Wilson Audio Dances with Audio Research, Clearaudio, dCS, Transparent, and Critical Mass

Of Morton Grove, IL dealer Quintessence Audio's three rooms at AXPONA, those in the ground floor Knowledge and Perfection showrooms remained. Since it's hard to imagine Perfection without Knowledge, reality cast the die to first cover a superb Knowledge set-up that mated Wilson Audio Alexx V speakers ($135,000/pair, or $151,000/pair in the show pair's special finish) with Audio Research electronics (see below), Clearaudio Master Innovation Wood turntable with TT-MI linear tonearm ($62,000) and Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement MC cartridge ($17,500), dCS's new Vivaldi Apex DAC/Clock/Upsampler system ($90,000), Transparent XL cabling with PWX power ($73,985 total), and Critical Mass Maxxum component stands ($75,000).

Within a minute, my feelings about the beauty and neutrality of Audio Research 160M mono amplifiers ($34,000/pair), as described in my review, was reinforced. Complemented by the company's Reference 10 line stage ($33,000) and Reference 10 phono stage ($l8,000), Audio Research gear ensured that the system would sound vibrant and alive on the LP version of Herbie Hancock's "Riot."

Switching to a hi-rez file of "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645" from mandolinist Chris Thile, bassist Edgar Meyer, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma's Nonesuch album, Bach Trios, I discovered how gorgeous Ma's cello sounded through the dCS/Audio Research/Wilson mating. I've reviewed this album, played this particular track dozens of times, and been treated to it at multiple shows, but I've never heard Ma's cello sound so convincingly full and rich. The image size and color saturation seemed realistic, and comparable to how big a cello sounds up close in an acoustically live space.

As well-controlled and solid as Meyer's bass sounded, it was the depiction of Thile's mandolin that confirmed the truth of reports that the Apex upgrade has moved dCS DAC technology a major step forward. As I listened, I recalled what I heard when I compared this track on dCS Rossini and Vivaldi DACs some years back and discovered how much more texture and detail Vivaldi Apex extracted from Thile's cello. It was a major wow experience.

Outside the room, Emron Mangelson, dCS Head of Sales, North America, reminded me that Apex represents the latest evolution of the Ring DAC board that dCS has been perfecting since the late 1980s. The Apex upgrade involves replacement of the crucial dCS Ring DAC board—a discrete analog topolog, controlled by the dCS Digital Platform, that performs the digital-to-analog conversion process. The new Ring DAC board also includes an all-new analog output stage.

I'll be learning more about what dCS's claimed 12dB increase in linearity means soon enough. My review of Rossini Apex is slated for Stereophile's September issue.

Allen Fant's picture

Nice coverage- JVS.
The Alexx V is a killer loudspeaker. Of course, it takes quite a supporting cast to really "sing".

BillK's picture

The link to the ARC 160M review is broken because of a trailing quote mark (%22) in the URL.

John Atkinson's picture

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

BillK's picture

I appreciate the quick fix; you can delete this subthread if you like.

BillK's picture

YouTuber Jay of Jay's Audio Lab complained the Ref 160Ms were too slow in his past review of the 160Ms and again of this precise system - he felt transients just didn't have the speed on transients the Wilsons were capable of reproducing.

Any thoughts? It's always instructive to hear the back-and-forth as to why reviewers feel what they do.

Aleph5's picture

I watched this Jay's video where he slammed the sound in this room, but in an earlier video he said it sounded "amazing." He also said the stereo version of the amp sounds fine. Why the mono block version only would sound "slow" doesn't make sense to me. FWIW, I visited this room and thought it sounded one of the best at the show. This gear is large and expensive, but not really out of line with many systems throughout the show.

Most reviewers wouldn't go out of their way so far to criticize sound of certain rooms, even though Jay included the caveats of setup, room, personal taste, etc. (I also disagree with his assessment of the sound in the Avantgarde room. Those speakers didn't sound at all hollow to me.) So big grain of salt IMO.