KJ West One - Connoisseurs of Sound - Est. 1965
KJ West One - Connoisseurs of Sound - Est. 1965
News

After a long wait we have now received our first delivery of Naim Audio Uniti Atom all-in-one players. 

This has been one of the most highly anticipated products in recent memory. Its mix of usability, great sound, versatility and price makes it a product that will be in very high demand. 

The Atom is the upgrade to what was previously known as the Uniti Qute 2. 

To say the Uniti range is versatile is a huge understatement. The Uniti Atom features a 40 watt calss A/B amplifier, internet radio, bluetooth, a headphone output, uPnP, Tidal integration, Spotify connect, Airplay, Google Cast, an S/PDIF Digital input, analogue output, multi-room functionality and USB / SD Card slots.

The Uniti Atom features a substantial transformer, ensuring that the power supply always runs smoothly. It has hand-wired analogue and digital circuitry. Every element of the design in Uniti Atom has been considered for its effect on sound quality.  

Uniti Atom features an impressive colour 5” LCD glass display. With the use of a proximity sensor, Atom is able to wake up as you approach the unit. It comes accompanied by a bidirectional intelligent remote control.

On the new Uniti series, Naim have put a lot of effort into improving the wi-fi. It now supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz and features an improved internal buffer and memory. It is able to store 5 minutes of information which vastly decreases the amount of dropouts when streaming.  

The Uniti Atom costs £1750 or £1,850 for the HDMI version. 

If you would like a demonstration in Central London, please get in touch and arrange an appointment

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Part 3 - The Listening

As you can guess from previous instalments of this blog, I enjoyed my time at Wilson Audio immensely. The sights of Utah, factory tour and learning the proper set up procedure for Wilson speakers were all fascinating, but now it was time to listen!

The starter was the brand new Alexia Series 2 before the main course of the $685,000 WAMM Master Chronosonic speakers. 

The original Alexia’s are one of my favourite speakers. I’ve heard them many times so I was very interested to hear the latest incarnation.

The new model has a number of key change. Firstly Wilson have incorporated the new ‘W’ material (developed for the WAMM). This has been used under the modules’ spike support areas greatly reducing unwanted energy at this critical mechanical interface. Wilson’s X Material is used for the bass enclose and tweeter module which ultimately gives a less audible enclosure than on the Series 1.

It's not just the materials of the cabinets that have been reworked. The Series 2 features gas-tight cabinet exit hardware that reduces the number of solder joints and eliminates the need for a separately sealed chamber for the crossover module. As a result, they were able to increase the mid-range enclosure’s internal volume by 26%, and the woofer enclosure by 10%. The mid-range walls are now milled with complex geometric patterns, improving internal sound diffusion and dramatically reducing the unwanted energy reflecting inside the cabinet.

There is now twice the amount of tweeter adjustment allowing them to be set up more precisely in the time domain. Additionally the woofer baffle is angled back, which more correctly integrates the bass with the upper frequencies.

Finally, the engineers have incorporated the latest Mark V version of the Convergent Synergy tweeter, which was again developed in the WAMM project. 

There was an obvious sonic improvement from the original. Fundamentally this upgrade moves its performance a big step closer to the Alexx. Extremely impressive for a speaker as compact as this. 

Hearing the Alexia 2 was a real treat and played as a fantastic warm up act for the main event, the WAMM. We heard the Alexia’s in Wilson’s designated demo room but for the WAMMs we would be jumping in a bus over to Dave Wilson’s home! It doesn’t get any more exciting than that! 

 The WAMM is incredibly impressive when you first lay eyes on it. It stands an intimidating 7 feet tall and features 8 drive units.
 
The setup comprised of a dCS Vivaldi CD player, Basis turntable with Lyra Etna SL cartridge, VTL preamplifier and the Dan D’Agostino Momentum Mono Blocks. The system was powering the WAMMs and WAMM Subs (an upgraded version of the Thors Hammer). 

He played a fantastic mix of music from digital to vinyl and even a 1/2 inch master tape on a reel-to-reel machine.  I (like everyone else in attendance) was blown away. They had hosted around 10 dealer events over the last year but we were the only ones to hear the reel-to-reel masters. This really was amazing!

Cast your mind back to when your interest in audio began. There probably was moment you experienced when for the first time you heard a piece of music differently than before. Mine was Mark Knopfler's "5.15am" of off his 2004 album Shangri-La. For me everything else in that moment disappeared. How could an audio system sound so real? That is the feeling that I have been trying to rediscover the whole time I’ve been an audiophile, the moment when only the music matters. 

Rarely do I get this feeling nowadays, the WAMM managed to capture this magic.

How do you describe something that is indescribable? Something that you feel rather than experience. I have read what others who heard them have said and everyone struggles to put it into words. The best analogy that I can think of is the experience of a ride in a 2 seater Formula One car. The feeling you have is amazing. However unless someone has experienced it themselves it is impossible to fully communicate that feeling. 

Having said that here are some of my thoughts. Dave played a spectacular piece of choral music. Due to the height of the speaker and the immense depth of sound stage people sound like they are the correct life like size. You could hear the different voices coming from the semicircle of the choir. An experience I have never heard on another system, even on speakers of similar size.

The bass was breath-taking. Dave played us a track from The Smurfs Movie soundtrack, a strange choice we thought but it really got the point across! Unlike a normal bass note it seemed to come at you like a giant wave pushing the ambient air out the way at the same time. Amazing!  

In conclusion WAMM is like no other speaker on earth. At least not I have heard. Everyone there came out the room with a big smile on their face.

As if listening to Dave Wilson’s own WAMMs wasn’t great enough, we then moved to the next room and heard his personal home cinema system. A super impressive all Wilson set up featuring Alexx front left and right, Polaris centre and Yvette rears. He also used a Thors Hammer sub and it was powered by McIntosh electronics. 

Dave’s son Darryl played us a few movie scenes. First was a bike race from Tron: Legacy. The high-speed action was so thrilling on this system. It was a great demonstration piece. He then chose a scene from Master and Commander. The opening battle at sea. Cannonballs and splinters felt like they were jumping out of the screen. 

I have always been a firm believer that great sound is the key to any true cinematic experience. Even more so than picture for creating a believable atmosphere. This demonstration cemented that in my mind. After all Master and Commander was only a DVD!

We went back to the hotel that night very happy, knowing we were part of a very small number of people (a few hundred at most) that have felt that level of audio performance. 

On the final day we rounded the tour off with a visit to the Morman Tabernacle MOTAB studio. This is a key place for the Morman church and where they broadcast live speeches, ceremonies and concerts across the world in roughly 80 different languages. It was huge and a little overwhelming. The concert hall holds 21,000 people! (London’s O2 Arena holds just 20,000). 

There was a reason why they brought us here. All the mastering rooms featured Wilson Audio speakers. The biggest and best one (pictured) featured three Sasha 2’s, a pair of Duette’s and a Thor’s Hammer. Finally they played us a recording of one of their choirs, this was recorded using digital high-res mastering and again it was beautiful. It just added to my belief that Wilson Audio really are one of the companies at the fore-front of reproducing life-like audio.  Their passion for music and quest to drive the industry forward was inspiring and I can’t wait to see what they can do in years to come. 

I would like to thank Bill Peugh for organising the trip and everyone at Wilson Audio for making the experience and my stay so memorable. It was a real pleasure to attend. I would also like to thank Pedro at Absolute Sounds for organising things this end.

Read part 1 of this blog here. 

Read part 2 of this blog here. 

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Part 2 - The Factory Tour

It was Thursday, the day we had been waiting for and the real reason we had come all this way to Utah. Today we were going to have an in-depth tour of the factory and would get to hear two Wilsons I have not heard before (and very few people in the world have). The new Alexia 2 and the much talked about flagship WAMM speakers.

We woke up early at 7am for breakfast. There was a real buzz in the air, everyone was curious as to whether the WAMMs were going to live up to their extremely high billing. I will be discussing the listening session in part 3 of this blog, but first I will be go into the process of how a Wilson speaker is manufactured. 

We finished up breakfast and a bus took us from our hotel in Salt Lake City back to the Wilson factory again.

We were greeted by Korbin Vaughan, the Chief Operating Officer in charge of the production facility. Korbin was like everyone else I met at Wilson. Never have I been to a company which has such dedication and enthusiasm. Everyone has a real passion for music and genuinely loves working for Wilson Audio. I think this is best demonstrated by the average employee having been with the company for around 10 years, with many having 15-20 years under their belt. 

One of the things that struck me was how much Wilson do themselves. It's extremely rare for any audio manufacturer to design their own materials, hand build, paint and polish their own cabinets, define the twist rates of each cable etc, all in house. It was most impressive. 

We started in an area full of what looked like model speakers. In fact, these were analogues of each model (fig.1). They are made to the exact specifications that a perfect speaker should be. When making each speaker, the engineers will keep referencing these analogues to ensure it is exactly right. As the speakers are largely hand built this is very important.

You can see from the different colours in the photo, the different Wilson manufactured materials used.
 
Fig.2 shows how the cabinets are cut. The Wilson materials come in sheets which are milled on a CNC machine. They only cut a small number of sheets with each drill bit due to the unique Wilson material not conducting heat away (typically, when machining metal, bits last a long time). The drill bit spin rate and cutting speed have to be assessed for each material to ensure it isn't damaged when being machined.

After cutting, the rough forms are glued together by hand (fig.3). If you have doubts that the glue might not be strong enough, think again. The glue used is so strong that the material fails before the bond does. The glue is left to set for several days, then the finishing of the cabinet begins. They sand down the entire cabinet by hand (fig.4), all the time referencing the analogues we saw at the start of the tour. I have seen hundreds of Wilsons in my time and didn't realise they had been sanded by hand! This is where the skill and experience of the engineers really shows.

Next, the speakers are painted. The factory boasts an impressive painting booth. (fig.5) Before the final paint finish they apply a rough gel coat to stop any joins in the material showing through which could otherwise appear due to temperature related expansion and contraction. After the gel coat has cured, it is sanded down (again, by hand) ready for the final finish.

Fig. 6 shows what the parts look like once the gel coat has been applied. These particular parts are Alexx top fins. Once coated, they apply the customer's actual paint colour choice. This is sprayed on and carefully checked  between stages to ensure evenness. Fig.7 shows a WAMM base and modules getting their final paint coat and Fig.8 shows an Alexia 2 head after painting, waiting to be polished.

As with the sanding, the polishing stage is done by hand. This requires yet more skill. There are many creases and curves on the cabinet that you have to feel for and manually apply the correct pressure otherwise you burn through the paint. It's such a specialist skill it takes 4 years to train someone to do properly.  Fig. 9+10 show a pair of Alexia 2s being polished by a Wilson expert. 

Once the polishing is complete you get the classic Wilson mirror finish. Absolutely stunning. It's really impressive to see the effort and detail that goes into every speaker. 

The cabinets then move into the final assembly room where they are brought to life by Wilson’s answer to Dr. Frankenstein. They install the drive units, crossovers, connectors, all the cabling and the speaker is born (fig. 11 shows the assembly room). We were then shown the parts room. They store the components for individual speakers in their own boxes. So when an engineer is putting together a Sasha 2, for example, they would go to the parts room, pick out a Sasha 2 box and have the exact components needed for the completion. 

Once the components are put in, the final speakers are covered in a white sticky film which protects the finish during transit. They are then ready to be packed and flown across the world to their lucky owners.

The last part of the tour was the drive unit testing area (fig.12). They have around 30 drive units at a time all playing continuously. Each type of drive unit is run-in for a different period. The drive unit for the mighty Thor's Hammer subwoofer (fig.13) are actually run overnight as they make so much noise the engineers can't work with it going on. 

Overall the factory was extremely impressive. The staff, facilities, methods, level of detail and the passion were exceptional. Everyone I spoke to said the same thing - they loved what they did and loved pushing the boundaries. I came away with the impression that Wilson speakers were designed around perfection in performance and that cost was not a consideration.

After the tour we were taken for training on WASP (Wilson Audio Setup Procedure) to help us understand how Wilson would have us set up your speakers.

And, finally, the part of the day everyone had been waiting for, the listening session! I knew the Alexia 2 and, importantly, the WAMM were coming and just couldn't contain my impatience!

Read part 1 of this blog here. 

Read part 3 of this blog here.

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When you've been in the Hi-Fi industry as long as I have, you get to go on a lot of training days and just as many factory tours. It's always interesting and a good day out, but when I got the call from Pedro at Absolute Sounds that I was being invited to Utah to visit Wilson Audio, I was very excited to say the least.

Knowing Wilson speakers like I do and knowing how well they are manufactured and sound, I was hoping that this would give me a good insight into the level of detail that goes into a true high-end speaker. Of course, I snapped Pedro’s hand off at the opportunity. He's since had it re-attached, by the way :-)

Everything was booked and we were on our way to Utah!

It was a long 11 hour flight to Salt Lake City, so I was pleased that the first day had been set aside for sightseeing and a bit of tourist stuff around Salt Lake City. Stepping off the plane I was taken aback by the heat, it was 35 degrees C and felt like I had walked into a sauna.

Salt Lake City is a beautiful place, set in an amazing landscape of lakes and mountains, very clean and well kept, with some stunning buildings. The most impressive to my mind was the Capitol building, where the state congress is held. It is a grand and classically American looking building that you might be fooled into thinking was The White House!


 
This was a fantastic day out, but the real reason we were there (and I am sure the reason you're reading this) was the tour of the Wilson facility that would begin the next day, fresh and early, at 7am!

After breakfast we headed over to the factory. From the outside it looked large but not out of the ordinary. We went to the boardroom for the first training session and it was a real thrill that David Wilson himself, with his wife, began the talk. He gave a very engaging speech about the history of Wilson Audio and what they believed in and strove to achieve. It's quite rare to hear somebody talk about their company so passionately. It was obvious that his love for music and drive to push the industry forward were key ingredients to the company’s success.


 
The rest of the training session was carried out by Wilson’s Mechanical Engineer, Blake Schmutz.

Blake started by explaining how much emphasis Wilson put on their unique materials technology. If you're already a Wilson fan you'll know that they're extremely secretive about their materials and give them just a letter instead of a name to protect their identity. They use X (first used in the X1 Grand Slam), S (first used in the Sasha) and now W (the new material used in WAMM) to build their cabinets and parts. Each material has a different set of properties and they apply them to different parts of their loudspeakers. We would learn more about this when we later got to see the manufacturing for ourselves.

Blake went on to discuss further the Wilson brand, the new Alexia 2, and introduced what they call WASP (The Wilson Audio Setup Process) which gives you guidelines about how to set up a Wilson system. He interspersed his talk with brief demonstrations of the Sabrina and Yvette. Both are fantastic speakers and it was great to hear them in Wilson's own demo room, but, of course, these are both speakers we have at KJ and I've heard them hundreds of times before.  The real reason I'd come all the way to Utah, apart from the training sessions, was to hear the new Alexia 2 and, especially, the flagship WAMM loudspeaker! 

Read part 2 of this blog here.

Read part 3 of this blog here.

 

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