High-end audio companies face a particular challenge when their founder retires or passes away. More than in other industries, such firms are often built around the singular vision and talent of their founder. The company’s customers buy into that founder’s aesthetic in a deeply personal way that just doesn’t exist with anonymously designed products.
Does any company better exemplify this model than Wilson Audio, and its founder, David Wilson? As many of you know, David Wilson passed away last year at the age of 73. It was a tragic loss for his family, the industry, and for the tens of thousands of people who have enjoyed Wilson loudspeakers over the past 45 years.
But David and his wife Sheryl Lee, with whom he co-founded Wilson Audio, have ensured that Wilson Audio will continue long after their participation in the company ceases. First, they built a formidable loudspeaker development and manufacturing infrastructure driven by a culture of uncompromised quality. Although Wilson products have always been a reflection of David’s vision, he has put in place an engineering team of like-minded individuals who share that vision. On the manufacturing side, the company has very low employee turnover because of the generous wages and benefits Wilson Audio offers. Second, Sheryl Lee’s business acumen continues to drive the company. Third, and perhaps most important, David mentored his youngest son Daryl in loudspeaker design from the time Daryl was old enough to hold a soldering iron.
Daryl has had a hand in many Wilson products over the years, but the Alexx reviewed here is the first “big” speaker that he can claim to have authored. (Daryl designed the single-enclosure Sabrina just before the Alexx.) Consequently, the Alexx speaks volumes about Wilson Audio’s future under now-CEO Daryl Wilson. After spending six months with the Alexx, I can say that this speaker doesn’t just preserve the sonic standards and integrity of the brand; it also advances them. It does this by maintaining Wilson’s classic virtues while steering the overall sound in a new direction. The Alexx isn’t simply an updated version of what came before; rather, it represents a different musical aesthetic.
Daryl had a bit of an advantage in creating the Alexx; it was designed alongside the $685,000 WAMM Master Chronosonic, during the latter part of the development work on David’s magnum opus. Consequently, some of Alexx’s parts and technologies were taken directly from the WAMM.
The $109,000-per-pair Alexx sits in the Wilson line above the Duette Series 2, Sabrina, Yvette, Sasha DAW (another successful Daryl Wilson design), and the Alexia Series 2, but below the Alexandra XLF and, of course, the mighty WAMM Master Chronosonic. The Alexx is a five-driver, four-way system with dual woofers (one 12.5", one 10.5"), dual midranges, and a single silk dome tweeter. The reflex-loaded woofers can be ported out the front or the back thanks to Wilson’s XLF port—you simply cover either the front- or rear-firing rectangular opening with a panel to best suit the speaker’s placement in your room. The Alexx comprises four enclosures, one for the dual woofers along with three smaller cabinets housing the midrange drivers and tweeter, respectively. Sensitivity is a highish 91dB, with minimum amplifier power specified at 50Wpc. The nominal impedance is 4 ohms, with an impedance minimum of 1.5 ohms at 2850Hz. As with all Wilson products, the Alexx is available in a wide range of automotive paint colors. My review samples were finished in Macadamia Nut, a Porsche color.
The Alexx is the point of entry in the Wilson line for the midrange-tweeter-midrange (MTM) arrangement, each driver in its own enclosure. These three enclosures can be moved in two axes to realize time alignment between drivers as well as optimal dispersion from each at the listening position (more on this later). Typical MTM arrangements feature a pair of identical midrange drivers operated in parallel over the same frequency band. In the Alexx, however, the 5.75" midrange above the tweeter handles the upper midrange, and the 7" driver below the tweeter reproduces the lower midrange. Together, the two cover a wider bandwidth than would be possible with a single midrange driver, or with a pair of identical drivers. Dual drivers allow each cone to be optimized for the specific frequency band it reproduces. In addition, the enclosure and the driver loading can be tailored specifically for the driver’s frequency band. (In fact, the upper midrange is vented to the rear, the lower midrange to the front.) This dual-midrange technique is right out of the WAMM playbook, another example of how the Alexx benefited from its big brother.
When I visited the Wilson factory several years ago for the launch of the WAMM I saw perhaps two dozen different tweeters sitting on a table. They ran the gamut of technologies and materials, including beryllium, diamond, titanium, soft dome, doped fabrics, and many others. These were the tweeters considered, and rejected, for the WAMM. Wilson eventually settled on a silk dome diaphragm, incorporated into the Convergent Symmetry Tweeter now deployed in the WAMM and in a slightly different form in the Alexx. The dilemma for loudspeaker designers is that soft domes are not as stiff as hard domes and are thus prone to flexing. On the other hand, hard domes—including beryllium—tend to ring. Wilson believes that it has realized in its tweeter the stiffness necessary to prevent non-pistonic movement, but without the ringing, and the attendant hardness and glare, often heard in metallic domes.
The 12.5" woofer and 10.5" woofer are entirely new “blank-sheet” designs, developed for the WAMM specifically to work together in the same enclosure. Again, the Alexx benefits from parallel development with the WAMM; both speakers employ the identical woofer pair, although the WAMM enclosure is much bigger. I can’t imagine that Wilson could have included these two new woofers in the Alexx without sharing them in the WAMM, much the way automakers amortize development costs across different cars built on the same platform.