Legacy Audio Valor Loudspeaker and Wavelet 2 DSP Processor
- by Anthony Cordesman
- Feb 17th, 2022
One of the pleasures of being an audio reviewer is that you sometimes get to audition equipment you cannot afford that sets a new reference standard. The Legacy Valor is a case in point. It is a superb new loudspeaker system that mixes a truly innovative speaker design and dedicated electronics to achieve one of the best-sounding systems I’ve ever heard. I’ve had several months in which to audition it, and if I could afford $86,000 to buy it, I would.
One of the problems in being an audio reviewer, however, is that manufacturers have a habit of asking for their review samples back. The result is normally that reviewers end up, like every other high-end audiophile, being exposed to equipment they love but can’t afford to keep, and where writing a review of such a product—like reading one—can become a remarkably frustrating experience.
The Valor, however, is something of any exception and one where reading such a review both helps flag a listening experience that is worth having, even if you can’t afford the equipment involved. The Valor may cost $86,000, but its strengths are as much a result of its electronics as the actual speaker.
Legacy offers two far more affordable options that include the same Wavelet II outboard electronics—the Legacy V System for $55,000 and the Legacy Aeris for $27,500. Moreover, the Wavelet II is an entirely separate electronic unit that is available for $7950 and can be used as a digital processor and preamp with virtually any speaker system that has sufficient dynamic and frequency range, and it does as much to solve the speaker/listening-room interface problem as any mix of passive and active devices I’ve ever heard. It is scarcely inexpensive, but only moderately priced by high-end standards and offers very good sound quality. I know; I use the Legacy Aeris (reviewed Issue 288) as one of my references.
In short, if you can afford the best, the Valor is a very real option. If, like some 95% of readers, you can’t, you can still plunge into this review without feeling compelled to write Robert Harley yet another letter complaining about a review of unaffordable equipment. In fact, my only warning is that if you feel about anything digital the way all too many potential users feel about Covid vaccines, you’ll have to risk entering the 21st Century. Probably not a set of options for someone who still keeps a horse and carriage and powers his sound system with steam.
The Valor Loudspeaker System
Let me begin by describing the Valor speaker system. The photo in this review is a bit misleading, It is a superbly built speaker system that is physically large, but not room dominating—a virtue in itself for those who like to demonstrate and live with their sound system. It measures 67″ high by 16.25″ wide and 18″ deep. A statement, but not an in-room elephant. That, however, is about all that is “normal” about the speaker enclosure.
Each box weighs 288 pounds, and houses an eight-driver, four-way system, plus a three-driver ambient array. You really have to read through the manufacturer’s website and operating manual to get a full technical understanding of its design. However, it has dual 12″ subwoofers with aluminum diaphragms and 480-ounce magnetic motors, dual 12″ passive radiators with 2″ of travel, dual 14″ carbon/pulp bass speakers in a super-cardioid array, a similar 14″ mid/woofer, a 1.5″ dual-coaxial, titanium/polyester midrange with a precision waveguide, and dual 4″ tweeters mounted in a post-convergent array.
The complex placement of drivers is partly clear from the photo of the front of the Valor. It is designed to establish a proper balance of direct sound to diffuse sound via the directivity-controlled front-firing array of drivers and the top-rear and side-firing ambience array. Even though treated listening rooms vary greatly in their ability to support desirable late ambient reflections, the Wavelet II recovers ambience and provides master control of the direct-to-ambient ratio.
Symmetric placement of the lower-midrange/midbass drivers and the concentric titanium midrange avoids tonal shifts off-axis, while the dual cross-fired AMT tweeters provide uniform treble coverage, even at extreme side positions. This is accomplished by trading off intensity. The outermost tweeters are directed inward, and the innermost tweeters are directly outwards with output coinciding just in front of the speaker. With a gentle toe-in of the Valor pair, the near speaker does not dominate as the listener moves to one side, as is typical of other speakers. The listener still experiences appropriate level from the far speaker, thus maintaining a stable soundstage.
The Valor also is an active speaker except for the higher frequencies, where a 60-watt or greater external amplifier is recommended. There is a separate one-kilowatt internal amplifier for the subwoofer, a 750-watt amplifier for the bass, a 500-watt amplifier for the midrange, and another 500-watt amplifier for the ambient array. You only need a speaker cable for the upper range. There is one XLR input from the Wavelet 2 for the subwoofer, another for the bass, a third XLR input for “stereo unfold.”
Legacy states that the stereo unfold signal to this input from the Wavelet 2 separates the diffuse energy of each stereo channel and restores it to the natural level and time relationship within your particular listening room, while early reflections that cloud spatial information are minimized. This is made possible by first reducing the masking effect the listening room has on the actual recording environment by applying Bohmer Room Correction, which realigns acoustic arrivals to the listeners. The stereo unfold technology then examines the direct energy to be articulated more clearly and the directional vectors to be analyzed by the brain as matrixed in the left/right arrivals.
Legacy also states that the Bohmer Correction provided by the Wavelet II goes far beyond frequency correction. It provides a loudspeaker in-room energy/time alignment that optimizes the loudspeaker/room acoustic transfer function in both the frequency and the time domains.
It is set up using a calibrated microphone and uses “revolutionary” new algorithms, along with a psychoacoustically based measurement method. Alignment errors are then optimized individually, rather than via common, crude correction over the entire frequency spectrum. The algorithms use psychoacoustic reasoning for alignment and correction of the loudspeaker/room transfer function. Alignment errors are then optimized individually. “The correction improves sound quality in the whole room, provides improved transient response, clarity, and soundstaging, and gives a relaxed sound without rough edges or any booming.”
If this sounds a bit much, let me note two things. I did say to go to Legacy’s website for a full technical explanation and to read the downloadable instruction manual, particularly from page 46 on. Second, Legacy has a long history of making profession sound equipment for concert halls and outdoor venues, and Bohmer is one of the world’s leading firms in developing digital room correction. The Bohmer website is also well worth reading, especially the section at bohmeraudio.nl/bohmer-room-correction. This description isn’t hype; it’s based on solid acoustic science and engineering.
The Wavelet II
As for the other roles of the Wavelet II, it is a lot more than a DAC and preamp, and is a major upgrade from the original Wavelet. The Wavelet II hosts a powerful, 64-bit digital-signal-processing engine, which affords 256 times the dynamic resolution and at a sampling rate of 192kHz, twice the frequency of the 56-bit/96kHz Wavelet original. An internal Raspberry Pi4 computer handles the communications for the Wavelet II and hosts the remote interface for your mobile device or computer.
The Wavelet II provides communications with the Bohmer server in Sweden, where a powerful math coprocessor performs thousands of iterative calculations, using least-squares regression to optimize time-based corrections. Unlike other room-correction methods, the Bohmer software samples the frequency continuum over a 50ms decay window from 10Hz to 30kHz. This is accomplished on the path to the listener at a position 48″ in front of the speaker. Measurement-signal files, the microphone-calibration file, and coefficients for the correction algorithm are all hosted in the Wavelet II’s onboard computer.
The new Wavelet 2 processor supports up to 384kHz/24-bit files with the standard plug-and-play default driver. A custom XMOS driver is available for download from Legacy Audio to enable 384kHz/32-bit playback. The Wavelet II can be configured at the factory for any of the Legacy speakers using its custom Sycon software. This allows individual driver correction, multichannel crossovers, and time alignment.
The Wavelet 2 features a convenient, single-page dashboard control, which enables the user to select the source, adjust volume, contour the tonal balance of a recording, and enable the room correction, apodizing filters, and other features. These features can be toggled on/off individually or collectively with the bypass button for comparison.
I should note that if you buy the Valor, Legacy will send instal-lers who will tweak it to provide the best possible performance in a given room, as well as to your taste. At the same time, the Wavelet 2 also has additional features that give you an extraordinary ability to tweak the sound on your own, although I would suggest that once the Legacy installers who set up the Valor have adjusted the speaker, you begin with tiny adjustments and save your adjustments in the separate memories provide by the Wavelet II.
There is a switchable Omnio technology that improves channel separation and restores the directional vector relationship to depth and position cues. In addition, you can use a well-designed web remote control that provides gain, balance, and input switching, and an off/on setting for room control, automated setup, and fine-tuning of frequency response via minimum phase filters over six frequency bands.
You can adjust the speaker’s tonal contour and save different adjustments for different types of recordings using six different controls. The top plateau of each such filter is listed below along with its impact. The turnover (hinge) frequency for these adjustments is an octave below for treble contours and an octave above for bass. Except for the Punch contour, each is a gentle, shelf-type, minimum-phase adjustment:
•Brilliance: controls the “air” and definition of a recording above 10kHz.
•Low-Treble: adjusts the brightness or forwardness above 3kHz.
•Upper-Bass: adjusts the fullness or bloom of vocals, cello, etc. below 300Hz.
•Mid-Bass: determines the apparent speed of decay of bass frequencies. Reducing will tighten; slight boosts will warm below 150Hz.
•Low-Bass: adjusts the overall weight or heaviness below 75Hz.
•Punch: controls the drive or impact felt from the rhythm at 55Hz.
Legacy suggests that you try a boost of +2.5dB in the brilliance, a low treble setting of –0.5dB, a low-bass setting of +2dB with the punch slider set at +2.5dB. Now, adjust midbass by ear until it seems most natural without excessive thickness. It also suggests that if you want a tube-like warmth, manually increase the output on channels 2 and 6 by 1.2dB, and then trim the brilliance contour to –1.0dB. Fine-tune the depth by adjusting the low-treble contour. (I know I shouldn’t put the second suggestion down in writing—not because there isn’t a lot of superb tube equipment, but because some tube audiophiles still insist they can’t tolerate solid-state sound. As far as I’m concerned, audio extremists who insist all audiophiles must live in a musical vacuum deserve a little teasing.)
As for more affordable Legacy speakers, or using the Wavelet II with a non-Legacy speaker, Legacy offers the Wavelet II with a generic configuration for other brands of speakers. Custom frequencies may be specified by customer at $200 programming cost.
I would not bother with all this technical detail if this was not one of the best speaker systems I’ve heard, and one that, despite its high price, outperforms some far more expensive systems. I also wouldn’t bother if I did not hear so many of the Valor’s improvements in sound quality when I listen to the much cheaper combination of Wavelet II and the Aeris.
This is a truly great speaker system. The Wavelet II is a major advance over the first Wavelet, and the resulting combination of new technologies makes enough advancements that I would suggest you audition the Valor simply to help you redefine the state of the art, and—if no dealer is nearby with the Valor—audition the Legacy V or Aeris to hear what the Wavelet II can do in a less advanced Legacy speaker or in your own speaker system.
To begin by focusing on the Valor, it demonstrates all too clearly the effect of removing the limitations in low-frequency response and dynamic range of conventional speakers. Like the top-line Wilson and Magico speakers, you hear a new level of dynamic detail and contrasts, regardless of whether the music is rock, organ, synthesizer, bass guitar, or massive symphonic works like Saint Saëns’ Third Symphony or Mahler’s Eighth.
I found it interesting that Bill Dudleston of Legacy, the designer who led the Valor project, actually suggested a wide range of music to use in evaluating it. I’ve attached the list below, and it’s something I wish more manufacturers would do. TAS has its own list of great recordings and I have my own, but every suggestion helps, and I have to admit the Legacy suggestion were good ones and did help make Legacy’s points.
• Carmina Burana: “O Fortuna”/Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra, New England Conservatory Chorus (1972)
•“Bill Bailey (Won’t You Please Come Home)”/Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Songs of New Orleans (2005)
•“The Midnight Sun Will Never Set”/ The Eric Alexander Quartet, Jazz Dictionary (2017)
•“Bring Me A Li’l Water Silvy”/Wailin’ Jennys, Live at The Mauch Chunk Opera House (2009)
•“I Got A Woman”/Ray Charles, Live At L’olympia (2010)
•“Every Breath You Take”/The Police, Synchronicity (1983)
•“One For My Baby”/Lou Reed and Rob Wasserman, Duets (1988)
•Carnival Of the Animals, “Le Cygne”/Stockholm Chamber Duo
•“Orus Seco”/Martha Galarraga And D. Rodriguez Morales, De La Anteria A La Rumba (2004)
•“Quarter Chicken Dark”/Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, The Goat Rodeo Sessions (2012)
•“When I Fall In Love”/ Keith Jarrett, At The Blue Note (1995)
I did, however, rely largely on my own reference recordings, and they made it clear that this is a speaker system that ensures truly terrific bass performance in virtually every decent-to-good listening room. This is not simply a matter of being able to reproduce a powerful output at the lowest possible frequencies of music, although listening to the Valor’s extension into the deep bass reminded me of my first experience with the Infinity IRS subwoofers at Harry Pearson’s home more years ago than I care to remember. The fact that the Valor and Wavelet II can create something approaching a flat bass response in an ordinary listening room has far more important musical effects.
If anything, there is less total bass energy because you are not listening to key room resonances and room/speaker interactions. Instead, the bass detail and dynamics are much better defined. The Legacy installers spent a considerable amount of time placing the Valors for me in the best location for both soundstaging and bass response, and the end result was that I heard far more of what I would expect to hear in a large concert hall. I heard even more after I went through my listening room yet again while sweeping the low bass with a test disc at a high volume, and removing or altering any items and damping any surfaces that still vibrated to the degree I could.
The inevitable trade-off between bass performance, soundstage, and performance in the rest of the frequency spectrum were also smaller, particularly as sound levels rose. The transitions to the upper bass and then the lower midrange were smoother and better articulated and this improved strings like the cello and bass, bass guitar, percussion, and even some aspects of the lower notes in larger brass instruments. In at least a few cases, it also seemed to improve deeper male voices.
If you want to impress your friends, you can do so by demonstrating bass drum strikes on the Reference Recordings version of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man [Reference Recordings RRT-93CD]. However, any truly demanding recording of bass guitar will do as well, along with recordings of electronic music that push bass to the limits. The Valor emerges as far more coherent and focused in integrating the deep bass and the rest of the music than most of the top-priced speakers I’ve heard that rely on large, separate subwoofers.
As for organ-music buffs, well, this really is a speaker you need to hear. I won’t pick one recording of Bach organ music over another, but the Valor’s performance is consistently as good as any speaker I’ve ever heard and typically better. The same is true of its ability to cope with complex mixes of organ and orchestra like Saint Saëns’ Third Symphony in C Minor. If anything, some high-energy organ recordings seem to indicate they have been dialed back at least a bit on deep bass energy to work better with most home systems.
Equally important, the Valor provided some of the most natural overall dynamic contrasts at every listening level that I’ve ever heard. It also did so from the lowest and subtlest musical passage up to the highest. It was clear from the start that the combination of the Valor, the Wavelet II frequency correction from the deep bass to treble frequencies beyond audibility, and the Bohmer processing did a truly exceptional job of tying the music together in a natural and realistic way.
I can’t tell you how much of this improvement came from the Valor/Wavelet II’s frequency correction, and how much came from the Bohmer processing, but the timbre and subtler musical details were about as natural with really good live and naturally balanced musical recordings as I’ve ever heard. The only warning I’d give you is that the problems in the excessive upper-midrange energy of all too many microphones used over the years will be revealed rather than corrected. If it is on the recording, that’s the sound the Valor/Wavelet II will reproduce. You can partially correct the impact of such microphones and close miking with the wrong mic by adjusting the filters on the Wavelet II, but the fact remains that microphone limits are often far more audible than any of the limits in frequency and bit-rates in digital recordings or the technical limits in analog recordings.
As for soundstaging, a properly set up Valor/Wavelet II system can be almost embarrassingly good, especially when the recording has captured some degree of depth, as well as left-to-right detail and energy levels. I should, however, begin with a caveat. Once again, the Valor and the Wavelet 2 can only be as good as the sound on the recording. If the mics weren’t properly placed, you will hear that more clearly.
What will be much more common, however, will be problems where someone layered recordings to create a “wall of sound,” or created or assembled an artificial performance out of bits and pieces, or tweaked a poor master recording. Music for a sow’s ear will still be music for a sow’s ear, and not music for a silk purse. Artificially exaggerated applause and audience sounds in live performances won’t be any more natural, although they won’t be worse. (Is there really a group of listeners with loud coughs that insist on traveling from every live performance to every other live performance?)
In any case, what will count for any audiophile is that really good, musically natural recordings will tell a very different story. Here, the Bohmer process does live up to its technical hype. You get more detail and natural sound, and better ability to locate given instruments and voices in place, regardless of whether it is a solo instrument, a large complex orchestral performance, or mixes of instruments and voice.
You get from this system more authentic musical sound with natural piano and guitar recordings. Two very different cello recordings illustrate its strengths—try Zuill Bailey Bach Cello Suites [Octave Records 0008], and Michael Kanka and Ivan Klansky Brahms Two Cello Sonatas [Praga 250/214]. The same is true of virtually any solo voice or small vocal group recording that is natural, rather than tweaked. The same, incidentally, is true of natural choral music. (For a really innovative choral performance, try the Capella Romana recording of Hymns of Kassini [Capella 442], which includes the first music known to have been written by a female composer. On pop, jazz, folk, show, rock, country, blues, or classical, the Valor/Wavelet 2 does a great job with voice.
You get more natural detail out of almost any older recording from the days before it became technically easy to overproduce and modify a recording, and the same is true of many more recent recordings. A good example is the complex mix of jazz music with deep bass on Bruce Dunlap’s About Home [Chesky JD-59]. Other examples include the cleanest Modern Jazz Quartet and DMP jazz recordings, and the exaggerated musical detail and audience sounds in Jazz at the Pawnshop.
At the same time, the Valor makes it well worth seeking out the steadily expanding range of SACD/DVD stereo recordings, and their streaming versions, by smaller firms that use a natural soundstage like AIX, Bis, Channel Classics, Et’Cetera, Harmonia Mundi, Octave, Pentatone, PS Audio, Reference Recordings, RCA, and 2L. (The PS Audio disc versions of One in the Son-Mas Mater Series that have SACD, DSD, and PCM versions is a particularly interesting set of different popular performances to play with. For those TAS readers who are truly adventurous, and are looking for esoteric, high-end, analog LPs to try, Take On US: Pyongyang Gold Stars Play Great Popular Hits, Volume I [WTS 082] is available at Amazon.com, and is as good an example of the North Korean high end as any North Korean record I have ever auditioned.)
I’d also suggest re-listening to a favorite opera recording, and to a complex musical experience like the full-blown versions of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand (Eighth Symphony), or a really clean recording of Beethoven’s Ninth. Like Saint Saëns’ Third Symphony in C Minor they may have more music than any normal listening room can convincingly hold, but the Valor/Wavelet II combination gets you as close to reality as any speaker I’ve ever heard.
The Legacy Valor with the Wavelet II processor is one of the few pieces of high-end equipment so good and so innovative that you almost have to seek out an opportunity to hear it demonstrated. If the Valor is beyond your budget, remember that you can get many of its merits with the less expensive Legacy V and Aeris, or by using the Wavelet II with your existing speaker.
Specs & Pricing
System type: Eight-driver, four-way system with specialized three-driver ambient array
Drivers: Tweeter, dual 4″ AMT bridge-mounted in post convergent array; midrange, 1.5″ coaxial, titanium/polyester diaphragm, precision waveguide; mid/woofer, 14″ carbon/pulp curvilinear cone, neo motor, dipolar; bass, dual 14″ carbon/pulp curvilinear cone, neo motor in super cardioid array: subwoofer, dual 12″ aluminum diaphragms, 480 oz. motors, cast frame, 3″ dual four-layer voice coils; passive radiator, dual 12″ patented, symmetrically loaded, with 2″ travel
Inputs: One pair binding posts for upper range, two XLR balanced for subwoofer and midbass, one XLR for stereo unfold’s ambient array
Internal amplification: Subs,1kW; bass, 750W; midrange, 500W; ambient array
Recommended amplification: One external channel of 60 watts or greater required for high frequencies
Frequency response: 12Hz–30kHz (±2dB)
Impedance: 4 ohms
Sensitivity: 100.5dB (2.83V@1m)
Crossover frequencies: 65Hz, 800Hz, 6kHz
Dimensions: 16.25″ x 67″ x 18″ (cabinet); 20.75″ x 1.5″ x 20.75″ (base)
Weight: 288 lbs. each
Wavelet II Preamplifier/DAC/Crossover/Room Correction Processor
Analog inputs: Two pairs of stereo balanced inputs on XLR connectors; two pairs of stereo unbalanced inputs on RCA connectors; one XLR measurement-microphone input
Digital inputs: Asynchronous USB audio (32-bit/44.1–384kHz); AES/EBU and SPDIF (24-bit/192Hz); TosLink (24-bit/96kHz)
Outputs: 8 balanced XLR; 8 unbalanced RCA connectors;
Communication: Ethernet; TP-Cable; WLAN
Dimensions: 17.52″ x 3.74″ x 11.85″
Weight: 13.5 lbs.
3023 E. Sangamon Ave.
Springfield, IL 62702
Tags: FLOORSTANDING LOUDSPEAKER
By Anthony Cordesman
I've been reviewing audio components since some long talks with HP back in the early 1980s. My first experiences with the high end came in the 1950s at the University of Chicago, where I earned part of my tuition selling gear for Allied Radio and a local high-end audio dealer, and worked on sound systems for local night clubs, the Court Theater, and the university radio station. My professional life has been in national security, but I've never lost touch with the high end and have lived as a student and diplomat in Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, NATO, Asia, Iran and the Middle East and Asia. I've been lucky enough to live in places where opera, orchestras, and live chamber and jazz performances were common and cheap, and to encounter a wide range of different venues, approaches to performing, and national variations in high-end audio gear. I currently hold the Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and my open source analyses are available at that web site. What I look for in reviewing is the ability to provide a musically real experience at a given price point in a real-world listening room, and the ability to reveal the overall balance of musical sound qualities that I know are on a given recording. Where possible, I try to listen on a variety of systems as well as my own reference system.More articles from this editor
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