Wilson Audio Specialties SabrinaX loudspeaker Measurements

Sidebar 3: Measurements

For logistical reasons, I measured a different sample (serial number 0384) from those auditioned by Brian Damkroger. Except when stated otherwise, the measurements were performed with the grille removed. Also, to avoid the possibility of damaging the cabinet's finish, I did not remove its protective film (footnote 1). I used DRA Labs' MLSSA system and a calibrated DPA 4006 microphone to measure the Wilson SabrinaX's frequency response in the farfield, and an Earthworks QTC-40 for the nearfield responses of the individual drive-units.

When I measure a loudspeaker, I usually raise it so that its tweeter is midway between the floor and ceiling, which maximizes the anechoic time window for the farfield measurements. However, because the SabrinaX's enclosure is constructed from Wilson's proprietary and very dense X material, the 112lb loudspeaker was too heavy for me to lift as high as I would have liked. I therefore had to use more aggressive windowing of the impulse response than usual when calculating the frequency response and cumulative spectral decay plot.

The SabrinaX's voltage sensitivity is specified as 87dB/W/m at 1kHz. My estimate with white noise was a little higher, at 89dB(B)/2.83V/m, which is close to the 88.2dB(B) I measured for the original Sabrina that Robert Deutsch reviewed in 2016. The solid trace in fig.1, taken with Dayton Audio's DATS V2 system, shows how the SabrinaX's impedance magnitude varies with frequency. It is very similar to that of the 2016 Sabrina and remains above 4 ohms for much of the audioband. The impedance is lower between 80Hz and 260Hz, with a minimum value of 2.43 ohms at 144Hz, and the speaker's electrical phase angle (fig.1, dashed trace) is high in the midbass. I used the formula in a 1994 JAES paper to calculate the "equivalent peak dissipation resistance" (EPDR, footnote 2). The SabrinaX has an EPDR of less than 2 ohms between 65Hz and 275Hz, with a minimum value of 1.1 ohms at 90Hz, where music can have high energy. The partnering amplifier needs to be capable of driving 2 ohms without stress.

221Wilsonfig1

Fig.1 Wilson SabrinaX, electrical impedance (solid) and phase (dashed) (2 ohms/vertical div.).

Cumulative spectral-decay plots of the cabinet walls' vibrational behavior, calculated from the output of a plastic-tape accelerometer, confirmed that the enclosure was relatively inert (fig.2). The only significant resonant mode, present on the sidewalls level with both the midrange unit and the woofer, lay at 477Hz, but its high Q (Quality factor) will work against it having audible consequences. The use of X material has indeed improved the enclosure's resonant behavior compared with that of the original Sabrina.

221Wilsonfig2

Fig.2 Wilson SabrinaX, cumulative spectral-decay plot calculated from output of accelerometer fastened to center of side panel level with woofer (MLS driving voltage to speaker, 7.55V; measurement bandwidth, 2kHz).

Interestingly, the back panel level with the woofer seemed livelier with a knuckle-rap test than I was expecting, but I couldn't detect any resonances below 700Hz with the accelerometer. This is presumably because the modes are much higher in frequency than the woofer's passband and so won't be excited by music.

The Wilson's port is tuned to 38Hz, confirmed by the minimum-motion notch at that frequency in the woofer's nearfield output (fig.3, red trace). The port's nearfield response (blue trace) peaks between 25 and 75Hz, and though some peaks are present in its higher-frequency output, these are well down in level. The midrange unit (green trace) appears to cross over to the woofer just above 200Hz. (Note that I have cut off the woofer's upper-frequency trace and the midrange unit's lower-frequency trace because the measured outputs in the deleted regions were affected by crosstalk.) The complex sum of the nearfield response, taking into account acoustic phase and the fact that the port is mounted on the speaker's rear, is shown as the black trace below 312Hz in fig.3. There is very little of the upper-bass boost that usually results from nearfield measurements. This suggests that the SabrinaX's low-frequency alignment is optimized for clarity and definition with the bass then reinforced by the low-frequency "room gain."

221Wilsonfig3

Fig.3 Wilson SabrinaX, anechoic response on HF axis at 50", averaged across 30° horizontal window and corrected for microphone response, with nearfield responses of midrange unit (green), woofer (red), and port (blue), and their complex sum (black), respectively plotted below 312Hz, 550Hz, 500Hz, and 312Hz.

The SabrinaX's farfield output, taken without the grille and averaged across a 30° horizontal window centered on the tweeter axis (fig.3, black trace above 312Hz), is even from the lower midrange through the high treble, with small peaks balanced by small dips. (Repeating the measurement with the grille made very little difference to this response.) There is a broad but shallow depression in the presence region, but the plot of the Wilson's horizontal dispersion (fig.4) indicates that this depression fills in to the speaker's sides. Experimenting with toe-in will optimize the SabrinaX's treble balance. In the vertical plane (fig.5), the speaker's tweeter-axis balance is maintained over a wide ±10° angle.

221Wilsonfig4

Fig.4 Wilson SabrinaX, lateral response family at 50", normalized to response on tweeter axis, from back to front: differences in response 90–5° off axis, reference response, differences in response 5–90° off axis.

221Wilsonfig5

Fig.5 Wilson SabrinaX, vertical response family at 50", normalized to response on tweeter axis, from back to front: responses 15–5° above axis, reference response, responses 5–10° below axis.

In the time domain, the SabrinaX's step response on the tweeter axis (fig.6) is identical to that of the other Wilson designs that we have reviewed in recent years. The tweeter's positive-polarity output arrives first at the microphone, and the decay of its step smoothly blends with the start of the midrange unit's negative-polarity step. Similarly, the decay of the midrange unit's step smoothly blends with the start of the woofer's positive-polarity step. In conjunction with the speaker's slightly sloped-back front baffle, this smooth blending implies optimal crossover design. Some small ripples in the step response correlate with a ridge of delayed energy just below 3kHz in the SabrinaX's cumulative spectral-decay plot on the tweeter axis (fig.7). (Ignore the black ridge of delayed energy just below 16kHz in this graph, which is due to interference from the computer's video-display circuitry.)

221Wilsonfig6

Fig.6 Wilson SabrinaX, step response on HF axis at 50" (5ms time window, 30kHz bandwidth).

221Wilsonfig7

Fig.7 Wilson SabrinaX, cumulative spectral-decay plot on HF axis at 50" (0.15ms risetime).

As with the original Sabrina, the SabrinaX's measured performance suggests that the design has been carefully optimized.—John Atkinson


Footnote 1: One anomaly I found when I unpacked the SabrinaX was that even with the loudspeaker not connected to an amplifier, I could hear a very low-level hum coming from the midrange unit. The level of this hum varied with the position in the room and the orientation of the loudspeaker. The hum frequencies were primarily 180Hz and 300Hz. All I can conjecture is that the iron, steel, or ferrite core of an inductor in the midrange crossover circuit was picking up the hum field from my home's AC wiring. When the speaker is connected to an amplifier, the latter's very low output impedance should damp the hum. This is more a curiosity than a concern.

Footnote 2: EPDR is the resistive load that gives rise to the same peak dissipation in an amplifier's output devices as the loudspeaker. See "Audio Power Amplifiers for Loudspeaker Loads" by Eric Benjamin, JAES, Vol.42 No.9, September 1994, and Keith Howard's article here.

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ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Anton's picture

"When he finished, the SabrinaX's were less than ¼" from where they started, but they sounded noticeably better. Actually, the difference was beyond noticeable. They sounded a lot better. They didn't sound like completely new speakers, just much better versions of the ones I had set up."

"True to his word, Hugh got me deeper, tighter bass, and "you know, more bass."

_

From a 1/4 inch change. That is daunting.

Any smart people who can explain such a big bass difference from a 1/4 inch change in position in the listening room? Especially that degree of change!

I am awestruck.

I know JA can't reasonably travel to the reviewers room, but with the pair he used, I would love to see the frequency response curve differences over that 1/4 inch change!

Joe8423's picture

It's how they tell you it's utter nonsense. That's what it has always been. Shiny, though.

thatguy's picture

When your lower priced speaker is $18,500 then it is easier to not wait for trickle down.
For the manufactures that have lower priced speakers in $1000 range then it is a much smaller trickle of technology by that point.

jimcomas's picture

Thank you Anton! I'm still laughing!!!

PeterG's picture

The thing that gets me about the 1/4" change--or even call it a 1" change or a 2" change that other reviewers cite--this distance is rounding error for the location of the listener's head, even if his chair never moves.

Nevertheless, great review of a great pair of speakers. Thanks!

Charles E Flynn's picture

"I am very sorry to have to decline your application to become a Stereophile reviewer. While your credentials are impressive, your head has too great a thermal coefficient of expansion, which could lead to untrustworthy judgements about loudspeaker frequency response."

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The transformation that occurs with a 1/4" change is caused by the interaction of sound waves generated by the speaker with room boundaries and openings, objects in the room, and reflective surfaces. And since every speaker design is different, optimal positioning changes from speaker to speaker as well as from room to room. Optimal positioning for the listener changes as well.

As someone who has covered countless shows for Stereophile, and hopes to cover many more, I've often visited rooms where exhibitors show me where the speakers were initially placed and where they ended up. They also discuss how long it took to get the speakers to their optimal position. The smartest of the lot also direct me to the best place to sit, or answer my query about same. Some may say, for example, "Don't sit in the last row, because the bass is much too strong there," while others may say, "I suggest you sit in the center seat in the second row, because that where I aimed the speakers."

The difference in sound between exhibits where speakers and listeners are carefully positioned, and those where exhibitors do not take the time or have the time to devote to optimal positioning is marked.

beave's picture

Yes, it's pretty well understood that a difference of several feet in listener or speaker position will make a noticeable difference. I think what they're questioning is how a difference of 1/4" makes such a difference, especially given that you didn't mention using a head vice in your review.

Charles E Flynn's picture

https://audioroundtable.com/misc/Influence_of_Room_Boundaries.pdf

pbarach's picture

I would like to see some measurements documenting a significant change in frequency response at the listening position after moving speakers 1/4". This would be persuasive (to me anyway) that the BIG change that the reviewer heard was not the result of small changes in listening position or an expectancy effect. I have no doubt that larger changes in speaker placement make an audible and measurable difference, but 1/4"? I'd want some data to convinvce me.

Jim Austin's picture

But such things must of course be carefully stage-managed to pull off, and that was not done here--and indeed, is hard to do without interfering with the course of a subjective review.

It is reasonable to be skeptical that a 1/4" repositioning could be that significant. All I can say is that Brian is an experienced reviewer with a science background (PhD); he's no soft-headed humanist (says me, who has great affection for some soft-headed humanists).

Other commenters in this thread could learn much from your careful, respectful phrasing.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

CG's picture

Y'know, assuming that what the reviewer heard was strictly due to a change in the standing wave pattern for bass notes only, it would seem to me that a computer simulation of a similar resonator, aka room, could determine whether one quarter inch of movement would have a significant effect. This is well understood physics.

While his room would be hard to exactly model, because it's not uniform and the "Q" of the resonator isn't well defined, you could still determine if a quarter inch matters. This approach would eliminate the stage management problem.

Of course, there's significant other effects that come into play for the complete audio spectrum, and it's often been noted that a change outside the bass region will affect the perception of the bass. (And vice versa) The human aural system is a strange device.

In addition, since the Wilson speakers don't use a first order alignment for the driver combination, the phase of the natural harmonics for some of the frequencies in the recording are kind of undefined out there in the listening space and may be sensitive to the speaker positioning relative to the listener. This could have an effect, too.

Oh, so many questions. I suspect that most people really wouldn't want to know the precise answers since that would spoil a perfectly fine argument.

(Full disclosure: I have nothing to do with Wilson or any other loudspeaker manufacturer. We do own a pair of loudspeakers, but not made by Wilson. I do like the red, though.)

To me, the bigger question is why JA Classique had that sound coming from an unpowered loudspeaker. His idea of the electromagnetic field from his room's AC power system "powering" the loudspeaker seems plausible and worth investigating. He probably has almost all the test gear in his lab to find out. But, if so, does a similar situation affect other people's rooms? Just because you can't hear your speaker humming because it doesn't know the words, that doesn't mean that the linearity of the system has not been affected somehow. And... How does this affect his measurements, of not only loudspeakers but of electronics?

beave's picture

Has Wilson ever made a speaker that *didn't* get reviewed (promoted) by Stereophile?

JHL's picture

...the Stereophile free comments section ever not been abused by an anon armchair leaping to conclusions as if s/he'd more insight than about 300 years of combined reviewer experience?

beave's picture

How does a question "leap to conclusions?"

And if I'm an anon armchair, couldn't we all agree that you're exactly the same?

So who leaped to conclusions here?

JHL's picture

...I thought that in your tacit statement you'd already concluded that the editors had just promoted a Wilson product. You appeared to beg the question, I believe the term goes.

Is the review above a promotion of a Wilson product? Just curious.

At any rate, do you know why it got high marks for fidelity? I do. There are a few key reasons. One of the clues lies in the measurements. Do you know which one?

Glotz's picture

He actually uses sound logic to put forth his arguments and you made assumptive statements about the speakers you haven't heard.

You rather made a rhetorical question where you essentially accused Stereophile of being financially and journalistically complicit in their reviews of Wilson products.

beave's picture

You accuse me of making assumptions. Then you make assumptions that I haven't heard the speakers (as if that's relevant) and that my question accuses Stereophile of being "complicit" (in what?) in their reviews.

Funny.

Glotz's picture

"Has Wilson ever made a speaker that *didn't* get reviewed (promoted) by Stereophile?"

You accuse quite directly that they are promoting Wilson (above if you can't remember). That's an accusation of collusion, really.

Hearing the speaker in order to make an opinion is entirely relevant. You would then be able to offer accurate and informed criticism instead of assumptions and silly accusations as above.

Stereophile has heard the line over the years, and feel it warrants coverage due to their continued innovation. I was pretty clear about that already.

JHL's picture

...you heard either the Wilsons or the phenomena you're questioning? I didn't say you hadn't. You begged the question that: was the Editor not promoting the Wilson brand by reviewing another Wilson product.

What I *did* say you haven't addressed: I know why the Wilson sounds good, and I see one piece of evidence of that sound in it's measured data. It is not the amplitude response, per se.

You're just as free to isolate either or both to go with your experience with this speaker.

The point is that there are valid reasons available from the obvious science - a word I hate to use like that because it's so often abused there - and you might be triggered into a realization of them in and among your alluded beliefs.

Therefore: This is a very good speaker, there are entirely visible reasons for its sound, and I'd certainly hope a good high end magazine would identify that sound - with at least some correlation in its data - even without either failing to put good ears on it or by laying out its trade secrets.

The Editor did both. Have you done either?

a.wayne's picture

The rear firing port will make the speakers sensitive to wall Boundaries and yes 1/4 “ movement of loudspeakers do make a difference in a revealing system , midfi not so much ..

Regards

JHL's picture

...are not particularly sensitive to boundaries; or given the wavelengths involved, not more so than front-firing ports. Rear-firing ports are also quieter, which is why they're on the back.

Anton's picture

LOL!

beave's picture

What makes a system more or less "revealing?" Are there any measurements that are associated with, uhm, revealingness?

Do you think you could reliably distinguish between the two positions if you had the lights turned off?

JHL's picture

...there are measurements that correlate with more revealing reproduced sound - which, of course there are even when they're not part of the pop anon armchair vernacular or its technical set - does it matter if the associated audible phenomenon exist?

In fact there's one datum - of many related phenomena - in the measurements page for this speaker that does exactly that.

beave's picture

From an anon armchair

volvic's picture

Mr. Damkroger has excellent taste in music used in this review, especially the Kubelik which is a great recording. Just like a one or two MM tonearm height adjustment can make a huge difference in turntable sound so too can 1/4 inch movement. While 2 mm may seem like a small amount the difference within can prove immense in dialing in the proper point where everything snaps into place. I fail to see why this wouldn’t apply to speaker placement.

Kal Rubinson's picture

While 2 mm may seem like a small amount the difference within can prove immense in dialing in the proper point where everything snaps into place. I fail to see why this wouldn’t apply to speaker placement.

I don't accept this analogy from a small mechanical device with fixed parameters to a large acoustical device.

volvic's picture

Both have varying variables to achieve audio nirvana, why wouldn’t a listening room with all its listening elements be any different? I believe the analogy still holds.

Kal Rubinson's picture

I think the analogy is flawed because, while I trust that Brian heard what he says, it is not clear how this is effected in the context of multivariate events on the larger acoustical scale.

OTOH, 2mm adjustment at the tonearm changes the small, fixed geometry in a defined way.

volvic's picture

Fair enough! Good enough for me.

Glotz's picture

+/-2mm deviation on planar speakers' plane alignment would be the increment of error but I can get +/-5mm with a laser measuring tool. It is critical to work to level of accuracy to achieve 'room lock'.

Proper alignment (as above) to each other and the room enables a much more stable time and phase-aligned image, and whether others can measure or even hear it is really a lack of successful pursuit.

To imply that JVS is not hearing such a difference in 1/4" of change rather points to the respondents than him.

JHL's picture

To imply that JVS is not hearing such a difference in 1/4" of change rather points to the respondents than him.

It certainly does.

A prevailing trend among a tier of less experienced readers is to shoot first and ask questions later. The ASR-style armchair expert assumes he has a unique grasp of the intricacies of loudspeakers because he's got on his screen the data from a sophisticated measuring system. For speakers his data preference is heavily - even solely - dominated by simple amplitude.

He's assumed that loudness uniformity is everything. Yes, simple loudness uniformity.

From this practical proof of the dangers of a little knowledge comes the assumption that the audio high end is charlatan territory. From there it's a short step to ruling entire product or tech categories right out of legitimate contention: Surely no cable can have a sound, goes the instinct, and surely all there is to a speaker is captured by a microphone and displayed in simple amplitude versus versus frequency output. And those fools over at HiFidelitie Monthly are the most crooked batch of ancient duffers ever to separate a Big Box shopper from his hard-earned crypto.

These threads fill up with this unexamined set of arrogant conclusions. It's a shame.

It's a shame because it threatens a good thing, which is the product of decades of effort and experience, the focus of which is the sound of a system tuned to go beyond the threshold. These presumptive interlocutors have never heard that sound.

It's odd that in the entire world of human endeavor audio is the one field that surely stops abruptly at the sound of a $400 item to rule without evidence that everything that lies over that horizon be monsters. Imagine of the Honda coupe were the purported pinnacle of automotive engineering or the $6 WalMart all there was to wine.

It's a problem. I hope Stereophile pushes back.

beave's picture

Let's assume for the moment that a 1/4" change in speaker placement affects the sound waves arriving at the listener's ears. Would it not follow that a 1/4" change in the position of the listener's ears would also affect the sound waves arriving at the ears?

If so, how did the reviewer maintain his listening position to within less than 1/4" movement of his ears? What kind of device did he use?

Skepticism is sometimes healthy and rational.

Glotz's picture

And I've already told you what device, a laser measuring tool. The Bosch GLM30 to be exact. Very small, and portable and very easily actionable while in a listening seat from one's stationary chin. I took the recommendation from HR here as well (though I don't know if he uses his chin.) Lol...

I have these speakers and have set them up with this accurate-to-the-millimeter measuring tool and have precise measurements to 3mm on all parameters.

It's easy to press the device against one's chin, not move one's head, push a button and view the measurement to the nearest MM afterwards. You are after all looking at the device's laser from an angle but it is entirely possible to perform many accurate measurements.

After 5, 10 or even 100 readings from the same spot, and then averaging them within 3mm, the effects in the room are very stable imaging, improved depth perspective and layered localization, ultra-wide imaging with the ability to dial in a larger or smaller soundstage, among other parameters of time and phase alignment as well.

After a few days and hundreds of measurements, I have the same repeated inner and outer speaker edge distances to the MM, as well as speakers to the wall, themselves, side walls and anything else your mind is skeptical of.

We're no longer arguing theory here. What you assume as rational is really not at all when scientific methods are applied and exercised. After hundreds of repeated, close within 2-3mm measurements it is obvious any layperson hears them both slightly misaligned and aligned.

It's also true with all speakers, but with Magneplanars' it is many more times obvious due to their inherent planar nature.

Glotz's picture

Personally, I COMPLETELY AGREE WITH JLH here. I find all of the ASR and other hack audio websites utterly lacking in knowledge and experience (humility as well), AND the willingness to test your their jaded prejudices and assumptive biases by listening in any space like a real review.

They also have no trust in anything, especially Stereophile. After almost 40 years of reading them, there is only trust from me. Being a skeptic is the norm these days; it does no one any good to hang onto these biases.

It is real clear that a lot of posters above and below just really disbelieve anything and everyone, without learning more over time.

Newbies and mid-fi listeners really should show a bit of trust from a magazine that has never willfully abused that trust ever in it's pages.

Anton's picture

Good post!

That first one about the laser measurer.

Glotz's picture

"The first one about the laser measurer"... good stuff.

Ah well, I don't hate 'em... just want them to trust these good people occasionally.

JHL's picture

...the assumption that the sound from a pair of nearly full-band speakers in a bounded space is as dominated by where the ears are ten feet away as it is by where the speakers themselves are is unfounded.

Challenging the reviewer - who like a thousand before him heard no evident radical comb effects by shifting a fraction of an inch in his chair - to a contest of millimeters is probably not something you're going to find successful. It's never been successful before - for obvious reasons - because things don't work like that. Or maybe this isn't your venue.

Therefore although skepticism is sometimes healthy and rational it also follows the known empiricism, in this case that nobody has ever had to screw their head in a vice to find where the delicate sweet spots for the *speakers* lie. That would be an assumption without supporting evidence of the sort that inexperienced readers might perform.

JimS's picture

A 100 Hz wavelength (bass) is over 11 feet and gets longer the lower the bass. Moving one’s head 1/4” to look at the volume, read the LP jacket, reach for a chip, or for my remote and the soundstage and bass snap in and out of focus...something is amiss. Bass nodes are in feet not 1/4”. My DartTZeel, Harbeth, AMG Viella is more than resolving enough to NOT notice a 1/4” difference if my housekeeper happens to bump my chair with the vacuum. That’s not a sweet spot that’s a sweet infinitesimal point. I would be appalled if my $20,000 speakers needed one to stay in one confined spot within 1/4”...don’t relax, don’t slouch! Yikes.

Anton's picture

Neither you nor your system are resolving enough. Obviously. I bet you couldn't even tell if there was pea under your mattress.

DavidEdwinAston's picture

I do hope that Wilson make the best sounding loudspeakers in the world. They are expensive and pug ugly,
Was a quarter of the review print taken up with the "so crucial" positioning?
Surely, at this point, the selfish "B's" who can afford Wilson should be purchasing headphones?
As this is my opinion, I would be grateful if reviewing staff wouldn't respond with the most FB/Twitter vile comments such as I have seen in the last few months, when Wilson reviews have been posted.
I do think that Stereophile is the best resource of its genre.

rschryer's picture

Really?

Charles E Flynn's picture

There are some products that are unimpressive in photographs, but in person look quite different than the photos suggest, because of overall fit and finish, and the exact appearance of the paint, powder coat, or anodizing.

The AHB2 amplifier made by Benchmark Media Systems gives a poor impression in small, low-resolution photographs, and an entirely better one in larger, high-resolution photographs.

ejlif's picture

LOL this is one of the dumbest things I've ever read in Stereophile

cgh's picture

"there was more of everything", "it sounded better", "but bigger"... than what? Than the last time you heard that recording?

So Wilson comes out with a Sabrina four and change years ago and a bunch of people shelled out 16-or-so thousand for them. If you hate Wilson none of this mattered but, for the other half, the Sabrina was met positively by both consumers and reviewers. There was a story behind the speaker. Partly it was likely to appeal to the boomer contingent moving out of their 8000+ sq ft homes. What is the point of the SabrinaX? How is it different than the Sabrina? I see the port is different? Is it meant to compliment or replace the Sabrina?

Having owned Wilsons I've heard the whole mythology around the toe-in. I can't say the toe-in mattered more or less than, say, compared to Focals I've owned. If I was going to consider these speakers I'd be annoyed if .25in mattered that much, as if that was even possible with a speaker like this.

With all due respect to the reviewer, fluffy write-ups like this is why I ditched TAS years ago. They lack specificity and solid critical comparison, especially given there's a glowing review of the Sabrinas from 2016.

Jim Austin's picture

What is the point of the SabrinaX? How is it different than the Sabrina?

The answer is, it's dramatically different. The review describes all the technical details, including a totally new complement of drivers. The review contains a great deal of information about what has changed. It seems like you would have noticed that before criticizing the publication.

As a relevant aside, while I like to promote free and open conversation in these comment threads, posters--especially anonymous posters--should *not* expect total license to question the competence and integrity of our reviewers or the publication. I would urge you not to write anything you would not be willing to sign your name to.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

MFK's picture

Some of the commentators are ridiculing the reviewer because he wrote that he heard a clearly audible change in sound when the speakers were moved a 1/4 inch. I have no doubt that he is correct. I used to work at a Wilson dealer and spent a lot of time listening to most of the range: from the Duette up to multi-module models. It was a wonderful perk to the job. John Giolas and Peter McGrath made regular visits to the store and spent a lot of time teaching the staff how to correctly voice a speaker. They repeatedly demonstrated small increments in placement changing the sound of speakers. Wilson designs their products a certain way and that's the reality, love them or hate them. Check out a manual for one of their multi-module models. The upper ones can be adjusted for many degrees of angle. This requires expensive and exact machine tooling. Why does Wilson go to all this trouble? Because it's necessary to get the best out of the design. The major criticism from customers was that Wilson speakers have a one listener "sweet spot". Compared to a KEF, Tannoy or Fyne, there's some truth to that. But many audiophiles listen on their own so no matter for them. For the record, I don't own Wilson but they are untouchable in some important areas.

Anton's picture

Brian must have the coolest listening room, ever!

I have that salt lamp, but want the candle, mask, horse, and perfect aquarium!

That is a strikingly good pic.

Jim Austin's picture

... although I'm not looking at it now.

None of the photos in the article were from Brian's listening room. The front-cover photo and the big photo inside were taken by our photographer in Santa Fe, Eric Swanson. The rest are stock photos provided by Wilson.

But I agree--it is a cool room. Don't know who it belongs to.

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Anton's picture

It’s a work of art!

Robert Deutsch's picture

For a photo of the original Sabrinas in a less exotic listening environment, see my review in https://www.stereophile.com/content/wilson-audio-specialties-sabrina-loudspeaker-page-3

prerich45's picture

I've heard most of the speakers I've desired to hear so far. There are two that have eluded me ...Magico, and Wilson. I just hope to be able to hear a pair...any pair before I leave this world. I live in audio purgatory.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Dear prerich45,

Many live in audio purgatory in the time of Covid. While shows are always a crapshoot—read, for example, my review of the Gryphon Essence monoblocks where I relate my experience in the impossible acoustic of Gryphon's room at AXPONA 2019—some of the most astounding sound I've heard from Wilsons is at audio shows. Granted, given that some people ask where the sweet spot is and occupy it as though at a sit-in, you may need to spend a while in the room until you can make your way there. But once you do, if the room is tamable...

I forget which show I attended where my hotel room was directly above the Magico room. Bless his heart, Peter Mackay played soft, smooth jazz for the entire show. It was a delight. It was even more delightful when I entered the room itself and heard how good it sounded.

jtshaw's picture

I'm fortunate to live near a dealer (Sound Environment in Omaha, Nebraska) that features both Wilson Audio and Rockport Technologies loudspeakers. Their amplification and source lines (D'Agostino, Gryphon, dCS, Aurender, etc.) are up to the challenge.

For several years the Rockport Atria was my pick for the best sounding floorstander at a price that was very high, but not ridiculous. Then came the first iteration of the Wilson Sabrina that sounded utterly superb and considerably less expensive. Both loudspeakers are great all-arounders, and the prospective owner has much to ponder in their different emphases out on the edges of the performance envelope.

I've yet to audition the SabrinaX, but based on this review I suspect it will challenge the newest Atria. I look forward to testing my suspicion.

As for placement, the crew at Sound Environment invests vast amounts of time getting it right in their purpose-built rooms. In a home environment, with so many audio-hindering variables, placement has always struck me as a crap shoot. The primary reason I have never purchased an extreme high-end loudspeaker is that I have never lived in a place where I could fully take advantage.

And, as I joked at Sound Environment, they made the mistake selling me the Joseph Audio Pulsar almost 10 years ago. That stand-mounted 2-way, augmented with a mid-range REL subwoofer, is so very good that it turned the curve of diminishing returns almost vertical.

Anton's picture

I even like looking at the "felt" patterns speaker manufacturers use around their drivers.

You KNOW they've tried round, square, star, etc....it's fascinating how they end up with the final products. The pattern Wilson uses is interesting and pretty...which would be cool to to see measurements with and without, of course!!!

I can go back to the time of the Acoustic Research AR 9 and AR 90 era with their "acoustic blankets" being part of the equation. I am trying to recall who was doing it before that time (late 1970s.) I am sure there were others before but can't quickly recall.

There was a very popular line that hit in the 80's or 90's that seemed to be based on felting their baffles. Ah, yes, Lipinski! And they sounded pretty good.

prerich45's picture

Duntech and Dunlavy did this also.

DavidEdwinAston's picture

Jim
as my user name is my real name, I assume that passes your test?
Looking at my comments again, pug ugly is unfair. I'm sure the fit and finish of Wilson audio equipment is up with the best, and as to appearance I must accept that not everyone believes the young Sophia Loren, to be the most beautiful woman ever! (Can't imagine why not.)
Forgive me for sticking by the rest of my post.

dfh's picture

Editors JA and JA1: The March 2021 issue has reviews of the SabrinaX and Sony SA-Z1 desktop system. While radically different speaker designs and intended for radically different 'application space/locations', I am puzzled by JA's comments on the waterfall/cumulative spectral decay plots for these two pieces of kit. For the Sony, JA comments the decay "is relatively clean in the midrange, but a little hashy in the treble". But no comment is made for the same or greater (to my eyes) amount of hash and delayed energy in both the midrange and treble for the SabrinaX. For the SabrinaX only the correlation of step response ripples to a delayed energy ridge "just below 3kHz" is mentioned. What am I missing? This seems inconsistent, as is the ridge due to computer monitor interference stated at just below 16kHz (SabrinaX) and just below 17kHz (Sony SA-Z1). Does the monitor's scanning frequency vary or interact differently with different loudspeaker systems? BTW 1/4 inch variation in speaker placement can have audible effects, but the degree of perceived change is likely a room dependent variable, just as the influence of room dimensions affects frequency balance in the bass/mid-bass. I hope my comment does not come across as too negative, I thoroughly enjoy Stereophile and its reviewers! Stay safe and well!

Anton's picture

Maybe it's time we start seeing a spec for how far apart each reviewer's ears are.

I can see where that might lead:

Audiophile A: Of course you think that speaker placement is optimum, you're stinking ears are 4 inches too far apart.

Audiophile B: Don't be so "narrow" minded.

___

Adding further drift: I think when speakers are placed properly, it becomes easier to walk around the room and maintain the sensation of room/speaker lock, even off axis.

You may be right, I may be crazy, but I think this.

MatthewT's picture

We need detailed data on ear-shape as well!

Chuck Stark's picture

Although the reviewer details the changes Wilson has made to the original Sabrina, there's no comparison at all of how the new and old models sound. Of course, no reviewer can have experienced or have on hand every other speaker with which to compare the one under review. But in the case of the SabrinaX, I'd have thought a comparison with the original Sabrina, with which many readers may be at least somewhat familiar and which presumably is the benchmark against which the new one should be measured, would be especially pertinent and helpful. Personally, I'd been looking forward to a review of the SabrinaX for just that reason, and find this review unhelpful.

Le Concombre's picture

If I was to describe what I hear as "The soundstage was huge, well beyond anything I'd heard before. It stretched to waaaaay outside the speakers", I would give "Invert Polarity" a try... The "anechoic" response (Measurements Fig 3) is horrendous with 8 dB spanned dips and bumps in the 2-5 Khz region and the absence of any published anechoic responses at 0 30 45 ° for Wilson speakers lets me presume they are hiding horrors, whatever their costs and Wilson's marketing clout. Here we have a reviewer to whom I'll give credit he actually hears the effect of a quarter inch move while obsessing, elsewhere we have an audiophile oriented website's founder proudly claiming that he uses Digital Room Correction to "enjoy" best his Wilson speakers with an absurd flat within 2 dB up to 20 000 Hz frequency response : I definitely suspect anechoic responses at 0 30 45 ° for Wilson speakers would show horrors. BTW such anechoic responses at 0 30 45 ° for any speaker reviewed would be welcome

JHL's picture

What do you base all that angst on? (Note that for the amplitude-is-everything mystics there are gated* axial responses in the measurements section.)

*quasi-anechoic.

Search And Rescue's picture

When a company, or individual, strives to take a product or accomplishment out to that nth degree and explore what may seem impossible possibilities, that is the drive which has become the hallmark of "Made in the USA", and is what all of us are trying to embrace. In high performance auto racing the teams that pay attention to the smallest details realize the win, or finish near the top and separates them from the "also rans".

Through the years I have experienced exceptional sound so few times when a speaker is truly locked in with the room. It was not knowing that part being the reason for it which proved so vexing to me over the years. Once you experience that sound you never forget it and the chase is on. As speaker-room interactions become more understood, the solutions to overcome those limitations become more involved and exacting.

My last set of speakers, which the dealer set up, were great speakers. They became exceptional only when I discovered, by happenstance 2-years later, tilting them forward by a fraction of an inch locked everything into place giving me exactly what I had been searching for. In the meantime, I have tried so many other components with these speakers trying to capture exactly what I had accomplished - that magic. Yes, with any speaker music can be played back and enjoyed. It's when the set-up has been dialed-in so precisely that the experience of a well-made live recording can truly be realized. The sounds of the room reflection and refraction the microphones were able to pick up only then can fully convey that feeling of being a part of that event. That slight adjustment of my speakers took place only after I had ordered a pair of SabrinaX speakers many weeks earlier.

When the dealer delivered the SabrinaX's a few days ago, they admitted having learned so much on speaker placement and room interactions since the last time. I witnessed that knowledge firsthand; seeing and hearing the results of each painstaking adjustment. The end result is an absolutely arresting musical experience. And that with a vintage 40-year old amplifier. They will return in another month to adjust and more finely tune the placement to my hearing once I have time to get better acquainted.

No matter how little, or how much, of your long green you have spent, or plan on spending for speakers, take the time necessary to properly (re)position them. More so if your listening room is multi-purpose or less than ideal. Those fractions of an inch might just yield a rich experience waiting to be unlocked for those patient enough to do so.

I wish I had known about this years ago and wasn't so dismissive of it when I did know. I didn't believe it, nor invest the time to try it. It would have saved me a small mint chasing the seeming madness this audiophile pursuit can result in.

Take the time and start off with the speakers. Then kick back, relax, and float downstream.

Best regards to all.

Paul de Kermadec's picture

Next time the dealer come, ask them to perform a measurement and check how it fits Dr Floyd Toole's recommendation : "If you measure such a curve in your room, you can take credit for selecting excellent loudspeakers. If not, it is likely that your loudspeakers have frequency response or directivity irregularities. Equalization can address frequency response issues, but cannot fix directivity issues. Consider getting better loudspeakers." (The curve is my avatar) Of course, DSP equalisation is probably required below #300 Hz and the bass response should be extended and you should have at hand a mean (Tone control, family of DSP...) to tune the bass response below and above the curve, depending on the source

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