02 October, 2017

Wilson Audio Grand Slamm

Starvation driven audiophiles reattaching the side panels after re-alignment.

Home Visit: Wilson, the Road to Grand Slam(m)
Letter from NYC (66): 2017 (5)

Addendum October10, 2017: This pair of X-1 probably started out as Series I, but was upgraded to Series V by seller.

On this beautiful day of Summer's End, the Audio Handymen Trio (comprising Andy, Simon and James), Mark and I visited R on Long Island. You have met him before (here)

Being a psychologist, R knows his human behavior. So he planned a late lunch so the Trio could have time to work on his Wilson Grand Slamm X-1 (Series V). And so the trio were dogged and diligent in their (actually R's) pursuits. I was a starved observer.

Tale of Two Rooms R lives with his partner in a large house, and has a dedicated entertainment room, which is of reasonable size, but not for the Grand Slamm he used to have in there. There, the sound had plenty of slam, but lacked musicality (the missing "m" in the Slamm) and certainly nowhere near grand (which is a common occurrence in my considerable experience listening to big Wilson's, prevalent in HK, where rooms are usually too small).

I am not sure entirely what happened, but R finally moved them out into the HUGE living room, where they were placed in the penthouse-like portion, quite close to the front and side windows. As soon as I walked in I agreed with the report from Andy that it was a transformation.

Equipment Only some of the stuff in the dedicated room followed the Wilson out. The Linn LP-12, the least used of R's turntables (for the rest of his collection read a previous article) but the smallest, was conscripted, together with its DIY tubed phonoamp. Preamp was the Jadis JPL2 and amps were a pair of monstrously large Tube Research Labs monoblocks, now fitted with KT120's. Digital was provided by the Altis Centauri Transport and Reference DAC. But the real star was the room itself, even why the system sounded so good (for another event very similar to what we experienced this day, see my report on the transformation of my ex-pair of La Scala).

Alignment of Tweeters and Midrange Drivers Things started a little vague, which was why the Trio went to work. The side panels were taken down and the tweeters and midrange units (tweeter is sandwiched by the two midrange drivers) aligned (by sliding back and forth) according to the manual. As soon as sound was restored, everyone was beaming. Imaging improved a great deal.

Lunch Finally, and it was worth the wait, as usual. R is a great cook and on this occasion we were served beautifully turned roast pork garnished with home made (slightly) pickled cabbage, washed down with much red wine (R has a dedicated cellar) and topped off with Tiramisu, which tasted even better with a splash of Haitian rum. Unlike audio, the lunch could hardly be faulted.

Wired! After lunch, the trio went to work on R's broken pump (for his turntables), and Mark and R were seriously engaged in a conversation on neurotransmitters. I was basically abandoned. Neither the meal nor the wine seemed to have increased my tryptophan level, so I took the DIY professional cables I was going to give to Andy and swapped some into the system. Gotham GAC-2 replaced an old Cardas from the phonoamp to the preamp to great effect - more neutral, air and extension; better rhythm and dynamics. Sommer Tricone and Gotham GAC-1 Ultra Pro replaced Blue Jeans Cable from the DAC to the preamp. Again, the effect was much like what I wrote above.

Toe-In This was tried, with audible but not great changes.

Re-positioning It was deemed that the center fill was not solid enough, so the speakers were pulled towards the center a little. Indeed the images became fleshier, but I was suprised by something I heard - a very obvious loss in rhythmic vitality. Since rhythm and pace is very important to me (and since I think the system has just a trace of sluggishness about it) I did not prefer the change, but I was out-voted.

Rising Serotonin Levels Yes, indeed the more we were at it, the better the sound got. Bruckner's 4th (Philharmonia/Klemperer; HMV Concert Classics) was simply breathtaking - from a whisper to a crushing crescendo the ample power at hand made it quite smooth. Most important of all, the monumental side of this reading was not lost. Chabrier's Espana (OSR/Ansermet, London) was a veritable hifi showcase, at least before the re-positioning. Particularly impressive were the percussive and brass attacks. Even my torture LP of Dvorak's "American" Quartet (Budapest String Quartet, Columbia) passed with flying colors. So often, audio and audio visits create dissatisfaction and negative emotions. Not so this time, by the time we left, our serotonin levels were at our highest. It was a true happiness - we felt happy to have heard something excellent and to have contributed to it, and we felt happy for the host. Having heard so many bad Wilson systems in HK (too many to mention), I am not at all a fan of Wilson, but I am happy to hear that it can for once sound so good. Of course, the room is the star!

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