Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF loudspeaker Page 2

We rolled the woofer cabinets into their approximate positions, then laid on the carpet the four wings and the six upper driver modules. McGrath arrived the next day, and within a few hours these positively enormous speakers, had been positioned, voiced, and spiked, and their ports set to fire to the rear.

Not surprisingly, the XLFs ended up within a few inches of where the MAXX 3s had stood—and, also as with the MAXX 3s, when I sat down just under 8' away, the upper woofers were where the tweeters would be in a speaker of more appropriate size for the space. The XLFs' midrange-tweeter-midrange (MTM) arrays towered well above, even farther up into the ozone than the MAXX 3s' MTMs.

So how did it sound?
The main challenge in using such tall speakers in so cramped a room is getting them to reproduce a convincing sense of space. Wilson's setup charts indicate that 9' is as close as you can sit and still get the focus and coherence they promise. The drivers can't be aimed any lower and it isn't possible for me to move listening chair farther away.

Playing even a primitive mono recording, such as The Who Sell Out (LP, Decca DL 4950), an original copy of which I found a few weeks ago for a buck at a garage sale, plainly revealed much of what was spatially astonishing about the XLFs, though I didn't at first play it to discover anything about the speakers—I just wanted to hear a totally different mix for this album that I'd been told was full of surprises. I wasn't disappointed. Pedal steel guitar on "Our Love Was"? Gettouttahere!

Floating at ear height between the XLFs, completely independent of the double stack of drivers producing the sound, appeared a preternaturally solid, well-focused, tonally and texturally coherent, large-scale, reach-out-and-touch-it image. The image never budged, not even when I shifted my head to left or right—it remained stable, focused, and assured. It also contained textural and tonal fireworks. The percussion was hard, appropriately metallic, and focused with pinpoint precision; the bass was elastic, incredibly deep and powerful, perfectly focused, and distorted—but that was the overloaded recording, not the speakers. As an accurate re-creation of tape saturation, it couldn't be beat.

This was the sort of good mono presentation that a stereo pair of well-designed speakers should generally offer in a properly treated room—but coming from these big driver stacks 8' away? The MAXX 3s do this well, too, though not quite as seamlessly or as solidly, or with such a variety of textures and tonal colors. I listened to many mono recordings, from both analog and digital sources, and they produced as convincing a demonstration as can be imagined of the ability of Wilson's Aspherical Group Delay to delicately focus an image—but the imaging and soundstaging of stereo recordings produced more impressive physicality.

Joseph Audio's compact, two-way Pulsar speaker, which I reviewed in the June 2012 issue, produced degrees of intense focus and image solidity that big speakers, including the Wilson MAXX 3s, generally can't achieve. Still, the Josephs could do this only at the cost of sheer physical and dynamic scale and low-frequency extension. In my relatively small room, the XLFs produced both the spatial solidity and intense focus of a small, well-designed two-way like the Joseph Pulsar, as well as the grand scale that only so large a system can manage. At the same time, the speakers seemed to totally disappear as the sources of sound—much as the old and much smaller Audio Physic Virgo IIs did. The Alexandria XLFs could effortlessly reproduce the sensation of being in an enormous space—or a very small and intimate one.

One of the first stereo recordings I played was Richard and Linda Thompson's I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. I'd been comparing the original UK Island pressing, mastered at Sterling Sound by Lee Hulko in 1974, with the 1983 Masterdisk remastering on Carthage, and the new LP from Wax Cathedral, sourced from the master tape but cut from a 24-bit/96kHz file by Bob Weston at Chicago Mastering Service. I'd played these records numerous times through the MAXX 3s, and all had sounded fine—after all, the original recording, made by John Wood at the very small Sound Techniques studio in London, was so intimate and direct—though of course the sounds of the different masterings differed.

First up was the Carthage. The first cut, "When I Get to the Border," took the recording to places I'd never heard it go in almost 40 years of listening to it. But the next one, the creepy "The Calvary Cross," with its massive tambourine shakes, monstrous power chords, depth-charge bass, and haunting background singers, had me exclaiming, to no one in particular, "Wow!"—followed by laughter and a string of expletives. The speed, precision, and clarity of that tambourine, the delineation of each of its metal spinnerets, the metallicness of the metal, the skin-ness of the skin, and the woodiness of what could be heard of the wood—not to mention the eerie way in which the instrument just hung there, focused in three-dimensional space against the blackest of backdrops, 100% free and clear of the speaker baffles—produced an intensity of verisimilitude that so far surpassed how I've previously heard this very familiar recording that . . . well, what else was there to do but laugh? I've heard the background singers (more like droners) on this track hundreds of times, always as undifferentiated space-fillers. Never before was each so cleanly delineated and easily separated from the foreground din, each voice's individual texture and timbre clearly yet subtly defined.

Of necessity, familiar phrases like holographic imaging and precision soundstaging are useful because they're familiar, but they can't quite convey the degree to which the Alexandrias achieved image solidity, three-dimensionality, well-defined spatiality, and layers of information, and did so effortlessly across the re-creation of an apparently limitless expanse of space before, behind, and to the sides of their actual physical locations. And the XLFs produced these results with me sitting less than 9' away. I'm sure the illusion of space would be even more impressive in a larger room.

After raving in the September 2009 issue about the MAXX 3's reproduction of harmonic, textural, and spatial qualities, and wanting to avoid superlatives here, I'm left with little wiggle room. I'll just say that the XLF's tonal, textural, and transient presentations were easily and demonstrably superior to the MAXX 3's already convincing and very satisfying performance in those areas, mostly because of a notable lessening of artifacts that were so subtle to begin with that I noticed them only when they weren't there.

Wilson's new Convergent Synergy silk-dome tweeter had an airy effortlessness in comparison with the MAXX 3's titanium dome. The Alexandria XLFs' presentation of well-recorded violin concertos left little to be desired in terms of orchestral weight, color, imagery, and size. The soloist appeared onstage well in front of the orchestra and believably focused: neither too well defined and "etchy" nor too diffuse. Well-recorded violins were reproduced with a pleasingly natural harmonic structure, airy sheen, and grit where appropriate. With the right recording played at the appropriate level (usually considerably lower than many of us listen at home!), I could almost convince myself I was in Row 20 of Avery Fisher Fall—even when the performance had been recorded elsewhere. The speakers produced that kind of physical scale and dynamic contrasts.

When I played a reissue of Bruch's Scottish Fantasia and Hindemith's Violin Concerto, with soloist David Oistrakh, the London Symphony, and conductors Jascha Horenstein and Paul Hindemith (45rpm "Blueback" LP, London CS 6667/ORG 107), the XLFs took the familiar sound of these performances into an unfamiliar realm of greater orchestral weight and focus, improved delineation of hall acoustics, and a violin image that had a solidity, transparency, tonal and textural complexity, and—especially—an ethereal delicacy that surpassed anything I'd ever heard at home.

The XLFs' bottom-end performance, even in a confined space with their rear panels only 17" from the front wall and their side panels even closer to the sidewalls, was far superior to the MAXX 3s' already impressive bass output, and noticeably lower in coloration, even though the Alexandria's extension was deeper and the sound more powerful. So well controlled was the bass that, whatever any excess bass that might have been caused by the room boundaries (and which will probably show up in John Atkinson's measurements) might look like, I never heard it as such. Male voices, even baritones, never sounded "chesty," and the lower end of the acoustic piano was never overstated. Kick drums were fast, clean, precisely drawn, and texturally convincing. Timpani were powerful and compact.

Bass performance—tonally, texturally, and especially dynamically—is one area in which Wilson speakers, at their various price points, outperform most of the competition. It's not easy to produce the extension, the dynamics, and especially the low coloration and low distortion that Wilson manages.

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Wilson Audio Specialties
2233 Mountain Vista Lane
Provo, UT 84606
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COMMENTS
JohnnyR's picture

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 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

HI Michael,

How does this recording sound on your audio system?

mm

Devil Doc's picture

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

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 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 knows

Michael Fremer's picture

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 " 

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 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

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

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 and show us the measurements.

Prove Dave Wilson a charlatan.

GeorgeHolland's picture

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

Michael Fremer's picture

you're a fool.

Michael Fremer's picture

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 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

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, you are wise. 

GeorgeHolland's picture

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

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

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

... 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

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

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 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

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 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 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

Porgie,

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

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