There is no easy way to describe resolving power in words. Picking a given recording can help a bit, but I have learned the hard way that the use of reference recordings is only a preliminary step that cannot replace prolonged listening to a very wide range of music. It’s also essential to experiment with speaker and listening position (and adjustments), different reference components and cables, and different media.
So let me begin by describing one key aspect of that listening process. Like most audiophiles, I have been experimenting with various forms of “high-resolution” recordings. By and large, I have not been happy with the sonic results. There are recordings where high-resolution samples really matter, such as the newer high-resolution recordings from Reference Recording. In practice, however, one needs to clearly separate the hype from the actual results. In case after case, paying for higher resolution in bits and frequency—or DSD—doesn’t do anything to seriously improve the sound of older recordings, or to compensate for close-miking or studio re-engineering of the mastertape (and the difference in sound is often more the product of re-mastering than of true higher resolution).
Like a few competing state-of-the-art designs, a properly set-up pair of Hailey 1.2s has the sheer resolving power to make this only too clear. You can’t psych yourself into believing the hype if you can clearly hear the level of improvement or non-improvement in every aspect of recording quality at every frequency, regardless of the complexity of the music and musical dynamics. You also get a little underwhelmed with paying for higher bit- and frequency-rates when a classic RCA Red Seal from the 1960s sounds more musically natural in a three-channel SACD, and other older recordings that have not been remastered or overproduced are more enjoyable to listen to.
At the same time, I have heard speakers whose resolving power often results from excess energy in the upper midrange, or some other shift in sound quality, which ends up generating listening fatigue, forcing you to tailor your choice of recordings to what sounds good on that particular speaker.
Happily, the Hailey 1.2s does not do these things. It shows that true resolving power is inherently musical, unless there really is something wrong with the recording. Even though I could hear colorations on discs more clearly—and the results of close-miking and excess upper-midrange boost, as well—the Hailey 1.2s delivers the kind of musicality that makes listening a pleasure.
This speaker’s wide soundstage, its ability to present imaging that is as natural as the recording permits, and its reproduction of the mastertape’s original depth level are all truly outstanding. Each of these virtues became apparent on recording after recording, and one interesting conclusion I reached was that many older discs sounded better—regardless of bit- or frequency-rate.
The Hailey 1.2 reproduces excellent detail and microdynamics at every frequency. When writing a review, I normally work my way through performances with different types of voice, instruments, complexity, and types of music. For this review, I was unable to do this because, in certain cases, I simply couldn’t find a coloration in the speaker that was greater than that of a given recording or of the cartridge or DAC I chose.
Like the Wilson Alexias and Legacy Aeries I use as references, the Hailey 1.2s are speakers for all music. Although my own prejudices have led me to believe that musical composition has steadily degraded ever since Limenius, and anything written since Josquin De Prez is musically questionable, I do listen to modern avant-garde composers like Bach, and even to jazz, rock, and country. Even after several months of exploring my collection, I was still impressed by the Hailey’s neutrality, transparency, and sheer musicality. And I can pretty well assure you that if you get the chance to audition the Hailey 1.2s with your favorite recordings you are going to have the same experience.
If I have any caveats about the Hailey’s performance, and I have had to push to find something to criticize, they are largely personal. First, I’d like a slightly warmer overall timbre and more deep bass energy. There is no meaningful definition of flat in a speaker, and transducers with the same measurement claims can sound significantly different in timbral nuances. Moreover, with speakers as good as the Hailey 1.2s, preference becomes a matter of your own taste, and not some aspect of the absolute sound. My own taste is for a speaker that is just slightly warmer, and since I can find so little else to critique, let me suggest that this is an area you might want to check if you audition the speaker.
Second, I’d like more energy and dynamic life in the deepest bass. The Hailey 1.2s do very well even with the deepest organ, bass guitar, and synthesizer notes. They also measure well with a wide range of bass test tones in my room, going well down into the low 30Hz region, with output into the 20Hz region. But, they don’t have that “subwoofer” level of deep bass energy that a number of other reference-quality speakers now provide.