Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX Series 3 loudspeaker

Though taller, narrower, deeper, more gracefully sculpted, and even more mantis-like than the MAXX Series 2 that I reviewed in the August 2005 Stereophile, at first glance the Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX Series 3 seems little more than a minor reworking of its predecessor with a major increase in price: from $44,900 to $68,000 per pair. But first looks can be deceiving. Take a closer, longer gaze—or, better yet, spend some time listening (especially if you've spent time with the MAXX 2)—and you'll quickly realize that while the familiar Wilson design concepts remain in play, the MAXX 3 is far more than a minor reworking of an older model.

A more perfect union
At 5' 7" tall, 16" wide, 24" deep, and weighing 425 lbs, the MAXX 3 is one big, heavy loudspeaker. The shipping cost alone (for a total shipping weight of 1190 lbs) is greater than the retail price of many speakers. The MAXX 3's efficiency is rated at 90dB, or 1dB lower than the MAXX 2, but the MAXX 3 is said by Wilson to present amplifiers with a far less demanding load.

Wilson Audio uses the same 11" and 13" Focal woofers in the MAXX 3 that it did in the 2, in an enclosure now made entirely of the company's exceptionally dense, inert, phenolic-based X material. Wilson claims that X is essentially nonresonant, as well as expensive, and extremely difficult and time-consuming to machine with CNC equipment—points convincingly demonstrated to me during a visit to the Wilson factory a few years back.

The new bass bin's sculpted sides add a graceful note to the MAXX 3's appearance and probably contribute to its higher price, but the biggest difference between the MAXXes 2 and 3 is above the woofers. The new speaker borrows some of the Propagation Delay–creating Aspherical Group Delay technology used in Wilson's even bigger, even more expensive Alexandria X-2 ($158,000/pair). Each of the Alexandria's three forward-firing upper drivers, in vertical MTM array, can be moved fore or aft in its enclosure as well as rotated on its horizontal axis. This, in conjunction with a properly designed and implemented crossover network, allows the speaker to be nearly perfectly time-aligned at the listening position to produce a single, time-coincident transient pulse. According to Wilson, time-domain distortion, usually audible as grain, ringing, and dynamic compression, can also produce tonal alterations.

Although the MAXX 2's MTM-configured upper cabinet permitted some rotational adjustability, the drivers it contained moved only as one, making ideal Propagation Delay impossible. The MAXX 3's introduction of Aspherical Group Delay splits the higher-frequency array: the tweeter and one midrange are in the lower cabinet, the second midrange in the smaller, upper box. Both cabinets can be shifted fore or aft, and independently tilted while maintaining rigidity via an ingenious and complex set of interchangeable spikes, grooved and dimpled channels, locking clamps, and a sliding, stepped aluminum wedge—not quite as good as the Alexandria's three independently movable drivers, but more adjustability than with the MAXX 2.

Independent control of a speaker's various drive-units is a good idea in theory, but, like the once-popular level and crossover controls, giving end-users too many setup options can too easily result in sound that's worse, not better. But once the MAXX 3s have been placed in a room (dealer setup is included in the price), their distance from the listening position and the height of the listener's ears determine, with great specificity, the positions and rake angles of the driver modules. No guesswork is involved.

The MAXX 3 includes a somewhat simplified version of the all-new, 7" cellulose-fiber/paper midrange cone developed specifically for the Alexandria Series 2, as well as Wilson's further reworking of Focal's inverted-dome titanium tweeter, with greater attention paid to reducing time-delayed interference that results from reflections of the diaphragm's backwave.

The midrange section of the completely redesigned crossover network is now contained in a reinforced isolated chamber inside the bass cabinet—another change borrowed from the Alexandria X-2—and a new, acoustically superior natural fiber now covers the front baffles of all three cabinets, replacing the rubbery stuff used on the MAXX 2. The fiber also covers the inner sides of the uprights that extend from the bass-bin side panels that surround the upper modules. The uprights themselves are made of a Wilson's X material. As in the MAXX 2, the 3's bass bin is rear-ported, as is each of the midrange drivers.

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