November 9, 2007

Listening to the X-2 Series 2

Provo, Utah is 600 miles north of my home in Arizona, and I expected to see "the festival of fall colors," as it's called in travel books, as I drove the ten and a half hours to get there. No such luck. You don't see much vegetation from I-15, even once you get past St. George, Utah, where middle-desert conditions still prevail.

I was traveling to Provo to hear a side-by-side demonstration of the original Wilson Audio Alexandria X-2 and the new X-2 Series 2 ($148,000 per pair). We had seen the new speaker at CEDIA a few weeks earlier, but CEDIA's frenetic show floor is definitely not the place to hear music. Dave Wilson's immense listening room is, and that's where the demonstration was held. Both pairs of speakers were set up identically -- with one speaker in each pair in the room's sweetest spots. With a custom-made switching box, I could A/B the two speakers at will, listening to long or short pieces of music with both -- the ideal way to compare any two audio products.

Original and Series 2 X-2s in Dave Wilson's listening room.

The X-2 Series 2 came about because of a live-music experience at the Musikverein in Vienna. As he sat in this famous concert hall, often considered one of the best in the world, Dave Wilson realized that his speakers needed to capture the Musikverein's unique ambient signature, its transient liveliness, and its harmonic complexity. To effect this, Wilson Audio developed a new midrange driver that's completely its own -- it's stamped "Wilson Audio" on the mounting flange. Wilson also further modified the X-2's main tweeter to better address the driver's back-wave reflections, and reworked the speaker's crossover modules. The back of the new speaker has changed significantly, giving much easier access to what Wilson Audio has named the "Propagation Delay Correction hardware" -- the resistors and connectors located on the back of each speaker. Upgrading a pair of the speakers requires swapping the main tweeter, both midrange drivers and all of the crossover modules. Contact Wilson Audio for pricing and details.

The new X-2 Series 2 midrange.

I called the original X-2 "the best of the best, the benchmark for loudspeaker design here and now," and a pair of them lived up to this towering praise in Provo. At first, I listened to short selections on them, and then switched to the Series 2 speakers. The difference throughout the midrange and into the treble took all of two seconds to recognize. The mids sounded more finely textured and detailed. In contrast, the original X-2s were a bit reticent, though mostly because they didn't present the music with the same upfront immediacy. The X-2 Series 2s definitely reproduced space better, and this is something the original speakers did better than any I've heard.

If you own X-2s and are considering the upgrade, I can say with complete confidence that you won't be straining to hear the difference once all of the bits'n'bobs have been removed and installed. The upgrade is substantial, improving the X-2 throughout the entire midrange, which is the the fat part of any speaker's musical spectrum.

I didn't see anything worthwhile on my trip north, but I did hear a great speaker and one that's now even better. A pair of X-2 Series 2s should be making the trip south to my listening room sometime soon, so stay tuned for a report on their many and varied colors.

...Marc Mickelson

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