Wilson Alexandria XLF—Further Thoughts

Posted by: Jacob Heilbrunn at 5:05 pm, December 27th, 2011

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.

Comments

angeloitacare -- Thu, 01/05/2012 - 22:22

us$ 27000,00 price difference of two speakers, which do look almost the same, and with very few design differences ??? crazy.....

staxguy -- Wed, 01/11/2012 - 00:51

I agree. You'd think they'd work on the production techniques / process, and lower the price over time, while improving the quality. However, there is only a certain number of people who are happy to purchase a speaker as large and imposing as an Alexandria, even if it were $8,000 a pair today, new.

I'd be one jumping on the bandwagon, provided there weren't much better options (perhaps there are...), but $2000-$2800 used is sort of where I'd value a pair like this, being in my my great party speakers, and a conversation hub.

When I see a great speaker (visually), or in terms of construction quality / parts, I can put the value much, much higher.

Certainly, you'd think a Chinese manufacturer could put out a speaker like this easily for $27,000 a pair, given reverse-engineering and no real development costs, and make a great profiit, if people would buy in volume, which I doubt they will. (Size... etc.) I'm a bit suprised that they don't but I'm sure they know the market will bear.

If  a company in India (Tata) can produce a Nano car for $2500 USD, we can imagine lower hi-fi prices for less costly to develop and manufacture products like amplifiers and speakers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxWq9bKRmc0

At least we can expect more exotic (or simply costly) materials to be used on hi-fi / hi-end equipment to accord with the price, but this will natually lower profits.

Go into a traditional store like Cartier and Tiffany, and you will see quite a bit of "jewelry" and  fashion accessories in non-precious metals, and yet priced at the same or higher than handcrafted items in precious metals, make in the second or third world. There's the profit margin, and the cost of the real estate and advertising to show in boutique and attract paying clientelle.

I got a Salvatore Feragamo money clip for Christmas for myself, which was around $200 after tax in a nice place here, and do you think I could find a Sterling Silver marking? :) Ha. Just made in Italty, and nickel / aluminum, and maybe a $2-$5 value, or $20 if it was to be a good profit made ($15 for the store).

I imagine the same logic is at work at a higher level in the hi-fi world. People want something neat and exclusive - something to "have". :)

Maybe that next model $500,000 Wilson will include $100,000 of internal hookup wire, and $400,000 of amplifcation, and include the cabinet and drivers for free? :)

I'm more excited to see active speakers come for the likes of Wilson & B&W than from other players, but it seems that the economy of the hi-fi world relies of constant upgrade necessity.

blackfly -- Mon, 01/16/2012 - 19:53

 Agreed with Staxguy.
Moreover, this is even more ridiculous when Magico is able to build the Q5 BETTER and CHEAPER, in house, than its predecessor.  If anyone thinks that Wilson is not taking anyone for a ride...... 
Returning to Magico, I see they have the new Q7 coming.  I think this is moreso that they can "compete" with the megapriced speakers, rather than going further, but I suspect it will be superlative when it is reviewed by "Wolfman".

angeloitacare -- Mon, 01/16/2012 - 20:12

The cost to make the best floorstanding  home speakers does never need to be over us$ 10k a pair. Adding distribution and retail margin 400 %, that means whatever speaker retails for more than us$ 50k, is overpriced. 

blackfly -- Mon, 01/16/2012 - 20:13

 I would only temper your thought with the fact that manufacturing on a small scale, such the high end is more costly than $10K in some cases.  Machining, CNC especially, is neither cheap or fast, and good bits can cost $500/piece.  I can see cost of manufacture being higher but everyone seems to want to "get in on the action" when the end user is "of means".  I agree there are markups but making the cabinets of the Wilson line is not a one day affair, despite the fact I agree with you.

m635csi -- Thu, 06/28/2012 - 09:45

Wilson Audio and "engineering". Hand in hand they do not go.
If you need a tweeter to go down to 1kHz you have a midrange driver that is breaking up significantly, just above 1kHz. This means that the cone of the mid driver is spectacularely poorly designed or is designed to satisfiy some other objective, such as super low cost.
To build a tweeter that goes down to 1 kHz you need a large suspension (roll) to cope with the larger excursions which adds mass. You need a lot of power handling capacity because lower frequencies draw a lot more current. Power handling doesn't come for free, you need to use larger gauge wire for the voicecoil, which adds mass. The gap has to be longer, to cope with the longer excursion, which means you will need a longer coil as well, which adds mass.
Mass is the enemy because it adds inertia - the resistance to a change of direction. The heavier a speaker diaphragm is, the less easily and accurately it will follow the input signal.
You can be sure that a little more genuine engineering and a little less "marketneering" would really improve what ammounts to a very, very average sounding speaker, with a very big price tag.
A J Conti is right, it's much easier to design a tweeter that breaks up really early but is so well damped that you can't hear it, but that's hardly high fidelity is it? What do you lose along with all that damped distortion?
A far more noble approach is to make a tweeter out of a super stiff and lightweight metal that sure, resonates in a big way, but at 40kHz where it is way, way, way out of band. That way you lose nothing in the 3-18kHz band that we all can actually hear.
Perfect Pistons for everything, difficult to achieve but the result is TRUE.
Actually, there's so much sloppy "engineering" in all of Wilson's product lineup, thank goodness they have a stellar marketing department and there's loads of gullibleAmerican or nothing customers out there to suck up all the techno-drivel.
 
 

georgelouis -- Mon, 08/20/2012 - 01:05

 Here's a copy of an email I sent to David Wilson:
Dear Mr. Dave Wilson,

 
I read A Chat with David Wilson on page 90 of the September issue of TAS wherein you state that first order high and low pass filters have 90 degrees of phase shift at their crossover frequency but I think 1st order high pass filters have only 45 degrees of phase shift of at their -3 db amplitude point (crossover frequency) see the information at the following link:  http://www.electronics-tutorials.ws/filter/filter_3.html and see the bottom of the page of page 20 of Active Filter Design by Carson Chen which also states that the phase shift is 45 degrees of a 1st order high pass filter's -3 db amplitude point (it's crossover frequency).  On the other hand, it's 2nd order crossovers that have + and - 90 degrees of phase shift at their crossover frequency and thus require reversing the polarity which totals 180 degrees of phase shift at the crossover frequency.  Putting the electrical polarity of the high and low pass filters in opposite electrical polarities puts them back in polarity to avoid canceling each other at and around their crossover frequency.  Thus you need to reverse the electrical polarity of all of the drivers on either the high pass side or low pass side of the crossover but not both.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that you used 2nd order crossovers in your speakers and therefore reversed your speakers' driver connections accordingly.
 
In the meantime please the information at the following links for more about polarity and phase:  http://www.AbsolutePolarity.com  and  http://www.PolarityGeorge.com  .
 
Best regards,
 
George S. Louis, Esq., CEO
Digital Systems & Solutions
Website: AudioGeorge.com
Phone:  619-401-9876

 

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