|Monthly Editorial by Marc Mickelson|
The year that was, 2004, was a very good one indeed for SoundStage! and the other SoundStage! Network websites. This was the case for a number of reasons, the sheer quality of the equipment we wrote about among them. This past year may not have been a blockbuster for the consumer-electronics industry in terms of sales (unless you are Apple, whose iPod may have reached the one-million-units-sold mark by the time you read this), but the industry still keeps chugging along and giving us some astonishing new products from which to choose.
In 2004, a number of SoundStage! writers encountered Reviewers' Choice electronics and speakers that either offered state-of-the-art performance or were raging bargains, and I reviewed more than one personal-best component. Among these were the best amplifiers I've heard to date (Lamm ML2.1 and Atma-Sphere MA-2 Mk II.3 monoblocks), the best digital source (Esoteric X-01 CD/SACD player), and the best interconnects and speaker cables (Siltech Compass Lake and The Emperor).
But even among all of these extraordinary products, a speaker I reviewed in 2004 stood out. It was not only the best speaker I've ever heard in my system, but also, as I wrote in my review, "the most significant product I've written about in my eight years as an audio reviewer": the Wilson Audio MAXX 2. This is a big speaker with a big price tag -- $44,900 USD per pair. But no other speaker I've heard is as convincing as the MAXX 2. Yes, it is expensive; blame its refined design, advanced materials, and exacting manufacture. It is a true speaker system.
The MAXX 2 is simply better in every way than any speaker I've heard at length, including the mighty WATT/Puppy 7, which was my previous reference. You name it -- dynamics, tonal balance, resolving power, bass and treble extension, precision, emotion -- the MAXX 2 doesn't just do it well, it does it to a level that, from my experience, no other speaker outside Wilson Audio's own Alexandria X-2 can duplicate. There are good and great speakers, but the MAXX 2 is in the next level, one that's reserved for products that make an important leap forward in the reproduction of music and bring listeners ever closer to the sound of a live performance at home.
Living with the MAXX 2s has given me great insight into their abilities. During most of the review period, I used the MAXX 2s with high-power amplifiers from Simaudio, Atma-Sphere and Lamm. The speakers always preserved the differences among these amps, and all other components and cables used with them. It was thrilling to hear the MAXX 2s play at levels that were only a handful of dBs removed from live music and also sound satisfying at low levels, never glossing over the finesse of more gentle and introspective recordings. Since my review, I've been listening to the MAXX 2s with Lamm ML2.1 SET amps, whose 18 watts drive the speakers gloriously, preserving not only large-scale dynamics but also conveying the sheer beauty of any music. This is a special combination, different from the MAXX 2s and Atma-Sphere MA-2 Mk II.3 amps, but no less gratifying.
Thus the MAXX 2s anchor an audio system, working with a wide variety of amplifiers and other products, always exposing their true character. But audiophiles know that truth and beauty don't always go hand in hand. Because of the MAXX 2s' tremendous bandwidth and dynamic capabilities, each recording's personality is conveyed to a degree that most other speakers can't approach. However, with the MAXX 2s, this absolutely does not happen at the expense of the music's emotional appeal. This is no small point. In fact, it's a singular achievement.
I'd like to end by describing some "very special moment" for you, perhaps a late-night listening session during which I play my fourth Bill Evans album in a row and seemingly channel his spirit. But living with the MAXX 2s means your musical life is filled with "very special moments" -- with all types of music, including that captured on poor recordings, into which you will have an infinitely clearer sonic view. With a well-recorded SACD, the sound is spectacular -- and unrivaled.
Among the outstanding products I encountered in 2004, the Wilson Audio MAXX 2 is my choice as the best of the best. Wilson Audio won't sell a million MAXX 2s, but each pair will be the apple of its owner's eye.
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