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A Wilson Audio Tasting at NYC’s Innovative Audio

A Wilson Audio Tasting at NYC’s Innovative Audio

Several blocks from Central Park, nestled in a basement-level suite between Lexington and Third Ave, lies one of New York City’s true audiophile assets. With an entrance directly off of the elevator, you step directly into the store—no hallways or vestibules here. The suite is open to the public for walk-in, but scheduled auditions are encouraged, considering the amount of equipment on display and the time and dedication that a proper sales audition requires.

 

When you step out of the elevator you are greeted by a lovely living-room-style demo atrium. To the right just beyond the atrium lie three demo suites and a storage hallway for speakers, occupied predominantly by many of Avalon Acoustics’ tasty treats. To the left and down the hall are another two demo suites, one currently used for storage and the other as a studio focused on some of Innovative Audio’s more complex home-theater and multi-zone installs. As I entered I was met by Chris Forman of Innovative Audio—master salesman, astute listener, genius set-up expert, man about town, and all-around nice guy. Like so many in this industry, Chris had a different career (as a high-level architect) until the “call of the audiophile” drew him to Innovative like a proverbial moth to flame. The reason for my visit was, specifically, that Innovative Audio is New York City’s Wilson Audio dealer, and I was there to familiarize myself with Wilson’s current offerings.

 

John Giolas of Wilson Audio had arranged this day of delights with Chris to feed my insatiable audiophile appetite with a Wilson tasting menu of some of the best products Daryl Wilson has designed. Wilson Audio lost its founder, mentor, father figure, and genius designer David Wilson to cancer in May 2018. Navigating the rapids of a transition of that magnitude has confirmed Wilson Audio’s long-term viability. David’s son, Daryl, took hold of the reins and has made the company his own, while respecting the legacy his father left him.

 

The original game plan (which I realized later on was completely unrealistic), was to get a full listening session in for the Sasha DAW., the Alexia 2, the Alexx, and the Chronosonic XVX. As the great Jar Jar Binks once said, “What was mee-sah thinking!” To be honest, I made it through the DAW. and Alexia 2 with plenty of energy to spare, but experiencing the XVX is tantamount to seeing the Grand Canyon (or NYC) for the first time; after that, you’re completely spent.

 

As I have said before about these visits, this will not be an in-depth review of any of these speakers. In fact, my colleague Robert Harley just took on that daunting task for the mighty XVX and survived, just barely. [My world-exclusive review of the Chronosonic XVX will appear in the September issue. —RH] These visits give me the opportunity to hear, and convey to you, how each model sounds on its own and in relation to the other. I have to thank Chris profusely for his patience and the hours and hours of his time.

 

We began with the Sasha DAW. (an homage David A Wilson) released in 2018, Wilson’s $37,900, current-generation that evolved from the WATT/Puppy. Both the Sasha DAW and Alexia 2 ($57,900, released in 2017) were powered by Spectral DMC-30sv preamp and DMA400sv monoblocks, and sourced by a Meridian 818v3 Reference DAC fed from a Roon Nucleus+, with Keces P8 linear power supply. Chris has set up the Sasha DAW before I arrived, but had to move the DAW out and the Alexia 2 in for the transition. This was wonderful as it gave me the rare opportunity to watch the Wilson Audio Setup Procedure (W.A.S.P.) in action. [WASP is explained in this video at https://youtu.be/UOI8py0DAC8]

 

Chris explained the Zone of Interaction, where the room and speakers worked against each other, and the Zone of Neutrality, where the room and speakers worked together. In this room, these zones had been identified. But in a new install, these zones are identified by the installers listening to their own voices as they speak and hearing the changes in tonality and scale while moving around—moving in tiny increments, over and over, while placing marking tape on the floor. If one viewed this set-up procedure out of context, men in white gowns with padded vans would surely come and take Chris away. The goal of this tedious method is what many audiophiles tend to overlook, that the room has a bigger effect on your system’s performance than any component, cable, or accessory.

 

 

The Sasha DAW is the least expensive Wilson speaker utilizing separate woofer and midrange/tweeter enclosures. With the DAW, the midrange/tweeter enclosure is combined in a single unit and allows front to back motion and enclosure angle adjustment to correct for listening distance and height. This lets all the drivers become completely coherent by relizing perfect time alignment. Drivers are a 1″ soft dome tweeter (not beryllium, ceramic, or diamond), a 7″ midrange, and twin 8″ woofers. The Sasha DAW represents a nominal 4-ohm load (dipping to 2.48 ohms at minimum) with an impressive 91dB sensitivity. All Wilson speakers are fabricated with craftsmanship befitting a Ferrari, and utilize their own proprietary X and S material to reduce cabinet resonance as low as possible for the speaker’s dimensions and price point. Size-wise, this speaker can fit almost anywhere. My instant visual impression was how flexible it could be, fitting into a small music room or large family room. It doesn’t try to hide the fact that it is a speaker, yet form follows function, and it embraces its form without apology. To my eye, it is beautiful in its simplicity of line.

 

Sonically, I instantly liked the DAW. I ran through my Tidal and Qobuz listening list, relying on Roon to stream my selections with its simple user interface. The W.A.S.P. left the speakers surprisingly close to the front wall, and quite toed-in. As a result, my brain kept telling me that stage depth was not as deep as it could have been and width was limited due to the exaggerated toe-in. Yet the imaging was uncanny, and the width expanded as the system warmed up. I do think that in a different room, stage height, depth, and width would have been better. (Innovative does the best it can with the space it has.) Trailing edges were wonderful. Timbre was luscious, rich, and well developed—color saturation was almost palpable. Brass was reproduced with full body and massive dynamics. There is simply nothing like Wilson bass! It is unrestricted, and the speakers will simply give you all the room can give. At one point, I was so caught up in the music that I forgot to write notes; that sort of says it all. Image density was almost palpable. “You Look Good To Me” sounded mighty good to me. This is a lively speaker, but gentle and tender. It punches way above its weight! And it occupies practically the perfect footprint. I could easily build a world-class system with the Sasha DAW and not want for more.

 

And then, with a bit of pushing, a bit of pulling (by Chris—I watched), and a bit of W.A.S.P., the Alexia 2 were in. The Alexia 2 is the most affordable speaker in the Wilson lineup that offers time-alignment adjustability of the tweeter and midrange drivers independently. In addition, it incorporates the Wilson technique of utilizing two different-size woofers in the woofer enclosure, which is something implemented in every product above the Alexia 2 level. Smarter people than I understand the physics behind this design, but properly implemented it allows one driver to cover a frequency band with little overlap, which avoids smearing and phase anomalies. I may not understand the science of it, but I can tell you it works, and works well!

 

With an almost identical impedance of 4 ohms nominal and 2.54 ohms minimum, the Alexia 2’s larger drivers and more complex crossover result in a lower sensitivity of 89dB. With a more involved, taller (yet almost the same footprint as the DAW) cabinet constructed of Wilson’s X and S material, fit and finish is, like the DAW, simply as good as it can be; the speaker looks the part of an almost $60k investment. And the extra level of adjustment allows for even more accurate corrections in the time domain, which became noticeable almost as soon as we dropped the digital needle.

 

I hate stating something so banal, but I immediately liked the Alexia 2 more than the Sasha. Bass was cleaner and tighter. Not that the DAW wasn’t great, but the Alexia 2 were WOW! Like driving a 600hp car, they just had more in reserve. The Alexia 2 was more effortless. Imaging was also cleaner and tighter. They were more natural in tonality, and conveyed air and space more easily. Although less sensitive, the Alexia 2 could play louder without challenging the room. Saxophone had more breath and texture. As I listened longer and longer I became aware of the superior time alignment. The Alexia 2 simply disappeared better than the DAW. There was more palpable instrument reproduction. My slightly higher number on the preamp clearly confirmed the speaker was a touch less sensitive, yet it gave more at similar volumes. Texturally more complex, timbre might have been subtly less well painted than that of the DAW, but the overall presentation was just more elegant and refined, more effortless. I also preferred the added height and scale the taller enclosure and larger woofers offered. There was a natural and precise decay that mimicked reality. I could be happy with these forever. So happy. Neither $37,900 for the Sasha DAW nor $57,900 for the Alexia 2 is inexpensive. Yet both clearly offer class-leading performance in their price categories. Bravo Daryl. Bravo! (And as a watch aficionado, I love the display case on the back of all your speakers allowing me to see the crossover and inner workings. And the chronometer visual cues on the higher-priced speaker are equally appreciated, sir.)

 

Speaking of higher-priced speaker, the Alexx (which was on my initial unrealistic list of what to hear next) wasn’t set up to Chris’s standards, so we both decided to save them for another time. To be honest, I had already been there longer than I expected and I still had the mesmerizing XVX to behold. A three-speaker day is a good day in my book, especially when it’s these three speakers. Apologies to Mr. Alexx. I will give you the time you deserve on my next visit. For now, I’m going to go hang with your new baby brother (did I say baby?), the massive and practically omnipotent Wilson Audio Chronosonic XVX ($329,000).

 

The Alexx and XVX were in Innovative’s beautifully decorated largest room. The XVX was driven by the VTL TL-7.5 preamp and S-400 stereo amp and MSB’s Premier DAC, using MSB’s new ProUSB to ProISL adapter fed from the Roon Nucleus+ with Keces P8 linear power supply, via USB to the MSB adapter, and then via ProISL optical into a ProISL module. All wiring was Transparent Opus.

 

 

The Chronosonic XVX is an engineering, materials, fabrication, acoustic, and visual tour de force. It is massive, imposing, stunning, and overwhelming physically, emotionally, and financially (hey, just being honest here). With 92dB-sensitivity, a 4-ohm nominal impedance (1.6 ohm minimum), and seven drivers, it is 74″ tall and 685 pounds per channel. A good old fashioned Bill & Ted “Woah” is about all that can truly be said.

 

I felt privileged to have the opportunity to privately sit and enjoy such a system—world-class from stem to stern. Chris had not yet lost his patience with me, but I was expecting him to walk in any second and say,”OMG, you’re still here? Go home already!” Until that happened, my bottom was planted. Lao Tzu once said, “Music in the soul can be heard by the Universe.” Well, the Multiverse must have gone deaf that day, cause my soul was transmitting!

 

Hyperbole is great and all, but how did the XVX actually sound? Well my first comment is going to be a criticism: The stage was high; very high. I had to get used to that. This is a common complaint I have with very tall speakers; it bothers me but not others. It’s front row, looking up at the performer. Greater distance from the speaker solves that issue. And I do think the room was a touch small for these behemoths. That’s all I have for criticisms, though.

 

Imaging accuracy was laser pinpoint. Dynamics were limitless, like drinking water from a runoff of Niagara Falls. The presentation was more “I am there,” where the other Wilsons brought me closer to “they are here.” These speakers were simply another reality of resolution and detail. Pace and rhythm can’t be mentioned together; in the XVX they are completely individual characteristics. On almost every track I was noticing things I had not previously heard. On string instruments I could hear the texture of reverberations in the woods; meaning I heard the wood resonating, not just the strings vibrating. Vocals embodied visceral body and mass. Texture and harmonic palpability were reproduced in an almost mystical way. And there was truly seamless integration among so many drivers.

 

Bass was insane. I have never heard better. Anywhere. And the piano’s richness and lustre were so natural. Again, I could hear past the strings into the actual soundboard in the instrument.

 

This was the first time I had ever felt like I was sitting in the Sands listening to Sinatra and Basie’s band, experiencing a moment lost in history. I was actually transported back in time as if I was there. The experience was almost unsettling it was so vivid. Thank you Daryl! The entire encounter was like sitting in a tiny, personal music hall and having different bands come in to perform. I’m King of the World. (Wow, I really do use a lot of movie references.)

 

Stream of consciousness scribblings: “Bad recordings sounded bad. Felt like they wanted a bigger room. Easy speaker to review, and hardest speaker ever to review. If you have the money and the space, it’s a no-brainer! But you need both, not one or the other….”

 

Money may not be able to buy happiness, but it can buy you these! I think the XVX ruined me! I’m not sure if I will ever again experience such a transcendental moment. But I’m glad I had it just once.

 

I walked out of the audition room exhausted. Seriously exhausted. A long day of listening had left me ready for a NY-style pretzel, a hot dog, and a nap. I thanked Chris profusely as I walked to the elevator, fantasizing about getting any one of these speakers into my listening room at home for an extended Wilson experience. I was secretly disappointed I had not been able to spend any time with the Alexx. From a completely selfish corner of my mind, I wanted to hear the Alexia 2 and Alexx as I believe they would be the best size for my listening room. I gravitate towards that size speaker. But this experience taught me that all of the Wilson speakers are designed to fit any size room and truly perform. Your budget and how your room can handle the prodigious bass output seem to be the only real limiting factors for which model you chose.

 

Innovative’s product lineup worked beautifully together and allowed Chris to present systems that really performed, allowing each component to shine. Chris was a generous and patient host to me (and will be to you, too). I look forward to my next visit. For now, I’ll wait patiently for the world to pull itself back together so I can visit Wilson headquarters in Utah and watch the magic unfold first hand.

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