TAS editor Robert Harley and I heard the new Wilson Alexandria XLF loudspeaker in Provo, Utah this past week. I wasn’t going to comment on the loudspeaker as Robert’s coverage was so comprehensive, but he’s encouraged me to supplement his remarks. So I thought I might offer a few further thoughts about visiting David and Sheryl Lee Wilson and their son Daryl, and listening to the new XLF at their spacious home.
One of the things that makes listening to an audio system enjoyable is whether the room itself is an inviting one. I’ve always enjoyed listening at David and Sheryl’s home for the simple reason that it’s beautifully situated in the mountains. It features a large window in their living room overlooking the spectacularly craggy Utah landscape. It is also the case that I tend to enjoy the same kind of music the Wilsons do, which is jazz and classical. Fans of Wilson audio might know that David travels about once a year to listen at Vienna’s Musikverein, which I myself think has to be considered perhaps the best hall in the world. I had the chance to listen for several hours in the afternoon with the Wilsons—Robert had to catch a flight back home. Now before I go on I would like to emphasize that we listened for hours. Intently. David and Sheryl take music very, very seriously.
Which helps explain what is taking place with their spanking new loudspeaker. Now I have to confess that the truth is that Robert caught on to the differences between the XLF and the Alexandria X-2, Series 2 more quickly than I did. For whatever reason, I found the image shift between the two sets of loudspeakers—they were set up next to each other—a bit distracting. Still, I could tell that the X-2 sounded a little more drab harmonically than the new XLF. The XLF was also more precise. But listening for several hours solely to the XLF began to bring home the differences more acutely. For one thing, it became clear to me that the XLF possesses a greater alacrity than the X-2. It stops and starts more quickly. The subjectively increased speed of the XLF also means that it possesses an even greater dynamic jump factor than its predecessor. Drum rolls possess a snap and crispness that is quite realistic. It is also easier to identify and follow vocal lines, something that helps increase a sense of realism.
I could go on and on about the differences, but I think Robert Harley captured it best when he observed that a wealth of small but important improvements translate into a significantly improved loudspeaker. Yes, the X-2 remains a marvelous loudspeaker. But the XLF is audibly, palpably better. As it should be for the price.
But the skeptics will cry, what about the tweeter? Yes indeed, Wilson forwent the opportunity to employ beryllium. It employed a silk dome radiator. Old School. If your reaction is--Oh, the horror, the horror!—then the XLF may not be for you. Perhaps Wilson should have dropped everything to go for an exotic metal. But I myself don’t feel competent to weigh in on this issue. I’m neither a speaker designer nor a metallurgist. Even worse, I lack any engineering chops whatsoever. I just enjoy listening to music and playing my trumpet.
So all I can say is that I greatly enjoyed listening to the new tweeter, which I think represents an important step forward. It certainly wouldn’t nag at me that a diamond or beryllium tweeter is not employed in the XLF. But I did find it fascinating to hear this morning from A.J. Conti of Basis Audio, who does possess the technical expertise to at least offer a judgment that, I think, should be taken seriously. I asked his permission to share a few of his thoughts. I found them quite illuminating,. Here is what he wrote:
I was speaking with a speaker guy this week and I was saying "what happened to the fabric dome tweeters? Everyone is going to very stiff metals, but stiff metals, no matter what the geometry, when used in thin form, will have resonances that will be very hard to keep far away from the audio range. If damping is not introduced along with stiffness resonances rise. And these stiff metals do not have any degree of self damping".
The real summary line was "You cannot get a piece of fabric to go into resonance in a fashion that sounds like a piece of metal going into resonance, which is a real disadvantage of the metal".
And here I read that Wilson is using a soft dome, on a statement product, partially for that reason. Amazing.