Wilson Audio Specialties Alexia V loudspeaker

In the very first copy of Stereophile I encountered, back when issues were digest size, one review infuriated me. The writer went on at inordinate length about the fine wines he'd consumed during the review period. On and on he went, gushing about the costly drinks, until I exclaimed (in a sentence laced with expletives), "What in the world does any of this have to do with audio?!"

Lifetimes later, I think I understand. Although to my recollection the connection was never made explicit, the writer was attempting to reinforce his credentials as a connoisseur in all matters.

An informed imbiber I am not—I'm often content with baby sips from my husband's glass—but I am a color, texture, and nuance junky. Give me a component that allows me to better savor the reediness of the oboe, the difference in weight and timbre produced by gut and metal strings, or the sonic distinctions among orchestras, and I'm in heaven. Briefly—then back to terra firma I fall, plodding through my daily routine until the next taste of the divine comes my way.

My thoughts turn to a short scene from a black-and-white film I saw decades ago that continues to haunt me: A door opens on a second-floor room to reveal a woman seated before a white plate on a simple table, knife and fork in her hands. Outside the door, men are lined up on a staircase that descends to ground level. Each time the door opens, she holds her knife and fork upright as she utters but one word: "Next!" A man enters, the door closes. After a moment of silence, the door reopens, another man enters, and the scene repeats (footnote 1).

In my view, this scene is not about sex; rather, it's about insatiability, the desire to constantly fill oneself with whatever brings one pleasure. In my case, it's color and texture. I can't get enough of them. My near-constant pursuit of color and texture—of new musical vistas and perspectives—is one of the things that keeps reviewing fresh for me. Rarely do I approach a component, whether a humungous amplifier or a thin umbilical cable, without asking myself, "What new revelations and pleasures await me here?"

S, V, X, and more
The Wilson Audio Alexia V floorstanding loudspeaker ($67,500/pair in standard finish), the third iteration of the Alexia model introduced in 2012, sits in the middle of the Wilson floorstander line, with the Alexx V, Chronosonic XVX, and the mighty, limited-edition WAMM Master Chronosonic above it. Below it in descending order sit the Sasha DAW, Yvette, and SabrinaX. The Alexia V incorporates 30 upgrades of various importance.

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Among the more significant—what Wilson CEO Daryl Wilson calls the "heavy hitters"—are new drivers, strategic use of the new V-Material, improved capacitors, custom-made cables, improved connectors, a new spike system, new enclosures with different dimensions and characteristics, and a new, more accurate alignment mechanism. Other upgrades—the "light hitters"—include pressure-release cutouts in the woofer blades and what Wilson describes as "a more organic design flow from the woofer up to the midrange," made possible by the tighter build tolerances enabled by the company's new CNC machine.

"Five years of materials research and grassroots development (footnote 2) has been incorporated into the new Alexia V," Wilson explained during a Zoom chat; the Alexia 2 was introduced in 2017. "I don't think it's good for our industry to churn through a particular model in less than five years unless there are enough evolved elements to produce a substantial upgrade. Having a new tweeter is not enough by itself to justify the replacement of a product that costs $50,000 or $100,000 or more. We are always developing on the grassroots level. When music lovers invest their hard-earned money in a product, we want it to be around and current for as long as possible."

Succeeding his late father, David A. Wilson, co-founder of Wilson Audio Specialties, Daryl is involved in every aspect of the company's manufacturing. "There's a long history of me sweeping parking lots and working for allowance," he said at the start of our chat. "My parents never just handed me money; they handed me opportunity."

After working in fabrication, inventory, production, and customer service, Daryl began his design apprenticeship when Dave invited him to listen in as he evaluated different crossover component values for the woofer in the WATT Puppy 7. In 2009–2010, Daryl took the lead on the design of the Surround Series 2 wall-mounted left- and right-channel speakers. But the first design that bears the full Daryl design DNA, as seen in its driver alignment and organic architecture, was the Alexx Series 1, which reached completion in early February of 2016. Today, Daryl works closely with Wilson engineers Vern Credille, Blake Schmutz, and Jarom Lance on virtually every component of every loudspeaker.

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Development of the new QuadraMag midrange driver was started by Dave, but he passed before it was finished. Daryl praises the old driver, first introduced in the discontinued Alexandria series, as very fast and articulate. By using four alnico (aluminum-nickel-cobalt) magnet slugs, he and Credille endowed the new driver with enough sensitivity to blend naturally with the Alexia V's tweeter and woofers. In Daryl's opinion, the new midrange moves the speaker closer to the sound of live, unamplified music (footnote 3).

The Convergent Synergy Carbon (CSC) tweeter is "something we've been refining for a long time," Daryl said. "The rear wave chamber—the way we capture and address the back pressure from the tweeter diaphragm—has been developed over the last decade. Previously, we had an inverted titanium dome tweeter that had very linear off-axis dispersion. But the Alexia V's CSC tweeter, which was first incorporated into the Alexx V, has a new rear wave chamber that can only be manufactured by special, in-house 3D printers that work with carbon fiber.

"The end result of optimizing our internal lattice work and everything else is a tweeter that has more microdetail and expression," he claims. "This has come about because the new way we capture and manage the rear wave doesn't allow it to interfere with the backside of the diaphragm.

"Experimenting and refining the tweeter was a lot of fun. Carbon fiber wasn't our first choice; there were myriad materials we could print with. But the printer manufacturer is an audiophile, who thought the whole thing was really cool. ... He'd give me a sample, I'd listen and evaluate, and we'd experiment further and share ideas. If you look inside the tweeter, there's a lot that goes on between the inner and outer walls of the rear chamber. We were able to manufacture and print in ways that optimize this space."

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Then there is the V-Material, from which the latest Alexia and Alexx models derive their names. Daryl describes it as an extremely damped, modified version of the third-generation X-Material, a high-density phenolic-resin composite that, along with S-Material, comprises the cabinet (footnote 4).

In an email, Daryl wrote that S-Material continues to be the optimal midrange coupling material at Wilson Audio. X-Material is used for the enclosures, woofer baffles, tweeter baffles, internal bracing, and for damping the external gantry. V-Material, which utilizes different damping/fill materials from those in the X and S versions, resides in three places in Alexia V:

1. At the top of the midrange module, on which the independent tweeter moves back and forth. Acting as a vibration sink, it serves to reduce vibration-induced distortion caused by unintended movement of the acoustic center point of the tweeter.

2. Nested between the upper woofer and midrange.

3. Incorporated into the housing of the spikes.

It's fair to conclude that the company wouldn't have used V to identify its two latest speaker model upgrades if they didn't consider it a major advance in resonance control.

When questioned about the use of aluminum and other cabinet materials touted by rival speaker designers, Daryl replied, "We've been using a laser vibrometer system for a long time to evaluate and catalog our experiments with well over 50 slabs of identically sized cabinet material. We do use metal in the substructure of our gantry, but we dampen it with the X-Material that's coupled to it, and we also employ strategically inlaid diffraction pad material and more."


Footnote 1: So far, no one I know has been able to identify the title of this movie.

Footnote 2: To Daryl Wilson, grassroots development means focusing on and refining one element of the speaker at a time and then perfecting the synergy of parts.

Footnote 3: The QuadraMag driver was first introduced in the Wilson XVX.

Footnote 4: An outdated YouTube video describes the original X-Material, first introduced in 1992 in the X-1 Grand SLAMM, as a "very monotonic ... rigid as steel ... highly damped cellulose and phenolic composite." S-Material, which first appeared in the midrange baffle of the Sasha Series 1, is a combination of natural fibers in a phenolic-resin laminate.

COMPANY INFO
Wilson Audio Specialties
2233 Mountain Vista Ln.
Provo, UT 84606
(801) 377-2233
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
paul6001's picture

Long time reader, first time writer.

There's something I've long wondered about Wilson speakers. The team at Wilson goes to great lengths and expense to put together a speaker where each driver can be infinitesimally adjusted with the goal of making sounds of different frequencies, each of which travels at a different speed, arrive at the listener's ear at the same time.

Am I right? Do I understand Wilson's design?

My question is this: Musical instruments have no such adjustments. The bow of a violin hits the strings at at one very small point in space. From that one point, sounds of all frequencies are launched. These frequencies all travel at different speeds. But one can't adjust the violin so that all of its frequencies reach the listener at the same time. The real world is not so orderly.

Does't Wilson want its speakers sound like the what we hear in the concert hall? Why would they want their speakers to sound unnatural, even if they've managed to improve on what we hear in the nature?

People have been paying six figures for Wilson speakers for many years so I'm guessing that there's an answer to my conundrum. But for the life of me, I can't figure out what it is.

popluhv's picture

Sound actually travels at a fixed rate, regardless of frequency. In air, that speed is ~1,125 ft/second (depending on temperature and humidity).

For an ideal sound source (infinitely small point), sound energy would travel in all directions at all frequencies at the same speed. For a multi-driver speaker with a frequency dividing cross-over, different frequencies are coming from the different drivers, so the idea is to correct each drivers' physical offset at the listener's ear.

Hope that helps.

paul6001's picture

So my mistake was in thinking that that different frequencies with different wavelengths travel at different speeds. In reality, "sound actually travels at a fixed rate, regardless of frequency." Seems like something I learned in high school and forgot during college.

Now that I'm comfortable with Wilson's engineering, can anyone spot me $67,500 for a pair? Do you think Wilson will feel compelled to send me a couple in appreciation for provoking this edifying discussion?

Glotz's picture

n/t

windansea's picture

The simplest answer is a full-range single driver. Of course it won't have extended frequency range. But if you're willing to sacrifice the extreme bottom end and extreme top end, you can have perfect coherence with the magic midrange, where most music happens anyway. I have one full-range system and with a violin or a piano, the sound is palpably coherent. It's not so great for cymbals or tympani. But for a string quartet, or solo violin, it's incredible.
(PS: a mono speaker is even more coherent than a pair for stereo-- a violin originally emerges as a single signal from basically a single point, so it makes sense that a single transducer can more faithfully reproduce the signal than 6 woofers and tweeters)

rt66indierock's picture

I’m still evaluating you. My question in any review is will the item reviewed play my reference albums. Something Peter McGrath has never allowed at shows.

Next what are you going to use as refence material when MQA fades away completely?

No point in noting Peter likes MQA. If you and Peter can’t tell MQA is just DSP and a couple of tweaks that is your problem not mine.

I would have sent this back with a lot of review comments. Happy Holidays, stay safe and warm.

Stephen

MontyM's picture

Hi Jason,

Each month I look forward to reading your reviews. I must admit that I generally take lesser interest in the technical details of the component under review – although that is interesting – focusing instead on your choice of review music and your discussion of the listening experience. I have discovered a lot of fantastic music reading your reviews, and I always look forward to being introduced to that next gem. My hi-fi system could not be more different technically from yours. My system is tubes, paper cones, silk domes, and wood cabinets. I mostly listen to vinyl and CDs, preferring the tactile experience of physical media over streamed digital files; I use streaming mainly to discover new music. That said, we seem to have similar musical tastes. After reading each review, I queue up the review music selections on my system, sit back, close my eyes, and listen. I then compare my experience to what you have described as yours in the review. Great fun. Thanks for the great work. BTW, I am in complete agreement, Maazel’s and Battle's interpretation of Maher is “seductive.”

-- Monty

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

How lovely of you to say this, Monty. Thank you.

I think you will enjoy the music I've reviewed for the March issue. A lot, in fact. And February promises some beauties as well. If you haven't heard the recordings from Julia Bullock and the Chiaroscuro Quartet that I review in this issue, by all means do not delay.

Happy holidays,
jason

MontyM's picture

Julia Bullock's voice is a remarkable instrument. What a gift! Thanks for recommending this recording.

-- Monty

groig076's picture

And here's where I differ from others, as I prefer to read about the technical aspects of such review and can do without all this stuff about their personal reference recordings. I know it all depends on how it sounds, but I don't need to know the exact details of whatever it is (which piece of music) you're listening to. Other than that, I do think all reviews are helpful in some way. Presently I'm not in the market for such a pair of speakers (at $67K) and would never contemplate Wilson Audio. But things do change... who knows?

MontyM's picture

Vive la différence!

Trevor_Bartram's picture

I recognized my upgraditis addiction in my teens and now only make changes when I'm forced to (due to component failure) or when the value proposition is overwhelming (most recently Amazon Music Unlimited, Echo Link & Schiit Modi 3). So when reading this review I felt extremely sad for previous owners of the very expensive Alexia.
Why can't high end manufacturers give a new model name to each non-upgradeable version of an existing design, for the sake of the mental health of their customers?
Better still, have a renowned expert like John Atkinson, analyze and write about the changes made thru previous iterations to determine if the improvements could have been incorporated in the first design?
At the price paid it should not take five iterations to get to this level of perfection.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

First, a numerical comment. This is the third iteration of Alexia. As explained in the review, "V" signifies V-material; it is not a roman numeral.

Secondly, you are asking for history to compress itself. That is not how life works. It took years to develop the new midrange and V-material that help Alexia V sound as good as it does.

Life unfolds as it unfolds, not as it "should" unfold. Understanding that will certainly help every audiophile's mental health.

On which note, Happy New Year everyone.

jason

Trevor_Bartram's picture

At the price paid, three iterations in nine years is excessive. Would you buy a speaker if the salesman told you an improved version will appear in five years? Loudspeakers are not like other consumer goods. A well designed & manufactured speaker should last decades of daily use. Is it too much to ask for a model name change (and of course price increase) at each iteration?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Hey Trevor,

You have a right to your opinions. And defending the decisions of manufacturers is not my concern.

Nonetheless, facts are my concern. You have misstated several things above. First, an original model is not an iteration. Wilson has released two iterations of Alexia in ten years, not three in nine.

You also imply that the original Alexia or its successor won't last beyond five years. Or, perhaps you mean that it is now obsolete. Do you have evidence to back up your statement? Is there any evidence that the Alexia's components will last less than components in speakers from other manufacturers?

Final point. Car models change every year. Should Toyota have changed the model name Corolla 17 years ago, right after I bought the used '94 Toyota Corolla I still drive today? Should I not have bought my car when I knew another version would come out in less than a year? If not, why are cars different than speakers?

You need not reply. My questions are merely rhetorical, presented as food for thought as the New Year approaches. Hope yours is a good one. And with that wish for your happiness and well being, I'm out of here.

jason

Trevor_Bartram's picture

Hopefully the first Alexia was the result of many pre-production iterations. I believe it is the job of journalists to advocate for the customer and, be critical of manufacturer's decisions. There was no implication as to the life of the Alexia, I was considering the impact on the customer. A car is a consumer item and is expected to wear out with daily use. You have continued to miss the point, why upset the previous customer when a simple name change and price increase would have far less impact on their mental health?

ChrisS's picture

Changes are constant.

We're fine.

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