One of the more fascinating demonstrations at the CES in Las Vegas at the beginning of the year wasn’t actually at the CES. There are always off-piste demonstrations that run concurrently with the show, and this year was no different with many of the upper rooms of the Mirage resort hotel used to demonstrate products in a less frenetic environment than the Venetian tower across the road.
This year, one of the best sounding rooms in all of Las Vegas was a system comprising a dCS Vivaldi four-box digital stack (sitting on a Stillpoints stand) connected directly to a pair of D’Agostino Momentum mono power amplifiers into a pair of the new Wilson Audio Alexia floorstanding loudspeakers, using the latest Transparent Audio cables throughout. Aside from being one of the most effortlessly dynamic systems, one that’s capable of producing realistic volume levels in-room without the sense of strain and artificiality that normally brings, there was a fascinating little experiment that showed just how important the smallest aspects of audio can be.
The Alexia is one of the most adjustable loudspeakers on the market today, because along with some crossover tailoring designed to suit a range of rooms, there is a high degree of precise and repeatable adjustable fine-tuning of the head unit. And, unlike some adjustable systems that seem to involve a ‘suck it and see’ system of gentle pushes and shoves to get everything in the right place, the Alexia, used a micrometer-like adjustment that allows the precise movements of the tweeter housing backwards and forwards by a fraction of an inch, while leaving the rest of the loudspeaker in place.
Loudspeakers have often been designed with some degree of time alignment, but normally that alignment is fixed. The Alexia allows that alignment to be adjusted for the optimum position relative to the listener’s position. Slotting a full-range (or near as makes no odds) loudspeaker into a wide range of rooms can require changes to the crossover – this is sensible because the Alexia has the same footprint as the Sasha and that means it could be the logical upgrade for WATT/Puppy or Sasha users, who don’t have the room for MAXX or Alexandria.
This could be considered ‘back office’ information, because someone who buys a pair of Alexias buys the installation to go with it. The WASP (Wilson Audio Set-up Procedure) is a well documented and reliable way of placing a loudspeaker – especially a Wilson loudspeaker – in the room, finding the point where an installer’s own voice sounds best as an anchor for position. But the increasingly adjustable nature of Wilson loudspeakers from Sasha and beyond allows the installer to angle the mid and tweeter directly to the position of the listening chair. In fairness, Wilson is not alone in being able to adjust the speaker’s alignment in this manner, but this is the first time I’ve had it demonstrated to me directly.
It has to be demonstrated too. You, the listener, need to sit in the sweet-spot… and stay there for the duration. If you move, you risk shifting your listening position, and undermining some of the effect of the tweeter movement. That being said, the change is big enough to be easily heard, even if you got up, went for a short walk and sat back down again.
The difference is a significant improvement in instrument separation and layering. The sound with the tweeter in the ‘not quite right’ position was still excellent, but there’s a sense of mild shortening of the image depth; I listened to a choral piece (recorded by Peter McGrath of Wilson) and the difference was like the singers were shoulder to shoulder, against sounding like they were individual singers in rows a few feet apart. The difference was between ‘good’ and ‘almost real’.
While it’s easy to dismiss this as Wilson Audio showing off an aspect of the installation that applies almost uniquely to Wilson Audio, it does show that when you get to the best of the best in audio, everything matters; even moving a tweeter module about the width of a matchstick. A distance of a fraction of an inch when sitting perhaps ten feet from the loudspeakers is a trifle, but as Michelangelo famously said ‘trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle’.