Wilson Audio Specialties X-1/Grand SLAMM loudspeaker system Page 6
The omission of analog sources up to this point had not been a deliberate choice, but a result of the UK's unusually high July temperatures: they had apparently caused my van den Hul Grasshopper cartridge to develop a case of upper-treble boost. In desperation, I returned to my reference Koetsu, supplemented by the new Lyra Clavis DC.
Pure analog sources, preferably all-tube recordings, revealed that the X-1 had been acting as a sort of high-resolution telescope, reaching right back down the audio chain to the studio. Those odd signs of a forward sonic signature were largely blown away when I used all-analog source; it turned out that artifacts of the digital encoders had mainly been responsible for the tonal errors.
Once again, the X-1 appeared to be virtually above criticism. Classic LPs, such as early Sheffield Labs and Crystal Clears, supplemented by a generous helping of Wilson Audio's own very neutral recordings, proved the X-1 to sound tonally balanced, highly musical, and marvelously poised. There was no indecisiveness here, the X-1 reaching into many of those old recordings to bring forth unexpected quality and detail.
This retrieval of detail was no academic exercise; it brought greater meaning to both the instrumental playing and the performance. Despite its extraordinary clarity, the X-1 had that uncanny ability (also heard with fine electrostatics) to push surface noise and ticks away from the soundstage. On many occasions, it proved possible to forget that the reproducing kernel was a hard stone sliding along a wavy plastic channel. Simply, the X-1 seemed to improve the ratio of music to noise even in the case of older, worn discs. The musical content seemed strengthened, focused, more coherent, and more immediate. This experience convincingly proved that, at the limit, analog remains more natural and more musical than digital.
Interactions: A variety of audio equipment was tried in an attempt to evaluate the X-1's performance envelope, but time and time again the tables were turned on the reviewer. I found that it was the speaker that was exploring the quality of the other components! I have never before experienced such an analytical transducer. I could not imagine owning a more powerful and enjoyable tool for reviewing audio equipment.
In a given room and with careful selection of equipment combinations, it did prove possible to "flavor" the X-1's sound. For example, it clearly revealed the natural tonality and pure delicate treble of the Premier Twelve power amplifier. Similarly, it brought out the full majesty of the ARC VT150s—their open character, dynamics, focus, and their evenhanded, "full-bandwidth" quality. The ARCs' natural and lively performance in the upper bass—this is an area where the VT150s happily outperform many reference solid-state designs—was particularly appreciated.
The Mark Levinson No.27.5 power amplifier drove the X-1 well, its slightly darker character and highly focused treble balancing very nicely in my room. When partnering the Rowland Model 8, a sense of scale and weight was pre-eminent. The sound was very spacious, laid-back, and expansive. Noticing some loss of dynamics and rhythm, the Rowland fought back with a sense of great ease, achieving a very smooth and well-mannered result.
The big Wilson speaker also helped achieve the very best I have heard from the Krell KSA-200S. Somehow, the X-1 cleared the slight haze or sense of distance which this fine amplifier can sometimes show. The X-1 made severe demands on all the amplifiers I tried in terms of producing powerful, controlled, deep bass, so great was the speaker's ability in this area. Here, the Krell showed a margin of quality which had not been fully appreciated when it partnered lesser speakers. The Krell was a good match for the X-1 in the bass, each exploring the other's abilities. In both my room and Room 2, the KSA-200S delivered very good results overall, but still greater reach and authority were achieved in Room 2 with the Krell KAS-2 reference monoblocks.
Trials with speaker cable were likewise instructive. I have never heard the differences so clearly differentiated. Sonic characteristics which were previously at the boundary of perception were now clearly illuminated. Despite this, the X-1 didn't exaggerate their negative points of poorer cables.
Listening Sessions, Room 2
Ricardo Franassovici's room has grown to its present state of furnishing over many years, Ricardo spending much of it listening happily to the fine Martin-Logan Statements. The Logan woofer towers had been sited close to the walls; that location, allied to the adjustments available on the electronic crossover, meant that ample bass was on tap as circumstances dictated. The conflicting placement requirements for optimal bass and midrange performance were reconciled by the split nature of these speakers. The separate electrostatic panels of the Statements were placed in free space to give the best stereo and spatial performance.