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



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.”