Instead of smearing or blurring, the MAXX 3 thus provides a great, much greater, sense of individual performers playing together simultaneously as opposed to a congealed blob. On one of my precious Fitzwilliam Quartet LPs of the Shostakovich String quartets, it sounded as though six feet separated the first violinist from the violist. The MAXX simply grounds instruments to a degree unprecedented in my experience. Similarly, the Beaux Arts trio sounded more transcendent, more unified than I had ever heard before on LP. In this regard, I should also mention that thanks to the generosity of Nagra distributor John Quick, I enjoyed the chance to try the elegant Nagra VPS phonostage, which renders tone colors beautifully and has a liquid sound.
The MAXX’s higher sensitivity allows it to convey the elastic sense of music. Nuances and colors that make the music come alive—such as previously almost imperceptible rubatos and vibratos—are simplicity itself to discern. This isn’t a matter of listening for irrelevant squeaks, rumbling subway cars, and the like, but vital musical cues that help create the illusion that the real thing is transpiring in front of you. In short, the MAXX constantly astonished me with heretofore obscured details that the phenomenal Continuum Caliburn turntable was extracting from the black grooves; in many ways, it was as though I was hearing the turntable in an entirely new light.
If the precision and delicacy and finesse of the MAXX 3 came as something of a surprise, it is also fuller and more relaxed sounding than its predecessor, the MAXX 2 (the MAXX 3 is notably easier to drive than MAXX 2 as it features an easier load, even though its 4-ohm impedance means that its sensitivity is closer to 89dB than the specified 91dB). A comparison of the two loudspeakers at Wilson’s home in Provo first alerted me to the contrast, but it became even more apparent as I continued to listen to my pair. On a CD of Thomas Hampson singing Schubert lieder, the MAXX reproduced the sound emanating from his chest, not simply the leading edge of the note. (Hampson, by the way, is a devout Wilson fan and owner—Wilson told me in a tone of some incredulity that he met him in the library of the Musikverein, where Hampson said, “You’re David Wilson? The David Wilson?”)
Nor is the MAXX at a loss when it comes to coherence. No, the three-way crossover isn’t quite as seamless as that of a planar design. How could it be? I found it very difficult, though, to descry where the sonic handoffs were taking place, which seemed to occur with the velvety smoothness of a star track team passing the baton without sacrificing a millisecond. Its seamlessness is particularly notable on the big stuff—on Mahler’s Third, conducted by Claudio Abbado, I was bowled over by the lack of congestion. Tympanis may be pounding away center stage, but the violins, flutes, and trumpets are all there in full glory, unflappably playing away.
And those tympanis, my word! You can crank this speaker to crushing sound pressure levels and it will never lose its composure. Quite the contrary. So blinding is the speed in the nether regions that you almost hear the mallet descending an instant before it whacks the tympani. And you hear not only initial impact on the skin but also the reverberation in the tympani itself and then the hall. No doubt about it: Bass is not in short supply with the MAXX. On the CD Count Basie Meets Oscar Peterson: The Timekeepers [Pablo] John Heard’s groovy bass simply oozes out of the MAXXs on the cut “I’m Confessin’ (That I Love You).” One thing’s for sure: I can’t imagine anyone not loving the bass reproduction, which has a telluric quality. My sense, however, was that for the speaker to produce a towering soundstage and stygian bass it really required a high-powered tube or solid-state amplifier. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for grip and control!
Despite their reputation for boom and sizzle, the MAXXs never seemed splashy or to have a hebephrenic quality. Instead, they are almost conservatively voiced. No single part of the frequency spectrum seems to dominate another or become obtrusive. Some of this can probably be chalked up to the amazing inertness of Wilson cabinets. Yes, when really pushed on rap music it was possible to feel some vibration, but it wasn’t as though the speaker were trembling. And the port would expel puffs of air that you could feel with your hand, but there was no auditory evidence of chuffing, which is pretty unusual in my experience. The MAXX’s sense of command also may explain its notably pristine micro-dynamics. TAS editor Neil Gader perceptively noted that the MAXX is so precise it appears to put a kind of miniature halo around each note.