Tribute letter

from François Lemay to Michael Wright

Montreal, February 28, 2022

Dear Michael,

As an enthusiastic audiophile who read everything, browsed shops, and never missed audio exhibitions, I still remember my first listening experience of your electrostatic speakers in 1974 at Audio Club. It was an unforgettable shock. Diaphragms immersed in gas, an unheard-of electrode gap, 12 kV of polarization, a virtual point source, power, finesse, and dynamics—what a brilliant and original design! But at 25, a dedicated listening room, a powerful amplifier, and an astronomical budget were just dreams.

I finally got to taste your genius with my first high-performance preamplifier, the famous SPS MK3 followed by the SPS and SPA. In terms of dynamic speakers, the Dalquist DQ-10 “Phase array” came closest, but still fell so short. Comparing a dynamic to an electrostatic is a risky endeavor. Allow me to skip the details of my long and sometimes arduous audiophile journey, which sadly saw your Dayton Wright brand disappear from the radar around 1985.

Six years ago, my dream speaker became a reality. I had a beautiful dedicated listening room and world-class amplifiers from a company I founded in 1999: Tenor Audio. My friend Jocelyn Jeanson then had me listen to a pair of XG-10s that he had patiently restored to their original condition. Cleaned and retensioned cells, new Mylar envelope and SF6 gas charge, revised power supply, and connectors. Jocelyn had already helped me improve several of the best electrostatic panels I was trying to love, but the XG-10 gave me the same shock 50 years later. After 15 years of restoring and reconfiguring Acoustat panels for fun, Jocelyn decided to focus on the significantly superior Dayton Wrights. My newly restored XG-10 pair worked miracles in my listening room. After countless rigorous comparative listening sessions with multi-voice, wide-band, line source, and electrostatic references, I concluded that the ideal would be a marriage of the magic of a wide band with the energy and speed of a large panel. I have no scientific pretense, but I had the intuition that if all the cells were at the same distance from the ear, we could transform your famous concave virtual point source into a real convex point source However, we would have to sacrifice the wide dispersion you originally designed for an Imax cinema. Never mind, it’s a personal project optimized for a single listening position, mine.

We dared to extract the cells from the magnificent rosewood cabinets. Fortunately, they are tough, and most still work perfectly after 45 years. Hats off. We listened to arrangements of up to 12 cells with more than 45 combinations of filters and tweeters. Three years and over 3000 hours of volunteer reengineering (you know what I mean), we finally found the magic recipe for 9 cells in 3 groups. Only the center one is unfiltered, and the others are attenuated in level and frequency by a high-voltage resistive network. So, there are no capacitors or inductors in the signal. Of course, the ecologically prohibited SF6 gas is absent, but the unmatched Hammond transformer remains in place. The polarization circuit, the real engine of the speaker, was completely redesigned by Michel Vanden Broeck, the designer of Tenor Audio. Several tricks and modern parts 100 times more efficient finally reveal the true potential of your cells. What I would give for you to hear your XG-10s with this new circuit.

So far, only a few experienced audiophiles familiar with my reference system have been exposed to it. Tears, emotional reactions, and signs of disbelief, no one could believe their ears. Speakers disappeared, incredible depth, vivacity, spatialization, tonal balance, and much more. Everyone discovered new voices and instruments in recordings they thought they knew by heart, but most importantly, they felt completely absorbed by the almost real musical scene. Private concerts.

We were able to acquire enough good cells and Hammond transformers to build 5 pairs without particular attention to finish. Listening with closed eyes is our standard. But the rumor spread, and people begged me to make more. The search for other well-preserved XG-10s began, and then, the most extraordinary meeting occurred. In Toronto, a certain Andrew (your old friend whom you know well) nostalgically sold me his pair and expressed his great admiration for you. He even showed me a collection of your amazing caricatures. A talent I didn’t know you had. But when I told him I would stoop to find parts, he smiled and invited me to follow him without saying a word. Arriving at 97 Newkirk Rd, I thought I was dreaming when I saw the name Dayton Wright on the door. The charming lady who welcomed me thought she was dreaming too when I showed her a photo of my speaker. After 35 years, someone was obsessed enough to push the development further. If you had seen her incredulous eyes light up. Of course, it was Betty Wright (Gordon), who had shared the last 35 years of your life, and who also worked on another of your brilliant inventions, the famous Stabilant, which she still manufactures at 97 Newkirk with her son Scott And if you had heard my exclamations when she opened the door to the large manufacturing space left abandoned and dusty since it was shut down 35 years ago. Had you secretly or unconsciously kept everything intact in case someone like me would come along to continue on the foundations you had laid?

No matter, we were able to acquire enough good cells to manufacture about ten pairs, transformers, and other essential parts included. Betty also authorized me to use the Dayton Wright name, your name, for this project. I intend to honor it. In the old documents, I hoped, without success, to discover the formula for the resistive compound for the cells. However, searching with Betty in what I would call the abandoned Dayton Wright papers, I found projects and research documents and what seemed like good memories to you, such as your MIT lab notebook, your badge from the Montreal audio show in 1974, a 400-page novel corrected with white-out. A diving helmet, the muscle stimulation system, and a few prototypes complete the findings.

As you yourself have detailed the highs and lows of your adventure on the Dayton site, I will add a few documents. Between your first electrostatic panel at 15 and the thousands of speakers and preamplifiers you sold in more than 18 countries, between your project to model the human brain in a hologram and your theory of Periodicity, there’s enough to inspire some researchers.

To bear your name, the ten pairs had to have a spectacular design and finish. I entrusted the design task to Patrice Guillemin, and to complete our work of controlling all sources of resonance, an anti-vibration base was specially developed by Jean Francois Michaud of Modulum audio.

In a few weeks, I will unveil the result of our efforts to Betty at the Montreal Audio Show. When the veil falls, she will see the fruit of our work, but above all, she will hear such heavenly music that she will believe you have become a musician. For my part, I would not be surprised if in 50 years, some audiophiles admire their Dayton Wright Hommage whose cells sing beautifully after 100 years.

On behalf of all audiophiles and all musicians,

Thank you, Michael.

Francois Lemay, February 28, 2022