|Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson|
"I thought you sold the speaker a little short."
This came from a SoundStage! reader and Wilson Audio Alexandria X-2 owner who was unhappy with my three-part, 6000-word feature review of his speakers. Normally we audio reviewers are chided for writing articles that are too flowery, but not this time. "I was hoping for a slightly meatier review," the reader went on to say. Immutable Truth of Audio Reviewing Number One: You can't please everyone all of the time, and you can't please some people ever.
I did understand the reader's criticism, however; my review focused mostly on the Alexandria's back story -- the materials, the R&D, the setup -- and purposely didn't turn into the praise party it could have. I said good things about the X-2's sound, very good things, but for someone who owns the speakers and listens to them day in and day out, only loud applause and roses flying onto the stage will do.
Well, this month's editorial will go some way toward evening the score -- maybe. Each January I highlight my favorite product from the previous year, and for 2005 -- or any year, for that matter -- it's the Wilson Audio Alexandria X-2. The speakers still occupy my listening room -- one needs help to break down and crate a pair of Alexandrias -- and the added time waiting for Wilson Audio to schedule their retrieval has only deepened my respect for these big transducers. There are a number of sonic characteristics that make the X-2s worthy of exalted praise -- their standard-setting bandwidth, their enormous dynamic range, their ability to sound big or small, their tremendous resolving power and headphone-like intelligibility -- but a few things that make them unique. And it's their uniqueness that defines them -- and makes them a challenge to define.
Even with all that I wrote about the speakers, I didn't mention the gentle grace and honest tonality of the music they make. At its very best, reproduced music embodies both truth (extreme fidelity to the recording) and beauty (respect for the emotional content of the music), often in equal parts, and this makes discerning and describing a product's personality difficult. I mentioned the uncanny balance of the X-2s: "better than I've heard from any product of any kind." This may be of some solace to owners, but I guarantee it is not something they will dwell on. Such balance is its own worst enemy; it doesn't draw attention to itself -- or make identifying it an easy task.
Of course, the Alexandrias are expensive speakers, given their $135,000 list price, and Wilson Audio makes other expensive speakers, like the MAXX 2 and WATT/ Puppy 7, both of which I've written about and praised. What makes the Alexandrias worth an additional $85,000 over the MAXX 2s? I can't answer that -- the $85,000 difference in disposable income is something I don't have, so I can't ponder how it should be spent. The MAXX 2 is a wonderful speaker, the product I wrote about in this space last year, but the Alexandria is better in every way while bringing something to reproduced sound that is singular: The music sounds free of not only the speaker cabinets but the current confines of reproduction, the speakers "not so much pushing out the music as releasing it, like a helium balloon to the air," as I put it in my review.
As I reread my review, and the passage above, I realized that this aspect of the Alexandrias' performance is also difficult to explain. Luckily, it's easy to hear, especially in comparison to the performance of other speakers, no matter how impressive. The same freedom isn't there; they are always speakers tethered to other components. With the Alexandrias, disbelief is not so much suspended as made irrelevant.
I could ramble on about more traits of the Alexandrias' sound, as this is what we reviewers do (and what readers expect). But to get to the heart of the Alexandrias, one has to address the ways in which they don't sound like other speakers. Ultimately, it is this that distinguishes them and begins to explain their six-figure price. If you want what the Alexandrias do, you have only one place to get it, and uniqueness doesn't come cheap.
In many ways, reviewing the Alexandria X-2s is an exercise in futility: one can write and write and still not convey their essence. So goes the challenge of translating such consummate sonic performance into words. Maybe "I thought you sold the speaker a little short" describes the Alexandria better than anything else.
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