Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF loudspeaker Page 3

Have you heard Roberto Gerhard's cantata The Plague? Better to hear it than buy it. This 1973 performance, with Antal Dor†ti conducting the National Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (LP, Decca Headline HEAD 6), recorded at Constitution Hall by an engineering team led by Kenneth Wilkinson, is a gruesome affair that is every bit the horror show its title suggests. But what a recording! The timpani thwacks sound great through the MAXX 3s—but through the XLFs they went deeper, were better controlled and far more transparent, and lacked a slightly hard leading edge that I now know is a coloration produced by the MAXX 3s. I'd never heard this record sound so powerful, so spatially coherent, so tonally convincing. The XLFs' ability to reproduce an illusion of depth, despite being placed so close to the walls, never failed to amaze me. And both the chorus and the narrator, Alec McCowan, sounded eerily real, with the best balance I've heard of vocal sibilants and body.

Unlike the bass output of most large speakers, which tends to soften and lose shape at low SPLs, the ca 94dB-sensitive Alexandria could be played at whisper levels with no loss of bass structure or rhythmic integrity. The cleanness and precision of the XLF's ability to start and stop at low frequencies and low SPLs was unique in my experience.

Not that I specifically listen for such things. I notice them only when my wife screams from upstairs for me to "Turn those effing things down—you're shaking the whole house!!" Otherwise, I'd always want to listen at realistic SPLs!

A $200,000/pair speaker capable of such robust bass does need to pass certain tests—such as hearing if bottom-end weight clouds the lower registers of female voices. I played Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Krall, Joan Baez, and some of the deeper-voiced jazz singers, such as Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone. When bass was not supposed to be present, it wasn't. When one of these chesty singers reached down to the lower end of her range, only the appropriate low-frequency energy appeared: focused, of proper size, and in context—not as general, otherwise unidentifiable "bass."

I have an original pressing of the superb recording of Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne, by the late soprano Netania Davrath with an orchestra conducted by Pierre de la Rouche (LP, Vanguard VSD-2090), said to be the definitive version of this cycle of orchestral folk-song settings. It's the only one I've heard, but it puts Davrath in a warm, large-sounding space that has never been more apparent than it was through the XLFs—yet her voice, floating magnificently between the speakers, never mixed with it. I had never heard her small-scale dynamic vocal gestures so clearly delineated.

The XLF's harmonic presentation was as fully realized as its performance in every other parameter of sound. The full ranges of instruments in well-recorded symphonic music and orchestral film scores were reproduced with rich, full palettes of colors that would surprise skeptics who regard the Wilson "house sound" as overly lean and analytical. The XLF was anything but. Yet instrumental attacks were naturally fast and clean, sustain generous, and decay into blackness complete.

Despite its wide bandwidth and complex design, the XLF's top-to-bottom integration of its drivers' outputs was masterful, surpassing that of any speaker I've reviewed. From the very bottom, which Wilson claims goes down to 19.5Hz, to the very top, a claimed 33kHz, the speaker produced vast, seamless pictures or delicately drawn, equally unified miniatures, as appropriate.

The most familiar recordings—at least, those that I had time to play—expressed subtle, occasionally dramatic, new, and often profound musical information in just about every performance parameter. Listening to music through the Wilson Alexandria XLFs was a transformative experience. And that's the least you should expect for $200,000.

Conclusions
Can a pair of loudspeakers possibly be worth $200,000? Can an automobile? Can a diamond? In all three instances, the answer can be Yes. Value is in the ears, hands, and eyes of the potential purchaser.

But a loudspeaker costing $200,000/pair should represent a fully realized concept that produces the ultimate expression of every performance parameter related to musical accuracy. It should reproduce the full audioband, from 20Hz to 20kHz, and do so while seamlessly integrating the outputs of its drivers to produce exceptionally linear frequency response from bottom to top across a usefully wide listening window, along with stable, well-controlled power response in the upper frequencies.

It should set a very high standard of very low coloration and distortion, particularly in the difficult-to-reproduce low-bass frequencies. It should have unlimited micro- and macrodynamic authority, and be able to play at very high and very low SPLs and everywhere in between, and sound equally good at all points along that volume scale.

It should set new standards of transient clarity, transparency, and purity. It should accurately express the harmonic structures and timbral and textural characteristics of musical instruments, limited only by the quality of the recording.

It should take to new levels the focused reproduction of three-dimensional images, as well as soundstage width, depth, and height.

It should do all of these things in a balanced, seamless way to produce a transparent loudspeaker that gets more out of the way of the music, than other speakers.

It should be sensitive and relatively easy to drive, and be designed in such a way that its performance can be optimized for a wide variety of real-world rooms both large and small, and under difficult acoustic conditions.

Finally, it should be built to the highest standards of fit'n'finish inside and out, and look great as well—although, of course, form must follow function, and tastes will differ.

And, technically speaking, it should sound amazing, get your heart racing, and set your audiophile hair afire each and every time you sit down to listen.

For all of those reasons, and probably a few I've missed, the Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF is worth $200,000/pair.

COMPANY INFO
Wilson Audio Specialties
2233 Mountain Vista Lane
Provo, UT 84606
(801) 377-2233
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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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