It promises to be one of the most endearing moments at this year’s Montreal Audiofest: On Friday, March 25, François Lemay, founder of Tenor Audio and now owner of Lemay Audio, will officially unveil—curtain and all—the Lemay Audio-manufactured Dayton Wright Hommage (French for homage)—a state-of-the-art redesign of the iconic Dayton Wright XG-10 electrostatic speaker—to Michael Wright’s widow, Betty, who’ll be in attendance.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This whole thing with François and Dayton Wright speakers started nearly 50 years ago, when, while shopping for new speakers, François heard his first pair of Dayton Wrights at Montreal’s Audio Club. “It was a shock, a whole new world,” he told me. “But I couldn’t afford them. And they needed powerful amps and a dedicated listening space. I was 23 years old.” By the time he could afford them, Dayton Wright speakers weren’t being made anymore.
“By 1985, production had ceased, although Wright* continued to offer updates and service for his models,” said François. “One of the things about his speakers is they contained gas, and the gas would eventually begin to leak out.” The speaker uses a series of electrostatic cells, which, in the right light, look not unlike your typical floor vent, inside which is a conductive Mylar film that, like a regular speaker cone, transmits sound. The panel of cells in the speaker is enclosed between two Mylar membranes, basically plastic sheets, stretched out entirely across either side of the speaker. Essentially, the gas, and the cells, are hermetically sealed in a compartment filled with a gas that is five times the weight of air.” Okay, but why?
“Gas is a better dielectric than air,” said Francois. “It meant that Wright could make his speakers sound more powerful. And there was a reason he wanted them to sound more powerful. Canada’s first Imax in Toronto had heard about Wright and wanted him to build 50 pairs of speakers to accommodate its cinema. To do that, the speakers needed to project sufficient energy into such a large space. The deal with Imax eventually fell through, but this created another opportunity. Since Wright had the design and all the tooling necessary to build his speakers, he decided to exhibit at audio shows. When people heard them, they were floored.”
Fast forward to recently, when Francois and a designer friend joined forces to rebuild a pair of Dayton Wright XG-10s and modify them to operate without gas. After many hours of testing, tuning, and listening, the two men finally hit on a version that blew them away, sonically speaking. That spurred them to want to build more of them, for friends and acquaintances. However, the parts, no longer being made, were hard to come by.
That changed when François met with a man in Toronto to buy his pair of Dayton Wrights, and who, it was revealed, had worked with Wright for years. “I tell him that we’ve been looking for parts,” François says. “And the man says to me, ‘Come.’ We drive 15 minutes to an industrial park, get out of the car and walk to a door, and on the door is written ‘Dayton Wright’. And here, all this time, I thought the company had been dead for decades!
“We ring the doorbell and a woman opens the door, and it’s Wright’s widow! It turns out that she and her son have been manufacturing a stabilant under the Dayton Wright Electrochemicals name. She asks what I’m doing there and I explain that I’m looking for parts for her husband’s speakers, and I show her a picture of the pair we rebuilt. And she couldn’t believe it. She was touched by the fact that someone was interested in her late husband’s work.
“So, she brings me to a door and opens it, and there it was—the whole speaker factory, with parts and tools everywhere on shelves, gathering dust. And that’s when the idea hit me, that we could bring Dayton Wright speakers to market again and maybe offer upgrades to existing models. And I bought the factory.” He looked at me and grinned: “It was a great day. I was crazy happy.”
The Hommage is a complete re-imagining of the earlier model. For one, it doesn’t use gas. Two, it uses a super tweeter to provide a greater sense of high-frequency extension and spaciousness. Three, it uses three boxes of cells instead of the original model’s one. More significantly, the cells can be time-aligned to a specific listening distance. Lemay Audio offers a choice between 3-, 4-, and 5-meter models.
I asked François how he and his team decided on the number of cells to use: “We tried 6, 8, 12 cells. With 12, we had dynamics, definition, speed, but also too much energy in the midrange. After many hours of testing, we settled on 9 cells. The trick was to tune the cells so they don’t sound the same. Only the center cell reproduces the speaker’s full frequency range; the other 8 affect tonality at different frequencies. That was the secret. Because, ideally, you want your sound to come from a point-source, but you also want the sound to come from a large surface to be able to fill a room with music.”
And fill a room with music the Hommage most certainly does, as I can attest personally from my visit at François’s house. But first, their appearance: at 24 in. wide and 73 in. tall, they’re impressive to behold. They’re Imax-like. Sound-wise, connected to a high-end system consisting of gear by Tenor Audio, Lemay Audio, Baetis Audio, and iFi, they delivered one of the most simultaneously dimensional, layered, and uncongested soundstages I’ve heard in the sweet spot, i.e., the spot directly between the speakers where electrostatics sound their best.
In fact, for the next 45 minutes, as I was being fed a steady stream of musical excerpts from François’s Roon management system and the handful of CDs I’d brought with me, at various times I’d wonder: “Have I ever heard a chorus this well laid out?”, “…a view on the performance this transparent?”, “…this much definition?”, “…this many subtleties and detail?” Sounds were vivid and explicit, surrounded by air and light. I didn’t want it to stop.
And it won’t, not yet: I’ll be there at the great unveiling this Friday at 3pm, in the Outremont 2 room at the Montreal Audiofest. But it may be the last time I hear them; production of the Dayton Wright Hommage is limited to 10 pairs, at $CA 58,000 / pair.
It’s bound to be an event to remember. I hope to see you there.
*Wright had no partner called Dayton. Dayton was his mother’s maiden name.