Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF loudspeaker

The Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandra XLF costs $200,000/pair. So does a Ferrari. Perhaps if Wilson Audio Specialties sold as many pairs of XLFs as Ferrari sells cars, the price might drop. For now, $200,000 is what you pay.

Can a loudspeaker possibly be worth that much? Add $10,000 for speaker cables, and that's what I paid for my first home in 1992. Today, the average American home costs around $272,000, which is likely less than the cost of an audio system built around a pair of Alexandra XLFs.

Think no one spends that kind of money on a music system? Don't kid yourself. Many people can afford it, and many spend it—though not as many as should. We need to educate those people! Anyone want to fly me to Monaco on a goodwill mission?

The real question is this: Is the XLF's sound worth that expense?

I know a pair of speakers can be worth at least $158,000: I've heard the XLF's predecessor, the Alexandria X-2 Series 2, in a few systems over the past few years, including the one in the living room of recording engineer Roy Halee, driven by a pair of big Boulder amplifiers. I sat there for an enjoyable afternoon, mesmerized by, among other things, the X-2s' exceptional transient and microdynamic delicacy, massive macrodynamic scale, bass precision, and top-to-bottom coherence. It's a sound that demands respect: This speaker performs at a level only a few others can manage.

I also know that a pair of speakers can be worth $65,000: At home, I listen contentedly and with great appreciation to a pair of Wilson MAXX 3s. Not an evening of listening goes by that I don't remind myself how lucky I was to be able to buy these speakers, which are part of a system I never imagined I'd be able to own.

Well, actually, I did imagine it years ago, as I lived vicariously through the writings of J. Gordon Holt, Harry Pearson, and others, when the total cost of my audio system was only a few thousand dollars: Denon direct-drive turntable with AC motor, Lustre GST-1 tonearm, Dynavector Ruby cartridge, Marcoff PPA-1 head amp, Hafler DH101 preamplifier and DH200 power-amp kits, and Spica TC-50 speakers. And back then, I felt lucky to own that system.

Description
While the Alexandria XLF superficially resembles its predecessor, the Alexandria X-2 Series 2 ($158,000), the XLF does not replace the X-2, which will continue to be available. The XLF is larger, and at 655 lbs is 50 lbs heavier, than the already massive X-2; it also incorporates numerous changes and refinements.

The volume of the XLF's bass enclosure is 14% greater than the X-2's. The cabinet walls are thicker, and inside, a newly developed bracing geometry better deals with the XLF's greater production of low-frequency energy. The bass drive-units, though, are the same as in the X-2: 13" and 15" woofers made by Focal. The cones are of Focal's proprietary W material: two layers of woven glass tissue separated by and bonded to a core of aeronautical foam, the mass of which can be precisely varied to match the needs of the particular driver design. The W material is ultra-stiff, ultra-lightweight, and said to be extremely low in coloration. It's also 10 times more expensive to make than the high-quality paper Focal uses for its less expensive subwoofer cones, including the ones used in the MAXX 3. (A few years ago, at Focal's facility in St. Etienne, France, I watched W cones being made by developmentally challenged people, who had been taught to operate the machines as part of a government program to create meaningful employment for them.)

The Alexandria XLF features Wilson's unique, room-optimizing, Cross Load Firing (XLF) porting system. With this latest refinement in owner-designer Dave Wilson's attempt to produce speakers that can be optimized to work well in a wide variety of rooms, you can easily switch between front and rear porting by unscrewing a few bolts and swapping the locations of some parts.

The Alexandria series' rigid "wings" that bracket the midrange and tweeter modules, made of cross-braced sections of Wilson's X material (a proprietary phenolic composite), has been substantially strengthened and thickened. Wilson's composite S material was first used in the Sasha W/P, which replaced the WATT/Puppy. Here, in combination with the X material, it replaces the M4 material used in the Alexandria X-2's midrange baffle, and is claimed to audibly and measurably reduce midrange noise and coloration. Wilson's strategy has long been one of relatively large midrange drivers that cover almost the entire midrange without being interrupted by the crossover. However, to avoid high-frequency beaming, this necessitates the two 7" carbon-fiber/paper-cone midrange units handing off to the tweeter at the unusually low frequency of about 1kHz. This is why one of the most significant upgrades in the XLF is its new Convergent Synergy silk-dome tweeter, made for Wilson by Scan-Speak. This replaces the inverted titanium dome used in the X-2 and is built to Wilson's specifications by Focal, variations of which have long been used throughout much of the Wilson line.

While the new tweeter superficially resembles versions used by other manufacturers, Wilson's specific requirements took three years of development to achieve the high power handling, low distortion, and wide bandwidth required by Wilson's crossover strategy—all of which the inverted titanium dome had successfully achieved. The new silk dome meets the goals of low distortion and high power handling while surpassing the titanium dome's overall linearity and HF extension. Another silk dome, a variant of the Convergent Synergy, acts as a supertweeter and fires to the rear from the top of the upper midrange module.

Living like the 99%, listening like the 1%
Had Wilson Audio Specialties been looking for a space in which to demonstrate the efficacy of Dave Wilson's group-delay technology, in particular the Aspherical Group Delay adjustability (see below) implemented in the Alexandria X-2 and the new Alexandria XLF, they couldn't have found one more challenging than my listening room, which measures only 15' by 21' by 8'.

The room itself is not the challenge. In fact, its acoustics have been measured and found to be reasonably linear, and particularly excellent in terms of decay, which one acoustician described as "ideal," thanks to my walls of LPs. Even when not being played, vinyl sounds good. Nor was the challenge one of shoehorning into a ground-floor room two speakers, each one 5' 10" tall, 19" wide, 28" deep, and weighing 655 lbs. Like all of Wilson's large speakers, the XLFs ship in pieces, the massive woofer cabinets rolling out of their crates on casters. The total shipping weight per pair is just under a ton: 1910 lbs. And let's leave aside for the moment the not-insignificant problem of taming the combined output of two enormous woofer boxes placed just a few feet from the room's corners.

The seemingly insoluble dilemma was how to create a coherent soundfield from two tall stacks of drivers sitting just 94" from the listening position. And yet, as unlikely as it seemed, particularly to me, Wilson's Peter McGrath was convinced that the XLFs would, in my room, work as well as if not better than the MAXX 3s. But then, I'd been convinced the MAXX 2s and 3s wouldn't work here, and they did—the 3s better than the 2s, because of the 3s' increased driver adjustability.

Setup
An audiophile friend helped me unbox the Alexandria XLFs' many crates, remarking as we went on Wilson's fanatical attention to detail and the precise fit'n'finish of all parts—even the ones owners are unlikely to ever see once the speaker is assembled.

Company Info
Wilson Audio Specialties
2233 Mountain Vista Lane
Provo, UT 84606
(801) 377-2233
Article Contents
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Comments
JohnnyR's picture
Another Wilson Fiasco

Golly look at that frequency response. $200,000 gets you that. I really have nothing else to say about this...............no really.no

Michael Fremer's picture
Golly you're dumb!

Golly JohnnyR: interpreting what you see into what you might hear is well beyond your capabilities.

I'll tell you a story, not that it will penetrate your "brain" but I'll try:I encountered a couple of young Russian-born engineers at a turntable set-up seminar I did at Stereo Exchange in NY.

They said to me: 'we saw the measurements on the Wilson MAXX3s: boomy bass!"

I said: do you think I would live with "boomy bass"? 

They said: "but measurements show boomy bass".

I said "Come on over and listen to the 'boomy bass' "

They said "You would invite us over?" 

I said, "Why not?

So they paid a visit. They brought a test CD they'd devised that they use to judge speakers.

When they'd finished listening they exclaimed "NO BOOMY BASS! GOOD BASS"

Then I played them a format that doesn't MEASURE as well as CDs... a format they'd not really paid much attention to because IT DOESN'T MEASURE AS WELL  and guess what?

When they heard what proper vinyl playback sounds like they almost S...T.

Measuring a complex speaker like the XLFs is NOT EASY. And clearly interpreting a complex set of measurements and attempting to sort of what that might sound like is clearly beyond your abilities. But JohnnyR: blather on.....

ymm's picture
Firebird- Mercury Living Presence

HI Michael,

How does this recording sound on your audio system?

mm

Devil Doc's picture
Congratulations!

I understand you bought the review pair. Before the jealous rants begin, let me say that anyone who can turn a hobby into an occupation that allows him to acquire such equipment deserves a pat on the back.

Doc

John Atkinson's picture
Priorities

Devil Dog wrote:
I understand you bought the review pair. Before the jealous rants begin, let me say that anyone who can turn a hobby into an occupation that allows him to acquire such equipment deserves a pat on the back.

Michael cashed in some of his retirement savings in order to be able to purchase the Wilson XLFs.

JohnnyR wrote:
Golly look at that frequency response. $200,000 gets you that.

So what did you think about the Alexandria XLF's sound when you heard them? (I assume you did hear them.)

JohnnyR wrote:
I really have nothing else to say about this . . . no really.

Really?

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

GeorgeHolland's picture
Cheap Shots Mr

Cheap Shots Mr Atkinson?

JohnnyR said he had nothing else to say and you come along and taunt him? Classy as always. I also agree that for $200,000 I would expect a much better frequency response. I suppose Floyd Toole, who you like to quote so often would also agree with JohnnyR and myself on that matter.

Michael spent his retirement savings on these way over priced monkey coffins? I find the design hideous and as predicted, yet another Stereophile stupid review about a product maybe, maybe I say, 1% of your readership could afford.Keep up the good work Mr Atkinson.

ChrisS's picture
Georgie thinks....

Georgie thinks = Georgie knows

Michael Fremer's picture
"Classy"?

Really George Holland, you are "classy"? "Monkey coffins?"  You are beneath monkey level. What's heard and what's measured, particularly with a complex design like this don't always correlate.

I've heard some speaker that measure "flat" that sound like CRAP and vice-versa. As the talented speaker designer Joachim Gerhard once said to me: "Today, it's relatively easy to produce a speaker that has flat on-axis response but that doesn't mean it will sound very good."

Even the most vociferous Wilson-haters like you and folks who don't like moving coil speaker visit here and come away impressed.

With a comment like yours, I'm not constrained to be "classy": you are an idiot. 

tmsorosk's picture
( I asume you did hear them )

" I asume you did hear them " 

Hearing them won't help if your mind is closed .

Good one John.

 

 I doubt johnnyR even owns a system.

Regadude's picture
"Michael cashed in some of

"Michael cashed in some of his retirement savings in order to be able to purchase the Wilson XLFs."

Wow! Good job Michael. How he convinced his wife that spending some retirement savings on 200 000$, 650 pound monsters was a good idea is truly impressive!

Or maybe he's sleeping on the couch for the next 3 years... wink

Michael Fremer's picture
Convinced her!

Well, actually I sleep comfortably on our king sized bed containing a Kluft mattress. It's stupidly expensive and unbelievably comfortable but I bet it doesn't measure all that well.

We once owned simultaneously 4 giant Bernese Mountain Dogs. That's her thing. Marriage is a give and take. We had giant black fur balls flying around the house like tumbleweeds. Not to mention occasional vomit and doody. Dogs have accidents. 

Currently we have two cats, a gecko and a Cardigan Welsh Corgi. We had two, but our older one that my wife showed died suddenly at 6 years of age. It was tragic.

His name was WILSON. I guess he didn't "measure up."

He was a swell dog. My wife named him Wilson but no doubt some lunatics will think Wilson Audio Specialties considered this advertising and subsidized the purchase of the speakers.

My listening room is the lower level of our home.... I can do as I wish down here and upstairs I live with her passion: animals. She's deep into it. That equals a good balance...

jeffca's picture
Something to think about

Just to bring some clarity to the subject, the drivers used in these boxes are (or variants of):

ScanSpeak Revelator D2904 - $312 from Madisound
Focal Audiom 13WX - $930 from Zalytron
Focal Audiom 15WX - $1,450 from Zalytron
Midranges - can't get a bead on the manufacturer, but I sincerely doubt they cost more than the woofers so lets spec them at $500 each (very few mids cost more than that).

That brings the grand total (for over-the-counter prices) to about $7,500 for the drivers in these behemoths. I imagine Wilson pays less so, even if they pay $1,000 for each mid (which I seriously doubt), the cost for the drivers is topping out at less than $10k. That's 5% of the cost of the speakers.

The crossover? I know Wilson uses crazy, complex networks, but I doubt that cost is more than $10k for the parts.

The cabs? I'm not a craftsman, but I think you could get something comparable from North Creek Music Systems for $20k or so.

So, I've budgeted $40,000 for speakers like the XLF. What accounts for the balance of $160,000? This isn't like a Bugatti Veyron where they're pushing technology way past what was previously achievable.

I propose something else that is just as audacious:
• Two Paradigm SUB 1 subwoofers - $10,000
• Mids and tweeters by any great supplier - in this case, some of the most expensive on the market - diamond tweeters and ceramic mids by Accuton - $3,600 for 4 mids and $5,800 for 2 tweeters - $9,400 total
• A DEQX HDP-4 processor/crossover with Reference Calibration Kit - $6,000
• Over-engineered cabinets for the mids & tweeters using custom-milled Corian or Zodiaq baffles (just a guess and, what the hell, let's be ridiculously generous) - $20,000

Total: $45,400.

With about the same amount of work as setting up the XLF's and 1/4 the expenditure, you have a system that is every bit as good as the Wilson XLF.

But, hey, take it from a guy who can hear the difference made by installing a $5,000 power cord to his turntable (the Fremer character who wrote the review), these speakers are worth every penny.

BillK's picture
Build it.

Build it and show us the measurements.

Prove Dave Wilson a charlatan.

GeorgeHolland's picture
Wilson offering a $200,000

Wilson offering a $200,000 speaker that has such an awful frequency response is proof enough.

Michael Fremer's picture
PROOF of one thing:

you're a fool.

Michael Fremer's picture
Another truly stupid comment!

Why don't you try producing a cabinet like that from difficult to machine composite components. In fact why don't you build a factory, buy enormous machine tools to cut the materials (and replace the expensive bits regularly since they wear out quickly), and install a fully equipped automotive paint shop in that factory you've built. Then HIRE people and pay them GOOD WAGES, not Wal-Mart wages plus health care and 401ks. 

Oh, and then consider the cost of shipping once you've assembled the speaker, don't forget to include the binding posts and complex hardware (take a look behind an XLF because clearly you haven't a CLUE) required to produce the Group Delay system that produced much of the spatial and tonal magic...etc.

And let's say you are correct: it's cost 40K as you say, but I'm sure you need to tack on at least 10K

But let's say you are correct: you clearly do NOT understand how high performance audio distribution works so let me clue you in:

If the speaker costs $40,000 to build, Wilson is entitled to make what's called a "profit". 

Even a "libtard" like me believes in "profit". So if the speaker cost $40K to build, Wilson would sell it to a dealer for $80K and then the dealer has to profit too!

kana813's picture
Congrats to Michael on his

Congrats to Michael on his new speakers.

Enjoyed the review.

Maybe sometime he could post a picture of his room with the XLFs.

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou!

John Atkinson's picture
Bill of Materials vs Retail Price

Jeffca wrote:
I've budgeted $40,000 for speakers like the XLF. What accounts for the balance of $160,000?

Let's assume that your estimate of the XLF's parts costs is accurate. That gives a price/parts ratio of 5:1. This ratio is widely accepted as about correct for an audio manufacturer who wishes to make enough money to stay in business. The difference covers fixed overhead, salaries, interest on borrowed capital, taxes, cost of shipping and packaging (neither minor on the case of a speaker as large and heavy as this), promotional costs, and retail margin.

From http://www.audioholics.com/news/editorials/diy-loudspeakers

"hard-core audio enthusiasts are the harshest critics of commercially-available speakers. They second-guess designers’ and engineers’ decisions, they question why a manufacturer choose to name or price or market their product in a particular way . . . They have absolutely no understanding of the relationship between material cost and retail price. They have close to zero understanding about the practicalities or processes of manufacturing on a large scale, packaging and shipping."

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Vogelhaus's picture
^ This.    Thank you John,

^ This. 

 

Thank you John, you are wise. 

GeorgeHolland's picture
So you are now quoting

So you are now quoting editorials? That's like using newspaper editorials or even Stereophile's The Open Bar forum as "proof". cheeky Did you bother to read what JohnnyR linked to and posted in the other thread?

http://forums.audioholics.com/forums/loudspeakers/83412-diy-loudspeakers...

There's a lot more to this issue than one person's opinion. I guess you and Stereophile just can't be bothered finding out more.

Plenty of excuses for defending a ludicrously priced speaker but not many actual facts.

ChrisS's picture
Get out much?

Porgie, what do you "actually" listen to? Have you ever spent a ludicrous amount of money on a can opener?

Just checking your point of reference....

Michael Fremer's picture
Yawn

A fellow I know looked at the MAXX3s and decided he could built an even better version using more expensive drivers but using well braced MDF cabinets. He built it: it sounded awful. Did nothing. 

So listen GeorgeHolland: build your own XLF and have a nice life. You're still an idiot.

I'm not as gracious as my editor.

jeffca's picture
You haven't considered a few things, Mr.Atkinson...

... and those things are:

• All of the prices I've specced are retail, not wholesale so, for all of the items listed, a significant amount of marketing and R&D has already been spent and a generous mark up has already been made by the distributors. 

• I appreciate that there is a large overhead for specialty brands like this. The fact, though, that I can assemble a system largely sourced from retail brands with only one custom element (the cabinets - which would be expensive only due to them being one off's) and that system performs as well (possibly better than) the retail system four to five times it's cost leaves only one conclusion: these speakers are drastically overpriced. 

• You can't build a kit car that can perform like a Bugatti Veyron. These speakers are priced like Bugatti's, but they don't offer that level of performance.

I've read the manual for the Audio Artistry CBT36 kit from Parts Express and fully understand why that kit costs $2000 while the fully assembled speaker costs $10k. Start to finish, it will take 80 to 100 man/hours to complete it.

I don't see anything so distinctive in this speakers design as to warrant its cost other than hype. I sure that it's one hell of a great speaker, but it's price is absurd.

Mike Lomond's picture
Wilson XLF Loudspeaker

Simplistic in the extreme.

You haven't invested anything in the design, production or marketing of a loudspeaker.

Just hot air.

Put in the hours, invest your $45,000 and send Mike F a review pair.

Until then, you're full of it.

BillK's picture
You forgot a few things...

Don't forget to amortize in the costs of running a factory in the United States, setting up assembly to be able to make product within a reasonable time frame, training employees, paying them a good wage (with health insurance!) and shipping costs on a 1910 lb/pair speaker system.

You can't run a US company on cost + 10%.

Could Wilson cut prices if they perhaps made them in China instead?

Of course, they could, but thankfully they don't.

Once again, I challenge anyone who thinks they can design a better system and sell it for less to do so - your fellow audiophiles and dealers would thank you.

GeorgeHolland's picture
Already plenty out there, the

Already plenty out there, the Orion and LX521by Linkwitz and the offerings from John K at Music and Design and John "Zaph" Krutke's website either sell plans or offer them free, all you have to do is either build them yourself or hire someone to do it for you.Still a lot less expensive than Wilson's ludicrous offering, plus better design and engineering. This is only a few of the many out there that also build complete systems for sale. Do your homework and look around.

Michael Fremer's picture
YOU'RE AN IDIOT

I have heard many more loudspeakers than have you, probably by the HUNDREDS. In homes and stores and shows all around the country.

Your comments are IDIOTIC. That's why you are an IDIOT.

The XLFs will not be for every taste. Nor will Magicos, nor will (name your favorite brand).

BUT your comments about Wilson indicate a level of irrational hatred that seems to follow this brand because SUCCESS drives some people CRAZY. That would be you.

My favorite Wilson sleight is from people who say "Wilson is built for the 'carriage trade' not for music lovers."

Meanwhile, I travel around the world and meet accomplished professional musicians who are as enthused as I am about the sound. 

It's the same nonsense I hear about vinyl: "you're not an engineer, you're not a musician" blah blah blah.

So then I meet one of the world's most acclaimed Mahler interpreters who's conducted some of the world's top orchestras and the first thing he says to me is "I'm a turntable guy."

Look George Holland, if you don't like the sound of these speakers, FINE but the suggestion that they are not well engineered is INFANTILE as is your claim that the measurements are poor. On axis frequency response taken in isolation means VERY LITTLE.

The final sound is a result of a complex interaction of events. Interpreting the complex measurements is clearly beyond your abilities since your worldview is clearly simple minded.

billyjul's picture
  some speakker whitch cost

 

some speakker whitch cost only 1000$ and far less have better frequancy responses, for a good ingeneer it's so easy to do better, 

this speaker is not a good speaker at any price, they use certainly good driver whtih flat response, like the scanspeak tweeter, but there a problem, they d'ont know how to use it

GeorgeHolland's picture
Wilson thinks throwing in

Wilson thinks throwing in expensive drivers along with a halfway designed crossover in a huge robot looking cabinet is what gullible people want. They are correct.

ChrisS's picture
Point of reference

Porgie,

Have you or anyone else you know bought a Harman Kardon product?

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