Wilson Audio and The Sounds Of Salt Lake City
The Sounds Of Salt Lake City
Our M.D. Struan Mackenzie took the welcome opportunity to visit the base of Wilson Audio speakers in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. Not only did he experience the factory tour to witness for himself the care and precision taken during manufacture, but was invited into the Wilson family home to hear the the wonderful product serenade him and capture his heart. Struan has always been an admirer of Wilson speakers – after all Hi-Fi Corner/Homesound have been stockists for a quite while now, but this time the relationship was cemented. Read his letter from Utah and the see the photos of his memorable “Brief Encounter”.
It was a long 11-hour flight from Heathrow to Salt Lake City, Utah so my expectations were high – after all, I had to justify this 5000 mile trek to my envious staff in a rainy Scotland. The mission was simple: to find out why Wilson Audio speakers rank among the very best available. It was a lovely surprise to be greeted at the door of the factory by none other than Mrs. Sheryl Wilson, wife of founder of Wilson Audio, Dave Wilson. Soon after I met Dave himself and his son Daryl who now runs the business. It occurred to me early on that their personal, genuine heart-felt passion for high quality sound reproduction was ultimately the key to their success.
The Wilson Audio premises comprises of 40,000 square feet; with a good deal of space dedicated to research and development, as well as subjective assessment. The business was established in 1973 and is still entirely family owned and run. All drive units and enclosures are produced in-house in order that quality control can be tightly maintained.
Dave Wilson was beguiled in his teens by quality sound reproduction. He was already producing and recording his own material, but found commercially available speakers unable to produce the level of fidelity he was seeking . The answer to his frustration... simply to start making his own! Wilson Audio have now become highly successful manufacturers of world class speakers which are held in the highest regard by the music and audio community. Daryl Wilson took over the business from his father some years ago and became President and CEO. He is undoubtedly every bit as enthusiastic and dedicated to the business as his dad, and is already deeply involved with his own design work.
Daryl Wilson, President and CEO of Wilson Audio and myself.
It was inspiring to meet Daryl as someone with such motivation and focus to produce the very best products. No holds barred – anything possible to perfect the speaker designs would be done. His story as to how he ended up as CEO is not too dissimilar to my own. We both had to work at every level within the business, (including taking out the bins and sweeping the floors) before taking over senior roles. The difference is, I'm still taking out the bins and sweeping up, even as MD! In addition to the extensive factory tour, I had impressive demonstrations from the Wilson line-up, including the Yvette, Sabrina, the new Alexia series 2 and the staggering XLF. The Wilson range is extensive and comprises over a dozen designs, two of which are sub-woofers - the Watch Dog and the massive bone shaking, body violating Thor Hammer. I can't recall ever been so intimidated by a transducer before! Was it the sheer size or the thought of possible pulverisation by body resonance frequencies? I'd better be on my best behaviour here.
Here I am is standing aside the mighty Thor's Hammer cabinet prior to sanding and spraypainting. For scale, I could quite snugly fit into this cabinet but I have no intention of antagonizing Thor by my antics.
A drive unit from the Thor's Hammer subwoofer unit. It has a 6 inch excursion and is double suspended to ensure completely linear dispersion. As expected, it is extraordinarily heavy.
Latterly, a somewhat less intimidating environment prevailed with a seminar. This included being given valuable information and guidance for optimal setting-up and calibration of Wilson speakers in the home, including for the awe-inspiring model, the XLF. This design must surely rank as one of the ultimate speaker systems currently available, which is just as well a new pair cost roughly the same as a Ferrari from the showroom. Would Sir like the Red or Black finish, or would he prefer Metallic Blue?
I was given the Wilson factory tour alongside Pedro Jorge Luis, the sales manager from Absolute Sounds who is the UK distributor of Wilson Speakers. We first paid a visit to the speaker cabinet construction area, and were shown the extensive bracing and extraordinarily careful lengths taken to minimize any cabinet resonance effects. Depending on the model, different cabinet materials are utilized with varying strengths and thicknesses. These are chosen to shift any residual resonances away from any critical music band-with area, or to reduce them to negligible levels. The exact nature of the speaker enclosure material was not disclosed, but just referred to as “S”, “X”, or “W”. In the case of the W material, it is apparently of military grade strength. It is a requirement to replace the drill bit after each enclosure is produced for the new “WAMM” speaker system which uses “W” material, such is the hardness of the material. The bonding compound used by Wilson also produces joints of unprecedented levels of strength. A demonstration was given of an attempt to break a join which involved the prop being thrown around the car park grounds. Not only did the join not yield to this level of abuse, but there was no “dent” in the material itself.
This is the Wilson Audio paint room. Every speaker enclosure receives a minimum of seven coats and achieves a quality of finish equal to the audio performance. Speakers can be special ordered to any colour, but at an additional cost and wait time.
Above is a positive army of drive units awaiting test. Each driver is fully tested, run-in and matched before fitting. Unfortunately, I was not permitted to photograph the crossover networks, but I am allowed to say they employ point to point wiring - a time consuming process which maintains signal integrity. In addition, the crossover network is internally isolated from cabinet vibration by a liberal coating of resin.
After the factory tour, it was time for some auditioning. Much of the demonstration material was recorded by Dave Wilson.
The first demonstration was with the Sabrina, seventh model down in the line-up. Whilst the ancillary electronics used were relatively modest, and despite the speakers tiny footprint, they were able to fill the room with fast and articulate sound at high sound pressure levels, staying true to the Wilson culture of a clean and dynamic sound. Orchestral scores were recreated with space and air around each instrument, transporting you to the live event.
It was time for another demonstration for the new Yvette. These are the first fully Daryl-inspired design, so this was a significant demonstration for us and for the future path of Wilson Audio. The speakers were hooked up to a DCS CD player and Dan D’Agostino power amplifiers. Wilson employ a wide range of equipment for speaker testing, including Audio Research (available from HomeSound) and Nagra.
How did the Yvettes sound? Well, put it this way, we at Hi-Fi Corner and Homesound have bought a set for demonstration. They are honestly one of the most holographic-sounding speakers I have heard in my 15 years in the business. And they are just so fun to listen to! They truly made me forget I was listening to a speaker, and transported me to a few metres away from the performer at a live venue. After hearing 5 or 6 tracks I was left thinking whether I could fit these into my living room. Well, maybe just - if I dumped the sofa, television, coffee table.... I felt like serenading Yvette, “You're All I Need To Get By”, as the song says!
These are the Alexia Series 2, fourth from the top of the Wilson family. These units have easy access to the crossover capacitors from the rear.
If you have Wilson speakers, it's best to replace the capacitors every 2 years to maintain peak performance. Daryl Wilson changes the capacitors in his pair every year to be on the safe side. This is also a free service we offer to our Wilson customers, and if you have an older set, we can extend this offer to our customers in Scotland. Contact us at Homesound or Hi-Fi Corner for more information.
Now on to full set up training. Following several hours of acoustic theory, we had two of Wilson Audio’s most experienced engineers dispensing their knowledge as regards best set-up procedure. In order to obtain the utmost performance from your speakers, especially from highly tuned designs such as the Wilsons, it's imperative that all aspects of the speaker installation are absolutely spot-on. The Wilson Audio approach is similar to ours at Hi-Fi Corner and Homesound, but we were given a few extra tips to squeeze every last ounce of performance from the system.
Time for another listen, this time with the brand new Alexia Series 2. This is the first Wilson model to have an adjustable tweeter as well as mid driver adjustment (the Sasha 2 only had a mid range mechanical adjustment). The ability to alter the position of the drivers ensures linearity of phase - basically, for all frequencies to reach the listener's ears at the same time. This is essential for a stable and strong image. Alexia 2 is a significant step up from the Yvette and Sasha in terms of both scale and presentation, being much more accurate to real life.
Time to get WAMM’d with Dave Wilson! Wilson Audio’s brand new flagship speaker, the WAMM, have just started ship, and I was privileged to have a private demonstration of this design in Dave’s house. The WAMM incorporates ‘W Material’ which has the greater resonance control over and above the X and S material used in less expensive Wilson designs. The level of precision and control that these speakers are capable of is quite staggering. Both myself and Dave won't attempt to describe the sound as he believes it’s something you have to experience to understand, but what he did say is that he considered this system well ahead of anything else currently available. Dave felt this is the first time a speaker truly fooled him into thinking he was present at a live performance.
No shoes allowed indoors!
Pictured is Dave Wilson and Pedro Jorge Luis, the sales manager for the UK distributor, Absolute Sounds. Pedro attends Homesound installations of Wilson products to ensure the operation and location of the speakers is entirely optimal. Internationally, he is one of the most experienced speaker calibrators when it comes to Wilson Audio, so a visit from him to your home is guaranteed to derive the best results form your new speakers.
Next on to Dave Wilson’s home cinema installation which incorporated the mighty Thor’s Hammer sub. The system is a 5.1 set-up, and I have to say that, once again, I was almost lost for words. The Thor Hammer subwoofer is shocking, producing frequencies which penetrate every fibre of your body. The realism and immersion is truly total. Flick on ‘Tron’ and you are simply teleported to the race track.
Rounding up our trip, there was just time to visit the MOTAB (Mormon Tabernacle Choir) studios. MOTAB use Wilson Audio speakers for monitoring in the mixing cubicle to ensure all is heard with absolute clarity, with no colouration or phase issues. Amusingly, I couldn't help noticing the PC screensaver is an old-school tribute to Pong!
Many thanks to the Wilson family for a thoroughly enjoyable and informative few days. The trip reinforced my thoughts that these products are precision manufactured to the highest standards. The tiniest design nuances have been explored and perfected, and this, of course, this was reflected in the effortless and detailed sounds I heard during my trip. Wilson Audio speakers are available for demonstration at Homesound – our sister company in Edinburgh. Naturally enough, we use other high performance ancillary equipment from companies such as Vitus, Mark Levinson and T+A which are capable of doing justice to Wilson speakers. Rest assured, we will provide the most comprehensive installation in your home of your Wilsons, and promise an exemplary after-sales back-up, as for all our customers. If you currently own Wilson speakers and are considering an upgrade, we also have a generous program to assist you with the purchase of a new model.