If such a place as a Stereo Hall of Fame existed, then David Wilson would surely occupy a prominent place in it. For several decades, Wilson has been building and refining his loudspeakers. To view Wilson simply as a loudspeaker manufacturer, however, would almost be akin to calling Thomas Jefferson a politician or Duke Ellington an entertainer.
Wilson is what in the old days was called a man of parts—someone who has a keen curiosity, disciplined mind, and numerous interests. When I gave him a copy of an essay on American foreign policy, for instance, he showed it to me the next day covered with comments. No doubt Wilson’s capacity for exposition can sometimes almost become overwhelming as he launches into a mini-tutorial on the sonic and engineering qualities of a CD or LP that he’s about to demo on his home system. But it’s always worth listening to Wilson the man as much as it is to his loudspeakers. After all, he’s engineered a number of recordings himself, from classical to rock (his legendary remastering of the The Apocalypse Now Sessions, played by the Rhythm Devils, is pegged at a lofty $400 on one Web site). When it comes to audio, the question isn’t: What has David Wilson done? It’s what hasn’t he accomplished?
A visit to Wilson’s home, where the imposing Alexandria X-2, Series 2 and two Thor’s Hammer subwoofers are proudly situated in a vast living room—about 30' x 40' peaking to a 16' cathedral ceiling that is off-center—dedicated to two-channel reproduction only reinforces those feelings. A Basis turntable, Audio Research Anniversary Reference preamp, and VTL Siegfried monoblocks round out the system. The soundstage is enormous. The sheer size of Wilson’s room allows him to achieve a degree of physicality on voice and piano that I doubt very many audiophiles have ever heard apart from a concert hall. Put bluntly, this is the sound that Wilson seeks to attain—big, bold, and beautiful. Just like the snowcapped mountains that tower over his home.
Though I had visited the factory about two years ago, the chance to see it once more drove home the fanatical attention to detail that goes into a Wilson loudspeaker. As little is left to chance as seems humanly possible when it comes to cabinet construction and testing the properties of various drivers. The rap on Wilson—and, let’s face it, almost every high-end company gets worked over by audiophiles in some way—has been that itdoesn’t manufacture many of its drivers. But what sound does the loudspeaker make? Do you like it? Does it sound beautiful? As audiophiles get wrapped up in the minutiae of technology that, I would guess, a fair number probably barely understand, it’s hard to avoid the sense that a lot of missing-forests-for-trees is taking place. Certainly the Wilson inverted titanium dome tweeter, which is sourced from Focal and is the chief target of audiophile ire, can and should be improved upon. But it’s worth taking a step back and considering the overall presentation of the loudspeaker.
These musings are prompted by listening extensively to the marvelous full Wilson rig that consists of Alexandria X-2s and a pair of Thor’s Hammer subwoofers in my own house. I had listened to the Magnepan 20.1 for about a decade. I reviewed and greatly enjoyed the MAXX 3 loudspeaker, but the gap between it and the Alexandria is significant. The MAXX did not get me to abandon the Magnepans. The Alexandria did. From the instant that I turned it on, I was gobsmacked. Yes, the speaker improved as it got some playing time on it. But from the get-go it sounded mesmerizing.
The Alexandria was one of the few cone-driver loudspeakers that had the spaciousness that the Magnepans provided, coupled with a tremendous increase in dynamics and sensitivity. The Alexandria’s supertweeter, I think, allows it to create the sense of an airy treble, and the Stygian bass reproduction endows the entire frequency spectrum with a smooth and generous sound. And near as I can tell, the aspherical propagation delay that Wilson employs really does allow each driver to be adjusted to create a coherent soundstage. There is an ease of presentation about the Alexandrias, a felicitous and lissome quality that makes it sound as though they are never straining. The music pours effortlessly out of them, something that became most apparent to me when I had the chance to listen to them at length in Los Angeles.
By contrast, the Achilles’ Heel of planar design remains their grotesquely inefficient performance—they require gobs of power to get off the ground. The Alexandria, by contrast, registers at 96dB at one watt, which makes it suitable for a wide variety of amplifiers. Initially, TAS editor Robert Harley asked me if I’d like to write a follow-up review to his of the Alexandria. A few months later Wilson itself sweetened the pot. The company’s national sales director, John Giolas, inquired if I might be interested in reviewing the Thor’s Hammer subs. Given the sheer size of the subs, I at first hesitated. The blunt fact was that the Alexandrias were more than satisfactory. On every level, I was bowled over by their performance—by the effortless dynamics, by the minute details they reproduced, and by the seamlessness of their presentation. But then I started to meditate about the Thors. It wasn’t a solipsistic case of “I want, I want, I want!” as Eugene Henderson memorably declares in Saul Bellow’s 1959 novel Henderson the Rain King. I wasn’t wanting for more.