YG Acoustics Sonja 1.3 loudspeaker Page 2

One thing that impressed me about the Sonja 1.3 was that, once each module was in place, two long, threaded, horizontal rods were inserted from the rear, each screwing into three tapped feet on top of the lower module that mate with three threaded cones on the base of the upper module. Once these rods are in place, the modules are locked together, with no external signs of the join other than the seam. That the alignment of the threaded holes can be maintained over the length of the rod is a testament to the precision YGA gets from its CNC machines.

The Sonjas were not quite toed-in to the listening seat, and the 1.1 modules were tilted down toward my listening position. However, sitting in my usual seat, which placed my ears 36" above the floor, I found the sound a little lacking in top-octave life. Pink noise sounded smooth when my ears were between the two midrange-unit axes, so I replaced my usual chair with an office chair. This placed my ears 42" from the floor, which, at the 9' listening distance, put my ears on the tweeter axes.

Diamond and St. James had brought with them a complete set of Kubala-Sosna Elation! cables, including balanced interconnects, AES/EBU digital cables, biwire speaker-cable sets with jumpers to link the 1.2 and 1.3 woofer modules, and AC cables: total retail price, almost $40,000. Usually, I won't change the cables in my system when I'm setting up a new component for testing. However, in this instance YGA strongly felt that customers for the Sonja 1.3 would use K-S cables, and that I should take the contribution of the cables into consideration. I agreed, though reluctantly—not because I have anything against K-S cables, but because they would introduce another variable for which I would have to allow.

Next up was the choice of amplifier. I had to hand three pairs of monoblocks: Classé CT-M600s ($13,000/pair, 600Wpc into 8 ohms), Lamm M1.2 References ($23,890/pair, 110Wpc into 8 ohms), and MBL Reference 9007s ($42,800/pair, 440Wpc into 8 ohms). The dynamics were great with the Classés, but the sound was lean overall, the amplifiers keeping too tight a control of the YGAs' woofers. The Lamms usefully fattened up the lows, but the sound was too forward, the balance a little bright, and the dynamic range somewhat restricted compared to the other two amplifiers. The MBLs worked best, the treble balance proving optimally refined and the lows fully fleshed out. All of my following comments refer to the sound of the Sonja 1.3s driven by the MBL amplifiers and connected with Kubala-Sosna cables.

Listening
As with the Sonja 1.3's predecessor, the Anat Reference II Professional, I noticed no overt coloration. Pink noise sounded very smooth and even, though there was a slight mid-treble emphasis to the balance. Jacqueline Du Pré's cello in Elgar's Cello Concerto, with Sir John Barbirolli and the London Symphony (24-bit/96kHz Apple Lossless files from HDtracks, transcoded from FLACs), acquired a narrow band of brightness. However, as many other recordings didn't sound bright, it was difficult to decide: Was this a characteristic of the speaker, or was the Sonja 1.3 merely revealing a problem with some recordings?

It may well have been the latter, as there was no trace of brightness when I played the opening chorus, "Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen," of one of my 2009 "Records to Die For": John Butt and the Dunedin Consort's performance of J.S. Bach's St. Matthew Passion (24/88.2 Apple Lossless files transcoded from FLACs, Studio Master download, Linn CKD 313P). This work opens with an ominously dark minor-key figure on violins doubled by oboes, over insistent ostinato, almost double-dotted tonic E-flats in the bass (footnote 2), which resolves with ascending cycle-of-fourth scales. When the voices enter, counterpoint is piled on counterpoint until, within the growing tension and complexity rather than on top of it, the sopranos float a slow-moving, pure-sounding cantus firmus based on a verse of the hymn "O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig." This presumably represents the innocent Lamb of God being led to the slaughter at Calgary, and through the Sonjas, the clarity of the sound and the stability and superb definition of the stereo imaging allowed this vocal line to emerge from the scoring without being exaggerated or buried.

In this respect, as massive and tall as the Sonja 1.3s are, their imaging was more like that of a superb pair of minimonitors—such as the KEF LS50s I reviewed last December. Dual-mono pink noise was reproduced as it should be, with a very narrow central image at all frequencies and no splashing to the sides. Playing "Corpus Christi Carol," from Jeff Buckley's Grace (CD, Columbia CK 57528), the speakers "disappeared," leaving Buckley's otherworldly alto voice hanging there in space, undefined by the speaker positions. But unlike good minimonitors, this ability to float an accurate, stable soundstage was matched by a full-range frequency balance. The bass guitar doubling the lead guitar in the widely spaced arpeggios following the diminished chord at the start of the chorus of "Lover, You Should've Come Over," also from Grace, had the appropriate body to its tone and excellent definition.

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Listening to the warble tones on Editor's Choice (CD, Stereophile STPH016-2), I could hear the tones reproduced at full level down to 25Hz, with the 20Hz tone audible without doubling. The speaker's output was undoubtedly given a helping hand by the 32Hz mode in my room; while the low bass sounded a little disconnected in absolute terms, when there was bass, I heard it. In "Friends to Burn," from Jimmy Webb's 1993 album, Suspending Disbelief (CD, Elektra 61506-2), superbly recorded and mixed by George Massenburg, Art Dudley's favorite bass guitarist, Leland Sklar, drops down to a low D-flat (35.6Hz) in the chorus. This note was reproduced with superb clarity, there being no false bass boom to obscure definition. In "Fever," from the Tierney Sutton Band's Desire (CD, Telarc Distribution 83685), two double basses spin a rhythmic and harmonic web under Sutton's breathy singing, which the Sonja 1.3s kept distinctly defined even when the kick drum entered.

The replacement of the Anat Reference II Professional's powered woofers with passive bass modules in the Sonja was, I feel, an important step forward. But it was in the midrange where the YGA speakers blossomed. The half-step–spaced low-frequency tonebursts on Editor's Choice sounded generally clean, though with some faint ghosting/aliasing apparent in the upper midrange. Even so, female voices sounded maximally different from one another, whether it was Tierney Sutton in "Fever"; Ulla Meinecke singing "Die Tänzerin," from Wenn Schon Nicht für Immer, dann Wenigstens für Ewig (24/192 needle drop from LP, German RCA 426124); the title track of Shelby Lynne's Just a Little Lovin' (CD, Lost Highway B0009789-2); or even Adele's grossly overcompressed pipes on 21 (CD, XL Recordings 8697-444699-2). These speakers loved voices—perhaps, I conjecture, because their width, hence dispersion, approximates the size of the human head. With Richard Lehnert's speaking voice, in the channel-identification and speaker-phasing tracks on Editor's Choice, Richard was in the house, thanks to the Sonja 1.3s.

However, voices acquired a hard edge when the SPL at my listening seat rose above 100dB, measured with fast C-weighting with the Studio Six app on my iPhone 3GS. I was playing Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on Christmas Carols, with the Choir of Guildford Cathedral conducted by Barry Rose (CD, EMI Classics CDM 5 67427-2). The speakers "disappeared" at the start of the work, as expected, leaving the solo cello hanging in space, but it quickly became apparent that I'd set the playback level too high, breaking the 100dB barrier when the choir came in at full level. (See the "Measurements" sidebar for the probable explanation for this barrier.)

The YGA speakers left my room way too soon, to take up residence in another reviewer's system. All I'm left with is the lingering memory of the insistent baión rhythm of the very last track I played before Dick Diamond and Kerry St. James came to pick up the speakers: "Campo de Encino," from Jimmy Webb's 1972 album, Letters (CD, Reprise 10305). At his request, Webb soared away from my listening room, courtesy of the Sonja 1.3s.

Summing Up
YGA's Sonja 1.3 is that rare beast: a true full-range loudspeaker capable of playing at realistic sound-pressure levels with very low coloration and superbly stable, accurate soundstaging. Yes, it is very expensive—the most expensive product I have reviewed in my 37-year career of writing about audio—but its immaculate build quality and equally immaculate sound quality justify that price, at least for those with pockets deep enough to not only purchase a pair but to match them with appropriately high-quality amplification, cables, and source components. And the fact that the would-be owner can begin with a pair of Sonja 1.1s, add Sonja 1.2 woofer modules, and finally the 1.3 woofer modules, will take away some of the financial pain. Class A, all the way.



Footnote 2: E-flat minor? Six flats? That's a cruel and unusual key, even for the Well-Tempered Bach. The published score is in E minor, suggesting that the Dunedin Consort is using instruments tuned to historically correct rather than modern concert pitch.
COMPANY INFO
YG Acoustics LLC
4941 Allison Street, Unit 10
Arvada, CO 80002
(801) 726-3887
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COMMENTS
joelha's picture

It's amazing to me how often high priced equipment elicits contempt.

If you don't like the equipment, don't buy it.

But why the contempt and mockery? Is there something about people spending lots of money on high-end product which makes you unhappy?

Do you stand out in front of Lamborghini dealerships upset at the purchases made there yelling "Hey, you could have bought a nice Mercedes instead. What are you, stupid?"

Notice to contemptuous posters: The buyers of high-end product are spending their money, not yours. And even if the'yre the most foolish people in the world for doing so, why do you care so much?

In the case of the YG Sonja 1.3's, they sound absolutely remarkable. I've owned some very high-end speakers in the past and none of them, in my experience, matches them. They do reach realistic sound levels and convey a realism I've found to be virtually unique in the hobby.

I speak from experience as I own a pair.

For those who find my purchase unacceptable, I apologize for the upset my greater enjoyment (and support) of our hobby is causing you.

Joel

MVBC's picture

setting a strawman is typical response to pointing out troubling facts based on technical attributes. Your comparison with a Lamborghini is ill advised since sports cars engines are tuned to provide the best weight/power ratio, which 85 or 88 db/2.83V/m for a speaker is not.

JohnnyR's picture

A $108,000 speaker that requires a special amp to drive it because of the horrible impedance and phase response isn't a well thought out or well designed product.

joelha's picture

I've used Krell and Halcro amps to power the Sonja's.

What's so special about them?

And as for your being glad I spent the money instead of you . . . so am I.

Joel

JohnnyR's picture

had problemns driving the speaker. Go back and read what he reported in the measurement section. Why is it that both YG and Wilson have probelms with speaker impedance dips, is crossover design the weak part of their company?

jmsent's picture

Any speaker that has a crossover point this low between woofer and midrange is going to require some pretty large inductors and caps to get the job done. This, in combination with the paralleled woofers and a very low resonance frequency is going to result in a very tough load to drive. The same can be said for Wilson's designs, except that they use reflex enclosures. It's nothing new. I had a pair of the original B&W 801's that were well beyond the current capabilities of most amplifiers of the day. At least today, there are behomoths from the likes of Pass and others that can drive the YG's. Personally, I don't think designs like these are well suited to passive crossovers. A well executed active design in this configuration would make much more sense technically, but alas, the "high end" market rejects such products.

GeorgeHolland's picture

As you suggested, using an active design (wasn't the model that came before this active?) Using drivers with higher impedance voice coils so that the parallel combination doesn't dip too much. Using a better crossover design. Using a single larger woofer, a 15 inch instead of two 10's although it's the midrange drivers that are the culprits with their parallel impedance dipping too low around the 200Hz point, fix that problem and it would be okay.

Please understand I am not saying the YG is a horrible speaker but for the money it should be better in this case. Frequency response wise it's very good, the tweeter looks a bit ragged for the price. If they addressed the impedance problems then it would be a lot better. KEF years ago had a model that was virtually flat in impedance across the frequency range.

joelha's picture

If low distortion and remarkably flat frequency response are hallmarks of a weak crossover design, maybe you should re-read the measurements.

In spite of any issues John Atkinson may have had with driving the speaker in one instance, he still concludes with "Class A, all the way".

Have you even heard the speaker?

Between your theory regarding weak crossover design and my first-hand experience, I'm going to have to go with my first-hand experience.

And if you can find something better, at any price, please let me know what it is so I can audition it.

Joel

JohnnyR's picture

which may be partly attributed to the crossover design along with driver choices made by the designer and builder have already been mentioned above. Maybe YOU should re-read the measurements yourself. Ignoring the faults already pointed out isn't going to make it any better, sorry.

Atkinson gives out a lot of superlatives to undeserving components, in MY opinion that have problems which are convienly ignored, again MY opinoin.

Sorry again but that "theory" you mentioned is based upon educated scientific knowledge not from some one who just spent too much money on a speaker and was "wowed" by it.  Congrats on liking your new toy, flaws and all.

Have you checked out the two links posted earlier with the open baffle speakers? Have you listened to those?

ChrisS's picture

Comrade JRusskie,

How does your opinion compare to first-hand experience and measurement? Do you think that anything that happens solely in your imagination has any bearing on the real world?

joelha's picture

So let's see, Atkinson is wrong for being so impressed with the Sonja's, I'm wrong for being so impressed by the Sonja's, and you, the one of us three who hasn't heard them, knows better.

Congratulations.

And yes I've heard the Linkwitz's and with all due respect to those who love them, in my opinion they're not in the same league.

I'll offer a theory of my own: It really bugs you when anyone spends six figures on an audio product.

Too bad.

I'll continue to enjoy my "toy" and you can continue to be annoyed.

Joel

anomaly7's picture

Having heard YG's at shows, I'm convinced they sound as good as they look.

If only you had an online contest where I could win a pair of these...

ChrisS's picture

"When you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?"

Comrade JRusskie, since you revealed long ago that you have nothiing valid to contribute to the discussion of audio products, you are now just simply annoying.

Patrick Butler's picture

While transducer design has come a long way in the last 50 years, we are still not close to designing and manufacturing anything that could be described as a perfect transducer.  State of the art designs are merely that- the best examples of the art as currently exists.  They all have problems.  The best works are artful compromises, and anybody that tells you differently is selling something.

lap's picture

I just want to say that I greatly appreciate all of you out there that are so worried about someone like me who has "wasted" my money on a pair of YG speakers. I currently own Anat lll Signatures.  Although I do own my own house, my own cars and actually have enough money in the bank to retire now if I wanted to it's very comforting to know that there are so many financial experts out there looking out for me....and audio experts to boot.

pulsetsar's picture

I was wondering about JA's decision to use the Vandersteen Treos (about $6k) in this review as a comparison in the measurements section. Was it just fresh in his mind or was he so impressed by those speakers he felt the need to compare them to ones almost 2 orders of magnitude more expensive! Having heard the Treos I have to agree that they are pretty awesome. Since I wasn't able to find anything else in their price range that could compete, by my ears, I put in order in recently for a pair with Richard Vandersteen himself answering the phone when my dealer called him - talk about service!

John Atkinson's picture

pulsetsar wrote:
Was it just fresh in his mind or was he so impressed by those speakers he felt the need to compare them to ones almost 2 orders of magnitude more expensive!

Mostly the former but definitely some of the latter too,

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

brettmendes's picture

I always find it interesting how dedicated certain people in the audiophile community are to complaining. It's not like some 18 year old kid is saving his pennies to purchase a pair of these. There's no one who's going to save up $100K and then spend it on a pair of speakers. So who do these malcontents think they're defending? The speakers are bought by those that can afford them. I certainly can't and am unlikely to ever be able to. But I still can be curious about them, and these reviews satiate my curiosity. Isn't that part of the point of reviewing them in the first place? 

-Brett

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