Wilson Audio Alexia V Floorstanding Loudspeakers Review
Rafael Todes auditions a superb new floorstanding loudspeaker from one of the biggest high-end names in the business…
Alexia V Loudspeakers
How do you make a truly great loudspeaker better? That's a tricky question that most speaker companies simply don't get to wrestle with – because they don't cater for the highest end of the market. But if you're Wilson Audio, a company with an illustrious reputation for top-tier, cost-no-object designs, then improving them is key to your company's future prosperity.
The floorstanding Alexia V is a heavily revised version of the Alexia Series 2, which arrived in 2017 and is said to incorporate a welter of improvements – including some 'trickle down' tech from the company's Chronosonic XVX that costs four times the Alexia V's already sky-high retail price. The company says there have been improvements in thirty different areas to ratchet this new speaker's performance even higher…
'Big' is what immediately springs to mind when regarding the Alexia V. Although not top of Wilson Audio's range, it's a giant amongst floorstanders by most people's standards. Standing 1,300mm tall without wearing spikes, and 400mm wide and 610mm deep, it needs a large listening room – but then if you can pay close to Porsche 911 Carrera money for a pair of speakers, then you've probably got no shortage of space in your townhouse or country pile. By the way, each speaker weighs 120kg, so the penthouse service lift had better be working…
This 3-way design eschews more fashionable drive unit types for four conventional moving coil drivers, split between bass, midband and treble. There's a 25mm tweeter, 180mm midrange driver and two woofers, one of which is 200mm and the other 250mm. The midrange unit is rear-vented, and the bass units are rear-ported, which means that in practice, the Alexia will have to sit a little out into your listening room for best sound, so as to keep the rear boundary wall in check.
Instead of going the way of electrostatic panels, ribbon tweeters and so on, Wilson Audio believes that the best overall sonic performance can be obtained by the bespoke manufacture of conventional drivers to the highest standards. The tweeter, for example, is the company's so-called Convergent Synergy Carbon (CSC) type, first introduced in the Alexx V. It's said to have a unique, complex carbon fibre rear-wave chamber. First developed for Wilson's own Chronosonic XVX, the QuadraMag midrange driver uses Alnico (Aluminium-Nickel-Cobalt) for high stiffness and low mass.
As you would expect, the crossover section has been taken very seriously. Each custom capacitor used in Alexia V's crossovers has been wound and finished at Wilson Audio's in-house capacitor manufacturing department. When very high-quality drivers are being used, the quality of the passive components in crossovers is absolutely mission-critical – and the AudioCapX-WA caps fitted are claimed to be made to the highest standards in the industry, no less.
That big cabinet is very capacious inside. The midrange enclosure volume has increased by around six percent, and the woofer enclosure by nearly nine, compared with the Alexia Series 2. The top of both these enclosures sports Wilson's own V-Material to minimise resonances, S-Material is used for the midrange driver coupling, and X-Material damping is fitted to all three sub-enclosures for the same reason. The company says that each cabinet section is specified to a certain thickness, again to best subdue resonances, and positioned for optimum time alignment. To ease set-up whilst levelling the speaker, a spirit level is fitted to the top of the woofer cabinet. Underneath the bass section sits Wilson Audio's Acoustic Diodes – a spike system featuring austenitic stainless steel and V-Material.
The speaker's quoted sensitivity is a healthy 90dB, but nominal impedance is 4 ohms, dropping down to 2.59 ohms at 84Hz, according to the manufacturer. This means that you'll need an amplifier with strong load-driving ability to get the best from this big box. Wilson quotes a minimum amplifier power of 20W, but I suspect much more is needed to really get the Alexia to pick up its skirts and run, so to speak. Frequency response is quoted as 19Hz to 33kHz at -3dB points, which is excellent – this is a true wide bandwidth loudspeaker.
For this review, the auditioning was done at KJ West One, one of London's finest hi-fi dealers. It took place with a system that was nothing short of no-holds-barred in terms of performance in a demo room with extensive acoustic treatment. It proved to be an extremely well sorted-out space for listening. The ancillaries included a dCS Vivaldi DAC and Upsampler, driving darTZeel monoblock power amplifiers via Transparent cable. A laptop was used to play hi-res music files via Audirvana, and streaming was done from TIDAL.
This is an exceptional loudspeaker by any standard, with a number of outstanding performance characteristics. For me personally, the most profound aspect of the Alexia V's sound is its sheer scale and visceral impact. I have heard very few – if any – speakers carry the sheer might and majesty of Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem: Dies Irae. This is one of my favourite recordings, being vintage Decca from 1963 to 1964 and conducted by the composer himself. In my view, no other conductor gets close to the energy and verve of this interpretation…
This loudspeaker's sheer dynamics and scale meant that it could fully impart the music's incredible emotion. It was quite a thing to hear the vast scale of the orchestra, with all its weight and power. The dazzling colours of this recording were reproduced with amazing accuracy. For example, there's a section where Britten uses saxophones. To me, it has always sounded like these were added afterwards – yet via the big Wilsons, this was the first time I could really appreciate that they were absolutely part of the grand texture, but just awkward to reproduce. The percussion was also a joy to hear, being supremely fast with blisteringly rapid decay and oh-so realistic!
Another stand-out talent of the Alexia V is its sheer midband openness and accuracy, which, in turn, makes vocals an absolute pleasure. For example, Frank Sinatra's What's New from his& Only the Lonely album signposted the tonal beauty and timbral richness of his legendary voice. In my experience, it sounds good on almost all hi-fi systems I've heard, yet here I was discovering new complexity, warmth and detail. Meanwhile, his backing band came over in an incredible way for a recording made in 1958.
It's all well and good to have a translucent midband, but things can go wrong if it doesn't integrate with the rest of the loudspeaker. This was not an issue for the Alexia V, whose drive units worked harmoniously and seamlessly together. Piano is a notoriously complex instrument both to record and to reproduce, as it crosses the four different drive units. Yet, on the Sinatra album, I was struck by just how well integrated the piano work was via this loudspeaker – the instrument's different ranges sounded like one instrument and not four! The great man's voice similarly benefitted from this unity of purpose.
Bass extension is another jaw-dropper. Some Marcel Dupré organ music was played, which involved the use of a 16-foot pipe. As you would imagine, this is not an easy task for any hi-fi loudspeaker, not least a high-end one where expectations are great. Yet, Alexia V rose to the challenge and really shook the room. What so impressed me was how this loudspeaker could delve so low with such control, given its reasonably conventional size. Interestingly, thanks to the clarity on display, I could hear how the organist wasn't quite synching the bass notes with the treble line. Frankly, I doubt whether the playback system used at the time would have shown this error when the recording was being made. Yet with this pair of Wilsons, all was abundantly clear!
It's all very well to divide up different aspects of this speaker's abilities, but what really counts is its ability to convey the natural flow of music – in other words, string all these musical clues together. Again, the Wilson proved highly adept in this respect. Beethoven's Choral Fantasia is, in my view, quite a zany piece of music whose eccentricities are off-the-scale. My particular favourite has Leif Ove Andsnes conducting the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Playing the second movement – which incidentally is a forerunner to Ode to Joy, which came later – I was again quite beguiled by this loudspeaker.
As the different musical actors say their bit from various parts of the stage, the Alexia V presented the recorded acoustic in a highly holographic way. Yet it kept everything together and nailed down, so to speak. The raucous bits brimmed with energy, and the tender bits sounded really intimate. Not only can this loudspeaker image beautifully and show great scale and power, but it also tracks the small-scale microdynamics and nuances of phrasing in a most deft way. The result is an absolutely charming sound.
The experience of hearing Wilson Audio's latest Alexia V was genuinely thrilling, and the system that the review pair was part of represents one of the very best audio experiences that I can remember having. It is an exceptional loudspeaker that justifies its premium price tag. Arguably a relatively small price to pay for something intangibly close to audio perfection, the bar has been raised!
Gifted violinist Rafael is one quarter of the Allegri String Quartet, playing second fiddle. Once a member of the CBSO under Sir Simon Rattle, he now teaches at London’s Junior Royal Academy. A long-time audiophile, he’s still on a quest for the perfect sound.
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