Wilson Audio Specialties X-1/Grand SLAMM loudspeaker system Wilson Audio Specialties
During discussions with Dave Wilson when he was setting up the X-1/Grand SLAMMs in my room, I wondered aloud how someone without formal training as a speaker designer could possibly produce the sophisticated and uncompromising products for which his company is renowned. Wilson's own background is based in years of research in the medical engineering field, where reliability and safety standards are second to none. However, when I learned that he was also an enthusiastic audiophile of many years, standing as well as a self-taught recording engineer and producer of acknowledged skill (he's been releasing Wilson Audio records since 1973), I could see that the right ingredients were in place after all.
Wilson's legendary WAMM speaker grew out of a desire for a one-off vehicle to be used at home to replay his own recordings. In 1980, despite an initial reluctance to market this unwieldy product, and feeling concerned about its almost prohibitive cost, the WAMM did in fact begin to sell in modest numbers. So far, about 40 systems have been delivered, though now, following the launch of the X-1, his aim is to produce only two a year.
The idea for the highly compact WATT came about when Dave needed a dynamic, transparent, but portable location monitor. The WATT appeared in 1986, was soon adopted by the audio fraternity despite its intended nearfield application, and has since gone through several series revisions, including the addition of the Puppy, the latter making it a full-range, three-way design. To date, some 1500 pairs of WATTs have been produced, many with Puppies, and with a number used as center-channel speakers in Home Theater systems.
In its latest incarnation, the Series 5, the WATT/Puppy has undergone a major revision. To some extent my withdrawal symptoms resulting from the loss of the review X-1 system were mitigated by the timely installation of the WATT/Puppy 5—but more of that in a later issue.
Some customers who were otherwise happy with the WAMM's price/performance combination had complained that the massive four-tower system was just too big. Could Mr. Wilson please design a compact version? Thus, the idea of the X-1 was born. While he was at it, Wilson also aimed to make the X-1 easier to build and install than the WAMM. Performance targets were set regardless of cost (a speaker designer's dream!). Wilson speaks of concept and execution as primary goals. The concept must be the most complete possible in terms of realistic musical presentation, while the execution must also be the most comprehensive possible—elegant, reliable, and accessible. By "accessible," Dave means that the product must facilitate consistent installation and also be easy to use.
Dave believes that there's an element of nobility in the pursuit of musical truth in high-quality audio reproduction, and that, as such, it's both a valuable and valued activity. He firmly believes that spending effort in this pursuit of quality will inevitably lead to success. It certainly seems to have worked for Wilson Audio Specialties. From an annual turnover of just $1800 in 1977, Wilson Audio grew to $450,000 by 1986, following the introduction of the WATT, and now this Utah-based company has reached the $4.5 million/annum mark. The $64,500 SLAMM has already sold 42 pairs since its introduction in early 1994. The high-end market may be in a state of flux, but clearly there are no signs of sales flagging at Wilson Audio: the order book presently stands at about the 100 level!—Martin Colloms