Wilson Audio Sophia Series 3 loudspeaker Page 3
All well and good. But, to paraphrase Mickey Dolenz, I can teach a Sophia 2 to do that. I wouldn't expect a Sophia 3 to sound exactly the same, given the technical changes on tapand indeed it didn't. In particular, the new speaker had a more open sound, especially noticeable through its lowest octaves (though over time I heard improvements of that sort virtually throughout its frequency range), with bass notes also taking on more realistic detail and natural texture, while sounding appreciably cleaner.
The Sophia 3's greater openness and greater resolution of detail proved blessings with records that sound dark or shut-in through other speakers, without causing more realistic recordings to sound bright or too forward. The lovely but laid-back recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony 1 by Igor Markevich and the London Symphony Orchestra (LP, Philips 6570 160) became more explicit, and I had a clearer sense of what the players toward the back of the stage were doing. With the Sophia 3s, that nagging sense that I had to keep turning up the volume in order to enjoy the music was gone.
I could say the same about overly compressed pop recordings, which also gained in resolution and lost their need for knob-twiddling through the Sophia 3sas I discovered while listening to a recent reissue of Procol Harum's most carnal album, Broken Barricades (CD, Salvo 022). Rock with a lighter touch benefited, too: That most unusual of all Kinks albums, their soundtrack for the film Percy (LP, PYE NSPL 18365), sounded great through the Sophia 3s. Though obviously compressed (it's a typical 1971 studio recording), Mick Avory's drumming in "God's Children" and the quaint instrumental version of "Lola" were easier than usual to enjoy through the Wilsons, which also let the electric bass sound a little richer, deeper, and more forceful than I'm used to hearing through my reference Audio Note speakers.
The improvement in resolution from Series 2 to Series 3, though not huge, was unambiguous and consistent from record to record. On the other hand, there remained one characteristic on which I never got a firm handle: After three months of daily use, I still can't honestly say whether the Sophia Series 3 is easier to drive, harder to drive, or just the same as the Series 2. My earliest listening notes say "More efficient than 2s!" in the childish, paper-ripping script reserved for my deepest feelings. But weeks later I wasn't so sure, and the distinctions in that regard seemed, at times, to be programme-specific, as the great Ralph West might have said. Perhaps John Atkinson will uncover, in his measurements, some more useful observation along these lines. Or maybe not.
In the very early days of the domestic audio industry, loudspeaker design was more an empirically guided artform than anything else: Most if not all of the materials at our disposal could be counted on to resonate and thus influence the signal being reproduced; the most successful designers and manufacturers were those who knew how to accommodate rather than deny and fight those forces, and thus create appliances every bit as artistically pleasing as they were scientifically sound.
For a few of uslovers of analog sources and low-power tube amplifiers in particularthose days never ended: We continued to love Altecs and Audiovoxes and Klangfilms and Audio Notes. But for most audio survivors, the game changed in the earliest days of so-called high-end audio, as engineers took it on themselves to scrub the speakers' output clean of all but the signal. Their success gave us 30 years of the most boring shit imaginable, a situation not at all aided by the fact that the prices for such things just went up and up. And then up.
It seems to me that Wilson Audio, perhaps in a small and quiet way, is leading the way back to the wilderness. Some of the chaos and the randomness and the flaws and the humanity and the beauty of music, all of which sluiced down the drain with their pal distortion, have been reintroduced in Wilson's more recent products, beginning with the WATT/Puppy 7 and the Sophia Series 1.
Is that really so surprising? Look at what Wilson Audio has been doing, technically: In their quest for cabinet materials that neither resonate unduly nor store and release energy in that loathsome MDF manner, they have worked their way back from mineral-loaded polymers to phenolics: things that chemically have a lot more in common with Bakelite than with Lucite. Wilson has gone backward on the path through the woods, I dare say, and has begun to discover what it was that they and everyone else dropped along their way. Good for them.
The Sophia 3 is a new and fine example of Wilson's modern thinking: a true high-fidelity device that's also capable of sounding beautiful. And though expensivea Mazda 2 can still be had for less than a pair of theseI think the Sophia 3 represents good value for the money. I have no idea what Dave Wilson has in mind for his more expensive products, but in the context of his present-day line, the Sophia 3 could lead virtually anyone to wonder: Why spend more?
Sophia is indeed the one to hear.