After a year of research and getting great feedback from the members of this community, I've finally selected, paid for, and received my new speakers, the Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2! File this one under first world problems we all wish we had, but I must say that while the process of selecting new speakers was really fun it was also frustrating. There are so many choices and twice as many opinions from experts!
A Little Background
I decide to sell my TAD CR1 speakers after seven years because it was time for a change, I wanted a full range speaker, and I felt TAD had pretty much disappeared in the US market (more on this later). Once my decision to sell was made up I didn't start searching for new speakers, I first started searching for all the packaging materials and accessories that shipped with the CR1 speakers. The value of used HiFi is dependent on, among other things, all the goodies that originally came with the product. Fortunately after a few hours of looking I found everything such as manuals, cleaning cloths, and spikes. What I couldn't find were the original boxes in which the speakers shipped.
Without original boxes for my TAD CR1s I had to not only purchase aftermarket boxes but recreate internal packaging to keep the products in pristine condition during the trip to their new owner. At first this sounded daunting. I couldn't decide how big of boxes to purchase, how thick the boxes needed to be, and which internal padding I needed. I called up a great friend how is an audio dealer and had done this many times. He convinced me it wasn't rocket science and walked me through exactly what to purchase.
I purchased double-walled boxes from ULine, bubble wrap, and packing peanuts. I hate packing peanuts as much as anyone, but I couldn't find anything that would do the job better. I double-boxed both speakers and both speaker stands in addition to wrapping each product like it was a delicate cracked egg that couldn't withstand a little jostling.
Once I had the packaging under control I needed to select a company to ship the products from Minneapolis, MN to Berkeley, CA where the new owner lives. I checked the usual suspects here in the US, FedEx and UPS. I had a feeling these two companies would make the process harder than it needed to be and I was right. The solution was to get in touch with the the company that handles high end audio shipments for several manufacturers. I figured these guys would understand what it takes to handle, ship, and insure a pair of very expensive speakers.
The company I used was Adcom Worldwide. I unequivocally recommend Adcom to anyone who needs to ship HiFi across the country or around the world. The process was so easy and most important to me it was stress-free. I knew the speakers would make it to their destination without a scratch because these guys are pros.
Call me crazy, but I prefer to email with people when discussing business. It's just easier for me and I have a record of everything. I emailed Felipe (THE guy who handles HiFi) at Adcom to get a quote to ship the TAD speakers. He responded very quickly with a few additional questions that I hadn't thought of, such as using about lift gate requirements. Thirty minutes later I had a quote to ship the speakers fully insured.
Felipe asked for a few photos of the packaging for insurance reasons, then setup everything I needed. I received a call shortly before the truck arrived on the scheduled pickup day and the guy came right on time. Later that evening I received an email from Felipe with photos of the speakers on shipping pallets and shrink-wrapped. Talk about follow through and following up!
I know this sounds like a commercial for Felipe and Adcom Worldwide but I really want to get the word out about these guys. I actually consider this little blurb a service to the Audiophile Style community who either now or sometime in the future needs a good company to ship delicate and expensive products. Felipe is so great to work with and most important to audiophiles is that he completely understands our HiFi market.
My speakers at the Wilson Audio factory
Selecting New Speakers
Parting ways with the TAD CR1s wasn't an easy decision. The speakers were designed by Andrew Jones and ticked almost all the boxes of a stellar HiFi loudspeaker. However, it was time for a change. My search for new speakers was on.
The criteria I used to select new loudspeakers included sound quality, features, price, aesthetics, manufacturer reputation, and service among others.
As this is Audiophile Style it goes without saying that sound quality was the most important factor to me when selecting the Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 speakers. I've heard these speakers on countless occasions and been very impressed. I've also heard nearly every Wilson speaker produced in the last decade, so it was easy for me to, for example, listen to the new Sasha DAW and know where it stands in the line up and the sonic differences between it and the speaker I eventually selected, the Alexia Series 2. Not only have I listened to Wilson speakers on many occasions, I've listened to them by myself. There is a huge difference between listening at an audio show and listening in a dedicated room by oneself with all the time in the world. These more personal listening sessions with Wilson Audio speakers have lead to some of my most memorable HiFi moments.
It may sound strange to see me mention features as a one criterion for my new pair of loudspeakers, but allow me to explain. I need speakers that enable me to do my job of evaluating audio components and listening through a system similar to that of most consumers. I looked very hard at speakers such as the JBL M2. These speakers have no crossover inside and require external DSP to get sound. An M2 based system would no doubt sound wonderful in my room once the DSP and a bit of room correction was configured, but this leads to many issues. If DSP is required at the speakers, this makes my DAC evaluations a bit suspect. How can I properly listen to a DAC higher up in the audio chain if the subsequent signal is sent through further A to D and D to A converters? Sure it's possible but it wasn't a bite that I was ready to chew.
I also considered speakers with self-powered bass drivers such as those from Avantgarde. Great concept and great sound quality, but a bit restrictive for evaluating components higher up the audio chain. How can I fully evaluate an amplifier if it only has to drive the midrange and tweeter of a loudspeaker?
I limited my search to speakers around $60,000 USD MSRP and under. Price is always a factor no matter the size of one's bank account.
Aesthetics can be a touchy factor in HiFi. Many audiophiles are afraid to admit that looks matter. It's as if the sound quality matters less if a product's looks matter even in the slightest. I'm in the "looks matter" camp and may even consider myself the mythical President of such camp. There's no way I'd buy a component if it was ugly and I had to stare at it for hours on end. I love the sound of Vivid loudspeakers, but I could never look at them while listening. It's hard for me to take a speaker seriously if it looks like an elf's hat, even though its form follows its function.
I really like the look of the Wilson Alexia Series 2 and the fact that I could select the paint color. My speakers are what Wilson calls Pur Sang Rouge. A red color that's absolutely fabulous.
The next two criteria I used go somewhat hand in hand. I always consider manufacturer reputation, even when publishing product reviews, and I consider the level of service a company gives its customers. Wilson Audio's reputation is among the best in the industry. I know this because I talked to several people, in and out of the industry, who've dealt with the company for many years. I want speakers from a stable and honest company. Trust me, there are companies around the world who have treated customers, dealers, and distributors terribly. I elect not to do business with those companies. Wilson is the opposite of those guys and on a personal level is a company that has always respected me and treated me fairly.
Reputation for outstanding service is also very important to me. If I blow a tweeter, I need to know that replacing the tweeter isn't going to cost me $10,000 and be like working with a Turkish rug salesman at a bazaar in Istanbul. No offense meant, but that experience can be less than desirable. I've only heard superb things about Wilson Audio's level of service over the years. The company has gone out of its way to help, even when it wasn't required by contract / warranty, on numerous occasions. As they say, stuff happens. One wants to be in good hands when it does, and Wilson's are the right hands with respect to service.
A couple intangible factors that I want to mention relate to the industry, consumers, and my own history. I mentioned earlier that TAD has pretty much abandoned the US market. Sure it's possible to find a dealer in a handful of states but once Andrew Jones left for ELAC and the company went through several sales managers, it just isn't a player in the US anymore. I also look at what TAD does to support the HiFi industry and I can't think of anything. Participating in audio shows, sponsoring dealer events, even communicating with the press, among other things, are important to me and this wonderful hobby of ours. Wilson Audio on the other hand is the complete opposite. Wilson supports the HiFi industry as much as any other company of which I know.
With respect to consumers, Wilson has its products in roughly 40 dealers around the country. These aren't just any dealers, many of them are the cream of the crop. When selecting my new speakers I considered whether or not members of the Audiophile Style community could audition to the same or similar speakers from the company. Having a great speaker that many people have either heard or can hear without too much trouble is important to me.
The last intangible factor is a personal one. I grew up reading about Wilson speakers and have always wanted a pair. Similar to how previous generations desired McIntosh gear as they entered audiophildom, it has always been Wilson for me.
Last week my new Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 speakers in Pur Sang Rouge were delivered to my house. When the logistics company called to schedule the delivery, the person said, "We've been to your place before, should we pull around back again?" It was nice to see Wilson used Felipe and Adcom Worldwide to handle the delivery of my new speakers.
On Thursday Manny's Piano Moving is sending a team to move the speakers from my secure garage into the house. Once I uncrate them the movers will continue to move the speakers upstairs into my listening room. The lower crates are 300 lbs each with an addition 180 pound crate for the top of the speakers. There was no way I'd even try to get these into my house without help. I'll leave this part to the professionals.
Once the speakers are moved into my listening room, a representative from Wilson will fly out to set them up using the Wilson Audio Setup Procedure. I'm sure I will give this procedure a shot on my own just to start listening. I'm like a kid on the night before Christmas. I'm really excited and there's nothing I can do about it until the new Alexia Series 2 speakers are setup.
Look for much more about the speaker setup, my first impressions, and room measurements in the following weeks.