Discoveries in our World Class System

Our World Class System featuring the stunning Rockport Technologies Cygnus speakers, Wilson Audio WATCH Dog subwoofers, and Gryphon Zena preamplifier paired with Gryphon Essence monoblock amplifiers

By Doug Robinson

In my 50+ years in audio the most often asked question is “What is best?” That’s a very hard question to answer without context. So, in 2012 The Sound Environment put together our “World Class System (WCS),” designed to answer such questions by letting customers hear the best in the context of a reference-quality system. We’ve been getting great reviews ever since by customers and industry insiders alike.

I was flattered to be told by one such luminary a few days ago that we had “the two best set-up guys in the industry.” I agree and encourage you to stop in and hear the current incarnation of this system — even if you don’t read the rest of this article. If you do read on, I’ll tell you why you should stop in and what you may learn.

In this article we’re going to let you in on two new experiences we’ve incorporated into the WCS and give you an opportunity to listen at home, then listen to the same cuts in the WCS. When you’re done, you’ll have learned something useful about audio and sound (and enjoyed some cool music).

I consider every audio system a learning experience. First to learn about music. When you get to higher degrees of resolution and playback competence you can hear the artist’s intent — what she or he was trying to say through their music. The experience becomes more immediate, intimate, visceral, and emotional. How much system does it take to get to that level of playback competence? We demonstrate systems from $1,599 on up every day so you can, and should, judge that for yourself – but on to what’s new!

Two new learnings are available in our “World Class System.” 

The questions…

How much power is enough?

Do stereo subwoofers Improve an audio system — and how?

We’ve tried to help you answer those questions with the inclusion of 50-watt power amplifiers and stereo subwoofers to our big system.

The first change was from the very powerful Gryphon Colosseum amplifier to the fully class A but only 50 watt Gryphon Essence mono-block amplifiers. The cool question answered here is “is 50 watts enough if the amp is designed for huge peak instantaneous current?” You can hear it for yourself if you stop by. We have hosted several customers who were told after hearing the system that the amps were 50 watts and they were very surprised. One stated, “then those must be very efficient speakers.” The Rockport Cygnus are 90db for 2.83 volts sensitivity with a nominal impedance of 4 ohms. That’s somewhere in the middle range for dynamic direct radiator speaker sensitivity. The Wilson Alex, which many customers have heard in the World Class System are 91db, the new and excellent Wilson XVX is 92db 1 watt 1 meter.

The point is that 50 high-quality watts will drive moderately sensitive speakers to realistic listening levels in our large (19’ x 30’ x 10’) room.

So, what makes the Gryphon Essence a “high quality” amp? First, it’s 50 Watts into 8 ohms, 100 watts into 4 ohms and 200 watts into 2 ohms. That indicates a very stiff power supply capable of loads of current. With 20 output devices per channel and 88,000mF of power-supply capacitance, the Essence instantaneously delivers more current than many much more powerful amps. This is done all in pure class A – the holy grail of solid-state configurations. For comparison, the monster classic Phase Linear 400 power amplifier had 16 output devices and 8,600mF of power supply capacitance and was specified to produce 400 watts per channel.

Skeptical of what 50 very good watts can do in a big room? Listen to the cuts below on your streaming service, then stop in and hear for yourself.

Liberty Fanfare – Lowell Graham – Winds of War and Peace

Liberty Fanfare is a big loud band piece recorded by Dave Wilson to demonstrate his speakers years ago. Note how the amps effortlessly handle the dynamics, especially the drum. 

Differently – Marian Hill – Unusual

Marian Hill is an electronic alternative R&B songwriting duo. In “Differently” Lauren Jauregui’s voice is perfectly recorded with powerful electronic synth beats swirling around her. Note how her voice sounds sweet and calm despite the heavy bass beats.

Stimela – Hugh Masekela – Hope

Live performances add challenges to audio systems and this is no exception. Masekela performs with singers, percussion and a prominent cowbell that creates big demands on an amplifier to be reproduced in a you-are-there way. 

But wait, there’s more!

We also are demonstrating the answer to the question, “Why stereo subwoofers” with the rarely demoed but wonderful Wilson Watchdogs.

We added stereo subwoofers to the system several weeks ago but weren’t satisfied they were right for our big, big room so we swapped them out for the Wilson Watchdogs. You can read Charlie’s excellent explanation of the technical aspects of adding these stereo subs HERE. Bottom line, doing it right is complex and expensive, so is it worth it?

Mankind evolved with many defense mechanisms to help him survive. One was his hearing. Our big brains made a wonderful processing center for our woefully average (compared to the animal kingdom) ears and we were able to locate dangers and understand the spaces we were in with just our hearing. Close your eyes and you can tell if you’re in an enclosed space or outdoors. Now close your eyes in a concert hall and, yes, you can tell you’re in a big room, not a small one.

It turns out we use the phase relationships in very low frequencies to decode the space the sound is coming from. It takes stereo subs to reproduce those phase relationships. Many recordings have those frequencies, we just don’t get them properly reproduced in our audio systems. Enter the Wilson Watchdogs with the ability to reproduce in the sub 10Hz region. Setting up the main speakers full range and the subs crossed over as low as possible adds those low frequencies to the sound field and the result must be heard to be believed. You won’t hear this on a YouTube video or at most audio shows. But you can hear it at The Sound Environment, Omaha.

Chocolate Chip Trip – TOOL – Fear Inoculum

Do stereo subs add space to electronic music? Listen to this cut and see. The artificial space it creates is vast.

Norbu – Bruno Coulais – Himalaya (Original Soundtrack)

A huge bass drum is backgrounds this cut. Can the other sounds in the mix including a human voice mumbling a Tibetan chant stay separated from the murk of the bass?

Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace – John Rutter – Requiem, Five Anthems

A big chorus sings. Is the chorus set way back and in a space? Can you follow individual voices in this lovely section of Rutter’s Requiem?

After you’re done with the amp and subwoofer demo, listen to a couple of these cuts on the big system and then on a more affordable system. Bet you’ll hear similarities.

In Conclusion

A well set-up home music system is one of life’s great joys. Every audio system is a learning experience. The World Class System at the Sound Environment, Omaha is a learning environment for music lovers and audiophiles alike. By hearing what’s possible in audio reproduction we can do a better job at every level providing musically compelling systems.

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