Audio: Listen to this article.
As we close out 2023 and gear up for 2024, I’m planning some upgrades to my immersive audio system. These upgrades aren’t needed, but not much in this wonderful hobby of ours is. Most of us could live with an AM radio playing our favorite music if we were limited strictly to needs, rather than wants. I’m completely satisfied with my current system and could likely enjoy it for decades without needing an upgrade. Fortunately, I’m in a position to take another step toward sonic bliss, with some newly announced upgrades that have been on my mind for about a year, even though I was unaware the upgrades were under development. It’s one of those situations where the audio stars aligned.
The Wilson Audio Alida was introduced in August of 2014 (link). I installed eight Alidas in the summer of 2022, knowing very well that the loudspeaker’s drivers and cabinet materials had been surpassed by newer Wilson Audio designs. This fact didn’t bother me in the least because I was getting the best speaker available to suit my needs. I certainly thought about how nice it would be if the Alida had the same tweeter and similar damping and vibration control X / V materials as my Alexia V, but an Alida with these enhancements was a unicorn at the time.
As I got deeper into the world of immersive audio and talked to more people taking the plunge, I frequently heard from those who’d tried a “hodgepodge” of loudspeakers to fill out their immersive systems. This often meant different brands with different tweeters. Not the end of the world, as different tweeters are better than no tweeters, but certainly less than ideal. Everyone I know who upgraded their immersive channels to speakers with matching or similar tweeters, was thrilled with the sound and their decision to upgrade. If anything, tweeters seem to be the single most important driver for immersive system matching.
This left me wondering about my Alidas and their nearly ten year old tweeter design. I didn’t have FOMO and didn’t hear anything that made me think I was missing out on anything sonically. I was more curious and hopeful for a bright future for the Alida. Then I got the call from Wilson Audio that a new Alida design was complete, and would be announced very soon. The new Alida CSC would feature the exact same tweeter as my Alexia V (Alexx V and Sasha V as well). The stars were aligning.
In addition to the CSC tweeter, the new Alida CSC design tackled something that I believe is even more critical with surface mounted loudspeakers than floor standing speakers, damping and vibration control. I have eight Alidas screwed solidly into the studs and tightly against the walls / ceiling of my listening room. Vibrations to and from the speakers are a real concern. My Alexia Vs each stand on four Wilson Audio Acoustic Diodes. The surface contact area between the diodes and my floor is only as large as the point of the spikes. The contact area between the Alidas and my walls and studs is massive compared to the Alexia Vs with Diodes.
It should come as no surprise that I was thrilled to learn the new Alida CSC loudspeakers feature both X-Material and V-Material to address vibration control. X and V Materials are proprietary to Wilson Audio and are feared heavily throughout its product range, including the flagship Chronosonic XVX. This a big deal.
I’ve ordered eight new Alida CSC loudspeakers to replace my existing original Alidas. I’m getting the same WilsonGloss Ivory color, at least I think. I’ve been eyeing up the premium Glacier Frost Pearl color and imagining how great it would look on my walls. My Alexia Vs are Silver Ice Pearl, so I know the quality of the Pearl finishes is second to none.
Similar to the Alida, the Wilson Audio WATCH Center channel I installed in 2022 was no spring chicken. The design originated in 2011 and still delivers fantastic sound to this day. I had no worries about the design being “older” but I’d always wondered how much better the Wilson Audio Mezzo center channel would sound in my system. I have to be honest, I selected the WATCH Center channel initially because it’s what I could afford. The Mezzo was out of my price range at the time, partially because of the fact that I purchased ten loudspeakers at once! If I was starting over, I’d start with the WATCH Center again. It’s a great center channel loudspeaker.
Now that Wilson has announced the new Mezzo CSC center channel, featuring an adjustable CSC tweeter, X and S Material, newly designed AudioCapX-WA copper capacitors, and the same 7” Alnico QuadraMag midrange as the Chronosonic XVX, it’s time to part ways with my WATCH Center and upgrade to the Mezzo CSC. I have the WilsonGloss Silver Ice Pearl color with the matching hourglass stand on order.
Speaking of center channels and immersive audio, this is a good time to note how different the use of said channel is for music playback versus movies. All movies demand a great center channel. Period. Without it, dialog is unintelligible. Immersive music is a completely different animal.
There are no rules for creating an immersive music mix. Engineers and artists do whatever suits the needs of the music. Some music features almost nothing in the center channel. Engineers mixing these releases often use a phantom center, exactly like they did with a stereo mix. It sounds like it’s coming from the center channel, but it isn’t.
On the other hand, some engineers use the center channel as an absolutely critical piece of a mix. For example, the new Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio album A Shade of Blue features the piano on the left, drums on the right, and stand up bass smack in the center channel. Nothing has made me want a new center channel more than this album, which by the way gets my vote for album of the year in 2023. Sure, I can and do offload bass to the Lōkē subwoofer, but I’d like to play as much of that impeccably recorded bass in the center channel, where the bassist actually stood during the performance. The Mezzo CSC will enable me to get the most out of not only this recording, but any recording.
The Mezzo CSC is a bit larger and heavier than the WATCH Center currently in my system. I’ve laid down some masking tape to put the speaker’s footprint in the space where it will be placed, and it’ll fit perfectly. The doors behind the speaker will still have plenty of room to open and close, and I’ll still have all the room I need to walk between the center and other front speakers.
Dimensionally the Mezzo CSC isn’t THAT much larger than the WATCH Center, but it’s much heavier. I carried the roughly 50 lbs WATCH Center up the stairs myself. I will not be carrying the 200 lbs Mezzo CSC up the stairs on my own, or even with a partner. I’ll call my guys over at Manny’s Piano Movers, who’ve moved all my heavy speakers over the years. These guys are the best.
A Deep Question: One Sub or Two?
Now we get to the one deep question that keeps me up at night. I currently have a single Wilson Audio Lōkē subwoofer. After listening to some immersive tracks, it’s clear to me that I could use a second subwoofer on the opposite side of my room. My plan was to add the second sub at some point in 2024.
The last Wilson Audio product introduction of 2023 threw a wrench into my dual subwoofer plan. Wilson introduced the Submerge powered subwoofer. This sub is perfect for me because it’s self powered and goes down to 5 Hz with 1600 watts of power. I like the other Wilson subs I’ve heard over the years, but a passive sub is a bridge too far for me. When I saw the Submerge, my eyes got the size of dinner plates.
My first world problem revolves around the size of the Submerge. It won’t fit in the same position as my Lōkē because of its height. I’d have to trim another foot off my live edge wood desk, and that’s not going to happen. I still need a space to get some work done. I could fit the Submerge on the opposite side of the room as the Lōkē and have room to spare. But, I don’t think a dual sub setup with one Submerge and one Lōkē is ideal, though I could be wrong. It just doesn’t feel right.
My deep question is what is better for my system, two Lōkēs or one Submerge? My answer depends on the day of the week. Right now I’m leaning toward a single Submerge, in WilsonGloss Glacier Frost Pearl.
The end of 2023 is in sight, Santa is warming up his sleigh, and the amateurs are planning a big night out on the 31st. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family over the next week, and I’m looking forward to the aforementioned system upgrades in early 2024. Life is good when we have things to look forward to, and I feel very blessed in this area. Family and music, it doesn’t get much better.