Wilson Audio Duette Series 2 Loudspeaker

A Serious Problem-Solver

Equipment report
Wilson Audio Duette 2
Wilson Audio Duette Series 2 Loudspeaker

The front baffle now has a ten-degree slope that results in better sonic integration of the tweeter and the mid/woofer. The Series 2 tweeter, explains Daryl Wilson, is “a modified version of the original Duette tweeter. We learned a lot from the development of the Alexia, and the modifications for the Alexia’s Convergent Synergy tweeter. The Duette Series 2 tweeter is not a Convergent Synergy tweeter and has the same motor as the original Duette. But the rear-wave control system we developed for the Alexia is utilized with the Duette Series 2 tweeter.” This tweeter is a narrow-dispersion driver, in which dispersion characteristics are further improved by the new sloped front baffle. Wilson does supply alternative resistors that allow the user to either boost or attenuate the tweeters’ outputs by 1dB (this surgery is easily performed on the Duette’s back panel, using a supplied Allen wrench). The mid/woofer in the Series 2 and the internal volume of the box are identical to those of the original Duette—but bass performance is considerably improved thanks to changes in the construction of the enclosure, and revisions to the crossover.

Two other aspects of the Duette Series 2’s redesign deserve comment. The first is ergonomic. The binding posts for the connection of amplifiers are located near the bottom of the stand—which, by the way, is also fabricated from X material, with the top and bottom plates machined from aircraft-grade aluminum—and are on a tilted surface that makes attaching speaker cables near a wall much easier, with less chance of kinking wires. The terminals themselves are clearly labeled with large, white “plus” or “minus” symbols. (The binding posts accept spades only, Wilson having long since rejected other designs for sonic reasons.) Also, as was the case with the original Duette, the user must connect the crossover to the tweeter and mid/woofer driver via supplied cables and sets of terminals on the speaker itself. The wires travel through the stand, emerging from a slot close to the top plinth. Since connecting the cables incorrectly can damage the drivers, the wires in the Series 2 are color-coded, making connections pretty much impossible to screw up. (This was not the case with the original Duette.)

The second aspect of the redesign that struck me is aesthetic. Although beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder, I find the new Duette to be the most visually appealing speaker Wilson has ever produced. Because of the sloped front baffle—which allows the drivers to be aimed slightly upward—the stands are shorter, with the form factor of a perfectly proportioned lectern. In addition to not being box-shaped, the speakers manifest a subtle triangularity on their side panels (a functional reflection of the variable panel-thickness described earlier) that lends an understated elegance to the Duette’s appearance.

The Duettes arrived by truck in ten substantial wooden crates. Because of my familiarity with Wilson products, I undertook to uncrate them and roughly position them in advance of Peter McGrath’s customary visit, made to ensure that a reviewer has a Wilson product sounding its best. The outcome was remarkable on two counts. First, I suffered no injury more serious than a few splinters from manipulating the crates. Second, to my immense pride, McGrath didn’t find the need to move the five Duettes at all. (Although Wilson provides step-by-step instructions for the setup of all its speakers, it also requires its dealers to install speakers—something they’ve been trained to do. Some dealers charge for this service and some don’t. It might be an item for negotiation with a purchase of this magnitude.) In fact, there was an eleventh crate sent from Utah, this one a real monster containing a WATCH Dog passive subwoofer. Dialing the sub in, utilizing Wilson’s WATCH Controller, took McGrath an hour or so.

As noted above, my room is 15' x 15', though that symmetry isn’t nearly as problematic as you might think. A hall opens up close to the right main channel and the wall behind the front speakers is mostly covered, floor to ceiling, with discs of various kinds. The ceiling is high, ranging from 11 to 13 feet. The room has carpet over an acoustically isolating foam/vinyl pad (to protect my downstairs neighbors from Mahler and Mayall), and there’s a concrete slab below that. (The spikes on the Duettes and WATCH Dog make it down to the concrete.) You’ll find no sound-absorbing pillows, reflectors, or diffusers in my room. Instead, I depend on the software in my Anthem D2v processor to apply room correction all the way out to 20kHz. My usual amplification is four Pass Labs components: a pair of Aleph 0 monoblocks for the main front channels, a 60.8 monoblock for the center, and an Aleph 0s stereo amplifier for the surrounds. A Parasound A23 amplifier, bridged to mono to produce 400 watts, powers the passive WATCH Dog. CDs, SACDs, DVD-As, and Blu-rays are played on an Oppo 93 that functions as a transport; D-to-A conversion is done via the Anthem. Digital files, both downloaded and ripped from physical media, are managed and played by a Baetis Revolution II media computer.

Initially I plopped the five Duettes down in an approximation of the standard ITU configuration. Preliminary listening revealed a hole-in-the-middle effect that was cured by moving each main speaker about six inches closer to the center. When all was said and done, my ears were ten feet from the right and left front speakers, which were themselves ten feet apart, nine feet from the center channel, and six to seven feet from the surround Duettes.

I assessed the Duette Series 2s as a stereo pair, with and without subwoofer, and in a multichannel system with the WATCH Dog. The first order of business, however, was to compare the Duette Series 2 to the original version of the speaker. I set up both pairs of speakers near each other, with the earlier versions a few feet out into the room and closer together. Levels were matched by ear—the Series 2s have a sensitivity of 92dB whereas that specification for the original Duette is 88dB.

Succinctly put, the Series 2 is a better speaker than its predecessor: It plays louder and lower, and with less of a sense of stress on demanding source material. With a favorite choral recording, Stile Antico singing Thomas Campion’s “Never weather-beaten sail” from Tune thy Musicke to thy Hart, there was superior resolution of individual voices when the Series 2s were in service, resulting in less homogenization of the ensemble sonority. A recording of Dvorák’s New World Symphony under Iván Fischer on the Channel Classics label was more representative of the glorious Italian Institute in Budapest through the newer Duettes. Electric bass and drums on well-recorded rock and pop recordings were faster and better fleshed-out. I won’t belabor the point. I gave the older speakers a fond farewell, crated them, and exiled them to the basement.