Before last year, I had no more than a professional interest in the products of Wilson Audio Specialties. But before last year I hadn't experienced Wilson's Sophia Series 2 loudspeaker ($16,700/pair)which, like the wines I tend to order when my wife and I go out to dinner, is the second-cheapest item on their menu. Within weeks of the Sophias' arrival, respect had turned to rapture, like to love, and an entirely new appreciation for Wilson Audio was mine (footnote 1).
The Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandra XLF costs $200,000/pair. So does a Ferrari. Perhaps if Wilson Audio Specialties sold as many pairs of XLFs as Ferrari sells cars, the price might drop. For now, $200,000 is what you pay.
Can a loudspeaker possibly be worth that much? Add $10,000 for speaker cables, and that's what I paid for my first home in 1992. Today, the average American home costs around $272,000, which is likely less than the cost of an audio system built around a pair of Alexandra XLFs.
With the help of 20:20 hindsight, it looks as if I made a decision when I joined Stereophile: to review a loudspeaker from Wilson Audio Specialties every 11 years. In June 1991, I reported on Wilson's WATT 3/Puppy 2 combination, which cost $12,740/pair in an automotive gloss-paint finish. This was followed in July 2002 by my review of the Wilson Sophia ($11,700/pair). And now, in December 2013, I am writing about the Wilson Alexia, which costs a not-inconsiderable $48,500/pair.
It's been five years since David Wilson's X-1/Grand SLAMM speaker system invaded our audio consciousness with its 500W power capacity and very high (95dB/W) sensitivity (footnote 1). Capable of an earsplitting 123dB at 1m, with a bandwidth to match, this was one speaker system that refused to be ignored. The X-1 has since evolved to $70,000/pair Mk.II form. It now provides some flexibility of tonal balance for different room acoustics, and is distinguished by greater subtlety in its differentiation of timbre. Beneath the X-1 in Wilson's range comes the WATT/Puppy ensemble, now in its 5.1 iteration (footnote 2). The WATT/Puppy has survived for over 10 years, and sets a benchmark for the Wilson line at its $17,270 system price.
Though taller, narrower, deeper, more gracefully sculpted, and even more mantis-like than the MAXX Series 2 that I reviewed in the August 2005 Stereophile, at first glance the Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX Series 3 seems little more than a minor reworking of its predecessor with a major increase in price: from $44,900 to $68,000 per pair. But first looks can be deceiving. Take a closer, longer gazeor, better yet, spend some time listening (especially if you've spent time with the MAXX 2)and you'll quickly realize that while the familiar Wilson design concepts remain in play, the MAXX 3 is far more than a minor reworking of an older model.
When Wilson Audio Specialties' Peter McGrath offered me a pair of MAXX2 loudspeakers to review, I reminded him of just how small (15' by 21' by 8') my room is, and how close I sit to any speakers in it.
How can a reviewer possibly put a value on a loudspeaker as costly as the Wilson Audio Specialties X-1/Grand SLAMM? When he reviewed Wilson's WATT 3/Puppy 2 system ($12,900-$16,000/pair, depending on finish) a few years back (footnote 1), John Atkinson said that it was "one of the more expensive loudspeakers around." The Grand SLAMM costs almost five times as much!
I'm about to out YYves-Bernard André as one of the great unknown tweakers of high-end audio. (My own predilection for stepping into uncharted tweakwaters is well known.) Yves-Bernard, his wife and partner Ariane Moran, and importer/distributor Daniel Jacques of Audio Plus Services seemed perfectly sanguine about letting the cat out of the bag. And why not? In a singular way, the YBA audio solution encompasses both the supertweak and the more-casual-about-equipment music lover.
The YBA CD 1 Blue Laser (or Lecteur CD 1, as it's known at home in France) breaks new ground. It is very French in that it's individualistic in the extreme, and perfectly embodies current thinking chez YBA regarding music playback in the home. Its design dates back to 1991, a point Yves-Bernard takes pains to point out in the manual.
You've seen the ads from YG Acoustics: "The best loudspeaker on Earth. Period." It sounds arrogant. But come onhigh-end audio has never been a field of shrinking violets. When Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn announced that the turntable, not the cartridge or loudspeakers, dictated the sound quality of an audio system, that was a man convinced that he was right and taking on the world. And was Krell's Dan D'Agostino any less arrogant when, in 1980, he introduced the KSA-100 power amplifier? In a world where small size and high wattage were the norms, didn't it take a pair of big brass 'uns to bring out a honkin' huge slab of metal that put out only 100Wpc?
The advertisements run by Colorado manufacturer YG Acoustics in 2008, when it launched its flagship loudspeaker model, the Anat Reference II Professional, unequivocally claimed it to be "The best loudspeaker on Earth. Period." They caused a stir. The YGA speaker cost $107,000/pair at the time of Wes Phillips's review in the March 2009 issue. Wes didn't disagree with the claim, concluding that, "Like my pappy used to say, it ain't braggin' if you can actually do it."
I knew nothing of Ypsilon when I first saw its products in a room at an overseas audio show. Even though the speakers in this system were complete unknowns, I was convinced that it was the electronics that were responsible for the magical balance of what I was hearing. That was confirmed when I reviewed the VPS-100 phono preamplifier in August 2009 and PST-100 Mk.II preamplifier in July 2011.
Though essentially a two-man operation based in Athens, Greece, Ypsilon Electronics has been, since 1995, turning ears and eyes throughout the audiophile world with purist, hand-crafted electronics whose sound seems to defy characterization. Even under audio-show conditions in difficult hotel rooms, and often driving unfamiliar loudspeakers, the sound of Ypsilon electronics seems to evaporate in ways that few products manage, leaving behind less residue and more music.
We were driving to a friend's house to celebrate her dad's 92nd birthday. Halfway there, a bright yellow, ground-hugging insect pulled in front of my car from across street. "Wow, that's a Lamborghini Countach!" I exclaimed. You don't often see one of those in my neighborhood—or in any neighborhood.