Wilson Audio Sophia Series 3 loudspeaker Page 2
Installation and setup
Also like every other Wilson Audio speaker I've had in my home, the Sophia Series 3 was delivered in a well-made wooden crate and installed by a Trained Professionalin this case Wilson's sales manager, the well-known recordist Peter McGrath. In fine-tuning the Sophias' exact locations in my 12' by 19' room, McGrath followed to a T Dave Wilson's systematic, listening-based setup approach, with the added benefit of knowingand I do mean knowingthe recordings he used. (I don't think it's a coincidence that since McGrath joined Wilson Audio at the turn of the new century and took charge of their show exhibits and the like, praise for Wilson's demonstrations has skyrocketed in the audiophile press.) By the time the last spiked foot had been tightened into place, each Sophia was positioned 53" from the wall behind it and 16" from the nearest sidewall (all dimensions measured from the approximate centers of the corresponding panels), firing down the length of the room, and toed-in more or less directly at the central listening seat.
My primary amplifiers during the Sophias' stay were a pair of Shindo Corton-Charlemagne monoblocks: 25W push-pull amps using two EL34s each in ultralinear mode, with zero global feedback (but a bit of local feedback around the input and driver tubes). Unusually among recent Shindos, the Cortons' output transformers can be wired for 4-ohm output, which I duly did. Primary source components were a pair of reconditioned Thorens TD 124 turntables (one for stereo, one for mono), used with various transcription tonearms and pickup heads; and a recent Apple iMac running iTunes 9.2.1 and driving a variety of different USB-based D/A converters. The Sophia 3s were in my home from mid-August to mid-November 2010.
Also in my home during the review period was the same pair of Sophia Series 2s I wrote about last February: back by popular demand, courtesy Wilson Audio. Thus I've had a unique opportunity to directly compare old and new.
Unsurprisingly, the two pairs of Sophias sounded their best from the same approximate room positions. The positions and the degrees of toe-in for the Series 3s and Series 2s differed slightlyand differed by an inch or so from the positions at which the Sasha W/Ps had worked best earlier in the year.
Also unsurprisingly, the Sophia 3 had the same basic presentation as its predecessor: sonically explicit and musically expressive, with surprisingly good drama and scale for a non-horn speaker, yet with the high transparency and very low coloration one associates with the state of the art of dynamic speakers of a more normal sort. The Sophia 3 was also every bit the full-range loudspeaker, loading my room with the right, realistic bass content that I know is on my recordsand not a whit more or less.
Like most Wilsons, the Sophia 3s were also spatially stunning, providing the right balanceto my ears, at leastbetween engaging stereo artifice and convincing musical substance. Their best moments in that regard came while I was listening to a recent reissue of the famous recording of De Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat by Ernest Ansermet and L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (LP, Decca/Esoteric SXL 2296): an increasingly rare example of the reissue that not only provides a quiet new pressing of the recording on hand but actually improves on the sound of an already quite spectacular original. Through the Wilsons, the orchestra occupied a commanding space at one end of the room, wherein percussion instruments, violins, clarinets, and horns were simply there, with more organic realism than fussy effect.
With the music of Aaron Copland on my mind in his centenary year, I returned for the first time in ages to the great David Hancock and Roger Jones recording of Rodeo, with Donald Johanos conducting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (LP, Vox/Turnabout TV 34169). I'd forgotten just how much uncompressed force those engineers captured in the sound of the bass drum on that record, not to mention the extraordinary stage depth and image specificity among the woodwinds and smaller percussion instruments. The Sophia 3s got it all, with vivid color and, again, tremendous musicality: Melodies unraveled naturally, with believable percussion sounds propelling the whole of the score.
It's often saidor at least thoughtthat the best audio gear, as it telegraphs the truth in good records, makes all the less listenable the inevitable turkeys in any record collection. While I don't see things quite that way, it's nonetheless true that the Sophia's excellenceand, arguably, the excellence of the other Wilson models I've enjoyedis the sort that lays bare bad tone in particular. So it went when I listened to Martha Argerich's 1980 recording of J.S. Bach's Toccata in C Minor, BWV 911 (LP, Deutsche Grammophon 2531 088): The Sophias presented me with typical Argerich Bachpassionate, almost shockingly physical playing informed by the sort of musical insight that borders on geniusdressed in typical 1970s-era DG piano sound: acceptably dynamic, but one in which perspective and timbre don't matchand the latter is severely skewed, making Steinways sound as twangy as cheap Baldwins. Yet the Wilsons communicated the music so well that it was possible to forget about its presentation, and I came away from the experience thinking much more about Bach than about bad sound.