As it happens, my listening room is in the form of a shoebox. It also has a concrete floor, which improves bass response. To help position the loudspeakers, Wilson’s National Sales Director Peter McGrath came out to my house for several days. (Wilson rigorously trains its dealers in its special methodology for speaker setup.) Assembling the MAXX 3 is a snap. As part of its redesign of the MAXX 3, Wilson has separate cabinets for the tweeter and midrange drivers that can be angled separately. The tweeter is a Focal that has been modified and the midrange is a proprietary driver.
Once you’ve got the bass cabinet with its Focal 11" and 13" woofers set up, you then stack the tweeter and midrange modules on top. Wilson has its own set-up regimen for fine-tuning the position of the speakers that involves calculating the distance from the listener to the speaker. It relies upon a system that it devised and calls Aspherical Group Delay. In theory, it allows Wilson to time-align the mid and tweeter drivers perfectly, whose modules, as with the Alexandria, can be shifted fore and aft as well as rotated. In addition, Wilson has gone to heroic lengths to isolate and pot the internal crossovers to increase their immunity to the distortions induced by the effects of speaker vibration. It took McGrath, who played me a number of his recordings of Miami’s New World Symphony, a day before he was satisfied with their position. I have never moved them from the spot we both agreed upon was best, about six feet from the back wall, and three feet from the sidewalls. The distance from the inner edge of each speaker to the other was almost eleven feet.
Even in their unbroken-in state the MAXX 3s were notable in several respects. First, they set up a wide and deep soundstage, closer to the scale of a large orchestra or a full organ than any other loudspeaker I’ve had the chance to hear. Second, the midrange driver’s sensitivity allows the MAXX 3 to deliver a more relaxed and refined sound than its predecessor, the MAXX 2. Third, it possesses whiplash speed in the bass that suggests that port designs, which are often accused of being a poor man’s way of achieving deep bass at the cost of exactitude, don’t always have to represent a sonic compromise. Fourth, it has a remarkable purity of timbre; it unfurls different tonal colors like a peacock’s tail. Finally, for all the emphasis on the dynamic sizzle of Wilson loudspeakers, perhaps their most outstanding characteristic is their ability to breathe—to play with true fidelity at low volume. But it did take hundreds of hours for the speaker to break in—the treble sometimes had a horrendous shrillness that took a long time to disappear. However, once it did, the one remark that visitors to my home made with almost metronomic regularity was that this was a Wilson that sounded nothing like Wilsons of yore.
Take the Brazilian Guitar Quartet. Their recording of the Bach suites for orchestra ranks high among my favorite transcriptions. The MAXX situated each guitar in its own space, which a lot of speakers can do, but what was particularly fetching was its ability to render the delicacy and nuance of each instrument. The MAXX 3 had an unbelievable ability not simply to enunciate each note crisply but to allow decays to linger on and die into silence. You hear each crepitation with uncanny precision, perhaps more than the performers themselves ever imagined would be reproduced. (Part of this reproduction was also due to the superlative Playback Designs CD player, which impressed Peter McGrath so much that upon returning home to Florida he immediately ordered two of them, one for recording purposes.)
Furthermore, the imaging was simply rock-solid. Part of this may be attributable to Wilson’s decision to measure each capacitor in his crossover individually and then use bypass capacitors to achieve even tighter tolerances than those specified by their manufacturer. In so doing, Wilson helps to ensure that each loudspeaker measures identically. This, I’m convinced, helps improve image solidity to a great degree. That solidity, in turn, creates a heightened sense of emancipation among instruments and of rhythmic security.
The MAXXs, you could say, got rhythm. This is no small point. While listening to the MAXXs, I perused pianist Gerald Moore’s penetrating autobiography Am I Too Loud? in which he explains that he regards Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the singer nonpareil. Why? According to Moore, “If I had to put my finger on the key to Fischer-Dieskau’s supremacy, setting him apart from every other singer, I would say, in one word: Rhythm. This is the life-blood of music and he is the master of it.”