About three years ago, I attended a fabulous demo with Peter McGrath in a room with a humble T+A integrated amplifier. The speakers were the $109,000 Wilson Audio Alexx, fairly large towers. Yet the humble integrated did a great job. Peter was there with Bob Stuart and the Alexx clearly demonstrated the improvements on Peter’s classical recordings had undergone a “white glove” MQA treatment. That was a terrific demo … yet I did wonder what more power would do for these impressive Alexx towers.
At AXPONA this year, we found out. Dan D’Agostino and Bill McKeegan decided not to mess around and brought their humongous $250,000-a-pair Relentless amplifiers, a statement product if there ever was one. A huge, deep chassis and those large watch-like dials on the front communicating an incredible range of power; 1,500 watts on tap made the sound effortless on the Wilson Alexx speakers. On the D’Agostino website, it speaks to keeping the soundstage and harmony intact throughout this power range. That is an accurate description of what I heard on three separate visits to this room.
We’ve seen the Relentless amplifier with the Wilson WAMM Chronosonic speaker lately around the web but I have not heard that combination. What would a slightly more modest system of Alexx towers with Master Subsonic towers lurking in the background in black do?
The Relentless amps have 5.5kilowatts of power going through a hundred output devices. Heat management via copper and aluminum keep the amps as cool as possible. The circuit topology is described as:
The Relentless Monoblock employs an all-new, fully complementary topology based around a precision input stage that maintains an essentially perfect balance between the positive and negative components of the signal. Any distortion artifacts that appear on one half of the signal will also appear on the other half, and thus cancel each other. Gain circuits operate in the current domain, assuring the Relentless Monoblock’s performance does not fluctuate no matter what the demands. Global negative feedback is not employed, nor is it required as the amplifier’s open-loop linearity eliminates the need for this performance-robbing technique.
Even the speaker binding posts are massive in scale, with gold over brass. This is decades of Dan’s experience distilled into a massive, jewel of an amplifier.
The Alexx is an equally impressive bit of Wilson Audio technology. The Alexx has the Midrange-Tweeter-Midrange setup that mimics the WAMM driver structure and the MTM array is fully adjustable, or “adaptable drivers” in Wilson speak. In Wilson’s words:
The Alexx builds upon the Alexandria XLF’s aspherical propagation delay correction for its upper three modules. For the first time, a Wilson array features two stair steps, one for each of the two midrange modules. This allows for minute and precise adjustment of both the proper time-alignment of the drivers, as well as the optimal axis relationship of the driver to the listening position.
Bass is created by a 10.5 driver and a 12-inch driver. It has a cross-load flow port system that enables the port to be in the front or the back to make room interactions more optimal.
Now for most audiophiles, this would be enough bass on hand for even the craziest organ and rock spectacular. Not so fast, Wilson also brought in the Subsonic subwoofer towers which were hanging at the back ominously in a death-metal-black finish. Three (!) twelve-inch drivers deliver subterranean goodness. Frequency response is 10-150hz. This 65x27x18 tower has U-shaped metal baffles that look modern and serious. Woofers were $70k for the pair. Weight for the subs was said to be over 600 pounds. “Heavy metal”, indeed. Peter mentioned that the system could reproduce 16hz organ fundamentals cleanly. Separate D’Agostino Momentum monoblocks connected to the subs.
Sources were equally superior. dCS brought in a gorgeous and hard to photograph mirror-finish all-in-one Vivaldi One CD player. I’m more of an analog guy but this digital is fantastic. Garth Leerer brought in a Master Innovation table from Clearaudio with a top of the line linear tracking arm with a Goldfinger cartridge. High-end stalwart Transparent Audio supplied their Opus cabling to weave it all together.
The sound from all of this was sublime.
The first cut I heard was “Gypsy Man” from War. Wow! Incredible detail, forceful bass, and rock solid imaging. Wilsons usually have great imaging but this felt a bit more delineated than usual. Was it Dan’s amps? They certainly were creating a gorgeous midrange.
Soon, Peter cued up one of his magnificent choral recordings. Oh my, the voices were perfectly reproduced. There was a wide and deep soundstage that appeared in front of us. The dynamics and quickness of the Alexx speakers created a musical illusion of being in the room of the performance. This was a showcase of Peter’s talent with a handful of Grado mics. I made an emotional connection to this system in a way that I did not make even in several outstanding rooms at Axpona. The younger voices in the choir were beautifully captured. The soloists singing was heavenly. The sense of space was just so real. I was getting drawn into the music. I stopped thinking about the gear and how many rooms I could cover for Scot that day. All that simply vanished and I got pulled in.
“Greensleeves” from Three Blind Mice came up. This is bit of an audiophile warhorse, superbly recorded in 1970’s Japan. Again, nothing really to critique here.
Peter played a track from Italian singer Gian Maria Testa: “in the room” goosebumps. Next up was a Shostakovich piece that my notes capture as “lifelike”.
Finally, we ended on a superb piece by Count Basie with a big band. Piano was wonderful. The full, rich sound of the big band was very realistic. The Alexx speakers again showed how fast and dynamic they were. Like the choral work from Peter, the soundstage was big and beautiful. This was jazz at its finest.
I simply have to call this as I hear it. For me, this room was the Best of Show. Dan D’Agostino should be very proud as he has created an amplifier that is both incredibly powerful but supremely musical. Heck, I’m historically a tube guy, but I was wanting for nothing on the midrange in this room. I have heard the Alexx speakers on numerous occasions but this setup by Larry Marcus and the Paragon team was on a higher plane. I know I have raved about the last few Wilson rooms such as the incredible Sasha DAWs at the Florida show. This was a step change to even that superb sound. Make no mistake, this is a system that is “could have bought a second home” expensive. But the sound quality was befitting the price point in my opinion. Larry Marcus is blessed to work with such finely engineered components. It would be hard to put a finger on what caused this room to sound so good but there is definitely something magical about the Relentless monoblocks and the Alexx speaker. My understanding is that the Relentless works equally well with the flagship WAMM Master Chronosonic speakers. I would love to hear that combination. In the meantime, I have a really nice memory from Paragon that yet again rearranges what I think is possible from a two-channel system.
Congratulations Peter, Dan, Bill, Garth, Jesse, and Larry! A true Best of Show sound!