Few loudspeaker companies seem to engender more controversy than Wilson Audio. Before receiving the Wilson Maxx 3 for review—shameless plug: my write up appears in the August issue of the Absolute Sound—I was pummeled with various points of view about Wilson products. I didn’t pay them all that much heed, not because I didn’t respect the various points of view but because I wanted to find out for myself what all the fuss was about. If you look at my review, I think it’s safe to say you’ll find I was impressed by the performance of the successor to the Maxx2, the Maxx 3.
In auditioning the Maxx 3, I came to conclude that there are three central myths about Wilson. I didn’t include this in the review because I thought it might be too negative an approach. But upon reflection, I think it’s probably worth exploring these myths. So that’s what I would like to do here.
The first myth is that Wilson is simply (or merely) a rock ‘n roll speaker, capable of great dynamic peaks, boom, bombast, sizzle, and what have you. But when it comes to the subtle gradations, Wilson falls short. Well, not in the case of the Maxx. I was struck by its finesse and linearity. This came home to me, for example, on an LP of a Shostakovich string quartet. The Maxx preserved the most subtle crepitations of the violins, in large part, I suspect, because it is a fairly efficient loudspeaker at 90dB. Its efficiency also accounts for a relaxed and supple sound.
The second myth is that the Wilson tweeter is harsh and unrelenting. Again, this wasn’t so in the case of the Maxx 3. Yes, I would have liked a somewhat fuller sound in the transition from mids to highs. But really, this was a predilection on my part rather than a damning fault that I’d discovered. The treble is very linear, which means that it doesn’t have any peaks—at least as near as I could tell. Indeed, when I told a nonaudiophile acquaintance ( who happens to be an ardent lover of music) that Wilson loudspeakers are condemned by some as unmusical, he stared at me with a look of disgust mingled with incredulity.
The third myth is that Wilson loudspeakers have a bloated or souped up midbass. Not that I could tell. On the Maxx 3 and Alexandria loudspeakers, I was impressed by how taut and fast the bass emerged. Robert Harley has emphasized that the Alexandria sounds of a piece—the bass never lags behind the mids and highs.
Is the Maxx 3 the perfect loudspeaker? No way. It’s a precise loudspeaker that lacks some of the airiness of a planar. (I’ve been a Magnepan devotee for almost a decade.) And there may be speakers out there with more extended tweeters (although the Alexandria is rated to 45,000 hz.)
All I’m saying is that not only wouldn’t I condemn the Wilson loudspeaker out of hand, as some do, but I would also give it a careful audition if you’re considering a first-rate loudspeaker (Sonus Faber, Avalon, Magico, Kharma, Rockport, among others). At a moment when high end audio needs to spread the gospel more than ever, I sometimes can’t suppress the feeling that arcane debates about audio components have become akin to religious wars that outsiders cannot even begin to fathom. As for me, I’m going to go cue up a Bach cantata and enjoy the music emanating from either my Magnepan 20.1 loudspeaker or the Maxx 3 that’s here for another week or so.