Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX2 loudspeaker Page 2

What was left in the wake of the MAXX2s' grand disappearing act was a sonic picture of vast height, width, and depth. Any fear I'd had that the speaker's relatively high tweeter height would result in a soundstage raised "off the floor," with images floating up near the ceiling—a problem I'd noted with the tall Audio Physic Kronos—was quickly dispelled. Instead, with just a few exceptions—all multimiked rock recordings—images formed that were grounded, properly proportioned, and appropriately tall. Aiding the illusion was that these images appeared literally launched from the cabinets, out of a "blackness" I'd experienced only with the Rockport Antares.

Because of its full low-frequency expression and perhaps other aspects of its design, the MAXX2 was able to express the full size of a concert hall as no other speaker has in my room. The only other speaker I've heard that could reproduce the volume, height, and width of a large space was the Infinity IRS system I heard at Harry Pearson's many years ago.

I listened to Earl Wild and Arthur Fiedler's classic Living Stereo release of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris (LP, RCA LSC-2367), brilliantly produced and engineered by Richard Mohr and Lewis Layton. Though I've played this record throughout the course of my reviewing career and for years before that, for the first time I heard and saw a picture that made the walls and ceilings of my room float away, leaving before me the convincing illusion of Boston Symphony Hall's shoebox shape—and not as a miniature, but as a huge space. Timpani thwacks—which all by themselves were thrillingly reproduced by the MAXX2s—seemed to travel far greater distances before reverberating off the hall walls. The height of the hall had never been so convincingly expressed.

More important, the size of Wild's piano remained proportional, the image focus believable. The texture and harmonics of the instrument were as good as I've heard them from this record, but Wild's pedal work was delineated with a precision and ease I'd not before experienced.

Yet small ensembles or solo performers recorded in intimate studio settings never sounded bloated or oversized. Mono recordings, such as the Laurindo Almeida's outstanding Capitol series (eg, Duets with the Spanish Guitar, Capitol P8406, LP), were reproduced compactly and solidly between the speakers. In both mono and stereo, between-speaker images and soundstage solidity were as palpable and believable as I've heard from any speaker, including the Sonus Faber Stradivari, that I reviewed last January, which excels in that regard. Wherever I've heard the MAXX2s, it's been evident that they had an uncanny ability to "disappear," to leave between and beyond the speakers themselves a fully enveloped, solid, three-dimensional soundfield—but this was never more evident than in my own room. More than any other, that quality of this speaker is what immediately captivated the experienced and novice listeners who visited my room to hear them. "It's so there," many exclaimed, moving their fingers back and forth between the speakers and pointing at the there there.

After I'd blasted him with high SPLs, my friend the mastering engineer insisted on hearing the Wilsons played very quietly. He was just as impressed by their ability to remain open, supple, and expressive—especially in the bass—at very low levels.

I found the MAXX2's overall timbral balance to be nearly ideal in my well-treated but not entirely dead room—though if I had to pick a nit, I'd say the speaker was slightly warm. Not because there was too much bass or midbass—from the mids down, the MAXX2 was as perfectly balanced a loudspeaker as I've heard in this space—but because the top octaves were not quite as airy and well resolved as I've heard from some other speakers: the Mårten Design Coltrane, which uses a Thiel and Partner (Accuton in the US) inverted-dome diamond tweeter; and the Aerial 20T, which uses a modified Raven Ribbon.

What price this extra resolution and air? Both of those great speakers can often sound bright and "hyperdetailed" because, unfortunately, too many "real-world" recordings are too bright to begin with, and getting those fast, detailed, articulate tweeters to blend with the rest of the spectrum is extremely difficult to do. And, of course, musical and sonic tastes vary.

The MAXX2's balance and the choice of the modified Focal inverted-dome titanium tweeter is a "real-world" solution that worked for the vast majority of recordings I own and cherish. There was no hint of the bright "metallic" coloration some listeners found objectionable with early and unmodified versions of this tweeter, nor could the balance be described as "soft" or "closed-in." Compared to what I hear at concerts, I found both massed and solo string tone to be as close to ideal as I've heard in my room. Only the Verity Audio Sarastro, which has a Raven tweeter, was as restrained, yet also as detailed and as well balanced on top. Unfortunately, the Sarastro exhibits a host of other problems—at least in my room—that the MAXX2 didn't. My biggest problem with having the Wilsons around was sleep deprivation. I pulled more 3am bedtimes than I have since college.

Wilson Audio Specialties' MAXX2 is the largest and the second most expensive loudspeaker I've ever reviewed, or accommodated in my room. I've heard it perform magnificently in large venues, and can now say without question that it can perform equally well in a room of relatively modest size, unlikely as that might seem when you see it in person. The pair of them did not overwhelm my listening room either physically or sonically, and, for the first time, for whatever reason or reasons, my room produced the deepest, tightest, most natural bass response I've ever heard here—or anywhere, for that matter.

But bass isn't everything. With its grilles off, the MAXX2 provided a level of total, seamless musical satisfaction that only a few speakers have in my listening space, including the Rockport Antares and the Sonus Faber Stradivari. The Verity Audio Sarastro offers a unique experience that's absolutely enthralling in some ways but problematic in others—at least in my room, and especially in the bass—and better suited to acoustic music. The Mårten Design Coltrane reveals unprecedented detail, but its bass performance doesn't live up to its price of $50,000/pair—at least, not in my room.

The Rockport Antares delivered a bit more delicacy and a unique "black hole" disappearing act compared to the MAXX2, the Sonus Faber Stradivari more "soul." The MAXX2 had its own brand of very effective musical communication and resolve, and a very well developed "inner life," but a more Americanized variety with more muscle and determination.

Physically and sonically, the MAXX2 and the Sonus Faber Stradivari reflect their national heritages as effectively as any two similar products from these two countries can. One is a work of art and a gorgeous piece of furniture, along with being a prodigious and soulful music maker. The other is the quintessential expression of the daring and boldness of the American spirit. I'd say Ferrari vs Corvette, but that sells the MAXX2 short. Besides, Dave Wilson drives a Ferrari.

Don't be fooled by the MAXX2's 92dB sensitivity rating. To get the most from these prodigious performers, you'll need plenty of solid-state power or some really big-ass tube gear, and their revealing nature will require careful consideration of associated equipment, including cables. I was skeptical, having never been a fan of "network interfaced" cables, but in the end, Transparent Audio's Reference speaker cable provided the best blend of control, detail, and delicacy. Also, while the MAXX2 looks much better with its grilles on, it sounds much better from top to bottom with them off.

Peter McGrath's hunch that the unlikely pairing of this large speaker and my smallish room would work proved correct—beyond, I think, either of our expectations. The MAXX2 produced a fundamentally correct sonic picture on a grand yet intimate scale, with unlimited dynamics, and bass extension and resolve that would be difficult to improve on in any room. If the ultimate in transparency has been sacrificed in the interests of overall coherence and the limitations of real-world software, it was well worth it—and if your room is less well treated than mine, you may have more mid and top-end extension than you need, in which case your dealer can vary the MAXX2's resistors as needed.

All of my reference recordings, which range from plain old commercial LPs such as Neil Young's Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (Reprise RS6349) to David Chesky's recent Area 31 (SACD, Chesky SACD288), which is among the finest recordings I have ever heard, sounded as vital and alive as I've ever heard them, only with the bottom end even more fully revealed. In my space, the Wilson MAXX2 was easily the best overall loudspeaker I have ever heard, though others may have bested it in specific performance parameters.

Slightly more than twice as expensive as the WATT/Puppy 7, the review pair of which I ended up buying, Wilson Audio's MAXX2 is easily worth the difference, and more. If you've got the money—and even if you don't think your space can accommodate a pair of them—don't hesitate. But first, go listen for yourself. I have every confidence you'll agree that, even if it's not the speaker for you, with the MAXX2 Wilson Audio Specialties has hit one out of the park.

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