I’m very fond of Wilson Benesch loudspeakers. They are extremely focused and precise. That doesn’t mean they constrain the life out of music, however. They are just dry and sophisticated, like a really good Martini. They are also extremely dynamic when correctly partnered; not in the writ-large style of Wilson loudspeakers, or horn designs, but more than capable of showing precisely what dynamic range is in your recordings. But I understand that this combination is not for everyone, and some would like a bit more bottom end authority to match that mid and top. Yes, that powerful bass comes with the Cardinal and when using the company’s Torus not-a-subwoofer Infrasonic Generator, but in some respects the gusto of cheaper models like the Square Five is hard to find in the brand’s top models.
The A.C.T. One Evolution changes that. It has the perfect combination of extraordinary control and deep, primal bass: not in a wild way, this is no rabid, Jekyll and Hyde speaker, more a classical guitarist who plays bass for Iron Maiden in his spare time. The A.C.T. One Evolution has all the cerebral, sophisticated properties people have come to expect from Wilson Benesch loudspeakers, but these are harnessed to a deep, potent, powerful bass line that could easily be set to threatening levels. What is truly inspiring here is these two elements combine naturally in the way Guinness and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate do: it’s the kind of combination that shouldn’t work, but does… and does magnificently. Try it!
In the case of the Wilson Benesch A.C.T. One Evolution, the precision of the midrange and treble do not seem like comfortable bedfellows with that much bass, but the level of clarity and control into the deepest recesses of the loudspeaker make for an excellent loudspeaker. ‘Dayvan Cowboy’ from Boards of Canada’s The Campfire Headphase LP [Warp Records] is a deceptive slice of mid 2000s electronica – there doesn’t seem like much bass going on at all, except that it completely underpins the treated, distorted, synthesised sounds and tremolo guitar, making everything seem less of a swirling, cacophonous mess and more like a slice of post rock brilliance.
I don’t want to get carried away by the bass. There is a lot more to this loudspeaker than bottom end. It’s just that the loudspeaker does bass so well, and so deep: that unbraced cabinet makes it TARDIS like and far bigger on the inside than you’d expect and that means more cabinet volume and that means more bass – but the level of control the A.C.T. One Evolution has over that bass is insane. But, let’s move on. What the speaker also does extraordinarily well is create a good soundstage. That requires some space around the loudspeakers that my tiny room generally precludes, but even here it was clear the loudspeakers were doing something remarkable to the soundstage. There was greater depth and width that extended far beyond the limits of the room: so deep in fact, I kept expecting passers-by to be hit in the face by an invisible tympani player!
The A.C.T. One Evolution is also extraordinarily detailed from top to toe. These are great loudspeakers for musical analysis, for listening into the music and extracting both a lot of information and – more significantly – a lot of fun. Play something like Bach’s Art of Fugue [Emerson String Quartet, DG] and you need to hear both the cerebral and the visceral. This should be extremely precise and very clearly a string quartet, but it should also come with a sense of musical joy and vivacity, taking the birthplace of modern music and making it their own. Less detailed loudspeakers fail at one of these two aspects, either making the precision or the fun-factor disappear. Wilson Benesch’s A.C.T. One Evolution combines both elements of the recording with lithe elegance. Paradoxically though, what the A.C.T. One Evolution doesn’t do is pretend to be a studio monitor. If you want that stark, flat sound… look elsewhere. By comparison to that monitor-like sound, the Wilson Benesch has a slight zing in the upper mid to treble. Not much, and the kind of thing that makes vocals and pianos come to life in normal domestic listening rooms. Ultimately, I’d prefer this presentation in the home to a flatter, more dreary sound.
Some of the reason why this isn’t a monitor sound is the A.C.T. One Evolution appears more dynamic than many monitors. This is perhaps excusable in monitor loudspeakers (that close to the real instruments, dynamic range is something studio monitors ‘tame’ rather than ‘exploit’), but the Wilson Benesch loudspeakers do present an effortless, and easy dynamic range.