When an audio manufacturer offers a “line” of components, is a more expensive model necessarily better than a less costly one? Not always. The speaker you purchase should be determined less by the heft of your bank account and more by your room requirements, listening style, and taste in music. Taking these things into consideration, I can report that Wilson Audio’s next-to-the-bottom-of-the-line loudspeaker, the Duette Series 2 ($22,500 the pair), was just what I was after. And I’m telling you this as someone who has owned bigger Wilson speakers—three iterations of the venerable WATT/Puppy system, to be exact.
I bought WATT/Puppy 2/3s over 20 years ago, subsequently replacing them with 6s and, about four years ago, with Sashas. Along the way, I developed an interest in multichannel music that became a driving force in the development of my audio system. At first I complemented the W/Ps with other quality brands for the center speaker and surrounds; eventually I acquired three of the original Duettes for those channels. This all-Wilson configuration did pretty well with the best discrete multichannel recordings, but it wasn’t ideal for my room.
At 15' x 15', my listening space is fairly small, and my devotion to multichannel necessitates a listening position that isn’t too close to the rearwall (and the surround speakers). As a result, I had to sit rather close to the front plane of the Sashas, which need to be positioned at least a few feet away from room boundaries—a location that could make the sound too immediate.
I’ve often wondered if there might be spatial enhancements to be had with both two-channel and surround material if the main speakers could be situated further away and farther apart. Since I had heard that the redesigned Duette was optimized for placement near a wall, when Robert Harley asked if I’d like to review the newer Duettes, I said, “Sure—have them send five.”
David Wilson, who has been manufacturing consumer loudspeakers for four decades, is now 70. He’s in good health and continues to design speakers and run his company. In the words of Peter McGrath, who is the company’s national sales manager and has known Wilson since the early 1970s, “He still drives the bus.” But “succession” is something that has long been discussed in this family business, and Dave and Sheryl Lee’s son Daryl has emerged as the heir apparent.
“I’ve grown up with Wilson Audio,” Daryl told me. “I twisted cable in my parents’ garage back when I was just a little kid, swept parking lots, cleaned the fab shop, answered phones…Wilson Audio is a part of me and it courses through my blood. I want not only to sustain Wilson Audio, but to continue to develop products that are state of the art.” In fact, of the 50 or so speakers that Wilson Audio has offered over its history, Daryl has worked on 27 of them. Although he is quick to emphasize the team approach to R&D at the company and to gently play down his relative youth, the Duette Series 2 is largely Daryl Wilson’s design. “There are a handful of products that I worked on from beginning to end, and my dad just signed off on. The Duette 2 is a special one for me.”
The Series 2 differs in a number of significant ways from the original Duette, which was first marketed a decade ago. That speaker was designed for maximum versatility—for use near walls or away from walls, on stands or on a bookshelf, even oriented horizontally. This need for versatile placement drove many design features and made certain compromises necessary. The sides of the enclosure, for instance, had to be flat for bookshelf mounting, while the system for attaching the speaker to a stand (which involved magnets, metal tiptoes, brass discs, and putty) was not only acoustically sub-optimal but also perilous—an enthusiastic pet or five-year-old could easily send a Duette crashing to the floor. Again, due to the need for flexibile placement, the front baffle had to be perpendicular to the floor, greatly complicating things when it came to driver alignment in this two-way design.
Daryl and others considered actual customer utilization in redesigning the speaker. They discovered that people were mostly using the Duettes on stands, and definitely were not laying them on their sides. So, although you can still buy Duettes with a free-standing Novel crossover that connects to the speaker via an umbilical cord (at a savings of $2500), the usual implementation is with a newly designed stand that has the crossover hidden inside it, as well as a pair of threaded bolts to securely bond the speaker to that stand. The most profound advances with the Series 2 probably derive from the decision to always have the speaker oriented vertically. The vertical orientation allowed for variation in the thickness of the walls of the enclosure, which is fashioned from a phenolic-resin-based composite, Wilson’s extremely rigid “X Material.” This variability in wall thickness has the effect of breaking up persistent resonances identified via Wilson’s sophisticated laser-vibrometry technology. The internal bracing has also been reconfigured accordingly, again using X Material.