High End 2016 • TABlog

by Roy Gregory | May 15, 2016

ather like a distant thunderstorm, Wilson Audio’s Alexx ($109,000/pair) seems to have been looming on my audio horizon forever -- well, a year or so. First, we heard vague mutterings. Then the rumors were substantiated. Then we got to see pictures. Then we got to see the beast in the flesh -- before we actually heard it. Combine that protracted courtship with the fact that I’ve been living with and thoroughly enjoying the impressive (and dramatically improved) Sasha W/P 2 for the last six or so months and the opportunity to finally get to play with Alexx in the flesh (so to speak) made Wilson’s offsite evening event the hottest ticket at the High End show, at least as far as I was concerned.

Hosted at Wilson’s local dealer, My Sound, in nearby Starnberg, was a system comprising an EMM Labs TSDX Reference CD/SACD transport ($17,000) and DAC 2 ($15,500) feeding Pass Labs’ Xs preamp ($38,000) and a pair of XA160.8 mono amps ($27,300/pair), all laced together with MIT Oracle interconnects and ACC speaker cables. Quite apart from being one of the most elegantly stylish stores I’ve ever been in, My Sound also did a fantastic job of setting up what was a brand-new speaker in every sense (both in terms of the speaker itself and their familiarity with it). Despite the coach-load of international journalists and distributors who descended on the event, the balmy weather and barbequed food meant that there was plenty of opportunity to spend time with the speakers, playing familiar material and getting a feel for their musical capabilities.

Perhaps the first thing to say is that the Alexx looks smaller in person than you might think: more of an Alexia+ than a cut-down Alexandria, less visually intrusive and a lot smoother than the aggressively styled MAXX. In this it follows hard on the footsteps of the Sasha 2, with its organic, flowing lines and increased sense of visual integration. Which is entirely appropriate, as the other thing that it has in common with its smaller sister is the remarkable musical integration, coherence and temporal/rhythmic integrity that have signaled a step change in WATT/Puppy system performance. I don’t want to preempt my Sasha 2 review that will be going live shortly, but its broader conclusions are relevant here. Much has been made of the Sabrina’s pound-for-pound performance and the remarkable value that it offers -- and quite rightly too. However, I’d argue that if you have the coin, then the performance of the Sasha 2 -- a speaker that costs twice as much as the Sabrina -- is more than twice as good. In fact, a number of people at the MOC commented that they’d never heard Wilsons sounding as good as the Sasha 2s on show there.

What has that got to do with the Alexx? Just as the step up from Sasha to Sasha 2 represents the biggest single change in 30 years of WATT/Puppy production, the Alexx embodies all the same musical benefits enjoyed by the Sasha 2 allied to greater bandwidth, scale and dynamic range. That core musical integrity separates it for me from its predecessors, making it a more communicative, engaging and, crucially, musically forgiving speaker than the MAXX in any of its iterations.

Far from telling you about the recording and the music, the Alexx allows the performers and their performance to speak for themselves. Playing the Giulini/Benedetti Michelangelli Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1 has become something of a rite of passage for me and new Wilsons. The Alexx didn’t disappoint. The system captured both the drama and dynamic impact of Giulini’s direction and his intuitive mastery of pace and tempo. The Vienna S.O. was full, powerful and present, as was the familiar acoustic. The orchestral playing was muscular and physical but also beautifully controlled, and once the piano entered there was no doubt that while these speakers can do power and impact, they can do delicacy and agility too. Michelangelli’s deft phrasing had a wonderfully uninhibited sense of ease and flow, poise and pace, while the balance between soloist and orchestra served the music perfectly, making for an engaging and immersive experience that’s unusual outside a familiar home system.

Following the Beethoven with Sibelius, some more Beethoven (the cello sonatas), a bit of Gillian Welch as well as Don Henley doing Jackson Brown showed that this was no one-hit wonder. The Alexx achieves that all-important goal of standing behind the music, whatever the music, bringing the performance into the room while hiding the system from (aural) view, which is pretty impressive given the size of this speaker. It also speaks volumes about this latest generation of Wilson designs. Improvements in drivers, cabinet materials and mechanics and an ever-evolving setup protocol have finally allowed the complex multi-box systems to match the integration and musical coherence of the single-box speakers, successfully combining the big speakers' impressive scale, dynamics and immediacy while ameliorating their super-critical character and tendency to dismantle recordings.

By now, it’s no secret that I was bowled over by the Sasha 2. When Wilson’s John Giolas said “If you love the Sasha, just wait until you hear the Alexx,” he wasn’t kidding.

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