Letters • September 2017

CAT preamp: "your current view"?

September 24, 2017


I've never been a huge Wilson Audio fan, but I think the Alexx is quite good in comparison to some others, and I enjoyed your perspectives on the line and the speaker. The first high-end speaker I ever heard was a WATT/Puppy about 25 years ago, and that started me in this hobby.

My real question for you is about your preamps. I see in your associated equipment both a CAT and a VTL. I've owned both over the years, and I am now using an Absolare, but I am considering a return to CAT. What is your current view between your CAT and your VTL?

Mark Somerstein

I'd like to answer your question, but I can't, because a CAT SL1 Legend you buy today would be very different from the SL1 Legend that I have, which is the unit I reviewed over eight years ago. Ken Stevens has made various upgrades to the preamp, including, and most significantly, the inclusion of his Black Path capacitors. You can also now get the preamp with sets of XLR inputs and outputs, which my preamp doesn't have. I can say that I like the SL1 Legend that I have a great deal, and if I can get it into to Ken Stevens' update queue, I will write about his latest and greatest model at some point in the future. -Marc Mickelson

Odin 2 digital cable "a major upgrade"?

September 22, 2107


I know you have experience with Nordost Odin and Odin 2. I have a 10-meter Valhalla 2 AES/EBU digital cable, which is great. Will switching to Odin 2 be a major upgrade?

Zi Jafferji

From my experience, Odin 2 is "a major upgrade" from essentially every cable line, including Vahalla 2. Both the interconnects and speaker cables are significantly more resolving and poised. I have no experience with the Odin 2 AES/EBU cable, but I would be surprised if you didn't hear greater detail with that cable, even though it's carrying "just digital" signals. Even with "tiny analog" signals, Odin 2 is jaw-dropping. -Marc Mickelson

Alexx questions

September 16, 2017


I just read your great review of the Wilson Alexx speakers. I had been eagerly awaiting your review as these are on my shortlist for future speakers, along with Vivid Giya Spirit, Stenheim Reference, Avalon SAGA, etc.

I wonder if I could ask some questions, given your extensive experience with these and other Wilson speakers.

1. How did Alexx perform at low to moderate volumes of say 60-75dB in terms of microdynamics,vibrancy, image height and retaining overall musicality and musical detail?

2. How far from front wall are they placed in your room and how far away is your listening seat? I have noticed that most Wilson speakers are set up relatively close to front wall, and I have never seen them set up in a more open field, away from the front wall, or relatively close to listening seat for a more nearfield position. This seems to suggest that their bass is tuned for this positioning. Is this your experience as well?

3. I notice you have an Audio Research Reference 75 SE listed in your equipment. Did you get to try this amp, and if so, what were your impressions? I believe Alexx is a more difficult load than Wilson's Alexandria XLF.

Any feedback you can share would be much appreciated. Thanks again for a very informative and helpful review.

Ash Varma

I'll answer your questions in sequence.

I do a lot of listening at lower volumes, often while I'm sitting in the near dark or at my computer in the next room, and the Alexx does as well at low volumes as any speaker I've heard in my room, including the larger Wilson models. The full palette of traits I note in my review were on full display. Because of all the work done on the cabinet and the corresponding inherent blackness the speakers convey, Wilson speakers sound at low levels just as they do a higher volumes. The music doesn't recede and shrink.

In my room, the Alexxes are roughly 52" from the wall behind them, and I sit about nine feet from them. However, because of their front-or-back port alignment as well as the design, which gets the time-domain performance right in any room and for any listening position, you don't really have to worry about placement with the Alexx, as you do with other similarly large speakers. The Alexx caters to you, not the other way around, even in rooms much smaller than mine.

Yes, I did use the Reference 75 SE with the Alexx, and it drove the speakers very well. In fact, it was with the Alexx that I really came to understand what the Reference 75 SE sounded like. I didn't find the Alexx to be a particularly finicky load, although I suspect that while a Reference 75 SE and a pair of Lamm M1.2s can drive the speakers incredibly well, more muscle, in the form of VTL Siegfried IIs, for instance, would certainly pay dividends. The Alexx will get the most from whatever amp(s) you use with it, even vintage amps like the Kenwood L-07M monoblocks I sometimes use. -Marc Mickelson

Reference 6 tweaks

September 11, 2017


I noticed within your Wilson Audio Alexx review, in the associated components list, that you are using an Audio Research Reference 6 preamp. I, too, am running a Reference 6. I've found it to communicate an unsurpassed level of presence and three-dimensionality while remaining tonally neutral. Class A all the way -- with only some reservations in the high frequencies: a slight lack of richness and sparkle, most easily heard with piano.

I've found several tweaks, when used together, enhance the high frequencies of the Reference 6: first, a Synergistic Research Black Quantum fuse; and second, a Sain Line Systems Pure Current power cord. Those two tweaks on the power-supply side get you 80% there. As a final note, I swapped in a set of matched, cryogenically treated, low-noise 6H30 tubes from Upscale Audio and an NOS Winged "C" 6550C power tube. Now, class A ++, with no reservations.

John Leosco

Room treatments

September 5, 2017


In "Facing What You Don't Know," you mention that Stirling Trayle completed his work in your room without adding room treatments.

Did that have to do with your room specifically, or because Mr. Trayle believed he could get the best sound from your system without resorting to treatments (which would be fine by me!).

David Salsberg

Great question! While Trayle does not oppose room treatments, he believes that they are frequently overused. In his experience, room treatments are frequently applied in an effort to overcome challenges like a skewed tonal balance, which would be better addressed by the proper setup of equipment.

One of the maxims Trayle stressed to me was to avoid "killing the natural energy and dynamics of the room." Trayle's ability to work with a room, as opposed to conquering it, is one of the reasons I (and others) find his work to be so exceptional. -Vance Hiner

Cable mixing

September 2, 2017


I noticed that you are using three brands of interconnects and speaker cables: AudioQuest, Nordost and Shunyata Research. Do you use only one brand at one time to connect all of your equipment or mix them up in different locations to achieve a better sound?

Kelvin Tam

This is a very good question with a mundane answer. I use only full sets of all of those cables, because experience has taught me that the full-loom approach is the most direct way to achieving the best sound a system is capable of. It's difficult enough to match amps and preamps from different makers; cables are such a huge variable, given the signal and AC needs of an audio system, that mixing and matching cables from different manufacturers only complicates matters. -Marc Mickelson

Reader list

September 1, 2017


Please add me to the reader list, and thanks for a really interesting read.

Rod Thorogood

You're on the list. To join TAB's reader e-mail list and find out about new articles first, send e-mail to rl@theaudiobeat.com. -Marc Mickelson


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