Being an audiophile means living in a constant state of hope. Hope about improvements in the quality of musical performances, in the quality of recordings, and in the media used to provide them. Hope for improvements in every active and passive component. And, let’s be frank, a particular hope that somehow the next speaker will have that special magic. The speaker certainly isn’t the most important component—everything in the audio chain counts—but it is inevitably the most colored one, the most demanding in interaction with another component (the power amplifier) and in its interaction with the room and listening position.
I’ve been lucky enough as a reviewer to have had access to some great speakers over the years, although the need to rotate them in my reference system to hear different products has also forced me to say goodbye to some great speakers as well. This is a moment in audio, however, when speakers reach levels of performance that actually do turn hope into reality, and where advances like room correction may soon allow the audiophile to break out of the limitations imposed by the listening room.
It is really hard to make choices today. So, for a long time I’ve compromised by making two choices of long-term references—plus keeping some older speakers around as references. The Legacy Aeris that I reviewed in Issue 235 is one of my current choices. The Legacy is great value for the money, but some of its strengths for the audiophile present problems for a reviewer.
The Legacy Aeris has powered subwoofers. This means it is not possible for a reviewer to review power amplifiers, as there is no clear way to know how they are affecting the bass. The Legacy also has room correction and the ability to electronically adjust its performance to the listener’s taste. This makes the Legacy Aeris an excellent choice for the individual audiophile, but not a neutral reference for reviewing purposes.
I choose the Wilson Alexia as my partner to the Legacy for a number of reasons. I’ve heard and admired Wilson speakers for years, and I was impressed with Jacob Heilbrunn’s review of the Wilson XLF in Issue 225. But more important, I’ve always wanted a full-range cone speaker with the coherence and detail of the best planar electrostatic and ribbon speakers. Wilson’s larger speakers provide this through a careful mix of cabinet rigidity, driver choice, and fully adjustable time alignment, but the Alexia is the first relatively compact Wilson speaker that can be fully time-aligned for a specific listening position. It brings one of Wilson’s greatest strengths into a more compact and affordable package than the Alexandria XLF and Alexandria 2. (Wilson notes that the MAXX 3’s alignment is far less accurate than the Alexia’s, and does not have the Aspherical Propagation Delay feature of the Alexandria series. Aspherical Propagation Delay allows the installer or customer to move the individual driver modules forward and backward for time alignment, and to rotate those modules’ axes for the best tonal balance.)
I’d also heard Peter McGrath of Wilson give some outstanding demonstrations of Wilson speakers at shows and at a local dealer. In the process, he demonstrated that Wilson speakers have steadily broadened the listening area in which its Aspherical Propagation Delay performs at its best. I also got enough audio scuttle-butt to be aware that the Alexia’s new tweeter had probably corrected my one concern about the timbre and dynamics of Wilson speakers—a slight hardening in the upper-midrange and treble. Moreover, the midrange driver used in Alexia is nearly identical to the midrange found in the far more expensive Alexandria XLF