Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX Series 3 loudspeaker Page 4

Wilson Audio has made heroic improvements to the motor and structure that drive the Focal-made tweeter, but it's still not going to be everyone's favorite (though anyone over 50 who claims to hear ultrasonic resonances is blowing smoke). Wouldn't it be nice to hear what Wilson could do with Focal's beryllium model, the resonant frequency of which is way beyond the audioband?

That said, the improvements made to the tweeter and its integration with the outputs of the MAXX 3's other drive-units are significant: reductions of edge and grain commensurate with the speaker's overall greater nuance and suppleness. Some might wish for even greater burnishing of the highest frequencies, but I'm more than satisfied with the tweeter's precision and lack of grain.

Even the most vociferous Wilson skeptics who've visited my listening room—including those who grudgingly admitted that the MAXX 2 was "pretty good" while making a meal of its blemishes, and who sat down 10' from a 6'-tall stack of drivers and, before hearing the first note, pronounced their integration "impossible"—have been taken aback and mesmerized by the wholeness of the MAXX 3's sound.

In one form or another, I've been playing John Coltrane's "Live" at the Village Vanguard for decades. As I listened through the MAXX 3s to "Spiritual," from a new vinyl edition (2 45rpm LPs, Impulse!/ORG A-10), and Eric Dolphy hit a big note on the bass clarinet, I was thrown back in my seat and felt a deep chill. I'd never heard the "reediness" of the instrument so perfectly expressed from that recording. Not even close.

Back in 1998, when Dave Wilson and his team produced the original MAXX loudspeaker ($40,000/pair), it was intended as a "reasonably priced" step down from his big Grand SLAMM. By 2004, when I got to hear the MAXX 2, the cost was up to $44,900, and those who'd bought the original MAXX could upgrade for the difference in price. No doubt customers who'd spent $40,000 for a pair of speakers figured the job should have been done and the statement made at the original time and price. Those who bought the MAXX 2 could say the same: "Still not finished?"

The skeptics are correct when they say that multiple stacked drivers and complex crossovers create multiple problems of phase, dispersion, and frequency integration. Getting everything in tune and operating on the same page isn't easy. Some would say it's impossible. For those folks there are single-driver speakers and recordings of shakuhachis and female singers, and may they live happily ever after.

But if you want to re-create the live experience as convincingly as is currently possible, in terms of dynamic range and otherwise, at this point in the development of loudspeakers you need multiple drivers and inert, structurally rigid enclosures. It's that simple. Wilson Audio, among others, got correct the areas of dynamics and wideband frequency response quite some time ago. The rest has taken more time.

In January 2008, Dave Wilson invited a group of journalists to his home in Utah, to compare the Alexandria Series 2 ($135,000/pair, then just about to be launched), with his original Alexandria X-2. They looked similar but sounded strikingly different: among other things, the Series 2 shucked a noticeable amount of the original's nasality. I was a guest in Wilson's home, so I didn't say it out loud: "Well, why didn't you hear that and get it right the first time?" Easy for me to think.

I know a few folks lucky enough to own Alexandria X-2s, one of whom had also owned the X-1s and who made that same complaint to me. He's now a very happy camper—Wilson and his team have hit that elusive "grand slam" with the X-2 and now with the MAXX 3. The MAXX 3 did everything well—I mean everything. It correctly—or as correctly as I've heard any speaker manage—reproduced the harmonic and textural structure of every instrument and voice I can think of; it expressed soundstage height, width, and depth as few speakers can; it plumbed the depths of low bass as deeply and cleanly as do all but the monster speakers that go into the subsonic region; it produced unrivaled dynamics at both ends of the scale; and was as transparent as any moving-coil speaker I've heard. But most important, the MAXX 3 integrated all of these performance aspects into an organic whole so complex as to seem to be nearly impossible.

This US-made loudspeaker, built in a well-equipped factory by skilled people earning real wages plus benefits, is expensive to market, build, and ship. Its fit'n'finish, and the attention paid to its every detail, are what you'd expect for $68,000/pair, and from a designer who cherishes Ferrari build quality (and owns at least one of the cars).

While the MAXX 3 is not quite as efficient and probably not quite as responsive and resolving of detail as its twice-the-price big sibling, at least it's "affordable." (Throw shoes at me now!)

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