The Wilson Alexia and its Elite Companions

Beyond all doubt, the most heralded debut at a show filled with more product debuts than could fit in our show preview was the unveiling of the Wilson Audio Alexia loudspeaker ($48,500/pair). Introduced at back-to-back press conferences, the speaker and its elite companions made a stunning impression.

If there's one thing that Dave Wilson (pictured above) knows besides crossover design and time domain alignment, it's the sound of live, unamplified music performed in spaces that do it full justice. Hence he chose, as his analog source, the superb Spiral Groove SG 1.1 turntable and Centroid tonearm ($31,000 total) outfitted with an Air Tight PCM 1 cartridge ($6800). The digital source, a definite contender for state-of-the-art, was the new, four-piece dCS Vivaldi Digital Playback System: the Vivaldi transport ($39,999), Vivaldi DAC ($34,999), Vivaldi Upsampler ($19,999), and Vivaldi Clock (a relative bargain at only $13,499). So good were these two sources that, without looking at the equipment rack, I was unable to distinguish sonic differences between a direct-to-disc LP and a CD transfer of one of Dave Wilson's finest early analog recordings.

The electronics were the wonderful tube babies that Dave himself uses, VTL's Siegfried Series II Reference monoblocks ($65,000/pair). Accompanied by the VTL TL-7.5 Series III Reference line preamplifier ($20,000) and TP-6.5 Signature phono preamplifier with MC step-up transformer ($10,500), the equipment chain was completed by Wilson's cable of choice, Transparent Audio's top-of-the-line Opus MM2 audio cables ($108,625/4-pair cables), power cables and power conditioning (12 pieces total, $24,850), and digital cables (10 pieces $17,600).

Brief background. In 1981, when Dave applied for his first patent and released the WHAM, the most expensive audiophile loudspeaker at the time, he realized how well the speaker could work in small rooms due to its time domain adjustability. As time went on, he confirmed how much high performance he could achieve with a small speaker. Hence, the Alexia, only slightly larger than the W/P Sasha, has been introduced in order to bring the technological/musical advances of the towering Alexandria XLF (scheduled for a full review in the January issue of Stereophile) to music lovers who simply don't have the space (or budget) for Wilson's flagship. Whereas the geometry of the Sasha's tweeter and midrange unit is fixed, the Alexia's soft-dome tweeter, derived from that in the Alexandria XLF, can be moved back and forward to focus the sound at a specific listening position.

Wilson claims that the Alexia can play louder, with lower distortion, than the W/P Sasha. It cannot, of course, fill large rooms with the same sheer muscle power as can the MAXX 3 (which Wilson Audio has no plans to replace anytime soon) or the Alexandria XLF. But what it can do, without question, is convey musical truth.

Dave played three selections. The first, an International Jam Session on the Alpha label entitled (I believe) Songs of the Earth, sounded gorgeous. Bass and percussion were solid, warm and full; every note was supremely in focus, conveyed without grain or distortion; and the color differentiation between sounds of instruments whose names I do not know was among the finest and most illumined I've heard. As with all three selections played, the unmistakable warmth of the Siegfried IIs suggested that one could listen to this system for hours without fatigue.

The second selection was a CD transfer of Dave's analog recording of my friends, David Abel and Julie Steinberg, performing Debussy's Sonata for Violin and Piano. Performing respectively on a rare Guarneri del Jesu violin and 9' Hamburg Steinway, the duo sounded wonderful. I was especially struck how the Alexias and other components conveyed all the complex sound of the instruments, including their size, and got the ring of piano when notes higher in the range were struck with full force. That's natural ring, as opposed to the irritating ring of tweeters on more loudspeakers than I wish to recall.

Finally came a Direct-to-Disc LP, For Duke, performed by Billy Berry and his Ellington All-Stars and recorded for M&K Realtime in the late 1970s by Steve McCormack. On Billy Strayhorn's "Take the A Train," the speaker and system retained clarity even as Berry's cornet, Scott Hamilton's tenor sax, Frankie Capp's drums, Ray Brown's bass, and two other instruments went at it full force. I can't say that Brown's bass sounded totally tight throughout its range, but I could certainly differentiate pitches. And when Berry's cornet blasted forth at its initial entrance, I could savor its bite without recoiling from the impact. That, my friends, is saying a lot.

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Comments
JohnnyR's picture
Didn't Take Long

You never dissapoint JVS.......total amount for the whole assembly $441,371.Now what could people buy for let's say 1/10, 1/20 or even 1/50 of that? Plenty is my guess. 

A fantastic bargain no doubt for that one person there rich enough to afford such luxury.Did you happen to get his name by the way? Rockefeller was it?

"So good were these two sources that, without looking at the equipment rack, I was unable to distinguish sonic differences between a direct-to-disc LP and a CD transfer of one of Dave Wilson's finest early analog recordings."

Now now, no single blind reviews are allowed in Sterophile and you are on record saying you will never do a double blind test ever again. Of course you had to look. I don't suppose doing the same for equipment reviews are in your future? Hmmmmm silly me of course not.

So lets read about the magic tweeks there. Can't wait!

Audio Legend's picture
CD playback as good as

CD playback as good as LP?

Bad bad audio journalist...don't you know that 44.1/16 is EVIL, and is the cause of world hunger, war and even disease?

Shame!!! Expect to have your audiophile badge confiscated at the airport.

Kal Rubinson's picture
Alexia is a neurological

Alexia is a neurological deficit defined as an inability to read.  Whatever.

KR

Audio Legend's picture
Dys-Alexia?

Dys-Alexia?

Kal Rubinson's picture
Dyslexia is a compromise or

Dyslexia is a compromise or defect. Alexia is total.

jfrech's picture
dCS Vivaldi

So...any comments on the new dCS stack?  Very curious to your thoughts....Thanks

JasonVSerinus's picture
dCS Vivaldi stack

I wish I were able to say a lot more about the dCS stack, jfresh. But without having another source to compare it to, it's difficult. I'd love to listen to it and the Purcell side-by-side in this system, for example, and hear the differences. But since I have not yet had such an opportunity, and don't know if I will, all I can say with surety is how on Dave Wilson's analog-sourced CD of violin and piano, which was pressed way back, the sound through the dCS Vivaldi system was so analog-like that I didn't realize when we had switched to vinyl. Note as well that this wasn't just any analogue playback system; it was Allen Perkins' Spiral Groove table and arm, which are superb, outfitted with an equally fine cartridge.

mrplankton2u's picture
ZERO CREDIBILITY

Jason said:

" the equipment chain was completed by Wilson's cable of choice, Transparent Audio's top-of-the-line Opus MM2 audio cables ($108,625/4-pair cables), power cables and power conditioning (12 pieces total, $24,850), and digital cables (10 pieces $17,600)."

 

With that one line, both you and Dave Wilson lost all credibility. To the other readers in interweb land, I'd ask a simple question:

"What would you say about Dave Wilson or Jason Serinus if 99 out of a hundred golden eared audiophools couldn't tell the difference in a double blind test between $108,000 pieces of wire and standard 12 guage stranded copper that costs less than $50?"

I know what I'd say and it probably wouldn't be fit to print. 

mauidj's picture
Well said mate.

Well said mate.

JohnnyR's picture
I Agree

JVS lost credibility a long time ago, All he does is type platitudes aplenty about EVERY component he's ever "heard". I mean this guy has a whistling therapy business already......sheesh.

lmanley's picture
Zero credibility is right

Plankton, (or amoeba, or whatever your name is)

I’m not going to dignify your obviously insulting comment with a response regarding double-blind testing between the cable we own and some off the shelf junk, but what you just read is correct: We at VTL own the Transparent cable that was used in the system at RMAF, and, at the risk of driving you even more insane, I’ll tell you that we also own a similar value of full sets of both Nordost Valhalla and Odin cables, and we routinely demonstrate with Odin at shows.

Why? Because we choose to. We can hear and appreciate the difference between Transparent's $100 cables and their top of the line, and we own both, for different systems. Aside from the obviously inane implication that we (and Wilson) might be gullible ourselves and not able to tell the difference by listening, (and I fully expect that the following point would be lost on people like you and mauidj), but what do you think our customers expect us to demonstrate with, and likewise what would they think if we demonstrated our top of the line gear with some $50 off the shelf stranded crap? Would anyone in their right mind use cheap gas or tires with a luxury car, put a plastic strap on a nice watch, drink expensive wine out of a polystyrene cup, or wear a silk suit with a polyester shirt?

But perhaps that's why we do what we do and you don't. And of course when you design and make your own gear you are quite free to demonstrate it with whatever components you choose to. And likewise, you are of course completely free to try to make and market whatever cables you wish to.

In the meantime if you want to continue this debate then you’ll need to tell us your real name and system details, so that we can all understand your point of view.

Luke Manley

mrplankton2u's picture
Fact Check on Your Romneyism

I actually design and test loudspeakers for custom home installations - a trend that the uber wealthy in my area have been following for years. The high end market as you seem to know it is dwindling day by day. The average person with means wants high performance that is well integrated to their home environment from an aesthetic point of view. Most of what you find in Stereophile doesn't cut it from that perspective. Be that as it may, everything I design, I test, test, and retest. The measurements guide what I do and ultimately what I end up with as a finished product - be it in wall or free standing.The difference between me and the average cable peddler is that everything I do or don't do is based on technical, audible, and measureable merit - not hype. Today was a good example. I spent most of the day altering stuffing in a compact transmission line - measuring it on a gram scale - stuffing the enclosure in different densities and locations, and measuring response changes - comparing the measured response with predicted. It took about 6 hours to arrive at an optimal compromise between damping a 1.5khz resonance (actually audible 2nd and mostly 3rd harmonic) and maintaining adequate terminus output. This was for a new design that I expect will be patented within a year that incorporates a few methods that have never been done before. And I've verified that over the past year and  a half with patent research involving everyone from Bailey to Bose. The difference between people like myself and people like you is that I put in the effort to back up what I'm hearing with scientific measurements and fact.  Cable product purveyors don't seem to think they need to do this. And the failure of reviewers and system integrators to account for this discrepancy, in fact, damages the credibility of the industry as a whole I guess the difference is - I love what I do and take pride in what I believe is actually advancing the state of the art. Others are more interested in making a quick buck - regardless of the consequences. The "high end" audio business is full of charlatans and fakes. That's nothing new. But today, we have the means technically to readily determine what is fake and what is real. We don't have to rely on someone's word for it. When a magazine or reviewer refuses to back up what they claim to be hearing with indisputable, factual, measurements - they lose all credibility. 

GeorgeHolland's picture
I like the way you do things.

I like the way you do things. Convincing Stereophile to act accordingly seems a waste of time considering what I have read in their magazines and foums.They seem to want to pander to the rich and not too smart.It's a shame they don't answer any of your questions or anyone elses.

JohnnyR's picture
Mr Manley is Going to Cry Now..........

,,,,,,,,there there.....*pats your lil head* I'm willing to put BIG money on the table that you won't test your precious cables with even zip cord or Radio Shack interconnects for that matter. SBT or DBT. Come up put up or shut up. What's that?..................all I hear are crickets chirping.

mauidj's picture
April 1st in November!

I have to echo the words of mrplankton2u.

Are you writing this stuff with a straight face? $108,000 on cables. ($150,000 with power and digital)

Oh please!

I can buy a new Porsche 911 Turbo for that price! These are CABLES...pieces of wire with a fancy jacket.

Sorry but this just destroys all the good you guys do in promoting our hobby. No one can possibly take this or you seriously other than those involved in this HUGE con job.

For goodness sake call it like it is. A RIP OFF!!!! And if Mr. Wislon believes that the only way to make his speakers sound good is to use this stuff...I'll never be a Wilson customer for sure.

No wonder outsiders look at our hobby and YOUR industry with such distain!

BillK's picture
Perspective

Why would you buy a Porsche when you can get equivalent horsepower out of a Ford Mustang 302 Boss for $100,000 less?

Yet no one heaps disdain on the auto industry because Porsche, Ferrari and Lamborghini make state-of-the-art performance sports cars.

You can spend $15,000 for a Sub-Zero Pro 48 Refrigerator/Freezer or $1200 for a Kenmore; either will keep your food cold.

The question is whether there is something the extra cost gets you that's important to you.

shinri's picture
WAMM

Wilson's first speaker was called the WAMM, which supposedly was an acronym for Wilson Audio Modular Monitor. Dave would never be so crass as to call it a WHAM...or would he?

LauraSkaer's picture
Wilson Alexia

I found the sound to be what I usually hear every time I listen to Wilson speakers -- boring, analytical, sterile and unengaging. I never feel like I'm listening to music when I listen to Wilsons. After listening to the Wilsons on Sunday, I went to the Odyssey room was completely blown away by how involving Klaus' system was. I found myself completely immersed in the music and the total price of the entire system, cables and interconnects included, is $5900, and the sound was far superior to what I heard in the Wilson room.

BillK's picture
Wow, the haters are out in force hereā€¦

First, I couldn't disagree more about the Alexias sounding sterile; in fact much like the Sasha W/Ps the Alexias sounded warm and wonderful, IMHO a tie for best sound of the show with the Vivid Giya G3s in the Ayre room. (Full disclosure: I never heard a Wilson speaker I liked prior to the Sasha W/P, and I never cared for the newer Sophia III, either. I also found the Maxx 3s at the show less than involving, possibly because they were in far too small a room to do them justice.)

Second, if you have a problem with the price of the Transparent cables used, don't purchase them. The great thing about a free market is if a product doesn't make an audible difference to you, or if their cost is out of proportion to the audible benefits you believe they bring, you don't have to buy them. (Why would you?)

But if you can afford the Alexias and have the means to afford the Transparent cables, and their use audibly improves the sound quality you hear in what you feel is a significant way, it may in fact be worth it to you.

It's all a matter of what you hear and what you feel is worthwhile no matter what anyone at any audio magazine or show have to say.

The Alexias cost less than 25% of the big Alexandria XLFs, so they're a steal to someone cross-shopping those or even the Maxx 3s, but have a laughable price tag compared to say B&W 802Ds.

But should Porsche and Ferrari be laughed at simply because most people happily drive Toyotas?

earwaxxer's picture
Its in-your-face obnoxious!

The astronomical prices of this gear is obcene! I've been an audiphile for many years, and I am well read on equipment types, technologies, brands, prices, tweaks, etc.

This 'price no object' stuff is obsurd. There is NO WAY in the logical, factual universe that we live in that this gear could ever be considered a good 'value'.

I would be willing to bet good money that a speaker could easily be built by a DIY'er, similar in performance and sound to the above speaker for under $10 thousand dollars in parts and labor.

BillK's picture
Then why not do it?

Then why not build that DIY speaker and sell it for $20K?

I can't think of an easier way for you to double your money if you're right.

I'll never get the concept of a price as "obscene"; if it's too high, no one will pay it and the product will be discontinued and/or the company will go out of business.

But if someone is willing to pay the price asked for the product in question, why is that price "obscene" simply because you wouldn't pay it?

This isn't health care where paying it or not is more or less involuntary; it's audio.

JohnnyR's picture
Because............

People are tired of paying for audio equipment that is priced NOT for the components worth and it's ability to produce great sound but for the simple reason that someone thinks they can gouge the gullible for all the money they can milk them for, The days of bull shitting your way into sky high profits based upon conjecture and these silly "reviews" should end.

BillK's picture
What makes you the arbiter of a product's "worth?"

I've heard the Alexia, and to me, no other speaker at RMAF came anywhere close to producing the musical sound that they did in the scale they did.

If I were about to spend $50K on speakers, they would be at the top of my audition list.

If you can find something else that brings you the same joy for less, congratulations.

I heard nothing else at RMAF that really did for me, the only other speaker coming anywhere close being the Vivid Audio Giya G3s at not a whole lot less, and for that price at least the Alexias don't require the use of a subwoofer.

My previous comment still stands - if you or anyone else believes they can produce a product that beats the sound of the Wilson (or any other product) for less, feel free to do so and drive Wilson out of business.

That's what free market competition is all about.

rapet's picture
Do they know their potential costumers?

Very funny, the only people that can really afford this system have no interest on audio...Audio makers should really keep in mind who is their public. Wilson, Magico, WTL and other brands do not really know...european brands are more realistic...

BillK's picture
I suspect they DO know their customers.

Companies at this level don't sell to customers they don't know.

Why would you posit that people who can afford these systems have no interest in audio?

To beat the car analogy to death, some people purchasing Porsche 911 Turbos are doctors and dentists who know nothing about cars, they just want the "best" 911 for bragging purposes at the country club.

Yet there are some whose dream car is the 911 Turbo and do manage to scrimp, save, and finally afford one.

The same is true for these; sure a know-nothing Hollywood celebrity, banker or CEO may purchase them because they simply don't know any better, but many an audiophile who has heard them and does indeed love audio will as well.

Why?  In the end, if you can afford it and nothing else brings you the joy and audio experience the Wilsons (or other components do) they are indeed priceless to you.

To insist that audio lovers would not purchase these products or that they could not afford them is class snobbishness of the worst kind; there are audiophiles with both beer and champagne budgets, and many of the latter can afford these products and do buy them, or Wilson would have gone out of business years ago.

DogEars's picture
The Manly Billker

I am so flabbergasted by so-called high-end no-end designers and reviewers that I'm almost at a loss for words so forgive me if my words stumble over one another and since I believe I belong in the majority who cannot afford your "jewels" I think I can credibly speak for them.

I think it possible that designers like Wilson and Manley, who have been inside their gilded world for such a long time, to become so detached from the real world that they have lost their sanity. In their case, apparently, sanity is also relative just like most things in life.

Using your analogy Mr Manley, our problem is not that we would use plastic straps on a fine watch, we're not that crass, its just that, being normal folks, it wouldn't even cross our minds to use straps that cost more than the fine watch !!!

I'm seriously considering the end-of-days must be near.

phat jbl's picture
Hi End and Hi Priced.

In comments prevoius I see opinions so varied. I listen to the average person (non audiophile) and even those like me who are pretty hard core into sound and music like myself. The general view when telling people of both groups if they already don't know what a pair of good upper range Wisons or Krells etc cost they are shocked, let alone letting them in on the cable prices now.

I have heard the Wilson Sophias, Sasha WP and the Alexia. I like the fast totally analytical  presentation of these speakers. As a vintage JBL fan I see this concept taken to the enth degree. A " studio monitor" for the home totally informative of what is good and bad about any recording. If the recording is wonderful they offer that, bad and you cop this shovel on the nose. My old tri amplified JBL system is good and "fun" enough for my limited means. My test is ' do I wanna listen to this all night at high volume or not' if yes its good if not its not for me.

Problem 1 is that you need to get serious about all componentry and interconnects in a system with such speakers. Not hard to throw $100 000+ at the whole set up. Problem 2 the music, many wonderful recordings exist and I would bore everyone to death with critique about albums and songs worthy of a system of this standard. Then there is a great many more recent recordings that are simply terrible regardless of how good the music is rendering a big dollar system useless unless you are into audio B@D. Problem 3 the $$$$$$$ to afford such a system, as a blue collar worker myself it is but a dream. Even those with the means to  cash it or borrow it might hesitate or buy outwardly showy products like super cars etc as society think audio at this level is bonkers. Peer pressure to not be an audio nut is massive most other halves male or female that dont get it would go off their heads at such a purchase.

Like I see with my own eyes this interest is being increasingly marginalised. Fewer and fewer shops of 'high end' status exist, those who are still standing are feeling the pinch or going down market to catch the market. Many people want music to sound good and this is encouraging but spending more than a few thousand on sound gear is unthinkable. I am glad there are some good products around for less than huge money. The Oppo BD 95 or the new 105 is such a product for example. If you are willing to buy traded or pre loved or even old retro bangers and can bare going though techinicans to restore this old stuff stupendous results can be had. I am a junk yard dog and proud of it, sure I buy new but I like my vintage large components as much as any of the new and high tech things around.

Then we get down and very dirty, "i" acceptance. Now we get to compressed over equalised music that is available for download via legal and illegal means. Increasingly cd sales are in free fall as people of all generations simply download inferior sounding music unless we speak of hi res dowlnloads at DSD quality. Cd is still worthy, not as good as a well cut record I know but the old 16 bit format can still amaze on the right player of course. 

Generations of Y and even older and those to come could never get to hear or be interesed to hear wonderful well matched gear. Headphones of a high calibre and the hipster and dj vynal thing could be the saviour of audiophillia but the hard core seem to harder to find nowdays. Then amoung the now generation you have to compete with the massive video/ computer gaming revoulution. Computing seems to have the majority of nerds with or without money. Not nocking these guys as I admire their conviction to what they do and like and as an audiophile I count as one anyway.

Audiophiles ask a non beliver to attend your listening room with their favourite music and try your best to spark their interest, we need to keep the dream alive.

Thedubemaster's picture
Audiophiles are amusing

 Firstly I am one of those dentists that just got slammed by BillK and yes I in fact have 3 Porsches including a Turbo convertible but unlike the doctors he refers to I know tons about those cars as well as racing them and yes I too am an audiophile since I was a teen. I cannot agree more that the audio scene has spiraled into a realm of snake oil and salesmen but there is allot to take from all this. Part of the hobby is to create the best sounding system within your means if that means DIY or buying $100K turntables or spirally wood broomsticks to place in the corners of the room so be it. The fact is that we are all chasing a dream. There are so many things that determine how much we can spend on a wire. Sometimes it's our wallets or the WAF that overrides that $80K speaker just by its looks and nothing to do with sound or money.  I do own Watt Puppy 8s which in my application are mind blowing. I can afford much better but I don't have the room for larger speakers and it works for me but you don't hear me slamming those that do or that can afford them. The beauty of this hobby is that it is just as valid for someone with a micro system and book shelf speakers as it is for those with dedicated audio wings in their mansions. It's all perspective and it is up to us to educate ourselves about what is real for us and what is not. I love comparing a Denon DL103R to a cartridge 10 times the price to see what tweaks I can do to improve the sound. Don't lose sight of the fun and the journey in your quest. The most important part is its all about the music! What you see at these shows is fantasy and some fortunate people's reality but let's not slam cutting edge development because of a green eyed monster. It's because of these people that we have the improvements that we have seen over the past decades and its all about free choices.

Talos2000's picture
Its all a matter of perspective.

It is all fine and good to splutter with riteous indignation at the mere thought of a pair of loudspeaker cables costing $108,000.  As though their mere existence was an affront to human intelligence.  Get over it!  It is what it is.  Besides, JVS was merely disclosing it - that's his job after all - and actually made nothing of it beyond that.

The first pair of audiophile speaker cables I bought cost me $300 as I recall.  There were many of my friends at the time whose reactions to $300 speaker cables were not too dissimilar to the disbelief expressed above at the $108,000 cables.  Everything is relative.

I am currently auditioning $10,000 worth of Transparent cables at home.  At what price point do you write me off as a self-absorbed jerk with more money than sense, and at what budget level do I become a thoughtful, intelligent consumer?  I ask this, because the only metric which appears to be of any relevance whatsoever to the armchair cable critics hereabouts is price.

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