Listening #86 Page 3
I daresay Wilson Audio is better at realizing that technical ideal than most other loudspeaker manufacturers. That comes as no great surprise, given how long they've been at it. For longer than any one individual I know, David Wilson has been mining this veinrefining the materials, the shapes, and the manufacturing techniques that do the most to prevent the speaker enclosure from adding its own sound to the playbackwithout ever veering off that course. As he told me in a recent conversation, there are other impressive loudspeakers on the market, some of which are the products of different technologies or different design approaches. But while Wilson stays current with other developments in high-end speaker design, he has no interest in leaving the path he's on. "My role is to make Wilson loudspeakers," he said. "That's what I'm good at."
Fair enough. But what accounts for the seemingly divergent path of recent Wilson loudspeakersbeginning with the Sophia Series 1, arguably the first Wilson speaker that had non-Wilsonians reaching for superlatives?
David Wilson acknowledges the Sophia as a turning point in the performance of the entire Wilson Audio line, and credits the change to a refinement in what he's always done best: listening. In describing the technical breakthroughs that have enabled his company's recent progress, he points in particular to the construction of three new and distinctive listening rooms. Rather than taking the usual approach of building acoustically "perfect" test environments, Wilson Audio designed and built a series of rooms that are good enough to reveal, rather than mask, the sonic effects of various parametersyet that otherwise offer exemplary, real-world listening conditions. Soon after, according to Wilson, his company began to create loudspeakers that sound beautifulhis word, and quite rightly soin more than just a handful of idealized settings.
Janet and I just spoke in the kitchen. I shared with her my concern that this might be one of those dull columns: the sort I often write when trying to express sincere admiration for a product and come up short.
"Why not just say so?" she asked. Again, fair enough.
When I had the Harbeth M40.1s here, I liked them every bit as much as I said I did in my October 2008 review. I could have lived with them then, and I probably still could now. The Harbeths were obviouslyobviouslydesigned by ear, by someone who knows and loves the sound of music. But when the Harbeths had to go, I was nonetheless ready to get my Audio Note AN-Es back into the system.
Same thing with the very different-sounding Zu Essences, which I reviewed exactly one year later. The Essence was, if anything, closer in spirit to what I want from a loudspeaker, given the smallness of the amps I like. It's a great value, tooespecially now that it's sold factory-direct for $3495/pair. (In saying so, I mean no disrespect to those dealers who work hard both to fairly represent their product lines and to give their customers the best possible music for their money.) I liked the Essence a lot, and could have lived with it as well. But I was happier still to have the Audio Notes back in their corners.
The Wilson Audio Sophia Series 2 is on another level. The AN-Es still do a few things better, and I think I'll probably always love them. But after several weeks with the Sophias, the Wilsons remain the speakers I genuinely want to use. And, as with few other audio products, I know I'll be sorry as hell when they have to go back. That's been the biggest surprise of all.