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