Wilsons Have It All

Wilson SophiaDoes Wilson Make The World’s Best Speakers? Many Think So.

WAMM, WHOW, Grand SLAMM! It’s enough to make you wonder WATT in blazes is happening?

No, this isn’t a discourse on pop art paintings that resemble blown up comic book panels. It’s an introduction to the venerated loudspeaker designer, David Wilson, who has used those terms as model designations.

Don’t let the names mislead you. Wilson speakers deliver far more than the blunt-force bass that they imply. Dynamic power, always a Wilson hallmark, is just one reason audiophiles revere the brand. Countless devotees will tell you, without hesitation, that Wilson speakers have it all.

We concur. Wilsons are forcefully dynamic yet highly detailed, fast and distortion-free, exceptionally transparent with true-to-life timbre, and as spatially correct as any loudspeaker has ever been.

Bound For Glory

Dave Wilson got hooked on hi-fi early on, but he’s quick to admit he was no audio Mozart. While Wolfgang was writing credible classical compositions at age 5, one of Dave’s first electronics projects, an attempt at building a Heathkit amplifier, literally went up in smoke. Fortunately, that didn’t deter him from pursuing the hobby that ultimately became his profession.

WilsonLogoNor was Dave’s first product a speaker. It was a turnable, a modified Acoustic Research unit with its suspension altered to accommodate an SME tonearm. Dave then went on to produce and engineer a series of high fidelity recordings.

By the 1980s, he was focusing on speakers, and his first commercial model, the WAMM (for Wilson Audio Modular Monitor) challenged the industry’s finest. It combined two subwoofer towers dedicated to bass below 55 Hz with a pair of modular, full range arrays, each of which employed an electrostatic super tweeter flanked by twin midrange/tweeter modules.

An Auspicious Pairing

At that point, Dave was still making recordings. His desire for a portable location monitor that would provide transparency and neutrality equal to that of his WAMM led him to develop a small speaker. He whimsically named it for the preschool that his young children then attended, Tiny Tots.

As hi-fi history would have it, the Wilson Audio Tiny Tot, WATT for short, spawned subsequent generations of speakers that have dwarfed their progenitor. Over time, a variety of developments both large and small have turned Wilson’s little studio speaker into the heralded home unit that’s now the firm’s best selling model, the Sasha.

Wilson SashaThe first step in that painstaking, decades-long process was the creation of a separately-enclosed woofer that would rest beneath the WATT. For many discerning home listeners, the mating of the two modules, which resulted in a superior breed of speaker, was miraculous. It produced a room-friendly, compact monitor that rivaled the dynamics, frequency response and spatial presentation of imposing four-tower systems.

The new speaker was christened WATT/Puppy, and it was destined to become the best seller in its price class.

Seductive Sasha

When Wilson began using cutting-edge material forWATT/Puppy cabinets and flawlessly finishing them with automotive paint, the  speaker assumed an opulent new look. Performance took a quantum leap forward when its two-cabinet format was re-imagined as an integrated system. At that point, the model was rechristened Sasha WP.

The current iteration of the Sasha, the WP Series 2, employs a version of the tweeter used in Wilson’s top-of-the-line model, the Alexandria. Dave expressly modified that driver for a dual-cabinet system. Sasha WP Series 2 also incorporates significant time alignment advancements. (To better understand the importance of speaker time alignment, a key aspect of Wilson designs, see the special section at the bottom of this webpage.)

As seductive as the dual-enclosure Sasha has proven, those who listen in smaller spaces might prefer a speaker even more compact. It was for those music devotees that Dave developed the single-cabinet Sabrina (38 inches high x 11 inches wide x 18-3/4 inches deep vs. Sasha’s 44-inch height, 14-inch width and 21-1/4 inch depth).

The Sabrina ‘s price is less than half that of the Sasha. Nevertheless, like its larger sibling, it was designed to provide the dynamic contrast and harmonic expression of much larger systems. Those particular performance characteristics are, in fact, the ethos of the Wilson brand.

Wilson SabrinaStunned By Sabrina

“The sound was stunning in its impact,” Stereophile’s Robert Deutsch said of the Sabrina after auditioning it with a broad range of musical material, opera included. Sonically, it gave “no indication” of being one of the firm’s smaller models, he affirmed.

If ultimate audio is your goal, we suggest you audition the Alexia. Introduced in 2012 after two years of development work, it was the first entirely new Wilson loudspeaker platform to appear in nearly half a decade

While the Alexia’s design is endowed with an ample amount of the top-end Alexandria’s DNA, it employs a smaller cabinet and is suited for less grand environments. Its footprint isn’t much larger than that of the Sasha — Alexia stands 53-1/4 inches high with spikes, is 15-1/4 inches wide and 21-1/8 inches deep — yet it delivers a walloping portion of Alexandria’s musicality.

Alexia’s Attributes

When it came to selecting Alexia’s high frequency driver, Dave chose to modify his best for the new system, the Alexandria’s Convergent Synergy tweeter. The Alexia midrange driver is virtually identical to that of the Alexandria.

Moreover, by allowing rotational adjustment on the polar axis, Alexia’s tweeter and midrange drivers can be adapted to disperse sound to listeners who are variously seated in one of a variety of differently-configured rooms. Dave calls this ability Aspherical Propagation Delay.

As for low frequencies, the Alexia’s prowess can be credited to two different-sized woofers, both of which were designed especially for it and optimized over an 18-month period.

Wilson AlexiaGenuinely Transcendent

Stereophile’s editor, John Atkinson, reviewed Alexia in December 2013 and summed up his findings as follows: “As impressed as I have been by Wilson’s flagship [Alexandria XLF]…I am actually more impressed by the Alexia, which, at one-fourth the XLF’s price, gets remarkably close to its bigger sibling in terms of musical satisfaction….If I were to retire tomorrow, the Wilson Alexia would be the speaker I would buy to provide the musical accompaniment to that retirement.”

In a previous issue of Stereophile published back in 1990, John had noted that Dave Wilson was already “one of the major figures both in high-end loudspeaker design and in musically honest recording.” In the past quarter century, his reputation has continued to grow.

Dave’s meticulous modus operandi, his continuous research, and the careful incorporation of one generation’s advancements into successor products leads us to compare his speakers to the handful of thoroughbred horses that have taken racing’s triple crown. Like those pedigreed pacesetters, Wilson speakers do everything right. The fact that they can replicate musical performances with such realism is almost eerie.

Don’t miss hearing Wilson loudspeakers bring music to life at Lyric.

The Importance Of Time Alignment

In dual- and multi-driver loudspeaker systems, music in a specified portion of the frequency spectrum is fed to a dedicated driver, but the sounds from all a system’s drivers don’t always reach listeners’ ears at exactly the same time. The sound, in terms of time, has become misaligned.

Dave Wilson has long pointed out that even tiny degrees of time misalignment are readily discernible and lead to sonic losses in several critical areas: focus, speed, transparency and timbral accuracy. As a result, the music doesn’t sound as natural as it should.

Odd as it may seem, surprisingly few speaker designers attempt precise time alignment. And most who do, Dave notes, only align their speakers’ drivers for a single listening distance and seating height.

Not so with Wilsons, which give listeners time alignment flexibility. That flexibility is the reason the largest Wilson speakers feature adjustable modules. The three-module Alexia, for example, has both a tweeter and a midrange that can be adjusted for time-alignment accuracy in various spaces as well as for listeners in varied seating positions.

Time alignment is also the reason the Sabrina’s cabinet slants. The angle of its baffle, the surface on which the drivers are mounted, prevents the time misalignment that would occur if it were vertical.