Wilson Benesch Resolution

Constantly Surprising

Equipment report
Wilson Benesch Resolution
Wilson Benesch Resolution

No speaker is perfect—not even those that fall into this rarified class. My first nit with the Resolution is that, outside the bass region, transients are not quite as well-defined as they are on, say, the aforementioned B&W flagship. Through the 800 D3 Wes Montgomery’s guitar on the SACD of A Dynamic New Sound exhibits slightly more incisiveness on the instrument’s leading edges. My second and last nit is that when it comes to high-end extension, the Resolution can’t quite match the infinite airiness of my reference Metaphor 1s. That’s not surprising, given that my reference is equipped with Raven ribbon tweeters, which always outdistance dynamic drivers in this regard.

The important point about these minor shortcomings, though, is that while they do exist, they’re not a factor during actual listening. I only became aware of them when comparing the Resolution to speakers that are outperformers in these respective areas. The diminutive degree of the Resolution’s drawbacks meant that I never had to listen “past” them.

So how did Wilson Benesch pull all this off? I’m sure it’s due to a combination of hundreds of choices both big and small. But I’d like to focus on just two of the speaker’s design elements, because they are so uncommon.

The first of these is the use of carbon fiber in the Resolution’s cabinet. As all TAS readers are aware, in speaker cabinets stiffness is everything. The extreme lengths to which manufacturers go to make their cabinets immovable is proof of that maxim. Magico, for instance, famously uses elaborately braced sheets of CNC aluminum to ensure stiff cabinets. Estelon makes its speakers out of solid marble. Both Rockport and Wilson developed synthetic, ultra-inert proprietary materials for their enclosures.

In a way, though, all of these are brute-force approaches. They’re massive, heavy, and thick. Wilson Benesch sought something more elegant. Wouldn’t it be nice, they thought, if there were a material even stiffer than aluminum, etc., that also did away with the associated mass? Wouldn’t such a material make possible a speaker with the low coloration of a stiff cabinet, while allowing for greater cabinet volume even as it reduced the speaker’s overall size? Yes, it would be nice, and such a material exists. It’s called carbon fiber.

Most of us have heard of carbon fiber, a high-tech substance that offers an unparalleled combination of lightness and rigidity. The most frequent sightings of this exotic substance are in the form of dash appliqués in sporty cars, where its benefits are largely cosmetic. However, a select few cutting-edge sports cars—BMW’s i8 and the McLarens come to mind—are made from carbon fiber precisely because it is much lighter and stiffer than aluminum, let alone steel.

To appreciate the virtues of carbon fiber, imagine a normal ice cream cone. If you try to bend it in the middle, it’ll crack in half. No surprise; sugar cake is brittle. Now imagine that same cone made out of paper. Try to bend it the same way and, although it won’t crack or tear, it’ll immediately cave in. Paper isn’t brittle, but it’s also not very stiff. An ice cream cone made of suitably-thick aluminum wouldn’t bend or break, but it’d be shockingly heavy and, assuming the same exterior dimensions as the other cones, wouldn’t leave much room for ice cream.

Now imagine that this ice cream cone is made out of carbon fiber. (Actually, I didn’t have to imagine this, since the Wilson Benesch folks who installed my Resolutions carry around such a carbon fiber cone for illustrative purposes.) This cone is just as thin as our previous paper version—less than a hair’s thickness—and light as a wisp. But try to bend it and you’re in for a shock. It’s impossible. I tried my damnedest with the WB sample and couldn’t get it to budge. Carbon fiber is truly miraculous stuff.

So why doesn’t everyone use it in their speakers (or cars)? The reason is that, pound for pound, carbon fiber is incredibly expensive. Furthermore, working with CF requires a completely different skill and toolset than working with metals. This is because in raw form CF is more like cloth than steel. Consequently, it gets woven, not hammered, into place.