By John Stancavage
“I’ve probably told you too much already,” said Wilson Audio Specialties marketing director John Giolas, 30 minutes after he let me sneak into the company’s room the evening prior to the start of the 2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.
We were flanking two prototypes of a new Wilson speaker, the Sabrina. Other companies might produce a steady flow of new products, but Wilson is legendary for its painstaking development process.
And, make no mistake: The Sabrina is a new product. A smallish, three-way floorstander, the Sabrina does not replace the company’s current entry model, the Sophia 3. Instead, it marks a return to Wilson’s roots.
About 30 years ago, company founder David Wilson was looking for a way to more accurately monitor location recordings. Finding the available speakers wanting, he decided to build his own. His creation was the WATT (Wilson Audio Tiny Tot), a small two-way speaker with a woofer/midrange and tweeter.
The WATT, intended to be a one-off, soon began to attract interest from audiophiles for its clarity, imaging and low coloration. Wilson started making them in small quantities, and later added the Puppy, a bass unit that fit underneath the WATT and turned it into a floorstanding, full-range transducer. The rest, as they say, is history.
As the years went by, Wilson revised the WATT/Puppy many times, and added several much larger loudspeakers to his roster. A few years ago, the WATT/Puppy itself was replaced by the Sasha, which also is a somewhat larger speaker.
With the Sasha now in Series 2 form and costing close to $30,000, and improvements to the Sophia pushing that model above $20,000, Wilson saw a hole in its lineup — and an opportunity.
“We decided to take what we’ve learned and apply it to a new, smaller floorstander,” Giolas said. “It’s not a remake of the WATT/Puppy, but it’s inspired by it.”
Development work started quietly about three years ago. A team of about a half-dozen employees, supervised by David Wilson, used both sophisticated computer modeling and listening tests to create the Sabrina.
The group decided on a driver array consisting of an 8-inch woofer, a 5-inch midrange and a 1-inch tweeter. The woofer, in fact, still is being tweaked. That’s why the two Sabrina speakers at RMAF were on static display.
“We’ve narrowed it down to two different woofers,” Giolas said. At some point soon, David Wilson will have to choose, since the company has a rough shipping target for the Sabrina of the first quarter of next year.
All Giolas and sales director Peter McGrath would tell me about the woofer is that it will be some type of proprietary composite, and not aluminum. As with the other three drivers, it will be custom-made for Wilson.
The pulp/composite midrange will be smaller than Wilson’s typical 7-inch cone. The company likes to have its mids run all the way across their range, so a 7-inch model adds smoothness and can pressurize a room sufficiently. Going to a 5-inch driver required a rethinking of how the company sets up its tweeters and also was addressed, of course, in the crossover design.
I asked Giolas about the thinking behind the tweeter change, pointing out that a few years ago Wilson had taken out a full-page ad in several major stereo magazines addressing what then was a frenzy in the industry to create all sorts of exotic high-frequency drivers. Some manufacturers were using a diamond material, while others were finding benefits in beryllium.
Meanwhile, the Wilson ad said the company had tried those, thank you, but would not change for the sake of change. At the time, they still believed their titanium tweeter was the best sounding.
“A lot of it had to do with the way we run our midranges,” Giolas explained. “Because they are full-range, the tweeter needs to go lower to blend. Our metal dome did that the best at the time.”
Wilson subsequently found a silk-dome tweeter than could go low, but also offered an extra degree of refinement. Even though silk was a somewhat old-school technology, although in this case one boosted by modern improvements, it turned out to be the material that won the approval of David Wilson’s ears.
“We don’t go into development with any preconceived notions,” Giolas said. “We actually were pretty far down the road with a beryllium tweeter when we created this silk dome. But it sounded better.”
Just as the Sabrina will benefit from Wilson’s driver experimentation, it also will enjoy a rock-solid, acoustically dead enclosure, as a result of what the company has learned about crafting resin materials and testing bracing with a new vibrometer.
As with the Sophia, the Sabrina will have its drivers housed in a single cabinet, rather than use the two-unit design of the WATT/Puppy. The shape is similar to many Wilson designs, with the midrange and tweeter portion sloping backward for time alignment.
Giolas took a tape measure to the cabinets of the mock-up Sabrinas. They are 38 inches tall, 13 inches deep and 11.5 inches wide. Weight was unavailable, but from trying to move a speaker I would say “heavy” would be a good guess.
The speakers will have rear ports for the midrange and woofer, and, of course, heavy-duty binding posts. Wilson is not one to skimp on anything.
Sensitivity likely will be close to other Wilson speakers, which means the Sabrina will be fairly efficient.
The price has yet to be determined, but Giolas and McGrath indicated the Sabrina probably will sell for around $15,000 a pair, give or take a thousand or two.
For now, curious audiophiles will have to make do with a 60-second video Wilson put up on YouTube shortly before RMAF. The clip is a tease, with more shadows than a film noir thriller.
Having seen the prototypes in person, I can vouch that the fit-and-finish is typical Wilson — graceful curves, flawless automobile paint and a high degree of polish. If it sounds as good as the careful development process would lead you to believe, the Sabrina could be a bewitching loudspeaker.