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CAS 2014: Wilson Audio’s Sasha II, smooth as silk

photo6-2   Dyn_CAS-logo-2Two visitors to the large Music Lovers Audio room at the California Audio Show slowly approached a Wilson Sasha II W/P speaker. “That’s the new tweeter,” one said in hushed tones. “Wow,” said the other, suddenly unable to form even a sentence in the presence the gleaming black transducers. “See,” said Peter McGrath, Wilson Audio Specialties’ sales director, standing with me a few feet away. “Everybody notices the new tweeter. What they are not talking about is this.” He rapped his knuckles on the side of the lower woofer module. There was barely a thud. “Dave Wilson invested in a device called a vibrometer. It uses a laser to detect all the resonant modes in the cabinet. We used it in the development of the Sasha II.”

Considering that Wilson Audio has for years gone to extraordinary lengths to make its cabinets as acoustically dead as possible –- even developing its own proprietary “X” and “S” materials rather than relying on plywood — this was something of a surprise. I’ll bet Dave hunts squirrels with an elephant gun, too.

The X and S materials are so hard already that they reportedly wear out cutting blades in no time. But Wilson engineers used the vibrometer to improve the cabinet design and bracing to reduce what little resonances there were by 34 percent, McGrath said.

“Here’s something else we did,” he continued, walking around to the back of the speaker and slightly lifting the rear edge of what used to be called the “Watt” portion, the physically separate enclosure that holds the midrange and tweeter.

There now is a new, adjustable attachment system that allows the top module to be dialed in for listening height and on-axis response. The Sasha I did this, too, but offered only three positions. The new design allows 42 different settings.

Maybe the most surprising thing about the Sasha II is its price. The last version of the Watt/Puppy retailed for $29,900. The Sasha I, despite its improvements, came out at $27,500. Now, five years later, the Sasha II – which is literally laser focused – has a price tag of $29,500.

“Bargain” is an overused word in the high-end, a place where too few products really meet the true meaning of that word. But I feel more than justified in calling the Sasha II a good value for the money – especially when you consider the obsessive build quality and appreciate that they are made right here in the U.S. by skilled technicians who earn good pay and benefits – you know, the old-fashioned way.

So, how did the Sasha IIs sound at CAS? Among the best of the show, despite a wide and deep room and strained hotel power that made the lights flicker during demos.

The improved tweeter (sorry Peter, but I have to address that first) brings a new degree of smoothness and refinement to the Sashas. While the previous titanium tweeter offered good extension, it could also sound clinical and a bit brash on some program material. The new tweeter is made of doped silk, which was selected after Wilson experimented with – and rejected – more exotic materials. While it might have been a great marketing tool to boast of upgrading to a diamond or berrylium tweeter, Dave Wilson followed his heart – and ears – and, as always, did it his way.

The result is a speaker that now performs well on a variety of music. I spent quite a bit of time in the Music Lovers room and never got fatigued, despite a few aggressive dance tracks being played.

My own selections sounded about as good as I’ve ever heard them. The Cowboy Junkies’ “Rock and Bird,” for example, was presented with Margo Timmins’ voice positioned precisely in the middle of a large soundstage. You could hear her own backing vocals clearly in the mix, but there also was a slight warmth that allowed her brother Michael’s lyrics to connect emotionally.

In addition, the Sashas displayed good pace, while Alan Anton’s rolling bass line emerged with the right blend of heft and pitch definition.

Overall, the Sashas now seem to share a lot with their bigger brothers, the Alexias. There was an unshakable solidity to the sound, which was especially noticeable on well-miked drum kits. I’m guessing this was due, at least in part, to the resonance reduction.

Music Lovers was showing the Sashas with a selection of Audio Research components, including the SP 20 preamp ($9,000), CD6 disc spinner/DAC ($9,000) and REF 75 stereo amp ($9,000).

Cables were all from Wilson favorite Transparent Audio, and featured the Super level on the speakers ($1,630), Ultra interconnects (1,485), Power Link power cords ($2,100) and a Power Link isolator ($4,195).

Finishing off the system was a GrandPrix Monaco equipment rack ($4,850) and GrandPrix amp stand ($1,950).

“I wanted to prove a point,” McGrath said, referring to the $72,710 price of the entire system. In other words, his plan was to show the Sashas did not require megabuck components to shine. If you want to chase that extra 5 percent improvement, though, the other stuff is still out there and the Sashas are good enough to let you hear the difference.

As I prepared to leave the room, McGrath let slip a little scoop that this reporter couldn’t help but pass on to PTA readers.

“Dave is working on a new WAMM,” McGrath said, a grin breaking out on his face. The previous WAMM, produced in Wilson’s early days, was a strange-looking but highly effective creation that mixed cone woofers, midranges and tweeters with an electrostatic midrange/high frequency panel.

McGrath, who used to have a pair in the days when he was running his own retail store in Miami, was almost giddy with anticipation. Wilson apparently thinks he can better his current flagship, the Alexandria XLF, which sells for a heart-stopping $200,000.

The new WAMM might be out next year, although knowing Wilson every last detail will have to be triple-checked and tweaked before a pair is seen outside the factory.

The price? McGrath hasn’t heard a final number. “But it’ll be up from where the XLF is – way up.”

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About John Stancavage (162 Articles)
Contributing Editor for Part-Time Audiophile

10 Comments on CAS 2014: Wilson Audio’s Sasha II, smooth as silk

  1. This room sounded awesome. Tied with the Magico room for me.

  2. “The improved tweeter (sorry Peter, but I have to address that first) brings a new degree of smoothness and refinement to the Sashas. While the previous titanium tweeter offered good extension, it could also sound clinical and a bit brash on some program material.”

    I can’t recall a single reviewer of the original Sashas pointing this out. Wilson speakers, when reviewed, are virtually flawless. The flaws are only mentioned when the new version is reviewed.

    And the dance the reviewers dance is not just to the music made by Wilson speakers.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // August 22, 2014 at 11:43 AM //

      That’s a big brush to paint with, unfortunately. There are reviewers (and non-reviewers) that think Wilson Audio hung the moon. There are reviewers (and non-reviewers) that think Wilson Audio can do no right. Me? I think it’s a matter of taste. That is, reviewers have their predispositions and preferences (another way of saying “bias”) — just like everyone else. The trick is to find the reviewer who’s biases tend to line up best with your own.

      The fact that the reviewers you’re referencing rather obliquely seem to line up on one side (“we like bright”) doesn’t mean that there aren’t those that disagree. But given how hostile the market is toward negative reviews (I’ve written quite a bit about this in the “On Experts” series), it’s not surprising that those not enamored with the Wilson Audio “house sound” have consistently chosen to not review the speakers, which is perhaps why you won’t find a lot of diversity in published opinion on a mainstream, high-profile, product.

      • I appreciate your very reasoned response.
        You’re right, of course. I was generalizing, grouchy and, really, I have no particular complaint with your reviews.
        I just went to your archives and read the “On Experts” series and recommend it.

    • Robert Stern // October 31, 2014 at 10:10 PM //

      It’s no accident that Wilson’s are now being paired with Audio Research gear, which take the edge off their sometimes revealing top end. When I first started listening to higher end equipment, I saw rave reviews about Wilson speakers, but I was appalled by the overly bright (IMO) sound of the Watt Puppy. It wasn’t until I heard the Watt Puppy 8 and then later the Sophia’s that I started to consider the possibility of owning a Wilson.

      I find it disappointing to now read that the Sasha 1 sometimes sounded brash – something I never read in the press – which only means that the best thing to rely on, before purchasing anything, are your ears. Bring music with you that challenges the top end, the midrange, and the bass, and, if it’s not too bright, and it’s not too boomy, and the midrange is lush, then just sit back and see if you get goose bumps and are drawn in by your music and can take your mind off the critical listening.

      • Part-Time Audiophile // November 1, 2014 at 10:39 AM //

        The interpretation of sound, like taste, is extraordinarily personal. Sure, you can measure the living daylights out of a thing, but there’s absolutely no reason think that the way your own brain translates that on the scale of awful to awesome is something that I, or anyone else, shares.

        Which makes your advice utterly critical. Try before you buy. Failing that, make sure you have options if your purchase doesn’t quite have enough frosting for your cupcake.

  3. “I wanted to prove a point,” McGrath said, referring to the $72,710 price of the entire system. In other words, his plan was to show the Sashas did not require megabuck components to shine”

    I did chuckle a bit at that, I must admit…

  4. I can understand but I do not condone manufacturers that update their products every 2 years, unless they offer it to their previous customers. I would not be happy spending $30K to find out in 1 year to 2 years my speakers are obsolete.

    • You mean like when you buy a car, and then the new model year comes out and they fix some of the issues with the previous model? I don’t think anyone enjoys that much, either, but I don’t personally expect Volkswagen to upgrade my hatchback for me every year.

  5. Well done Hugh. You always make magic sound.

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