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Athens 2014: Wilson Audio Sasha II dancing with the Devi(a)l(et)

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hes-2014If there is one speaker that made Wilson Audio famous among audiophiles for delivering best bang for the buck in the almost affordable high-end range and has seen the most evolutions in the company’s huge line of high-end transducers, that is the Sasha WATT/Puppy and on display we had the new Series-2 which improves over the S-1 in several ways. With the use of a new laser vibrometer the latest generation of Wilson Audio speakers seems to offer an even better cabinet design with less resonance, thus more clarity in the demanding passages. The tweeter is a modified version of the highly acclaimed Convergent Synergy Tweeter from flagship Alexandria XLF speakers, redesigned to work in a two driver cabinet. The WATT cabinet has been redesigned in terms of materials too, with Wilson’s proprietary X and S materials used for the tweeter and mid-range baffles respectively. As with previous versions the two 8inch woofers dominate the Puppy bass enclosure.

All this requires power, and two Devialet amps bridged in mono for a total of 800 Watts each took care of it with the resulting sound being dynamic and crisp like very few other systems in the show. Devialet is more than just raw power, it also offers some of the best measured performance when it comes to THD, S/N ratio and negligible output impedance. On top of that the little French devils offer some of the most convenient features like streaming up to 24bits/192Khz PCM signals, built-in Texas Instruments DACs and my favorite of all, “on the fly” adjustment of phono cartridge loading through the computer’s monitor. Yep, you got it right, despite being pioneer devices of the digital era the Devialets can handle MM and MC cartridges egregiously, with both capacitance and resistive loading configurable with the touch of a button. The Sasha-S2 are included in the list of speakers that Devialet studied and offers the Speaker Active Matching technology (SAM) as a preconfigured DSP option.

The analog front end included JC Verdier “La Platine” turntable, Moerch DP-8 tonearm and Ortofon’s PW cartridge. A Symphonic Line CD player acted like a transport while the power cords and speaker cables were Nordost Valhalla II.

A refined speaker paired with what many consider as top choice among new generation Class D amplifiers translates into music? In the classic Smooth Operator by Sade (LP, Epic) I was able to admire the time coherence and faithful timbre of her voice, a difficult test as the class D amps generally speaking suffer in this regard. Joy Division on FLAC sounded articulated, focused and ballsy. I was not able to find any flaws on this set up despite the hotel room and complete lack of acoustic treatment. Devialet must be really up to something with SAM and Wilson’s new Sasha 2 will remain an audiophile classic for years to come, no doubt about it.

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10 Comments on Athens 2014: Wilson Audio Sasha II dancing with the Devi(a)l(et)

  1. Andrew Mitchell // December 8, 2014 at 7:20 AM //

    Class D doesn’t refer to D for digital lol oh boy!

    using a switching mode amplifier as a current source also doesn’t make it a class D output amplifier

    The original Halcro (DM58) used a similar technique coupling the SMPS to output to generate the power …..

    • Perfectly agree with you Andrew, in fact i stated in my first reply to John that “Calling all these amplifiers “digital” is incorrect, though having a “full on-full off” (switching mode) output section gets them characterized as “digital””

      Using a switching mode output does not make it a Class D amplifier? In which class would you consider placing such design Andrew?

      Edit: I went through Devialet’s white paper and they seem rather comfortable with the word “digital”.

      “…efficiency and compactness of «digital» amplifiers (class D).”

      The also speak about Class D amplification “Several class D amplifiers are added in parallel to provide the speaker with the current it requires to sustain the output voltage.”

      They also point out their Switching power supply. For those who are interested..

      https://en.devialet.com/assets/Systems/Devialet-White-Paper-EN.pdf

  2. @johnbevier

    Well John, what i understand is that Devialet does not want to be considered as another Class D amplifier because this suggests a somewhat lesser sonic quality for some audiophiles?

    Bad for them, I tend to judge a system based on what i hear and then i try to investigate on the technology behind it. I have no prejudices when it comes to the various topologies/ sources etc.

    But an amplifier who digitizes all analog signals and uses a Class D module for the output section falls under the so called digital-Class D category. A hybrid, yes (like many other digital amplifiers) with a beefier Class A section capable by it self to drive a small load (uncommon but not unique to Devialet) is not enough change the fact that the company itself (and you) speaks about digital-Class D.

    I understand your marketing guidelines and I’m also pretty convinced that the way Class D is implemented inside the Devialet line of products is rather different than the various Hypex, Ice designs but in the end what you sell is a product with class-D current amplifier output stages. Or not?

    You might not like the “aura” that class D has on customers but it is written on your circuit diagram. And i doubt someone from Devialet will mail me to tell me the opposite. It is there for everyone to see it, you don’t have to take a factory tour in order to read a leaflet 😉

    Have a nice holiday season John, my best regards!

    Panagiotis

  3. Andrew mitchell // December 8, 2014 at 3:37 AM //

    These are not classical class D amplifiers
    They are in fact closer to the ‘quad’ current dumping amps of yore
    Class D acts as the current source for the class A amp
    This is patented technology

    In fact a listen would confirm these owe very little to class D amplifiers

    The sound is dominated by class A amplifiers, the only tell tale signs

    Massive power reserves

    and they don’t run scolding hot

    I think other manufacturers should be seriously worried

    These are the ” Apple iPhone” moment for traditional audio equipment manufacturers

    Devialet have

    Massive technical resources/monetary also, with capabilities way beyond any existing manufacturer in high end
    class leading industrial design
    a working upgrade program

    extraordinary reviews across the board…..

    • Class A voltage and Class D current drive. Isnt ths very reminiscent of Nelson Pass STASIS POWER uses in Threshold Amps and Nakamishi amps back in the day, which some say is related to the aforementioned Current dumping?

  4. James David Walley // December 7, 2014 at 9:28 PM //

    So, you’ve concluded that the new Wilsons will “remain an audio classic for years to come, no doubt about it”…based entirely on ONE Sade LP and ONE Joy Division download? M’kay…

  5. Dear Panagiotis,

    Devialet’s patented amplifications stage is named ADH – Analog Digital Hybrid.

    These five models are NOT Digital amplfiers.

    Further, the analog signal path is 5″ in total length from the output of the dual-differential 24/192 DAC to the speaker output posts; 2 1/2″ for the class-A amplifiers, whose job is to trace the voltage signal, and 2 1/2″ for the parallel direct-connected D-Class modules that supply the current to the signal modulation directive.

    This direct-connected configuration results in the wonderful sonic characteristics of low-power (12 watts per channel) Class-A, with the effortless capacity to grip even the most demanding driver array. Calling these units Class-D is just factually incorrect. It may seem nuanced, but the result is the biggest revolution in amplfier design in years.

    Here’s alink that fully expalins Devialet’s revolutionary approach – http://en.devialet.com/technology/devialet-adh-en

    That aside, I’m very happy you enjoyed the combination!

    My finest regards – John Bevier – Audio Plus Services, Devialet’s North American Importer

    • Thank you for the useful information John.

      I’m sure you know much more than me when it comes to Devialet’s architecture, but let me get a couple of things straight.

      Most of the Class D integrated amplifiers have an analog pre-amp section in class A (like Devialet) and a switching power output section (in Class D, like the Devialet).

      Calling all these amplifiers “digital” is incorrect, though having a “full on-full off” (switching mode) output section gets them characterized as “digital”

      From the Devialet page “Within the ADH® core, the two amplifiers operate in parallel: the analog amplifier sets the output voltage while the digital amplifiers provide most of the current. ”

      Devialet’s proprietary circuit topology performs very well, exceptionally well I would dare to say but they still rely on Class D, therefor for most of us audiophile they fall under the “digital” amplifier category. And since the company talks about “digital amplifiers” that provide the output current who am I to argue..

      Besides that, it is more than obvious even by judging the form factor- lack of heat dissipation necessary for a class AB amplifier of such wattage that we are talking about huge efficiencies, inherent only in “digital” amplifiers.

      From the Devialet page:

      • johnbevier // December 7, 2014 at 8:17 PM //

        Hi, Thanks for the conversation Panagiotis! 🙂

        I understand your comments. The Devialet is so different it’s easy to miss the magnitude of the change Devialet’s topology has brought.

        In normal amplifiers, correctly as you note, there is a pre-driver stage that is pretty much universally Class-A (A single transistor/tube traces both the positive and negative swings of the sine way. Pre-driver stages outputs a tiny amount of power, but a lot more than the smaller signal strength coming in from the preamp via interconnects.

        In the case of the Devialet design – there is no pre-driver stage. Instead all signal are immediately digitized (Or routed around the two 24/192 professional studio quality A/D convertors if the source is already digital), then all source signals are processed by DSP chips that are programmed to accomplish a wide variety of tasks depending on what the end user set the many functions to be via Devialet’s online configurator. Once the DSP functions are complete the signal is routed through a single very powerful mast clocking sections whose function it is to realign proper beat frequency and thus reduce time based errors (jitter) to nearly unmeasurable levels. Once that function is complete the data is send to the two 24/192 D/A convertors for conversion back into an analog signal.

        That’s when the ADH Hybrid (two amplifiers) come into focus – the Class-A establishes the trace of the sine wave, while the parallel direct-connected Class-D modules add the current to the exact voltage path established by the Class-A voltage swings.

        Proof the Devialet is not an industry standard “Class-D” amp, I’ve personally removed the back off the unit, gently removed the Class-D modules and to the utter amazement of the room full of people, the amplifier just keeps playing – no drop in gain, no change in sound – just the same sweet sounding delicate precise sound as before. To be fair, when I turn the gain up to a room filling level (Loud), the amplifier starts to clip since the current amps are no longer adding their muscle to the signal and I’ve exhausted the dynamic headroom two 12-watt Class-A amps can output. No Class-A Pre-driver stage can power speakers – but a 2x 12-watt Class-A amp can and does.

        And to be clear, Devialet does NOT refer to their amps as D-Class. NEVER. They’ve spend several million dollars and five years time inventing a patented design that is a hybrid of Class-A and Class-D, working together to deliver the best of both designs.

        I don’t think you’re trying to be stubborn about this, and truthfully, I’ve no dog in this fight.

        My suggestion is you contact Devialet and get the information directly from them since they monitor all publications and once they see your posting will be calling you themselves. I’m just trying to make this easier and more accurate for you and your readers. I don’t know of any reviewers that have attempted this product without first having input from Devialet – it’s just too different to be understood without someone from Devialet walking the person through the design. I watched Jon Atkinson (Stereophile) spend 2-hours on a couch at CES with the designer explaining the approach: Chris Connaker (Computer Audiophile) went to France and toured the factory and meeting with the engineering design team before he picked up a pen to write.

        You have my very finest regards and wishes for a wonderful Holiday season,

        John Bevier, NSM Audio Plus Services Office / 800 663-9352 ext 301 Mobile / 585 200-0665 E-mail / jbevier@audioplusservices.com Skype ID / john_bevier http://www.audioplusservices.com

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