RMAF 2016: Wilson Premiere (and Other Delights)

Perhaps the most significant premiere at RMAF was the unveiling of the Wilson Audio Yvette three-way loudspeaker ($25,500/pair). Another design from Wilson Audio heir apparent, Daryl Wilson, it replaces the recently retired Sophia 3.

At an hour-long Saturday-afternoon press event, jointly sponsored by Wilson and VTL, John Atkinson and I joined others to hear Wilson Audio's Peter McGrath introduce Yvette. "We want to differentiate it from the Sophia because there are so many changes," he explained. The 175 lb loudspeaker has an sensitivity of 86-87dB. This may be lower than many other Wilsons, but the fact that its nominal impedance of 4 ohms does not dip below 2.9 ohms at 90Hz makes for an easier load on amplifiers than some other Wilson models. "It needs 50W of good power to sing," Peter explained.

Yvette's frequency response reaches below 30Hz, ±3dB, with the manual claiming 20Hz - 25kHz ±3dB room average response. It contains essentially the same sealed silk dome Convergent Synergy tweeter as in the Sasha 2 and Alexx, a rear-vented midrange that is slightly modified from other recent Wilson models, and a 10" rear-ported woofer that Peter says results in "bass that goes a little deeper than the Sophia 3, but that is also far faster and better." Some of this may have to do with the fact that the 41" high Yvette has 14 percent more interior volume and new, superior, critical-interior bracing technology. With no adjustments for ear height and time domain—for those, you must turn to the Sasha II, Alexia, Alexx, or higher—Yvette is ideally placed at 38-40" ear height and 9' from the listener.

In answer to questions about what has been going on at Wilson, besides Dave's five-year focus on developing the new WAMM, Peter replied, "Daryl has been Dave's audio buddy since he was 5. [Daryl claims he's been listening since he was in diapers.] Dave has said, 'I haven't just seen Daryl grow; I've seen him morph.' There is a synergy between the two that has developed over years of being together, side by side."

Daryl, 38, first began his designing career when he worked on the Watt Puppy 7, in 2002. All told, he has worked on 31 of the 57 products Wilson has released. Although not commonly known, since 2007 he has been granted free reign and creative control over the Center 2, Surround 2, Center 3, Duette 2, Mezzo Convergent Synergy, Polaris Convergent Synergy, Alida, Sabrina, Center 3 Convergent Synergy, Alexx, and Yvette.

The impressive system, housed in an exceedingly long, rectangular room, included VTL's TP-65 Signature phono preamp with MC step-up ($15,000), TL-6.5 Series II Signature Linestage preamp ($15,000), and S-400 Series II reference stereo amplifier ($33,500). Although I believe we mainly heard the dCS Rossini player ($28,499)/Rossini clock ($7499) combo, there was also in use a Brinkmann Spyder turntable with 10.5" tonearm and Rönt power supply ($21,680) and Lyra Etna SL cartridge ($9995). Two other essentials were a Harmonic Resolution Systems SXR audio stand ($22,855) and a bushel of Nordost Odin 2 cabling, plus two Heimdall 2 USB cables ($529,000 total if my bleary-eyed manual addition is correct). Finally, there were a number of pieces of professional room treatment, but I did not inquire as to their exact nature and function.

The first selection we heard—the Red Book layer of a hybrid SACD of an organ recording that went down to 16Hz (which the speaker could not reproduce)—created an awesomely huge soundstage with true and natural timbres. Peter played the music so loudly that the ceiling panels were vibrating, but the speaker reproduced the signal clearly, with no apparent strain or harshness, and an awesome sense of power and beauty. This track both John and I experienced from center seats, with him in the optimal second row and me in the first.

After moving to the outside of the first row, I found Renée Fleming's rendition of Handel's "O sleep, why dost thou leave me" positively gorgeous. Less successful was a brand new Warner CD of violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Martha Argerich playing (I think) Bach, where exceedingly natural timbres could not mask some unnatural sharpness to the violin's edge. Whether that was on the recording, indicative of a decline in Perlman's artistry, a product of speaker/room interaction, or related in some way to Peter's penchant for playing music loudly, I cannot say, but I sure didn't hear anything like it on the full-range organ track.

The highly processed "Claire's Cadillac" from Malia and Boris Blake was fabulous, but highs could be a bit harsh. Enrico Rava's flugelhorn, on the other hand, returned us to totally gorgeous territory. Expertly recorded by ECM, cymbals sounded ideal, the low bass impeccably controlled, and the range of contrasting colors excellent.

Peter continued to play music after this, including his wonderful personal recordings. With the press conference over, yours truly bid Peter, John, and the folks from VTL adieu, and moved on for a brief chat with Bob Stuart about what's going on with MQA. On that score, my sense is that good news regarding MQA's adoption by the major labels and streaming services is imminent, with encoded content coming sooner rather than later.

I believe JA will add his comments about Yvette. My initial impression is that it is a sometimes-astounding speaker that, in the opinion of someone who once had Sophia 3s in his system, leaves its predecessor in the dust.

Meanwhile, for those whose mouths are watering to learn about the much-anticipated arrival of the mammoth Wilson Audio WAMM Master Chronosonic loudspeaker—the culmination of Dave Wilson's four plus decades in audio—its completion has just been announced, and the first YouTube video tease posted. When members of the press, let alone everyone else, will get to hear Dave's pride and joy is TBD. (NB: I am available to fly to Utah to take a long, long listen.)

In my first visit to the sixth floor's second room from Fort Collins Audio, I thought the KEF man would never stop talking: I gave up on that first attempt to listen. When I returned, apprehensively, a half hour later, I only had to wait a few minutes until, finally, Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" filled the space. Through a Kimber Kable-wired system that included KEF Blade 2 loudspeakers ($25,000/pair), Parasound's John Curl-designed JC 3+ phono stage ($2995), JC 2.3 line stage ($4495), and a pair of JC 1 mono power amplifiers ($9000/pair), all fed by a VPI Prime turntable ($4000) with an unidentified cartridge, the sound was excellent, with percussion reproduced with credibility. Bass, too, was spot on, and nothing was too bright.

I liked it a lot, and wished I could have stayed for more. But time was pressing, and indications that more talk was on the horizon led to a hasty retreat.

Welcome to my worst-fears-almost-realized blog: While the business cards on which exhibitors had scrawled abbreviated equipment lists survived my journey from RMAF to my home office, the literature from Room 6023 arrived in scattered fashion. Thanks to a small, glossy handout, I'm certain that we listened to the JTR Noesis 210RT three-way loudspeaker ($9996/pair, or $4598/pair manufacturer direct). This bright red baby, which weighs 125 lbs, has two 10" woofers and a coaxial compression driver fitted on a large wooden horn with a 60-by-60 (degrees, presumably) coverage pattern. It boasts a frequency response of 38Hz-24kHz, sensitivity of 95dB (2.0 volts, free air), and impedance of 4 ohms.

At the last second, I discovered another packet that describes the rest: Digital Amplifier Company's Golden Maraschino Cherry Amplifier ($6900/pair), the TL version (tube-like) of their DAC DAC (not a typo), which can handle up to PCM 24/192 ($1290), and, presumably, their cabling. A Bob Dylan track sounded too bright, but guitar on my Chesky CD of Marta Gomez was very clear, with percussion a little boxy but quite musical.

The Aluminous Audio Gravitas loudspeakers ($39,900/pair, with information freely available on their website) joined Balanced Audio Technology's VK33SE preamplifier ($9995) and VK255SE amplifier ($8995), and Shunyata Research's Venom and Alpha cabling, plus their Denali power conditioner ($4995) in a system whose DAC alternated between the Mytek Brooklyn DAC/phonostage/headphone amplifier ($1995), which was just reviewed by Jim Austin in the November issue of Stereophile, and the higher-level, just-announced Mytek Manhattan II, boasting equal versatility and more ($5999). An MQA file of Bob Dylan's classic "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" sounded so clear and clean that there was no need to compromise enjoyment with thought. Turning to another track, "Feeling Alive" by the Agathe Jazz Quartet, displayed the system's ability to project a deep and layered soundstage.

Either the Aluminous folks or the ridiculously tall Michal Jurewicz of Mytek told me that the room was purposely using lower-price Shunyata cabling to show that their equipment can still sound good without high priced wiring. (Obviously, Wilson and VTL took a different approach in their room.) I admire the exhibitors' choice, but wonder if the music's lack of warmth had anything to do with the level of cabling, as well as a put-together rack that lacked equipment supports. Sure looked pretty though.

Michal told me that the just-discontinued Manhattan I ($5000), which sports the same chassis and power supply as the Manhattan II, can be completely upgraded for $1000 by switching out boards. The new unit accepts USB 2, Class 2, which allows for 32-bit transfer. The analog attenuator is improved, and the chip is the newest ESS Sabre 9038 Pro chip. "I believe we're the first to implement it," he said, adding that "We also use the same attenuator as in the Pass preamp. It's not too euphonic." There is an optional Roon-ready network card, optional phono preamp, and more. Most important, for those who lament MQA demos where people cannot compare with and without, the Manhattan II offers on/off MQA—ideal for file format comparisons.

Imagine my surprise when, in the official Benchmark exhibit, I encountered MartinLogan Impression IIa electrostatic loudspeakers ($10,000/pair) rather than the familiar Studio Electric monitors. I like the latter a lot—praise-filled quotes from both me and John Atkinson adorned the backdrop in their not-yet-discussed room at RMAF—but I've longed for an opportunity to audition Benchmark gear with larger speakers that produce a different sound.

Hence, to wrap up day 2 coverage, we visit the familiar Benchmark DAC2 HGC DAC ($1995) and highly praised AHB-2 monoblocks ($2995/each), connected by Benchmark cabling to MartinLogan Impression IIa electrostatic loudspeakers ($10,000/pair). Projecting an image as transparent as you might expect, the speakers benefitted from their built-in room correction software designed to address bass response.

"You have to be very bad to make a bad electrostat," I was told. Getting it to mate seamlessly with a woofer is another story entirely. In MartinLogan's opinion, their ability to do so via room correction software has matured greatly.

The sound on what was presumed to be a hi-rez download from HDTracks was nicely dynamic, with bright highs, but the warm and enveloping midrange I longed for was not present. I look forward to the opportunity to spend more time with this combo.

COMMENTS
Anon2's picture

There's been no bigger sympathizer, if not advocate, for Wilson Audio than I. But Yvette is now 2 times more expensive, and in the over $10,000 range, than the Sophia 1.

http://www.stereophile.com/content/wilson-audio-specialties-sophia-louds...

Yes, by this publication's pages, the Sophia 1 entered the market at $11,700. The Yvette, with a cloth tweeter, is over 2 times the price of the Sophia 1. I hope "leaving in the dust" means that the Yvette is 2 times better than the Sophia 1. This is particularly true when a Sophia 1 can be had, with luck, in the $4,000 to $6,000 range on a major used equipment web site. I am sure that speaker set-up for used Sophias is not as mystifyingly complex as we would be made to believe.

We did not see the price for the latest version of the WAMM. I do recall that it was unveiled in a secret session at CES to a select crowd. There is a one page "mini-site" for the WAMM on the manufacturer's site. But not much more is on hand in the way of information. There do appear to be more paper drivers on the WAMM, based on my perusal of Wilson's site earlier this week. How much will this all cost?

Wilson managed to stay in a long-shot range of aspirations for devoted admirers of the brand. Those hopes are now dashed. This is sad because Wilson was a Made in the USA brand. Maybe I can afford a Wilson Audio shirt, but not much else.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Yvette and Sophia 3 are very different. A side by side comparison will be immensely instructive.

What was unveiled at CES, for select press only, was an early, empty shell prototype of the WAMM. We saw it for all of two minutes, and it did not play. The final product looks very different. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ9gJTYfkrU

readargos's picture

I am not overly familiar with the Wilson line, but from price point and form factor (though smaller internal volume, I believe), I had kind of considered the new Sabrina to replace the Sophia.

sunnyhtms@gmail.com's picture

The Sophia 1 is the best deal in high end audio. Yes a Gently used Wilson Audio Speaker now even certified by a dealer has its advantages.
The Price point Discussion.

In 2000 / 2001 I had 40 people working for me. I could get great hard working people work for between 5.50 - 10.00 USD / hour. Fast forward to 2015/2016 the price has shifted to $20.00 - $25.00 for reliable good people to work for me. Labor intensive, truly hand crafted products are time consuming.
I was at the Wilson Audio Specialties factory where I got to see 1 pair of speakers being built. Yes they build 1 complete speaker from start to finish. An uncanny dedication to quality, workmanship, pride to build the best is en-grained in the soul of every person working proudly at the factory. People were relaxed, focused, smiling but serious, dedicated to putting forth the finest work they can possibly put out with the tools they have available. Small pin hole defects that I could not see with the naked eye were rejected.
Yes money is hard to come by, Yes buying a Yvette is now at 25K+.
We as dealers get it. Let me tell you that the Yvette has the same sound signature as the Alexx. It's a baby Alexx. Yes The Yvette outperforms several Wilson products made earlier.
Wilson also has trained all their dealers in THE WILSON WAY.
Serious setup skills have been passed on to all the dealers. Please take the time and visit your local Wilson Audio Dealer. You will be impressed for sure. I have been a dealer for Wilson for a number of years. These are the Golden years of high performance audio and Wilson audio is doing their part in exceeding expectations.
Disclosure..I own Sunny Components in Covina, Ca.
Personal confession : I wanted to find a reason to yell loudly at the good folks at Wilson on making their speakers cheaper. When I got done with our immersion, I seriously felt that the Sabrina, Yvette etc are a killer deal in audio. No Joke. Much respect for everyone that works at Wilson Audio especially the inspection guys and the paint booth guys. Amazing precision on fit and finish. I hope this helps in understanding the price increase question. Also Industrial buildings in 2000 were selling for $50.00 a sq ft in Los Angeles. Now those buildings are $200.00 a sq ft.

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