Wilson Audio Sasha W/P loudspeaker Page 3
The effect was less cerebral and more earthy than you might think, especially with recordings known for combining clean sound with good amounts of flesh and blood. To hear what I mean, try the magnificent 1958 recording of Smetana's M· Vlast with Rafael Kubelik and the Vienna Philharmonic, still available on vinyl in a fine reissue (LP, Decca/Speakers Corner SXL 2064/5). This recording is a bit drier and more immediate than most Deccas of the period, yet with really luscious string color and texture, and a fine, tactile way with such transient sounds as in the many harp arpeggios. (It's also a brilliant reading by world-class musiciansthe sort of thing Decca could boast with greater consistency than any other classical label save, perhaps, Harmonia Mundi.) Hearing that recording through those speakers bordered on the psychedelic: Every time I tried itand I tried it many times during the Sashas' stayit was less a listening session than a listening experience: The Wilsons seemed to present the beautiful, emotional truth of those two LPs better than any speaker I've heard.
Accomplished though the Sashas were, I wasn't so much amazed by their spatial performancetheir ability to suggest the physical presence of performers on a stage of believable size and depthas by the way those strengths seemed inseparable from the speakers' more musical strengths, such as their excellent melodic flow and surprisingly good sense of scale overall. Why surprising? Because loudspeakers designed for good stereo imaging usually sound too airy and fussy and precise to have any believable sense of scale at all. I can think of no better excuse for great stereo imaging than great stereo opera recordings, one of the finest being the late-1960s recording of Cavalli's L'Ormindo, with Raymond Leppard conducting the London Philharmonic (LP, Argo ZNF 8-10). The Sashas captured the soloists' movements and their sheer physicality so well that other aspects of the performance, including the dramatic nuances of the singers, seemed enhanced as well.
For all their resolution of detail, all their spatial prowess, and all their sense of scale, the Sasha W/Ps were voice-lovers' speakers. Not only were voices uncolored, and unburdened with strain or texture that wasn't there in the first place, but singing had nuance. It had humanness. And again, the W/Ps' fine, musically integrated spatial performance made Joanna Newsom, Nicolai Gedda, Don Van Vliet, and the French Radio and Television Chorus sound there.
As much as I dislike reviews in which the musical whole is sacrificed in order to concentrate on distinct sonic fragments, an exception is required to accommodate the Sashas' deep-bass performance. Earlier Wilson loudspeakersthe WITT comes to mind, as well as certain versions of the WATT/Puppy itselfstruck me as having not only excess bass but excessively smooth, timbrally untextured bass as well. From what I've heard from more recent Wilson products, beginning with the WATT/Puppy 7, the company has made great progress in achieving a realistically leaner and more textured bass sound, while mostly retaining the meat and the color that belong there, and that other makers of supposedly high-performance loudspeakers usually miss altogether.
In English: The Sasha W/P made glorious bass in my room. Even the orchestral bass drum in Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic's recording of Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius (LP, EMI SLS 987), and the electric-bass pedals in "The Lamia" and other selections from Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (LP, Atco SD 2-401), were proportioned well to the rest of the spectrum, free of excess loudness and overhang. Indeed, the bass drum in Benjamin Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem, played by André Previn and the London Symphony (LP, EMI ASD 3154), surprised me by sounding deeperand bigger, and more physicalthrough my Audio Note AN-E speakers, almost certainly because the smaller, corner-mounted Audio Notes load the room in a very different manner.
That in itself raises an interesting subject: Whereas the Sophia 2 surprised me by sounding great with virtually every amplifier on hand, the Sasha W/P unsurprised me by drawing the line at the 25W Shindo Corton-Charlemagne. That pairing was magnificent: textured, colorful, musical, physical, and convincing. But with the 20Wpc Shindo Haut-Brion, a measure of the Sasha's bass openness and neutrality was lostprobably a function of the Shindo's dedicated 16-ohm output secondary failing to work with the Sasha's minimum impedanceand large-scale music lacked poise.
The Sashas did fine things with more power. Driven by the big Electrocompaniet AW400s, the Wilsons were better still at communicating the notion of force: not in a gross, stupid, obvious way, but subtly. Brass instruments had a marvelous timbral glow with bigger amps, and their characteristic sounds remained stable, even as the music became more complex or gained in intensity. Singing voices, too, seemed to better maintain their overall levels of dramatic nuance with some (but not all) of the more powerful amps I tried. On the other handand this may strike some as counterintuitivethe Sashas' sense of scale was never better than with those 25W Shindos!
Most other loudspeakers of my experience have been easier to describe, arguably because they embodied flaws that the Sasha W/P does not. But what sort of praise is that, to commend someone by listing the sins he didn't commit?
Over the years, I've become adept at dealing with certain sorts of performance flawsnot by ignoring them but by accepting them more thoughtfully (I would hope). And, rightly or not, coincidentally or not, I admit that I've progressed to where, in exchange for exceptional performance in certain regards, I virtually expect a certain amount of failure in others. An example: I thoroughly love my Audio Note AN-E speakers, corner mounting and cupped-hands colorations on voices and all, because they are so superior to most speakers I've had at home in their punch and emotiveness, and in their ability to be that way with so little amplifier power. They're wonderful things, and I'll surely always recommend them.
Yet the fact remains: As I noted with its less expensive predecessor, the Sophia Series 2, the Wilson Audio Sasha W/P was just as musical in its own wayjust as emotive, if not quite as stirring and dramatic with the amps I love best, and capable of just as much texture and colorwhile also sounding clearer and more explicit and more spatially convincing. Instruments and voices that sounded real and present and human through the Audio Notes had much the same qualities through the Sashasand yet the Wilsons brought those things a little closer to my chair, a little farther into the room, and made them clearer and easier to understand. This is everything a $26,900/pair product should do when compared against an already excellent $7000/pair product.
By the end of February, while listening to Itzhak Perlman's recording of the Berg Violin Concerto with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2531 110, Speaker's Corner reissue), I noted that my attitude toward flaws had again changed. I no longer luxuriated in the full sound and presence of the orchestral bass drumor the solidity of the full recording space, or the rightness of the timbres, or, most of all, the flow and momentum and drama of every musical line. Rather, I expected them, as one would expect, without thinking, the same in a concert hall. By the end of February, the Wilson Sashas were no longer a luxury: I was taking them for granted, and had surrendered to them in full ignorance of the consequences of the discomfort of sending them back.
Now that's my idea of a great speaker.