The Sabrina’s midbass to lower midrange region is potent, and dynamically explosive with no evidence of energy-dimming suck-outs. This is a difficult-to-manage transitional region that is crucial if the full foundation of music is to be realized. In its absence, an instrument such as the cello, for instance, gets the “lean cuisine” treatment, losing its acoustic and darkly resonant timbre and becoming a bloodless X-ray of itself. When I hear familiar percussion or bass cues—whether they’re orchestral, as in Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, or rock, as in Dire Straits’ “Telegraph Road”—I’m not listening for a papery representation; I expect an exquisitely dark impact that feels hurled from some unexplored, cavernous place. While full-range extension to 20Hz slips from its grasp, the Sabrina still manages a respectable and vigorous low-to-mid-30Hz range (in-room), which if you haven’t experienced it lately is more than satisfying. The Sabrina generates a great deal of low-frequency energy, even summoning the near-seismic, batten-down-the-hatches shudder in the pipe organ’s lowest octave during the tracks from the Rutter Requiem. But it does have limits; the deepest dives of an organ or the energy of an orchestral bass drum during Copland’s Fanfare are dynamically softened slightly and lose some pitch integrity.
Turning to output and dynamics, the Sabrina is designed like all Wilson speakers with an eye to the rigors of the recording studio. It doesn’t turn weak-kneed when the SPLs start rising. Crank it, and there’s no retreat. In fact, it actually seems further emboldened. My most unexpected surprise was the way the Sabrina combined low-level resolution and the most delicate bass dynamics, a region where most loudspeakers lose grip and control. There’s a sequence during the Rossini La Boutique Fantasque [The Royal Ballet, Ansermet, RCA] where the bass viols enter beneath the main theme as delicately as a mouse in bedroom slippers. Each deeply resonant note was not only cleanly articulated, but could be heard resonating into the hall’s acoustics, intensifying the ambience. Unprepared for what I was hearing, I have to admit that I repeated this track at least three times for confirmation. On a more global level, the Sabrina’s wide-ranging dynamic sensitivity can cut both ways. On the one hand, it can open up familiar uncompressed recordings to a far greater extent. Direct-to-disc LPs, for example, reveal even more subtle volume shifts between instruments. And yet, on the other hand, I started reevaluating other recordings with a more finicky ear, attuned to compression artifacts that hadn’t been nearly as troubling with other loudspeakers. That’s what wide-open and unadulterated dynamics will do for you.
Image specificity is very good, although it can’t quite match the best two-way mini-monitors—or the eminent three-way, stand-mount TAD CR1. Housing one of audio’s great transducers—an all-beryllium coincident unit—the CR1 is uncanny in its ability to clarify complex images. The Sabrina’s approach is a bit looser but arguably just as persuasive, in that it handily balances specific imaging cues and boundaries—string section layering, for example—with an overall immersion within a soundstage. In other words, it slightly favors the performance “macro” over the more individual “micro.” I understand that listeners are apt to be biased in either direction, but to my mind the particulars of imaging cannot be separated from the broader acoustic envelope. With the Sabrina they play off one another in an elegant dance that integrates each image rather than isolates it.
Since the WATT/Puppy and the Sabrina represent entry-level models of their respective eras, comparisons were not unexpected. Without dispute, the WATT was a revolutionary speaker. The Sabrina is more evolutionary, a natural extension of current Wilson thinking. And there are significant sonic differences. The original WATT hewed more closely to Dave Wilson’s music engineering roots. The need for a portable nearfield monitor of the highest resolution and transparency made the WATT a terrific tool for the recording engineer, though for some audiophiles it was an acquired taste. It was utterly detailed and specific in its imaging but it also leaned toward the drier and more clinical end of the spectrum. The later addition of the Puppy dual-woofer module gave the WATT not only a platform to stand on, but also created a full-range, truly modular system that paved the way for the Sasha some twenty years later. The Sabrina has a warmer, more subdued, more inviting and romantic character than that of its vaunted predecessor. Its resolution is high but it still favors sheer musicality over the WATT/Puppy’s cooler, keener analysis. But in one crucial respect, they share the description that the late Harry Pearson made in his Issue 125 review of the Watt/Puppy 6: Both have the ability to “extract the drama of the music.” (And I should add, in all fondness, that if anyone understood drama, it was HP.)
I’d be remiss for failing to mention a subplot to this story—it’s what happens when a speaker and room meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after. I can’t recall another floorstander that performed as well in my room as the Sabrina, including standouts such as the TAD Evolution 1, the Kharma Elegance S7 Signature, the Magico V2, and even Wilson’s own Sophia 3. Call it pure serendipity—and the careful setup ministrations of Wilson Audio’s all-knowing Peter McGrath—but the Sabrina simply became one with the environment. In fact, the other speakers mentioned might well have bested the Sabrina in various ways, but in this instance, the synergy between the room and the speaker was pitch-perfect—and once again underscores how critical the room/speaker interface is.
Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady
The Sabrina caught me off guard. I expected a level of excellence commensurate with Wilson’s reputation; yet, on paper at least, the very idea of greatness seemed like a stretch. Turns out it wasn’t. The Sabrina provided some of the finest listening sessions I’ve ever had, and to top it off, it’s incredibly well priced. If nearly sixteen grand ever represented a buy, this is it. As I size up the competition, the Sabrina is unsurpassed in the medium-to-smaller listening space. I consider this sweetheart (pound for pound) the best Wilson Audio loudspeaker available today.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Bass-reflex, rear-ported, three-way floorstander
Driver complement: 1" tweeter, 5.75" mid, 8" woofer
Frequency response: 31Hz–21kHz, +/–3dB
Impedance: 4 ohms
Dimensions: 12" x 39.5" x 15.3"
Weight: 94 lbs.
WILSON AUDIO SPECIALTIES
2233 Mountain Vista Lane
Provo, Utah 84606