Wilson Audio Specialties Sabrina loudspeaker

I first encountered the work of Dave Wilson in the late 1970s. He was then a recording engineer responsible for some great-sounding records, including pianist Mark P. Wetch's Ragtime Razzmatazz (LP, Wilson Audio W-808), which quickly became one of my favorite system-demo records.

Then Wilson turned his attention to designing loudspeakers. His first model was the Wilson Audio Modular Monitor, reviewed for Stereophile by its then-publisher, Larry Archibald, in August 1983, who described it as "the most enjoyable speaker system I've listened to, and significantly valuable as a diagnostic tool." At $35,000/pair ($83,577 in today's dollars), the WAMM may have been the most expensive speaker then on the market.

The next speaker from Dave Wilson was the Wilson Audio Tiny Tot (WATT), later joined by its bass module, the Puppy. The WATT/Puppy combo became one of the most popular—and most widely imitated—high-end speakers ever made, and underwent a number of revisions over the years. The last version, System 8, was reviewed by Wes Phillips in our June 2007 issue. Since then, Wilson Audio has continued to produce new speaker models, concentrating on the range between the WATT/Puppy's replacement, the Sasha W/P ($33,550/pair) and the Alexandria XLF ($210,000/pair).

At roughly 40" high by 12" wide by 15" deep, the Wilson Sabrina ($15,900/pair) is about the size of the original WATT/Puppy, but in almost every other way it's different. Most obvious is that the Wilson Sabrina is a single-box speaker, not a two-box affair like the WATT/Puppy. According to Wilson Audio, the inspiration for the Sabrina was the top-of-the-line Alexandria XLF, the objective being "to take the wealth of knowledge and experience contained in the XLF and distill it down to its essence." And while the Sabrina can't be called inexpensive, it costs less than the Wilson Sophia 3 ($22,500/pair)—which was, until now, the company's entry-level floorstander. What has always kept me from considering reviewing a Wilson speaker were the prices. Even Wilson's "bookshelf" speaker, the Duette 2, costs $22,500/pair with stands. For me, $20,000 is a kind of threshold: I'd have to think long and hard before spending that much on a pair of speakers—and the same goes for reviewing them.

But what if "the Wilson sound" were available for significantly less than $20,000? That's the promise of the Sabrina—and listening to a pair at the speaker's Canadian debut convinced me that this was one Wilson speaker I needed to check out.

Description and Design
In a video on Wilson Audio's website, the Sabrina is shown next to the Alexandria XLF, highlighting the former's relatively small size. The contrast is indeed great, but that's because the Alexandria, with a height of over 70" and a per-channel weight of 655 lbs, is huge: a giant among loudspeakers. Yes, the Sabrina is much smaller, but compared to "normal" floorstanding speakers it's not that small. What helps make it look relatively small is the fact that its cabinet is slimmer at the top (about 6.5" by 6") and slopes back. But the Sabrina is exceptionally heavy for its size: each speaker weighs 93.8 lbs.

Because Wilson Audio has always believed that form should follow function, their speakers have never been the most aesthetically refined. Some have been described as looking like giant robots. Judgments of appearance are subjective, but I find the Sabrina very attractive: I think it has the most pleasing proportions of any Wilson speaker I've seen. It's available in three standard and two upgrade colors, the latter at a $1000/pair premium. (The review samples were in Titan Red, one of the upgrade colors.)

On the face of it, the Sabrina is a fairly straightforward three-way loudspeaker, with no exotic materials used in the drivers, and no powered subwoofer. As always, the success of a design depends on the implementation, and the attention paid to details—and from everything I've seen and know about Wilson Audio, attention to detail is perhaps their greatest strength. The contribution of each component is carefully evaluated, its effect on sound quality being the criterion.

The enclosures of Wilson's more expensive speakers are made of Wilson's proprietary X-Material, a phenolic composite. As a cost-saving measure, only the Sabrina's baffle and bottom panel are made of X; the rest of the cabinet is constructed of high-density fiberboard. Although HDF doesn't match the extreme nonresonant properties of X-Material, it is, by definition, more dense and hard than the commonly used medium-density fiberboard (MDF). The cabinet is assembled by hand, glued with proprietary adhesives, hand sanded, gel coated, painted with multiple layers of automotive-grade paint, then polished and buffed to the same high standard as all Wilson speakers. There are two rear-firing ports: the lower serves the woofer (which has its dedicated internal chamber), and the upper serves the midrange. The tweeter has its own rear-wave chamber, to isolate it from the other drivers' outputs. The baffle is covered with dense felt, with a cutout for each driver.

The Sabrina's three drivers are variations on the ones used in other Wilson speakers. The 1" doped-silk dome tweeter is based on the Convergent Synergy tweeter first used in the Alexandria XLF. It's crossed over to a 5.7" midrange unit with a paper-composite cone, which in turn hands off to an 8" woofer, again with paper-composite cone; the crossover frequencies are in the regions of 1.6–1.9kHz and 290–350Hz, respectively. According to Daryl Wilson, son of David and the person most responsible for the Sabrina's design, "both of these crossover points are higher than we typically cross over our drivers, but work beautifully with the driver complement/configuration in the Sabrina." Each crossover is built individually to match the reference crossover within ±0.2%. The design of the Sabrina crossover uses proprietary measures to reduce distortion, with the primary design goals being bass performance and dynamic contrast. The crossover topologies and specific component choices were made with a combination of computer modeling, acoustical analysis, and listening to recordings of live, unamplified music.

Like all Wilson Audio speakers, the Sabrina does not accommodate biwiring—which, in Wilson Audio's view, would degrade the sound quality: each enclosure has only one pair of terminals.

Setup
Wilson's larger, heavier, more expensive speakers are shipped in wooden crates; the Sabrina comes in just under UPS's maximum shipping weight, so Wilson doesn't have to use a more expensive shipping company and are thus able to pass on this saving to the consumer. My review samples arrived on a shipping pallet, packed in heavy-duty cardboard boxes. The speaker is covered with a layer of protective film that must be removed—a tricky process that involves pulling the film gently downward and outward, large sections at a time. The user is warned that if the film is removed at any temperature other than "room temperature," or if the film is torn too aggressively, or without sufficient care near the edges, the paint can be damaged. Also, the protective film should not be left on for an extended period of time, and should not be exposed to a heat source or direct sunlight.

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

COMMENTS
Allen Fant's picture

An excellent review and article- RD.
I have enjoyed the Sophia and Sasha models. The Sabrina is next on my short-list.

Allen Fant's picture

2nd Note:
it is interesting that Nordost cabling was used. Transparent is a hallmark and sonic match for Wilson speakers.

Ali's picture

Its almost unusual for an audio magazine reviewer to take a picture of his room and include it in his review; In this very rare occasion Robert did, excellent! reader of an article always has to simulate in his/her mind how the reviewer has setup the equipments or if he has a very especial room with lots of room treatment objects around or not, but putting a picture, can give people immediate view of how the equipments under review, has been placed and listened to. Plus, lots of hints for how he has been set up, say, a speaker in his room. And that, even a listening room belongs to a Stereophile Magazine reviewer, can be so cosy, comfortable and ordinary-looking home-made room instead of drastic professionally acoustically treated room with negative WEF( wife expectancy factor)! Thanks for review but more thanks for your room picture; Its a nice one by the way! I hope we see more pictures of whats going on during setup and listening in this magazine( not private ones of course!)

Robert Deutsch's picture

Thanks! There is more information about my listening room at http://www.stereophile.com/content/focal-aria-936-loudspeaker-confoundin...

RobertSlavin's picture

Let me first admit I have not heard this epeaker. But I have heard the even more expensive Wilson speakers, the Sophia and Sasha and I am completely unimpressed with them, particularly given their quite high prices. They have a somewhat elevated bass. At their price point this isn't forgivable. And I don't hear the level of resolution and detail I would expect given their price.

Now here is the Sabrina at $17,000 (or $18,000 if you have them painted white or red -- must be very expensive paint!!).

I would say the Revel Performa3 F208 has got to be a much better choice for someone considering the Sabrina. It is a large three way speaker like the Wilson. But it must sound better, as it sounds better than the Sophia and Sasha!!

It has similar efficiency but unlike with the Sabrina you can adjust its low and high frequencies for room conditions. It also is at ease playing loudly. And at $5,000, I believe, it costs less than a third as much!!

In this light I cannot see why the Sabrina should have been given such a positive review.

Robert

doak's picture

Why not???
For example, you recently reviewed the Golden Ear Triton 1. How might this speaker "compare" to what you heard from the Wilson Sabrina?? IMO it's a natural question to ask and also the "elephant in the room." So, let's have it. Inquiring minds ....

Sure Wilson is kind of a "sacred cow" in some respects, no doubt, but that's exactly why your readership needs this type of info. Stereophile's credibility is in the balance.

Robert Deutsch's picture

It's a natural question, but comparing a speaker being reviewed with previously-reviewed speakers is problematic, unless all of these speakers are on hand for direct comparisons. The GoldenEar Triton Ones--and various other speakers I've reviewed that are potential candidates for comparisons--are long gone, and it's simply not practical to try to get them back. So any such comparison involves the memory of what those speakers sounded like--not a very good basis for evaluation. Add the fact that some of the system components have changed from earlier reviews, and you have a situation that involves potental confounding.
Having said that, on Page 3 of the review I make two references to comparisons between the Sabrinas and the Triton Ones (paragraphs 4 and 5), and paragraph 7 makes reference to the Fujitsu Ten Eclipse.

low2midhifi's picture

Thanks for sharing your speaker set up picture in your listening room. It looks like you have dealt well with a room much like my own. What is that material hanging on the wall behind your chair? I, too, am constrained to have wall right behind me. Please advise.

Amendment: I followed your link. I found the information for Vicoustic. Thanks for sharing what I am sure is a successful set up with speakers along what seems to be the long-wall in front.

eriks's picture

Hi Guys,

Very nice review. I noticed something and went back and briefly checked. I was wondering where the close-mic tweeter measurements for the Sabrina were. It seems based on very few samples, that Stereophile is not publishing close-mic data for the tweeter and mids for Wilson speakers that are normally published for other makers. For instance the original Vandersteen model seven review.

I'm just wondering if there's a technical or other issue that makes you choose when to include these measurements. It's OK with me if there's even an agreement with the vendor not to share some data, but if so I would expect it to be part of the measurement data. "We've agreed with Wilson not to share close-mic tweeter data..." or something like that. Maybe it was in a previous review or I needed to read the review more closely.

Thanks for the clarifications,

Erik

John Atkinson's picture
eriks wrote:
Very nice review.

Thank you.

eriks wrote:
I was wondering where the close-mic tweeter measurements for the Sabrina were. It seems based on very few samples, that Stereophile is not publishing close-mic data for the tweeter and mids for Wilson speakers that are normally published for other makers.

You have me puzzled, as I don't measure tweeters with the microphone close for any review. The only measurement I didn't perform for the Sabrina review was the spatially averaged in-room response, which was not logistically possible.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

eriks's picture

Sorry, then I'm clearly using the wrong terminology.

Looking at the original review for the Vandersteen model Seven for instance (Stereophile March 2010, Measurements Figure 4) there are "nearfield" responses for each driver but the closest Sabrina measurement (Figure 3) only includes such detail in the lower bass. Maybe I've been reading too long and didn't notice when the practice changed of when choices are made to measure them or not.

Best,

Erik

John Atkinson's picture
eriks wrote:
Looking at the original review for the Vandersteen model Seven for instance (Stereophile March 2010, Measurements Figure 4) there are "nearfield" responses for each driver but the closest Sabrina measurement (Figure 3) only includes such detail in the lower bass.

The nearfield measurements are only used for lower-frequency drive-units, always for woofers and ports and sometimes for midrange units when their output extends sufficiently low in frequency. But never for tweeters.

Note that the summed nearfield low-frequency response in fig.3 (black trace) does include the contribution of the Sabrina's midrange unit.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile