In the first draft of this review, I found I wrote the phrase “the clever part…” at the start of about 35 sentences. Having stripped back the repetition, it’s Sabrina that has the word ‘clever’ running through it like a stick of Blackpool rock. And ‘clever’ even extends to the installation process. The Sabrina joins the Duette Series-2 and the Sophia as Wilson loudspeakers with a ‘fixed’ shape: the Sasha Series-2 and beyond all have an ability to shape midrange and tweeter sections to fit the room and the listener’s position. The complexity of this adjustable installation process is demanding and best performed by a trained professional installer. Instead of aligning the upper-register modules to suit the installation, the Sabrina relies on a rigid placement of drive units, time aligned to suit a broad spectrum of room/seating arrangements. The non-adjustable Sabrina could end up more demanding, because to get something approximating the micrometer-precise treble and midrange would normally require some very careful back-and-forth positioning. Wilson’s WASP installation techniques (commonly called ‘vowelling in’) could be extremely important and time-consuming. Except the Sabrina isn’t like that at all.
In fact, the Sabrina is one of the least fussy high-end loudspeakers when it comes to installation. The mid and top more or less take care of themselves; just move the loudspeaker forward and back to ensure the bass is balanced for the room and your listening position, then a little bit of fine-tuning for toe-in and you are away! Granted, the more you experiment with careful positioning and precision installation, the better the performance, but simply pulled out of the box and placed in broadly the right position returns a 9.5/10 on the ‘nailed it’ scale. Only the ‘put them against the wall and you are done’ Duette beats the Sabrina on installation simplicity stakes. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you might have to deliberately work at it to install the Sabrinas to make them sound bad!
The same applies with amplification, valve-free 50W minimum notwithstanding. I’m not going to labour the point here, but it’s possible to put a Sabrina-based system together where everything else in the chain is an order of magnitude cheaper and have it sound good. It’s also possible to put the Sabrina into a system where everything else is an order of magnitude more expensive and come up with a result that’s nothing short of astounding. This is perhaps why at almost every high-end show in the latter half of 2015, there were more ‘Best in Show’ rooms featuring Sabrinas, and Wilson Sabrinas were top of the shopping list for brands wanting to show off audio electronics. You don’t need a powerhouse to drive the Sabrinas. In fact, you need quality rather than quantity; it sings with a high-grade integrated unit, such as the Audio Research GSi75, but more on that in the next issue!
So, precisely what do the Sabrinas do so well? It’s the sense of seamlessness across the frequency range. Try hard to listen out for crossover points – I mean really try hard, like you are pretending at being an audio analyser – and you’ll struggle to hear points of inflexion, and in the real world of playing music – forget it! This speaker has all the integration of one big drive unit, without any of the hang-ups and frequency extreme issues of ‘full-range’ drivers. The curious thing about this seamless integration across the frequency range is it’s most instantly audible when using music far outside the normal audiophile stock, like ‘Voices’ from Alice in Chains’ The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here [Capitol]. On this track, Jerry Cantrell and William DuVall’s haunting vocal and guitar parts only work if played as a gestalt, not a frequency response. And through the Sabrinas, the work becomes so brooding, so chilling, you feel like you need councelling to get over the listening session.
This track also highlights the clever (that word again) handling of bass. This isn’t a loudspeaker with an obvious bloom or boom in the mid-bass to compensate for physical limitations in the low bass, and yet it is not a full-range loudspeaker... So why does that not present any such limitations in the listening? It’s not faking the bass – if you play very low organ pedal work, you’ll notice the absence – but you become aware of how little you care thanks to the Sabrina’s overall presentation.
The Sabrina has the large-scale sound that has made Wilson loudspeakers so successful, so much so in fact that if you close your eyes you’d swear there’s a bigger speaker in the room. But, this, like the excellent imaging and great dynamics for a small loudspeaker by high-end standards, almost goes unnoticed because you are simply enjoying the feel of the music you are listening to. We expect music to have structure, clarity, and texture when playing through a high-end design; we just don’t expect it to sound this good too!