Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia loudspeaker Page 4

A very different bass player from Bromberg, but just as talented, is Jerome Harris, who is featured on Stereophile's Rendezvous CD (STPH013-2). In trying to explain the depth of Jerome's talent to a colleague, it struck me that it isn't just that Jerome has great chops—with sufficient practice, I might be able to play the lines Jerome laid down on Rendezvous. What matters is not whether or not I can play the notes, but that Jerome comes up with notes I can't even imagine. This is amply demonstrated at the start of "Hand By Hand" on Rendezvous, where Jerome plays what is ostensibly a simple walking bass line, yet one that, while connecting the elements of the song's chordal structure, also hints at other songs and other moods. The clean leading edges of the Wilson speaker's bass region laid bare every little inflection of Jerome's phrasing, yet without the sound of his instrument becoming too lean.

I finished my listening sessions with another bass player, the inimitable Marcus Miller, on Miles Davis' We Want Miles (Columbia 469402 2). The two iterations of "Jean-Pierre" state the simplest motif you can imagine, a child's tune, and take it for a ramble. I have owned this album on LP pretty much since it came out, and had been put off by the CD reissue, which had always sounded bright, hard, and messy. But on the Sophias, the CD started making sense. The music-making on this live album is all about the spaces left between the notes by the musicians, and on ordinary speakers those spaces are diminished by grunge. Via the Sophias, even when drummer Al Foster is riding a splash cymbal that would otherwise fill in all the gaps on lesser speakers, the individual acoustic objects are sufficiently well-differentiated that the music continues to communicate. Just as it does in real life.

At $11,700/pair, the Sophia is the best value for money speaker to come from Wilson Audio, but there will probably be shocked intakes of breath at Wilson's Utah HQ when David Wilson and his team read that I think the Sophia might well be Wilson's best speaker to date. "Best," not in the sense that the Sophia exceeds all their other models in every area—it clearly doesn't—but "best" when considered as an integrated package at its price, where its performance in each area optimally balances those in other areas. In that sense the Sophia raises the bar for the twice-the-price WATT/Puppy, which is probably why that system was scheduled to be relaunched in its "version 7" reincarnation at Home Entertainment 2002, still two weeks away as I write this review.

I enjoyed my time with the Sophias immensely and was sorry to see them leave my listening room. I wanted to hang on to them for a little longer, but the review pair had been purchased by Stereophile publisher John Gourlay. I envy him the musical enjoyment he is going to get from this loudspeaker. Perhaps he'll invite me over.