Wilson Audio Specialties Sabrina loudspeaker Page 2

The Sabrina comes with a deluxe three-ring binder that includes detailed unpacking and setup instructions, but Wilson Audio strongly advises that you leave these tasks to an authorized dealer "trained in the art and science of the Wilson Audio Setup Procedure." In my case, this involved the Toronto area's Wilson dealer, Audio Excellence, and the setup expertise of Wilson's director of sales, Peter McGrath. Given McGrath's long experience in setting up Wilson speakers, I was content to leave the Sabrinas' initial setup to him—with input from me. Like me, McGrath likes to set up speakers to produce a wide soundstage. His setup of the Sabrinas was similar to what I've found optimal with other floorstanding speakers: along the long wall of my listening room (16' long by 14' wide by 7.5' high), roughly describing an equilateral triangle with the listening position, and toed-in to almost fully face that position (see photo of my room). When I'm seated, my ears are about 37" from the floor, which is within about half an inch of the level of the tweeters. (Given the Sabrina's backtilt, determining the exact height of the tweeter involves some eyeballing.) The speakers were a little farther apart than I place my Avantgarde Uno Nanos, and closer to the front and side walls. The Sabrina is supplied with heavy-duty spikes, as well as aluminum discs to be placed under the spikes to prevent damage to hardwood floors such as mine. I used the discs.

The positions of the driver modules of Wilson's larger speakers can be adjusted, to time-align the drivers' outputs for arrival at specific listening distances. For the Sabrina, no such adjustment is possible, but the driver array and the sloping baffle have been optimized for what Wilson calls a "typical listening room," and the tilt of the speaker can be adjusted by varying the length of the front and/or rear spikes. The speakers were initially set up with a slight additional backtilt, which is recommended in small rooms such as mine, to produce at the listening seat a soundstage of sufficient height. I later tried decreasing the tilt, and preferred the result: the focus was improved, and the soundstage was still high. Of course, rooms and listening positions vary; what worked for me can't be assumed to work elsewhere. While I wouldn't describe the Sabrina as exceptionally "tweaky," it definitely benefits from careful setup.

Except for grilles that have been engineered to be part of a speaker's overall acoustical design, I've yet to encounter a grille that does not degrade its speaker's sound in some way—and this was true of the Sabrina's. The sound was just a bit less open with the grilles in place, though the effect was quite subtle—and certainly not as marked as I've heard with some other grilles. I did all of my critical listening with the grilles removed.

Whether or not audio equipment needs to be broken-in is a contentious issue: a 2005 discussion of the topic at Stereophile.com had over 60 responses. The Sabrina's owner's manual states that Wilson Audio subjects all midrange drivers and woofers to a 12-hour break-in before the drivers are tested, calibrated, and matched. They acknowledge the benefit of additional break-in, and suggest that it will be 90% complete after 24 hours of playing. But being an audiophile means being concerned about that last 10%. On the subject of break-in, I tend to be on the "more is better" side, and use various break-in/system enhancer CDs (from Monitor Audio, Nordost, and Purist Audio), as well as music played at fairly high levels. I do believe that the Sabrinas sounded better with additional break-in, the sound becoming generally more relaxed, and losing the slight edginess that I heard from the speakers at first, just out of the box.

The first power amplifier I used with the Sabrinas was a McIntosh Laboratory MC275LE, which I reviewed in a Follow-Up in the October 2012 issue. This tube amp has a conservatively specified power output of 75Wpc, which seemed a good match for the Sabrina's recommended specified minimum amplification of 50Wpc and sensitivity of 87dB. However, I was a bit concerned about the fact that, also according to Wilson's specs, the Sabrina's impedance drops to 2.53 ohms at 139Hz. The MC275LE has separate taps for 4, 8, and 16 ohms; the Sabrina's nominal impedance is 4 ohms, so at first I used the Mac's 4 ohm taps. This seemed to work well, the amp driving the speakers at normal as well as very loud, "audiophile demonstration" levels, and the bass seemed fine. However, during setup, Peter McGrath questioned the use of the 4 ohm taps. He said that, in his experience, Audio Research tube amps worked better with the Sabrina through the ARCs' 8 ohm taps, and he wondered if that might be the case with the Mac. We tried it, switching between the two sets of taps, and we both preferred the sound through the 8 ohm taps, which I used for the rest of my listening. (In a similar comparison for my September 2012 review of the MartinLogan Montis, I'd also ended up preferring the Mac's 8 ohm taps.)

Although the tubed McIntosh worked well with the Sabrinas, it's probably atypical of the amplifiers that most people would use with these speakers, and probably not optimal for extracting low bass from them. I had two other amps on hand, but both were also tubed, and less powerful than the MC275LE. What I needed was a solid-state amp with more power than the MC275LE. As per Stereophile editorial policy, the amp would have to be one that has been reviewed in the magazine—a known quantity. Looking through the list of potentially suitable amps, the one that struck me as a good bet was the Theta Digital Prometheus, reviewed in the March 2015 issue by Larry Greenhill, who praised it for its "huge dynamic range and bass impact." He said the Prometheus was one of the best-sounding amplifiers he'd heard in his listening room, and it was his Editor's Choice for 2015. The claimed output of the Prometheus is 250Wpc into 8 ohms, 500Wpc into 4 ohms, or 850Wpc into 2 ohms—I thought it would be well able to take the Sabrina's impedance dip in stride. Jeff Hipps of Theta Digital kindly arranged to loan me a pair of Prometheus monoblocks.

There was a hiccup in pairing my Convergent Audio Technology SL1 Renaissance Black Path Edition preamp with the Prometheus. The CAT's standard, minute-long automatically muted turn-on period was apparently not long enough for the Prometheus; when the SL1 unmuted itself, I heard a soft, low-frequency "motorboating" sound. All I had to do was to keep the CAT muted for an addition minute after turn-on, and everything was hunky-dory. The combo was then dead quiet, with pristine clarity, and no digitalesque artifacts that I could hear. (The Prometheus uses Bruno Putzeys's NCore NC 1200 class-D amp module, with a linear power supply created by Theta's David Reich.) Just as LG had said, the Theta had great dynamics and bass impact, both of those qualities being superior to the Mac's (although I preferred the MC275LE's tonality). My descriptions of the sound of the Sabrinas represent a kind of averaging of the sound with the two amplifiers, with amplifier-specific distinctions as noted.

Dave Wilson's stated aim in designing the original WATT/Puppy was to produce "a compact and simple loudspeaker that could provide a degree of musical enjoyment rivaling—and even surpassing—much larger systems." Listening to the Sabrinas—even before the break-in period had passed—I was immediately struck by how "big" they sounded—or, in terms that more clearly reflect Dave Wilson's aim, how much they sounded like live music rather than speakers. And their resolution was first-rate: Playing familiar records often resulted in responses of "Hey, I haven't noticed that before."

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

Allen Fant's picture

An excellent review and article- RD.
I have enjoyed the Sophia and Sasha models. The Sabrina is next on my short-list.

Allen Fant's picture

2nd Note:
it is interesting that Nordost cabling was used. Transparent is a hallmark and sonic match for Wilson speakers.

Ali's picture

Its almost unusual for an audio magazine reviewer to take a picture of his room and include it in his review; In this very rare occasion Robert did, excellent! reader of an article always has to simulate in his/her mind how the reviewer has setup the equipments or if he has a very especial room with lots of room treatment objects around or not, but putting a picture, can give people immediate view of how the equipments under review, has been placed and listened to. Plus, lots of hints for how he has been set up, say, a speaker in his room. And that, even a listening room belongs to a Stereophile Magazine reviewer, can be so cosy, comfortable and ordinary-looking home-made room instead of drastic professionally acoustically treated room with negative WEF( wife expectancy factor)! Thanks for review but more thanks for your room picture; Its a nice one by the way! I hope we see more pictures of whats going on during setup and listening in this magazine( not private ones of course!)

Robert Deutsch's picture

Thanks! There is more information about my listening room at http://www.stereophile.com/content/focal-aria-936-loudspeaker-confounding-cables-and-room-acoustics#lfe0BxbthAtMUTdg.97

RobertSlavin's picture

Let me first admit I have not heard this epeaker. But I have heard the even more expensive Wilson speakers, the Sophia and Sasha and I am completely unimpressed with them, particularly given their quite high prices. They have a somewhat elevated bass. At their price point this isn't forgivable. And I don't hear the level of resolution and detail I would expect given their price.

Now here is the Sabrina at $17,000 (or $18,000 if you have them painted white or red -- must be very expensive paint!!).

I would say the Revel Performa3 F208 has got to be a much better choice for someone considering the Sabrina. It is a large three way speaker like the Wilson. But it must sound better, as it sounds better than the Sophia and Sasha!!

It has similar efficiency but unlike with the Sabrina you can adjust its low and high frequencies for room conditions. It also is at ease playing loudly. And at $5,000, I believe, it costs less than a third as much!!

In this light I cannot see why the Sabrina should have been given such a positive review.


doak's picture

Why not???
For example, you recently reviewed the Golden Ear Triton 1. How might this speaker "compare" to what you heard from the Wilson Sabrina?? IMO it's a natural question to ask and also the "elephant in the room." So, let's have it. Inquiring minds ....

Sure Wilson is kind of a "sacred cow" in some respects, no doubt, but that's exactly why your readership needs this type of info. Stereophile's credibility is in the balance.

Robert Deutsch's picture

It's a natural question, but comparing a speaker being reviewed with previously-reviewed speakers is problematic, unless all of these speakers are on hand for direct comparisons. The GoldenEar Triton Ones--and various other speakers I've reviewed that are potential candidates for comparisons--are long gone, and it's simply not practical to try to get them back. So any such comparison involves the memory of what those speakers sounded like--not a very good basis for evaluation. Add the fact that some of the system components have changed from earlier reviews, and you have a situation that involves potental confounding.
Having said that, on Page 3 of the review I make two references to comparisons between the Sabrinas and the Triton Ones (paragraphs 4 and 5), and paragraph 7 makes reference to the Fujitsu Ten Eclipse.

Anon2's picture

Thanks for sharing your speaker set up picture in your listening room. It looks like you have dealt well with a room much like my own. What is that material hanging on the wall behind your chair? I, too, am constrained to have wall right behind me. Please advise.

Amendment: I followed your link. I found the information for Vicoustic. Thanks for sharing what I am sure is a successful set up with speakers along what seems to be the long-wall in front.

eriks's picture

Hi Guys,

Very nice review. I noticed something and went back and briefly checked. I was wondering where the close-mic tweeter measurements for the Sabrina were. It seems based on very few samples, that Stereophile is not publishing close-mic data for the tweeter and mids for Wilson speakers that are normally published for other makers. For instance the original Vandersteen model seven review.

I'm just wondering if there's a technical or other issue that makes you choose when to include these measurements. It's OK with me if there's even an agreement with the vendor not to share some data, but if so I would expect it to be part of the measurement data. "We've agreed with Wilson not to share close-mic tweeter data..." or something like that. Maybe it was in a previous review or I needed to read the review more closely.

Thanks for the clarifications,


John Atkinson's picture
eriks wrote:
Very nice review.

Thank you.

eriks wrote:
I was wondering where the close-mic tweeter measurements for the Sabrina were. It seems based on very few samples, that Stereophile is not publishing close-mic data for the tweeter and mids for Wilson speakers that are normally published for other makers.

You have me puzzled, as I don't measure tweeters with the microphone close for any review. The only measurement I didn't perform for the Sabrina review was the spatially averaged in-room response, which was not logistically possible.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

eriks's picture

Sorry, then I'm clearly using the wrong terminology.

Looking at the original review for the Vandersteen model Seven for instance (Stereophile March 2010, Measurements Figure 4) there are "nearfield" responses for each driver but the closest Sabrina measurement (Figure 3) only includes such detail in the lower bass. Maybe I've been reading too long and didn't notice when the practice changed of when choices are made to measure them or not.



John Atkinson's picture
eriks wrote:
Looking at the original review for the Vandersteen model Seven for instance (Stereophile March 2010, Measurements Figure 4) there are "nearfield" responses for each driver but the closest Sabrina measurement (Figure 3) only includes such detail in the lower bass.

The nearfield measurements are only used for lower-frequency drive-units, always for woofers and ports and sometimes for midrange units when their output extends sufficiently low in frequency. But never for tweeters.

Note that the summed nearfield low-frequency response in fig.3 (black trace) does include the contribution of the Sabrina's midrange unit.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

briandx11's picture

After admiring Wilson Audio since 1982 but never having the financial resources to even consider a purchase, my wife and I are traveling to Maryland to listen to the Sabrina's.

After being mostly a Home Theater enthusiast for the last 20 years only recently have I gravitated back to the world of analog stereo. This should be interesting!