMs' -- doesn't assist the harmonic constituents inside those attacks with equal energy. It will be interesting to see how the upgraded high-pass components in the new Zu Presence model address this. Anoushka's sitar is an instrument with complex string resonances and associated harmonic interactions. Add to this the Indian technique of deep and multiple pitch bends on elongated decays whereby fading tones are pulled up, down and up again in serpentine embellishments over more than an octave. A tweeter system's ability to resolve those overtone fluctuations and turns on the fades then becomes of paramount importance.

The horn-loaded twin tweeter SuperPAC modules picking up at 800Hz may not be quite as airy as ribbons or sport the displacement and air velocity of Heil-based pleated drivers but they certainly are dynamic high-output devices that don't lose track of fine information nor go about their business in
any objectionably metallic ways whatsoever. In fact, WLM's chief designer Martin Schützenauer seems to dislike the coat-of-many-colors approach whereby other makers mix 'n' match driver diaphragm materials for Titanium here, Kevlar there and ceramic-coated aluminum yonder. As far as I can tell with my flashlight, his recipe seems to be paper across the board.

The outcome is a sound with very good timing but none of the bleached quality that's all attack and no follow-through. In fact, tone or controlled bloom are a core strength of this presentation. That's further assisted by WLM's deliberate tube friendliness plus optional 'bandwidth dedication' which generates buxom SPLs from single-ended 45s on top, single-ended 6C33Cs in the middle.