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Loudspeaker Designer Roundtable: Daryl Wilson

Do you consider loudspeaker design more of an art or a science?
Loudspeakers can and have been seen, superficially, as relatively straightforward elements in a music playback system. With over 46 years of continuous research and development, where we have explored each facet of loudspeaker performance, we know this to be an oversimplified view. Each part of a loudspeaker’s design, and the way each constituent contributes to the success of a complex system, must achieve a level of execution that serves both the technical and musical aspirations of the designer. And, in the case of a Wilson design, reach a very high level of beauty and artisanship. Systems that can emotionally connect the listener to his or her music at a deeper level must also have as key ingredients precision and comprehensive scientific principles at their foundation. We sculpt each design as carefully and thoughtfully as is possible in an effort to make it visually beautiful, while strictly adhering to the scientific principles that are at the heart of our offerings. We engage in engineering and aesthetics in such a way that when an observer studies a Wilson loudspeaker’s form, he is continuously rewarded with visual and technical discoveries. It’s what we mean by “depth of design.” For Wilson Audio, loudspeaker design is a delicate and thoughtful blend of sonic and industrial art, combined with the science that supports our technical and musical goals.

What are the most important sonic qualities you strive for in your designs?
For decades, we had the benefit of a mentor who was steadfast in his quest for knowledge. Dave Wilson led his handpicked design team at Wilson Audio with a passion that verged on obsession to create loudspeakers that excelled in two major sonic categories: dynamic contrast and harmonic expression. Years ago, we found that if these two qualities were present in sufficient quantities, it greatly enhanced our ability to parse a third quality—an unprecedented level of micro-detail. 

Enhanced micro-detail was actually another benefit of increasing the time-domain accuracy of our designs. The fact remains: We as humans are acutely sensitive to the time relationship of sounds. This sensitivity plays directly into our ability to recognize the accuracy of reproduced music. If the timing between drivers is smeared, even minutely, the ear/brain quickly identifies the resulting sound reproduction as synthetic and unnatural. So, when these three sonic qualities are present in a music reproduction system—harmonic expression, dynamic contrast, and micro-detail—the result is a level of connection to music that is truly captivating.

Loudspeakers have improved dramatically in the last 20 years. Have we reached engineering limits, or are advancements still possible?
We know there are still further advancements and creative ways to engineer information-extracting elements in loudspeakers. There is a bit of “Moore’s Law” at play here. Logic suggests there will be fewer discoveries in the future. However, I don’t think we have anywhere near a complete handle on all things that can be measured and perceived. Our ability to refine each component and element in a system improves as technology advances. Each discovery and improvement enhances our ability to gain a deeper understanding of those elements. Wilson Audio will always remain focused on the precision and accuracy of the time domain. Advances in this area are essential if extracting the most information from a recording is the ultimate aim. All our creative efforts are aligned with the goal of creating sound that is as close to the source as is currently possible.

What are the engineering challenges confronting loudspeaker designers, and do you expect any breakthroughs in the near future?
I’ve enjoyed watching other loudspeaker designers answer the hard questions that surround music reproduction. I’ve been impressed and humbled by their creative solutions over the decades. Each has a slightly different approach from what we do at Wilson Audio. Furthermore, some designers are asking vastly different questions than the ones we find important.

Loudspeaker designers will continue to battle engineering challenges that relate to the unique set of questions they are asking, while those same challenges won’t be the focus for another designer asking different questions. The constant in all of this is the individual pursuit of improvement, and the growth that each of us will continue to experience in the process. Having said that, a variety of breakthroughs in the future are a certainty. When I’m looking for guidance or inspiration, I often remind myself of an aphorism my father used to repeat, which, in turn, was derived from something William Bruce Cameron once wrote: “Not everything worthwhile can be measured, and not everything that can be measured is worthwhile.” 

What are your views of powered loudspeakers under DSP control? 
While we recognize the virtues of DSP and active loudspeakers, we also see the downside. As a designer, you have to pick your poison, so to speak. There are upsides to each engineering choice, but the experienced designer also recognizes that there is (as my father used to say) no free lunch. Each design choice has an attendant downside. For us, the downside of DSP control is the necessity of converting the signal to the digital domain. Many music lovers prefer an all-analog signal path. DSP control precludes this option. In many ways, correctly designing an all-analog system is more challenging and cumbersome than a digital approach. In our experience, however, the musical honesty of purely analog systems is worth the effort. 

Daryl Wilson

It  is axiomatic to say that Daryl Wilson grew up with Wilson Audio. He was there  when his parents struggled during the company’s nascent days, and has been intimately involved with Wilson Audio in one way or another since he was a  young child. Many of the early photos of Dave’s WAMM prototype show a towheaded  Daryl perched on his  Dad’s listening chair, his eyes closed, listening  intently.

It’s fair to say that Daryl worked his way to his current position as CEO of Wilson Audio from the bottom up. Daryl has done it all at Wilson: from sweeping the  parking lot and cleaning toilets, to working in service and sales; from  twisting wires in a makeshift factory in the Wilson’s small garage in  California, to assembling composite loudspeaker enclosures in Wilson’s SOTA Provo facility; from pushing the proverbial envelope in the acquisition of cutting-edge measurement and engineering tools, and finally, leading the research, development, and engineering team for several of the most important  and well-respected loudspeaker design projects in the company’s storied history. Along  the way, Daryl gained insights into and a keen understanding of  nearly all aspects of the business of Wilson Audio. 

Daryl has an educational background in business and art. He obtained a bachelor’s  degree in International Business from Utah Valley University. He also possesses  the heart of an artist. His inventiveness and sense of visual beauty work to  profound effect in his industrial designs, the fruits of which are some of  Wilson’s most striking  loudspeakers. You can see his eye for intricate  attention to detail, combined with a fluid, organic, sophisticated, and  graceful design aesthetic in the Alexx, Alexia Series 2, Sasha DAW, Yvette,  Sabrina, TuneTot, and, most recently, an all-new Wilson flagship, the  Chronosonic XVX—for all of which Daryl was lead designer. Daryl has been  involved in  the development of 38 of Wilson’s 63 products. 

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