You can’t say no to an invitation from Michael Huigen of Reference Sounds to visit his newly built Experience Center in Almere. Certainly not if you know which brands are represented, pretty much the world’s top in high-end audio under one roof. Dan D’Agostino, Mark Levinson, Audio Research, Ayre Acoustics, JBL, JBL Synthesis, Transparent and of course Wilson Audio. A respected and leading American manufacturer of high-end loudspeakers that has been respected for decades, which recently came back into the news worldwide due to the introduction of the expensive Alexx V top speakers. And what a surprise when it turned out that a few of these special speakers had come to Almere and could be heard there. What followed was a special experience, which I as a reviewer have never experienced, Michael himself, by the way,
In 2016, a small shock wave went through the hi-fi-loving Netherlands when it became known that the widely appreciated importer Audiac was bankrupt. How should things continue with wonderful brands such as Mark Levinson, Wilson and Revel? What followed I still find a wonderful example of daring, vision and entrepreneurship. Former Audiac employee Michael Huigen nevertheless saw great future opportunities for these and other top brands. With the help of an external hi-fi enthusiast and financier, Reference Sounds was founded and gradually expanded with a beautiful palette of high-end brands. We also gradually saw a good dealer network being built up again in the Netherlands. And in recent months we have been able to follow the step-by-step development of the new construction of Michaels’ Experience Center, at Chroomstraat 3 in Almere, via social media.
Experience in all aspects
When you enter the Experience Center, you immediately notice space and tranquility, with an ambiance that fits high-end brands. This building was built, among other things, to introduce enthusiasts to the latest technology in the field of built-in loudspeakers and cinema systems. I dare say that this is unique in the Netherlands. What you find there are the ancient roots of James B. Lansing. From the beginning of the last century, as far back as 1920, JBL and cinema have been inextricably linked in the field of cinema sound. Today, JBL Synthesis is the reference for the world’s most advanced and renowned cinemas and is represented in the BeNeLux by Reference Sounds. The new Experience Center contains a beautifully built and designed cinema space, which introduces you to JBL Synthesis and the advanced DSP and calibration systems that lie beneath it. With JBL Synthesis it is possible to create a customized cinema environment in your own home that is guaranteed to lead to the ultimate image-sound-feeling experience. You have to experience it to understand. In several rooms examples are present, but not visible, from the latest technology in the field of built-in loudspeakers to huge but invisible woofer systems in the ceiling. You can try to describe this, but it’s actually impossible. You have to undergo the experience on site. The sound quality is astonishingly good. With JBL Synthesis it is possible to create a customized cinema environment in your own home that is guaranteed to lead to the ultimate image-sound-feeling experience. You have to experience it to understand. In several rooms examples are present, but not visible, from the latest technology in the field of built-in loudspeakers to huge but invisible woofer systems in the ceiling. You can try to describe this, but it’s actually impossible. You have to undergo the experience on site. The sound quality is astonishingly good. With JBL Synthesis it is possible to create a customized cinema environment in your own home that is guaranteed to lead to the ultimate image-sound-feeling experience. You have to experience it to understand. In several rooms examples are present, but not visible, from the latest technology in the field of built-in loudspeakers to huge but invisible woofer systems in the ceiling. You can try to describe this, but it’s actually impossible. You have to undergo the experience on site. The sound quality is astonishingly good. from the latest technology in the field of inwall loudspeakers to huge but invisible woofer systems in the ceiling. You can try to describe this, but it’s actually impossible. You have to undergo the experience on site. The sound quality is astonishingly good. from the latest technology in the field of inwall loudspeakers to huge but invisible woofer systems in the ceiling. You can try to describe this, but it’s actually impossible. You have to undergo the experience on site. The sound quality is astonishingly good.
A high state of cuddliness
Where in the Netherlands can you walk around and see and touch the insanely beautifully made devices from Dan D’Agostino, Audio Research and Mark Levinson, not to mention the top program from Revel and Wilson Audio? It shows once again that brochure photos are beautiful, but when you see these speakers in real life, you understand that the craftsmanship in top-class finish and construction cannot be cheap either. If you look through the VU meter glass of an Audio Research power amplifier at the tubes behind and see the black polished aluminum of the front, you just want to touch such a device. For example, there are several rooms in the Experience Center where you can sit comfortably and listen to numerous of these top components. If desired, you will also receive expert advice.
The history of Wilson Audio begins in 1974, when Dave Wilson and his wife Sheryl Lee founded Wilson Audio Specialties, based in California. A salient detail is that both first met at a recording session. In 1966 they married each other. Both were also so interested in recording techniques that Audiophile Definitive Recordings was founded by them in 1977. In the 1990s, the production of speakers at Wilson Audio had grown so much that it was moved to Utah. Since then, the company has built up a worldwide name and fame in the field of high-end speakers. An example of a small family business, as we often encounter in the hi-fi world, and in which unique knowledge and insights have been built up about sound reproduction through speakers. And what added value, if that knowledge is not only limited to sound reproduction, but also recording. Wilson Audio has always invested a lot in research (what family businesses can still do that?) And this has today led to a range of speakers that can hardly be matched in terms of quality.
After Dave’s passing in 2018, his son Daryl is now at the helm of Wilson Audio, continuing a great loudspeaker tradition.
The Wilson Alexx V
The Wilson Alexx V, subject of this review, is not new in appearance. The first version was introduced in 2016. Until then, especially the even larger models from Wilson Audio were able to offer the optimum in adjustability and precision in the time domain. When the smaller Alexx appeared, it turned out that this speaker was also perfectly capable of this. In the years that followed, a lot of research was done to achieve an even higher level of performance, making use of the latest technological developments. This recently led to the introduction of the Wilson Alexx V. This four-way speaker system is one of the few in the world that can be extensively adjusted to the listening room and position of the listener. The time domain is decisive here. Musical impulses, distributed over different drivers, can only be realistically reproduced if the energy from those drivers reaches the listener simultaneously and at the right angle. If this is successful, optimal micro-detailing and a lifelike sound image are created.
The wing assembly
The Alexx V is built on the basis of the ‘wing assembly’, which shows the side panels that are so characteristic of Wilson Audio, which together form the basis for the separately adjustable heads of the midranges and tweeter housing. These panels are reinforced with aluminum and open on the sides. This means that any acoustic energy build-up around the modules can escape freely. Placement, adjustment and connections require precision, which is why this speaker is equipped with built-in white LED lighting at the rear. When I first saw this I had a quick association with the ISS space station. This is not just a speaker, but a highly advanced technical machine, sound laboratory and power plant in one. The front of the modules can be fitted with a removable grille.
Wilson Audio has always distinguished itself by the absence of cabinet colouring, always further perfected with the help of laser measuring equipment. The most recent innovation in that history is Wilson Audio’s V composite material. Expensive and extremely difficult to machine, but ideal for building stiff, low-resonance speakers. At the bottom of the cabinet we find the Acoustic Diodes, newly developed spikes that absorb the last trace of possible vibrations.
Also traditional materials
The tweeter of the Alexx V is housed in a 3D printed carbon housing. Compared to the predecessor, the frequency range at the bottom could be expanded for optimal integration with the midranges. These consist of a Doper Paper Pulp of 14.6 cm and a slightly larger one of 17.8 cm, made of Paper Pulp Composite. Traditional materials, which, however, still have their place in the highest conceivable technological environment. The bass drivers come directly from Wilson Audio’s even larger top models with a size of 26.7 and 31.8 cm respectively. So no small boys and mounted in one bass reflex cabinet. Conveniently, an adjustment is possible from front-ported to rear-ported.
The crossover is equipped with Wilson Audio’s proprietary AudioCapX capacitors for the very best signal integrity and virtually negligible tolerance. Much attention has also been paid to the impedance curve, so that the Alexx V is easier to drive than its predecessor.
The listening test
After an extensive tour of the Reference Sounds Experience Center, the time had come: we entered a listening room of approximately 5 x 9.5 meters, beautifully built and furnished, with good acoustics and quiet lighting. There were some comfortable armchairs set up. And yes, there they were: a pair of Wilson Alexx V four-way speakers in the incredibly beautiful color Cranberry Red Metallic Pearl, with some burning white LEDs at the back. A man-sized size, about the height of Michael himself, which is not exactly small, and as a large speaker does not look bulky or massive. And there are two loudspeakers, which cost € 158,900 per pair in standard version and in additional version (upgrades, special color) can amount to a sloppy € 176,900. You don’t get this often and you can of course only listen to such toppers in an equivalent chain. For this occasion, it consisted of two Dan D’Agostino Momentum M400 monoblocks, the Dan D’Agostiono Progression Pre-HD pre-amplifier and (thanks to Olaf from More Music!) a specially flown-in dCS Vivaldi One CD player with separate master clock. So a total listening set of a few tons…
Show the first
Although I was impressed by this sight and the beautiful room, I was a bit reserved, especially when the prices get really high-end. I always am when I rate speakers. Even with expensive top models there is always something. The acoustics of the listening room, the quality of the entire chain, sometimes mediocre source material or cabling. Michael played the first CDs, and I immediately felt some unrest. First, a track with layer. Really really, really deep low. Two Alexx V speakers, which immediately wiped the floor with the top subwoofers available on the market. A singer, live on stage, right in front of her microphone, with highs that went really high, with bright peaks, but completely undistorted and with a great stereo image. She was tangible between the two speakers in the spotlight and with her feet almost on my toes. When afterwards pianist Mari Kodama also played a short fortissimo fragment from a Beethoven sonata on her Steinway & Sons concert grand, my unrest increased. And then this review took an unexpected turn, which I have never experienced myself and which I will remember for a long time.
While we were ready for the next track, he suddenly came in unexpectedly. In Almere. Unannounced. In the Reference Sounds Experience Center. The world famous concert pianist Daniel Barenboim. He didn’t look at us, but immediately started playing on his very special concert grand, which he had built himself at the Belgian instrument maker Chris Maene, inspired by the instrument of composer and pianist Franz Liszt (1811-1886) and unlike all concert grand pianos, not cross-stringed.
We sat on our armchair a few meters away from this celebrity. Barenboim played the first notes of Franz Liszt’s Funérailles, written in 1849. His leather-covered piano stool creaked a bit as it leaned forward a little while playing. The rod of the right pedal squeaked softly as his foot pressed or released the pedal. Just before a fortissimo fragment, Barenboim took a deep breath and looked at us. Here it comes. The bass strings of this unique concert grand boomed Liszt into space, it just didn’t stop. Over us. Around us. Straight to us. Even the air movement, which usually hangs above a concert grand piano, was felt by us. We held our breath. Barenboim smiled and gave a little cough. This went well. Again pounding octaves and chords. Barenboim’s eyebrows went up, now to almost whisper-quiet triads on the highest keys, flowing and radiant tones in the hall. His breathing quickened a little. Behind Barenboim we could see into the concert hall, more than a hundred meters from the concert stage. Next to me was Michael, who already had some more listening experiences in this room. He too was silent. “Boy…phew”.
Barenboim continued. In a flash I saw the look in his eyes. Sounds good huh? Once more he roared with his concert grand piano. He had come to Almere for this. With his piano.
And then it was done. Funéraille’s last notes died down and without saying anything he got up and Barenboim walked out of our room. No hand, no signature, nothing. He must have been pleased. What a sound.
We were literally left in silence, actually dumbfounded. The feeling that you are speechless and don’t know what to say. Just unexpectedly one of the best pianists in the world just a few meters away. He was almost touchable. But it wasn’t him. Not only did we hear everything, but we also saw everything, without a film screen. It was the Wilson Audio Alexx V’s, standing dead still, as if nothing had happened, looking beautiful again in Cranberry Red Metallic Pearl. I was a bit taken aback when I made the long car ride home.
The listening session with the Wilson Audio Alexx V is now a few days ago. I can’t forget the experience. It got me thinking. My reservation about speaker reviews is completely shattered. On the one hand, of course, the question of what the right to exist is for a pair of speakers weighing more than one and a half tons per pair or more. But I do know the answer. Those who can afford the best of the best should meet Daniel Barenboim in Almere. And they are lucky. The Alexx V provides the ultimate experience. Wilson Audio also incorporates a lot of research, findings and adjustments of the Alexx V into the underlying and more affordable speaker series, such as the Alexia and Sasha speaker line, which are also very worthwhile. And I slept on it one night,
“The Wilson Audio Alexx V is, in my personal opinion, one of the very best speakers in the world right now.”