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 3sbut 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 downyou'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 testssuch 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 contextnot 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 XLFsyet 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 recordingsat least, those that I had time to playexpressed 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.
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 wellalthough, 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.