I have a confession. On a recent Friday afternoon, sipping champagne in a room full of men I didn’t know, I had a moment that sent shivers down my spine. I wasn’t expecting it, but there’s no denying it happened.
It’s probably best I explain. I was sat in the plush surroundings of KJ West One, a high-end audio store in London, and was facing a pair of really massive Wilson Audio Alexx speakers. They cost $110,000 (or £105,000 in the U.K.), and until that point I hadn’t understood why.
I’d been listening for about 10 minutes, mostly to choral and classic pieces, which I could appreciate but that didn’t speak to me personally. Good, but not something I’d remortgage my house to obtain. Wilson Audio’s Director of Sales, Peter McGrath, was the DJ, and he decided to change the tempo, prefacing the next track by saying it was one he used often, and that it was a little different to those heard so far.
He played DubXanne, a remixed version of The Police’s classic song Roxanne, and my jaw dropped. The moment happened. It’s hard to pinpoint what did it, and it’s not like I have any deep love for The Police or their songs. It just sounded exactly right, in a glorious, high fidelity way that if I had been standing up, would have made me sit down in complete surprise. The lead vocal was full of depth and had a clarity that brought the singer right into the room, just larger and more vibrantly than he could possibly sound in real life. His voice was surrounded by controlled bass and sudden bursts of electrifying volume. It was fantastic.
Until that point, it was one of those demos that could have gone either way. The Wilson Audio Alexx speakers cost rather a lot, and it’s very difficult to imagine how they could emit sounds that would justify such a giant price. I’m still not convinced they did that, but they made me pay attention in a way that no other speaker system ever has.
You weigh less than Alexx
What you’re seeing is a cabinet that stands just over 62-inches high, weighs more than 200kg (440 pounds), and contains two woofers — one 10.5-inch and one 12.5-inch — two 7-inch mids, and a 1-inch tweeter. Those blocky driver boxes can all be independently moved backwards and forwards on their mountings, allowing for minute adjustments in staging and sound. The cabinet isn’t made from wood, but a special composite that minimizes the resonances inside, allowing the engineers to precisely tune the sound. Why doesn’t the company use wood? Mc Grath told Digital Trends that it has a speaker made from the very best audio-grade MDF wood, and otherwise identical to the usual Wilson Audio version, but he described the difference in sound between them as “striking.”
Bizarre, eye-catching shapes and designs seem to dominate high-end audio.
The attention to detail inside is considerable, right down to the point-to-point crossovers that shun circuit boards, and are engineered to a tolerance of 0.1 percent. They’re mechanically insulated inside epoxy to keep them safe from the rigors of life inside a huge, vibrating box. Lasers are even used to measure resonance, and the system is so sensitive it can pick up and pinpoint someone speaking in the room, despite being inside a speaker. Each set of speakers are made to order, and once the Utah-based company catches up with demand, they take about five weeks to produce.
With the official demo over, others left the room for more champers, but McGrath continued to show off the speakers’ ability, letting those who remained get a deeper appreciation of the sound. There’s an unexpected comfort to listening at volume. It’s so effortless, and the sound is never harsh, holding together in a way you don’t expect. The detail was there that made the sound realistic, beautiful, and extremely tuneful. Hadyn’s Lord Nelson Mass was especially impressive, and it was possible to identify the virtual locations of the singers — not by concentrating hard, just by listening. That’s a degree of clarity and preciseness I didn’t really know was possible from a set of speakers.
The speakers may be great, but throw them in a room without much thought, and they’ll sound no better than a $200 pair. The preparation and installation of the system is paramount to getting exactly the right sound. The demo room in which I sat took five hours to set up, by a man with decades of experience using and placing Wilson Audio’s equipment. Interestingly, it was done without complicated electronic instruments, just some simple measurements, some scribblings on a piece of paper, and a very knowledgeable ear. That’s the caliber of person entrusted with Wilson Audio’s sound quality.
Then there’s the equipment needed to drive the speakers. The array of gear pushing sound through the Alexx speakers included a Dan D’Agostino Momentum preamplifier, two Dan D’Agostino Momentum M400 monoblock power amplifiers, an Audio Research Reference Phono 2SE phono stage, a Vertere Record Player RG-1 with Koetsu Jade cartridge, and a dcs Vivaldi DAC — interconnects and speaker cables were provided by Transparent Opus. That array of sweet gear brought the total cost of the setup to around £250,000 (that’s about $360,000). Each component was hand-picked by the team, but perhaps surprisingly, we were informed it was possible to get a better sound for less money, as the listening room wasn’t an ideal space. A regular living room would have suited the speakers better. However, much as the sound from the Wilson Audio Alexx speakers had won me over, the looks still hadn’t. Bizarre, eye-catching shapes and designs seem to dominate high-end audio, and the ’70s sci-fi look of the Alexx are challenging enough to have made even the set designers on Space 1999 think twice before putting them center stage.
It was while McGrath tinkered with the amps and selected tracks to play that it became obvious how speakers like this could end up being an addiction. Hours would be whiled away listening to favorites, or discovering new ones to see how they sound, and how they differed from previous plays through other systems. I could have started to do so using the music on my phone, right there and then if they would have let me. That’s the joy of owning a wonderful, sonically astonishing toy like this.
Is it all worth a quarter of a million pounds? No, not really; but nothing that puts sheer pleasure over mundane practicality can justify the additional cost in a solely financial way. As an experience, a deeper dive into music and its construction — yes, it’s like you’re hearing the music actually being made — then finding a more satisfying alternative will be a problematic (but probably enjoyable) challenge. If the money is in the bank, then no-one with ears will be disappointed with a set of Alexx speakers in their home. If you’re in the enviable position to consider them, sometime soon after you plug them in, you’ll probably get to hear your own special moment. Lucky.
- Incredibly lifelike image and clarity
- Deep and wide soundstage
- Immensely dynamic
- Transparent and detailed
- Room-dominating aesthetic
- Extremely expensive