YG Acoustics Anat Reference II Professional loudspeaker -Stereophile Magazine March.2009

   


Floorstanding Loudspeakers
YG Acoustics Anat Reference II Professional loudspeaker 

By Wes Phillips   •   March, 2009


You've seen the ads from YG Acoustics: "The best loudspeaker on Earth. Period." It sounds arrogant. But come on—high-end audio has never been a field of shrinking violets. When Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn announced that the turntable, not the cartridge or loudspeakers, dictated the sound quality of an audio system, that was a man convinced that he was right and taking on the world. And was Krell's Dan D'Agostino any less arrogant when, in 1980, he introduced the KSA-100 power amplifier? In a world where small size and high wattage were the norms, didn't it take a pair of big brass 'uns to bring out a honkin' huge slab of metal that put out only 100Wpc?


I could go on: William Z. Johnson of Audio Research Corp., and Bill Conrad and Lew Johnson of Conrad-Johnson, bucking the solid-state hegemony of the 1980s with tubes. The insistence of Naim's Julian Vereker on the primacy of the power supply. Meridian Audio's Bob Stuart touting just about any of his unconventional designs (was there any other kind?). Progress is not made by reasonable men—and it's arrogance only if, in the end, you're proven wrong.

In the end, the question of whether YG Acoustics' Yoav Geva, in his ads, is arrogant or merely stating the obvious would be answered not by reading his ad copy, but by diving in and listening to his speakers—which is what I decided to do when Geva invited me to his factory in Arvada, Colorado, for a factory tour and an extended listening session.

In person, Geva was more modest. "It may not actually be the best loudspeaker in the world," he said. "I maintain that it belongs in the category of the best loudspeakers in the world." But he was unable to leave it there. "And it is the best-measuring loudspeaker in the world."

Oh. Really?

You're Camembert
The Anat Reference II Professional ($107,000/pair) is a modular loudspeaker consisting of three discrete modules: the Anat Reference Main Module (108 lbs), the Studio passive subwoofer (160 lbs), and the Professional powered subwoofer (400W, 172 lbs). Yes, that's 440 lbs per channel. When you buy the AR II Pros, one thing you should expect is that your dealer install and position them in your listening room.

For all of the details on this loudspeaker, go to YGA's website; here, I'll list a few of the highlights. Each YGA module is machined from aircraft-grade 6061 T651 aluminum; the front baffles of the Anat-series speakers are made of a "ballistic-grade" alloy of aluminum and titanium. Geva claims that this compound is stiffer and stronger than other aluminum alloys, and offers "faster propagation of sound and resonance evacuation." The Anat Reference 's crossover uses a proprietary topology set at 1.75kHz, and offers a nominal load of 4 ohms (2.75 minimal). The Professional subwoofer modules that were supplied had the 800W class-A/B amplifier module (a 400W version is available).

Geva insists that by using the stiffest material he can machine, he can make his speakers "virtually" resonance-free; he claims that they're the "deadest, stiffest, strongest, least diffractive, and acoustically most desirable" speakers made. Using a sophisticated computer program of his own design, Geva says he has achieved "ruler-flat frequency response," making the YGA speakers "the only loudspeakers optimized in both frequency and time domains."

One last thing: Geva claims that his loudspeakers are not voiced, or otherwise created with any "human bias." Seeing my shocked expression, he hastened to add that he verifies by human experience, but establishes the speaker's performance solely through measurements. Does that mean that if he produced a speaker that measured right but sounded wrong, he wouldn't change it? "I would question the measurement in that case and refine my methodology."

You're a Coolidge dollar
Setting up the Anat Reference II Pros is not for wimps. They're shipped in six custom aluminum flight cases, leaving you with a curbside weight of nigh unto a ton. YGA has no dealer in New York City, so they shipped the AR II Pros to my house. Sales manager Dick Diamond arrived to help me schlep them inside and assemble them. Did I get preferential treatment? Hell no—I can't imagine any customer who can buy +$100k loudspeakers winding up on the heavy end of a 172-lb subwoofer or having to clean and jerk a 108-lb Anat Reference to its mounting height of 4' atop the Studio woofer module which in turn sits atop the Professional woofer module. On the other hand, I did get a good look inside the Professional subwoofer—it needs to be partially disassembled onsite so that it can be rigidly bolted to the Studio. (No such disassembly is required to bolt the Anat to the Studio; their rail systems provide solid connections, and are then bolted solidly together.) The end result is a single rigid unit for each channel. Final adjustments in focus are accommodated by use of floor spikes of different size, a process best left to last: once you spike 'em, the YGAs aren't going anywhere.

At this point, we ran into a snag. Dick Diamond asked me for two identical pairs of speaker cables—one for the Anat, one for the Studio subwoofer (the Professional sub was hooked up with balanced interconnect). Well, geez, even audio reviewers (this one, at any rate) don't have two identical pairs of expensive speaker cable just lying around. We compromised on a pair of Kimber Monocle jumpers to connect the Anat Studio's binding posts to the amplifier output posts on the Professional module.

At first, I'd assumed that Diamond's insistence on an ultra-high-quality 6' length of speaker cable was pickiness, but as I continued to listen to the AR II Pros, I discovered that they could reveal extremely small differences—sometimes surprising ones. Any setup tweaks you might normally perform will pay huge dividends. Ayre Myrtle wood blocks under the Ayre KX-R preamplifier? Huge. Cable dressing? Ditto.

And cables themselves? Puh-leeze—let's not even go there. One afternoon, VTL's Luke Manley, my friend Jeff Wong, and I were playing silly audiophile tricks. We substituted Shunyata Research Python Helix Alpha AC cables for the stock pair feeding the Anat Professional's powered subwoofers. I expected to hear little difference, possibly none at all. Au contraire—the bass was audibly better integrated with the rest of the audioband. And another of my certainties bit the dust.

As the French would say, "de trop"
I initially auditioned the Anat Reference II Professionals with the VTL TL-6.5 line-level preamplifier driving my reference Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 power amp, with my Ayre C-5xe universal disc player as a source. After a week or so, Luke Manley dropped off a pair of VTL MB-450 II monoblocks, and I inserted those in the system. The VTLs added a dollop of slam down below, but I began to question the lack of sparkle on top—especially after jazz bassist extraordinaire Jerome Harris dropped by one day and gave them a listen. "Um, are they a tad light on the overtones?" he asked. He continued listening attentively. "No, there's lots of detail, after all."



But I knew what he meant. The detail was there, but it didn't float—whether in triode or pentode mode. I went back to the Nu-Vista, and there the sparkle was again. John Atkinson later dropped off a pair of Parasound Halo JC 1 monoblocks, and that was a match made in heaven: humongous slam, with such sweet, extended highs that I like to died, as we say down south. The point here isn't that the AR II Pros were so darned good at letting me hear differences among components (although they were), but that they weren't a particularly good match for tube output sections, even such superb ones as VTL's—probably something to do with where that 2.75 ohm drop is located.

The first thing I noticed about the Anat References was how completely effortless music sounded—all music, whether chamber music, large orchestral showpieces, or kick-ass rock'n'roll. When I listened to Bobby Hutcherson's vibes on "Mirrors," from The Kicker (CD, Blue Note 21437), the harmonic overtones floated on a springy cushion of air—and they just never died. Joe Henderson's tenor sax was adrift in its own pneumatic cushion, and the dialog between Hutcherson in the left channel and Henderson in the right was as intimate as a whisper. You want a speaker that's sensitive to nuance? You'll love the Anat Reference II Professional.

In "Feather," from Eric Dolphy's Out There (CD, New Jazz/OJC OJCCD-023), Dolphy's alto sax floated above Ron Carter's bowed cello and George Duvivier's pizzicato bass—and all three were life-sized. When Dolphy breaks out of the dreamy, mournful-sounding A section of the piece, his alto leaps aloft into an outburst of birdsong punctuated by Duvivier's deep, deep sauntering (it ain't exactly walking) bass line. Golly gee, the AR II Pros reminded me of how alive Dolphy's music still sounds, 45 years after his death. Most high-end speakers can do that, but the YGAs made it sound freshly minted.

"Only Then," from Jerome Harris's Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), is another track whose somber, expectant mood the YGAs seemed preternaturally capable of mining. Billy Drummond's vintage Zildjian cymbals and Gretsch drum kit had never sounded more distinctive to me—I'm sure that some of his most subtle, muted cymbal work had never been as apparent to me, even when I was present while JA mixed this recording. And the subtlest differences in the ways Steve Nelson caressed his vibes into life—well, wow.

I know this recording. My freaking name is on this disc. Hearing it through the AR II Pros was a revelation.

I'm a broken doll, a fol-de-rol, a blop
This is the part of a Stereophile review where the writer compares and contrasts the subject of the review with a similar known (that is to say, previously reviewed) component. In the case of the Anat Reference II Professional, that would be one of the spectacular contenders at the top of Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components"—say, the Focal Utopia Be, B&W 800 Diamond, or Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria. For a variety of reasons, but primarily because none of Stereophile's New York–based writers had review samples of any of these to lend me, I was unable to do such a comparison. I've heard all of those speakers in some detail, and would certainly put the YGAs on the same plane, but we don't review "by memory" here, so I won't even attempt to compare any of them. I'd rather spend more time discussing more precisely why the AR II Pros so impressed me.

Erick Lichte, artistic director of the male choral group Cantus, and engineer John Atkinson graciously burned me a hi-rez version on DVD-A of Cantus's most recent release, the superb While You Are Alive (CD, Cantus CTS-1208). The YGAs floated the nine singers deep in the acoustic of Goshen College's Sauder Hall, anchoring the aural group portrait with astonishingly authoritative personifications of basses Timothy C. Takach and Tom McNichols. One thing that immediately leapt out at me was that this incarnation of Cantus was not the same as the first one I heard, in 2000. Only Takach, baritone Adam Reinwald, and tenor Michael Hanawalt remain from that group, and while the ensemble sound has remained true to the original group's principles (phenomenally stable bass lines, for instance), the YGAs enabled me to hear how different the sound of the current lineup is.

But most of all, the YGAs were so adept at presenting dynamic details that, instead of simply making the music come alive, they presented living, breathing musicians making music in my living room.

Speaking of dynamic detail, recordings that I normally might have found melodically interesting but dynamically two-dimensional, such as Yolanda Kondonassis' Air: Music of Debussy & Takemitsu (CD, Telarc CD-80694), were anything but. Let's face it, harps are pretty, but dynamically limited—at least, they come across that way on recordings. However, I've heard in concert halls, such as Carnegie or the Metropolitan Opera, how a single harp can cut through massed strings with amazing clarity. On record, not so much.

Through the YGAs, Air was a revelation. Kondonassis is the exception that tests the rule: her harp is expressive, incisive, and haunting. The faux japonaiserie of Debussy, and Toru Takemitsu's harder-edged real thing, make for a remarkable program; whether performing solo, or interacting with flutist Joshua Smith or the ensemble Oberlin 21, Kondonassis is the center of melodic and, yes, dynamic expression. Wow—a speaker that makes me reevaluate an entire instrument's capabilities.

Telarc's SACD Sampler 6 (Telarc SACD-60013) proved a garden of wonders. Kudos to Telarc for so fiercely championing the SACD format. From the delicacy of guitarist David Russell's performance of Malagueña to the explosive orchestral and choral orgasm that is Michael Gandolfini's The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, the YGAs produced the goods, alternating scale and impact to match the performance. The Adagio of Bruckner's Symphony 5, performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra led by Benjamin Zander, was intense and massive, the soundstage so huge I could have walked into it and wandered around for an hour or so.

Lest you get the impression that neutrality is audiospeak for lack of affect, I must note that, while I have no doubt that the YGAs do measure ruler-flat, they are emphatically not what audiophiles like to call clinical. Listening to music through them is not an exercise in "spot the recording flaws" (although you will). In recording after recording, I was impressed by how emotional my response to the music was. On one of the last days before I began writing this review, my wife and I were relaxing in the listening room, reading and idly listening to Ruggiero Ricci's Paganini's Dreams (CD, John Marks Recordings JMR 11, now available from www.ArkivMusic.com—yippie!). Somewhere around Ricci's setting of Chopin's Souvenir de Paganini, we had essentially stopped reading and were listening in slack-jawed wonder at the violinist's gorgeous tone and the power of the music.

"That's lovely," my wife eventually commented. "Have I heard this before?"

"Not like this," I said. "Not quite like this."

But baby, if I'm the bottom, you're the top

Flaws? The YGA Anat Reference II Professional is freaking big. It doesn't like tube power amplifiers. A pair of them won't blend into the décor—although the silver ones I auditioned faded into the background about as much as two 440-lb, nearly 6'-tall loudspeakers can. And they're expensive. Those aren't complaints. They're just facts.

In building the Anat Reference II Professional, YG Acoustics invests a lot of money in research, materials, and labor. You might not be able to afford them (me neither), but it's hard to argue that they're overpriced. Could you be satisfied with a less expensive loudspeaker? Sure you could. I could, too—in fact, sometime in the near future, I'll have to. But in the meantime, when I want to hear what a recording really sounds like, I'll want to hear it through the Anat Reference II Professionals.

Like my pappy used to say, it ain't braggin' if you can actually do it.

 

YG Acoustics Anat Reference II Professional loudspeaker:

Specifications


Sidebar 1: Specifications
Description: As reviewed, three-piece, three-way, modular, floorstanding loudspeaker with powered subwoofer. Drive-units: 1" silk-dome tweeter, two 6" paper-cone midrange units, 10" carbon/paper-cone passive subwoofer, 10" carbon/paper-cone powered subwoofer. Crossover Frequency (Main Module): 1.75kHz. Frequency range: <20Hz–>40kHz. Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz, –0.7dB. Channel matching: within ±0.2dB. Impedance: 4 ohms nominal, 2.7 ohms minimum. Sensitivity: 92dB/2.83V/m. Subwoofer amplifier: 800Wpc, class-A/B.
Dimensions: Main Module: 20" (500mm) H by 8" (190mm) W by 20" (500mm) D. Studio Module: 48" (1210mm) H by 13" (330mm) W by 24" (600mm) D. Professional (Studio Module on top of powered subwoofer module): 69" (1740mm) H by 17" (430mm) W by 26" (660mm) D. Overall height (Main Module on top of Studio and Professional Modules): 69". Weights: Main Module: 108 lbs (49kg). Studio Sub: 160 lbs (73kg). Professional Sub: 172 lbs (78kg).
Finish: Aircraft-grade aluminum in either natural or black-anodized finishes.
Serial Numbers Of Units Reviewed: Main: 222. Studio (passive subwoofer module): 219. Professional (active subwoofer module): not noted.

Manufacturer: YG Acoustics Computerized Loudspeaker Labs LLC, 4941 Allison St., Unit 10, Arvada, CO 80002. Tel: (720) 840-6441. Fax: (303) 420-0156. Web: www.ygacoustics.com.

 

Associated Equipment


Sidebar 2: Associated Equipment
Digital Sources: Ayre C-5xe universal player, Ayre CX-7e CD player.
Preamplifiers: Ayre KX-R, Parasound Halo JC 2, VTL TL-6.5 Signature.
Power Amplifiers: Moscode 402au, Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300, Parasound Halo JC 1, VTL MB-450 II.
Cables: Interconnect: AudioQuest William E. Low Signature, Shunyata Research Aeros (single-ended, RCA), Stealth Metacarbon (balanced). Speaker: AudioQuest William E. Low Signature, Shunyata Research Aeros, Stealth Dream. AC: Shunyata Research Python Helix Alpha.
Accessories: Ayre Myrtle wood blocks; Ayre L-5xe line filter; Furutech eTP-609 distribution box; Furutech RDP panels, RealTraps Mini & Mondo Traps.—Wes Phillips

 

Measurements

Sidebar 3: Measurements
I measured the YG Acoustics Anat Reference II Professional's behavior mainly using DRA Labs' MLSSA system with a calibrated DPA microphone and an Earthworks Zero Distortion preamplifier. Because of the bulk and mass of the two woofer sections, I could perform a complete set of acoustics measurements only on the 108-lb upper-frequency Main Module. The woofer measurements were performed in situ in Wes Phillips' listening room, as was my reading of the speakers' spatially averaged response. For these measurements I used SMUG Software's FuzzMeasure 2 running on an Apple PowerBook, in conjunction with a Metric Halo ULN-2 FireWire audio interface and a calibrated Earthworks QTC-40 microphone.

The Anat Reference II's voltage sensitivity was significantly higher than average, at an estimated 90.1dB(B)/2.83V/m, though it is a little lower than the specified 92dB. The impedance is specified as 4 ohms, with a 2.7 ohm minimum. However, while our sample was basically a 4 ohm design, the magnitude did drop to almost 2 ohms in the mid-treble—which is why WP felt the tubed VTL amplifiers lacked sparkle—and below 2 ohms above 25kHz (fig.1). The phase angle also varies widely, and the combinations of 4 ohms magnitude and –53° capacitive angle at 110Hz, and 4.8 ohms and –46° at 2.4kHz, mandate the use of a power amplifier that can deliver unrestricted amounts of current. As the Main Module is not fed from a crossover when used with the woofer modules, the former magnitude/phase combination will be unaffected.

Fig.1 YGA Anat Reference II Main Module, electrical impedance (solid) and phase (dashed). (2 ohms/vertical div.)

The upper (passive) woofer module's impedance (not shown) featured a minimum value of 3 ohms at 200Hz, again requiring use with an amplifier capable of providing high currents. Of course, when used in the Reference II Professional, the upper woofer is driven by the amplifier housed in the lower woofer module, so that will not be a concern.

While the passive woofer module's impedance plot (not shown) indicated the presence of some midrange resonances, those in fig.1 are free from the discontinuities that would suggest the presence of cabinet resonances. Indeed, investigating the vibrational behavior of the metal enclosure's panels revealed an almost entirely nonresonant behavior: the only mode I could find with an accelerometer was on the side panel at 652Hz, but was well down in level (fig.2). It is also high enough in frequency that it will not have any audible consequences.

Fig.2 YGA Anat Reference II Main Module, cumulative spectral-decay plot.

Fig.3 shows the individual responses of the Anat Main Module's tweeter (red trace) and woofers (blue), spliced to the woofer's nearfield output below 300Hz. The latter's peak at 3dB in the upper bass is entirely due to the nearfield measurement condition. The satellite's woofer tuning is therefore maximally flat, with a –6dB frequency of 75Hz, the same as that of the magnitude peak in the impedance plot (fig.1). When used on its own, the Anat Main Module may well sound a little light in the bass. Higher in frequency in fig.3, the crossover can be seen to be set at 1750Hz, as specified, with symmetrical acoustic slopes close to 18dB/octave. Both the tweeter and the twin woofers are impressively flat within their passbands.

Fig.3 YGA Anat Reference II Main Module, acoustic crossover on tweeter axis at 50", corrected for microphone response, with nearfield response of woofer (blue) plotted below 300Hz.

On the left of fig.4 are shown the nearfield responses of the bottom, powered (Professional) woofer module (red trace) and the upper, passive (Studio) woofer module (blue), driven by the amplifier in the lower module. (The crossover settings were those chosen by Wes Phillips rather than the ones YGA's Dick Diamond had used when he set up the speakers in WP's room.) Despite the different enclosure shapes, the two woofer modules offered identical frequency responses, both being down 10dB at 20Hz. The upper woofer module's impedance plot suggests that the sealed-box loading is tuned to the relatively high frequency of 45Hz, which in turn suggests that YGA is using equalization to extend the module's output below resonance. While peaks were evident in both woofer modules' responses at the frequencies of the midrange peaks in the impedance plot, the crossover suppresses these to more than 40dB below the reference level, in which case they should have no audible consequences. The crossover, as adjusted by WP and allowing for the nearfield boost in the satellite's output, is set to 75Hz, with asymmetrical slopes. The Main Module's frequency response, averaged across a 30° horizontal window centered on the tweeter axis (fig.4, black) is extraordinarily flat. Enough said!

Fig.4 YGA Anat Reference II, anechoic response on tweeter axis at 50", averaged across 30° horizontal window and corrected for microphone response (black), with nearfield responses of upper (Studio) woofer (blue) and lower (Professional) woofer (red), with Main Module woofer response plotted below 300Hz (black).

The Anat Reference II's horizontal dispersion is shown in fig.5. Other than a very slight off-axis flare between 5 and 7kHz, the contour lines in this graph are evenly spaced, and the output increasingly but gently slopes down in the highs with increasing off-axis angle, which is textbook behavior. The short waveguide around the tweeter dome results in the drive-unit's output rapidly dropping off-axis above 12kHz. Only younger listeners might be bothered by a lack of air in the Anat Reference's in-room balance, however. The upper-frequency dispersion in the vertical plane (fig.6) is wide and even, but the use of spaced twin woofers results in severe upper-midrange suckouts more than 20° above or below the tweeter axis. For the most even balance, the listener's ears do need to be pretty much on the tweeter axis.

Fig.5 YGA Anat Reference II, lateral response family at 50", normalized to response on tweeter axis, from back to front: differences in response 90–5° off axis, reference response, differences in response 5–90° off axis.

Fig.6 YGA Anat Reference II, vertical response family at 50", normalized to response on tweeter axis, from back to front: differences in response 45–5° above axis, reference response, differences in response 5–45° below axis.

Fig.7 shows how these quasi-anechoic measurements added up in WP's listening room, again with woofer settings by WP rather than Dick Diamond. The Anat Reference II Professional's spatially averaged response at the listening chair is superbly flat, falling within ±1dB limits from 300Hz to 7kHz. Above that region, the speaker's output smoothly slopes down, due to the increasing absorptivity of the room's furnishings at higher frequencies in conjunction with the fact that WP sits relatively distant from the speakers. Below 150Hz, the peaks and dips are the residual effects of the room's resonant modes that have not been eliminated by the spatial averaging. It appears that WP set the level of the powered woofer modules a little high, but he was probably doing so to get the midbass region in the correct balance with the upper frequencies, and accepting the effects of the consequent boosts in the upper and low bass. Certainly the low-bass boost is not going to be much of an issue, given how little energy there generally is below 30Hz in music, Kanye West and Bach's organ works notwithstanding.

Fig.7 YGA Anat Reference II, spatially averaged, 1/6-octave response in WP's listening room.

In the time domain, the Anat Main Module's step response (fig.8) indicates that the tweeter and woofers are all connected with the same acoustic polarity. The decay of the tweeter's step is smoothly integrated with the start of the woofers' step, correlating with the excellent frequency-domain integration of their outputs shown in fig.4. As usual, the tweeter output leads that of the woofers. I haven't shown the woofer modules' step responses, as the polarity is adjustable with a rear-panel control. Overall, the cumulative spectral-decay plot is superbly clean (fig.9).

Fig.8 YGA Anat Reference II Main Module, step response on tweeter axis at 50" (5ms time window, 30kHz bandwidth).

Fig.9 YGA Anat Reference II Main Module, cumulative spectral-decay plot on tweeter axis at 50" (0.15ms risetime).

In its ads, YG Acoustics states that the Anat Reference II Professional is "The best loudspeaker on Earth. Period." Its impressive measured behavior doesn't detract from that claim.John Atkinson

 

Company Info

    YG Acoustics Computerized Loudspeaker Labs LLC
    4941 Allison St., Unit 10
    Arvada, CO 80002
    (720) 840-6441

   

 


 

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