The YG Acoustics Hailey 1.2 can be summed up in two words: precision and performance. It is another successful assault on the state of the art in speaker design and manufacture, and one of the most revealing speakers approximating a point source I’ve ever heard. Its outside appearance may make it look like a relatively conventional three-way cone design: It’s housed in an understated “form-follows-function” cabinet. In practice, however, there is nothing conventional about its components and cabinet, and nothing conventional about its sound quality and truly outstanding resolving power.
Let me get the one piece of bad news about the Hailey 1.2 out of the way early on. It costs $42,800 a pair. While there are some great speakers at the entry level such as the Golden Ear Triton One, true state-of-the-art performance still costs a pretty penny. The Hailey’s cabinet and its drivers and component parts involve some of the most expensive tooling and manufacturing in the business—YG notes that manufacturing a pair of Hailey 1.2s requires 61 hours of in-house computer numerical control (CNC) milling/machining, and involves some 1640 parts per pair, with critical tolerances tighter than one thousandth of an inch (20 microns). Moreover, the design is the product of a long, costly development process that has to be paid for over time.
The Hailey 1.2 may have the look of a smaller floorstanding speaker, and it only measures 13″ x 48″ x 21″, which, coupled with its sculptural styling, makes it one of the best high-end speakers around for wife or partner acceptance. The Hailey is, however, a 170-pound speaker with an all-aluminum cabinet featuring a sculptured front panel engineered to preserve phase coherence and to provide wide dispersion. Its interior has extraordinary bracing and is designed to get the best sound out of each speaker module.
In any case, the good news is that you get an outstanding amount of performance for your money. Simply put, in sheer realistic musical detail, the Hailey 1.2 speaker comes close to, or outperforms, the best full-range ribbon and electrostatic speakers I’ve heard. I’ve learned the hard way never to underestimate the improvements that always come in the best designs, but, today, the Hailey 1.2 is about as revealing as a speaker can get.
Technology and Features
It should already be clear that this is going to be an enthusiastic write-up, but, first, a word about the prejudices I brought to the review process before I actually listened to the Hailey and began to judge its sound quality. I approach any product that has well-written marketing literature with instinctive distrust, and even a brief look at the YG website will alert you that someone at YG knows how to market a product.
I am particularly skeptical of any literature that uses proprietary terms to make claims about improvements in audio technology. YG uses a lot of them. In fact, YG describes the six key technologies in the Hailey 1.2 as follows: BilletCore drivers that are slowly carved (machined) from solid billets (blocks of) aluminum into precision shapes and are the most rigid drivers currently available; a ForgeCore tweeter that has “innovative internal geometries and offers vanishingly low distortion for pure, natural high frequency reproduction”; DualCoherent crossover technology that is designed with a proprietary (one-of-a-kind) algorithm—the only algorithm that is optimized for perfect relative phase and perfect frequency response, which results in the “flattest frequency response and the best relative phase ever seen in independent measurements” (in tests performed by numerous labs around the world); ToroAir in-house-wound toroidal inductors unique to YG that prevent the cross-contamination of electromagnetic energy from spoiling delicate high-frequency details and musicality; Focused Elimination technology that eliminates mechanical losses from internal enclosure resonances; and YG’s aforementioned cabinet technology that involves CNC-machined enclosures constructed of aircraft-grade alloy (aluminum) and pressurized assembly processes with extremely tight tolerances that allow the company to produce speakers with the lowest resonance (vibration) on the market.
That’s five proprietary sets of buzzwords for six key features. Worse, YG actually publishes detailed comparisons of how these features affect performance by making direct comparisons to other speakers. Any reviewer who has been exposed to decades of competing technical claims learns to call into question manufacturer “specsmanship,” almost as much as manufacturer literacy.
And yet, several months of listening have convinced me that the Hailey 1.2 really does deliver outstanding performance in the areas where YG makes technical claims and provides comparisons with other designs. In short, this is an extraordinarily coherent and transparent loudspeaker.
As I mentioned earlier, the Hailey 1.2 at least rivals the best electrostatics and ribbons in both regards. This may be largely due to the fact that I’ve never seen cone drivers made like the ones in the Hailey 1.2. What YG calls “Billet Core” technology results in some of the lightest diaphragms for their size that I’ve ever encountered. They are also among the stiffest and most piston-like, with fracture-free surfaces and supporting ribs that make them incredibly strong along their main axes. YG claims this construction helps push all resonances out of the passbands and greatly improves linearity. The Hailey’s drivers certainly sound like they are benefitting from these characteristics.
I can neither confirm nor challenge the merits of features like “DualCoherent” and “ToroAir,” but I can say that the Hailey’s sonic performance is on par with that of the Wilson Audio Alexia in coherence, focus, and detail. It is, as noted, also one of the only cone speakers I’ve heard which sonically rivals or exceeds the Quad ESL-63, the Quad 2805, and the Quad 2812 in these areas. Moreover, it has far better low-end extension and dynamic headroom than the Quads, as well as flatter bass in most actual listening rooms. It is a little hard not to credit YG’s claim that it has designed and produced some of the most phase-coherent and least distorting speakers around.
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.
I have found, however, that both bass and timbre are very much products of how a speaker interacts with a given room. This means that the fact that I would prefer a touch more energy in the bottom octaves is most likely the result of my listening room. At the same time, YG does produce two flagships with more bass—the Sonja 1.2 and Sonja 1.3. I have not had the opportunity to listen to them in a meaningful way, but if you are auditioning the Haileys and find the low end to be an issue, you might want to audition these others for comparison.
Compatibility and Setup
The Hailey 1.2 is a relatively sensitive loudspeaker at 87dB, with a 4-ohm nominal impedance and a 3-ohm minimum. This makes it a fairly easy load, and I did not experience any speaker/cable issues that were not part of the cable’s sound character. I have a mild personal preference for Kimber Kable, but I’d advise you to do a lot of comparative listening. Any given cable has coloration, so you’ll want to choose the a sound you like.
I tried bi-wiring, but found the change in the presentation was minor compared to the differences in the sound of given brands and models of cables.
The Hailey 1.2 will work well with most amplifiers, but it would be absurd not to use a really exceptional amp with a speaker this good. I would not use a low-powered design below 100 watts. You can get superb dynamics, but you need an amplifier that can deliver them.
In very broad terms, most tube amplifiers will probably deliver somewhat warmer sound and less defined bass, and solid-state designs will have more apparent upper-midrange energy and tighter and better-defined bass. The Hailey is less sensitive to such issues than most speakers; however, some of the nuances you hear will still depend on the particular amplifier you’re using.
As for room interaction, the Hailey is a sealed design and therefore less sensitive to room interaction in the low end than most ported speakers. Nevertheless, deep bass performance will be a bit of a crapshoot, as it is with every speaker. There is no way to predict the mountains and valley that will appear below 200Hz. The Hailey 1.2 also has unusually wide dispersion, and you need to be careful about sidewall reflections. Keep it away from the sidewalls if you can; a bit of damping may be needed if you can’t.
Another critical point about setup: A speaker this good and precise requires very careful setup to get the best trade-off in frequency response, soundstaging, and detail. Getting the best out of the Hailey means experimenting with placement and the finer details of toe-in and tilt. A really good dealer is going to spend at least an hour or two getting the floor position, speaker tilt and height, and fine-tuning of the listening position right. I suspect, however, that most serious audiophiles are going to spend several more weeks refining final adjustments to their taste.
It is amazing how much more revealing this speaker can become in subtle ways with such tweaking. I could actually hear tiny adjustments in height and tilt during the manufacturer setup, and changes in toe-in were very audible. So were adjustments in distance between the speakers, and the rear and sidewalls. It took me a long time to precisely relocate the speakers, using tape to mark various positions, taking careful notes, and bringing some really demanding friends into the process to find the limits of the Hailey 1.2s. (With all deference, the instructions in the speaker manual are essentially useless in this area.)
This does not mean you should get frightened about, or obsess over, setup. The Hailey 1.2 will sound very good in any halfway sensible position, but you will only know how truly great it is if you work hard to find exactly the best placement—both for the speaker and your listening seat. And here, a piece of advice that most dealers have learned not to give: It is always a good idea to experiment with different setup positions, even at the cost of “décor shock.”
A truly great speaker system! And yes, truly worth its cost.
SPECS & PRICING
Driver complement: 10.25″ BilletCore woofer, 7″ BilletCore midrange, 1″ ForgeCore tweeter
Loading: Sealed box
Frequency response: 20Hz–40kHz
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions: 13″ x 48″ x 21″
Weight: 170 lbs. per channel, unpacked
Price: $42,800 per pair
YG Acoustics LLC
4941 Allison St. #10
Arvada, CO 80002
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