Wilson Audio Specialties X-1/Grand SLAMM loudspeaker system Page 5
Stereo imaging was very good overall, with convincing height, fine width, and very good depth. Specific focus was quite critical of lateral head position, but within the identifiable "sweet spot," remarkable precision was achieved.
Coloration was obviously very low—not just in the critical midrange, but everywhere. Initially, I didn't fully appreciate this quality, but grew more aware of its importance as the listening sessions unfolded. Other aspects of the X-1's sound included superb rhythm and timing, tremendous clarity, inaudible distortion at any bearable sound level, plus amazing slam and dynamics at all levels.
The ability to work at and deliver high acoustic powers has its own rewards. If the sound remains clean at high levels, as it triumphantly did with the X-1, then previously inaudible or buried low-level detail becomes wholly audible and can make an unsuspected contribution to the sense of scale, richness, and perspective of the soundstage.
We have all heard this enhancing effect of turning up the volume; indeed, some systems rely on high levels to achieve their required clarity. The subjective effect produced by the X-1 was akin to this, but in this case, when the volume was turned up the sound simply got clearer and clearer, more dynamic, and more immediate. It was so expressive that I was left with the certain knowledge that other speakers are comparatively compressed and dynamically limited.
Recordings: Listening highlights included Miles Davis' Amandla (Warner Bros. 25873-2). "Catembe" opens with simple, open scoring, the early notes establishing the time signature, and a little later the band opens up. I thought I knew how this band played and how the track sounded, but I was wrong. With the X-1, the opening section now established a new definition of time and instrumental presence. And now, when the band did open up, the stage was presented on a far greater scale than heard previously. Instead of a thickened wall of sound, the X-1 achieved unprecedented simultaneous clarity and articulation of all instrumental lines. With it came a vibrancy, a dynamic power, and a sense of stage presence which strongly communicated the quality of the musical performance. I was brought closer to an involvement in the event; previously, I'd felt like a distant observer.
The title track on Joni Mitchell's Blue (Reprise 2038-2) is an exquisite test of midrange timing. A heavily modulated recording, originally mastered on open-reel tape, there's little deep bass and not much more treble—just Mitchell at her piano with a highly subtle interplay between her voice and the instrument. Many systems fail at this fence, but not the X-1. Both piano and voice were finely balanced, superbly expressive, and superbly timed. There were more magic moments to be heard on other Mitchell tracks, such as the guitar work on "California."
In the bass, the overall lack of blur, overhang, limiting, or distortion was a revelation. With the X-1, the kind of transparency we expect from fine loudspeakers, but which is generally confined to the midrange and perhaps the treble, was now also present in the bass. On JA's current favorite bass torture track, "I'm Home Africa," from Stanley Clarke's East River Drive (Epic EK 47379), the X-1 sailed through with flying colors. The leading percussive midbass line was crisp, punchy, and well-pitched. This is followed by the synth bass line an octave down and often fudged by speakers. However, on this occasion I was able to hear the two bass lines accorded equal weight and speed. Moreover, the X-1's dynamic authority extended into the deep bass, bringing an extraordinary sense of power to the replay.
More often than not, the funky drive and syncopation of the title track of Ry Cooder's Get Rhythm (Warner Bros. 25639-2) is diluted; when heard through the X-1s, it really took off, playing as it really should be played. It was much closer to my recollection of Ry on stage.
The Grand SLAMM's great rhythmic ability brought Dire Straits' On Every Street (Warner Bros. 26680-1) to life, especially "Calling Elvis" and "Heavy Fuel." "Planet of New Orleans" was rendered with superb spatial effects and atmosphere.
Many speakers can give an impressive result on popular fireworks such as Jennifer Warnes's The Hunter (Private Music 01005-82089-2), but can sound deadened and obscured on less immediate recordings. The vocals on Rickie Lee Jones's Traffic from Paradise (Geffen GEFD 24602) can sound characteristically obscured. A system needs fine clarity and articulation to extract the most from this recording, and this was just what the X-1 provided. The word "tactile" best describes the remarkable grip this speaker had on the fine detail and transient edges of this music—the subtle nuances that are so important.
Having mentioned the Jennifer Warnes disc, it's worth relating the X-1's approach to that other low-frequency torture track, "Way Down Deep." The very first bass note often sounds quite amorphous: speakers generally fumble and choke on it if played at a good level. (Even the Wilson WATT 3/Puppy 2 struggles to master this track.) Bearing in mind all that has gone before, it probably won't surprise you to hear that the X-1 gave the primary bass note a fine shape, attack, and pitch—now it could be heard as a short pitch glide as the drum note decayed. Moreover, this track could be replayed at unprecedented sound levels with no loss of overall quality or definition.
Natural recordings of acoustic rock percussion, full drum kits, and the like sounded surprisingly "live," and the bass had a serious, visceral kick. Try Jim Keltner's Drum Record (Sheffield Lab CD14/20) for a full exposition.
Moving on to classical material, I tried my 1994 R2D4 choice, Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Davis (Teldec 9031-73126-2). Here the X-1 laid out the orchestra beautifully, revealing still more individual instruments playing. It also accurately recalled the natural acoustic of the venue, St. Augustine's church. I have found that low-frequency reverberation tends to be a problem at this location, sometimes blurring the edges of the timpani. Miraculously, the X-1 brought new definition to drum transients, clearly separating the sound of the drum from its reverberant acoustic signature. Many small percussive instruments also sounded just right, with unsurpassed quality of attack, presence, and sense of place. In addition, theme and counterpoint were superbly proportioned, which lent greater meaning to the work.