First Listen: Wilson Audio Debuts the TuneTot Monitor

Back in late November when I toured the Wilson Audio factory in Provo, Utah, Daryl Wilson told me he had a special prototype he wanted me to see. But there was one condition, I could not show this unfinished speaker until it made its official debut.  Well that day has arrived and Wilson has announced the TuneTot, a not so small (15.6 inches tall x 8.6 inches wide x 10.2 inches deep) $9,800 two-way monitor aimed at both consumer and professional alike. Even better, they sent me a pair in a gorgeous ivory pearl finish about a week and a half ago to evaluate. Today I wanted to share both the press release of the product and my first impressions of this impressive new speaker system.

First off, this speaker gives up nothing to its more expensive larger brothers and sisters. The packaging is first-rate and the owner’s manual goes into some detail about proper placement.  These monitors are meant to be used with a “surface boundary” behind them or underneath like on a fireplace mantel or bookshelf, or in my case, on a desk surface. The cabinet is very solid and each weighs 30 lbs.  The monitors sit on spikes that are adjustable in an almost infinite number of ways and there are “IsoBases” which are really heavy two-piece isolation platforms that the speaker also rests on.  Since many users will just want to use these without included speaker grills (also made in the same cabinet material so rigidity), there is an entirely new Wilson option of contrasting “rings” which can be chosen based on color.  I chose a steel-blue which is a sort of medium blue.  The individually milled 6061-T6 aluminum rings have magnets spread around the circumference so they magnetically attach to the driver bolts of the mid-woofer.  As a nice touch, the color combination you choose for the TuneTots and TuneTot Ring are used in the two layers of the IsoBase, the metal on top, the cabinet paint on the bottom.  The overall look is spectacular. In another unusual departure are speaker binding posts that accept bananas which was convenient for me since we are a former Magnepan household and have lots of banana terminated cable lying around. Like many Wilson speakers, there is a tool kit with spikes included and the rings and IsoBase come in separate packaging that is shipped in three separate boxes with high quality foam inserts. The customer presentation is sublime upon receiving the TuneTots.

The Wilson heritage is evident with a tweeter derived from the Alexia 2 and a midrange driver derived from the Alexx and Sabrina products. Cabinets made of Wilson’s X-material and S-material.

The sound quality is, of course, the most important feature. I recently purchased a pair of Alexia 2s which are sounding magnificent even early into the second week of break-in.  The TuneTots have much of the same sound signature. The highs are clear and open. The midrange is beautiful in a very neutral sort of way. The lows are capped at 65hz but there is a lot more bass than one would expect. Perhaps the solidity of the monitor and IsoBase combination helps there.  The imaging is classic Wilson Audio. Once properly set up, these make a nice disappearing act and the soundstage is spread out before my eyes in a very natural fashion. Every day I play the TuneTots, they get better and I am more impressed.   I am currently running them with the Mytek Brooklyn+ DAC playing Tidal HiFi through a Lyngdorf TDAI-2170. Shunyata Delta cabling connects the DAC to the Lyngdorf integrated and the Lyngdorf to the speakers.  When I play MeIia’s Convergence album, the first track Celestial Echo has much of the mid-bass I hear on the big rig. Malia’s vocals are perfect with her breathy, floating projection.

I always joke that “in digital, timing is everything” much like comedy. I am finding that it is very much the case as well with these Wilson speakers from the adaptable drivers in the Alexia 2s to the precise placement and height of the front spikes and overall placement of the TuneTots on a desk. First, they need a certain distance between them.  I was able to get four feet between them on my home office desk after some re-arranging. Second, the backward or forward tilt depends on the distance from and height of the listener. Then the sloped front baffle must be set so you just see a bit of the top of the speaker but not too much.  All this is wonderfully explained in the owner’s manual.

But once set up, oh boy!  This is the classic Wilson sound: music flowing, speaker disappearing act, realistic music sound that makes us forget about the impressive gear and go searching through our Tidal album collection.

I have these TuneTots pointed toward a window in my home office.  In the morning when the sun rises, the pearl WilsonGloss finish sparkles like a just detailed Ferrari. This is an expensive monitor but a high performance one as well. It’s early days of TuneTot listening for me but obtaining a good portion of that Alexia 2 sound is likely to be worth the investment. Well done SAE team!

Here is the official Wilson Audio press release:

A New Wilson Ecosystem

Announcing TuneTot®

Special Applications Engineering is a part of the founding DNA of Wilson Audio. Originally, Wilson used the “special applications” nomenclature to describe products designed to solve a specific problem, such as the Wilson Audio Duette, a loudspeaker that redefined what music lovers and audiophiles believed was possible with near-boundary installations. Now, Wilson Audio Special Application Engineering™(WSAE) describes an entire line of products, each designed to solve a specific installation challenge.

Arguably, the first Wilson product to be engineered for a special application was the original WATT®. In the mid-eighties, Dave and Sheryl Lee were engaged in producing recordings for their Wilson Audiophile label, the salient goal of which was to create extremely lifelike reproductions of musical events. Dave’s reference loudspeaker, the already legendary original Wilson Audio Modular Monitor (WAMM) was, for that time, singularly capable of revealing the dynamic nuance, spatial cues, and the degree of spectral authenticity of the recordings played through them. Unfortunately, when it came to portable loudspeakers Dave could reasonably transport and use to monitor his recordings, he was dependent on commercial products available during that time. All of those he tried fell well short of the resolution and dynamic expression of his big reference loudspeaker. This fact painfully manifested itself after an important recording session. When Dave returned with the master tapes and played them through the WAMM, it quickly become apparent that they were unusable. The location monitors had not revealed the problems in the recording—problems his WAMMs instantly exposed.

Dave immediately began working on an all-new design for a portable monitor. His desire was to endow a small monitor with the same essential qualities of his WAMM. In order to keep his new loudspeaker a reasonable size, Dave intentionally truncated the bandwidth in the bass region. True to his established methodology, Dave approached the new design with a holistic completeness that was unusual during the era—and has remained rare to this day. In order to reduce panel resonances with the cabinet, he employed exotic mineral-filled methacrylate as an enclosure material. He carefully angled the front baffle to optimize time domain performance. He went to great lengths to reduce spurious diffraction introduced by reflections originating on the baffle. His new creation became his reference location monitor for the rest of the series of his audiophile-quality recordings. Recordings revered to this day, and currently available on the Wilson Audiophile label. See the catalogue here.

Dave and Sheryl Lee dubbed the little Wilson the Wilson Audio Tiny Tot (WATT) after the preschool their kids were attending. Since Dave designed the WATT as a tool for his own use, he was completely surprised when audio dealers, audiophiles, and music lovers expressed an interest in purchasing them. Dave never intended to sell the WATTs commercially. Among other factors: the heroic attention to detail and expensive materials meant that the asking price for a pair of WATTs would be far more expensive than anything currently on the market. As a result, Dave was unprepared when the market readily perceived the intrinsic value inherent to the WATT.

In the late eighties, when paired with a dedicated woofer module the Wilsons called the Puppy (a Tiny Tots best friend…), the combination of the two went on to become the best-selling over $10k loudspeaker in audio history.

The Smallest Wilson

TuneTot is the latest product from the Wilson Special Applications Engineering™ team. While its name pays homage to the first WSAE product, it is a modern technical tour de force designed to offer the timbral beauty, dynamic nuance, soundstage resolution, and transparency—all the hallmarks of Wilson loudspeakers design culture—but do so in environments which are hostile to all of those qualities.

TuneTot is the smallest and least expensive Wilson, but it would be a mistake to see it as an “entry-level” offering. TuneTots are lovingly fabricated and assembled by the same group of talented craftsmen who build the WAMM Master Chronosonic, using exactly the same processes and techniques. Its cabinet and driver technology are derived directly from Alexx and Sabrina. Finally, each TuneTot that emerges from Wilson is held to the same rigorous, industry-leading manufacturing tolerances as its larger siblings, ensuring each TuneTot is as technically and musically accurate as the reference prototype. You hear precisely what Daryl Wilson heard in the final design.

From the inception of the first Wilson loudspeaker, it always has been understood that the time domain is a critical factor—if musical authenticity is the goal. With TuneTot, the challenge was twofold: Isolating the active loudspeaker from its environment and providing adjustable correction in the time domain. Wilson’s engineers cleverly combined both needs into a single solution. TuneTot utilizes austenitic stainless-steel spike hardware that was designed specifically for TuneTot. The spike system also acts as a mechanical diode, draining unwanted energy out of TuneTot. One of the two pairs of spikes is fully adjustable in terms of length. The adjustable spikes are installed in either the front or the rear of the loudspeaker, depending on the installation height of TuneTot. The adjustability of the spikes changes the rake angle of TuneTot and accurately facilitates time-domain adjustability. Wilson provides precise a simple installation setup technique that allows TuneTot to be corrected in the time domain for each installation.

An Enclosure Only Wilson Could Design

Custom composites have several advantages over single-element materials, such as aluminum. Since composites are constructed from several different constituencies, each element can be uniquely optimized for a variety of design characteristics—such as acoustical damping and rigidity. Performance factors that are mutually exclusive in single-element materials can be individually addressed in composites. Just as is true for all Wilson’s, TuneTot’s enclosure was analyzed and reanalyzed using its state-of-the-art Laser Vibrometry system in order to optimize enclosure-wall thicknesses and the strategic implementation of the proprietary composites. With this precision instrument, WSAE engineers are able to readily detect even the tiniest enclosure vibrations—at the level of billionths of a meter. The process aides the engineers as in their search for the ideal combination and geometry of the composites for the cabinet. TuneTot is constructed from two Wilson proprietary composites—the proven combination of Wilson’s X- and S-material.

Wilson’s engineers didn’t stop there. Perfectly rectangular enclosures are inexpensive and easy to build but suffer from music-destroying internal reflections generated by parallel walls. TuneTot’s enclosure is asymmetrical, ensuring no two internal surface is parallel. Inspired by technology from the Alexia Series 2 and the WAMM, TuneTot’s cabinet additionally features a complex internal reflection management system.

A New Special Application Ecosystem

TuneTot is but one element within an ecosystem populated with custom, a la carte tools and accessories (purchased separately) designed to maximize TuneTot’s performance and cosmetic beauty in a wide variety of applications.

Environmental music systems are increasingly part of contemporary lifestyles. The Wilson Audio Duette, successfully addressed the challenges caused by near boundary placement. TuneTot builds on that technology. It was designed specifically to be installed on counter tops, bookshelves, desktops and credenzas. In the past, placing a loudspeaker in these acoustically challenging locations has meant accepting serious sonic compromises. Interactions and resonances from the furniture or shelf on which the loudspeaker rests are a source of audible distortion and colorations—deleterious factors most loudspeaker designers simply accept. The Wilson Way™ demanded a new look at the problem.

The Special Applications Engineering team spent several months researching the interactions between TuneTot and the surface upon which it is installed. It quickly became clear that assumptions surrounding environmental resonance control needed to be re-examined. For these installations, the challenges presented are very different from what exists for a typical floor-standing loudspeaker spiked to the floor—problems that require a different strategy. A series of accessories were developed specifically to address furniture-born resonances endemic to these types of installations.

When a loudspeaker is installed on a wood desk or bookshelf, the challenges presented are very different from what exists for a typical floor-standing loudspeaker spiked to the floor—problems that require a different strategy.

When the TuneTot  is mounted on a resonant surface, such as a wood desk or sideboard, the ISOBase is ideal. It is an interim platform which is placed between TuneTot and surface below. In this application, the ISOBase dramatically reduces spurious interaction and mechanical resonances generated by the loudspeaker. The ISOBase utilizes a sandwiched series of constrained layers constructed from Wilson’s proven proprietary composites and some newly developed polymers. In these types of installations, a polymer designed to provide optimal damping is the preferred material to interface with the resonant surface below. ISOBase offers unprecedented levels of decoupling and isolation between TuneTot and the structure upon which it rests. It is available in five different paint colors and four metal-hardware choices.

To Each Their Own

Color—expressed through the stunning palette of Wilson’s state-of-the-art WilsonGloss® paint—has long been a source of pride and personal expression among Wilson owners. Wilson has added five new Wilson Gloss colors created specifically for TuneTot: Quartz, Ivory, Crimson, Carbon, and Teak. In addition to Black and Clear, Wilson has added two new anodized-color-finish options for TuneTot’s metal hardware.

Many Wilson owners prefer to listen without the Grille attached. For these installations, Wilson designed the optional TuneTot Ring, which elegantly covers the mounting hardware securing the woofer. The TuneTot Ring is individually milled from  6061-T6 aluminum and is elegantly finished in a choice of four anodized colors. For those listeners who prefer a Grille, one is available for TuneTot. Each low-diffraction frame is milled from solid billets of ultra-low-resonance X-material composite. Acoustically transparent fabric (available in six colors) is meticulously hand stretched onto each composite frame.

As a part of the TuneTot Ecosystem, Wilson is introducing five new paint colors and two new hardware anodized colors (for a total of four) specifically for TuneTot. Owners are able to custom configure their loudspeakers with just the right combination of performance options, paint color choice, and hardware and grille colors based on their individual aesthetic desire and installation needs.

Not content with designing a simple “bookshelf” loudspeaker, Wilson’s Special Applications Engineering team has, once again, redefined what is possible for these acoustically hostile installations.

Price (U.S. MSRP):

TuneTot—$9,800.00 (pair)

In Upgrade Colors—$10,500.00

ISOBase—$2,100.00 (pair)

TuneTot Ring—$649.00 (pair)

TuneTot Grille—$299.00 (pair)

Availability:In North American Stores May 10th

Wilson Audio, in conjunction with its dealers throughout the United States and Canada, are pleased to announce that, as of May 10, 2018, this important new Wilson product is available for audition and purchase. Participating dealers are currently displaying TuneTot for audition, and many have several colors in stock.

About Lee Scoggins 118 Articles
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Lee got interested in audio listening to his Dad’s system in the late 70s and he started making cassettes from LPs. By the early 80s he got swept up in the CD wave that was launching which led to a love of discs from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. Later while working on Wall Street in the 90s, Lee started working on blues, jazz and classical sessions for Chesky Records and learned record engineering by apprenticeship. Lee was involved in the first high resolution recordings which eventually became the DVD-Audio format. Lee now does recordings of small orchestras and string quartets in the Atlanta area. Lee's current system consists of Audio Research Reference electronics and Wilson Audio speakers.

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