Wilson Audio Sasha Loudspeaker (TAS 204)

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Wilson Audio Sasha Loudspeaker
Wilson Audio Sasha Loudspeaker (TAS 204)

Few products I’ve encountered have struck me the way Wilson Audio’s Sasha loudspeaker has. This isn’t because Sasha delivers the best sound I’ve ever heard, but because it seems fully realized in every aspect of design and performance. Listening to the Sasha gives the impression that the last iota of musicality has been wrung from its component parts. Not only that, but the Sasha is beautifully balanced in presentation—it’s the antithesis of a speaker that’s freakishly great in one sonic area but mediocre or worse in others. Moreover, the Sasha is simply gorgeous to look at, even by Wilson standards. The subtle enclosure facets, new to the Sasha, endow this loudspeaker with visual grace and elegance. The Sasha is made even more compelling by its ability to deliver the sound of a big speaker in a relatively compact package, and by its exceedingly reasonable price.

It might seem strange to call a Wilson speaker “reasonably priced” considering the recent debates in the Letters section and my recent editorials. But that’s exactly what it is. Wilson has managed to greatly improve upon the performance of the WATT/Puppy and at the same time lower the price. In addition, when the Sasha is judged on its sonic performance for the money, it turns out to be a tremendous bargain—and, in my view, the highest-value proposition in the Wilson line.

The Sasha might look superficially like a WATT/Puppy, but Wilson designed it on a clean sheet of paper. The platform is entirely new, and derives much of its technology from the MAXX 3 and Alexandria X-2. Like the MAXX 3 and the X-2, the Sasha’s crossover is housed in a chamber behind the woofer (it had been located inside the WATT’s enclosure). The low-pass filter remains at the bottom of the woofer enclosure, but the crossover components for the midrange and tweeter have been moved from the upper enclosure to the bass enclosure (behind an aluminum panel). This better isolated the crossover while also providing greater volume behind the midrange driver.

The midrange driver is derived from the X-2’s midrange unit, the driver that is the foundation of the X-2’s significant improvement over the X-1. Sasha’s tweeter is the same one used in the $68,000 MAXX 3. The woofer is entirely new, and features a magnet structure twice the size of the woofer used in the Puppy 8. (See the sidebar for more technical details.)

Listening

One aspect of Wilson loudspeakers that has made me gravitate toward them is their outstanding bass reproduction. From the Sophia to the X-2, Wilson loudspeakers have excelled at bottom-end weight, clarity, transient fidelity, dynamic shading, and tone color. I’ve heard many loudspeakers that get some of these qualities right, but not all of them simultaneously. Of these characteristics, perhaps the rarest is transient fidelity—the ability of a loudspeaker to reproduce music’s dynamic structure with one voice. All too often, the bass sounds like it’s a little slower on a transient’s leading edge (and hangs on longer on the trailing edge). As a result, the lower frequencies don’t have the agility of the rest of the spectrum, creating the sensation that the bass is lagging behind the music, like a heavy weight being dragged along for the ride. We’re so used to hearing this type of presentation that only when this form of distortion is removed can we recognize and describe it. Such was the case when I lived with the MAXX 2; it was revelatory in its combination of bass power, extension, and transient fidelity. The X-2 took these qualities several notches up, delivering what is the best bass I’ve heard from a hi-fi system.

The Sasha embodies these qualities as well, and is vastly better than the WATT/Puppy. This newest Wilson improves upon the bass speed and precision for which the company is justifiably famous, while also greatly increasing clarity and resolution in the lower registers. Think of the increase in midrange and treble clarity you hear by replacing a mediocre DAC with an outstanding one, or by adding a first-rate AC power conditioning system. You suddenly hear deeper into the music—its fine detail, micro-dynamic nuances, richness of tone color, and clarity of individual instrumental lines. Those are exactly the qualities I heard in the Sasha’s bass. It was as though a layer of opacity had been lifted, making the bottom end more transparent to the source. The improvement in the Sasha’s bass performance (relative to other loudspeakers and even to the WATT/Puppy 7) was akin to what one hears in the midrange and treble by replacing a slightly thick-sounding preamp with a highly transparent one.

I’d call the Sasha’s bass analytical, but that term implies a soulless detachment that doesn’t convey the experience of listening to music through this loudspeaker. The Sasha is intellectually analytical in its tremendous resolution of bass detail, yet it has a warmth, density of tone color, and richness of texture that make it anything but analytical in an emotional sense. In fact, it’s the Sasha’s resolution of even the lowest-level of lower-register detail that makes it so musically engaging and satisfying. It’s as though bass resolution and clarity as reproduced through a loudspeaker has finally caught up with the transparency we sometimes hear throughout the rest of the spectrum.

It’s a reviewer’s cliché, but for the first time I heard musically expressive detail in the bass on many, many intimately familiar recordings—some of which I’d recorded. This wasn’t resolution for the sake of resolution. It didn’t evoke a mood of detached analysis, but rather the feeling of connecting more deeply with the musicians’ expressiveness, because I was hearing more clearly exactly what they were doing. I happen to enjoy virtuoso bass playing in jazz (Dave Holland, Stanley Clarke, Eddie Gomez, John Pattitucci, for examples), and the Sasha proved to be the ideal vehicle for appreciating their artistry. For example, at the beginning of “Pools” from Steps Ahead’s eponymous album, Gomez and Michael Brecker on tenor play the melody in unison—I’d never heard such pitch resolution in the bass.

Short of the X-2, the Sasha produced the most detailed, resolved, and musically communicative bass I’ve heard in my system. The Sasha doesn’t have the extension or the ability to move as much air in the lowest frequencies as the X-2, but it at least equals the X-2 in bass resolution and in richness of texture and density of tone color.

It’s no secret that the information we perceive as bass detail is actually reproduced by the midrange driver. Although there’s no question that the Sasha’s improved woofer performance deserves much of the credit for the bass, the Sasha’s increase in midrange resolution also contributed to the sense of lower-register resolution. Moreover, the transition between the woofers and midrange was absolutely seamless, another factor that I’m certain was integral to the overall presentation’s compelling nature.

The midrange resolution paid other dividends, particularly in richness of timbre and density of tone color. In this respect, the Sasha is a departure from the WATT/Puppy 7, the last WP I had in my home (I haven’t heard the WP8 at length under good conditions). The WP tended to be a little leaner in the lower midrange and lacked the Sasha’s warmer and more fully fleshed out midband. Instruments such as cello, bass clarinet, and tenor saxophone were rendered with a harmonic richness that conveyed the instruments’ size and the mechanism by which it produced sound. The timbral presentation was the antithesis of thin, bright, bleached, or threadbare. There’s often a tradeoff between such warmth of timbre and resolution; the leaner presentation sounds more highly resolved, and the warmer presentation sacrifices clarity for ease. The Sasha’s great achievement is simultaneously sounding richer and denser, yet at the same time increasing the sense of clarity, transparency, and resolution of fine detail. This warmth and richness foster an ease that allows one to more deeply relax into the musical physically, while the speaker’s alacrity engages the mind intellectually. It’s quite a compelling combination.

The upper midrange and treble exhibited a similar increase in ease and resolution, but not to the same degree as the lower midrange. The Sasha’s tweeter is smoother and better integrated with the midrange than that of the WP7. The upper midrange is extremely open and detailed, with a quality that presented instruments and voices as hanging palpably in space.

The Sasha’s overall ability to present more information to the listener (particularly very low-level detail) contributed to this loudspeaker’s outstanding soundstaging. In particular, the resolution of fine spatial cues rendered a larger sense of stage size—one that seems at odds with the Sasha’s relatively compact enclosure. The fine tails of reverberation decay were better preserved (relative to the WATT/Puppy), also contributing to this vast soundstage.

Listening to full-scale orchestral recordings in high-resolution (Reference Recordings HRx files at 176.4kHz/24-bit sourced from a music server), it occurred to me that the size of the Sasha’s presentation wasn’t only a reflection of its soundstage dimensions, but also of its deep bass extension, tremendous dynamic contrasts, and complete composure during musical peaks. Although moderate in footprint, the Sasha delivers the kind of presentation one expects from an enclosure twice its volume.

There are no free lunches, however. I found the Sasha more difficult to drive than the MAXX 2, Sophia 2, or X-2 Series 2. During 18 months of living with the X-2, the meters on the 100W Pass Labs XA100.5 amplifiers never budged. (The meters indicated when the amplifier leaves Class A operation.) The Sasha is more current-hungry that other speakers in the Wilson line, but not excessively so. While the Pass’ 100W was plenty of power for the X-2, I recommend an amplifier with a minimum of 100Wpc (200Wpc into 4 ohms) to realize the Sasha’s dynamic potential. I’m sure that it would benefit from even more power.

Conclusion

The Sasha is a major advance in the evolution of the Wilson Audio line. By starting with an entirely new platform, Wilson has taken the performance of its mid-line offering up several steps in quality. In particular, the Sasha is warm, densely textured, and rich in tone color, while simultaneously sounding more resolved and detailed.

One aspect of the Sasha that I found myself taking for granted after living with them for four months is that this is a truly full-range system with the ability to reproduce orchestral climaxes without strain—and with that huge soundstage I just discussed—all in a relatively small package. The sheer size, power, and sophistication of presentation belie its small footprint and relatively short stature.

Finally, there’s the Sasha’s absolutely impeccable build-quality and gorgeous automotive-paint finish, which are as good as they get by any standard.

As I reflected on the Sasha at the end of the review period, it struck me that this loudspeaker not only raises the performance bar in sub-$30k loudspeakers, it also sets the standard for value in the category.

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Sidebar: Technology

The Sasha’s enclosure is significantly different from that of the WATT/Puppy in both design and materials, although both speakers are built on a dual-woofer base supporting an upper module housing the midrange and tweeter.

As with the WATT, the Sasha’s upper module is made primarily of Wilson’s X-Material, but its enclosure is up to three times thicker than the WATT’s in some areas. A new bracing structure was developed to further reduce resonances. Additionally, Wilson developed an entirely new material for the upper module’s baffle. The result of the thicker X-Material and the new baffle material is reportedly a reduction in resonance and coloration.

The WP crossover was located in the WATT module; the Sasha’s crossover is housed in a sub-enclosure at the back of the woofer cabinet, à la the MAXX 3 and X-2. By moving the crossover out of the upper module, the enclosure could be designed to optimize its effect on the rear-firing wave. As with the WATT/Puppy, the Sasha’s upper module can be moved in two planes to achieve time alignment at any listening distance or listening height.

As noted in the review, the woofer was redesigned from scratch, and features a magnet twice the size of that used in the Puppy woofer. Interestingly, the new woofer was designed to have greater agility in the bass, an area in which previous Wilson loudspeakers have excelled. The woofers are vented through a rear-firing port. The bass enclosure is larger that than of the Puppy, providing slightly deeper extension (–3dB at 20Hz, in-room). Despite the somewhat larger size, the enclosure’s beveled edges and subtle improvements in styling make the Sasha appear slightly smaller than the WATT/Puppy.

The midrange driver is a version of the cellulose-fiber-and-paper composite midrange unit developed for the Alexandria X-2, and the inverted-dome tweeter is the same unit found in the MAXX 3. Wilson researched the sonic effects of the tweeter’s rear wave, which reflects from the magnet structure through the semi-acoustically transparent tweeter diaphragm. This time-delayed signal is mixed with the tweeter’s main output, introducing distortion. The new tweeter reportedly minimizes this phenomenon through the combination of the tweeter’s design and materials. Wilson claims the sonic effect is a reduction in grain.

In addition to being moved from the WATT enclosure to a chamber at the rear of the woofer module, the crossover itself is significantly revised. The improvements in the drivers reportedly allowed the Wilson design team to better hear the crossover’s effects, and to more precisely refine the network.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Three-way dynamic loudspeaker
Driver complement: Two 8" woofers, one 7" midrange, one 1" inverted dome tweeter
Sensitivity: 91dB 1W/1m
Impedance: 4 ohms, 1.9 ohms minimum at 92Hz
Dimensions: 14"x 44" x 21.25"
Weight: 197 pounds each, net (605 pounds shipping, per pair)
Price: $26,900

Wilson Audio Specialties
2233 Mountain Vista Lane
Provo, UT 84606
(801) 377-2233
wilsonaudio.com

Associated Components

Basis 2800 Signature turntable with Basis Vector 4 tonearm, Air Tight PC-1 Supreme cartridge, Aesthetix Rhea Signature phonostage; PC-based music server (built by Goodwin’s High-End), Classé Audio CDP-502 CD/DVD-A player, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC, dCS Puccini/U-Clock CD/SACD player and DAC; Pass Labs X20 preamplifier; Pass Labs XA100.5 power amplifiers; MIT Oracle MA interconnects; MIT Oracle MA speaker cable; Running Springs Audio Dmitri, Shunyata Hydra-8 and V-Ray AC conditioners, Shunyata Anaconda, Python, and King Cobra CX AC cables; Shunyata Dark Field cable elevators; room custom designed and built, acoustic design and computer modeling by Norm Varney of AV RoomService, acoustic treatment and installation by Acoustic Room Systems (now part of CinemaTech)