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Reviewer: Edgar Kramer
Source Digital: Sony XA-5ES as transport; Bel Canto Design DAC 2
Preamp/Integrated: Supratek Sauvignon with NOS RCA and Sylvania tubes
Amplifier: Pass Labs X 250.5; NuForce Reference 9.02 monoblocks
Speakers: Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy System 6
Cables: Harmonic Technology Magic Digital; Harmonic Technology Magic and Truthlink Silver; DanA Digital Reference Silver; Eichmann eXpress 6 Series 2; PSC Audio Pristine R30 Ribbon [on loan]; Harmonic Technology PRO-9+ loudspeaker cables; Harmonic Technology Fantasy AC; Shunyata Research Diamondback power cords, Eichmann eXpress AC power cable; PSC Gold Power MKII AC cable [on loan]
Stands: Lush 4-tier, partly sand filled
Powerline conditioning: PS Audio P-300 Power Plant (digital equipment only), dedicated 20 amp circuit
Sundry accessories: Bright Star Audio IsoRock Reference 3, Bright Star Audio IsoRock 4 isolation platforms and BSA IsoNode feet; Bocchino Audio Mecado isolation diodes; Black Diamond Racing cones; Stillpoints ERS paper in strategic positions around DAC, Shakti On Lines; Densen CD demagnetizer; Auric Illuminator CD Treatment; ASC Tube Traps
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 10'/11' h [stepped ceiling] in short wall setup, opens to adjoining office room
Review component retail: $14,500/pr

Long-time comin'
Srajan, back in 2004, didn't you describe favourably the sonic qualities of the WHT PR-1s in your coverage of that year's CES? Back then you made a promise that "our man Down Under" would be looking into this design. Well, two years down the track and after much soliciting, intense negotiations and a pachydermic gestation period, the promise is finally fulfilled.

I hereby present to you the Wide Horn Technologies (WHT) Falcon PR-1 loudspeaker. Yes, it's standing pretty in my listening room in a gorgeous combination of piano black, Peugeot leatherette and native Australian Jarrah hardwood. And what an interesting design it is, too. Mark Mozgawa, head designer and proprietor of WHT -- Mark is also the designer and proprietor of highly regarded boutique cable house PSC Audio -- has chosen to revive an almost forgotten and unconventional design from the early days of loudspeaker manufacturing: the J-loaded scoop bass design. A bit of spiel from Mark regarding his unique design choice and its history (and history):

"I have always been involved in making high-quality PA, instrument and studio loudspeakers. Previously working as a musician, I had the advantage of using countless different types of loudspeakers on stage and in a studio environment. In the midst of one tour, my speaker box went missing during transit. The sound engineer came to the rescue and lent me a rather huge PA box called a "J Bin". I had used horn speakers for my instrument a few times in the past and knew that horns were faster and more accurate than ported boxes but nothing had ever impressed me as much as that J Bin. The sound was significantly clearer and the response was much faster. There was simply no comparison. The J Bin was a big winner here.

"Eventually my speaker box was found but at that point, I just couldn't go back to the original boomy, awkward sound so I convinced the sound engineer to let me use the J Bin until the end of the tour. The next tour started in three weeks and by that time I had managed to build and bring my own J Bin. It was based on 2 x 12" Celestion woofers and was a smaller design with a folded horn. Towards the end of that tour which saw me fine-tuning my first scoop speaker, I had removed the folded horn from the inside of the speaker box and from that point the speaker was sounding ideal. The fine-tuning went on for the next two years and in 1980, I had my final design. Finally, all the musicians in the band could hear my bass clearly. The brass section, drummer and piano player would all remark about how great the bass sounded every night.

"Many years passed and in 1994 I happened upon a scoop design used for HiFi systems. I later found out that it was a typical folded horn with scoop which utilized PA drivers. Subsequently, my goal became to introduce the J Bin to audiophiles. Apart from the money and time which were unavailable to me at that time, one more element was missing. It was the lack of efficient woofers and tweeters which at the same time would posses a HiFi quality."

"Sure, it would have been simple to throw in some PA woofers and compression units for the midrange and high frequencies but these drivers are not designed to be listened to from such a short distance, namely 2.5 to 6 meters. PA drivers are screaming at that distance and they require complicated passive crossovers (causing plenty of phase shifts) to make them somewhat acceptable in an audiophile context.

"Later, I was involved in marketing HiFi products where I was able to listen to more than 150 high-end systems in a relatively short period of time. It was the best R&D time possible and it was a priceless education. I am only able to count 3 speakers which would make the grade in terms of faithful music reproduction. The rest were simply dull, weak and didn't come close to the final result of a studio master. A typical aforementioned system had boomy slow bass, very artificial mids and a closed-in treble, quite different to what I had become accustomed to playing as a live musician.

"A typical question from audiophiles was, "
How does my system compare to the other systems you've had the chance to audition?" My question to them became, "Is your reference another system or a live musical performance?"

"I suddenly realized that I could offer something fresh to the market, which was formerly absent. Subsequently I began my "
Scoop/Reflector" project with a relatively small budget and 10 years after the fact, my own WHT PR1 was being tuned to my private recordings."

That's the scoop, literally. The PR-1 is a 2-way medium-sized monitor that cleverly incorporates the J scoop reflector into the bottom two thirds of the speaker enclosure. This effectively and in a visually coherent style transforms what would have been a stand-mounter into a floorstander. In addition, the PR-1 is constructed in a modular fashion. The CNC precision-machined HDF enclosure containing the drivers has the required internal opening slot that loads the mid/bass driver onto the J scoop reflector which gently swoops down from the rear of the enclosure downwards towards the front of the base. The scoop's main purpose is to reflect, in perfect phase, the back wave from the rear motion of the 8" bass/mid cone.

Various materials in multiple layers are used to line the internal walls including lead lining, bitumen and a special lamb's wool cloth. This winter woolly performs the required standing wave absorption, that is, any unwanted wave that should not reflect through the scoop. The side panels support the scoop -- which is also lead and bitumen lined -- and terminate the enclosure to form, as described above, the appearance of a floorstanding loudspeaker. These side panels are finished beautifully in a piano black lacquer, with the driver enclosure's front and top covered in silky smooth leather. The scoop is exposed towards the front and presents a visually warm reddish-brown contrast in Australian hardwood. The whole affair's substantial 94 pounds reeks of quality and reflects skilled and refined enclosure construction methods.

The PR-1's driver complement starts from the top with the 8" mid/bass driver. This custom concoction was the result of a substantial combined design effort between WHT and a prominent Australian Pro Audio driver manufacturer. The unusual piano black T-shaped phase plug is a final refinement implemented by WHT at driver post-production. The mid/bass driver crosses over to the tweeter at 1700Hz.

The 1.75" ribbon tweeter is a WHT-modified Fountek design. Unusually, one of the modifications is the inclusion of an "acoustically transparent" grille cloth behind the face plate and in front of the ribbon membrane. According to Mark, this modification marginally reduces the tweeter's output to tame its subtly forward character and adds a measure of protection against physical damage. All internal wiring is point-to-point PSC annealed silver for what the designer calls "optimum transparency" and mates to the hand-made minimal crossover.

Frequency response is quoted as 28Hz to 40kHz at +/- 3dB, sensitivity as 94dB and impedance as a nominal 10 ohms with a minimum of 8 ohm, making for friendly mating with amplification of all persuasions, especially attractive to tube amps. Be that as it may, the PR-1s sung very sweetly indeed with both my reference amplifiers, the refined brute Pass Labs X250.5 and the revolutionary switching NuForce Ref 9.02 monos. Recommended amplifier power for the Falcon is a stated minimum of 5 watts (hello SETs) and a maximum of 150 watts. Taking into account the PR-1's size and 2-way configuration, all the vital statistics are impressive and a testament to Mark's competent design work and a validation of the J scoop's viability.

Flying high
Mark personally delivered the PR-1s and we spent a couple of hours chatting HiFi and setting up the speakers. They ended up almost in the same position as my reference WATT/Puppies. Straight away, the PR-1s impressed and after playing several well-known CD references, Mark brought out a couple of recordings he had produced in the mid-eighties when he and his wife actively played the club circuit. I was impressed with the high production values and level of fidelity inherent in these recordings. The sound was crisp, very punchy and Mark's recording captured the venue's ambience seemingly faithfully. Needless to say, these live recordings are key factors in the voicing of the PR-1s.

If I had to pick the PR-1s' immediately outstanding quality, it would be the midrange. Boy is it sweet! Female voice is absolutely stunning. On Lucinda Williams' World Without Tears [Lost Highway, CD 170355, 2003], Lucinda's voice stood out from the mix and was scaringly real, with natural sibilants and accurate vocal textures. Lucinda's poignant reflections on love, life and relationships were all the more touching and communicated with heightened emotion by the Falcons' glorious midband.

The 8-incher is also a potent resolver of fine detail and layering. Complex mixes with multiple instruments are no problem. The frantic instrumentality of Curandero's Aras [Silver Wave 911] is adeptly resolved, all layers separated clearly and individually
enjoyable. In fact, the same applies to the tweeter where duets like Sylvain Luc and Bireli Lagrene's complex guitar feuds have individuality, image density and lightning-fast transient attack [Dreyfus 36604, 2000]. The Falcon's ribbon is fast, detailed and smooth, never calling attention to itself by becoming harsh or excessively bright. If anything -- and this is something I thought I would never say about a ribbon tweeter -- the absolute top-most extension is a tad recessed or rolled off, taking a little away from the harmonic extension of cymbals. Mind you, this renders botched-up productions more listenable and rewards skilful engineers with an immensely listenable and natural soundscape. The soundstage as presented by the Falcon PR-1s was impressively wide and on par with my reference although stage depth was not quite as front wall-transcending as the famous WATT/Puppy.

So the PR-1s' strengths are many and its weaknesses well enough overshadowed. In fact, whatever these weaknesses may be, they are more in the manner of the old audio adage: omission not commission. But there are some limitations and compromises. After all, there are no perfect speakers, not even at ten times the PR-1's price. The J scoop loading does provide substantial bass enhancement and power which a conventional speaker of this size -- bass reflex, transmission line or otherwise -- cannot match. Impressive for what is effectively a mid-size 2-way on top of a scoop, bass is tight and detailed and indeed quite deep for its size yet you may want more of a full-range sound still. In fact, Mark made a conscious design decision to marginally restrict bass extension so as to provide a faster and more natural low end. He describes ported boxes as having a "2dB bump anywhere from 80 to 130 cycles" which is misinterpreted as real bass.

Consequently, my experience when listening to Rock was that the kit's kick drum didn't hit me in the gut with power and force as my reference does but rather facsimiled the hits into a downscaled version that nudged rather than walloped. The impression of the kick drum was there and indeed satisfyingly so but not viscerally. On bass guitar though, this speaker was quick and rich in detail. Last octave-and-a-half depth is something a good quality subwoofer can fix and WHT is working on this very issue as we speak. In fact, especially in a large room like mine, I know speakers of substantial stature and endowed with more drivers than the WHT that also require subwoofer augmentation for ultimate extension and power in the lower registers.

Still on this bass issue, perspective must be established. My comments are based on comparisons with my reference which is a larger design with twin 8" drivers solely dedicated to the reproduction of bass notes; and my larger than average listening room.

At the opposing extreme and as mentioned above, the ribbon lacked a bit of ultimate extension and cymbal presence when compared to my reference. I also intermittently heard a mild coloration in some piano recordings that had me baffled. On some recordings, piano sounded overly tinkly. I say I was baffled because this phenomenon was not apparent in all piano recordings and was noticed by me and an audio buddy once whilst having a joint listening session. Some piano recordings exhibited this, others didn't. What was going on?

Further investigations resulted in swapping to silver cables. Bingo! The reward was a top end that although still marginally laid back, became beautifully grainless and extended a little further. That was more like what I expect from a ribbon. Interestingly, the tinkly manifestation also disappeared once silver entered into the equation. I would say this is no mere coincidence in light of the fact that PSC Audio's range of cable designs is predominantly of the silver persuasion. Ah, how it all fell into place now.

I found Xavier Rudd's wonderful mixture of aboriginal didgeridoo in a blues/rock context an emotional rollercoaster as reproduced by the PR-1s. From the album To Let, "Light the Flame" contrasts Xavier's delicate voice against a variety of small percussion instruments. The Falcon PR-1 resolved the percussive notes with punchy transient attack and accurate timbres
but never did the busy percussion overrun the finer delicacies of Xavier's voice. In fact, with silver cable now in tow, delicate and sweet are quintessential qualities pertaining to the PR-1 but it is also a very resolving speaker that presents detail and information in a way that is natural and never fatiguing.

Mark has made a brave move with this, his labour of love. He has taken the road less travelled and revived an old method of speaker design using modern construction methods to make the WHT Falcon PR-1 unique in my experience. A me too product the PR-1s certainly ain't. To some the WHT Falcon PR-1 may seem quite expensive. $14,500 is no chump change and there is robust competition in this range from larger designs like Wilson's Sophia II, Thiel's CS 7.2 and B&W's new 801 D just to mention a few. Other audiophiles who seek uniqueness will take into account the high levels of construction, the immaculate finish and attractive aesthetics, the room friendliness and superb sound quality and consider the PR-1 a reasonable value and a worthy competitor among its peers.

WHT has an established distributorship in the States so hearing these babies may not be too difficult to arrange. I think you so should do that. You just might scoop 'em up!
Manufacturer's website