Wilson Audio Specialties showed impressive strength in numbers at the 2017 Los Angeles Audio Show. Indeed, it was hard to walk very far in the five floors of stereo exhibits at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel without tripping over the company’s products.
Of course, I’m usually tripping over somebody’s gear, anyway. Room hosts tend to wince painfully or whisper prayers when I attempt to maneuver behind a speaker for a photo of a name badge or bass port.
Luckily, despite the fact that all these Wilson speakers often were connected with very formidable – and foot-catching – Transparent Audio or Cardas Audio cables, I managed to get my pics this time without ripping out a binding post or falling face-first into an exposed midrange.
That was fortunate, since I’m not sure Part-Time Audiophile publisher and all-around tightwad Scot Hull would cover me on that kind of damage.
So, aspiring to the agility of a downhill skier, I somehow made a clean run through the two large suites and other hotel rooms which had Wilson speakers. Several displays were in association with Brian Berdan’s Pasadena-based Audio Element shop and the others were heard in rooms by Sunny Components, Audio Salon/Constellation and Grand Prix Audio.
As I toured the rooms, I heard everything from Lyle Lovett and Mumford & Sons to Pearl Jam and Tool. And no matter what model speaker, or what associated electronics – or even what volume level – it all sounded good.
Los Angeles 2017 coverage brought to you by Spatial Audio.
Wilson seems to be on a roll these days. The company has now integrated a silk tweeter throughout its entire line (replacing its longtime titanium driver), and has learned a thing or two about vibration control, thanks to some new measuring equipment at its Utah factory.
That, and the ideas and leadership of Daryl Wilson, the new CEO and son of founder Dave Wilson, have morphed the manufacturer’s longtime “house sound.” Wilson speakers have always offered remarkable resolution, speed and dynamics, but now any model in its line displays more refined highs and a lower noise floor.
The blending of the old strengths with the new enhancements has upped the emotional connection and created speakers that encourage long listening sessions.
As you go up the ladder in the Wilson catalog, you hear the same basic presentation; there’s just more of everything as you step from rung to rung.
I’ve long thought the Alexia to be the sweet spot (falling in the middle, price-wise) in Wilson’s line. It has made my Best of Show list more than once, so how could it get any better?
I cornered Wilson account manager Bill Peugh outside the door of one of the rooms and put that question to him.
Normally, getting information about a yet-to-be released Wilson product is like trying to procure an update on an ongoing FBI investigation – well, at least as hard as it used to be, anyway. Nevertheless, I was surprised when Peugh started coughing up details.
His eagerness to talk probably is related to the fact that the debut of the Alexia 2 was only a few weeks out at show time. “The changes are mainly a bunch of little things,” Peugh told me, “but they add up to a big improvement,” said Peugh. He also added tgat some of the enhancements are a bigger cabinet, stronger bracing, fine-tuned time alignment of the drivers, a revised port and an improved tweeter.
The last item on that list may be the most noteworthy. The Alexia, introduced in 2012, was the first Wilson speaker to receive a silk high-frequency unit. The company actually went on to develop five versions of the tweeter, with the ultimate model going into the company’s cost-no-object statement transducer, the $685,000 WAMM Chronosonic.
“The Alexia 2 is getting the WAMM tweeter,” Peugh disclosed.
OK, how does the Alexia 2 sound? Peugh, who’s been hearing the final prototype for months, said the closest he can describe the model sonically is that “it’s like a smaller Alexx.” From my listening to that speaker in Los Angeles and at other shows after it was introduced last year, that says to me that the Alexia 2 promises to be pretty phenomenal.
The changes will add $5,900 to the original Alexia’s current $52,000 price tag. Wilson owners can upgrade to series 2 through Wilson’s fairly generous trade-in program. In fact, some Alexia owners already have placed orders without even hearing the new version, said Peugh.
Because of the way my brain works, I asked him, “What will happen to all those old Alexias?” Since the cabinet is different, Wilson can’t just tweak the originals. They have to be totally replaced.
I had a vivid image form in my mind of a boneyard behind the Wilson factory filling up with lonely, discarded Alexias. Could I and an associate slip stealthily into Utah, rent a truck and somehow heft a pair over the fence before it rained?
Alas, my would-be caper won’t work. It turns out Wilson has an innovative pre-owned, quality-certified program to find new owners for its older speakers.
“This creates opportunities for buyers who want the Wilson sound at a lower price point,” said Peugh. “It’s like having BMW 3-Series money but wanting a 5-Series. You buy a pre-owned, factory-certified 5 Series.”
Wilson does the same thing, giving the old speakers an extensive performance check, replacing capacitors and even touching up paint if necessary. The result is a new-looking pair of speakers at tens of thousands of dollars off.
I was thinking about that as I listened to the various Wilson models in Los Angeles.
Audio Element owner Brian Berdan was working his magic in two rooms. The first paired Wilson Yvettes ($25,500 USD a pair), driven by VTL MB-450 monoblocks ($22,500 USD a pair) and a VTL TL-6.5 preamp ($15,000), while the second had the larger Sashas ($33,950 USD) paired with Boulder 2160 amplification ($53,000 USD) and a VTL TL-7.5 Series 3 line stage ($25,000 USD).
Berdan has developed his own set-up strategies, which in this case involved taking Wilson’s already-rigorous guidelines and adding his own tricks. The result is that both rigs offered ultra-black backgrounds and stunning imaging, even on the Tool track a few audiophile head-bangers requested while I was there.
Sunny Components, meanwhile, was showing the Sabrina, driven by the more affordable end of the Audio Research line (a VT-80 amp, $8,000 USD, and a LS28 preamp ($7,500 USD) in one of its three rooms. In another, Sunny went big with the towering Alexx, this time with higher-end AR equipment.
I left LA slightly disappointed that my dastardly plan to grab some soon-to-be abandoned Alexias was foiled, but I like Peugh’s BMW analogy. My own 2007 Beemer coupe was certified pre-owned, so there may be a way to get a pair of Wilsons into my home after all… without dumpster-diving.