Though the speaker is notably smoother than the MAXX 2 in the treble region, it is a tad drier in the mid-to-treble region than some other distinguished competitors such as the JM Lab. Here Neil complained that he felt that cymbals were consistently located too high, perhaps because of the driver configuration. For me, however, this wasn’t an issue. More generally, on the spectrum between lush and analytical, the MAXX does lean toward the latter—a quality that, I’m convinced, helps create a tremendous percussive effect on piano recordings. What’s more, the Wilson opens up the recording studio to a degree I’ve never heard before—you’ll hear the drummer to the far left, stuck in his booth, while the piano plays centerstage. With choirs, each voice is almost distinctly identifiable, such is the accuracy of the MAXX. But no one will mistake it for a forgiving loudspeaker.
If I had my druthers, I’d flesh out the mids and highs just a tad. The slight leanness that I heard on some recordings may be a function of the resistors that Wilson uses to prevent its drivers from being blown out by excessive current or a crossover point. Or it might just be that the inverted titanium dome tweeter is the culprit. Ultimately, I felt that the Wilsons sounded their best with the tubed Wotan amplifiers. But make no mistake: The neutrality of the MAXX is what Wilson is striving for—a conscious design decision, I suspect, not to sugarcoat the sound but to allow dreadful recordings to remain just that.
It’s also the case that the MAXX has a highly evolved passive crossover network of capacitors and inductors, which have their plusses and minuses. (I’ve found my Magnepan 20.1 to pass the most information when run actively and using the crossover’s volume controls, which allows me to dispense with a preamplifier.) But running the MAXX in an active configuration would require several amplifiers and is probably a nonstarter as far as the factory is concerned. As Paul Seydor has observed in his thorough review of the Wilson Duette [Issue 176], an outboard crossover offers the chance to experiment with equalization to compensate for room effects. But this is an audio arena that many manufacturers are loath to enter as it presents a new set of difficulties. When I made bold to mention active crossovers to Wilson himself, he simply raised his eyebrows. Forbidden fruit.
But these are nits I’m picking. Now that I’ve picked them, it’s time to assay the more forbidding question of whether the MAXX matches up to the Alexandria. Let’s say it covers a good deal of the distance, but doesn’t quite get to the finish line. The blunt fact is that the Alexandria is in its own stratosphere. There are several areas in which the Alexandria surpasses the MAXX.
First, the Alexandria has an array of dynamic gradations that the MAXX does not possess. The Alexandria has an amazing ability to ramp up from pianissimo to forte, then double forte, then triple forte in the space of a few seconds. It simply seems to possess no dynamic boundaries. Then there’s the issue of bass. For all its precision and power, the MAXX does not have the extension of the Alexandria. Finally, the Alexandria, to my little ears, has a more expansive midrange.
None of this should come as a surprise. If you have the passion, the space, and the green stuff, the Alexandria will be the ticket, should you covet a Wilson. But for almost another $90,000, this verdict shouldn’t come as a surprise. The startling thing, I would say, isn’t where the MAXX falls short but how close it really does come to the Alexandria. The truth is that the Wilson MAXX 3 is superior, overall, to the original Alexandria. It represents a laudable effort to adapt the advances in the new Alexandria to improve the MAXX line. This isn’t trickle-down technology, but a cascading waterfall of improvements.
I can’t resist ending as I began with an anecdote: When the delivery man from a shipping company caught a glimpse of the Wilson MAXX 3 loudspeaker through the door leading to my garage, he asked, “Remember the movie The Italian Job?” In it, a gang of thieves fantasizes about how they would like to spend their ill-gotten gold bullion; Left Ear indicates that he covets a villa in Spain that boasts a special room just for his shoes, while Lyle makes it clear that he pines for a cutting-edge stereo system with some rather unique abilities. As the shipper put it, “Can those speakers blow a woman’s clothes off?” Well, I couldn’t honestly answer that query affirmatively. But I can say that there doesn’t seem to be much else that the stupendous MAXX 3 is incapable of accomplishing. An aristocrat among loudspeakers, it offers the promise of a lifetime of enjoyment.