Wilson Alexx first impressions

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Wilson Alexx first impressions

The latest and penultimate model in the Wilson Audio range is a substantial beast that weighs in at over 100 kilos and stands over one and a half metres high. But it fitted into the dem room at KJ West One both physically and sonically, in fact fitted in does not really do it justice on the sonic front. Wilson's Peter McGrath was asked how long these highly adjustable speakers took to set up and we got the answer "five hours and a sandwich" from Pedro of distributor Absolute Sound. McGrath makes no bones about the importance of good set up, saying that they "are only as good as the guy who set them up". The reason for this is largely down to the group delay adjustment facility that means the tweeter and two midrange enclosures can be moved back and forth to focus the sound like a camera lens. Given the variables of overall speaker placement and the positions of those three elements it's easy to see that the job is a big one that requires a fair amount of expertise to get right.

The Alexx is a four-way design with two bass drivers operating in parallel but like other Wilson designs they are different sized bass drivers, a 10.5inch and a 12.5inch. Both are fed the same signal and operate in parallel, the main reason given for this difficult approach is that the smaller driver has a closer dispersion to the lower mid driver above it. Like the rest of the Wilson range Alexx is made from a composite material that is strong enough to be tapped for the driver fixings and varies in characteristic depending on which part of the cabinet its in. The material was developed to have a single resonant frequency that is controlled using bracing and damping.

The crossover is hard wired rather than built on a circuit board because that approach gives you thicker links between parts and the ability to orient the various elements for minimum interaction. The whole network is potted in epoxy for damping purposes and connected to the drivers with Transparent Opus cabling, the best model in that brand's range.

McGrath likes to describe Wilson speakers as being “amplifier agnostic”, in other words they should work well with any good quality amplifier, then he goes on to mention all the amp makers that use Wilson speakers for their R&D. I don’t recall whether Dan D’Agostino was one of them but it would be a surprise if the former Krell owner doesn’t have one pair in the armoury. At KJ they used a pair of D’Agostino Momentum 400 Watt monoblocks with their matching preamplifier, the source was dCS Vivaldi and cabling Transparent Opus. We heard a number of classical CDs which were very impressive, even more so considering that this was plain vanilla CD and not high res. The track that shocked me was by Gary Peacock and Marilyn Crispell from their album Azure on ECM, a double bass and piano peace with plenty of space in the typical ECM style. Here the bass in particular was very much alive in the room and so well focussed and texturally nuanced that it seemed real. McGrath has a very high opinion of Peacock who for a long time was in Keith Jarrett’s trio, and I have to agree, his playing is amongst the very best.

We also got to hear something less cerebral in the form of Dubxanne, the Police’s Roxanne played in a dubwise style by German band Okada. This let you feel the girth of those two bass drivers via both the air and the furniture, revealing Alexx to be a speaker that’s just as happy with bombast as it is with sophistication.

The rest of the session was enjoyed with McGrath’s own recordings made and played back with a Sound Devices portable recorder, this had been used with Joe Grado custom microphones in a minimalist set up with some pretty outstanding ensembles in Miami churches. The recordings were made with four mics that provide surround sound in a four speaker set up but we heard the front channels. The results were remarkably evocative the best being Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, a piece that has the dynamics and power to show off the capabilities of this impressive system. Anyone with a spare £105,000 burning a hole in their pockets should make their way to KJ and have a listen to Alexx forthwith.