Wilson Audio Specialties Alexx V loudspeaker Page 2

Presumably though—and this is important—it's better to be close to perfect time-alignment than it is to be far away, just as it's better to get close to ideal frequency response than to have frequencies all over the place. That assumption—that closer is better—informs the more modest time-alignment goals of many loudspeaker designers, a frequent objective of which is to simply have one driver hand off to the next in an orderly fashion: First the tweeter, then the upper midrange driver, and so on. JA has measured many loudspeakers that behave this way.

When it comes to time-alignment, it's intuitive that high frequencies matter more than low frequencies because their rise time is much shorter. From the time you hit the switch to turn it on, a 100Hz sinewave takes 2.5ms to reach its maximum value. During that time, sound travels almost three feet. Contrast that with a 10kHz sinewave, which has a rise time of about 25µs. During the time it takes a 10kHz wave to reach its full amplitude, sound propagates about a third of an inch. Which makes me think that, when designing a loudspeaker for time-alignment, you could pretty much ignore woofers, ports, etc., and concern yourself only with lining up the tweeter and midrange drivers.

Complicating things further is that many loudspeakers have drivers connected in opposed polarity to facilitate optimal frequency-domain integration in the regions where the drivers overlap. Some parts of the waveform are going down when, for strict accuracy, they should be going up. Which motivates a question. Preserving the waveform means getting time (and phase) right and connecting all the drivers in the same polarity. If attaining good sound required that, then most speakers on the market would sound wrong. But they don't. So, how much can time-alignment matter? Clearly it matters less than intuition—my intuition—would suggest.

And yet, it does matter. Relative time-shifts among drivers are clearly audible. I convinced myself of this while reviewing the Alexx V. Its setup flexibility meant I could easily move one driver forward or backward relative to the others—and listen. I found a change of half an inch or so—that's a relative time-shift of less than 40µs—was easily audible. Surprising. I wish I could say that there was a particular arrangement of drivers where everything snapped into place, but it wasn't like that. Maybe if I listen more, I'll find it.

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Just how concerned are the Wilson folks with time-alignment? Before he arrived to assist with the setup of the Alexx V's, Wilson's Peter McGrath asked me which amplifier I'd be using. Why does that matter? I wondered—and then I realized: Wilson takes phase shifts within the amplifier into account in its time-alignment calculations.

Why go to so much trouble? And what precisely is Wilson's technical aim when it comes to time-alignment? I asked Daryl. "Over the decades, we've come up with very specific testing protocols. And we have in some instances very modified testing equipment to get that right. There are certain secret sauces that I have to keep confidential." Fair enough; every chef needs a secret sauce.

It's not my job to reverse-engineer technology to reveal corporate secrets, and I will not do so here. But there's evidence on the record, including JA's measurements of many Wilson speakers over decades—including, in the accompanying sidebar, the Wilson Alexx V. I'm sure Daryl Wilson won't mind if I make some rather obvious observations on what those measurements show.

For one thing, they show that, like many other manufacturers, Wilson often uses drivers in opposed polarity—including (as I learned when I took a peek at fig.5 in the measurements sidebar) the Alexx V. Otherwise, what they show—this is my interpretation—is that what Wilson aims to achieve is similar to what other manufacturers aim to achieve—they just aim to achieve it with greater precision and more flexibility. The Wilson Alexx V allows adjustment to the nearest 1/8" for the midwoofers and the nearest 1/16" for the tweeter. That corresponds to intervals—the time it takes for a soundwave to travel that distance—of less than 10µs and less than 5µs, respectively. That's at the absolute lower limit of the timescales that matter in hi-fi.

It seems that, back in the day, when Dave Wilson was pulling those strings, he concluded that driver polarity doesn't matter (or not as much as other things) but that relative arrival time matters a great deal. Perhaps the most important thing, though—regardless of precisely what Dave Wilson decided—is that Wilson offers exquisite control over a significant setup variable.

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Setup
The delivery truck arrived with two strong, friendly, helpful guys but with equipment that was inadequate to the task of getting two 500lb Alexx V's up three steps and into my apartment. But where there's a will there's a way. There were some scary moments, as the crate lids—doubled up and employed as a ramp up those three steps, with foam stuffed underneath for added support—quivered and cracked. I stayed out of the way. The speakers made it up the ramp and into my apartment without a scratch.

The Alexx V's were assembled, wired, and roughly positioned. Front-vent and rear-vent configurations were compared; front-vent was the easy winner. Once the speakers were roughed in, and after some iteration, the position of my listening chair was measured, as was the height of my ears. This information was sent to the Wilson mothership, and settings for adjusting the gantry-mounted speakers were sent back. Adjustments were made, and the settings were fine-tuned by ear—just one small tweak.

When Peter McGrath and Chris Forman (of Innovative Audio, the local NYC Wilson dealer) were happy with the sound, we called it a day. The speakers were left on to play at a low level.

Listening
This is a big speaker, so an obvious place to start listening was with big music, music with serious scale. That means minimally produced large-scale classical music and maximally produced large-scale electronic music, with deep bass.

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In the latter category, I can't think of a better example than You're Dead! by Flying Lotus (16/44.1 FLAC rip from CD, WARPCD256), which includes contributions from Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, Kendrick Lamar (on "Never Catch Me"), Snoop Dogg ("Dead Man's Tetris"), ELO's Jeff Lynne, and Herbie Hancock, among others. This is one of the more challenging albums I know of to sort out because at any given moment it spans most of the audible frequency range (and surely goes beyond it) and fills the whole soundstage with clutter. The Wilsons had little trouble sorting it out, partly by distributing it over a larger area so that all those little pieces were better separated. Put another way, the soundstage was vast, side to side, front to back—and top to bottom, and all the varied sounds were laid out on that stage in an orderly way.

I almost failed to mention that latter dimension because by this time I'd started into serious listening, I'd long acclimated, but: From my listening seat, the Alexx V's cast their soundstage higher than any other speaker I've experienced here, which I suppose isn't surprising considering that the Alexx V is tall. My chair lays me back at a comfortable angle, from which it seems natural to "look" up at the music.

The processed vocals on "Archangel," from Untrue, the 2006 album from Burial, sounded creamy—as did the vocal on "Timeless," the title track from the album of that name, Goldie's 1995 debut (16/44.1 MQA/Tidal).

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It had been a while since I'd listened to Selected Ambient Works 85–92 by Aphex Twin (16/44.1 FLAC/Qobuz), but, while this is a very immersive album, I don't recall it being quite this immersive. It felt like I was floating in a sea of ambient sound. (In this two-channel configuration, the inevitable sense of the sound being "over there" never quite went away, but it is to the Alexx V's great credit that it almost did.) Finally in this music category, upon stumbling across a piece called "Kittens" from the Underworld album Beaucoup Fish—well, how could I not play it? So I played it and loved it. What did it show me about the Alexx V? More of the same explicit clarity. Spatial separation. Profound full-rangeness.

I was having so much fun that it was hard to leave this electronic music behind. So I listened to a couple of tracks on Music for the Jilted Generation by The Prodigy and a couple more from Portishead. But there was work to do (this is work?) and there were other kinds of music to explore.

The third movement, "In ruhig fliessender bewegung," of Mahler's Symphony No.2 in C-minor ("Resurrection") from Benjamin Zander and the Philharmonia Orchestra (24/192 ALAC, Linn Records CKD 452) was pure joy to listen to, thanks to the scale and clarity of the recording and the speakers. These big woofers reproduced bass drum and timpani in a way that was perhaps more generalized than with some speakers with smaller woofers I've recently experienced. (I suppose that those big woofers could need a few more watts than these monoblocks were providing—although the Pass Labs XA-60.8s' bias meters were hardly moving; just the slightest jiggle in the loudest passages.)

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My wife and son recently journeyed to Iceland, a favorite vacation destination for my family. In Reykjavik, they visited 12 Tonar, the famous record store, and paid famous Iceland prices for a gift for me of two LPs by Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson. Mozart & Contemporaries is a wonderful record, except that certain tracks were distorted, even after a trip through the Vinyl Cleaner Pro, so I set the record aside and streamed the album instead (24/192 FLAC, DG/Qobuz). I often find the sound of DG CDs unengaging, but this hi-rez stream sounded lovely. What was notable was how even the piano's sound was from top to bottom, revealing that both the Steinway D and the Alexx V's were behaving well. The lower notes were satisfyingly round and full, and all the notes floated in space as if emerging from a realistically sized concert grand.

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I try to listen to every recording our music reviewers recommend. I can almost always see the merit—but one of this month's jazz records stands out for its sonic quality: the David Sanford Big Band's A Prayer for Lester Bowie. Reviewing the CD, Fred Kaplan gave it a rating of four stars for sonics. I listened to the 24/96 stream on Qobuz (24/96 FLAC, Greenleaf/Qobuz), and I'd have given it 4.5 stars: Check out the solo trumpet (Dave Douglas) that constitutes the first two-plus minutes of the title track, or the bowed bass solo that starts at the five-minute mark (soon doubled by trombones) in Dizzy Gillespie's "Dizzy Atmosphere." Lester Bowie was engineered by 10-time Grammy Award winner Tom Lazarus, who obviously knows where to put a microphone. This is wild, busy, radical music—difficult to engineer.

Some might fault this recording for being too even-handed, not editorial enough. Indeed, there's not much intervention: The perspective is consistent, the solo instruments hardly spot-lit. Necessarily for an ensemble of this size, the perspective is somewhat distant. The recording has exceptional clarity—indeed, a fractal quality, whereby at any of its busiest moments, you can pick out any area of the stage and drill in by focusing your ear-brain; The music opens up, and you hear a new level of detail. The forest and the trees are recreated in my room.

I'm emphasizing this recording because it illustrates an aspect of the Alexx V that I found characteristic—and surprising: These are big speakers, profoundly full-range, but they also present a microscopic perspective.

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Conclusions
This is my first extended listening experience with a Wilson loudspeaker. What I heard surprised me. I was not surprised that the Alexx V is very good; I'd have been shocked if it was not. What surprised me was not how good it was but how it was good.

Over the years I've been seriously interested in hi-fi, I've come to associate Wilson with emotional approachability—why else would their products have such passionate advocates? Their use of traditional driver materials—paper cones and silk domes—reinforced that stereotype in my brain: no analytical sound or harsh-sounding metal tweeters on a Wilson speaker!

There's nothing wrong with that, but that assumption, which I held without evidence or sufficient experience, sold Wilson short. During the long audition leading up to this review, I heard nothing that would cause me to label these speakers as warm, or pretty, or endearing—no midbass emphasis, no rolled-off highs, no tweaking of the presence region (one way or the other) to accentuate the midrange or increase the sense of detail or immediacy. The Alexx V is distinguished not by any special warmth, approachability, or friendly coloration but, rather, by its evenness and consistency of tone, its ability to excavate detail effortlessly and without emphasis, and its clarity, accuracy, and naturalness of musical expression. My experience as a reviewer has taught me that those are difficult things to achieve all at once.

The Alexx V is the work of a disciplined, experienced, serious designer.

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

COMMENTS
Awsmone0's picture

JA in the measurement section you repeated your time domain measurement with the microphone in JCA listening position
You commented that one midrange was still misaligned probably by one step
Can we conclude JCA listened with this misalignment for the listening tests ?

remlab's picture

Wilson used a modified Focal Titanium dome almost exclusively, so as far as the exclusively "soft dome" claim goes..

AaronGarrett's picture

I love how you used Selected Ambient Works to audition the loudspeakers. "To Cure a Weakling Child" is also really great for analyzing a system -- the "soundstage" is like the aural equivalent of a cubist painting.

Jonti's picture

...is another great AFX option for testing systems, what with the panning, full-frequency wave-surfing, and holographic bouncing ball!

AaronGarrett's picture

Stereophile should have an electronic music column, in addition to Classical/Jazz/Rock.

DaGiff's picture

I recently heard 3 songs I'm familiar with played on these through Boulder electronics and, while it was clearly a good system, they just didn't move me. Wilsons never have (I am not a Wilson hater). By contrast, I recently heard a pair of Rockport Cygnus driven by Gryphon electronics and was truly mesmerized. That system revealed to me what those who can afford the best are after in their pursuit. The music was just there - organic and beautiful. You forgot to think about the system reproducing it. Not so with the Wilson/Boulder combo...not even close.

CG's picture

As almost nobody says, "One size does not fit all."

Good for you for recognizing and acknowledging your own tastes! (That was meant as a compliment.)

jtshaw's picture

I'm fortunate that a dealer near me carries both Rockport and Wilson loudspeakers, so I've heard a number of models with different amplification, including Gryphon. I suspect the Alexx 5 with Gryphon would prove a good combination. I have most enjoyed hearing the smallest Rockports and Wilsons (Atria II and SabrinaX). They strike me being much more accessible in both price and in working well in more modestly sized rooms. They really don't give up much to the larger models except in ultimate dynamic ability and bass slam. Or, maybe I'm just too old now....

Long-time listener's picture

I haven't heard the Rockports you mention -- or these latest Wilsons either. Maybe they've made progress. But a number of years ago, at a dealer, I listened to a pair of their mid-sized floorstanders as well as a huge model like the one reviewed here. Both struck me as dull and uninviting, lacking the kind of freshness and presence I like to hear.

windansea's picture

Heard Wilson Alexia at the local dealer and was unimpressed. Walked out after 10 minutes. Not for me. Maybe they're good for Mahler and not for smaller scale music? Just sounded thick and heavy to me.

CG's picture

It's great that we have choices. As I said, one size does not fit all.

(Full disclosure - we own neither Rockport nor Wilson loudspeakers here...)

tonykaz's picture

My wife's interior design lady was working on our window treatment, I asked her how she would place these Wilsons in our living area. She shyly suggested some other design, I agree.

These things are Visually-fear inducing , A dark room might be the owners better adaptation.

We saw this design portrayed when Mr.JVS had an introduction to the $750,000 version in the Utah home of Mr.D.Wilosn, the photos made the Loudspeakers look rather sinister as it stared down at our humble friend who was sitting in what looked like a Funeral Home.

Of course, this type of industrial design probably belongs in the Man-Cave Basement where banishment is the normal life experience of our typical obsessive Audiophile.

In response to Focal Tweeters: It was said in Stereophile ( somewhere ) that Focal stopped sharing their outstanding
driver manufacturing with other loudspeaker Manufacturers. Who makes the Wilson Drivers ? , I hoped that our intrepid Mr.JA2 would've inquired and reported. ( guess not )

There was a time when I sold Wilson Products. ( a few decades ago ) I still feel that Wilsons are Status / Ego type products. ( well made )

Tony in Florida

ps. no loudspeaker can duplicate Live ! but Klipschorns can duplicate a amplified Performance

georgehifi's picture

With that 92db efficiency and hellish load you only need an amp with 25w or more, but it has to take that load, and almost double all the way down to 1ohm.
I can think of the perfect amp, the classic Mark Levinson ML2 monoblocks, which are only 25w pure Class-A into 8ohm, but then 50w into 4ohms, 100w into 2ohms and 200w into 1ohm.
https://www.hifido.co.jp/sold/05-22256-50446-00.html?LNG=E

Cheers George

Ortofan's picture

... should come bundled with one of Dan D'Agostino's amplifiers to ensure that the amp can drive the 1-2Ω impedance that these speakers present.
Either that, or a Rotel RB-1582 which, according to a test in Hi-Fi News, has a peak output of nearly 300W into 8Ω, over 550W into 4Ω, 1kW into 2Ω and 1.6kW into 1Ω.

DougM's picture

Some more recent Wilson speakers have measured very well. I see this overpriced piece of garbage is a return to their former engineering prowess, with a speaker that costs nearly as much as a house, and surely as much as a luxury car, that measures worse than a $500 Wharfedale, KEF, or Polk, and certainly not as well as similar stratospheric priced offerings from Magico, Vivid, Revel, KEF, Focal, and others. Apparently they've learned nothing over the years, and the recent Wilson offerings that measured well were merely flukes

JHL's picture

Given your expertise, I look forward to your analysis of how this loudspeaker has so badly failed acceptable engineering standards...

Metalhead's picture

Those big beast monoblocks were the best solid state amplifiers I ever heard.

IF I ever had to give up tubes I would definitely be looking for a pure class A power amp.

Those ML's were really something

Not a Wilson denier (Hell never heard one) but as I am not a cone and dome guy at all. For those with the coin and space more power to them.

STapp's picture

Like, it's so cool: goes up to 11 !

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