Wilson Audio Specialties Chronosonic XVX Loudspeaker, Subsonic Subwoofer, and ActivXO Crossover
Every audiophile knows the futility of describing to the uninitiated the experience of hearing music through a high-end audio system. You can resort to all the usual jargon of dynamics, timbre, soundstaging, etc., but until that person experiences music through a great system for himself, he just won’t understand. Five minutes in the sweet spot, however, may forever etch on his consciousness just what his favorite music can sound like when reproduced with exquisite fidelity. Those five minutes might indelibly change his relationship to music; he can’t un-hear the newfound musical expression. But without this firsthand personal experience, there’s absolutely no way of even imagining how reproduced music can sound, never mind knowing and understanding it.
This phenomenon isn’t confined to neophytes. A seasoned audiophile can think that he’s reached the pinnacle, but he’s just as oblivious to the next level of realism as the neophyte who has never heard even a basic high-end system. Despite decades of experience, the sophisticated audiophile simply can’t know what musical expression has been lost. Of course, we can all hear a flawed system and imagine how the system would sound without the flaw, but that imagining utterly fails to fill in the missing musical expression.
We can’t conjure in our minds the missing artistic intent because music’s meaning is encoded in the physical sound. Change the physical sound and you change the music’s meaning. For just one of countless examples, if a loudspeaker has thick, slow, plodding bass reproduction, the music’s sense of rhythmic flow and drive will be diluted. The way that great musicians lock into the groove, get “in the pocket,” will be diminished. This aspect of the musical expression disappears just by the changes in the physical medium—the patterns of air-pressure variations striking your eardrum. Contrast this with expression through the printed word, which isn’t dependent on its physical characteristics to convey meaning. This review could be printed with gold ink on the world’s finest paper, or on the cheapest newsprint, and the meaning wouldn’t change. The printed word’s meaning isn’t dependent on the physical characteristics of the medium. But music’s meaning is physically encoded in electrical signals and resulting acoustic waveforms that are susceptible to infinitely variable degradation, alteration, and dilution.
This line of thought was prompted less than 24 hours after the Wilson Audio Chronosonic XVX loudspeaker and a pair of Wilson’s Subsonic subwoofers were installed in my listening room. After the dust settled from two intensive days of installation and setup by three Wilson personnel, and I was alone with the system and my music library, I felt just like the neophyte hearing high-quality music reproduction for the first time. I’ve lived with many, many of the world’s greatest loudspeakers in my home, and heard countless others at shows, but I’ve never listened to a speaker quite like the Chronosonic XVX. It is the most realistic sounding, the most musically expressive, and the most intellectually and emotionally engaging loudspeaker I’ve heard.
I’m not saying that the XVX produces a sound that I happen to like. Or that if you favor multi-way dynamic loudspeakers you’ll love the XVX. Or that this new Wilson will appeal to some listeners more than others. Rather, I’m going to assert in this review that the XVX sets a new standard of realism in reproduced music—a realism that more fully conveys artistic intent regardless of your favored technologies or sonic priorities. I can’t imagine anyone, no matter what their preferred speaker brands or listening biases, not being captivated by the XVX’s lifelike presentation. After all, real is real. The XVX isn’t just a milestone for Wilson Audio; I believe that it is a landmark achievement in loudspeaker design.
If you’re familiar with big Wilson speakers, and even if you’ve lived with a speaker like Wilson’s XLF, it’s natural to look at the Chronosonic XVX and see just a bigger and more elaborate version of the speakers Wilson has been building for decades. It’s easy to project on the XVX your expectations based on Wilson’s 47-year track record. But whatever you imagine the XVX sounds like, you will not be prepared for how the XVX actually performs. Although the XVX is most assuredly a technical evolution of nearly fifty years of loudspeaker engineering at Wilson Audio, the XVX is a sui generis creation that deserves to be considered as its own entity.
Wilson Audio calls the Chronosonic XVX the flagship in the Wilson Audio line. But what about the $850,000-per-pair WAMM Master Chronosonic? David Wilson’s magnum opus is a limited-edition statement product that has nearly sold out its 70-pair run, leaving the XVX as Wilson’s top model. As we’ll see, the XVX has much in common with the WAMM MC, but the XVX is not “merely” (if that word is applicable in this context) a scaled-down version of the WAMM MC. Instead, this new speaker incorporates cabinet materials, drivers, crossover components, and technologies that are unique to the XVX. In fact, the XVX introduces more innovations than any other single product in Wilson’s long history. The two-year development project was led by Daryl Wilson, who became CEO of Wilson Audio in 2016 shortly before his father, David, passed away. Daryl has led the design effort of the most recent—and best, in my view—Wilson speakers including the Sabrina, Yvette, Alexx, and Sasha DAW.
The Chronosonic XVX carries a price tag of $329,000 per pair, positioning it in the upper echelon of the high end. The optional pearl finish’s $30,000 price tag is reportedly justified by the labor-intensive process needed to create that special paint. Although the XVX is clearly a full-range speaker, Wilson offers the Subsonic subwoofer to extend the system response down to 10Hz. Wilson installed two Subsonics in the review system, along with Wilson’s ActivXO electronic crossover. Between the pearl finish, two Subsonic subwoofers at $40,000 each, and the $4500 ActivXO, the total system price comes in at a breathtaking $443,500, making it the most expensive audio product I’ve reviewed. Unlike many speakers of this lofty price, the XVX is a full-production model, and one that can be auditioned at eleven U.S. dealers as of this writing (see the Wilson website for a list of dealers demonstrating the XVX).
The Chronosonic XVX is a four-way, seven-driver dynamic loudspeaker. This new flagship is a massive, and massively complex, piece of loudspeaker engineering. The Chronosonic moniker the XVX shares with the WAMM Master Chronosonic indicates that the XVX is built around the ability to time-align the drivers at any listening position with the same accuracy as that of the WAMM MC. Although time alignment has been a hallmark of Wilson products since the first iteration of the WAMM back in 1984, it is realized in the WAMM MC, and now the XVX, with unprecedented precision.
The XVX architecture consists of a lower woofer module that houses the reflex-loaded 12.5″ and 10.5″ woofers (the same drivers developed for the WAMM MC), and four separate enclosures for the five upper drivers (two lower midrange, one upper midrange, one forward-firing tweeter, one rear-firing tweeter) that can be independently articulated. The upward/rearward-firing tweeter is mounted in the upper-most midrange module. An open-air “gantry” that is bolted to the woofer enclosure forms the infrastructure for the midrange and tweeter modules, as well as for the intricate mechanism for time-aligning the drivers.
The XVX’s technical and mechanical complexity is partially revealed by standing behind the speaker. In addition to the individual driver modules, you can see the wiring system used to connect them, the terminal block for that wiring, the interchangeable resistors that can fine-tune the tonal balance and that also protect the drivers, as well as the massive carbon-fiber-encased crossover network. It’s quite a sight.
The XVX has a large physical presence, standing 6′ 4″ and weighing in at 685 pounds (per speaker side). Yet despite its size and weight, the XVX is astonishingly svelte and elegant. As you stand next to the speaker and allow your eyes to explore its many contours, you gain an appreciation for the myriad design touches, some of them miniscule, that contribute to its overall organic appearance. The result is a large speaker that doesn’t have the boxy appearance of previous Wilson designs. Everywhere you look are radiused edges, subtle contours, gradations of depth, and flowing curves that together create a harmony of visual design. That’s important when you consider the strong statement the XVX will make in a living room.
Each speaker is supplied with seven grilles (available in a variety of colors), one for each enclosure plus a pair of large grilles that cover the gantry’s open sides. The gantry grilles, machined from Wilson’s X-Material, are held in place magnetically. You can elect to leave them off, exposing the gantry’s machined aluminum frame as well as the time-alignment mechanism. In a nice touch, the aluminum surface is machined with a fine ribbed finish, further enhancing the elegant presentation. You can specify a natural aluminum finish (silver) or black-anodized.
The XVX’s build-quality and paint finish are absolutely spectacular. Wilson’s paint quality has long been the standard of the industry, but the XVX seems to have taken the finish to another level. For the past 15 years I’ve made a hobby of car detailing, and have some experience looking at and evaluating fine painted surfaces. I can say that the XVX’s paint is a step up from even the finest luxury-automobile finishes. To create a painted surface of the XVX’s size, with that level of flawless mirror finish, is a remarkable achievement, and reflects the large investment Wilson has made in developing its in-house paint facilities and techniques over the decades. The closer you look at the XVX the more there is to see and appreciate.
I’ve broken out the details of the XVX’s remarkable design and construction in the sidebar, and also included sidebars on the Subsonic subwoofers, ActivXO crossover, and the set-up process for such an elaborate system.
By Robert Harley
My older brother Stephen introduced me to music when I was about 12 years old. Stephen was a prodigious musical talent (he went on to get a degree in Composition) who generously shared his records and passion for music with his little brother.More articles from this editor