Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX Series 3 loudspeaker Page 3

One of the MAXX 2's great strengths was its ability to produce clean, tight, nearly flat bass performance down to 20Hz in my room. However, even discounting room-boundary effects, which slightly boosted the region around 100Hz, the lower-midbass was a bit too punchy, giving it more of a "hi-fi" than a natural feel. No speaker manufacturer has ever lost money giving customers too much bass, so long as it's cleanly presented; and everyone, including me, always loved the MAXX 2's entire bottom-end presentation in my room.

But the MAXX 3's bottom octaves, while not as pronounced above the lowest octave, were far more subtle and supple. The subterranean bottom ends of "Baby You're a Rich Man," from the German pressing of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour (the only one mixed in true stereo), and "Lazy Sunday Afternoon," from the UK edition of the Small Faces' Ogden's Nut Gone Flake (LP, Immediate), no longer shook me out of my seat; however, they were still deep, clean, and powerful, but also more nuanced, and better connected to the rest of the mix.

The 3's reworked crossover probably produced a bit less lower midbass, but a much cleaner transition from there to the lower midrange and on up into the midrange. The result was a smoother, more transparent transition that revealed more information in that region and produced less congestion—not that there was much to begin with. Don't ask how many times I've played Classic Records' 45rpm edition of Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony's recording of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (4 LPs, RCA Living Stereo/Classic LSC-2201). The double basses, and then the big timpani thwacks, were perhaps a bit more powerful through the 2, but through the 3 they were now more correctly sized, more detailed, far better integrated into the sound of the rest of the orchestra, and definitely better controlled. Strings "sheened" rather than glistened. Everything about the 3's presentation of the sound of the orchestra was more nuanced and less mechanical than the 2's.

Most important, at least in my situation: my impression, with the 2s, that the images were floating ungrounded between the upper modules was completely gone. Now, with every recording I played, the enormous stage height and grand scale that only a big speaker can produce seemed built from the floor up.

Dynamics and bass performance were never weak suits of the MAXX 2. While the MAXX 3 was somewhat better in these areas—there wasn't that much room for improvement—what I was really hoping for was a major improvement in midrange resolution that might drastically upgrade the MAXX's transparency, imaging, three-dimensionality, and clean rendering of harmonic structures and instrumental textures, to bring the MAXX 3 at least up to what the Vandersteen Quatro could manage.

What Wilson has achieved in the 3's midrange far exceeded my every hope and expectation. The new midrange drivers, probably in conjunction with the Aspherical Group Delay alignment, produced enormous, perhaps groundbreaking improvements in all of those areas. All of the MAXX 2's midrange opacity and congestion was dissolved, leaving expansive, transparent vistas with depth, and reverberant detail. Instrumental textures and harmonic resolution were considerably better, and were combined with the same subtlety of attack I heard in the 3's bottom octaves.

The quietness of the MAXX 2's cabinet contributed to its outstanding resolution of microdynamics in the midrange, but with the MAXX 3's major improvements in drivers and their integration, the new model's ability to reveal microdynamics and to produce decay elements down to what sounded like the molecular level (or at least down to where they were covered by the residual ringing in my ears) revealed new information from virtually every recording I played.

While the resolution of microdynamics is important and the improvement was welcome, the MAXX 3's most astonishing (I don't think I'm known for overusing the word) ability was how it consistently resolved and effortlessly presented big, important, large-scale musical events that had heretofore been hidden in plain sight on recordings I thought I'd already picked through with fine-toothed audio combs. These events weren't delivered as "hyper-detail," as the result of edge or brightness—quite the opposite. They simply appeared effortlessly, as if they should have been impossible for me to miss in all the years—or decades—I'd been listening to those records.

When my friend Frank Doris visited, I played for him the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" (original UK 45rpm single on Pye) which I think is his favorite tune of all time, and one he's heard and dissected thousands of times. An excellent guitarist, Frank was once Harry Pearson's longtime setup man, so he's heard plenty of good systems. By this time I'd already upgraded to the Musical Fidelity Titan power amplifier and had installed the Ypsilon VPS 100 phono preamplifier, both of which, like the MAXX 3, excel at midband resolution—admittedly, Frank was hearing their cumulative effect. Still, for the very first time, both he and I now heard an enormously important, gritty, electric rhythm-guitar part, played by Dave Davies. It was hardly "buried in the mix."

Then we played side 1 of the UK edition of the Kinks' Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. I hadn't played this LP since upgrading the system, but both of us now heard it as if for the first time—not because we were hearing tiny new nuances, but because we were hearing important instrumental lines running through entire songs that all along had been completely hidden in plain hearing, as well as familiar ones that before had been mere tonal and/or textural shadows. The drums, particularly the toms, had never sounded as real or as recognizable as toms as we heard them during that listening session. What we'd always considered a fairly poor recording turned out to be, actually, quite good.

I'm sure that both the amp and phono preamp played parts in this. But before inserting the Musical Fidelity and Ypsilon in the system, I'd had this same experience with every LP or CD I played. And I continue to, even though, not so long ago, I figured I'd reached the MAXX 3s' performance ceiling, and that I was beginning to hear not better, but merely different. Or that I'd be hearing better in some ways, not as good in others.

All speakers have weaknesses. If you're a fan of planar-magnetic, electrostatic, or large horn speakers, you'll probably find the fineness of the MAXX 3s' image structures slightly coarse by comparison, or its response slow, or its tweeter not the final word in air and resolution.

I couldn't argue with you. I recently heard some SoundLab electrostats at a demo at the home of Ralph Glasgal, inventor of Ambiophonics, and the picture they painted was preternaturally spooky in its ultimate transparency and fineness of imaging. There was a level of reality about it that no moving-coil speaker can approach, but that reality was very far away—and in terms of macrodynamic reality and other performance parameters, there's no contest: moving-coil designs win.

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