Where do I start, when a product delivers an experience unlike anything I've heard? An experience is much more than the sum of the parts and defies a description of those parts. An experience brings out emotions and feelings, while imprinting memories. An experience is something about which we talk to friends and loved ones, sharing the joy a second and third time. Over the last two months, Wilson Audio delivered an unforgettable experience to me via the TuneTot loudspeakers. I heard my favorite music again for the first time, reliving incredible memories while being enveloped in quality the entire time. The Wilson Audio TuneTot is a special speaker from a special company.
Love At First Listen
I've long wanted the Wilson Audio TuneTot loudspeakers for my desktop. Yes, that's right, my desktop. I understand full well that the TuneTot is capable of driving an entire room full of great sound. I know this because I talked to people who use the speakers in their main two channel systems and couldn't be happier. They place the speakers on TuneTot Stands created by the Wilson Audio Special Applications Engineering division and enjoy the incredibly satisfying sound from these mighty transducers. However, I also know the TuneTot was designed from the ground up to reproduce music in less than ideal environments.
The less than ideal environment at which I sit, for way too many hours each day, is my desk. My 12' long, single piece of live edge, wood desk is on the opposite side of my listening room from a pair of Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 speakers, driven by a full Constellation Audio system. While the entire room is acoustically treated, it was designed for listening in a single position. The absorption and diffusion panels are placed with respect to that seating position, not my desk.
After years of listening to many speakers and components on my desk, including active, passive, and powered systems, I jumped at the opportunity to flank my Apple Pro Display XDR with a pair of Wilson Audio TuneTot loudspeakers. As desktop audio systems go, this is the Ferrari. I'm sure the TuneTots will be considered overkill by those without first hand experience. But if so, TuneTots are overkill in the same way as the Ferrari SF90 Stradale's, 0-60 mph in 2.5 seconds, hybrid engine is overkill. In my view, both are just better engineered and produce better results. In addition to better engineering, it isn't lost on me that the experience of purchasing, owning, and using a Wilson Audio loudspeaker is second to none. Great products built by great companies, with great build quality and reliability are important to me. I know those qualities are important to members of the Audiophile Style community as well because many of you told me as much in a recent forum thread.
TuneTot loudspeakers are part of an ecosystem that includes optional driver rings, grilles, and the ultimate isolation platform called the TuneTot ISOBase. I opted for a pair of ivory speakers with color matched ISOBases and clear rings. Wilson Audio calls the silver rings, and all its silver hardware, clear because there is no colored coating on the metal. I selected this silver color because it's a great pairing for the silver Apple Pro Stand on which my computer display rests. The custom TuneTot Stand is perfect for those who don't place the speakers on a desk or other surface, and both the Stand and ISOBase can be installed together.
Consumers purchasing the TuneTot speakers will enjoy complete installation and setup from their Wilson Audio dealers. I installed the speakers myself, with my go-to Wilson dealer The Audio Salon just a phone call or text message away. The TuneTot manual is very thorough and explains both how and why to setup the speakers in a number of different positions. Even those who receive the full dealer service will be comforted knowing this is all in the manual should they ever decide to try a quick repositioning or adjustment.
In addition to the optional ecosystem accessories, the TuneTots ship with a port plug due to the fact that these speakers are more likely to be installed in less than acoustically ideal positions. I love that the physical port is on the rear of the speaker and the port plug can't be seen when in place. I love it for aesthetic reasons, but Wilson engineers placed the port there to ensure low port noise and to optimize the port's contribution to the low frequencies. I listened extensively with and without the port plug in place, before settling on a plug-less installation.
Installing the TuneTots on my desk, the enclosure's build quality was very apparent. The proprietary composites Wilson Audio calls X and S Material, are hallmarks of the company's speakers, including the TuneTot. Wilson used laser vibrometry to optimize the enclosure's combination of composites and geometry. The TuneTot features an internally asymmetrical enclosure that ensures no parallel surfaces and sophisticated reflection management. Walking between my Alexia Series 2 and the TuneTot loudspeakers, and tapping them both with my knuckles, it's clear they are much more similar than their size indicates.
Once the TuneTots were in place, I connected them to my system with AudioQuest Robin Hood SILVER (ZERO) speaker cables. I worked with AQ's Stephen Mejais to find a cable that wouldn't alter the sound but also met my other two desktop criteria. The cable had to be flexible and had to look good. Stephen didn't disappoint in steering me to the Robin Hood SILVER (ZERO). In my main system I use Transparent Reference speaker cable, but the cable network on those and higher end models would make for difficult installation on my desktop.
The speaker cables were connected to a pair of Schiit Audio Vidar amps ($699 ea.) running in mono. I talked to Schiit Audio co-founder Jason Stoddard about this setup prior to the installation. He was pretty certain a single stereo Vidar would work fine as well. Given that I had both amps, I just had to use them. The amps were fed from a Schiit Freya+ preamp ($949), which was fed from the new Schiit Yggdrasil LiM DAC ($2,199). All components were connected with Transparent Reference interconnects, just like my main system. The cable networks on the interconnects aren't as large as the speaker cables and were easy to rest on the component rack under my desk.
Given my fondness for Constellation Audio products, I also spent several weeks with the Inspiration Integrated 1.0 amplifier ($16,500) connected to the TuneTots. This put the entire system more into the realm of aspirational than the previous configuration, but the results were priceless.
Digitally I used both an Aurender N20 music server and Sonore signatureRendu SE optical to feed the Yggdrasil DAC. Sometimes I want simplicity while other times I like to experiment a bit, but either way, sound quality is paramount.
Speaking of sound quality, when I pushed play on the first album, it was love at first listen. There was no going back to anything that came before the TuneTots. I had mini versions of my Alexia Series 2 speakers on my desktop and couldn't believe Wilson Audio managed to get this sound from a relatively small package. The sonic similarities between the two Wilson models floored me. I expected good sound, but also expected physics to get in the way. Reaching down to 65 Hz, the TuneTots are Wilson Audio through and through.
The Wilson Audio TuneTot loudspeakers truly transformed the listening experience at my desk. I went from hearing music, to being enveloped in a musical experience. The mundane task of answering emails was frequently interrupted because I had to stop and listen to a performance. Turning up the volume knob with my left hand and sliding my chair back away from my desk with my legs became a regular occurrence with the TuneTots on my desk. We all need to take breaks at work once in a while, but this became borderline ridiculous. I mean ridiculous in the best way possible. "Forced" breaks because of great music and great sound quality are much preferred to suggested breaks by a smart watch that thinks I need to stop what I'm doing to stand up for a few minutes.
My album of the year, Black Acid Soul from Lady Blackbird, has literally been on repeat through the TuneTots for the last five hours. Think about that. I love this album so much and I love what I hear from the TuneTots so much that I just keep listening. The sound is seriously special.
Track three on this album, named Fix It, exemplifies this lovely listening experience. The track opens with Jonathan Flaugher's double bass laying a foundation. The fundamentals of the double bass E and A strings are 41.2 Hz and 55 Hz respectively, and the TuneTots reach down to roughly 60 Hz. Without listening to these speakers one may think half the bass is missing. However, the TuneTots reproduce this double bass with grace, detail, and appropriate weight. At around one foot from the side wall of my room, and the speaker port open, I heard more bass through the TuneTots than any speaker that's ever been on my desk. Not only that, the bass was solid, with all the nuance and subtle sounds made by Flaugher's fingers as he worked the instrument like a master.
Twenty seconds into the track Lady Blackbird's luscious voice enters and my ears / brain seriously melt into the whole experience. A desktop audio system isn't supposed to do this. It isn't supposed to be this good. I guess if one has never heard something like this, it's very hard to realize what one is missing. Listening to Lady Blackbird's voice go from smooth to raspy to smooth, through the silk tweeter and paper pulp woofer of the TuneTots not only illuminates this singer's talent, it puts one at ease because there are absolutely zero fatiguing qualities. A couple times I had to make sure what I heard was on the recording and not something wrong with the speaker, but that's usually the case with a revealing system. The best part about this revealing system is that it sounds unequivocally fantastic in all respects.
Moving to track five, Nobody's Sweetheart, the TuneTots were equally impressive reproducing Troy Andrews trombone. It's easy to understand why he earned the nickname Trombone Shorty. The subtle tones of his trombone and the way he slides into the track after the vocal but between the guitar and double bass are perfect. His playing isn't overwhelming and doesn't steal the show. Through the TuneTots and Schiit Audio components this trombone was appropriately large, with air around the instrument and fine detail there for the taking. The operative word is appropriate. I've had some system that would've placed this trombone right between my eyes or reproduced it with a soundstage from New York and Los Angeles. The TuneTots are perfect for me in that they are appropriate or what I consider absolutely right.
Another album I've been listening to quite a bit lately, and will be nothing new to many music lovers, is Greg Brown's Honey in the Lion's Head. The track Who Killed Cock Robin is so realistic through the Wilson Audio TuneTots that I can smell the coffee on Brown's breath and I'm simultaneously sucked into the story that originates from the 1500s. This is a case where the audio sounds so good that I'm extremely interested in the music and its origins. When the presentation is so realistic, one can't help but feel involved, interested, and make a human connection with the storyteller. The TuneTots delivered an experience on this track that was as if I had my laptop at a small tea shop where Greg Brown was playing unamplified. Organic, real, and a bit scary are good ways to describe what I heard through this system.
Several weeks of listening through the Schiit Audio system proved to me that the TuneTots didn't require the world's best components to sound spectacular. Yet, when one has the opportunity to put racing gas in the tank and step on the accelerator, it should be taken enthusiastically. I replaced the the Schiit Vidar mono amps and Freya+ preamp with the Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated amp. The digital front end remained unchanged. The sound of this combination was nothing short of powerful, controlled, detailed, and full of palpable textures. The Constellation amp has enough power to push my Alexia Series 2 speakers extremely hard, yet it has enough finesse to place incredible detail a few feet from my eardrums without any undesirable attributes, while driving the TuneTots on my desk. We've all experienced putting our ears right up to a tweeter and hearing some nastiness on systems over the years. This TuneTot / Constellation system was dead silent and cable of anything.
I played plenty of my favorite Japanese jazz from the Three Blind Mice record label through this TuneTot / Constellation Audio system and was wowed every time. A desktop system this good is a life changer. Listening to the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio's album Misty (Impex 24K Gold version), I heard incredible detail, transients, and tone in Yamamoto's piano throughout the track. Yamamoto goes from a mystical sounding soft style to hammering on the keys in an instant. The TuneTots with Constellation amp start and stop on a dime, all the while delivering the Wilson Audio complete experience. My desk was transported to Aoi Studio in Tokyo, on August 7, 1974 as I was sucked into the presentation.
The start of the title track, Misty, is full of delicate playing by Yamamoto. This enables a great audio system to reproduce brilliant decay, sustain, and release. The TuneTots were masterful in this respect. While Tetsujiro Obara brushed the snare drum, Yamamoto's piano strikes went from the fundamental to beautiful lush overtones that trailed away gracefully. The TuneTots enabled me to experience everything on this recording like no other similarity sized system I've heard.
When Yamamoto's trio kicks into gear on the second track, titled Blues, the TuneTots reproduce piano, drums, and bass in their own spaces, delineated and from each other and delineated notes within each instrument's range. These speakers reproduce the opposite of one-note bass, as the textures of Isoo Fukui's bass are readily evident, and the subtle queues from the musicians can be heard as if the listener was sitting in on the recording.
In an opposite display of power and prowess, I listened to Rage Against The Machine's self-titled debut album (Audio Fidelity remaster) through the TuneTot / Constellation system. The track Take The Power Back provides the perfect example of why so many of my friends love Wilson Audio speakers, including those in the music industry. In addition to delicacy and detail, Wilson speakers are known for an ability to punch the listener in the chest when appropriate. With the volume a touch louder than usual, I pressed play and was happy to hear and feel Brad Wilk's kick drum right in my chest. Yes, through this desktop system I had an experience as close to my main system as I've ever had. Of course the Alexia and Constellation mono amps take this up a few more notches, but the TuneTots put on a serious display of competence on this track.
Roughly ten seconds into Take The Power Back Tim Commerford starts plucking his bass and it's really hard to believe the TuneTots cut off anywhere near 60 Hz. The bass sounds much deeper and tighter than these speakers have any right to reproduce. One great thing about Rage Against The Machine is that all sounds its albums are made form guitar, bass, drums, and vocals and there are plenty of sounds buried in each track. Tom Morello can be heard in his gritty guitar solos and placing tons of fills with wicked sounds throughout this and most tracks. A fantastic HiFi system enables the listener to experience Rage Against The Machine truly in the way the artist intended. These guys days laboring on each track, putting so many small details into the songs. The listener is rewarded handsomely by the TuneTots, hearing things that one couldn't dream of hearing on another system or even live in concert. The experience is exquisite whether one is listening to Rage, Reggae, or Rachmaninov.
I've had a figurative Ferrari on my desk for the last couple months and I drove it like a champion. It performed at the highest levels, outpacing everything that came before. I expected a lot from these speakers, but received so much more. Looking at TuneTot like a product or a price tag rather than an experience is a mistake many will make, until they sit in the chair and press play. They evoke emotion equal to the music played through them and should be considered memory makers. I won't soon forget the first time I listened to the TuneTots or blasting Rage Against The Machine or getting transported to a Tokyo recording studio circa 1974. Those who love music and love great sound will immediately identify with my experience. We've all been there and relish talking about the experiences when we get together at local or International audio shows. If incredible musical experiences are what one is after, Wilson Audio and the TuneTot are second to none at delivering and making musical memories.
Price Details (U.S. MSRP):
- TuneTot—$9,800.00 (pair)
- In Upgrade Colors—$10,500.00
- ISOBase—$2,100.00 (pair)
- TuneTot Ring—$649.00 (pair)
- TuneTot Grille—$299.00 (pair)
- TuneTot Stand—$2,400.00 (any color)
- Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender N20, CAPS 20
- DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil LiM, Meitner Audio MA3, Denafrips Terminator II
- D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers, Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated, Parasound HINT 6
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2
- Headphones: RAAL-requisite SR1a
- Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, Aurender Conductor, HQPDcontrol v4 (iOS) (Android), JPLAY for iOS
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro (M1)
- Playback Software: Roon, HQPlayer
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40'), AudioQuest Robin Hood SILVER (ZERO)
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC)
- Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption, ATS Acoustics Bass Traps
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload
This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream.
My RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones using a convolution filter created my Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The blue trace is the raw measurement and green is the corrected response. Here we bring down the two peaks above the green curve, in addition to smoothing out the response.
Here is an article all about the headphone filter - Taking the SR1a to Another Level