Facets of Excellence • A Brief Comment

by Paul Bolin | November 9, 2009

ast week, I spent two days having some of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. Anytime one can be educated, thrilled, entertained and even enlightened while having a ton of plain old fun in the process, well, that makes for the best that sometimes-dreary workaday life can offer. I spent those two days at Wilson Audio Specialties, and in the process I heard the best music reproduction I've experienced in not one but two rooms.

This is a cynical world, and a cynical audio industry. There is cattiness, backstabbing, ludicrously misplaced diva-ism, shameless self-promotion and plenty of good old snake-oil salesmanship. I have never met a less cynical person than David Wilson. He brings to his enthusiasms great depth of understanding and an utterly genuine, infectiously boyish exuberance. It is impossible not to have fun being around someone who is so passionate about the things that engage him, and that engage him for all the right reasons. His convictions come from his core. Some will never be able to understand, for example, his passion for Ferrari automobiles as anything other than extravagance. He owns and drives Ferraris for one reason: He is passionate about what the cars are and the uncompromised vision and tradition they represent. They are things done supremely well in every respect and detail.

Part of "the Gallery" at Wilson Audio -- a collection of the company's retired speakers.

I don’t know if Wilson has ever read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but he perfectly embodies the artisanal virtues Pirsig investigates at such length. Doing something supremely well for its own sake is what Pirsig’s concept of "quality" is all about. The popular version of this is "Character is what you have when no one is looking or will never know." Few principles more concisely explain David Wilson and the company that bears his name. No one is happier than Wilson that he can make a good living doing something that he loves to do in exactly the way he wants to do it, but that ultimately isn't why he does it. Talk to the man and you quickly find out that the pecuniary rewards aren’t what drive him. For Wilson and his employees, all the financial rewards mean they are, on no small level, very lucky people, which they readily acknowledge. They would do what they do in exactly the same way were Wilson Audio less successful than it is. To do something meaningful at this level is truly its own reward, and David Wilson recognizes the same in others, which explains his passion for all things Ferrari. He is doing nothing more or less than looking into a mirror when he drives a Ferrari.

Perfection is clearly the goal of every person one sees at work in Wilson Audio’s impeccably neat and organized atelier (to call it a mere "factory" is to do it a profound attitudinal disservice), but there is a sub rosa understanding that perfection can only be striven for and never obtained. It seems odd to discuss, much less see, pride and humility standing shoulder to shoulder, but there they were, as big as life.

Wilson Audio MAXX 3s and Lamm ML3s in John Giolas's listening room.

I’d made up my mind about what I thought of the Sasha W/P, which I have in for review, before I got on my flight to Salt Lake City. The speaker conclusively revealed its intrinsic sonic character over the last couple of weeks of listening, though I can virtually guarantee that I will learn more and more about it the longer I listen. I heard no Sashas at Wilson Audio or the homes of Dave Wilson or his sales/marketing director, John Giolas, though I saw every facet of the speaker's construction. The Sashas in my room won’t sound a bit different to me the next time I listen to them, but there is no gainsaying that I will understand them better after learning more about the philosophy behind them, and having refreshed my appreciation for the innate beauty and value of artisanal things, which all Wilson Audio speakers most certainly are.

David Wilson's magnificent system, which includes Alexandria X-2 Series 2 speakers and a stereo pair of Thor's Hammer subwoofers.

To be immersed, however briefly, in the world of David Wilson, his company, and the people who surround him is to be reminded that cynicism, while commonplace, is not universal -- nor necessary.

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