I'm listening to a pair of huge speakers, each one stands nearly 7 feet (2.1 meters) tall, and they sound like no other in my experience. The speakers are part of the Wheel-Fi System Medium that's hand-crafted in Catskills, New York. Shaken and stirred by the sound, I rang up Wheel-Fi owner/designer Jeffrey Jackson to learn more about his unique approach to making high-end audio.
Wheel-Fi sells complete audio systems, with speakers, electronics, and a turntable. Jackson prefers mounting the amplifier and the electronics console with the turntable on each customer's wall. If vinyl isn't your thing, no worries; the System Medium plays music over Bluetooth from your phone.
I heard the System Medium at the magnificent BDDW design showroom in NYC on the very last day it was there, but the System Medium will be installed in another NYC location in the coming weeks. Sure, the system can play crazy loud, but what it's really all about is reproducing scale; instruments sound life-size, a feat no average-size speaker can muster. As I played through a tasty selection of LPs I noted the system sounded better and better as I moved further away from the speakers, and settled on a spot 40 feet (12 meters) from the speakers and listened to Dave Brubeck's "Time Out" album. The sound was as close to believably real as I've heard from an audio system. Then, as I continued to move around the large BDDW showroom, that realism was absolutely steadfast. Brubeck and his band were fully present. Dynamic range makes the difference; the System Medium lets music breathe. No box speaker can produce the soft-to-loud dynamic contrasts of a very large horn system like this one. Once you hear that, "normal" high-end audio can sound small.
Listening from 10 feet (3 meters) away from the System Medium, I was much less impressed, the speakers didn't image that well, bass wasn't terribly deep, though the midrange was awfully nice. Close listening isn't really its forte. The System Medium aims higher; it goes for a big sound for big spaces.
Then again, I'd imagine the Wheel-Fi system would sound great with movies, where dynamic range is especially important. Pretty much every movie theater uses large horn speakers, so it makes a lot of sense to use horns in home theaters as well.
Wheel-Fi set out to make complete systems where all the matching was done by the engineer designing the system as a turnkey solution for very rich audiophiles willing to pony up $420,000, £339,000, AU$547,000 for a System Medium. In case you're wondering, Jeffrey Jackson is working on something even bigger, the System Large, but he's mum about the details.
The System Medium is powered by a combination of tube and solid-state power amplifiers. Systems are built to order; standard finishes for the speakers are dark walnut, cherry or maple, and painted finishes are also available. A more compact Wheel-Fi, the System Small, will debut in the coming months with an estimated retail price of approximately $200,000, £161,000, AU$260,000.