Floor-standing Speakers

Wilson Audio Sophia 3 Floor-standing Speakers

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The Wilson Audio Sophia 3 Speakers In Use

Many audiophiles are familiar with that "kid in a candy shop" sensation when, no matter what your chronological age, you make an equipment change that leaves you as excited as the first time your parents set you loose in a toy store. Thus I found myself heading to my CD collection, playing beloved recording after recording, for hours on end, and discovering sounds, nuances, and details I had never heard before with clarity.

First and foremost, I heard tight bass. Tight, strong, beautifully articulated bass that only got stronger when, shortly before a visit from John Atkinson of Stereophile, I swapped my long-time Theta Gen. VIII, Series 3 DAC/preamp (24/192) for the Antelope Zodiac Gold DAC/preamp with optional Voltikus power supply. With that additional equipment change, not only did I hear far more bass than ever before, but I also noted that highs were smoother and less sharp, and the midrange was more clearly articulated.

With all my former speakers, I became accustomed to bass that was neither tight nor had the same sonic signature as higher-pitched instruments. When playing a demagnetization multi-octave sweep on the Talons, for example, I could literally hear the "bump" as the crossover switched from bass to midrange and tweeter. With the Sophia 3, I can hear no discontinuity between drivers and registers when I play such a sweep.

When John Atkinson was here, one of the recordings we auditioned together, via my Macbook Pro, was the 176.4/24 HRx master file version of Reference Recordings' Delibes Ballet Suites. The soundstage was huge, the colors brightly illuminated, and the bass thwacks profound. Delibes may not be the deepest composer on the planet, but some of the movements for his scores for Sylvia and Coppélia have a brilliance and visceral thrill that can hold their own against all the RCA Living Stereo blockbusters that I have listened to 1000 times at shows.

What amazed me most about the Sophia 3, and continues to amaze me over five months after the speakers were set up in my living room, is how much more of a recording I can hear than ever before. Especially with high-resolution masters which transmit far more sonic information, air, and dimensionality than redbook CDs, it is essential to control bass in order to hear all the extra information on the recording. The more a speaker booms, the more are inner detail and micro-dynamic information obscured.

Thanks to Wilson's extremely inert cabinetry and solid internal bracing, bass and midrange information comes through loud and clear. You may encounter control issues in your room, but if you begin to knock on a Wilson cabinet with your knuckles or listen with a stethoscope, you'll be hard-pressed to hear any cabinet resonances. As opposed to my Talons, the Sophia 3's speaker cabinets are rock solid.

This solidity on the bottom end, and lack of resonances that affect drivers, also allows highs to sing freely. Listen to a triangle or gong sound on a well recorded, high resolution file, then listen to the same instrument in live performance. You'll be amazed at how much of the actual sound of instruments the Wilson tweeter reproduces. If you want to check out a redbook CD that will absolutely put these speakers to the test, check out Reference Recordings' Horns for the Holidays, and listen to how clearly and cleanly the sound of inner winds emerges.

In the last month, I had the opportunity to review Decca's 24-bit, 48 kHz Blu-ray digital reissue of one of the most important stereo recordings of the 20th century, Wagner's Ring Cycle, recorded 1958-1964 by Georg Solti, the Vienna Philharmonic, and the finest Wagnerians of the era. Using the NuForce edition of the Oppo BDP-93 as a transport, I marveled at the richness of the cellos and basses, the solidity and weight of images, and a host of subtle details that are obscured in 16-bit sound. I was even able to hear individual members of the violin section. Had any of my former speakers been in use, I know that a lot of the detail and articulation in the lower strings would have been blurred or obscured in entirety by bass boom.

I remember one particular fun evening when we danced with our friend to Blue Cha Cha, a Concord Picante release that highlights the very best of the late Cuban guitar legend Manuel Galbán. The sound was so crisp and alive, the beat so solid. Irene and our dog Daisy Mae Doven had a ball. I even took a photo of Irene holding Daisy as the two of them admired the Sophia 3.

Shortly before I bid the Sophia 3s farewell, I wrote a review of Reference Recordings' new Christmas disc, Horns for the Holidays. If you want to discover how a superb audiophile recording by a Grammy winning Recording Engineer (Keith O. Johnson) can sound through a good loudspeaker, listen through the Sophia 3.

Yes, you can get far bigger, more realistically scaled imaging and even greater bass response and low-level detail, through a bigger Wilson loudspeaker, as well as behemoths from a number of other companies. But when it comes to relatively small floor-standers with a modest footprint, you'll be hard pressed to find whose response is as neutral, smooth and controlled from top to bottom as the Sophia 3.

Don't expect the Sophia 3 make compressed or harsh recordings sound better than they are. It won't. If your collection is filled with brash hip-hop or the like, and you're looking at Sophia 3s, either bite the bullet or experiment with electronics and cabling that tend to smooth things over. The Sophia 3 tells it like it is.

Over the years, one often-voiced criticism of Wilson Audio loudspeakers has been that they are technically accurate but somehow lacking in soul or emotion. I can't speak for the Wilson speakers of five or ten years ago, but I can say with absolute certainly that anyone who applies this criticism to Wilson's current line of loudspeakers is doing so without listening.

Play music that is designed to touch the heart through a pair of Sophia 3s, and I guarantee that you will be moved. When John Atkinson listened to my recording of soprano Arleen Auger singing Gustav Mahler, and called the sound "magical," he wasn't simply massaging my ego. The Sophia 3 is, first a foremost, a musical loudspeaker whose superb engineering enables it convey the emotional truth of whatever music you care to throw at it.