AXPONA 2016: Prine Time at Wilson Audio

AXPONA-Wilson-2-1189

axponaOh, I know what you are thinking, “I know the Wilson Audio sound. Why should I read more about Wilson speakers?” Well, the new Wilsons have reached a new plane in my opinion. If you have not listened in a while, the time is now to immerse yourself in the sound of the latest offerings. At AXPONA last week, it took just thirty seconds into a John Prine track to convince an audience of jaded reviewers that wonderful things are afoot at Wilson. Indeed some sea changes are coming that I will explain, but first let me set some context.

One of my favorite people in audio is recording engineer and Wilson sales guru Peter McGrath. Once I found out he was going to be auditioning the new Alexx speakers, I decided to make this room my very first stop at AXPONA 2016 right as I got in Friday afternoon. The worst kept secret in audio may be that Peter is Dave Wilson’s secret weapon. You see, this fine gentleman is a world-class recording engineer. So he is able to record brand name classical musicians with very realistic sound quality. He’s also able to source world class recordings from other engineer friends of his… people like Keith Johnson of Reference Recordings. Peter has quite conveniently created or received these files in high resolution audio so he can use his hard drive as a master-tape worthy source. For this event, Wilson convinced Jon Quick of dCS to bring their latest flagship DAC to the party so the system’s digital source was really as good as it gets. To be honest, Peter’s recordings are so good, that is almost cheating to have them as source material. But then again the Alexx speakers are expensive and deserving of the very best recordings to show prospective purchasers what they are capable of.

Dave and Peter were not messing around in any other component as well. They used Nick Doshi’s (of Doshi Audio) amazing KT150-based amps in mono to drive the new Alexx. They had a studio tape deck. They used Michael Latvis’ rock-solid equipment racks and top of the line cable from Transparent Audio. The room was worth more than my house.

Underwood1-5
AXPONA coverage brought to you by Underwood HiFi, Exogal and Emerald Physics

This AXPONA event was to be the formal introduction of the Alexx, and Peter graciously invited me to Friday night’s press only event hosted by Larry Marcus at Paragon Sight and Sound, an established Midwestern dealer making some inroads into the Chicago market. After some nice wine and food, Dave Wilson got up and spoke about two important things.

First, he spoke on how the Alexx is a continuation of what they have learned on the Alexandria and how they are even more focused on getting the timing elements correct and capturing the lowest possible distortion which leads to a more believable and natural sound. A lower noise floor is simply essential. The new CST tweeter is a doped silk dome, which is simply more linear. Dave was clearly enthusiastic about what the Wilson team accomplished.

AXPONA-Wilson-2-1188

The Wilson “team”? In point of fact, the Alexx is a design from Dave’s son, Daryl Wilson. And that brings us to the second and arguably more important revelation of the night: Dave is slowly turning over the reins to his son Daryl. Dave is still working on the new iteration of his flagship WAMM speakers and even mentioned he has the sound locked in but is working on final adjustments. But going forward, we are going to see Daryl’s designs continue to filter through the line and Daryl will soon run Wilson Audio.

But what of this new Alexx sound? Peter played an acoustic guitar track from John Prine, and the sound was natural and effortless. Sublime. It just sounded like John was playing guitar between the speakers, which just “fell away” and disappeared. It did not even cross my mind to think about gear. I just wanted to stay and listen to more of Peter’s selections. Peter moved onto a piano recording of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” sonata by a famous but not-to-be-mentioned pianist. Music just emerged from a silent background, full of dynamics. It was spectacular! I had never heard a piano sound this good — piano is surprisingly hard to make real — yet the Alexx achieved this.

award-sighting-smPeter played some organ music and the church the organ was in came alive. One of my biggest “ah ha” audio moments was at a 1991 Stereophile show in New York where Dave Wilson played his Watt/Puppies which realistically created the sound of a musician walking across the stage at a 45 degree angle. I have talked about that demo for years. This Alexx sound was a whole new level, though. Everything was right. The scale of the instruments, the timbre, the somewhat guttural sound of Prine’s vocal, the sound of his guitar. Quite possibly, this was the best demo I have heard since that first audio show in 1991. I did not visit all of AXPONA’s rooms this year, but I did not hear anything better than this.

AXPONA-Wilson-2-1200

What was it that allowed the Alexx to be a time machine? Was it Nick Doshi’s amps finding their perfect match? Perhaps. Was it Peter’s recordings played back on state of the art digital gear from dCS? Possibly. But I think these are very special speakers. I am a regular in Wilson’s rooms at audio shows, but I have not always been this impressed. Wilson has been on a bit of a roll and their newer speakers have moved from having an ever-so-slightly clinical sound toward a genuinely natural flow. Of course, all the Wilson hallmarks of great “pace, rhythm, and timing” and perfect soundstage are there, but I feel the move to the new CST tweeter has created a still-accurate but slightly warmer speaker that just has an effortless delivery. The Alexx driver configuration allows for very precise timing adjustments with the Wilson “nomographs” that align drivers properly for the room.

Due to my quixotic adventures in audio, I get to hear a lot of nice systems…some really special ones in fact. But this room at AXPONA was very unique and it left quite an impression on me. Am I being objective enough as a reviewer with such a rave review of a show event? I will let the reader decide, but I feel that part of my job is to showcase audio gear that is really breathtaking in sound. This was a magical sound, and these Alexx speakers come squarely from Daryl’s work and experimentation.

The future of this famous brand is in good hands. Dave Wilson has a lot to be proud of — and Wilson speaker owners have a lot to look forward to.

AXPONA-Wilson-2-1202