Wilson Benesch Trinity/Torus Loudspeaker System (Hi-Fi+)

Equipment report
Wilson-Benesch Torus Infrasonic Generator,
Wilson-Benesch Trinity
Wilson Benesch Trinity/Torus Loudspeaker System (Hi-Fi+)

A few issues ago I looked at (and was seriously impressed by) the Wilson Duette/Watchdog combination, a “double the price – more than double the performance” outgrowth from the original two-way stand-mounted design. Now comes the Wilson Benesch Trinity/Torus system, a threebox solution which, quite literally, extends the concept even further. But before getting into the specifics, let’s just pause for a second and clarify what it is we’re dealing with here.

Traditionally, sub/sat systems that combine a pair of small satellite speakers with a separate sub-woofer to augment their limited low-frequency output, have been sold on the basis of their lower domestic or visual impact when compared to conventional floorstanders of equivalent bandwidth. It’s a marketing strategy that’s been taken to ever-greater extremes by the A/V crowd, with the satellites decreasing in size as they increase in numbers, and “site anywhere” subs getting smaller too. Of course, any sub/sat set up enjoys the benefits of reduced size, but that’s not what drives systems like the Trinity/Torus combination. This is a pure performance based approach that seeks to outperform more conventional designs at similar (and in some cases much higher) prices, by exploiting the benefits that come with the separation of their cabinets. So, a speaker like the Trinity can be optimized for its specific frequency range, exploiting the stiffness of its small cabinet and the choice of materials that opens up. It can also be placed to best advantage, without having to take bass nodes or balance into account. The same is true of the low-frequencies, where separating them means that approaches that would be difficult or impossible to implement in a conventional floorstanding design become possible – certainly true in the case of the Torus. Then there’s the ability to optimize placement of the sub(s) as well as build the complete system in a series of bite-sized chunks rather than as a one-time capital purchase. This combination of practicality with the ability to functionally specialize each element is what gives these systems their potential performance edge – as long as the designer gets it right.

Time then to look at the specifics. I’ve dealt with the unique design of the Torus in the preceding interview with its designer Craig Milnes, so let’s concentrate on the Trinity. Essentially a small two-way design incorporating a hemispherical gold-plated ceramic super-tweeter it could easily be mistaken for the company’s similarly sized (but far more affordable) Arc. But the Trinity is a far more ambitious design, developed specifically in response to the performance gains offered by the Torus. As we have frequently observed (and demonstrated) whilst adding a subwoofer to almost any system will offer sonic advantages, to really exploit the benefits you need to extend the bandwidth at the opposite extreme as well, adding high and low-frequencies in balance. The sheer sonic quality of the Torus makes this even more apparent; hence the search for a satellite which could match the new sub-woofer for clarity and transparency as well as extension. So, whilst the Trinity is superficially similar to the Arc, it represents a far more sophisticated realization of that basic design concept.

Let’s start with the cabinet. This is a complex, composite structure created from a range of different materials. Mechanically speaking, the key elements are the side cheeks that flank the baffle. Profiled aluminium extrusions, their smooth exterior curve helps minimize diffractive effects, but internally they are shaped to lock the various cabinet elements together. They are joined at the front by a 4mm steel plate that engages firmly with their extruded grooves. This is joined with a visco-elastic peripheral gasket to a precision milled 10mm aluminium plate that forms the front of the baffle and allows the three drivers to be positioned as close together as possible. The side and rear walls are constructed as a single unit from Wilson- Benesch A.C.T (Advanced Composite Technology), a carbon/glass sandwich with a high compression core. The curved walls and concave rear create an incredibly stiff but well damped structure, while the top and base plates are constructed from Perspex bonded to steel sheets. Extrusions aside, all machining and the extremely sophisticated composite construction is carried out in-house, ensuring consistent tolerances and performance.

Having taken all that trouble to create a carefully controlled, nonresonant structure for the cabinet, it’s not surprising that the care and attention to detail extends to the fixing of the drivers. Rather than simply bolting them into place, which creates pressure points and thus resonant nodes within their structure, Wilson-Benesch employ steel/aluminium plates to clamp the drivers in place, helping to spread the fixing load more evenly. A composite coupler and U.D. carbon-fibre tube brace the rear of the bass/mid driver to the back of the cabinet, terminated by the large steel boss that carries the serial number and model designation. The dedicated stand bolts directly to the steel bass plate of the speaker, allowing the use of twin, downward firing reflex ports – something of a W-B trademark. The two-part aluminium column is inherently selfdamping and also houses the crossover, removing it from the mechanically hostile environment within the cabinet itself. The W-B designed bi-wiring terminals are located at the base of the pillar, and will accept 4mm plugs, spades or bare-wire. The stand is supported on three sharp steel spikes, the rear two being adjustable from above and lockable using substantial nuts below the thick steel base-plate. You even get a spanner to fit both these and the terminals.

Nor are the drivers familiar, offthe- shelf units drawn from the usual suspects. Key Wilson-Benesch design goals are wide-bandwidth and consistent phase response, which has led them to adopt directly connected midrange drivers, running full-range. The smooth mechanical roll-offs such an approach demands pretty much necessitate the creation of dedicated drivers and the Trinity’s bass-mid unit is a prime example. Dubbed the W.B.One (Wide Bandwidth One) this uses a woven polymer cone (based on Isotactic Polypropylene) and a vented motor assembly, all built in-house. The tweeter is the same modified Scanspeak unit used in all the other W-B speakers, retained because Craig Milnes feels that its performance advantages (especially when it comes to interfacing with the bass/mid driver with a simple, first-order crossover) outweigh those delivered by more recent, wider bandwidth designs. Instead, he employs the increasingly common Murata super tweeter, dubbed The Sphere in W-B parlance.

Put all this together and you have a conceptually simple speaker – electrically speaking it’s about as simple as it can be – but executed with extraordinary precision and the application of considerable materials technology. But what I find really interesting is the parallels that exist between the Trinity/Torus system, the Wilson set-up and another speaker that’s impressed me recently – the Reference 3A Grand Veena.

The Duette/Trinity comparison is fairly obvious: both are high-quality standmounts with dedicated supports and the option to add a sub-woofer (extending both their bandwidth and ambition). But despite clear differences in the design of those sub-woofers, both are used in conjunction with main speakers run full-range, their respective controllers simply rolling the low frequencies in underneath. Likewise, both encompass (even encourage) the use of a second sub-woofer for ultimate performance. But where the WatchDog is a passive design demanding the user to provide amplification (which does allow complete electronic continuity across the full bandwidth), the Torus controller has inbuilt amplification that can be run from high or low-level inputs. Both units benefit from placing their electronic elements external to the sub-woofer cabinet proper, and given the clear audible benefits of running the WatchDog with the same amp that drives the main speakers it would be nice if the Torus could offer the same facility – especially as the controller already incorporates a (currently unfiltered) low-level output.

Similarities between the Trinity/Torus system and the Grand Veena might be less obvious but if anything are even closer: Both systems employ a direct connected, in-house midrange driver; Each use a specifically modified version of the same Scan tweeter with a first-order crossover; Both employ a Murata super-tweeter and both add extra bass to the mix to extend the system bandwidth around the clarity of that filterless mid-band.

What’s more, all these speakers are astonishingly comfortable with even quite modest amplification, a factor that changes the budget balance considerably. Excellent with basic electronics, they flourish and grow with better source and amplification components, turning traditional notions of system priorities on their head.

Do I see a theme developing here? Certainly there’s an emerging appreciation of the importance of extended bandwidth coupled to good phase and dynamic coherence. Having said that, each of these speakers is also quite distinctive, and the Trinity/Torus system is no exception. Run both as a 2.0 and a 2.1 set-up, they were used with a variety of electronics, including VAS and Emille valve amps, the Belles MB200 monoblocs, Hovland RADIA and also an Audionet Amp V, a five-channel unit supplied (and distributed) by Wilson-Benesch, allowing me to bi-amp the Trinities to great effect. Although the intrinsic adjustability of the Torus means that it has the same go-anywhere versatility that has made the Landrover a worldwide success, in practice it performs best placed between the speakers and with its “hub” the same distance from the listening position, significantly easing integration. In my dedicated listening space (dedicated in the sense that hi-fi sensibilities trump all others) that presented no problem. In less forgiving environments a less obtrusive placement is possible, while using paired subs would certainly open the possibility of less symmetrical arrangements configured to exploit the room modes. With the sub between the speakers, set-up is extremely simple; the further it (or they) strays from that position, the harder you are going to have to work. In that respect the Torus can’t rewrite the laws of subphysics – performance will be defined by the quality of the set up and integration.

Faced with any sub-woofer it’s awfully tempting to reach for the biggest, baddest discs you possess. But in fact, if you really want to understand what it is that subs bring to the musical party then what you really need is small-scale works, just a voice and a few acoustic instruments. Conversely, for a small speaker to work effectively it has to possess sufficient weight and scale to satisfy with larger works, and if the Trinity is to serve as an effective steppingstone to a full three or four box speaker system, then that’s where we need to start.

Playing everything from Elgar to Rimsky-Korsakov, the Trinities faired surprisingly well on even the most bombastic works. Even the explosive pyrotechnics of the shipwreck from the Reiner Scheherezade were delivered with an enthusiasm that belies the size of the tiny cabinets, clarity, speed and positional precision off-setting the lack of real low-frequency power, the sheer speed of the dynamic response making up for a lack of genuine heft. Of course, the results depend on the matching amplifier, as with any small speaker, and here the benefits of bi-amping the Trinities with the modestly priced Audionet really came into their own, maximizing the crisp dynamics and surprising sense of substance, making this an astonishingly cost effective combination. Indeed, the extending, grumbling bass passage that opens the Gorecki 3rd Symphony showed a measured sense of swelling power, of even ebb and flow that escapes many a larger speaker, while the immediacy of a small-scale track like Bill Malonee’s "Solar System" has a tactile intimacy and lucid clarity that talks straight to the listener. Nonetheless, moving up to the RADIA or Belles mono-blocs produced a greater sense of foundation and richer tonal balance, a deeper, more woody tone from the bowed basses in the Gorecki, more chest from Bill, a more emphatic thwack from the snare – at a not inconsiderable increase in price, it has to be said.

Even so, the volume and dimensionality that these amps bring to images, the warmth and easy pace they deliver, really brings a track like "Solar System" right into the room. Malonee’s guitar becomes a living, vibrant thing, its harmonic signature comprised of so much more than just the strings, while the space around and behind him goes a long way to conjuring a believable sense of presence (and not a little personality). As stepping stones go, the Audionet provides a pretty firm footing, but with a speaker that possesses the lucid clarity and resolution, the poise and precision of the Trinity, the added scale and more sophisticated tonality delivered by bigger amps is readily apparent, actually making the satellites an even more credible standalone option. So, perhaps you don’t need a Torus at all? Spend the money on a bigger, better amp and you’ll be laughing? Errr… not exactly; in fact, not even close…

performance commanding your attention, gripping you deep inside. Yes, you get more bass – but it’s what the system does with it (or what it allows the system to do) that’s more important than the simply presence of quantity.

Which brings us naturally to the question of quality. The Torus goes very, very deep – especially for a unit that’s so compact (I’m not sure any sub can really claim the label “elegant” but the Wilson Benesch gets way closer than most) but what’s really impressive is the transparency, harmonic detail and texture of the notes it produces. The familiar, deep, pellucid drops of the bass riff that opens the Cure’s magnum opus Faith, have a shape and attack that I’ve heard only rarely indeed, and then from speaker systems at many times the price of the Trinity and Torus. And I include the Trinity advisedly; when so much of the melody is both carried and driven by the bass guitar, pitch and placement of the notes becomes super critical, a quality that comes from the top-end extension provided by the sphere, as well as the phase coherence of the system as a whole. Faith can be sluggish, even turgid on way too many systems, yet there’s no ignoring the driving urgency and frenetic insistence of a track like "Primary" – just so long as you get the bass right. Here, those rapid, chopped chords, played low on the neck have a tangible solidity and purpose, propelling the track to its inevitable, off-beat, off-key, off-kilter finale. At no point across the album do proceeds lag. The space that envelops "Other Voices", the multi-textured layers of "Faith" itself, the craft that’s gone into Mike Hedges’ production, all are effortlessly unraveled, to the benefit of these tight and carefully woven songs. Just listen to the spatial array created by the drum pattern that opens "All Cats Are Grey" and you’ll hear exactly what I mean. Even in their richer, warmer, more expansive mode with the bigger amps, adding the Torus to the mix produces a far from subtle increase in quality and performance. For the first minute of the Bill Malonee track there are no bass fundamentals to speak of, just acoustic guitar, voice and snare. Yet, adding the Torus transforms the timing and integration of the instruments. The picked melody is more fluid, quicker and more sinuous, the snare more snappy and insistent, the space around the instruments much more apparent, with walls and a floor. Suddenly the music takes on a feeling of underlying urgency that dovetails perfectly with the lyrics. Now, anybody who has played with subs before should be far from surprised by this – at least if they got a sub to work properly. Time and again people expect a sub to add more whereas what it actually does is deliver more, a nice but crucial difference. So, if we look at the Bill Malonee track, what we’re hearing from the increased bandwidth is a greater sense of spatial and temporal accuracy; things are happening when and where they should. Actually, to some extent they always were, it’s just that now you can hear that much more clearly. So yes, when you play that long, meandering opening passage from the Gorecki you’ll hear more weight and texture from the basses, the floor and walls of the auditorium, but it’s the added sense of shape, direction and purpose that’s more important, the dark, brooding tension that hangs behind the music. Without it the opening bars quickly drag, the attention wanders, the music meanders… Add the sub and you’ll be riveted to your seat, the brooding menace of the I’ve always been aware of it, always loved its ability to catch the attention. What I’ve never been aware of before is the way it evolves throughout this haunting track – a bit like hearing McCoy Tyner’s piano artistry emerging from "My Favorite Things" for the first time, something the Trinity and Torus also unravel with consummate ease (and thanks DDD, the mono pressing is fantastic!).

Moving to the other end of the scale and that storm sequence from Scheherezade, the Torus adds scale, foundation but most importantly of all, a feeling of majestic inevitability to proceedings. There’s that same ease, but this time hitched to a feeling of unbridled power; you can almost picture the sea smashing against the huge rock, creating a dramatic picture and an equally dramatic contrast with the delicacy and tranquility of the closing violin part.

It’s hard to review a sub-woofer based system without discussing even focusing on the bass, but that’s not really the point. What a system like the Torus and Trinity deliver is balance, seamless extension at both frequency extremes that embraces and enhances the midband, creating a coherent whole that makes greater sense of the musical performance – and gives greater access to it. There’s a clarity and poise to the musical proceedings that makes the structure – the notes, the phrases, the parts – easier to hear, easier to slot together. It’s easier to hear the contribution of each player, easier to separate each voice and instrument. All of which is nice to have, I’m sure you’ll agree – especially when you consider the jumbled and confused tumble of sound that most hi-fi systems generate when compared to live music. But the easiest thing of all with the Trinity and Torus, is understanding the intent behind the music and why whoever wrote it bothered in the first place. The vivid, almost pictorial impressions created by Scheherezade are no accident. Nor are the stark drama and contrast created by the alchemy of Beethoven and Heifetz as the latter blazes through the Kreutzer sonata, his pauses and stately grace in the slower passages bringing a subterranean tension as he coils himself for the next blindingly fast flight, his trajectory marked by the spray of notes scattered in his wake. The solid, funky, dirty groove of ‘Las Cuevas De Mario’ leave you in no doubt that eggs is definitely eggs, while the monochromatic angst of Robert Smith’s vocal transports you back to the depressed and decaying terrain of early 80’s Britain and the Thatcher years; ‘Tramp The Earth Down’ indeed.

Music works on many levels: the emotional, the spiritual, the intellectual, the facile. It matters not why we listen, the Tourists enjoying exactly the same status as Telemann or Tchaikovsky. What matters is that we receive the message we seek, the reward within. We might want Marco Pierre White, we might want classic Roux brothers cuisine – or we might want candy-floss; sometimes all we want is a bit of fluff. And my point is? A wide bandwidth, phase coherent, high-resolution and dynamically coherent system should be able to deliver without fear or favour. The Trinity/Torus set-up does exactly that. It’s a select group of speakers that provide such access, such musical credibility and do so with so little residual character. Like the Duette and WatchDog the Wilson- Benesch combination gives up ultimate transparency and textural resolution to the biggest and best. But at the price being asked that’s a trifling concern which need only bother those with a burning need to drop another 20 or 30 grand – and that’s just on the speakers. Because in some ways the best thing about the Trinity and Torus isn’t how good they sound with the best possible ancillaries (and they are well worthy of the best); no, the best thing about them is just how well they work in isolation, how willingly they work with amps that shouldn’t really be allowed anywhere near speakers of this quality. This is one sub/sat system that really does deliver on the promise, both in terms of superb sonic results and bite-sized financial practicality. Full-range, effortlessly engaging, addictively entertaining, musically sophisticated, unflappably capable but still prepared to let its hair down, at around £13K plus an amp the Wilson-Benesch Trinity and Torus have set the bar awfully high for speaker systems confined to just a pair of boxes. Forget domestic acceptability, these are speakers you buy for their performance – everything else is just icing on the cake