Perhaps the biggest ‘thing’ to the Duette Series 2 performance is the absence of noise. This sounds weird, because a passive loudspeaker contains no active devices that might raise a noise floor. And yet, the Duette Series 2 has a lower noise floor than most loudspeakers. It just does. You hear it the moment you swap it out for almost anything else. This isn’t a ‘limpid pools of pellucidity’ cliché thing, it’s more like painting on a fully prepared canvas or even formatting your SD card before going out for a day’s photography. It’s a springboard, upon which you can launch your music. And that has profound implications for your listening.
Although I don’t subscribe to the whole ‘good for classical’, ‘designed for rock’ pigeonholing, there is a kernel of truth in this. However, I suspect it’s trying to dress up the limitations of a design by accentuating the positives. The best loudspeakers – and I mean the very best – do not need to accentuate the positive because (and I’m following the lyric sheet here) they work to eliminate the negative. And this is what the Duette 2 does so very well. That lower than you might expect noise floor, coupled with a loudspeaker that does grace, space and pace – and that offer an excellent dynamic range – just makes this a loudspeaker for all seasons. It was possible to put on Pollini playing some delicate Chopin Nocturnes, then take an abrupt change in direction and crank out some swampy early ZZ Top, only to shift gears one more time and play Domingo singing the romanza ‘Una Furtiva Lagrima’ from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. This last – from the album Opern-Gala (DG) and also featuring Giulini and the Los Angeles Phil is a deceptively tough task. A romanza should be a song of almost infinite sadness, but on less musically adept transducers, it’s hard to listen to without thinking of scenes from The Godfather. Here, I got the full emotion of the music with only the slightest desire to off Sal Tessio.
So far, what applies could be said of practically any decent loudspeaker. But what singles the Duette Series 2 out for special treatment is its portrayal of image depth, because it’s a wall-hugging speaker. A good soundstage is not impossible with a boundary design, but generally there’s an inevitable trade-off with image depth. Usually this is overcome by projecting a wider and more forward sounding soundstage than usual, but this can be a compromise too far. The Wilson Duette Series 2 makes no such compromise, and the soundstage it produces has a sense of depth as well as width, forward projection and height. Once again, I’m keen to disabuse the cliché of a soundstage so deep, it projects into the next town, but the Duette Series 2 does make your listening room sound as if it is bigger than it really is, by projecting a soundstage seemingly beyond the wall the speakers rest against. Thinking back a quarter of a century when I had Linn Kans an inch from the wall, all you got then was a (literal and figurative) wall of sound with almost no sense of soundstage whatsoever. The Duette Series 2 not only shows it can be done, but that the exercise is a worthwhile one. Rather than comparing the soundstage to the relatively limited stereophony of previous boundary loudspeakers, you’ll end up comparing this to loudspeakers like the Quad Electrostatic. It’s that good. I just wish I knew how it’s done!
There is also an almost inescapable temptation to play ‘how low can you go?’ with respect to products up the chain. This comes from the original claim that the Wilson Audio speaker that can be used with some surprisingly humble system components. In my own tests, I’d say the Arcam A19 (50W, 1/20th the price) was the cut-off point. The Duette Series 2 still sounded good when used with the little A19, but it was clear the relationship was getting a bit strained.
A source of some upset for me, though is I inadvertently created a match made somewhere between Salisbury and Provo, because using this speaker with the Naim Nait XS2 worked brilliantly. No caveats, no ifs or buts. This was one of those systems that sang together so well, you knew you were on to a winner. So, why the ‘upset’ part? Because the chance of anyone else (in the UK at least) replicating this system is slim to remote. The two brands move in different circles here. Now, while I’m not advocating this kind of ‘mullet’ system (in great fairness when my Devialet came back from its 240 upgrade and used with similarly more appropriate electronics, it really shone), it shows just how liberating the Duette Series 2’s shake-off of high-end demands really is. There’s a lot of logic behind the ‘get the room and speakers right and the rest falls into place’ argument, and the Duette Series 2’s sensible demands on the amplifier means if you want to take that logic to the extreme and spend way more on the speaker than the amp, this is the speaker to go for.