Review of IWISTAO WHFSC-FR565WLC-6.5 Speaker cabinets with MARK HI-FI 6.5” Metal Cone Drivers.
A recent living room renovation meant that I would no longer have space for my big LOTH-X AURA home stereo speakers. These feature a 6.5” full range driver similar to a Lowther and an internal labyrinth ending in a front facing horn. They were expensive and well reviewed when I purchased them, but they are large tower speakers and I need to downsize.
I am a professional music producer. When I work in the studio I use monitors designed for accuracy. However, for casual listening in my home, I enjoy the acoustic artifacts created by horn loaded speakers such as the AURAs. The labyrinth/horn design creates a subtle time delay and a phase reversal which gives the listener the illusion of being in a live performance environment. This is especially pleasing for vocal and small ensemble classical and Jazz recordings; but it adds a special dimension to all types of music.
I had always been curious to try a DIY (do it yourself) speaker cabinet matched with a driver of my choice. I spent some time searching options on line and ended up choosing the IWISTAO WHFSC-FR565WLC 6 . 5 s p e a k e r c a b i n e t s . [ h t t p s : / / www.iwistao.com/collections/all/products/ iwistao-hifi-speaker-empty-cabinet-6-5inches-1-pair-finished-labyrinth-structuresolid-wood-for-full-range-speakers-unit-diy] They are about 1/3 the size of the LOTH-X AURAs but still feature a 6.5” driver and have a 1.6 meter labyrinth return. They are constructed out of heavy laminated wood with a sophisticated computer assisted engineered acoustical labyrinth similar to the one pictured below:
When it came to selecting a driver I contemplated several candidates from different sources but after consulting with the sales staff at IWISTAO I decided on a pair of MARK HI-FI 6.5” metal cone drivers which they highly recommended. I reasoned that they had far more engineering experience in speaker design than I did, and if they thought this was the ideal match, I should listen to their advice. That advice turned out to be very well founded.
In preparation for auditioning the speakers I placed them eight feet apart on elevated stands at ear level about nine feet away from my centered position. I used a Marantz CD 606 compact disc player powered by an AOSIBAO M12 UF 60 integrated amplifier with tone controls set to neutral. This is a class AB hybrid tube amp that delivers 80 Watts per channel. It has a nominal frequency range of 40 - 20,000Hz and a frequency response of 52 - 32Khz ± 3db.
For listening material I chose three recordings I am intimately familiar with: Donald Fagen, “The Nightfly”, Yo Yo Ma, “Soul of the Tango”, and Boz Skaggs, “but beautiful”. I listened to all three recordings in order to asses the general characteristics of the loudspeakers and summarize my impressions. I then re-listened to the Boz Scaggs CD switching to my LOTH-X AURAs for comparison with the IWISTAO/ MARK HI-FI set.
Listening to “The Nightfly” On The
IWISTAO/MARK HI-FI Loudspeakers
Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly” was a ground breaking album when it was recorded in 1982. It was one of the very first multi-track all digital recordings to be made. It is exquisitely arranged, produced and engineered and features many of the best studio musicians of the period including Jeff Porcarro, Rick Derringer and Larry Carlton.
IWISTEO’s MARK HI-FI loaded speakers reproduce this classic recording beautifully. Porcaro’s kick drum is defined and punchy melding with the melodic bass lines to create a solid bottom end. The snare is crisp and slightly metallic with just enough lower frequency and crack to move the track along. Engineer Roger Nichols developed one of the first drum machine synthesizers (which he named “Wendle”) for use on this project. Wendle provided the core of the drum tracks on three of the songs including the famous version of “Ruby Ruby”. The high-hat sounds a little machine-like (an artifact inherent to the primitive drum computer), but real acoustic cymbals with very refined multiple reverbs even out the drums nicely and contribute to the sophisticated stereo imaging of the recording. All of this is well showcased by the IWISTAO speakers.
Piano solos are refined and sparkling: sometimes wide spread in the stereo field and sometimes more narrowly panned. Horns cut through but occupy their own image territory nicely smoothed by just the right selection of reverbs. The magnificent background and combination vocals are chorale-like and shimmer in the mix. Solo sax and guitars shine through but have specific locations in the stereo image as intended. Finally, Donald Fagen’s peculiar voice, intentionally leveled out with compression and brightened by signal enhancement and an assortment of reverbs, acquires both authority and musicality. Listening to this CD on the IWISTAO loudspeakers was like rediscovering an old friend; a true pleasure.
Listening to “The Soul Of The Tango” on the IWISTAO/MARK HI-FI speakers
In 1997, cellist Yo Yo Ma recorded “Soul Of The Tango with a renowned group of players and colleagues of the late Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla. Piazolla’s work helped vault tango into a major art form as compelling and intimate as the most sophisticated of string quartets. It is worth noting that there are some tracks of the bandoneon (a type of concertina which is common to most tango ensembles) which were played by the composer himself in recordings made prior to his death in 1992.
The basic ensemble for this set of recordings is a quintet consisting of the aforementioned bandoneon, cello, violin, guitar, and piano (though in some of the pieces there are both acoustic and electric guitars).
The IWISTAO speakers generously convey all of the warmth, drama, and subtlety of Piazolli’s work. The stereo imaging and depth of field create an ensemble lushness that soars and enraptures the listener. YoYo Ma’s playing - always extraordinary - is utterly captivating on this disc. It is rich, sonorous, and dramatic; ranging from aggressive almost percussive reedy sounding attacks to the gentlest of legato passages. His musician colleagues are equally compelling. The gut string guitar varies from warm and subtle expressions of gently plucked notes and harmonics to impressive scales and dramatic sonorous melodic passages. Occasionally the guitarist strikes the body of his instrument in various places creating diverse explosive percussion sounds that resonate like gun shots or the heel strikes of a Flamenco dancer. The piano reinforces the harmonic and rhythm structure of the works and frequently dramatically doubles the cello’s bass notes. The violin soars magnificently sometimes blending with the cello and sometimes standing out on its own in the mix. Finally, the bandoneon, perhaps the favorite instrument of the composer, acquires a hypnotic reedy quality that interweaves throughout the works lending melody, counterpoint, and emphatic rhythms like the hits played by a tight woodwind or sax section.
The recording is brilliant with the ensemble focused in a near-center cluster of instruments that overlap each other in the stereo image yet have slightly different places in the front-toback sound field. Aggressive but sophisticated use of multiple reverbs blend the sound in multiple directions creating a vibrant and hypnotic whole that takes the listener to a magical place. The IWISTAO/MARK HI-FI speakers project all of this acutely and make listening to “The Soul Of The Tango” an immensely rewarding experience.
Listening to “but beautiful” on the
IWISTAO/MARK HI-FI loudspeakers
Boz Scaggs, most thought of as a pop/R&B star in the eighties, has always demonstrated a flexible and adaptive musical talent. For some time he has focused on the jazz idiom and has become an impressive jazz vocalist in his own right. His exquisite CD “but beautiful” stole my heart the first time I listened to it and has remained a favorite ever since. It features him singing standards with a traditional jazz quartet of acoustic bass, drums, piano, and sax. All of the performances are breathtaking, and the recording quality is phenomenal in all respects. In particular the goal of this studio recording is to put the listener in a small live venue so that when you close your eyes you can hear the players so vividly you imagine you could almost reach out and touch them. The engineer and producer made an obvious decision to maintain the basic architecture of the mix throughout all selections so that the whole CD plays like an extended live concert. That mix strategy made this particular recording the ideal choice to complete my audition of the IWISTAO loudspeakers. It offers the chance to see how much of that sweet illusional live quality the speaker’s labyrinth return actually imparts to the sound.
All of the players on this recording are consummate masters. Every subtlety of each performance is revealed by these speakers: the finger noise of the bass strings being plucked, the breaths taken by the sax player, the subtle changes in brush strokes of the drummer, the multi-timbrel sound of the Turkish cymbals that resonate in growing waves, the exquisite chord substitutions and melodic counter melodies of the piano. These loudspeakers beautifully project all the instruments in the quartet as they co-mingle in a near perfect sonic tapestry.
The vocals are truly extraordinary. Boz
Skagg’s jazz singing reminds me a bit of Tony Bennet especially in his phrasing. His voice is not as gravelly as Mr. Bennet’s, though there is plenty of gravel when needed; but Skagg’s pitch is flawless (which I cannot say for Tony Bennet, much as I love his work). I know this because I was cursed from birth with absolute pitch and I know when someone is dead on perfect and when they aren’t. Boz is one of those artists who has that arrow in his quiver; but he also has wonderful emotional phrasing and interpretation which remains true to the melody and intent of the song at all times. As talented and successful as he was in the genres of pop and R&B I think that Mr. Skaggs has in some ways reached the apex of his musical gifts in his work as a jazz singer. I loved this CD before I auditioned it over the IWISTAO speakers; but they helped me to come to know the album better and to love it even more.
As to that illusional “live sound” quality inherent in labyrinth speakers, it is there in just the correct amount - which is a very slight and subtle. It contributes to the audible sheen of the speakers without interfering with their accuracy.
Returning to the LOTH-X AURA speakers for comparison
I must confess that this part of the audition truly surprised me. Re-listening to the Boz
Skaggs CD played over the LOTH-X speakers was a shock. They sounded woody and boxy by comparison. They lacked high end definition, the stereo image and depth of field were less distinct. They did seem to project more bottom end than the IWISTAO cabinets, but it seemed artificial and was most concentrated in the 150 - 200 Hz range.
The IWISTAO WHFSC-FR565WLC-6.5
Speaker cabinets loaded with MARK HI-FI 6.5” drivers are superb sound reproducers. They are hyper accurate, and very pleasing to listen to. The stereo imaging and depth of field are amazing especially for speakers in this price range. They are almost holographic in their sound projection. Because they are only available through direct purchase from the maker, the cost of the cabinets and the drivers are under $500.00 US. Because they come from China there is a delivery charge of $183.00 which is unfortunate but less than the retail mark up from an audio dealer.
One final comment which applies to the IWISTAO/MARK HI-FI speakers and other loudspeakers of similar size. They cannot be expected to reproduce frequencies below 50 Hz very noticeably. If that 20Hz - 50Hz range is important to you as a listener (and it is very important to me) I suggest coupling the speakers with a good subwoofer of at least 10” in diameter, and setting the low frequency shelf somewhere between 40Hz and 50Hz. I have done so with the IWISTAO loudspeakers and I am exceptionally pleased with the result. It adds that lower end punch from something like a kick drum that you feel through your stomach; and it does wonders to the growl of an acoustic bass. Again, this is not to distract from the performance of the speakers by themselves in any way; it is just a recommendation for those who enjoy the presence of the extreme lower end frequencies in their listening experience.
Below is the original JPG file from Dan Harrison