First Sounds: Wilson Audio Sabrina

by Marc Mickelson | July 18, 2015

here are so many ways to begin an article about a Wilson Audio speaker. You can jump right in with the product's design and construction, or take the long view, discussing the company's history or that of its founder -- from his purist recordings to his innovations. David Wilson is also an engaging fellow, deep-thinking and kindly. He has the authority -- born of a keen and wide-ranging intellect -- of your state senator and the personal warmth of a family member (provided it's one of the family members whose company you actually enjoy).

The point I'm trying to make is that it's difficult enough to stay focused when you're writing about one Wilson Audio speaker. You can forget about it when covering two. So I'm not even going to try. The Sasha Series 2 ($31,950/pair) and Sabrina ($15,900/pair) are the speakers to spend time in my system this year, and that will have to be the unifying principle of this teaser for TAB's upcoming reviews of both. Roy Gregory will be writing about the Sasha 2s, along with a pair of WATCH Dog subwoofers ($9800 each) with controllers ($4000) -- the speaker system from last year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. I will be covering the Sabrina, which is Wilson's newest speaker and a curveball for those of us anticipating the new version of the WAMM, which was unveiled, so to speak, at CES.

Wilson Sasha Series 2s before they were replaced by . . .

I've heard and written about every iteration of the WATT/Puppy since the Series 6, so the platform -- one of those innovations I mention above -- should be as familiar to me as my own face. However, the Sasha 2 represents the biggest change to the speaker since Wilson began building its cabinets from high-tech resin-based materials. The woofer cabinet, developed with Wilson Audio's latest laser vibrometer, has nearly 30% lower resonance than that of the original Sasha. More obvious is the custom version of Wilson Audio's Convergent Synergy silk-dome tweeter, with a rear-wave chamber designed specifically for this driver. The speaker's midrange/tweeter enclosure has a two-plane baffle that enhances the axes, and output, of the drivers. The enclosure, which also uses a new bracing scheme, is fashioned from the latest version of Wilson's X material, along with S material strategically used for the midrange baffle. Finally, there are now twenty group-delay positions for the midrange/tweeter module, increasing from four with the original Sasha, improving the speaker's time-domain performance.

I'm loath to say much about the sound of the Sasha 2 in advance of Roy Gregory's review, which will be characteristically extensive, but I continue to marvel at the coherence of Wilson Audio speakers in general, which seems absolute until you hear the latest and greatest model, and the quality of the treble, which is extended, finely drawn and refined. Those who focus on synthetic diamond and beryllium as the edge of the art in driver materials don't take into consideration that not everyone designing speakers is doing so with the same goals in mind. As he explained to me when I visited prior to the launch of the Alexandria XLF, David Wilson was seeking a tweeter, no matter the materials or technology, that improved on the Focal inverted-dome driver he had used for literally decades. He was seeking improvement in two areas: dynamic contrast and harmonic expression, both of which are matters of quality, not quantity. He also needed his tweeter to play low enough to transition to his midrange driver.

In the XLF, the new tweeter was a complete success; that continues to be the speaker I would own if cost weren't an issue, as it does so many things better than any I've heard. The interesting thing about this, and the silk-dome tweeter, is that it applies to the newest Wilson speaker, which is also the smallest floorstander the company has ever made. Actually, as John Giolas, Wilson's director of sales and marketing, pointed out when he set up the Sabrinas in my room, the earliest iterations of the WATT/Puppy were roughly the same size as the Sabrina -- 38" by 12" wide by a little over 15" deep. At 94 pounds, the Sabrina does achieve one distinction: it's the first floorstanding Wilson speaker to ship in a cardboard box, albeit a very strong one. While some may bemoan the lack of wooden crates, as all of the other Wilson speakers get, the boxes clip hundreds of dollars off Sabrina's retail price.

. . . Sabrinas.

In addition to a modified version of the silk-dome tweeter, the Sabrina uses an all-new Wilson-designed midrange driver and woofer. Its cabinet is also all new. It's constructed just as other Wilson cabinets are, but it uses a combination of a proprietary ultra-high-density fiber-filled material (yet unamed), with the baffle and the bottom from X material, crucial for energy drainage via the spikes.

I first heard the Sabrinas at the Newport Beach show, along with VTL and dCS electronics. That system had all of the earmarks of so many more ambitious and costly Wilson/VTL systems that I've heard at shows, including the one with the Sasha 2s and WATCH Dogs that is replicated in Roy's room. I'm still in the fact-gathering stage, but the li'l Sabrina definitely doesn't sound little. A test I like to do is put on music I know well that has a strong single center image -- a singer or horn player -- close my eyes, point to the source of the sound, then open my eyes. With the Sabrinas, I am regularly pointing at a spot above the top shelf of my SRA rack, which will give you some idea of how much height information these speakers convey. Full-sized images? Oh, yeah.

I will also say that with Keith Richards' Main Offender [Virgin 86449 2] and any other CDs or LPs with sock-in-the-gut bass, the Sabrinas simply belie their place in the Wilson Audio line -- dramatically so, in fact. Again, I hear a bigger speaker -- one that sounds in so many ways like the Sasha 2, which the Sabrina replaced in my room. That is not to say that the two sound identical, but that the sonic lineage of Wilson speakers is distinct in both. I can't really call it a matter of trickle-down technology when there is more than a trickle.

Stay tuned for much more.

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