Wilson Audio's Ultimate Loudspeaker: the WAMM Master Chronosonic

Photos: Daryl Wilson except where indicated

On December 8, 12 days before an embargo on the news was lifted, I visited Wilson Audio in Utah. The occasion was the launch of the WAMM Master Chronosonic loudspeaker. Given its limited-edition production run (70 pairs), oversized dimensions (approximately 86" H with spikes x 26" W x 36.5" D), and high price ($685,000/pair), Wilson Audio's ultimate speaker is not slated for dealer and audio show demos. Instead, the only way prospective customers, dealers, and select press can experience Dave Wilson's magnum opus—the culmination of well over three decades of loudspeaker development—is to journey to the Wilson residence in Provo and hear either the WAMM P2 Prototype or, soon, the WAMM Designer Proof that will take its place and become the company reference.

After a lengthy factory tour (report to come) with Sheryl Lee Wilson, who has been at Dave's side for longer than their 50 years of marriage; their son, Daryl Wilson, who has taken over management of Wilson Audio; and John Giolas, Director of Marketing, we indulged in a quick lunch and headed up to the Wilson residence. There I discussed the design of the WAMM with Dave Wilson.

Photo: John Giolas

Design and Philosophy
"Frankly, I designed the WAMM Master Chronosonic for me as a tool, and as a thing of beauty," Dave told me. "It was never designed as a product; I intended to build a limited number of them for friends of Wilson who chose to acquire them."

The WAMM's driver configuration consists of:

Front Firing Drivers:
• 1x 1" Convergent Synergy Tweeter (version 5) developed for WAMM
• 2x 4" Upper Mid (8 ohm) developed for WAMM
• 2x 7" Lower Mid used in several Wilson Audio products: XLF, Alexx, Alexia, Sasha W/P 2, Yvette, and Polaris
• 1x 10.5" Upper Woofer developed for WAMM but first released in the Alexx due to the very long WAMM development cycle
• 1x 12.5" Lower Woofer developed for WAMM but first released in the Alexx due to same.

Rear Firing Drivers:
• 1x 1" Convergent Synergy Tweeter (version 5) developed for WAMM
• 1x 4" (16 ohm) developed for WAMM

All internal wiring is by Transparent. Each driver's wiring has a custom twist ratio whose sonic differences are both measurable and audible. Twist ratios may change when the same driver is used in different model loudspeakers.

You'll note that the Alexx is mentioned at least three times in the driver description. Truth be told, Daryl was developing the Alexx at the same time Dave was perfecting the WAMM Master Chronosonic. During my visit, either he or John commented that the Alexx is, in some respects, a smaller (and less finely adjustable) version of the WAMM. At one sixth the price, I might add.

The WAMM's imposing driver array is but one aspect of its uniqueness. Wilson claims that the design achieve an unparalleled degree of time alignment between frequency ranges, with a time-coherent presentation that clarifies information usually smudged by other loudspeakers.

"The placement of the drivers relative to each other affects the synchronicity of the alignment of the leading edge of the transient," Dave said. "Our patent on how we achieve time alignment dates back to 1984."

He then explained that sound travels approximately 0.135" in 10 microseconds. Above 5kHz, 10 microseconds lies at the threshold of what humans can detect from a multi-driver loudspeaker when the waveform's leading edge is not aligned properly. At lower frequencies, somewhat larger misalignments can be tolerated.

Dave claimed that speakers that just have flat front baffles fixed at an angle of 90° to the vertical can have an error of hundreds of microseconds built into them. "100 microseconds, for example, is 1.3 inches," he said. "That's a lot."

To address audible timing incoherence, the WAMM's "upper-frequency mechanisms allow for adjustments down to about 2 microseconds." Dave promises nomograms—I had to look that one up—that will be based on 1) the speaker’s distance from a seated listener’s ears; 2) the distance of that listener’s ears from the floor; and, equally important, 3) the time the signal takes to be passed through all upstream electronics and cables.

"Transit time can be significant when you're talking about this critical degree of time resolution, and can be ascertained using propriety techniques," he said. "In the low frequencies where many solid-state amplifiers have very close alignment, a vacuum-tube amplifier may lag by about 50 microseconds. With the WAMM's adjustability, that variable can be normalized. If we know a particular amplifier's "time profile", we can derive the appropriate custom alignment. We've looked at six different amps so far, but we are just getting started."

One pair of WAMM P2 prototypes will eventually be permanently mounted at one end of a small, narrow padded room in the Wilson factory, with a permanently affixed microphone at the other end. Here, when essential timing information is not supplied by manufacturers, Wilson Audio will measure an assortment amps and/or cables and determine their timing profiles. In cables, of special interest is the delay time in various ranges, eg, the high frequencies relatives to the upper midrange to the lower midrange and to the bass.

"Speed is not a main arbiter of quality; it's just a characteristic," Dave said. "The WAMM Master Chronosonic system gives an unparalleled degree of precision of alignment. If you were to start with an MQA recording and play it with the speaker time aligned for cable and amplifier speed in the various ranges, you'd be getting pretty outrageous sound, clean as a whistle.

"It's about time; it's all about time. Flat frequency response, low distortion, extended bandwidth, and accurate timing synchronicity are equally important. It's nice if you have phase coherence, but it is not necessary. What I'm interested in is the synchronicity of the leading edge of each note. If you were to look at what 10 microseconds is on our measuring scale, you'll see that our adjustable driver positioning dissects that line. We are truly splitting hairs."

He then referred to the sound of the timpani used by the Vienna Philharmonic, which have a lot of upper-range harmonics. A single roll on the timpani will excite not only the woofer, but also the midrange and tweeter. If those drivers are not time-aligned, he claimed there could be hundreds of microseconds difference between the drivers.

Microsecond accuracy, it seems, is essential to reproducing, not only the sound of instruments, but also the sound of the hall. "Most audiophiles would think that the perfect speaker for this type of thing would be a single diaphragm electrostatic, with no crossover," Dave said. "But research shows that a 1.5m-high dipole electrostat, with a single driver positioned 5m away from the listener and with the listener's ear at half the speaker height, will have a temporal spread of 650 microseconds. That is completely unacceptable, but it's what people are accustomed to thinking is good time coherence." (MartinLogan and Quad lovers are not going to like reading that.)

Dave also said that while our hearing range decreases with age—high frequency sensitivity may roll off above 6kHz—timing sensitivity remains strong, with maybe only 10% loss with age. "There were several people I built the original WAMMs for who were in their 80s, and who could hear the timing, because it's not linked to high-frequency extension," Dave reported. "And my guess is that the ear is less sensitive to timing in the lower frequencies."

Hard or Soft
Before listening began, there was one question I was dying to pose. If I had $1000 for each time a speaker manufacturer has made a point of contrasting his hard-dome, ultra-hard-dome, or super-ultra-hard-dome tweeter with Wilson's soft, silk-domed tweeters, I'd have enough money to buy a pair of Alexxes, which cost $109,000/pair. Hence, I asked Dave and Daryl, "How can your tweeters have anywhere near the resolution of hard-dome tweeters that have taken years to develop?"

Dave: "I do find it interesting when people look at things in terms of speed. I've been in this field a long time, since the first solid-state amplifiers came out and were considered better than tubes because they were faster. If someone has a problem with silk-dome tweeters but they play vinyl through vacuum tubes, there's a certain inconsistency there.

"In the final analysis, it's what you like. One of the things about a soft diaphragm is that when it goes into break-up mode, it breaks up softly and gradually, like soft clipping. A rigid diaphragm has some real benefits, especially if it's light, but when it goes into break-up mode, it's harsh. With speakers with wide dynamic range, the drivers can be driven really hard. That's one reason I don't use 6dB/octave crossovers, because I like wide dynamic range in the speaker.

Ultimately, there's no absolute answer, only different perspectives. In the final analysis, which do you like?"

Daryl: "It's almost like judging a car on the basis of 0-60 performance. Speed is only one parameter. It's a good question, but it's not the only question. Hence we asked what other characteristics are absolutely necessary for what we're trying to achieve."

Jason: Has Wilson Audio ever experimented with beryllium tweeters?

Dave: "This is the second generation of WAMM prototypes we've had in this room. The first generation, which we called P1, looked roughly the same, with no paint and different metal, and it had a beryllium tweeter. After living with it, we took it out and replaced it with silk."

Daryl: "We've experimented with diamond, beryllium, and titanium. We see the trends, for example, a beryllium tweeter coated with diamond dust to add rigidity. But the question we ask is, what sounds more real? Does it have the ability to mimic the experiences we've had in the Musikverein, Staatsoper, and Concerthaus? Does it fool your mind when you close your eyes, and make you feel as though you're in that hall? Those are the questions we ask. There are a lot of designers with great and noble products, but they ask different questions than ours."

Dave: "This applies equally to the composite we use for our drivers. We've spent an awful lot of thousands of dollars going to Vienna and Cleveland, as well as to the Mormon Tabernacle and Abravanel Hall right here, and listening closely."

Daryl: "We've walked around in the halls during rehearsals, taken notes, and discovered which seats we liked the most. Then we came home, and developed the drivers we use now."

We then spent an hour or two listening to the WAMM.P. (Given that the pair I heard was one of the company's prototypes, whose appearance differs somewhat from the Designer Proof pair that will reside at the Wilson residence, I was asked not to take photos. Hence, our photos are limited to those supplied by Wilson.) I say "an hour or two," because I really have no idea how long I listened. Dave wanted to illustrate the speaker's strength via several analog and digital tracks of his own choosing before I began to play my stack of SACDs and CDs. (I had hi-rez files with me, but we never got to them.)

The quality of the system could not be faulted. We're talking a Basis Inspiration turntable with Basis Vector 4 arm and Lyra Etna SL cartridge; ARC Ref Phono 2 phono preamp, John Curl/Studer A80 30ips, ½" analog tape deck, dCS Vivaldi v 2.02 DAC and transport, VTL 7.5 Series III preamp, Dan D'Agostino Momentum M-400 monoblocks, and Transparent Opus Gen 5 interconnects and Magnum Opus Gen 5 speaker cable.

Once listening began, I was, in a sense, out of time. All I know for certain is that I was discovering so much that was new and rewarding about the recordings and artists I love, and I remained in the sweet spot of the Wilsons' huge living room—39' L x 29.5'W x10.5' H (lowest) to 16.5' (peak), with Polycylindrical Diffusors on the descending ceiling slope opposite the speakers—for as long as they would have me.

At first, seated 13.5' from the loudspeakers, I had to make some mental adjustments to fully appreciate Dave Wilson's magnum opus. There was far less brilliance to the sound than I'm accustomed to. Partly, as I've discovered at home, that has to do with clean power, which reduces brittleness. (There was no power conditioning in the equipment chain.) Dave has paid particular attention to his home's electrical wiring, with all the ground legs attached to the same "phase leg" of the panel etc. The room has several dedicated lines, including two dedicated 240V lines that each has its own breaker, and several more dedicated 120V lines.

Once I had acclimated to the fact that, due to the combination of power source and heavy rugs, draperies, and padded furniture, the sound in the Wilson living room was most akin to the sound in a dry hall that emphasizes detail over color and reverberation, I experienced revelation after revelation. On that old standby LP Cantate Domine (Proprius), I became acutely aware of the resonance and natural decay of voices in acoustic space. Soundstage depth on an SACD performance of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat (Pentatone) was similarly amazing.

I also could hear total clarity between extremely rapid drum slaps on Mickey Hart's CD, Kodo Mondo Head (Red Ink). The beats were so fast, and so clear, that I was literally startled. (It seems Mickey lived near Dave at one point, and invited the Wilsons onstage for a few of his shows.)

I listened to many more recordings, but I took no notes during my final listen, to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's "As with rosy Steps the morn" from Handel's Theodora [], which is best heard on her incomparable Handel recital (Avie SACD). Aware that I had been privileged to hear one of the world's finest and most accurate presentations of what artists and recording engineers hoped to share with music lovers, I ceded the sweet spot to Sheryl Lee Wilson as an act of thanks.

What More Needs to be Said?
As a proof of concept, the WAMM Master Chronosonic is destined to serve as lasting testimony to Dave Wilson's pioneering work. Although it's a shame that so few people will have the ability to enjoy it for more than a single afternoon, we mere mortals can at least console ourselves that its technological breakthroughs have trickled down into the Alexx, which Michael Fremer will be reviewing for Stereophile in the New Year.

COMMENTS
jporter's picture

I would even take off my shoes...

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

but no one said anything, and, given that with the Wilson clan, I spend most of my time looking up, up, and farther up in an attempt to make eye contact, I never noticed until it was too late.

Anton's picture

Fascinating article in so many ways!

I would love to see the 'wire' and 'twist' data, it could be a real eye opener on this controversial topic!

The timing differences he mentioned remind me a little of MQA discussions, for some reason.

Thanks for the report and the pictures for scale!

Happy solstice!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Dave's concern with timing, and the scientific research upon which he has based his work does, in fact, parallel Bob Stuart of MQA's work with and study of the importance of timing to our perception of music. Although I do not include most of my questions and comments to Dave in the text above, I did say that I imagined that listening to MQA files on the WAMM would be quite the experience. Hence his mention of same.

cgh's picture

As a part time luthier and connoisseur and lover of all stringed instruments I have spent thousands of hours listening to and measuring woods from log to instrument. I can talk ad nauseam about the properties of woods, bracings, strings, etc. and the effect they have on sustain, timber, attack, etc. IMO, after listening to many, many Wilsons, they nail a ton of things. The coherence in timing is the most obvious, at least to me. The soft tweeter, though, sacrifices the tibral accuracy of stringed instruments. My "apparatus" is not as trained in the female voice or brass, so I can't comment there, but I think I hear the same thing. The Be tweeters do a better job with the high-order harmonic structure of strings, but they lack in other areas, probably closer, or slightly north of, the fundamental. I really don't know why, but it is very obvious to me during critical listening sessions with Be versus silk-domed tweeters.

dalethorn's picture

When I saw the photos and read the first few paragraphs, I thought this was a spoof. I'm still not sure....

tonykaz's picture

Egads, are there 70 customers for these things? We're told that there are 6,000 Billionaires out there somewhere.

Hmm, can I fit them in my 707 or do I have to buy that 747 to house these things?

The house look'n like a Funeral Home sort-of clashes with the rough carpentry speakers.

I wonder if they were listening to CDs or Vinyl?

Trump fantasy land!

Tony in Michigan

bdaddy60's picture

Yes you are correct.....it's a spoof and those were spooks in the photos truly I mean no malice but I cannot believe this type of pursuit is real or healthy in any way.

dalethorn's picture

I've shown this to a few "ordinary" people, and they were unwilling to believe that it's real. I can believe it, because I've seen things that go beyond even this. But anyway, there you are.

Allen Fant's picture

Outstanding! coverage- JVS
You are a lucky soul to be in such excellent company. Those Transparent OPUS cabling systems are phenomenal!

Sal1950's picture

"Michael Fremer will be reviewing for Stereophile in the New Year."

Will one of ya'll loan him a decent digital source for the review?
These speakers deserve better than dragging a rock thru a gutter. ;)

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Mikey's digital chain, as of his November review of the ARC Ref 6 preamp, consisted of Audio Alchemy DDS•Pro CD transport, Simaudio Moon Evolution 780D streaming DAC, Lynx Hilo A/D–D/A converter, and Meridian Sooloos Media System. It may not include a 4-piece dCS Vivaldi set-up or a similarly priced, 6-figure MSB DAC, but it's certainly nothing to scoff at.

cgh's picture

Horse-powered transports have such emotional and life-like pacing :-)

foxhall's picture

Great piece. Almost like you traveled to a strange planet and came back with a grand story.

Is it me or do the drapes in the listening room match the speakers?

lrad's picture

Not the most aesthetically pleasing speaking on the planet. I never liked the look of there speakers (Alexandria, Alexx, Alexa, Sasha, Yvette). It looks like an old arcade machine for god sakes. If I had these in my house I would have hide them with acoustical fabric and panels.

tonykaz's picture

I see a little victim sitting in the beams of a RoboCop mechanical assault robot team, about ready to zap him.
Considering the LDS's history with solving the inclination of the Gay members and their re-education efforts having failed so completely.

I wonder if our intrepid & brave reviewer made it home safely or was he cured?

Tony in Michigan

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Excuse me. This post is entirely inappropriate. The Wilsons may be Mormons, but they are neither missionaries for the church nor, in my experience, even remotely homophobic. I was welcomed into their home with open arms, and asked to give their deepest regards to my husband, whom they have met.

jason victor serinus

tonykaz's picture

It's appropriate that you address these concerns considering recent history.

HP didn't and many others don't share your experience.

I'll cool it and hope for better future.

Tony in Michigan

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Thank you for your lecture. I have been adamantly out for 46 years. I marched in the first Pride Parade in NYC in 1970, and started the New Haven Gay Liberation Front before that. I wear a rainbow bracelet wherever I go. I work actively to create a better future, as well as a better today. But I also know better than to condemn people and lump them into categories without first checking to see where their hearts and minds are at.

This is my final reply on this subject. There have been repeated requests to keep review comments free of political posts, and I have said all I have to say on this subject. Finis.

foxhall's picture

Questionable comments about religion or spouses has ZERO place here. The topic is a potentially disruptive speaker design, nothing else.

cgh's picture

Third photo down looks like the disembodied legs of a Transformer. Chronosonic Prime, where is your body? Was it Magicotron and the rest of the Focaltrons?

Catcher10's picture

So only 70 pairs will be made, and if all sold, generating a cool $47,950,000.00 in sales revenue!! Gotta be at least a 400% mark up....These cannot cost more than $175,000pr to make.

Unreal......

foxhall's picture

It's actually smart business for companies like Wilson and Magico to leverage the .01% billionaire class with speakers at these prices.

My guess is the 70 pairs are likely already spoken for.

Catcher10's picture

Totally understand, I guess part of me knows these 70 will not be sold at $685K, assuming as Wilson states, they probably are for family, business or big customer friends. I mean let's take Tom Cruise who is an audio enthusiast...I still cannot see him plopping down $685K for these speakers, even if his next movie pays him $20mill....I can easily see $350K..but $685!! I see him buying a Bugatti Chiron at $2.5Mill before he buys a pair of speakers at $685K. LOL

Kodak805's picture

These will be a bargain on the pre-owned market when the Series II is released in a couple of years!

Catcher10's picture

I already have a "watch this item" on flea-bay..
:)

Howard Swayne's picture

a pretty nice house for $175K, I cant imagine that they cost anywhere near half of that....not including development etc. Id love to hear them though.
And I totally agree that this is no place to bring in religion or politics, and certainly not to insult the author or his subject. Poor taste.....

bobvin's picture

What is the fabric on the floor behind the bass cabinets... just slightly visible in the photos? What is the light colored fabric—I'm guessing perhaps since the speakers are now being formally introduced the fabric was used to hide them from view while still in "development" phase? I think I saw some previous photos where these speakers were covered up.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

As mentioned in the article, this model is the P2 prototype. Its crossover was not enclosed - hence draped rather unceremoniously by a towel or two - and its side panels differ slightly in design from the finished product, which is being built as I type. Crossovers will be enclosed in production run models.

gandy's picture

Bet my JBL M2 Master Reference Monitors along with a JBL Sub18 all driven by three Crown stereo amps (15,000 watts) sounds far better than this Wilson speaker.

JBLMVBC's picture

Like to see a review of the M2 on Stereophile.

Crazy Eddy's picture

These really are something. As an owner of Watt Puppy 5.1's and a pair of MAXX 2's, I am a fan of the look of the Wilson line. Gotta love the look of a loadspeaker that wants to eat you for dinner, like a T-Rex. A little hard to get my head around the cost though. Doubt there will ever be a pair in my listening room.

Nice article Jason. You are now one of the few who will have had such a rare opportunity. Good for you!

davidrmoran's picture

Omg, I am so glad to see he is still at this. Forget the demonstrably fine M2, which this is probably airier than. It would be droll to compare it with the BeoLab90, or even with a pair of working Allison Sixes, woofers facing each other, driven by a RadioShack receiver and CDP. 'Chronosonic', µs time alignment, custom twist ratios, all lolz, and worthy of the Trump era of fantasy. Wilson must meet Earthworks' Eric Blackmer to get reinforcement about timing and human audition.