Wilson Audio’s new Sasha WATT/Puppy has some mighty big shoes to fill.
Wilson Audio’s new Sasha WATT/Puppy has some mighty big shoes to fill. The venerable WATT/Puppy concept achieved remarkable acceptance and exceptional success in the high-end arena. Over its many generations and iterations the iconic speaker had been refined and fine-tuned—sonically, aesthetically and in terms of fit and finish—to such a point, that in order to move significantly forward, a major rethink was necessary.
The Sasha is still a two-box design based on a truncated pyramid tweeter/midrange ‘WATT’ module atop a twin-woofered ‘Puppy’ bass enclosure. However, where the WATT was always a stand-alone speaker with its own internal crossover, the new top module does not allow such use; the new configuration makes it a slave to the bass enclosure which contains the speaker’s fullypotted three-way crossover network. Twin spade-ended fly leads from the enclosed crossover below hook up to Wilson Audio custom binding posts—one set each for the tweeter and midrange driver.
The new top module’s baffle is now constructed from a newly-concocted material comprising natural fibres in a phenolic resin laminate. The temporary name for this is, not-so-cryptically, ‘S’ material… presumably due to it making its first appearance in the Sasha. ‘M4’ material—a fourth generation epoxy laminate—makes up the rest of the top enclosure which is rear vented by way of a port with a machined aluminium sleeve. The mélange of dedicated materials used (as in the woofer section too) was arrived at after intensive research into the relationship between materials, their resonant characteristics and their sonic attributes. Plain MDF—as used by most manufacturers—is plainly not good enough for Wilson Audio. The Sasha’s Focal-sourced inverted titanium tweeter (the same as the MAXX 3’s) is similar to the WATT 8’s except for some modifications to the back of the motor structure, which according to Wilson, are important tuning components reaping worthwhile sonic benefits. The midrange driver is a departure from the custom 178mm Scanspeak 8545-based unit used since the WATT 5. The new Wilson-designed/ Danish-built driver (also shared with the MAXX 3) is a simplified version derived from the flagship Alexandria’s own. It features a cellulose paper pulp composite cone. Wilson will not divulge any more than that, other than to say that its ‘unique’ sound quality is a result of several design techniques and material choices. The trademark baffle foam diffraction pads are now replaced by a much more attractive and sonically adept felt material.
The treble/mid module once again couples with its woofer mate by way of three steel spikes; two at the front, one for the rear. Different length rear spikes are provided in order to adjust the physical angle for correct propagation delay—Wilson provides a table that determines the appropriate spike for adjusting the relationship between tweeter/midrange, listener distance and ear height.
The ‘Puppy’ woofer section, which has been significantly increased both in terms of internal volume and overall dimensions, still uses Wilson’s ultra-hard ‘X’ material claimed to be the most suitable for bass enclosures. Like its predecessor, the large reflex port is placed asymmetrically on the rear panel. The twin long-throw 203mm woofers now have far larger magnet motors for improved bass control, increased power handling and lower distortion. The spiking scheme (previously known as the Puppy’s ‘Paws’) consists of massive machined ‘diodes’ with hardened steel spikes that are height adjustable via the provided steel spacers. The spacers can be used as tuning devices by varying the woofer-to-floor reflection relationship; something that can make marked differences to the upper to middle bass registers.
The crucial specifications are rather interesting too. Wilson has revised its sensitivity measuring methodology resulting in what looks like a lower spec. However, the Sasha is 1dB more sensitive than the WATT/Puppy System 8 which was originally specced at 92dBSPL but measured 90dBSPL under the new system. Therefore the Sasha is quoted as being 91dBSPL. The extra sensitivity however is off-set by an amplifier-testing impedance minimum of 1.8Ω at roughly 90Hz. In fact, the impedance stays below 4Ω from 55Hz to almost 400Hz and below 8Ω from 20Hz to 20kHz (see accompanying test measurements). This is—on paper—a tough load and I’d recommend mating to beefy high-current solid-state amplifiers or very powerful valve amplification. Forget low-powered SETs.
I queried Wilson on the reason behind the rather severe impedance characteristics. I was told that important engineering decisions had to be made during the evolution between System 8 and Sasha and that since the primary aim was for superior bass performance the tougher impedance plot was an unavoidable design side-effect. In the company’s view the impedance plot does not present too many difficulties for welldesigned modern amplifiers, be they solid state or valve. There may be something behind Wilson’s stance on this. Although I didn’t have a small valve amplifier at hand, I had nevertheless tested such amps on the similarly difficult (but not quite) System 8 without issue… sometimes what’s on paper does not translate into practice. I would, however, recommend careful auditioning should your amplifier have only a modest power output.
The frequency response Wilson Audio claims for the Sasha is quite impressive for a speaker of this size. Wilson quotes 20Hz to 20kHz ±3dB in-room. Crossover points have always been a bit of a trade secret for
Wilson so these were not forthcoming. Suffi ce to say that the ‘anti-jitter’ technology approach, as used in Wilson’s more recent designs, is continued with the Sasha.
As a by-product of the tremendous efforts Wilson places on its enclosure construction, the Sasha weighs a substantial 89.5kg—thank God for the supplied castors! Yes, a nice touch: piano castors come factory installed (something this lumbago’ed writer would have loved in previous versions). So although your Wilsontrained dealer will personally install and tune the Sashas to your room, you will still be able to wheel the speakers around to experiment further. (Or out of the way if you need the room… Editor) Once the final position is attained, the castors may be replaced with the Paws. Oh… and do knock on the sides of the speaker for a fair representation of the sound of knocking on the side of Fort Knox.
A note on aesthetics; the Sasha W/P certainly looks different to the usurped WATT/ Puppy System 8. The new speaker now has a much refined, softer, almost organic form that contrasts the angular severity of previous versions. It’s visually a far more attractive speaker that invariably draws complimentary comments from both audio and non-audio visitors chez the Kramer’s.
The fit and finish, as has especially been the case since the last version, is superb and the WilsonGloss automotive paint finish (a kaleidoscopic palette of colours is available) is absolutely mirror-like. Actually, the overall package exhibits an attention to detail that’s almost fanatical; there’s the beautifully- machined metal work, the extensive accessories and quality tools, the over-thetop metallic plate atop the woofer module which depicts the propagation delay table, the jewel-like binding posts, the comprehensive and informative leather-bound user manual, and much more. All these excellent individual elements add up to a whole product that inspires faith in its engineering and results in undoubted pride of ownership.
Listening—The Pleasure and the Pain
Having owned and experienced most of the WATT/Puppy versions places me in the fortunate position—in terms of this review—of having various historical reference points for comparison. Having said that, the superiority of the WATT/Puppy System 8 over its predecessors was such it would have to serve as the main point of comparison against the Sasha.
So after some experimentation, I ended-up with the Sashas in roughly the same spots the System 8 occupied; then the serious auditioning started… and two attributes were immediately perceived as major departures from the System 8’s sonic signature.
First, the bass. Ooh yeah… the bass. The Sasha builds on the already superb capabilities of the mighty System 8. It’s a low end of the thump-to-the-gut and Bruce Lee one- inch-punch type I’m talking about. The bass registers from top to bottom are far tighter, deeper, more nuanced and rhythmical than its predecessors.
Large orchestral crescendos are a devastating force of nature that can almost pin you to the chair. The tympani strikes in Lawrence of Arabia’s Overture soundtrack are scarily real-sounding; the Sasha’s extraordinary transient attack immaculately recreates the initial strike of the hammer and follows by faithfully presenting the drum’s body and preserving its decay. Similar attack, faithfulness and harmonic richness are reproduced with electric and stand-up acoustic bass, kick drum, organ, etc. But the control is so absolute (given the appropriate amplification) that the bass is only profoundly there in spades when needed… at times the low end seemed almost lean compared to System 8’s bloom and fullness. Sasha’s low end frequencies are faster, more rhythmic and, ultimately, more accurate.
Second; the midrange. Well, let’s just say the new midrange unit is one hell of a driver; it’s resolute, dynamic and is extremely timbre-faithful—and yes, very musical. Here is a case where Wilson’s promotional spiel declaring ‘midrange beauty’ actually lives up to the reality. There really is a timbral and harmonic beauty, a drive and verve to the new midrange that draws the listener into the music and takes the mind away from hardware trivialities. Where the System 8 dissected the entrails of the music exposing all manner of audio engineering blunders, Sasha treads a line that would seem to be paradoxical. Play a badlyengineered recording and you’ll still know it’s crap… but somehow the Sasha makes it all the more listenable. This is especially the case with brutally compressed recordings where the take-no-prisoners System 8 exposed the limitations of congested and dynamically crippled recordings. Sasha does not totally repair the damage but manages to separate the instrumental layers and extend the dynamic envelope considerably, providing the recording with a more open sound with more breathing space, less constriction.
Give Sasha a good recording and you’ll hear… well I’ll refer to my listening notes, ‘chills up my spine for the first time in a long while…’ The midrange presence can be startling and the facsimile of reality is unique. Another element that aids to create this uncanny presence is the Sasha’s tonal/ timbral palette. Where the System 8’s tonal palette was made up of dazzling primary colours leading to vivid secondary mixes, the Sasha introduces a further tonal range with more subtle shades and hues. To this writer, who fanatically values tonal colour, detail and dynamic range above all, the new speaker is a blissfully ecstatic listen.
No better example can be given than the Renaud Garcia Fons Trio’s Arcoluz release.
Sasha renders the acoustic bass with that aforementioned timbral truth but also with a palpable sense of body and image density. Close your eyes and picture the bass in your room—aurally it’ll be there. Conversely, with ambience-rich live recordings, you are transported to the concert venue by the tweeter’s ability to re-create the air and atmospherics of a large space.
JITTERING IN SILENCE
Complex mixes do not perturb the Sasha W/P. I suspect something special is going on with the crossover and the ‘anti-jitter’ technology. The crossover’s self noise—or lack thereof—makes for such a low level of hash and inter-driver harmonic interaction (or what I could also describe as a trail of inter-transducer overtone delay or smearing) that different instruments’ tonal character is easily identified as is their spatial relationship to one another. This inter-driver silence I refer to is actually quite an important sonic feature that differentiates Sasha from System 8, and indeed, just about any other speaker I’ve heard in my listening room. If I could draw an analogy it would be like the three-lens projector—one each for red, green and blue (or tweeter, mid, bass). The System 8, as extraordinary as it was, ever-so-subtly misaligned the three colours; visually, it was like object outlines/edges had a just-perceptible fringe of each colour bleeding outwards. Sasha has dead sharp perfectly-aligned edges—total inter-driver harmonic silence. I believe that this sonic feature—which can be understood and identified once it’s experienced—is tied in with this so-called ‘anti-jitter’ technology. Can a large multi-driver speaker (now larger than ever) not only be coherent but also manage a disappearing act? Yes it can (says he, in an Obama voice). The Sasha presents a soundfield that throws images beyond the speakers’ positions with surprising width, depth and height. In doing so Sasha also places within this soundscape focused, rounded and full-bodied images in accurate positions within that space. Now, many speakers can do this—in fact most well-designed speakers at far lower price points can do this well—but few large speakers can manage to project such huge expanses of clear, precise and delineated images so holistically and in full high-resolution while totally disappearing (recording and room acoustics permitting).
The level of detail (especially low level micro-detail) Sasha can present while still maintaining its tonal balance is actually quite astonishing. Ultra low level musical nuances and micro-detail add to the impression of re-creating a real performance event. This speaker excels at delivering the minutiae of nail-on-string, bow-rosinrubbed- gut, expelled breath, etc. These are additive elements that escalate the sense of verisimilitude and Sasha excels at translating the musicians’ playing techniques, accents and intent.
So is the new Sasha W/P the perfect speaker? Read the foregoing and you’d be excused for thinking so… and it’s not leaving the Kramer household; it’s my new reference. In fact, it’s a reference, period.
Let’s examine the facts: the Sasha W/P is a speaker with a rich ancestral history, created by a company with a formidable reputation and an enviable standing in the high-end audio industry. It’s a design possessing thorough engineering principles, extraordinary sound quality, attractive form, immaculate fit and finish and researched materials implementation. So does that make it perfect? Well, perfection in audio is more and more a subjective notion—objective perfection is practically and perhaps even conceptually, impossible. But for this writer the Wilson Audio Sasha W/P is, truly, finally, nigh there…
Readers interested in a full technical appraisal of the performance of the Wilson Audio Sasha Watt/Puppy should continue on and read the LABORATORY REPORT published on the following pages. Readers should note that the results mentioned in the report, tabulated in performance charts and/or displayed using graphs and/or photographs should be construed as applying only to the specific sample tested.
WILSON AUDIO SASHA W/P Loudspeakers
Brand: Wilson Audio
Category: Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Warranty: Five Years
- Superb bass
- Alignment flexibility
- Ease of drive
- Cumbersome weight
Wilson Audio’s Sasha returned sets of flat and extended frequency responses in all tests conducted by Newport Test Labs. Graph 1 shows an averaged result of nine individual frequency sweeps, measured at a distance of three metres from the Sasha, with the central grid point exactly
on-axis with the Sasha’s tweeter. As you can see, the frequency response over the region graphed is very linear, being within ±2dB from 52Hz up. More importantly, you can see that the overall response is very balanced, and that even below 52Hz, where the frequency response falls away, it doesn’t plummet, but just drops to around 5–7dB below the average response. The only characterising trait on the response is a slight, wideband ‘droop’ between 100Hz and 500Hz.
Graph 2 shows the Wilson Audio Sasha’s high-frequency response in detail, and also with and without the grille fitted. The first thing to note is that you should ignore the ‘wiggles’ in the response at the extreme left of the graph, which are artefacts of the measuring technique used (gating). You can see that the graphed response extends from 500Hz to 22kHz ±2.5dB, and that the response is marginally ‘smoother’ when the grille is not used, though the only real difference between the two traces occurs at 5kHz. Although the response shows peaks centred at 1.8kHz, 4kHz and 20kHz, the Qs are so high that they would not be individually audible as peaks and thus can safely be ignored. The peak at 20kHz is most likely the tweeter resonance. Graph 2, when considered in conjunction with Graph 1, shows that Newport Test Labs measured the overall frequency response of the Wilson Audio Sasha as 48Hz to 22kHz ±3dB. This is, self-evidently, an excellent frequency response.
Low frequency performance has been graphed using the standard near-field technique, and you can see that Wilson has tuned the bass reflex port so it’s delivering its maximum output somewhat lower-down in frequency than the driver’s minima, which is the reason for the superior performance at the extreme low end. The port’s output peaks at 23Hz, whereas most designers would have it peaking at 26Hz. This graph shows the output of both of the woofers and you can see that they’re perfectly matched, which is indicative of excellent QC procedures at Wilson. The slight variations in the response above about 180Hz stem from the fact that the woofers are located at different positions in the cabinet, and it’s the difference in rear-loading that causes these slight variations.
Graph 4 is an extension of Graph 3, this time ‘adding in’ the output from the midrange driver, and the output from the ‘port’ in the head of the Wilson Sasha. You can see that the port is acting more like a real driver than a ‘port’, with a very flat response between 60Hz and 200Hz that’s virtually a ‘mirror’ of the output at the front of the midrange driver, except that it’s shifted downwards in frequency. The midrange driver’s response is very flat for the most part, though it appears to show a rise above 1kHz.
The impedance/phase graph (Graph 5) shows that the Wilson Audio Sasha presents a difficult load for any amplifier. Although the curve shape looks conventional, check the graph scale—the top of this graph is only 10 ! Indeed over the range 20Hz to 20kHz, the Sasha’s response never rises above 8 and at its lowest point drops to around 1.6 (at 85Hz). The phase angle at this same frequency is around –15°, but this is up from around –45° at 55Hz. Signifi- cantly, the impedance is at or well below 4 over the region 55–375Hz, so the speaker will be demanding extraordinarily high current delivery from the amplifier—particularly at higher SPLs. Since I’ve mentioned SPL, I should note at this point that Newport Test Labs measured sensitivity at 91dBSPL at a distance of one metre, using a 2.83Veq input level, which exactly met Wilson Audio’s specification. Not only is this an excellent figure in its own right, it’s also excellent because Newport Test Labs’ methodology for this test is so stringent that most speakers fall well short of 90dBSPL. The fact that the Sasha exceeds it by a full dB is highly creditable.
The final graph (Graph 6) that has been selected for inclusion with this review is a composite one that combines all the previous traces (except those for impedance modulus and phase angle) on the one graph. You can see that the various different test methodologies do give an excellent and completely cohesive picture of the Wilson Audio Sasha’s overall measured performance, which is excellent. The Sasha has a smooth, well-balance and well-extended frequency response—with particularly good bass extension—and is also highly efficient, so it will make good use of amplifier power. Its only real Achilles’ heel is that it’s likely to be a bit difficult to drive, which means you will need to pay careful attention to your choice of amplifier.