Building the Best Analog Sound System Ever

By Wesley Fenlon

50,000 watts of classic audio design.

Marty McFly stands in front of a speaker five times his size. Power's maxed. Driver's maxed. Overdrive's maxed. He stands, poised, guitar pick ready to strike. And then he strums. You probably know what happens next.

It's hard to imagine not wanting to do the exact same thing when face-to-face with Despacio, a gargantuan new 50,000 watt speaker system designed by LCD Soundsytem's James Murphy, audio engineer John Klett and 2ManyDJs. Despacio consists of seven speaker stacks, over 11 feet tall, designed for a very particular purpose: Playing vinyl. The audiophiles who designed the system wanted to build something powerful, something that could play incredible-sounding music in clubs, without all the digital processing that those systems usually use to fill a giant room with sound. Despacio is all analog.

Photo credit: Despacio

Audio company McIntosh loaned hundreds of thousands of dollars of amps to make Despacio possible. Murphy and Klett wanted McIntosh amps, because they hold a special significance: McIntosh's hardware was responsible for the Grateful Dead's Wall of Sound, which was the most powerful system ever built in 1974. McIntosh supplied 30,000 watts worth of amplification for the Wall of Sound. This time they'd have to go bigger.

The amps were needed to power the speakers in the seven towering stacks, custom-built with metal frames encased in wood," Wired writes. "The lower part of each stack contains four 15-inch drivers, which supply the bass (between 100hz and 400hz). On top of them are two amp racks (supporting three McIntosh amps each) and four 12-inch drivers, these are responsible for the lower mid-range (400hz rising up to 2,000hz). The amp racks are covered with thick Plexiglas covers which act as an extended baffle for 'keeping the energy of those 12-inch cabinets shooting their way into the room,' as Klett puts it. At the very top of the stacks sits "the birdhouse", which is where the four tweeters live, along with a horn, that runs from 2,000hz up to 10,000hz, providing the upper part of the mid range and the treble."

All that hardware is built and arranged to deliver the best possible analog sound, and with plenty of headroom. At the system's debut at the Manchester International Festival, Despacio was running at about 20 percent power. Full power, its creators say, would probably kill everyone on the dance floor. If Marty McFly got his hands on the system, we'd probably find out.