Part Two - Out goes the IRS, in Comes the Wilsons
I reprinted this review below to save having to jump to an old post and adjusted it somewhat.
But first a comment on interim speakers. After the departure of the Infinity IRS speakers there were a few weeks void. I put in a set of very small floor standing B&W bookshelf sized speakers just for fun and for some background music for a get together with some of our neighbors. I was very impressed at the excellent reproduction and even the unstrained high volume those little boxes were able to put out. It just goes to show you that you should upgrade the speakers last.
The old Wilson, revised review:
This is a non-professional review of the Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria X-2 series 2 speakers that were just installed at my house. The previous speakers were Infinity IRS Betas of 12 years ago that were modified several times over the years. The foam on the rim of the eight 12 inch woofers recently fell apart so I thought this was my signal to upgrade.
First, the conclusion: I have been in many high end rooms, several CES shows and a host of dealership demos. I demand a lot from my system as I listen almost exclusively to opera. While I most often listen at realistic levels I do occasionally listen at low levels. My wife is strictly a low level person. I feel that my system is the best I have heard at any level and several critics have said it is better than being there, if that is possible. Also, as with most speaker systems, you cannot listen to these with the grill in place. They must be removed. Now for the details on how was this achieved.
The remainder of the system was unchanged for the most part. We have the Levinson No. 31 CD deck, the 30.6 DAC and the 320S pre-amp. Threshold SA10/e Stasis 175 watt mono amps drive the speakers.
It started with the delivery of 7 wooden crates off an 18-wheeler. The shipping weight was over 2,000 lbs. After a long 3 weeks Randy Cribb from Audio Advice in Raleigh NC and Peter McGrath from Miami arrived. Peter of course is one of the principals of Wilson Audio and a professional recording engineer. A few days before I uncrated everything. Moving the lower bass units into the house was a 450 lb engineering experience, scary actually. Do not attempt this by yourself. Then I played music (without listening) for a few days, while outside or away from the house to break in the speakers.
The speakers sounded like the drivers were broken at first, there was a vibrating, grinding metallic sound. The bass was muted and muddy. Only the mid-range sounded somewhat listenable.
Two days of positioning and tuning followed. One thing I learned was that a quarter inch of movement can make a big difference in the sound quality. The room is large, 22 ft wide, 16 feet high and 40 or so feet deep. I have sudo-Tube Traps in the corners behind the speakers whose front grills are about 7 ft from the back wall and 14 feet apart. The walls are block on 2 sides and 2 x 6 walls on the other. The floor is a slab with wall to wall carpet. This is typical Florida stuff.
The remainder of the story is just to show what things make differences in your playback capabilities. Go back to your room and move everything around in 1/4 inch increments. Tilt or straighten things, and certainly change cables.
It was interesting how Peter got the speakers into an optimum position. He also felt that no resistor changes had to be done to compensate for room acoustics. One of the great things about these speakers is that you can change things electrically to better adapt to your room acoustics. This is not possible with most other speakers.
One thing we did was set the speakers up for my listening position. That is about 19 - 20 feet in front of them and I stand up and conduct rather than sit and listen. When I am done listening I need a shower. The speakers were aimed to listen at a maximum height of 48 inches at 20 feet. I later tilted them back a fair amount on the adjustable spikes to tune it to 60 inches high. This sounded better.
Another change I made after the installers left was to straighten the speakers. They was leaning in towards each other a tiny bit. After straightening them just a tad the soundstage collapsed. I had to put the wheels back on and move them. My wife wanted them a little further back if possible so I did some additional re-tuning while they were back on the wheels. Peter McGrath has a scientific way to do this very rapidly and with great accuracy. They then sounded even better then when originally installed.
Let me again say that one can change the response some by changing the resistors in the back. These also act as fuses so one is less likely to blow a driver. Incidently, I have destroyed many drivers at audio dealerships trying to sell me speakers that can take opera at realistic levels. There is nothing more demanding than a few closely miked singers giving it all they got. I have replaced drivers several times in my old Betas. They also fatigue over time and break easier I believe.
Anyway, I was playing a section that was actually painful to our ears and I asked Peter McGrath how much louder they can safely go. He stated at least 6dB more with ease. That was a shocker to me.
Now back to the roller casters and spikes. When I had the speakers in the final position the floor underneath was still a little uneven. I overcorrected knowing that straightening afterwards moved the drivers ever so little to the sidewalls. I listened to the speakers at this slightly overcorrected position before spiking them. It sounded good from a soundstage point but there was no bass. I went ahead and spiked them, still leaning inwards though and still no bass. Then I straightened them up thus moving the upper drivers slightly apart. Boom, the bass was back and better than when on the casters. This makes sense of course. But still, the tilt was barely noticeable and yet the bass went from zero to appropriate.
After all my toying around I clearly had an improvement over that from the original setup by my experts. I widened the soundstage a little (good for my listening style) and may have increased the bass response. This is more of a room thing but it just shows how much you have to experiment. Others who have obtained good systems will tell you it takes a month to get speakers in the absolute best spot in the room. Using Peter's methodology can knock that down to a few days however.
What is kind of interesting in my room is that anything behind my listening line is a fun spot to listen from. Sure, the sweat spot (a very wide one) is best but a crowd can equally enjoy the music and be wholly impressed.
Let's talk about cables. I know they make a difference but I was not prepared. These were attended to just after the speakers were originally positioned by the team. I had some very good XLR Transparent Audio interconnect cables that were say 8 years old and the speaker cables were MIT shotgun hoses. Thanks to the people from Transparent we had a huge box of cables to audition. First we put in the mid-priced interconnect and speaker cables. I was not prepared. Mud turned to music. Wow. I was very much satisfied with this improvement. Nothing else needed to be done it seemed.
Then there were those other cable boxes and heck we had nothing else to do. But I was not going to spend the greenbacks on the other, higher end Transparent cables, the ones just below the Opus set. So why even plug them in? Just for fun, just to prove they do nothing much else - let's do it.
Wow again. I could not believe my ears. Needless to say these are still plugged in, they were not returned. I think these are the ones that Peter McGrath actually uses in his system. I only took two steps after dropping in the test Opera CD to notice the huge improvement in sound and then the separation in the soundstage. Performers were pinpoint in location. Bass was tighter. And the system was louder at the same volume setting. How this is possible is beyond me. I have a complete electronic shop and like many think I know it all. This just makes no sense.
Wait, I am not done. We have not talked about power supply. My house is in an areas with buried utility lines. The feeding transformer is very close but does not hum or vibrate. A few years ago the whole area was re-wired throughout the streets. I have 600 amp service lines coming into my house. I built it that way. When I designed the house I put in dedicated 30 amp lines to the amplifier locations. I have several large high end MOVs on the panels for the house and the garage.
Testing my own lines proves them to be clean and modern appliances are generally quiet anyway. But hey, why not do all that can be done? For this department we auditioned the Shunyata Hydra 8 II with an Anaconda cable and Python CX cables were placed on the Threshold amps. Older Diamondback cables were used on the front end items where possible. For a real thrill just get your hands on these highest end of cables.
These made the least difference on MY system. What I got was a tiny bit of improvement in separation and a little bit of background noise reduction. I did not think I had any noise until I heard the reduction. If you can swing it you need these too, especially if you have any internal house noise or even noise from your lines or the neighbors house. I can see how there could be significant improvements in some cases.
Final comments: I have re-discovered older CD's that my wife has been listening to. What I thought were just OK recordings have turned to gold. It seems that even recordings from the 1980's, if done well, can be amazing when played on a system as this one. And if you want to hurt your ears turn up the volume. They play without strain and this is rarely possible for opera.
Measurements: While not entirely scientific I did find some things worth noting. At my listening spot I set up pink noise to a level of 94dB with an analytical mike. This one is 0 - 40kHz and up to 140dB. The speakers ate up 0.5 amps at 2.4 volts. That is 1.2 watts going into the speakers. The efficiency is 97dB according to Peter McGrath. This in part must be why these speakers perform so well. No energy is wasted. It is hard to believe that drivers and speakers so big can run off such a small energy level. It is hard to understand how such a large speaker can play at such a low volume and sound so good and then hurt your eardrums when you turn it up.
Fit and finish: This is first rate. We (the wife) chose the color Topaz with grey grills. With all the shapes and all the parts and fittings that have to be perfectly lined up one can only be amazed by the QC. The tools supplied and the jack to lift the speakers for spiking are first rate. The instructions for assembly are well written but a word to the wise. Do not try to assemble these by yourself. Over tightening will break things and the weight of parts is daunting. There were no mishaps at this location but I see the potential for problems.
High efficiency, the best of sound, highly adjustable to YOUR environment and durable, why buy anything else.
The actual review with comments is here:http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showt...xandria+review