Certainly 2014 stood out at chez K, for it was the year that I reviewed not one, not two, but three full range, quasi statement speakers (systems) and to be honest, I don't think that will happen again anytime soon. First, it's a pain in the you-know-what to deal with all the logistics relevant to such an undertaking; second, unless you are blessed with unlimited living space (I am not), having three such speakers in your living room, office, bed room and other such places of habitat can be a bit of a hassle. Frankly, while the prospect of having a pair of Zu Druid+Submission, Wilson Audio Alexia and YG Hailey all at the same time seems mouth watering—it is—managingthese three behemoths is almost a task onto itself. Given that budgets at PF simply do not permit for personal assistants, all sort of falls on the reviewer to handle and prospect for— and hence the dilemma of reviewing such large (and heavy!) box items.
Disrupt. It's become a magical, mystical, tour de force name for all things, everywhere—never more than during the age of the internet and all its goodies. To disrupt (a business model) is to assume that someday you will be successful, prosperous, nayrich beyond your wildest imaginations. It's certainly worked for many a modern day Rockefellers, steel magnates, Glassholes and other such visionaries. Low and behold—though on albeit different scales—it's even worked for all things high-end audio.beats by Dr. Dre? Audeze? Schiit? Nordost? Kubala-Sosna? Zu? To name but a mere few. Each and every one of these respected companies took to the stage to conquer, nay, slay the competition and disrupt the establishment with their respective entries into the fray. In many of these cases—for example Beats, Nordost, or Schiit - these companies not only disrupted age old business ideas, they in fact went out to singlehandedly create all new markets and routes to success as well. Prior to beats, for example, hardly anyone would have thought that headphones would become thedriving force behind "personal audio". Likewise, Nordost back in the early 90s, captured the imagination and respect of the audio world by declaring audio cables not only part of the high-end, but in fact a necessity.
Thus, enter the world of YG Acoustics, helmed by none other than Yoav Geva, a young lad who in the spirit of disruption, set out to create a loudspeaker company from thin air. No joke. Quite simply, Yoav (raised in Israel and Germany) felt that he could do it better than anyone else. Right. Heard that one before. Alas, I vividly recall Yoav's first encounter at a distant LA / OC Audio Society meeting (the world's largest! [or else I'll hear from Bob Levi…]) some years ago: "Our speakers are the best (speakers) in the world" the young lad proclaimed. Ballsy. Fantastical. Nuts? Certainly his speakers looked different. All aluminum. Heavy. Modern. Daring. Beautiful? I took notice. Say what you wish—opinions thankfully do still vary, leftist political correctness bullshit and all—I thought Yoav made a calculated, defined and well conceived splash. The scene was ripe for the taking. Could it be that some young kid from nowhere could upend the old school establishment? Globally to boot? Stranger things have happened as they say.
YG is a unique firm. Lately I have been on a special K-kick. Not merely content with simply reviewing a product—hey, that's easy, anyone can do it these days it seems—I want to dig deeper. You know the thing that reporters—reviewers—are supposed to do. Anyone can read a bullet point narrative. What motivates a company? Why are they here? What's their day-to-day look like? How many employees do they have? Are they financially liquid? What's their favorite team activity? So on and so forth. Let's face it: the reason is rather simple as we are a uniquely small—tiny—cottage industry which increasingly demands higher and higher price points for their wares. Not always. Not everywhere, but certainly at the top. Economies of scale work wonders, alas, so do small scale productions of epic R&D efforts. No VC guy to lay down a couple hundred million here. It's good old small business ingenuity and hard work. There's always more to the story than merely a fifteen minute or month long sound check.Fortytwothousandeighthundred dollars is a ton of money.
Hailey's machined parts take around 61 hours to make. 61 hours Putting it all together takes even that much more. 1640 individual parts make up Hailey at 170lbs. All in all, the machines used to create Hailey cost a few million dollars. Then there's labor. 3D printing and all is cute for Bubba Gump, not for Hailey. Twelve employees work—with living wages—to sustain the business model, nay, to disrupt the competition. Profits are invested straight back into the company to—you guessed it—make more speakersand spend more money on expensive tooling and R&D. Yoav is smart. Make that very smart. He chose aluminum because of its inherent properties that lend themselves to ludicrous precision manufacturing. Also, aluminum—properly utilized—is a very inert, very strong material. 98.2% of Hailey is manufactured in house. That kind of goes like this: nearly everything you see, touch, and feel is all YG. The drivers are machined from solid billet blocks (he calls it BilletCore) of aluminum as well. Yoav famously calls out the stiffness to weight ratio of aluminum and how it is far superior to any other material in that regard. One can literally place hundreds of pounds atop a cone without it collapsing or deforming. That's inherent strength. The tweeter is soft dome, yet heavily modified and radically optimized by YG. Next to the stock OEM spec model, you wouldn't recognize it. Radical is a good word to describe YG. Every bit—no matter how tiny or nearly invisible—is optimized and purpose built explicitly for each speaker model. Think milled speaker binding posts out of hyper-pure copper. Hey, might as well make it all. Be it Sonja 1.2, Hailey 1.2 or Carmel 2 (the latest version of which was just announced to great fanfare at CES), each speaker stands on its own—some parts are shared; most are specifically designed for each model. Quality control is positively insane. I mean that. Marco, YG's factory manager certainly runs a tight ship. USS Nimitz calling. Observing Sam, YG's chief machinist play the fiddles, nay CNC machines, watch out. Perfection and excellence at its finest.
The first sonic impression of Hailey is one of neutrality, image specificity and density. It's quite striking. Every speaker I hear has certain standout qualities that you tend to hear first and those tend to stick. Hearing Hailey for the first time late 2013 during a cloak and dagger factory visit, I was most impressed. Speed. Man, that thing hasspeed! Indeed. It's the perfect DK speaker—the music I listen to, Hailey loves. Not that she's partial to music you serve this or any other type. Jazz, classical, classic rock, electronic, you name it—Hailey's character is of utmost neutrality, yet never at the expense of harshness or cool, bitter weather fronts. A test pressing of Acoustic Sounds' upcoming Dean Martin release, Dream With Dean, sounds astonishingly powerful. Dean's voice accompanied by merely a trio comes through with such depth, coherence and statute that you'd swear a far larger speaker was performing in front of you. Might I mention that Hailey isn't reflex loaded; speaker placement is therefore easy-peasy and lends itself to very quick setup routines. At 87dB efficiency and 4 Ohm load, Hailey likes quality power. Onboard with darTZeel's 8850 integrated, EINSTEIN's The Poweramp, and the crown jewel of amps, EINSTEIN's The Final Cut OTL, I never once felt underpowered. Yet, with each amplifier, Hailey sprung to gold: darTZeel likes it best a bit sweetened, The Poweramp delights with refinement, yet the OTLs play in an altogether different league. As well as they should. Cranking at around 50 or so race ponies, the OTLs really bring Hailey to reference quality life. Difficult, eclectic material, Edgard Varèse's Ionization (on a DECCA double-disc set and Harmonia Mundi LP) sparks volumes and goose bumps galore. Set deep in the belly of the beast (Varèse's imagination) Hailey resolves the most intricate of details as though she was merely prepping 3 o'clock tea. Clearly, Yoav's meticulous engineering efforts pay off in spades. Resonance control, driver control—that nearly mythical tweeter (PS: unlike most other tweeters, YG's is built around a 3D motor structure to further disrupt, nay, kill all other tweeters)—all add up to a sonic signature that gives you precisely what's on the recording, nothing more, nothing less.
Swapping Nordost's Valhalla 2 for the equally stunning Tyr 2 line yields the same effect: each cable's virtues can be heard in nearly an instant. V2 the echelon of resolution; T2 bespoke, silky smooth. Neutrality quickly establishes itself as the call sign for Hailey. Foxtrot Alpha Neutral, bogey at 12 o'clock. Here's another eerie experience: a while ago, Arian Jansen of Sonorus fame, copied—using his proprietary all analog surround sound processing matrix—Mozart's Le Nozze Di Figaro (premiering in Vienna's Burgtheater May 1, 1786) from a surround sound 5.1 channel SACD mix to 2-track 15ips BASF 528. Cued up, I almost pooped in my panties when Countess Rosina Almaviva suddenly appeared from the far left side of the room. Seemingly as if by magic—and I do mean this quite literally—Arian's surround sound to 2-track conversion, which preserves (!) the inherent surround sound field if your speakers are phase coherent (many high-end audio speakers, sadly, are not), thus making the appearance of Contessa Almaviva disrupt the soundstage in such a convincing way that I now use this very recording to demo Haileys to unsuspecting K-train visitors. To say that this experience leaves said visitors aghast, is an understatement.
Even leaving out Arian's requisite surround sound re-creations, Hailey spawns a soundstage that is nothing short of astounding. Macro dynamics are preserved in ways that can only be described as Thor like—the uniquely sealed construction delivering gobs of deep bass that's at once tuneful and yet articulate to the core. Clearly, the inertness and structural density of Hailey's prodigious aluminum mass pays dividends in ways that simpler structures simply wouldn't or couldn't. In fact, Yoav's painstaking adherence to every little detail of the speaker's design, result in little to no loss of musical energy and practically an optimum of resonance control. At no point on the Richter, nay, volume scale do you ever notice any level of compression, distortion or other speaker induced gremlins. Cranking it, and I do mean cranking it, merely increases your music's pleasure level whilst provoking barely a sweat from Hailey. Speaking of loud music sessions: Yoav's attention to detail is so omnipresent that he even elects to remove the housing of all internally used Kimber cable lines due to the fact that the air pressure in sealed cabinets is orders of magnitude higher than in vented designs, thus further minimizing any possibilities of resonances exciting any internal—however small—movable parts.
When looking at Hailey from certain angles, you can't help notice the inert beauty of the design. Gazed at directly from the sides, Kubrick's 2001 monolith comes to mind: a deeply black, matt, inert object scales with such precision that merely a glance of it conveys nothing but the highest of quality and ludicrous attention to detail. For example, there appear no visible screws on any of the speaker's sides; each of the panels is flush mounted. While the side and top panels are machined, brushed aluminum, the front and rear panels feature a luxurious—super expensive—machining trick to produce a uniquely noticeable "depth" effect. No doubt much of what high-end audio has become is attributed to how a product looks and feels. Here, Hailey should really delight its new owner and then some. A recent review in Germany's top flight print publication, Image-HiFi, produced perhaps the most stunning photography: positively luxurious, positively impressive. No doubt those with a keen eye will take notice.
Pouring over Yello's The Great Race (12" 45rpm LP mix, ca. 12 minutes long) via the Brinkmann Balance / Brinkmann 12.1 / Dynavector XV-1 / EINSTEIN Phono combo, proved yet again all the points of YG's disruptive elements. A deceptively simplistic bass line envelops the listener with such force and magnitude that you positively feel part of the music, not merely a spectator. As with extremely well recorded classical stereo releases (or Sonorus surround sound retakes), Yello is a master of space and image authority. Hardly a month goes by when I don't cue up at least several of their tracks; playing these through Hailey is equal parts delight and bliss all at the same time. Depending on each recording's presence and imaging cues, this puppy delivers exactly, precisely what is on the recording. Never do you feel as though you are listening to music portrayed by two distinct speakers; here Hailey produces thedisappearance act very, very convincingly. Now that bass. That bass is dynamic, resolved, deep, and articulate. Sometimes watching the drivers perform their duties is amusing—the cone excursion on the 10.25" driver can appear fantastic at times, whilst the lower bass to midrange driver upstairs (crossed over at an astonishingly low 65Hz) is an exercise in precision engineering at its finest. When controlled by the appropriate amplifier, this driver combination manages to perform far above its deceptively small appearance—pipe organs or piano? Hailey has no preference.
Kerry St. James and Dick Diamond, YG's public faces, always offer up a show when called for. The way I look at it, a great product is one thing, but how does your public image check? Fortunately for YG customers and prospects alike, there is nothing to worry about. Case in point whilst on another factory visit (to audition Carmel 2), I overheard several customer service related issues that were being dealt with in typical YG fashion: methodical, swift and with only the customers satisfaction as its primary regard. That's what I call service. That's a prerequisite for a sustainable company growth program. Anyone can build fancy stuff: can they—will they—deliver when stuff happens? It appears that YG is keen on disrupting those notions as well.
Soul and R&B favorites such as Bill Withers, Barry White, Prince, The Brand New Heavies, shine with their distinctive colorations, smooth sounds and vibes; a recent trip to Bagatelle, my local Long Beach go to record shop, produced a score for the ages: 5 of the Commodores good (early) albums in minty mint condition. Cueing up any of them on Hailey produces the warm fuzzies. Respectfully some might think that a realistically neutral speaker might not offer up the proper setting for such heartfelt delights—in reality, it couldn't be further from truth. Hailey plays any kind of music effortlessly, essentially free from all colorations that I can perceive. Certainly here at chez K have I not heard such clarity, focus and dynamic realism—truth?—to each his own I suppose. "You want truth? You can't handle the truth!" That was once a famous movie line by some famous actor addressing another famous actor during a famous courtroom scene. Careful what you wish for.
Perfect Speaker? Over the top machismo? Party pooper? Here's my thought since you asked—over the last 15+ years of formally reviewing gear, many a company making bold over the top claims has come and gone. Few, if any managed to make it stick. What Yoav Geva articulated all those years ago (it really wasn't that long ago) was a call to action; a call to dominate, a call to disrupt. Whereas the first round of speakers that YG produced certainly received accolade after accolade, it is this second generation of speakers that began speaking to me. Hearing, at the California Audio Show a few years ago as I recall, Sonja 1.2s realistically play back an exceptionally well recorded drum solo (Henrick Freischlader Band) in a room I distinctly recall being at least a few sizes larger than life, made me take notice of YG anew. The shear speed, force, size and weight of the drum solo quite literally made my pants flap. "Wow, that's badass." I said to Kerry (St. James) as he kept juicing the volume past 11. At close to $80k for the pair, Sonja appeared just a bit out of reach. Hailey at $42 and change does the trick and then some. I'd wager you get close to Sonja performance at bargain basement mid-price greenbacks. All is relative of course. We are still talking about a boatload of money. Given the qualities and luxuries of these products, it is rather fascinating that we have such lack of street cred in the real world: Dave Pogue and his recent Pono / hi-res rant not with standing, I'd love to pluck him down in front of a pair of Haileys and do the hi-res dog and pony show once more. I bet he'd cave. Instantly.
Yoav and the team at YG have thusly created a new disruptor. In a short amount of time—brisk comes to mind—YG has quickly shot to extremes, where as they say, the air is mighty thin. Being mentioned in the same wake as some of the other big shots is no small feat. Smaller still is the fact that YG did it all without VC funding, magical "science" baloney or other such shenanigans. It shows that fundamentals, when properly applied, do still work. I'd thus call the party started. It ain't a zero sum game. The others won't have to lose for YG to win. We can all play in our sandbox whilst we let David come to Goliath's party. Rumor has it he's got a winner. YG Hailey is certainly what Yoav set out to design: a disruptor. Very well done! Danny Kaey
Hailey 1.2 Loudspeakers
Retail: $42,800 a pair