I have written many hundreds of thousands of words on audio, tens of thousands of them about Wilson Audio Specialities. But these are some of the toughest words I have to write: Dave Wilson, founder of Wilson Audio, died peacefully at home on Saturday May 26th. He was 73 and had been suffering from a rare form of bone cancer.
It’s difficult for those of us who knew Dave Wilson to step away from the personal and discuss his achievements, in part because he was a true renaissance man. He was a man of great personal warmth and delighted in both meeting people and discovering new things. He also had a remarkable ability to bring out the best in those people.
His passion for music and audio began early, designing and building several loudspeakers during his teens. Even then, his intrinsically empirical approach meant he didn’t just make loudspeakers from a cookbook; he experimented with different parts and construction concepts… strategies that would stand him in good stead in his academic career (he achieved a Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology), in his early years in research and product design for companies like Pfizer, Abbot Labs, and Cutter Labs, but especially when founding (with his wife Sheryl Lee) Wilson Audio Specialties in 1974.
His passion for music extended beyond the design and manufacture of audio products, and in 1977 he and Sheryl Lee founded Wilson Audiophile Definitive Recordings. Many of his recordings are highly prized by music lovers and audio enthusiasts alike, and many are still available.
But it as a designer and manufacturer of audio equipment that is where is impact is truly incalculable. The original WAMM loudspeaker represented a paradigm shift in what was possible from a loudspeaker, setting a high bar in performance that created a standard for ultra-high-end loudspeaker designs that in many respects still stands to this day. In addition, the WATT loudspeaker (coupled with the PUPPY bass cabinet) transformed what was possible in loudspeaker performance at an attainable level for the rank-and-file audiophile. Both of these loudspeakers set new levels in performance thanks to careful system matching and installation (things that weren’t taken so seriously before Dave Wilson’s designs began to permeate the high-end world), and this helped develop the high-end amplifier market in the process. More than 40 years later, the brand that carries his name still dominates the high-end loudspeaker scene.
In his last years, he increasingly stepped back from the company he created, passing the baton to his son, Daryl. Dave formally stood down as CEO and President of Wilson Audio Specialties on Veterans Day, 2016, to serve as ambassador (or, as he liked to call it ‘WAMMbassador’) for his magnum opus, the WAMM Master Chronosonic loudspeaker.
Away from business, Dave Wilson was a charming and humble man, passionate about everything that fell into his wide sphere of attention. Although he was very much the public face of the company, he was a private family man, who loved spelunking and discovering the local geology while doing so. But, it was that constant quest to know more that was the real passion: just one look in his office in the factory in Provo, Utah showed that – who else but Dave Wilson would have a NASA operations manual from the Apollo missions alongside acoustics texts?
I have known Dave personally for a couple of decades and perhaps of all the people I know in (and outside of) the audio industry, he was one of the most centred and humble. Those of us who knew him have spent much of the last few days quietened and stilled.
He was a loving father and grandfather and found great satisfaction in teaching and mentoring his children and extended family. He adored his wife, Sheryl Lee, and often marveled how blessed and fortunate he was to have her in his life. Indeed, Dave often remarked on how lucky he was generally—he was married to his best friend, was able to do the work he most valued, and spend his life surrounded by the people he loved.
Dave Wilson is survived by his wife, Sheryl Lee, his three sons, one daughter, and 15 grandchildren.