Wilson Audio Chronosonic XVX | Part 1, The Build
- Danny Kaey
When it became clear that Wilson Audio’s Chronosonic XVX loudspeaker system was going to happen, epiphanies swirled around my head: given that this is Wilson Audio’s defacto flagship speaker (let’s leave WAMMs limited production run of 70 pairs out of the discussion), the creme de la creme, la bombe surprise, why then should the review of such an arguable benchmark product be standard faire, single article prose? It shouldn’t. Thus, given time and place, this review here will kick off a monthly-ish multi-part cadence of sub-reviews, culminating in the case cracking grand finale sometime next year.
Part one, the build
During the initial fairy tale period of “flattening the curve” as per the initial Covid-19 virus outbreak in March, rumblings emerged that this forced lock down might indeed last just a whee bit longer than Marshall General Admiral Newsom had suggested during his very good looking public relation adulations across rolling TV cameras. Within days, my mind shifted towards music, to calm the nerves so to speak. eBay and Discogs purchases of records started piling up, day by day. Even our genuinely go-lucky-be-lucky postman (bless the guy!) opined on many occasions: “Man, I don’t think I’ve ever delivered more records to a house!”. If only he knew. As time went on and a swift return to normal seemed ever more out of reach, an opportunity arose that would prove quite fortuitous and genuinely one of those right place, right time sort of serendipitous moments you get in life every now and then.
A conversation originally spawned during Rocky Mountain Audiofest 2019 with Daryl Wilson, CEO of Wilson Audio Specialties, finally appeared within eye and ear sight: the delivery of Wilson’s latest flagship loudspeaker, the Chronosonic XVX. My journey with Wilson is well documented: 2011 saw my first in home experience of Alexia which five years later culminated in what I thought was an absolute reference bargain, 2016’s Alexx. I genuinely thought that Alexx would be my personal reference for far longer than just five years, but after seeing and hearing a near final pre-production prototype XVX in Provo, Utah, late summer of 2019, I knew that I had to set gears in motion for an in home audition. Recalling that experience of listening to just a single XVX next to a single XLF - true mono! - was a rather profound and exhilarating experience. No less than a fabulously spacious and naturally dynamic recording Dave Wilson captured of his beloved wife and Daryl’s mother, Sheryl Wilson, was what genuinely captured my attention. Compared to the XLF, the all new loudspeaker system produced a far more detailed, far more resolved and dynamically rich listening experience. Was I expecting a jump in performance? Sure. Was I expecting this big of a jump in performance? Frankly, no.
What strikes you the most when discussing XVX, or really any other Wilson Audio Specialties loudspeaker, is the aforementioned maniacal attention to detail and that relentless pursuit of Wilson’s North Star. Generally, though really specifically speaking, Wilson Audio’s tiniest speaker, TuneTot, is built to the exact same standards as XVX, or WAMM for that matter. There is no corner cutting or relaxing the standards of the brand, unlike what you see with many other category leaders, HiFi or otherwise. In fact, I would say that - as I have stated many times - Wilson Audio in many ways reminds me of Apple and it’s pursuit of simply building the best personal technology devices it can possibly build. As Steve Job’s famously said when he unveiled the iPad in 2010, “we simply aren’t capable of building junk”, referencing the ill fated attempt by the then still almighty Wintel alliance to market “Netbooks” to consumers.
In as much as that is true of any Apple product, so it is of any Wilson loudspeaker. Simply put, Wilson Audio is incapable of building a lousy sounding loudspeaker. Having lived with TuneTot for the better part of two years now, as my office setup, I have come to believe that this speaker, Wilson’s smallest, is in fact a shrunken Sasha DAW, Alexia II, Alexx or XVX. To demonstrate this point succinctly, I have taken many a visitor to chez K from the main listening room to my office, and while playing back the same track, made the point that both speaker systems in fact offer the same tonal balance, richness in sound and overall Gestalt of the music, no matter the genre.
Just this morning, whilst attending to my Groundhog Day morning routine of checking emails and sipping my morning coffee in front of my office TuneTot system, I played an absolutely gorgeous recording of the Sistine Chapel Choir on the album Palestrina, Deutsche Gramophone via Tidal stream. Cut two, Gloria, literally transported me to a more peaceful surrounding, dare I say, the Sistine Chapel itself. Richly placed choir voices, with a depth and scale belying the size of TuneTot and the near field listening environment, I sat there, eyes closed, a warm cup of joe in hand, feeling much better about the day ahead. Moments later, I got up and cued the track up on the XVX system, just to yet again prove my point. Of course there was a far bigger presence, a far bigger illusion of being in the Sistine Chapel, but to be perfectly honest, the “sound” was more or less very, very similar to what I heard with the TuneTot office setup (Naim Uniti / Tidal / QNAP NAS / Roon Nucleus).
Since you are to look for the good in all things, I suppose I should thank Marshal General Admiral Newsom (rules for thee, not for me) and his blessed regime for graciously affording me so much office and screen time at home these past more than a few months. But I digress. When Josh Ray and I joined forces in our ultimately short lived enterprise, SonicFlare, back in 2006, the goal of the platform was to twist the marketing terms and definitions of HiFi. You see, we both had come to realize that the staleness of marketing which has effectively become luxury HiFi to the same old group of folks was simply past its prime. New terms needed to be forged, new ideas brought to market. Thus, the tagline of SonicFlare was simple, yet profound: HiFi is sports cars for your living room. With a brief elevator sales pitch, the analogy seemed spot on. The feeling of listening to Mahler 5th on a bespoke HiFi was akin to driving your freshly minted M3, McLaren or Miura at breakneck speeds along Mulholland drive or Laguna Seca. Unlike their automotive friends, the clear value add of a home HiFi is that you never have to worry about speeding tickets, service intervals or accidents. Plus, you can speed - so to speak - at volume level “11” any time of day, any day of the week.
With our freshly minted idea, we went to work. The tie-in to cars was quick, swift and succinct: in no time at all, did I have cross-functional reviews of Audis, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and Porsches all lined up. The media and marketing gods of luxury cars got the point right away: “Hey, this makes a lot of sense to us”, was BMW Group’s North American VP of marketing response to our pitch. Mind you this is now 15 years past the rear view mirror. Cue up any modern day automobile’s HiFi and you’ll see traditional names far and wide: Naim, Linn, Burmester, B&W, B&O, to name but a few.
Thusly, the story continued at home too. Whenever friends of the non-HiFi kind would visit, the pitch was always the same, with minute variations of the theme depending on the visitor’s frame of mind. Simply responding with “these speakers / amps / record players / etc. cost $$$ was not enough. Because, why? Therein lies the crux of this article’s discussion. It’s the build, stupid. Now with something like XVX, it’s pretty easy to show off the cost factor, even to those uninitiated. Small scale batch-production by highly specialized engineering and production teams, paying a wage that actually enables many of the craftsmen to buy and own a home in America, while leveraging genuinely high-tech build processes yields high retail costs. It’s really that simple. You aren’t dealing worldwide global suppliers like Bosch or Sachs that you can ping for two parts of this and four parts of that. DuckDuckGo the cost of a modern day 5-axis CNC machine and necessary diamond drill bits and you’ll quickly cue up fourth, fifth and sixth loans on your sprawling estate. Multiply by a factor of ten or more and there’s Wilson’s investment in precision machining tools.
By definition of all that is high-end, XVX will never ever be cheap, sustainable or approachable in lingo Instagram. By the same token, don’t look for a Rolls-Royce Phantom to be sold at Ford dealerships. High-end build, regardless of the product, is by definition exclusive. In fact, I would even make the argument that a unique feather in the cap of Wilson Audio is that unlike the cousins on the automotive side, Wilson can in fact leverage their profound intellectual property to build a much more affordable speaker system that retails for multiples less than their flagship. To bring up the aforementioned Rolls-Royce comparison, there is simply no way for them to do the same. The scale and complexity simply doesn’t allow for that.
Much as the world of performance cars is used to exotic build materials and custom design solutions, high-end audio too, has become quite fond of the same. From Wilson Audio recently selecting to build capacitors (AudioCapX) in house, to researching fundamentally tuned for audio applications build materials (X, V and S), to crafting all new Alnico magnets for the all new QuadraMag mid-range drivers nothing has been overlooked. The team even went as far as completely re-envisioning the smallest increments of time alignment with dual micrometer adjustments for the four individually adjustable upper modules contained within each speaker’s cut from solid blocks of aluminum gantry. Literally everything that could possibly have produced a better sonic outcome was closely observed and time and again, optimized relentlessly to scalable perfection. Given the shear size, weight and dramatic attraction a pair of XVX add to any listening room, it’s obvious that incredible thought went into the design of these loudspeakers.
47 years of building arguably the most well known, most well established, most listened to high-end loudspeakers teaches you a thing or three. These superlatives aren’t merely my opinion: they are genuine facts. No other high-end audio brand, speakers or otherwise, has managed to generate an almost mainstream crossover into luxury branding like Wilson Audio has. That feat in and of itself is something to aspire to and indeed, most if not all, loudspeaker manufacturers look to emulate this. Not that most would admit to it, but that’s a whole different story. Coming from my Alexx, which in turn superseded my very first pair of Wilson Audio speakers, Alexia Series 1 in 2012, XVX is quite the sight and commands attention. Considerably larger in size compared to Alexx, though far more svelte and sculpted, you really take note of just how much of XVXs design language was borrowed and scaled from Dave Wilson’s magnum opus, WAMM Masterchronosonic. Personally, I like this new language as it effortlessly showcases Wilson’s mind boggling and at times insane attention to detail. Standing 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing in at 685lbs, you would think that a pair of XVX would overpower all but the largest of listening rooms. In truth, given the newly adopted language of WAMMs open architecture gantry design theme, XVX surprisingly looks far less imposing than even Alexx. In my 35 x 16 foot room, XVX take up the longitudinal mid-point and sit within 3 inches of Alexx’s previous position. Having chosen the $30,000 up-charge pearlescent white-ish Olympia Pearl paint option, XVX, while still taking a demonstratively commanding position in my room, seem to hide their overall size far better than any other Wilson loudspeaker I have had in my room.
Freed from traditional closed, large surface area cabinet constraints, the immediate attention falls to the XVXs “gantry”, a heavy, 160-ish pound milled from aluminum block super structure, which sits bolted atop newly developed and extremely inert V material, making up the upper section of the mighty woofer enclosure. The open design of the gantry allows for a very cool transparency like visual factor which allows you to see “inside” the loudspeaker so to speak. Each of the four upper modules and their respective dual time alignment micrometer adjustment rails are clearly visible as are each of the sculpted mid range / tweeter modules and cable systems connecting them to the crossover inside the woofer enclosure. There is simply no easier way to showcase Wilson’s overall design than leveraging this open air gantry system. It certainly makes for a great conversation starter as evidenced by each recent visitor to chez K asking the usual questions and inquisitions.
Once you familiarize yourself with the front and side view of this novel gantry system, you quickly realize that perhaps the most elaborate view of XVX is from the rear or slightly off axis. First, you notice the size and heft of the lower twin bass module, followed by the extension of the open concept view of the crossover, dressed in carbon fiber, bolted to the rear of the woofer enclosure. As your eyes move upward, you quickly notice the glass covered resistor bank which allows further fine tuning of the upper modules sound. From there, you follow the cues of the rear gantry view, complete with the elaborate and clever cable management solution Daryl and team developed for XVX. For Daryl’s crowning achievement, no detail seemed overlooked and so it is no surprise that the team leveraged a custom built dual light system developed by a small American light technology company, Coolfall. Aptly named the Chronosonic XVX Sonos-1 lighting system, it ingeniously integrates a pair of Coolfall battery powered lights into each of the gantry’s crossmember bars. Illuminating the gantry structure provides not only genuine setup help, but also a very cool and rich integrated lighting system to each of the loudspeakers. The effect is quite striking: at night, when all other lights are off, the individually adjustable Coolfall lights (USB chargeable of course, Gen Y will rejoice) provide for a dramatic look and feel of the sound stage. The only thing I would add is the ability to adjust the colors, but there is always the possibility of an XVX Series 2 or a mid-cycle refresh (there’s that car analogy again).
As your eyes gaze over the complex radius curves, shapes and structure contained within the gantry, you can’t help notice the time spent designing each of the modules and their overall shape not only onto themselves but how they integrate into the design as a whole. Each of the modules, indeed even the bass module, contains extruded and beveled curves that flow seemingly uninterrupted from module to module. The gantry itself contains radiused curves that seem to at once contain and provide the necessary support for each of the four upper modules. How the whole of this design theme flows is quite remarkable, clearly similar in scope - if not more so - to your favorite exotic modern or classic sports car. The upper modules consist of 5 individual drivers, with the exception of one rear firing soft dome tweeter, which sits atop the upper most Alnico powered QuadraMag mid-range driver, for an MMTMT configuration. Each of these modules is individually adjustable via Wilson’s tried and true stepped adjustment system. To provide the ultimate in time domain adjustability, Daryl and team borrowed WAMMs Chronosonic micrometer adjustment technology by splitting the two upper modules and lower modules on one rail each. Thus, taking into account various pre-determined measurements and listening cues, XVX can be perfectly time aligned to the listening position. To observe these modules being maneuvered and positioned just right so effortlessly and with such precision by simply turning their respective - CNC cut - turning knobs is quite remarkable a process.
Rather than dealing with a preconfigured and thus fixed cable length for each of the modules, cables can now be individually adjusted for in length so that as each of the modules is placed and set, the cable overhang can be managed internally by adjusting an air sealed knob to advance or retract just the right amount of cable length. Further, the gantry itself contains integrated cable guides which, when all is said and done, aid in showing off a neatly integrated cable system. Particularly when you view the speakers from the rear or off axis, does this become apparent. As I have said before, the level of detail and attention paid to seemingly mundane problems is quite astounding. Envisioning a slow motion, 360 degree camera pan across XVX, the sum of the parts make for an exceptional and undeniably organic looking super structure, particularly attention grabbing in Wilson’s newest color option, Olympia Pearl.
Fit and finish of XVX is - to be expected - sublimely superb. The paint finish on my sample was positively stunning, with a deep, rich and three dimensional gloss that further highlighted the speaker’s contours and lines. Naturally, as in the past, any color you wish is possible, though I do recommend considering some of the new pearlescent color options. Don’t be boring. Risk a little. Viola and Saffron Pearl come to mind and where it not for the deep blue walls in my room, I would easily have chosen either one of these gorgeous color options. Paired with the black anodized choice of aluminum everything, the contrast between the sparkly pearlescent white Olympia Pearl finish is quite dramatic. Though they are available in a variety of colors, Wilson’s famous speaker grills, including a very large, X material based wing for the gantry, in black, round out the overall appearance of the speaker. Frankly, following in line with Wilson’s experimental accessories approach which started with the Special Engineering Application’s TuneTot speaker system, I could easily see myself ordering up two or three sets of colorized grills to round out the living room decor or simply swap colors at will: navy blue, red and perhaps even a light shade of yellow. Given the size of these grills, particularly the woofer and gantry sections, adding colors would make for a dramatic effect. Even Wilson is recognizing their customer’s heightened awareness of these colorful paint options that many speakers now leaving the factory are in fact in some splendid, dynamic and vibrant finish.
We have come full circle. I just finished an episode of Petrolicious, a YouTube channel dedicated to car culture, featuring an architect’s fascination with his Ferrari GTO, replete with a custom built observation platform inside his living room. Sports cars for your living room. Indeed. While I may not have a gorgeously sculpted GTO to go along with my living room, I do have a pair of state of the art Chronosonic XVX loudspeakers that are very much like a GTO in many respects. I can crank them to 11 any time of day or night; I can speed through records quicker than a GTO’s lap around Monza and I can do all of that inside the comfort of my living room and home, rain or shine. To boot, the oil needs no swapping and there are no costly service intervals to keep track of. Wilson Audio will never make mass market loudspeakers, yet their bespoke nature qualifies them to be part of the highest-end of consumer products. While many have made these sort of comparisons in the past and present, many, if not most, fall flat on their face. Too many divergent fundamentals, too many market driver differences. This isn’t entry level HiFi, or even “mid-Fi”. This is bona fide high-end audio. Yet, the comparisons to bespoke car culture are valid more than they are not and frankly in some cases, bespoke HiFi trumps car culture by a mile. Given that the addressable market size for high-end home HiFi is rather small, you begin to see the cross cultural appreciation and application for both. You will never be able to bargain hunt for a GTO, and even given the fundamentals of time and deprecation, a pair of XVX will never quite reach Ikea consumption levels. How could it? It’s built by artisan experts of the highest order for those who appreciate music the most. Stay tuned for part two in this series.
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Wilson Audio Chronosonic XVX Image Gallery
Manufacturer: Wilson Audio
Model: Chronosonic XVX