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Positive Feedback ISSUE 47
january/february 2010


The Road Less Taken to Audience
by Robert H. Levi


I wrote on Monday, February 1, in my high-end journal, "Went to the home of John McDonald, President of Audience, to see and hear something extraordinary and unique. Saw a small, but promising crossoverless multi-driver speaker at CES and heard about some pending very special electronics to power same. What I saw and heard at John’s may be a game changer! Very special speakers, electronics, and cable goodies, indeed. Lifelike musical images created in spades. Perfect? No. Perfectly wonderful? Oh boy, yes!"

McDonald has a rare and intense passion for high-end audio and a perspective on speaker development that has no equal I know of in the business. He has worked tirelessly to produce a loudspeaker without crossovers for over 14 years using a line array of full range identical drivers. All other line arrays in the world are at least two way, some three way. The ClairAudient line array speaker has 32 identical 3 inch drivers in stripes of 16 on the front and 16 on the inside rear of the six foot tall tower. With two patents granted and a third pending, these small, but mighty drivers are unique, fascinating, and provide unparalleled performance beyond any other on the planet of similar size. I saw them. I heard them. I was amazed!

With almost flat response from 40Hz to 22kHz out of a three inch driver, the top of the line ClairAudient LSA 16+16 Loudspeaker is 99dB efficient, 8 ohms nominal, single cable hookup, 6 feet tall and 15 inches wide, and elegantly constructed out of 13 layers of birch and molded MDF. They are a true beauty in every aspect I might describe. MSRP is currently $54,000. They also make an 8+8, 4+4 and 2+2. I saw these at CES but did not hear them.

Here’s daring for sure! McDonald’s system included his own Au24e cables, Adept Response Power Conditioners, his beautiful new 200 watt Wave Power Mono Amplifiers [Class D] at $5000 each. Also included, his new elegant Wave Master Line Stage that is passive with 3-6dBs of gain in the autoformer buffer stage for $12-13,000, and a CD/SACD player that has a Denon shell with all Audience circuitry [not for sale.] Takes guts to let a picky reviewer like me hear a system like this. What if I don’t like the amps, or the wire, or the paint color in the room? John was not over confident. John was just plain right.

We got off to a slightly bumpy start as we listened to Dialoghi, my favorite reference piano and cello CD from Yarlung Records of LA. He had left in a small subwoofer that just did not blend with the ClairAudients. I heard this right away and it was switched off. Then there was a piano and cello in the room in all their textural glory. Oh my, my, my…how truly glorious to hear. I quickly looked at the smallish amps and the high tech preamp, and the redone Denon and was just amazed and thoroughly entranced. This was all gear I’d never heard before and it all worked to the cause of musical truth.

I did hear some interesting and rather wondrous effects from these very cool towers. The soundstage width and height were fabulous. Imaging was extraordinarily tight and focused. The music radiated with utterly relaxed power from these super efficient speakers. The louder you played them the bigger and closer to the stage you moved. At levels approaching medium volume, the frequency response expanded subjectively down to around 25-30Hz and expanded skyward as well. With full out forte choral or orchestra or jazz, you could replicate the bigness and boldness of lifelike reality with speakers selling for over $100 grand or more.

We played the Professor Johnson RR recording of Testament with its gigantic wind orchestra and male chorus and heard unrestrained stupendous sound so real it took your breath away…no kidding! I did consider what these superb loudspeakers might sound like with my reference amps and preamp. I may need to bring one of my amps down to John’s house for a second round. I will say this Audience system sounded complete and well matched. It was a direct reflection of the tastes of the man. Just like when Marantz was at Marantz, Mac was at Mac, and Fisher was at Fisher, McDonald is at Audience and he calls the sonic shots. I heard and understood the man in the performance of his proudly played gear. No apologies or quibbles were offered or needed.

Audience will soon be rolling out the amps and preamps to go with their new speakers and renowned power conditioners and cables. He has a staff of electrical engineers and assorted geniuses working behind the scenes, but John McDonald knows what he wants, what sounds musical and correct. He did not take the easy road to developing any of his wares. He took the most difficult of paths to developing the world’s first line array speaker using a single driver run, crossoverless, and full range. He’s not young, but he is surely a wunderkind and an exceptional fellow. Run; don’t walk to audition a pair of these speakers. In 2010, we are on the threshold of reproducing the innate exciting reality of recorded sound in the home. I say, it’s about time!