Wilson Audio WAMM Master Chronosonic loudspeaker

Wilson Audio WAMM Master Chronosonic

Installation is aided by the modualrity of the loudspeaker. No-one has quite worked out just how heavy the WAMM Master Chronosonic really is yet, because they haven’t started shipping and the Design Proof pair in Dave Wilson’s listening room aren’t going near a set of scales any time soon. But the likely weight and packing requirements are on the ‘substantial’ side. Fortunately, both the modules and the side ‘ears’ that cover the framework they sit in, and that framework itself, are all removable and designed to lock into the bass unit. This bass unit is – in itself – fairly substantial and about the size of a mid-sized Japanese car engine, but has a relatively low centre of gravity and makes placement easy. The modules are then built up from here.

When it comes to a loudspeaker of this magnitude, it doesn’t come to you: you go to it. I was one of a handful of journalists invited to travel to Provo for a one-to-one encounter with the WAMM Master Chronosonic in Dave Wilson’s fairly awesome listening room. The room is a bit of a known quantity among audio writers, as many of us have been there for the launch of one or more of Wilson’s designs, and the combination of the room size, it’s dynamics, and the equipment used to partner the loudspeakers is something of a benchmark in audio performance. Like the outstanding Steyning listening room of late Alistair Robertson-Aikman of SME (which sadly suffered a roof collapse a few years back, when a thick blanket of snow added even more load than the five tons of concrete used to build the sonically dead listening room ceiling). Practically every audio writer worth his or her salt has heard music in both listening spaces on more than one occasion and acclimatising yourself to Dave Wilson’s room is a relatively rapid process. What helps, of course, is it is a fine sounding room, too. 

There is always a touch of green-eyed jealousy that emerges whenever you have to deal with expensive products. There is an assumption (again something that one has to overcome as a reviewer) that anything significantly beyond your personal limits is ‘overpriced’ and never bought by ‘true’ audiophiles. In philosophy terms, this is mix between a form of Argumentum ad Lazarum (affirming a conclusion because the person saying it is poor) and the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy: an attempt to protect a universal generalisation from counterexamples. In reality, just as few people buy a pair of £2,000 loudspeakers to show off to their friends with £1,000 loudspeakers – and instead tend to buy a pair of loudspeakers on the basis of how they sound – the same holds across the board. Someone buying a pair of WAMM Master Chronosonic is buying the best loudspeaker they know of, and have the advantage of having enough financial clout to be able to buy the best. Just as someone buying the best loudspeaker from another brand; they have chosen that design because it suits them best, they love what it does, and can afford to own it. In other words, they buy them to enjoy them, just like everyone who buys a pair of loudspeakers does.

The difficulty we as reviewers face here (aside from reconciling listening to normal audio in the wake of a loudspeaker that costs $685,000 per pair) is one of terminology. We simply don’t have the words. That isn’t just the superlatives; it’s the basic terms. Our descriptive powers have inherent constraints (when we talk about the dynamic range of a system, there is an in-built assumption that the dynamic range is constrained compared to the original), and the WAMM has less of them than we’ve encountered before. A lot less. Making this more like the real thing than anyone who hasn’t visited a very nice room in Provo, Utah has yet to experience from recorded music. I thought the terms would come in time, but they didn’t.

The loudspeaker challenges all your perceptions of what you thought possible from an audio system; even those of us used to really high-grade audio and exceptional loudspeakers will find themselves wondering precisely how the WAMM is extracting that much musical information from even the most humble CD recordings. This isn’t a subtle, nuanced difference. Music played through these loudspeakers just has that ‘right’ sound that is more like real music and less like there are electronics involved in the signal chain.

The time-coherence concept suggested by Wilson Audio is not part of the traditional audiophile zeitgeist, so it’s likely to receive some degree of scepticism, but if this is one of the keys to why the WAMM Master Chronosonic sounds as it does, then it needs to be taken more seriously. There is certainly a complete absence of anything remotely like a temporal blurring, time-smear, or whatever you might want to call it. Normally too, at this point, there’s a temptation for UK audio writers to go all jingoistic and point to small loudspeakers and Quad Electrostatics suggesting they crack the timing nut by being essentially point sources. But, on the face of the evidence presented by the WAMM Master Chronosonic, we don’t have that luxury anymore. In the wake of listening to this loudspeaker, it’s possible to listen to supposedly spot-on products like the Quad and point to where the timing isn’t right. This is the audiophile equivalent of a hard reboot.

I have a couple of recordings designed specifically to tax ported loudspeakers, the most notable being ‘Chameleon’ by Trentemøller [The Last Resort, Poker Flat]. The fast, electronic bass notes effectively have nothing but attack and release and can ‘choke up’ a bass port, and the Wilson WAMM Master Chronosonic is the first ported speaker that doesn’t!

This lack of port choking shouldn’t happen, but it was one of the many things that shouldn’t be happening with the Wilson Audio WAMM Master Chronosonic, and do. Given all of those different drive units, integration and coherence should be a bit of a concern, but instead this sounds like it’s a giant panel loudspeaker. Granted it does all those things Wilson speakers are supposed to do well (outstanding soundstaging properties, effortless dynamics, high degrees of detail, and an ability to play extremely loud with ease), but it does them so well you find yourself listening to other excellent loudspeakers as if they are a little bit broken. Only the very best of the best of the best come close to the WAMM Master Chronosonic.

The problem, stated earlier, is we simply don’t have the words for this. We’re at the musical bleeding edge here, and discussions about the sound of the loudspeaker dissolve into discussions about the voice of the tenor, the skills of the guitarist, or the sophistication of the composer. And yes, we did do drum records and the audiophile thing, but they don’t sound like drum records. They sound like drummers. And when those drummers are Kodo drummers, it’s a cowering experience, one that audiophiles expecting the usual dynamic and impressive sound walk away from shaking. Dynamic and impressive? Of course. But this is more. This is visceral, real, challenging stuff, and I still haven’t done it justice in terms of both sound and technology.

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