Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX Series 3 loudspeaker Page 2

While the MAXX 3's cabinet resembles the 2's, closer inspection reveals it to be completely new and far more refined-looking, particularly when viewed from the side. But if you didn't like the MAXX 2's looks, or speakers finished in automotive paints, you probably won't like the looks of the taller, even more imposing MAXX 3.

Four years with MAXX 2
I owned a pair of MAXX 2s for more than four years and thoroughly enjoyed every listening minute, while never deluding myself that it was the perfect loudspeaker. There's no such thing. Had I had such delusions, my reviewing of other speakers during that period, some considerably less expensive than the MAXX 2, would quickly have disabused me of them.

For instance, it took but a few minutes with Vandersteen Audio's Quatro ($10,700/pair), which I reviewed in July 2006, to understand that the MAXX 2's midrange resolution wasn't nearly as good. The more expensive Wilson was relatively opaque in that range, the Vandersteen more transparent, as well as more resolving of textures, with more pinpoint specificity of imaging from front to back and side to side. As I wrote in my review, I could see way into the Quatros' soundstage and easily pinpoint well-defined images in three dimensions all across that stage. The MAXX 2? Not so much. Not that the MAXX 2 was defective in that regard—it just wasn't nearly as good.

In my listening room, sitting closer to the MAXX 2s than they were designed for, there was another deficiency. With some recordings, the speaker set up an ungrounded stage that floated too high in the air and never managed to touch ground. Instead of straight ahead, I found myself looking up, as if I were listening to only the upper driver array. I never heard this in any other MAXX 2 installation, but then in no other such setup did I ever have to sit only 10' away from them, as my listening room requires. Also, the MAXX 2's top end wasn't as well integrated or as resolving as that of some other moving-coil speakers I've heard, let alone some electrostatic and planar magnetic designs. Finally, the integration of the MAXX 2's lower bass and midbass/lower-midrange was good, but not as smooth as it could have been.

Why would I invest in such an expensive speaker if it was so much less than ideal? For one thing, there is no "ideal" loudspeaker. Audiophiles—or, worse, reviewers—who advocate for or against a particular brand or technology strike me as having misplaced values. Every loudspeaker technology and brand has specific strengths and weaknesses that each listener must weigh in order to make what is, ultimately, a very personal choice. And once we've chosen, we must concentrate on the strengths while trying to listen past the weaknesses. Those who hear no fault in their choice of loudspeaker have fallen in love with a pair of inanimate objects. I don't know about you, but I save my love for my wife and my dog. For loudspeakers, cars, watches—even records—there's a healthier option: liking.

The Wilson MAXX 2 was and is an expensive, beautifully built, great loudspeaker that does many things as well as if not better than anything else I'd heard in my room or elsewhere. That a speaker of its size can work as well as it does in a room as small as mine, as well as in the really big rooms in which I've heard it really do its magic, says a lot about the integrity of its design. And despite its faults, the MAXX 2 produced unrestrained dynamics, spectacular bass performance in every regard, unrivaled soundstaging in terms of height and width with most recordings, and such timbral verisimilitude that I could run straight home from Avery Fisher Hall, put on a well-recorded version of the work I'd heard in concert only an hour before, turn out the lights, and say to myself, "Yes—that's credible." And I could also put on the hardest rock recordings and get loud, live-concert slam that few other speakers can manage.

In short, with its host of exceptional strengths, and with all its faults being less than glaring, and little more than minor acts of omission, the MAXX 2 gave me almost five years of consistently pleasurable listening that no doubt would have continued uninterrupted into the foreseeable future.

Then the MAXX 3 arrived.

Setup redux
Peter McGrath, Wilson Audio's VP of marketing and a speaker-setup expert, set up the MAXX 3s, as he had the MAXX 2s. Not surprisingly, the 3s ended up within a few millimeters of the outlines McGrath had marked on the floor with masking tape more than four years before, for the 2s. The MAXX 3 retains the 2's ingenious floor-jack system, which allows the buyer to single-handedly jack up the speaker, install the casters, and roll it out of the way in fewer than 10 minutes—a reviewer's dream come true. Once he'd confirmed my seating height and distance from the 3s, McGrath consulted the manual, then adjusted the rake of each upper module, as well as its distance from the listening position. Satisfied, he invited me to sit down and have a listen.

Because of the closeness of the listening position, the top midrange module ended up almost alarmingly forward of the midrange/tweeter module and the bass bin, as if it might just topple over (which it can't)—that top driver stared at me even more alarmingly than had the MAXX 2's. As I said in my review of the 2 in 2005, "Yet the prospect of sitting only 10' from two looming, praying mantis–like towers almost as tall as I am gave me the willies. The way the Cyclops-like topmost midrange driver protrudes makes it seem as if it's staring at you. How could such an apparition get out of its own way?"

The MAXX 3 is even taller, even more looming, even more like a mantis or Cyclops—but it didn't give me the willies, nor did I wonder how it could get out of its own way. The MAXX 2 certainly had, surprising every skeptical visitor who sat and smirked—until the stylus dropped and a seamlessly integrated sound picture appeared.

Less exciting, more inviting
It took but a few minutes to hear that, overall, the MAXX Series 3 was a better speaker than the already great one it replaces. Immediately obvious was that, from top to bottom, the attack character of the new speaker was smoother and more graceful. While that's often achieved at the price of softer transients, a loss of information, and a slight muffling or "veiling," the MAXX 3 immediately presented itself as a far more detailed, far more revealing loudspeaker than the 2. Instrumental attacks that before had been almost "digital" (ie, on or off) were now longer and more nuanced, producing a greater overall sense of musical flow. A degree of minor "edginess" in the MAXX 2's upper-midrange/high-frequency range was now entirely gone.

Wilson Audio Specialties
2233 Mountain Vista Lane
Provo, UT 84606
(801) 377-2233