The Absolute Sound July 2022
I recently finished auditioning for review a most unusual product, one that invites an exploration of high-end audio values and the role of a music system in people's lives. That product is the Vantage Live from YG Acoustics, a pair of self-powered loudspeakers with streaming capabilities. Just plug the pair of speakers and a small control box into a wall outlet, run an Ethernet cable (or join a Wi-Fi network), connect a pair of tiny ST-type optical cables, and you're ready to play music via a phone or tablet.
Audiophiles have a natural suspicion of a system that is so easy to set up and use; such a system must prioritize "lifestyle" over sound quality, the conventional wisdom holds. It's easy to dismiss the Vantage Live with that "lifestyle" pejorative, but that would be a mistake on several levels. The Vantage Live is in my view a breakthrough in alternative audio-system architecture that not only delivers musically, but also brings the uncompromising ethos of high-end audio to an entirely new audience of music lovers.
The Vantage Live is a pair of YG Acoustics' Vantage passive speakers, reimagined. The $59,800 package includes integral amplification, DACs, and DSP crossovers, along with full streaming functions, MQA decoding, and Roon capability. The project the result of a partnership between YG Acoustics, amplifier and DAC manufacturer Bel Canto, and the British engineering and design firm Cambridge Acoustic Sciences (CAS). YG supplied its loudspeaker-building expertise, Bel Canto the electronics, and CAS did the DSP and overall design and integration.
The engineering behind the Vantage Live is unlike that of any audio product I've encountered. CAS was founded by a group of Ph.D.'s who are audiophiles and music lovers (one is a musicologist). The company has deep expertise in computer modeling in diverse fields, expertise it has applied to loudspeaker design. Using the massive horsepower of distributed computing, CAS created a mathematical model of the Vantage Live as well as mathematical models of several hundred different listening rooms and furniture configurations. The engineers can "place" the model of the speaker in the model of the room and see how they interact, with the information guiding design improvements. CAS' co-founder, Dr. Matthew Webster, wrote his doctoral dissertation on modeling the large-scale structure of the universe. On a visit to YG's factory last September, I spent an hour on a Zoom call with him in which he discussed his background, CAS' unique engineering approach, and its collaboration with YG and Bel Canto.
You can read my full review in the next issue, but suffice to say here that the Vantage Live offers some considerable technical advantages over a traditional system architecture, advantages that directly translate to a more engaging musical experience.
But just as significantly, Vantage Live brings high-end audio to where many music lovers live rather than expecting those music lovers to find the high-end-audio industry. And even if those listeners did discover the high end, I suspect that many of them would be put off by the requirement of multiple chassis of equipment and cables and the complexity of a component-audio system. Moreover, buying the Vantage Live requires a single decision — whether to buy the speakers or not — rather than many smaller decisions on amplification, sources, speakers, cables, and accessories. Faced with too many choices and a fear of making the wrong decision about expensive products they know nothing about, many listeners with the means to acquire a high-end system simply decide it isn't worth the effort. They want to enjoy music without becoming hobbyists. Vantage Live allows them to do just that by lowering the barriers to entry into the realm of great sound.
The integrated-systems category has been largely dominated by lower-priced packages, with a few exceptions — the $25k Image 1 from Gayle Sanders' Ikon Audio and the Meridian active DSP speakers, for examples. But Vantage Live represents a bold new step forward for the category in its cutting-edge engineering and outstanding sound quality. It's also significant that YG Acoustics, a company at the pinnacle of the high-end loudspeaker industry, has invested so much in bringing Vantage Live to market.
Although Vantage Live will be perceived by hard-core enthusiasts as sacrificing performance for convenience, this new speaker may prove that the two are not mutually exclusive. After hearing Vantage Live, I don't think that anyone would call it a "lifestyle" system.