Wilson Sasha

When a concept, refined then realised, reaches a pinnacle in a particular product, when a great success makes further development seem unfeasible, even impossible, what then? Is it, at that climactic point, perfect? Or is perfection a moving target, seemingly in stasis for slices of time, but soon assaulted by the inevitability of impermanence?

Back in 2009, Wilson Audio Specialties announced a significant re-design of the long-running and extremely successful WATT/Puppy — then in its highly evolved W/P 8 iteration, which morphed into the substantially more refined Sasha W/P concept. With all its engineering refinements, design improvements and performance rewards, had the Sasha W/P reached that point of critical mass advancement?

Many at the time thought that may have been the case, and this reviewer, thinking so, bought a pair. But of course, in our brutal reality, absolute perfection is only for the delusional...

Raise the stakes
The first-gen Sasha W/P expanded on the WATT/Puppy narrative by improving its cabinetry in terms of volume, construction and aesthetic — while still maintaining its dual enclosure

truncated pyramid form — and by introducing a new midrange driver necessitating system crossover refinements. It was an all-round success story. Sasha was a shapely lass with an expertly-balanced design of upper and lower cabinet proportions and with a deft mix of slick curves and angles. It graced our listening room for a most enjoyable three years where it also served as our reference speakers until her larger sister, the conjurer Alexia, cast a spell on us.

Now, five years after its introduction back in 2009, the second iteration of the Sasha W/P hits the market, the Sasha Series-2 taking the sonic mantra of the original to yet another level of conviction.

A number of internal and external changes have been implemented in order to expand on Wilson Audio’s roadmap first ventured by the flagship Alexandria XLF. Firstly, the Sasha Series-2 inherits its own version of the CST tweeter, which has been carried through from the variants in XLF to the Alexia and most recently the Duette Series-2.

The 25mm doped silk-dome Convergent Synergy Tweeter (CST) has been designed to improve on the highly-evolved Focal titanium tweeter as used across many generations of WATT/Puppy and first-gen Sasha. It has been voiced to maintain dynamic prowess and low distortion across a wide bandwidth, reaching as far down as around 1kHz (the large diameter midrange driver has been kept from frequencies much above 1kHz in order to prevent beaming, among other things). So the family sound in the high frequencies carries a commonality of tone varied only by the relationships borne out of the tweeters’ interactivity in siblings’ different configurations.    

Also in common with the rest of the company line-up — and retained from Sasha W/P — is the bespoke 178mm cellulose and paper-pulp composite midrange driver.

The most radical change has been implemented in the new speaker’s rear-ported upper tweeter/midrange module where engineering efforts have been made to provide further time/propagation alignment more in line with Wilson Audio’s larger models. Where Sasha W/P featured a number of spikes of different lengths to angle the upper module for acoustic alignment at the listening position, the Series-2 has a two-plane front baffle and a simplified version of the comprehensive alignment system as featured on the Alexia. Here, a ‘Step Block’ is used in conjunction with a single rear spike (different lengths provided) to angle and align fore and aft for appropriate propagation and acoustic summation at the listening position. This system — which offers more than 20 set-up options — works in conjunction with the designed-for-alignment front baffle where the tweeter is mounted on an angled face with a specific relationship to the midrange driver’s baffle angle, post-alignment. As always, the exemplary leather-bound manual includes the alignment tables (although your dealer will be going through those motions — a relatively simple exercise — when the speaker is delivered and set up).

Wilson SashaAgain, the upper module features Wilson’s proprietary and secretly-guarded  ‘S’ material for its panels, aside from the tweeter’s baffle which is made of the ultra-hard ‘X’ material. The bracing strategy has been revised and improved. Twin pairs of custom binding posts connect the upper and lower cabinets via cables that emerge from the bass enclosure’s innards.

The new upper module geometry radically changes the speaker’s profile, making it visually striking if a tad top-heavy and, subjectively, not quite as elegant as the previous-generation speaker.

Good vibrations
Changes have also been made to the rear-ported bass enclosure. The speaker still uses twin high quality 200mm Scan-Speak bass drivers, albeit in a reinforced ‘X’ material cabinet. Wilson Audio’s laser vibrometer has been used to design an enhanced enclosure with a bracing system which the company claims has substantially reduced panel resonances — by around 30 percent.

The Sasha Series-2 has been specified to be 92dB efficient at 1-watt/1m/1kHz which makes it 1dB more efficient than the previous version. In-room average frequency response spans the 20Hz to 27kHz range within a ±3dB window. The system impedance has been quoted as 4 ohms with a minima at 2.7 ohms; this is an easier load than Series-1 and far easier than big sister Alexia. Wilson Audio recommends a minimum of 20 watts of amplification and we would not dispute that — as long as it’s accompanied by high current capacity in order to reap the best bass control and dynamic potential.

Of course Wilson Audio’s automotive high-gloss finishes in standard colours are available for Sasha Series-2, while upgraded finishes have an almost infinite palette of custom colours.

Set-up was a breeze with the speakers’ bass modules, uncrating on pre-installed castors; just wheel them straight into position. Which was pretty much where Sasha ‘The Previous’ proudly stood (and approximately where Alexia is normally positioned). Driving duties were via the more than adequately powerful, current generous and competently-sounding Musical Fidelity kW 750 2-box power amp, fed via the sublime new Supratek DHT preamplifier. Sources were the AMR CD-77.1 CD player and MacBook via BitPerfect software using AIFF files. We had also just received the stunning Seraphim cables from ZenSati, and these took the whole thing to another elevated level — a whole ‘nuther story…

Coming from a position of owning the first-gen and then progressing on to the next level, comparisons are not only inevitable but essential and hopefully illuminating, both for reader and reviewer.

Wilson SashaAs stellar as the Sasha Series-1 was — and it really performed well in all parameters — the Series-2 travels past that horizon and on to a sonic landscape that falls in line with the expanding Wilson Audio ‘family’ sound. So where the previously-used Focal tweeter was an instrument of high resolution that exposed all manner of inadequacies in accompanying hardware and software, the new doped silk tweeter is a more forgiving device that, astoundingly, still manages to retain the perceived resolution, detail and dynamic contrast of its predecessor.

This might seem an almost self-contradictory concept, but the new tweeter — along with its relationship to the midrange driver — has phenomenal resolution while being oh so smooth and, yes, musical (to use a term some engineers scoff at for being an audiophile’s construct). It’s downright utterly natural — any cymbal, bell, the upper harmonics of the snare or trumpet… Series-2 reproduces them all with such sweetness and naturalness that it approaches the real thing. Sure, a ribbon may have more incisiveness or even ‘air’ (but not ‘speed’, trust me), but also makes itself more obvious, too evident, while potentially having a more compromised dispersion. No, the CST device just falls in line with verisimilitude; with… truth. That, as far as this writer is concerned, is as much as you could ask of any driver.

And it’s a seamless transition between tweeter and midrange. The inter-driver relationships and crossover design have been progressively improved over the last three generations of W/P and Sasha.

Interestingly, the new speaker’s crossover is even quieter in terms of background noise or hash — as much as this can be a difficult concept to describe and to grasp unless actually experienced. Sasha Series-2 expresses low level transient information and minutiae succinctly, elevating the sense of being present at a ‘real’ performance. This quality also allows vocals to sound clear and natural with extraordinary articulation. You won’t miss a word even from, say, Rickie Lee Jones’ often-slurred incantations.

The Series-2 retains Wilson Audio’s renowned dynamic expression, with the driver providing a sense of slam that balances with the brute force of the twin high-power 200mm bass drivers. The new enclosure design strategies have paid off with a somewhat tighter bass with a little more transient snap and perceived detail when compared to the already stunning low-end power of Series-1.

It’s an astonishingly well balanced package with overall cut-of-the-same-cloth frequency coherency. Play a Ray Brown, Jaco Pastorius, Brian Bromberg track and you’ll hear a tonally rich and textured bass register with fast transients and deep, brutal dynamic range as seamless segues to the delicacy of piano, brushed percussion or vocals. The Wilson Audio design team has been working hard on this and it shows… the reward is a more seamless overall sonic picture.

Imaging and a wide sonic landscape have been trademarks of the pyramid’s narrow baffle design since its inception around three decades ago. The Series-2 projects a very wide soundstage, as did Series-1, but the tweeter’s balance allows for a more layered depth perspective with information seemingly present further back beyond the front wall. Image height is also improved; vocalists take on a more realistic stature – in fact, they just ‘float’ just in front of the speaker plane – and overall the soundfield ‘bubble’ is more enveloping in all perspectives.

Conclusion
With the W/P before it and with the first Sasha concept, Wilson Audio had progressively developed a relatively compact loudspeaker that was high-powered, excelled low-and-high (and in-between), was capable of profound frequency-wide dynamic impact while projecting an immersive soundfield populated with accurately-placed images. Sasha Series-2 maintains or improves those hallmarks while now, new tweeter on-board, the speaker also features a more natural and texturally complex tonality. All this in an attractively styled and finished package with endless colour options.

Nothing is perfect — why else would we need liquid paper and ‘delete’ button. As Leonard Cohen once said, “Forget perfection, everything has a crack, that’s how the light gets in…”

SPECIFICATIONS
Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha Series-2

Price: $51,795

Drive units: 2 × 200mm woofers, 1 × cellulose/paper pulp composite 170mm midrange, 1 × doped silk 25mm tweeter

Enclosure: X-material bass enclosure, X- and S-material midrange/tweeter enclosure

Frequency response: 20Hz-27kHz ±3dB room average response

Sensitivity: 92dB, 1 watt at 1m, at 1kHz

Nominal impedance: 4 ohms, minimum of 2.17 ohms at 90Hz

Minimum amplifier power: 20 watts

Dimensions (WHD): 1146 x 355 x 562mm

Weight: 94kg

Price: $39,795 in standard automotive colours. Upgrade colours $41,095, custom colours $42,295

Warranty: Five years