At some point, every high-end company begins to assess its legacy. For the most part, these reflections concentrate on the designer’s boldest, most sweeping projects. Certainly for an iconic company like Wilson Audio, and its visionary founder Dave Wilson, this will mean honoring revolutionary designs such as the WAMM or WATT via current flagships such as the XLF or the upcoming, next-gen WAMM system. As grand as these no-holds-barred products are, I would argue that another measure of greatness lies where hard limitations have been imposed on the designer. I’d refer to them as projects conceived for the small canvas. Unlike the flagships, where every ounce of tech and sonic alchemy is at the designer’s disposal, these more modest efforts step up to the scratch pad with two strikes against them, usually limitations in size and budget. Turning to Wilson Audio’s latest, the Sabrina, its size and entry-level status would normally fit this category, except for one silly little thing—performance that is in every way pure Wilson through and through. The Sabrina connects with both the head and the heart in ways that have “legacy” written all over it.
The Sabrina, a three-way floorstander in a bass-reflex enclosure, is the smallest and least expensive floorstander in the Wilson line. How small is the Sabrina? One perspective would be: nearly the same size as the revered WATT/Puppy—a speaker many are already comparing it to. In contemporary terms, its 40" height places it a couple of inches shorter than Sophia 3, and in weight it is a good seventy pounds lighter. Internal volume is also 44 percent smaller than the Sophia. Its lines are reserved but precise, with a fixed-slope front baffle that time-aligns the drivers—a classic illustration of form following function. The driver complement includes a doped silk-dome tweeter that’s a modified version of the unit found in the XLF. The midrange is adapted from the Alida, Wilson’s wall-mount product. The 8" paper cone woofer is similar to the Alexia unit. Minimum recommended power is 50Wpc. As with all Wilsons, it’s the quality of the power amp rather than the size that counts. Nominal impedance is 4 ohms, but with a drop to 2.53 ohms at 139Hz, you’ll want to make sure that your amp has enough current to satisfy the Sabrina’s demands.
Naturally, in order to keep costs in line, some restrictions were necessary, mostly pertaining to cabinet materials and build-complexity. Construction is predominately HDF, a superior-quality high-density fiberboard. Wilson Audio’s famed X-material (a high-pressure composite of mineral, polymer, carbon, and paper) is used sparingly in the Sabrina but is carefully employed where it can do the most good—the front baffle and bottom plate. It’s also a single-stage cabinet rather than two distinct boxes like the Sasha which means less CNC time and thus lower cost. The tweeter is isolated internally from the midrange and woofer drivers with the latter two transducers sharing the same internal volume. Wilson Audio notes that in this configuration any potential for intermodulation distortion is minimized by prudent driver selection and precise porting of the enclosure.
The Sabrina may be entry-level Wilson, but there are no observable shortcuts in quality. Crossover components are exactly the same as those in every Wilson in the catalog. The point-to-point hand-wiring is handled by the same dedicated crew of folks responsible for every Wilson speaker, from the Alida to the Olympian-scaled XLF. Finally, fit and finish are identical with every Wilson product I’ve ever examined—superb in every detail from the deep, mirror-like reflection of the painted surfaces, to the craftsman-level joinery.
Honey I Shrunk the XLF!
The sonic character of the Sabrina is marked by a commanding and linear top-to-bottom energy. It’s a ripe sound—a relaxed sound with a slightly warmer signature. It’s a Wilson, of course, so it’s animated by remarkable dynamic headroom, extreme low-level resolution, and a sense that it willfully wants to drive music forward rather than let it passively lay back. But the words that most often came to mind during my listening sessions with the Sabrina were balance and unity. The Sabrina speaks with a richly emotive and continuous voice thanks to unwavering inter-driver coherence and lack of localization. There are no aberrant points of sonic light emitted by the individual transducers—those attention-grabbing beacons that split the sonic tableau into jagged segments forcing the ear to “key” on specific drivers. Listening to the Sabrina is experiencing how music can simply flow across a complete canvas of sound. Choose any random sample of great female pop vocalists who possess a wide range, such as Linda Ronstadt, Eva Cassidy, or Joni Mitchell, and you won’t know whether there are two drivers or twenty.
In tonal balance, the Sabrina is smooth and neutral—each octave seamlessly merging with the other. For those sensitized to “rogue” tweeters promoting a tipped-up treble response, the Sabrina soft-dome will be a sweet tonic. It has a slightly rounder, shaded quality in the mid-to-upper treble that calls to mind the conservatism of the British school of loudspeakers—a segment of which I’m particularly fond. Thus, for me, there’s more than enough top-end extension, but without any obvious treble peaks, gaps, or gritty edges. Of greater relevance is the critical sibilance range between 6–10kHz which is fast, clean, and articulate. A naturalistic embodiment of the real thing.
The tweeter and midrange have a connection to one another that can only be described as sensually synergistic. Their collective range of expression, color, and dynamics is superb and of a piece. Indeed, there’s transient speed to burn but without the perception that speed is all these drivers are about. The leading-edge texture of the rosin off the bow of a bass-viol during Appalachian Journey, or the crisp pluck of a cluster of harp strings during The Wasps Overture are fully followed by firm fundamentals and rich harmonics—elements whose presence acts as a resilient cushion that illuminates perspective and dimensionality. If a rock mix calls for an aggressive pinpoint metal signature, then that’s what you’ll get. Listen to the cowbell mirroring the hi-hat during Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” and you’ll know what I mean. But its natural inclination is to allow harmonics and air to open and bloom, and for cymbals to shimmer in a golden autumnal glow. As I listened to the Elton John track “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” from the SACD (playback courtesy of the superb Esoteric X-03x CD player), I marveled at the transient explosiveness and decay of the cymbal crashes and the fully fleshed-out impact of the snare, from its rattles right down through its metal shell.