Is it Live or Wilson?

Wilson Audio is well known for ultra-high-end speakers, but most of its products are designed for 2-channel listening. To create a full surround system, all you need do is mate any of Wilson's superlative L/R models with a center, surrounds, subwoofer, and controller from the WATCH (Wilson Audio Theater Comes Home) lineup.

The second-generation WATCH Center has 30 percent more enclosure volume than its predecessor without increasing the cabinet's footprint—though it is a bit taller—providing greater bass extension. Two midrange/woofer drivers from the Sophia speakers lend the WATCH Center the same midrange speed and punch as the MAXX 2.

The Center's tweeter is the same one used in the WATT/Puppy 8 and MAXX 2, and it's adjustable position lets you align its phase with that of the left and right speakers for a seamless, coherent soundfield. An anti-jitter crossover derived form Wilson's larger speakers is said to deliver the same grain-free transparency, allowing dialog to emerge from a truly "black" background with unprecedented clarity and dimensionality.

Like the Center, the second-gen WATCH Surround is larger on the inside—50 percent larger in this case—increasing bass extension by a full octave and widening the dynamic range. In addition, the wall mount has been redesigned to better decouple the speaker from the wall and provide a greater range of tilt and rotation.

The original WATCH Dog subwoofer was powered with an internal amplifier, but after conducting extensive listening tests, Wilson decided that the best sound was achieved when all speakers—including the sub—were powered by matching amps. Thus, the new WATCH Dog is passive, requiring an external amp. Removing the onboard amp allows the cabinet to 40 percent smaller than its predecessor while maintaining the same internal volume.

Essential to the sub's operation is the WATCH Controller, which provides a sophisticated crossover between the main speakers and the sub, allowing one system to serve 2-channel music and multichannel movie soundtracks. In multichannel mode, it passes the surround processor's LFE signal to the sub, whereas in 2-channel mode, it becomes a full-fledged crossover and bass equalizer. The crossover frequency and slope are adjustable with continuously variable phase, and the EQ can minimize room-induced colorations and standing waves.

If you know Wilson products at all, you know they aren't inexpensive. A complete WATCH system carries a price tag of nearly $30,000 for everything but the main L/R speakers in a 5.1 system. And what about those main L/R speakers? They'll set you back anywhere from $13,400 for a pair of bookshelf/in-cabinet Duettes to $158,000 for the mighty Alexandria X2s. Then there's the surround processor and amplification, which, for a system such as this, will certainly be in the five figures at least.

Is the sound of the Wilson system so much better than everything else that such astronomical prices are justified? Let me tell you a true story that illustrates why I believe it is. Many years ago, I was attending the Stereophile Hi-Fi Show at a big hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport. As I was walking down a hallway, I heard music coming from a crowded hotel room—not unusual at the Hi-Fi Show. However, my first thought at hearing that music was most unusual—"I wonder why they have live musicians in there?"

Of course, there were no live musicians in there. Instead, it was a high-end audio system with Wilson WAMM speakers, which were able to fool me—a professional musician—into thinking that a live band was playing in a hotel room crammed full of people. That sense of realism alone makes Wilson speakers worth every penny to those who can afford them.

Does a $150,000 speaker system sound twice as good as a $75,000 system? Probably not. As with almost everything, improvements in performance become more incremental as cost increases beyond a certain threshold. But at some point, the performance exceeds a threshold of its own, and reproduced sound becomes something more than it was before. That's the magic of Wilson speakers.

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D. Johnson's picture

A pair of the Alexandria X-2 Series 2 costs nearly $150,000. At $4,000 a pair, I'm quite pleased with the Definitive Technology Mythos ST. Great price, great sound, and no subwoofer needed!

Dr. Herzenstube's picture

I had the chance to hear the Alexandria X-2 S2's, driven by Boulder electronics, and set up by Mr. Wilson himself, at a promotional event at a high end electronics store in my city. I was decidedly underwhelmed. May be it was the room, the electronics, the recording chosen etc., but when the designer of a speaker is the one in charge of the demo you'd expect it would be at its best. I have heard speakers that sounded better to me, including that Vandersteen 5a's at about 11% of the price!

Ron's picture

The trouble with speakers like this is regardless of their sound, much of what you are paying for is in the elaborate design and cabinetry. Look significantly different from everybody else and you can charge what you want! Many of these Wilson cabinets are mammoth in size and would just not be practical in the vast majority of people's homes who want to build a quality A/V system without having to take out a second(in this case a third) mortgage on the house to get it. There are just so many more choices out there that offer superb sound, looks AND value without spending ridiculous amounts of money. Sorry, these speakers and speakers like them are dinosaurs that appeal to a select few who buy them so they can tell people how much they paid for them, not necessarily that they are significantly superior in sound to anything else.

Al's picture

The Wilson Sophia's were the only choice in my price range and I auditioned and have owned many competitive speakers like B&W, Def Tech and Paradigms. To me, nothing sounded as dynamic and just plain as alive as the Sophias. I have never once regretted stetching my budget to get these speakers.

Duncan's picture

I am very pleased with my Revel F52 system, but the 7.1 Wilson setup a local dealer has is the best sound I have heard (admittedly it is also in a better room than I have at the moment). It is way out of my price range, but I do see why people with the means would chose to get it.

John J. Puccio's picture

The thing about any high-end audiophile speaker system is that it should have no sound of its own. Because such speakers should not add distortion, frequency peaks, depth, or dynamics not found on the source material being played, such speakers can often sound "underwhelming" to people who are used to having their socks knocked off by the unique or personal sound of other makes or models that purposely try to impress the listener. I was privileged some years ago to visit Dave (Wilson) in his home and listen to his WAMMs. With classical music, they simply sounded like a real symphony orchestra in his living room. Yeah, Dave's speakers are enormously expensive, but if you want the best, you pay for the best. John J. Puccio, Classical Music Editor The $ensible Sound magazine

the jammer's picture

Our hobby "needs" manu's like Wilson. No matter your view point on their ouput, the fact that you can buy a speaker suite north of $200,000 is just, well, insanely cool....even if insane. With audio/video, sometimes it's fun JUST to be a spectator, which is one of the highest compliments you can pay ANY form of amusement. I love this "hobby".

Emilio's picture

$150 000 Fiuuu And I just can afford a Paradigm Atom system (And I'm happy with it)

Joseph Lee's picture

In my Lee Theatre HD, I have 9 Wilson WATT/Puppy speakers, three in front, two on the side and four at the back. For the front centre speaker, I placed the Puppy horizontally and the WATT on top, slightly tilted upward. The amplifiers include 3 Krell 250M monoblocks, and two Krell KAV500s, connected by all Transparent Audio cables, with Goldline digital equalizers, plus two Velodyne HSC-18 and one Citation subwoofers. In my audio room, I use two Wilson Grand Slamm X-2 speakers, connected to two Krell 650 Monoblocks with Transparent Reference cables and Krell KPS-25 CD/preamplifier and Goldline digital equalizer. The walls of both rooms were treated with Owen Corning sound panels covered with transparent cloth. The sound reproduction of two channel and multi-channel music is simply heavenly. I wish there are more Blu ray concerts with HD audio ...what a treat on my 12 feet wide screen from projector with anamorphic lens with fantastic sound. To me, this is the ultimate AV.

josé vazquez's picture

Tyler Linbrook signature: 8,000 dollars. The best choice. I still don´t believe how good they are. If you like some more bass presence, you can add a hi-end subwoofer (I did not).

Jul ian's picture

I started to update my AV system by changing the subwoofer WATCH-DOG V2.0. I ended up very disappointed after many attempts to integrate the sound in my room. This type of speaker sounds very good in the room of the seller but are not prepared for domestic lounges. I replaced the front speakers by B & W 801D, I have not heard anything like this are great to make a mockery MAXX III. Audiophile Council with 23 years experience: do not spend such astronomical sums of money that price is not what you hear, are paying about 90% of profit in excess.

Bill's picture

I think the latest generation of Wilsons sound better than any previous ones, but I've got to admit that with the right notes on the right track, you can unfortunately still tell they're cones in a box. However, if anyone can solve that issue with a conventional cone/box design, I suspect it will be Dave Wilson...

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