Wilson Audio's New Sound?

So, I did a search on "Wilson Audio" here on Agon to determine if this would be a redundant thread, and I could not quickly determine that, so if this is old news or a recent rehash, then I apologize in advance.

I attended a recent open house at an audio dealer in the Seattle area and two of the display rooms featured Wilson Audio speakers. From my experience at this and other dealers around the country, this was the last room I had any interest in visiting. My general opinion of Wilson Audio speakers was that they were impeccably crafted, large, heavy, accurate, a bit on the bright side, Silver, very expensive, and they generally failed to connect with me emotionally regardless of the equipment or material driving them.

So imagine my pleasant surprise when at this recent open house, the two different sets of Wilson's (Sophia 2 and Sasha) were my favorite speakers. The electronics ahead of the Wilson's were from Audio Research in both cases. I mean, these speakers REALLY sounded good.

A few days later I was reading the latest copy of Stereophile, and low and behold in his column Art Dudley was waxing poetic about his new found love for Wilson Audio Sophia 2's. He, like me, apparently has recently found Wilson religion. Unlike me, he has access to Dave Wilson for an interview and Peter McGrath for a visit to his home to personally set their speakers up for his long term demo - at least one of the perks of a monthly deadline. But, also like me, he apparently really didn't much care for the sound of Wilson's prior to his recent encounter with the Sophia's. Anyway, for a bighorn and planner guy like Dudley to go over the top for a (albeit super sexy epoxy painted, exotic material, custom driver) boxy speaker is news.

Why? Without plagiarizing Dudley completely, he is convinced the current crop of Wilson's are not your rich brother's Wilson's of a few years ago. According to Mr. Wilson himself (secondhand via Mr. Dudley) the company has a new tuning method for their new model speakers based on more "real world" listening conditions. Huh. All I can say is, whatever they are doing it is working. Big Time.

This also makes me think about your rich brother and his slightly older Wilson's tuned for listening in an anechoic chamber but placed in his plush and acoustically imperfect Italianate Manse. Has Mr. Wilson deposited brother Rich at the doorstep of obsolescence? Just wondering, because if I had the old Wilson's, I would be wanting the new ones, like yesterday. Also wondering if there is an "upgrade" path for their older speakers in terms of crossover parts or settings that can "soften" their delivery to be more "real world" friendly.

Anyway, perhaps I am just looking for the dark side to radically improving your product. For an unapologetic bottom fisherman who trolls for yesterday's (more like the last century's) high end gems, like my European sedan that was first purchased by someone else about eight jobs and two degrees ago, I will have to wait quite a while for the current crop of Wilson's to hit my price point. And I really can hardly wait.
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I am sure the Sasha's and other Wilson speakers sound very good.I just can't get excited about a speaker that looks like a trash receptacle in a high school cafeteria !!!!!

I cannot comment on Wilson speakers past or present. But I have to compliment you on your writing. Your post was an enjoyable read and thought provoking. Well done. Thank you.
I would be kind of sceptical of a " New Sound "..What was wrong with the old sound..Did they just realize that there old speakers suck ? Sometimes new is not really better...
Like yourself, I am a "bottom fisherman" waiting for the next best thing to trickle down. I just bought my first pair of Wilsons and took delivery this week. They are gently loved pair of original Sophias. All I can say is, if this is the direction that Dave Wilson is headed, I very much like it. These speakers are neutral, dynamic and expressive all at once. Hands down the best and most articulate bass response I have achieved in any of my listening rooms previously. I'm hooked.......

I think it is a question of a subjective matching between your personnal taste and the Wilson speakers you heard, and that's just fine, you have found the Holy Grail.

I have never been able to find their sound appealing to me (but that's only me). Their philosophy of trying to make speakers sound like whatever Dave wilson heard in such and such concert Hall (all from memory) is a complete joke and borderline insulting to anyone who knows how impossible this is to accomplish. Factor in the fact that they do not have a very large R&D dept (to match their - in appearance- high tech sales pitch), and I come to the conclusion that they have a very good marketing agency to handle their media exposure.

But, to many, the products do sound good, and that's the most important thing isn't it ? They of course cater to the ''pride of ownership'' club, and for many, this is more important than getting the ultimate sound.

Still, I wish them luck, they are well-established and are a staple of high-end audio. They are not unlike Cadillac - who has struggled - and are succeeding - in changing their image ( and ''sound'' ) to broaden their target market.

But it is getting harder to justify high prices as the competition is offering high performance for less money.
They are not unlike Cadillac - who has struggled - and are succeeding - in changing their image ( and ''sound'' ) to broaden their target market.
Wilson is struggling?
I attended the same event as you and was pleased with the sound as well. Ive heard Wilson speakers many times at Definitive; Alexandrias, Maxxs, Watt Puppies and now the Sasha. I was never much of a fan of Wilsons until i Heard them with the "right" amps and preamps. Halcro, Classe and VTL did nothing for me on these speakers, then i heard Audio Research and Ayre gear on the Wilsons. With those amp/preamps they came alive to my tastes. Perhaps you have had the same experience as me, did the speakers get better or was it up stream the whole time?
Wilson has always designed his speakers to be tube friendly and the current crop is no exception. I've heard the Sashas several times recently and they do quite well with the human voice yet play the frequency extremes easily. Plus they are efficient; the meters on our amps were not even moving yet they were playing at a very nice level.

They are demanding of the front end as you would expect from a decent speaker. I would not expect to put run of the mill electronics on them and then think I was going to get away with it. You have to play stuff with finesse. That way the speakers will have finesse too. You put something ham-fisted on them and that's how they will sound. They are quite transparent.
''Wilson is struggling?''

My analogy had more to do with image than whether Wilson is struggling or not (a few high-end manufacturers are having a hard time and have lowered their prices).

Cadillac is trying to lure new-younger customers to replaces the ones that are leaving...by natural means, (I think this would be the respectfull way of saying this!).

To do this, they had to revamp their styling and performance offer. Still, changing an old and accepted perception is not easy. Just as changing whatever perception that people have of Wilson would not be easy.

All I was saying is that ''maybe'' if someone heard a ''new sound'' in Wilson speakers, it may (just may) be a sign that the company is shifting its performance or sound offer to expand their customer base. Highly subjective, but nevertheless possible.
Gee, I heard the Watt Puppies previously with VTL and Nagra gear in various venues and have to say it'a not'a make'a me'a happy. I heard the Alexandria's in home theater systems with VTL and Classe gear, same thing (although very impressive dynamics!)

These are not crap electronics, and some of it is tubed gear. As good as AR electronic are, I am convinced the new speakers are voiced differently. In fact, the amp that was driving the Sasha's at the Definitive open house is a new switching amp from AR, and that sounded supremely good through the Wilson's (of course I believe it had tubed pre, digital source and phono stage).

PS - Don_s, thanks for your very kind words!
Funny comment about the new tuning method for "real world" conditions. I've heard Wilson speakers quite often (all the way back to the original WAMM with Crown electronics) over the years, and found them difficult to generalize about. From absolutely great on one occasion to overdone and overblown on the next. At first, I wondered about sources and ancillaries, but...

Eventually, I noticed that they tended to sound worst when placed into small to medium sized spaces (real world) and impress me most when auditioned in very, very large rooms. Generally speaking, I thought that these speakers (older Watt/Puppy possibly excepted) tended to overwhelm the room if placed less than 4 to 5 feet from the nearest wall - which was the case about half the time. I subsequently began to wonder whether they were simply voiced for really big rooms. Maybe Wilson has just backed off a bit (new tuning for the real world?) and the speakers are now a bit less room sensitive.

I know that some people swear by (even big) Wilsons in a small room, but that has never been my own experience.

Just a thought.

I have also been to such an event out here on the east coast but 3 YEARS ago and the Sophia 2 were new then so not sure there is a "New" Wilson sound. Having owned Wilson's they require ALOT of set up time, a 1/2" movement can make a big difference...
I too am a bit suprised that these new Wilsons sounds really different from the older version.
Are these speakers sensitive to room placement and acoustics?
Can one get by with these speakers without acoustics in the room ? Or is this pushing my luck ?

Why would you want to have "any" speaker in your room with out at least minimal treatment? Most rooms will benefit from this not matter what speaker you use. You don't have to go overboard to reap the benefits.


"New" is a relative term. New to me. Newer than the last time I demoed Wilson's. New to Art Dudley and even "new" as in the tuning process the company applies as described by Dave Wilson in his interview with Mr. Dudley.

Maybe the "newer" Wilson's are not really that different than the "older" models, but if set-up is so sensitive, why do showrooms I have visited around the country have such a hard time making one of their signature products sound good enough that I could enjoy them or even consider purchase? And I am not the only one. In one, I will call it a medium-sized squarish showroom, I was standing with three other shoppers and we demoed a variety of musical cuts and styles comparing a pair of B&W speakers (802D I think) with Classe electronics to Wilson WATT/Puppy 8's driven by large VTL amps, and there was no question which set everyone preferred, The B&W and Classe, mostly based on the B&W's engaging midrange. The Wilson's were lively and accurate, but just not very musical. I have heard VTL gear sound very good with Avalon and Harbeth speakers, so had to "blame" the Wilson's in that instance, or perhaps it was just a matching issue or the set up was 1/2" off.

So lets just say that enjoying Wilson speakers is a new thing for me, and apparently for Art Dudley and some other posters here too. Interestingly, at the recent show I attended, a very similar B&W/Classe system to the one described above was on hand in one of the rooms. The Sophia/Audio Research set up in another room was better. The Sasha/AR set up in a third room completely blew my mind.

Maybe as you suggest "set up" is the operative term. I still think there is something fundamentally different going on with the speakers themselves.
I heard the new Wilsons, and the old Wilsons, and neither are what music sounds like to these ears. If they do to you, fine...I suggest you go to some live performances.

Your last sentence is slightly irritating and borders on insulting. This hobby is nothing if not subjective, and your suggesting to one of the participants of this thread that he needs to go to "some live performances" to find out what music sounds like exhibits bad manners. Next time I suggest you think before you write.
You have a right to your opinion of the Wilson sound. I have never liked them much either.

But I do agree with Glrtrgi about the potential for insult in your last statement.
Wilson Audio is one of the more controversial speakers out there. While some may love them, other may not.
I think a lot has something to do with synergy with the room and equipment.
They are "more" challenging to set up compared to other speakers.
For the price Wilson is asking for them, people will also expect a lot out of it.
Nonetheless, these speakers to date have continued to intrigue me.Its true i heard them many times & they disappointed me. But about a few weeks ago, I heard a Sophia II w/ modest gears & it was touching my heart unlike in previous encounters.

Someday I hope to own them & try them in my own dwelling to see how far they can really go.

I am not insulted by your comments, but I do happen to disagree with you.

Sometimes live acoustics sound like crap to me, to point where I am distracted from enjoying the content of the performance. In many cases because of the control provided by the recording studio, or the effects intended by the artists and the engineers, recorded music should not sound like a live venue or performance, it should sound "better", or at least different. Not sure I expect hi fi to sound like "live" music in every case, but I do expect it to sound good, as if I am getting the essence of what the artist and engineer intended, if not a close facsimile of a recording studio, bar, concert hall or stadium environment recreated in my living room. Do the instruments and voices have pitch, texture and pace that is convincing? If yes, then good enough for me.

Generally, most of us admit that hi fi is fraught with compromises. To me, really good high end systems exhibit fewer obvious compromises, and can convincingly recreate a broader range of recorded settings and instruments, and many of those recordings were never intended to sound live, with added room coloration, crowd noise, etc. Some people love Ohm speakers because they claim they sound more like "natural" or "live" music to them. To me, they make everything sound like "live music", and sometimes that is just downright confusing. Some people love Maggies and Quads because they have "life-like" midrange you can cut with a knife. I can see where they are coming from, but then they disappear when amplified bass enters the room, and I don't mean in a good way. I had always felt Wilson's quest for accuracy lacked soul, but they could always do a convincing bass guitar and leading edge thwack of a snare drum. In my mind, the "best" speakers (amps, sources and wires too) are capable of doing everything better than average, and maybe a few things really, really well. The Wilson's I've heard recently now have a bit of midrange richness and presence added to their repertoire, and I heartily applaud the effort.
I was one Wilson hater myslef. That was before I heard the Maxx, and then the Sophia 1 and X-2, whcih to my ears represent the 'new sound' era for Wilson Audio.

Right now I own ... Sophia II and I'm in love with them. So much in fact that I have ordered Sasha. My previous speaker was Avalon Eidolon Vision.
I to was one who didn't care for older Wilson speakers until I heard a set that Peter Mcgrath set up and it was very nice and surprised me and these were older Wilson Sophia I believe. I recently went to Illinois on business and went into a hi-end shop and auditioned the Wilson Sasha along with BAT electronics and I now have sold my entire system and nearly duplicated what I heard there. I love the Sasha!!! I have a friend who is a retired musician and he has always been about Wilson and now owns the Maxx 3. He went to CES this year and said the 4 best rooms he heard all had Sasha in them. As far as the live performance comment, I think it was off base as well. A live performance can be mis-leading to, they all go through some type of amplifying system and have to be properly set up to or it just isn't enjoyable other than just the atmosphere of being at a performance. Also at a live performance there is better seating than others for listening. I can enjoy a performance at the Fox Theater in the best seats much more than in any other seats. I like to say that my system puts me in-touch with the mic feed, forget about the feed getting amplified though something that can screw it up. I am able to forget about the recording and the gear playing it. That is what I heard in Illinois and is why I sold my entire system and bought a new one. Nothing in my system was here 7 months ago. The music is now unbelievable and I love it for sure.
i own WP6s and despite their well known strengths, i hated the sound stock---too bright, etched, disjointed, aggressive.

adding the DIY equivalent of Walker HDLs to the Watt changed that (numerous visitors to my rig all corroborated my findings). anyone who owns older versions of Wilson speakers really should give this tweak a try.

have not heard the Sasha's or Maxx3s, but felt the 8s were quite good, and a considerable jump from the stock performance of my speakers, though a small improvement over the tweaked WP6s.
I heard the 'Sashas' for the first time today and I was quite surprised at the difference between them and the Watt/puppy 8. Amp was a gryphon diablo which I've previously heard with the watt/puppy 8 sound great and whilst the Sashas were superb at large orchestral works, it seems that they've sacrificed the excitement factor when listening to other music like hard rock. If I listened to 90% classical I might have considered buying them, but I also love heavy rock and blues etc, and they just didnt do what I had hoped. I'm sure some will much prefer them to watt/puppys and I can't argue with some of the refinements, but they have come at a cost which is not necessarily makes them better, at least in my opinion...
Camali, I listen to mostly Blues and Classic Rock and if you didn't get an excitement factor in that genre of music with the Sasha, I promise it wasn't the Sasha's fault. In my system they will do anything from Classical to heavy metal just fine.

Also someone mentioned earlier that Wilson must've learned to quit testing speakers in a anechoic chamber or something when it comes to voicing them or something to that affect. To my knowledge Wilson never used an anechoic chamber, in-fact I saw a quote somewhere that he was asked why don't he test his speakers in a anechoic chamber and that someone had done a test on his speakers in one and they didn't test well. Dave Wilsons response was, "who the heck listens to there speakers in an anechoic chamber"??? From what I understand Wilson now has three very different rooms that are setup to a more real world situation from very well acoustics to not so much and they are voiced through extreme test in each room with a series of things they must pass, that said they are perfectly placed in each room for these test.

I have it quoted from a guy who ought to know, sorry I can't mention his name because he isn't with Wilson but he has been in this industry for 40 plus years and is very knowledgeable about speakers especially. He said to me he felt the Sasha was a break through in speaker technology and he don't know exactly what they did but it is a break through. He also has the Sasha at his home and trust me, he can have any speaker in the world, he chooses the Sasha.
I would respectfully disagree about the Sasha for classical music. If the Sasha does some things well, it's not classical music.
I have only listened to one classical disc with my new setup and that is Beethoven #9 and it was fantastic. My stage was layered with depth beautifully and it was atleast 20 feet wide with obvious great separation. My speakers are only 9 feet apart. That said my stage is boundless meaning the walls of my room are not the boundary for my stage. I easily get sounds that seemingly come from the next room over. Mind blowing, yes, a great presentation of #9, absolutely. My wife is more the classical nut and she loves it, so much so I often catch her going down to listen even when I'm not home and she hates going down there to my dungeon. If they don't do classical well then I've simply just not heard it done well which I suppose is possible to.
I have listened Led zeppelin, Steely Dan, Joe Jackson, Clapton and all sound Great with Sasha. If I have bought Sasha, it's because you can listen every kind of music with them.

Nobody use Sasha xith Pass XA???
IME/IMO the reason that there are so many varied opinions about the Wilsons is very similar to the varied opinions you hear about Sound Lab or a lot of other excellent speakers.

A really good speaker is revealing of what you put on them, and some amps and preamps that are well-reviewed are not really all that great, and some are. So you can have the speaker sound terrible with transistors and tubes, and you can have it sound excellent with transistors and tubes.

I've heard the Sashas with our electronics as well as a few other amps and preamps, enough to know that the speaker is excellent and if you don't like what you heard from it, its could well be the fault of the electronics which you are assuming are better than they really are. Could also be the fault of the setup in the room, but it isn't the speaker. BTW they work great with classical, heavy metal and anything in between or outside :)
Why oh Why is everyone mad at me. I simply suggested to go to a couple of live events to hear what real music sounds like. I am a professional musician and am around live music every day. I heard the big Wilsons at an audiophile meeting set up by the Wilson factory rep, driven by the top Boulder equipment set up by the Boulder rep. The result was sound that to me, was not what I hear every day. If you like it...fine. I'm sure the speakers sound different with different electronics, cables, etc. As far as an industry insider using the Sophias...it may very well be that he loves them, or that he got them for a great insider price. We don't know. Never the less, I stand by what I heard in the audition. I meant no disrespect to anyone...just a friendly suggestion.
Stringreen folks get miffed when the get someone coming at them in a insulting tone or with a insulting suggestion. Your tone was easily interpreted that way and your suggestion implied that folks dont know what actual music sounds like. Its nice, no its great, that you get to listen to live music all the time but most cant due to things like jobs and such. I agree with you on the live music and will go further and say in my opinion there is no stereo setup that will reproduce live music so well you cant tell the difference. I accept that limitation in exchange for good enough music on my schedule. WOuld I like to hear live music everyday and whenever I want to? Of course I would but your post and tone screams that this situation is my fault and I should sort it out.
I'm sure changing amps, different room setups etc may have affected my opinion overall of the Sashas but that was just my honest opinion from a first listen. It wasn't they couldn't do other music besides classical, they could, but they just didn't 'move' me as I had hoped with some music. At the price points of Sashas and other speakers in that price range, I want to be completely convinced that it is worth the cost. There is no 'right' or 'correct' speaker ultimately, because there are no perfect recordings or references other than each individuals own experience of a live event. And who's to say what neutral is an exactly? I go to live music as well,-and play in a band, my idea of how it should sound will differ to others experiences. When buying a pair of speakers, I go with the gut ultimately-'cause I'm the one who has to live with them every day, just like everyone else in their choices...

Just curious - what speakers in combination with what amps have provided you with the most convincing reproduction of classical music? I sense the subject of a new thread...
I heard the Maxx 2 at an event set up by Peter Mcgrath himself and didn't like them much. My friend is a retired musician and his opinion is Wilson and has been for some time. He now has Maxx 3. I heard the Sasha and fell in love with it. I don't think of my system getting me to a live event. I think of it putting me more in-touch with the Mic Feed. To each his own but I wouldn't get an opinion of this or any speaker off of a demo in a store or event that didn't sound good, there are way to many factors that can make that audition not good besides the speakers.
The same can be said maybe even if you find a demo of a speaker you like. You may buy it and get it home to find you really don't care for it as much as you thought. That is why when I heard the Sasha I tried to duplicate as much as possible of what I heard with BAT gear, Esoteric source, ect... Just ones opinion. I even got some of the same room control that was in that room and use it in mine. I'm lov'n it!!

Well the Sashas were pretty convincing with the Gryphon Diablo at classical. I don't think one pair of speakers has totally stood out but...A setup of Gryphon Atlantis Speakers with all gryphon gear was great, there are Australian active speakers which have an active tube amp for the midrange that sticks out the top of the speakers called Dan A Digital-they are pretty amazing for classical and a few of the members of the Sydney Symphony have apparently bought them upon hearing...
Nobody use Sasha xith Pass XA???

I should be getting my Sashas tomorrow, and have (among others) Pass XA30.5. I will report back in 2 weeks or so, when the new speakers break in.

To echo what an earlier poster in this thread wrote, I love reading your posts here. Always literate and thoughtful -- and respectful, too. Thanks for starting this thread. I'll never have the budget for any Wilson speakers but I enjoy learning from all of you.