Wilson Audio Sophia III
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AUDIO REVIEW JOURNAL
£12.50 Vol4/No3 JULY - SEPTEMBER 2010
REVIEWED THIS ISSUE:
AUDIOVECTOR S1 SUPER
AUDIOVECTOR S1 AVANTGARDE
BOWERS & WILKINS 802 DIAMOND
BOWERS & WILKINS 800 DIAMOND
AUDIO NOTE UK M9 PHONO
AUDIO NOTE UK ANS 9
WILSON AUDIO SOPHIA 3
LINN KLYDE
REGA EXACT
AUDIO-TECHNICA AT-OC9ML3
ORTOFON CADENZA
AUDIO NOTE UK IQ3
ABBINGDON MUSIC RESEARCH CD-777
AUDIO ANALOGUE CRESCENDO
ARCAM rDAC
SPENDOR SA1
ISOL-8 POWERLINE AXIS
REGA OSIRIS
BOWERS & WILKINS MM-1
PLUS CA CHANGE
Bowers & Wilkins’ all new 802 and 800 Diamonds
SOPHIA THE THIRD
The third generation of Wilson Audio’s floorstander
SUB-£1000 CARTRIDGES
Five, from Audio Note, Audio Technica, Linn, Ortofon and Rega
ULTIMATE PHONO PRE-AMP?
How can one possibly justify £79,000 for a phono stage?
MAGNETS & FIELD COILS
The technology behind magnets and the field coil experience
EDITOR DOUBLE PLUS
Interviewing Stereophile Editor John Atkinson
FLEXIBLE VALVE CDP
AMR’s fascinating CD-777 is packed with features and valves
MUSIC & MUCH MORE
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HIFICRITIC
Vol4 | No3
July | Aug | Sept 2010
M
Editor | Paul Messenger
Writers
Colin Anderson
Chris Bryant
David Cathro
Martin Colloms
Peter Comeau
Stan Curtis
Paul Darwin
Nigel Finn
Steve Harris
Wayne Hyde
Jason Kennedy
Paul Messenger
Publisher | Martin Colloms
Design | Philippa Steward
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cannot be guaranteed and HIFICRITIC.COM
accepts no liability for any use of, reliance
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HFC_Sophia.indd 2
y reviewing activities have mainly specialised in loudspeakers over the
past thirty years, a situation that has its pluses and its minuses. The
positives are that speakers are inherently very interesting and varied,
and there are always plenty of new models to keep me busy.
The down side is that in several important respects at least, the loudspeaker
is only as good as the signal with which it is fed. That in turn presents several
paradoxes and poses a number of dilemmas.
In general and in principle I believe one should attempt to feed any review
speaker with as good a signal as possible. But does it really make any sort of sense
to review a pair of speakers costing a few hundred pounds on the end of a system
costing tens of thousands? Or even (as high-end prices continue to escalate)
hundreds of thousands of pounds?
There’s no easy answer to this dilemma. The inexpensive speaker will almost
certainly end up being fed from a relatively modest system. And since all such
systems are bound to have significant performance compromises, these flaws
will inevitably be transferred to the speakers. But they’re going to vary from one
system (and indeed location) to another, and they’re not going to be the fault of
the speaker.
It’s therefore simply not possible to set up a ‘representative’ low cost system in
order to review low cost speakers, because the only outcome will be that the low
cost speaker gets blamed for the limitations of whatever system is used to drive it.
For admittedly understandable reasons, the review will simply be ‘wrong’, at least
in absolute terms.
One might argue that one shouldn’t even try to review individual components,
especially loudspeakers, and focus instead on complete systems. But that’s
nonsense, since the hi-fi business grew up on separate components; they’re what
manufacturers make, distributors market, and customers buy and want to read
about. The complete system has its place, but that’s mainly in the dealer’s and
customer’s listening rooms.
There aren’t any easy answers to the reviewer’s dilemma, and I wouldn’t have
the arrogance to assume that I always get it right. Like most of my peers, I try to
do my best, and am only as good as my last review. But there’s no denying that the
experience of the costly speaker cable I write about in Subjective Sounds provided a
salutary warning, with rather worrying implications.
When I first tried the Bowers & Wilkins 800 Diamonds, I was conscious
that they did sound a bit bright and could sound a little ‘edgy’ with the wrong
material. Once I’d substituted the HiRez Moncayo speaker cable for the ‘cooking’
Moncayo I normally use, not only had the ‘edginess’ gone away, but also the stereo
focus had much improved.
While I don’t regard price per se as a particularly accurate guide to sound
quality, and reckon I can normally get decent performance at less-thanstratospheric prices by applying nous and knowhow, I’m starting to believe that
the escalating cost of high-end equipment in recent years does pose potentially
serious problems for the industry as a whole.
Paul Messenger
Editor
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Sophia the Third
MARTIN COLLOMS ASSESSES THIS THIRD GENERATION VERSION
OF WILSON AUDIO’S SINGLE-BOX FLOORSTANDER
MARTIN COLLOMS
N
ot too big; not too small: this classy
looking iteration on Wilson Audio’s wellestablished Sophia series looks rather
promising. The first Sophia was introduced in 2001;
Sophia 2 arrived in 2003 (HIFICRITIC Vol2 No5),
and now we have the Sophia 3. David Wilson relates
the philosophy, design evolution and the personal
involvement of staff members, reinforcing the all-US
craftsman-built story at < http://www.wilsonaudio.
com/product_html/sophia_movie.html>
This one-piece, three-way design, loosely based in
size and shape on the enduring Watt/Puppy series, has
proved very successful at bridging the gap between
US open plan environments and generally smaller
European acoustic spaces. Its sound balance tends
to be more forgiving of room and room placement
than, for example, the Watt/Puppy series.
While the original Sophia was pretty good, if
a touch reticent on midrange dynamics for my
taste, I found Sophia 2 offered a significant overall
improvement, indicating a leader of the pack and
snapping at the heels of the more costly Watt/Puppy
Systems 7 and 8 alternatives.
The changes wrought in the latest version mean
that the Sophia 2 cannot be upgraded to the new
specification, though a supportive trade-in policy is
available. Furthermore, the new is currently listed at
the same price as the old.
A broad technical background to the Sophia
series is detailed in our Sophia 2 review (Vol2
No5, and now available at HIFICRITIC.com).
It’s conceptually a single-box exposition of the
classic Watt/Puppy two-box format. The distinctive
pyramidal mid- treble sub-enclosure is slanted
backwards to time-align the mid and treble drivers,
and is integrated with a larger and more rectangular
reflex-loaded bass enclosure.
It uses a solitary input terminal pair, and the
whole assembly is firmly floor-coupled via adjustable
heavy duty pointed steel cones. The loudspeaker
is made from high grade composite materials,
and comes painted in a wide choice of piano gloss
finishes. Our review samples came in ‘Desert Sand’
– a warm tinted metallic silver – and custom colours
are also available.
The 7in frame midrange unit with its 5.5in
bonded cellulose fibre cone originally appeared in the
flagship Alexandria model, and has gradually worked
its way down the hierarchy to this Sophia 3. It
operates over four octaves of broad midrange, 150Hz
to 3kHz, and is therefore a dominant element in the
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overall sound. The carefully specified doped paper
cone is matched to a half-roll surround selected for
good energy termination. It has a thermally stable,
high power voice coil and is built on a rigid nonreflective die-cast six point fixing chassis. This unit
is perhaps the greatest change brought to the new
design.
Bass is supplied by a high power, 10in (250mm)
SEAS based driver fitted with a pure piston,
curvilinear, layer-reinforced aluminium cone.
Although I had found Sophia 2’s bass impressive
for its natural balance and fine extension, the new
model claims to improve on this by doubling the
magnet size to provide a greater force factor. A subtle
re-tune has improved bass extension, and improved
subjective attack and power handling is said to match
the superior dynamics of the new midrange unit
better.
Focal’s high sensitivity titanium foil tweeter,
common to many Wilson designs, has a 25mm
inverted dome assembly with a pleated edge, and
is driven near its nodal circle by a low mass 19mm
voice coil. It’s back-loaded using a damped acoustic
line to allow operation to lower frequencies and
suppress the natural moving mass resonance. Run at
relatively low power for its intrinsically high 94dB/W
sensitivity, this tweeter has inherently low distortion
and in my view consistently provides superior
dynamic resolution.
Particular focus is placed on crossover and wiring
factors which affect dynamics. The network is
polymer potted to minimise microphony and damp
vibration in components. Internal cabling is from
Transparent. Sophia 3’s mid-to-treble crossover has
been moved to the inside rear panel, facilitating
access to the fusible protection/attenuation resistors.
Few speakers have such protection, and it could be
argued that it might be better to design without
them, but after you have blown up a few speakers [I
can’t recall blowing up a single speaker in more than
thirty years!- Ed], the ability to repair these Wilsons
quickly takes on its full significance. The thermal
stability of the protection resistors is now enhanced
by bolting them to local heat sinks.
All this effort would be pointless if the supporting
enclosure was not as inert and as massy as possible.
Self-quieting, or resonance control and self-damping
is the key to low cabinet noise, and this enclosure is
made from ‘high’ and ‘very high’ density resin-based
X and S materials with cellulose fibre reinforcement.
Massive interlocking internal braces add control.
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High tensile driver mountings are considered
important and the highest density S panels, 20mm
thick, are used for the driver mounting panels and
the base.
Subtle revisions to geometry and slant angle
have been introduced to align the design axis more
closely to the listening seat, and improve the off-axis
response. Deep felted anti-reflection/-diffraction
treatment has been applied around the mid and
treble drivers.
As before, the bass section is reflex loaded by a
75mm diameter by 210mm long machined-fromsolid aluminium alloy port, 12mm thick, offset on
the rear panel. The mid enclosure is also ported, to
trim its lower roll-off, improve dynamic range, and
equalise low frequency pressures.
Connection is made via heavy duty binding posts,
ideal for spades. The claimed sensitivity is a moderate
87dB per ‘8ohm’ watt, but the loading has a 3.1
ohm minimum (91Hz), so it should be a reasonable
‘4ohm’ load. Though still rather low, its bigger
Sasha W/P brother gives a far lower reading (though
the latter does have 4dB higher sensitivity and is
ultimately capable of higher sound levels).
A 20Hz - 22.5kHz +/-3dB frequency response is
specified (large room average, third octave weighted,
presumably optimally located). With the reflex
4
HFC_Sophia.indd 4
port tuned to below 30Hz, this impressive lower
frequency limit is not implausible. I would rate
the system at up to 250W/channel for unclipped
program power, and maximum in room sound levels
for a pair on music will reach a substantial 106dBA,
suitable for medium and larger rooms of up to 90
cubic metres. The speaker stands 1.1m high on its
spiked feet, is 35cm wide by 48 cm deep, and weighs
a substantial 75kg (165lb).
Sound Quality
Sophia 3’s innate tonal balance and overall response
is similar to Sophia 2, especially in respect of room
placement. Lengthy experiments ended up placing it
just a few inches from the previous model’s location.
From first hearing one is aware that this speaker
has not been designed for a theoretically based,
artificially flattering on-axis frequency response.
Rather, one hears a smooth highly natural acoustic
voiced to allow timbre, perspective and a lively
sense of air to permeate the listening area. The room
acoustic seems to sing along with the speaker, rather
than lag behind with a dulled and coloured facsimile
of the direct sound.
While Sophia 2 showed notably improved
transparency over the original, the new model’s
quite remarkable clarity and transparency has again
leapt ahead. First impressions, even with the rubber
transit wheels in place, were of a dryer, crisper and
faster bass. I really liked Sophia 2’s tuneful bass,
even though it could sound a touch languorous
in some rooms. That quality has been supplanted
by a muscular weight, power and a harder edged
quality that is still more truthful and very rewarding,
especially with complex bass percussion.
While fine speakers should play any material
well, Wilsons are founded on an appreciation of
classical, real world instruments. Grand piano
remains one of the most difficult to reproduce well,
as it’s hugely complex, saturated with highly tuned,
voiced, and consonant harmonics associated with
the power, richness, and astonishing dynamics of
this instrument. Enclosure panel coloration and
unwanted resonance ringing in bass and midrange
cones can quickly destroy the naturalness of piano
reproduction. The Sophia 3 proved outstanding
here, conveying the power, the dynamic expression
and the rich triad timbres very well.
However, it lacked some subjective weight while
on its wheels, and I looked forward to keying it
properly to the floor. It was then that I discovered
that the innate, natural timbre of this speaker hits
the spot to a critical degree, and can readily be
heard to go out of alignment with height variations.
Initially, for convenience, I tried my ‘inverted’
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Avalon stainless steel spikes, and while these ‘tripod’
mounts were reasonably effective mechanically,
they were 1.7in too short, whereas the wheels were
1.5in too high. In fact Wilson’s ‘diode’ conical
spike assemblies are correct, with about two thread
widths exposed from the lock nut location.
The speaker sounded surprisingly spacious and
articulate on its wheels, but sounded too thick and
rich when dumped straight on to the floor. Using
those conical feet, the sound was quite obviously just
right. Finely layered detail fully emerged, while the
noise floor was substantially lowered, revealing deep
transparency and cleaner crisper transient edges. It
was now about as neutral and accurate as you could
wish, monitor class in the true sense of the word,
with low colouration and great consistency on all
kinds of music and sources.
And even the room sounded better too. How
is this done? It seems that because the speaker has
such good off-axis responses, the sound balance and
timbre is nicely maintained in respect of both room
reflections and the overall acoustic. In addition, the
subjective timbre varies surprisingly little with height
and seat position.
Like the still impressive Avalon Diamond, those
warped sounding stereo images which off-axis
listeners initially hear are somehow assimilated to a
degree that impressions of quite good stereo focus
and depth then reappear in the listener’s mind,
regardless of exact listener position.
When central, a listener hears exceptional focus,
with height correctly presented, and clearly layered
depth information. Here the Sophia 3 was clearly
better than the Sophia 2, and familiar recordings
replayed with significantly more detail and air than
before.
Piano remained slightly lightweight in tone,
more Steinway than Bechstein, and with a hint of
midrange colour. But it didn’t ring on or ‘bloom’
significantly, so complex note trains remained very
well differentiated, and one easily acclimatises to the
residual mild colours, allowing the music to flow
freely. The exceptional level of detail, done without
exaggerating any part of the audio spectrum, makes
this speaker musically fleet footed, driving along in
an entertaining and beguiling manner.
Awkward tracks like that whining sax solo, the
doubled rhythm pedal drum beat, the massed strings,
or complex choral forces, are rendered without fuss,
and without tripping up. It just sounds beautifully
even tempered and consistent. High levels of detail
were present throughout the audible frequency
range, and while the speaker’s bass, mid and treble
could be specifically commended, it knits all three
regions together seamlessly.
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HFC_Sophia.indd 5
Higher frequencies reveal an almost shimmering
delicacy and differentiation of cymbals: how they
are struck and even the make of cymbal used. This
sweet clear treble can makes some rivals sound as
if they have grain in their coils and jitter in their
mountings. You are minded to play disc after disc
of CD or vinyl, marvelling at the highly resolved,
layered imaging, and nuances of detail and
harmony not usually heard in this class of speaker.
A mark of greatness is its ability to play quietly and
leave little wanting, yet deliver high levels without
hardness or fatigue.
As we subsequently discovered, subjective
errors were invariably traced back to the system
components and the recordings, and the speakers
effortlessly differentiated between the non-e and the
brand new e versions of the two Krell 402s reviewed
in Vol4 No2.
The full measure of its exceptional dynamic
expression, image depth and micro detail is
achieved by detaching the admittedly very well
designed (and easily installed) grilles. On a top
flight system the musical qualities which matter are
now fully described. While not a superfast rocker
– when compared with the fully active, group delay
compensated Meridian DSP 7200, for example, the
Sophia 3 is audibly slower on its feet – but it still
remains very good in its class, and delivers upbeat
pace of sufficiently high quality that one quickly
adjusts.
When the system is properly set up, the
final stage of levelling and locking the feet has a
remarkable effect, somehow pinning it all together.
Dynamics and focus are maximised, while the bass
gains edge definition, tunefulness and speed. It is at
this point that you begin to realise just how good
this loudspeaker really is: that it’s quite capable of
measuring the £50,000 system which is driving it,
even when that system is made up from some of the
finest audio components available in their sectors
today.
On massive cathedral organ material it sounded
rather like Wilson’s much larger and more costly
MAXX3, almost as extended in the low bass but
understandably operating on a smaller scale,
working a few dB down the volume range.
Rewarding and near silent bass pressure tones right
down to 25Hz were apparent, loud enough to be
heard and very welcome on appropriate material.
The impedance loading seemed about average and
even 80W/ch integrated amplifiers showed promise,
this speaker tending to sound a little louder than
the 87dB/W specification suggests. I suspect that
some more powerful valve power amplifiers would
drive it too.
The System
Krell Evolution 402e power
amp driven from XTC Pre II,
Audio Research Reference 5,
Audio Note M9 Phono and
Naim Superline/SUPERCAP
pre-amps. Cartridges
included a Koetsu Urushi
Vermillion and an Audio
Note Io Gold, in Naim ARO
tone arms mounted on a
Linn LP12 Radikal/Keel
player on Finite Elemente
Pagode stands. CD replay
used a recently overhauled
Naim CDS3, which sounded
nicely freshened up. Cables
were from Yter, Cardas and
Transparent.
5
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Lab Results
Wilson Audio speakers have given increasingly
consistent sound and measurement results over
the years, with particular emphasis on the seamless
gluing together of the driver outputs, and the
output from bass ports. In particular, the panoply
of off axis responses are now carefully tailored
so that the side wall, ceiling and floor reflections
have a timbre which is largely consonant with the
main listener directed response axis. The tapered
upper section and the backward tilt are important
ingredients in the design story.
This could be Wilson Audio’s best so far, at
least as far as measurements in my listening room
are concerned. The room averaged response is
astonishingly consistent, +1/-1.5dB (third octave
averaged) from 50Hz to 4kHz and +/-4dB, 20Hz
to 8kHz, with the usual expected roll-off towards
higher frequencies due to the finite treble driver
diameter. The overall response is extremely even and
well balanced, in my view backing my contention
that when room matched this design is of monitor
accuracy – that is it may be used to judge absolute
program quality.
I found the sensitivity a little better than specified,
reading 87.5dB/W, probably due to the differential
spacing of the slanted front panel, which pushes the
drivers farther from the measuring locus for near
measurement. The unweighted listening axis response
measured a fine +/-3dB 31Hz to 16kHz, with that
characteristic Focal moderate Q treble peak to +7db
at 19.3kHz, at the edge of audibility. (A number of
listeners did not find this on-axis feature significant,
and in practice it merges well into the set of offaxis responses and the overall power response.) The
tweeter extends nominally to 22kHz and then falls
away rapidly to -20dB by 30kHz. (Many alternative
metal tweeters have high Q responses, eg peaking up
to +15dB at 25kHz.)
The crossover works very well, as confirmed
by the consistency of the above- and below-axis
responses, while in the important lateral plane the
DISTORTION HARMONICS WITH LEVEL AND FREQUENCY
Frequency Hz
25
25
40
40
100
250
250
1k
1k
3k
6k
12k
12k
6
HFC_Sophia.indd 6
Sound level: 1m
90
105
105
90
90
90
96
86
90
90
90
80
90
2 rd harmonic %
1.5
15.5
11
0.35
0.1
0.08
0.54
0.12
0.23
0.09
0.08
0.03
0.31
3rd harmonic %
0.6
11
9
0.13
0.1
0.013
0.06
0.03
0.08
0.02
0.03
0.01
0.02
Other harmonics %
0.3
N/A
N/A
0.3 , 4th
0.05
0.02
<<0.04
<0.02
<0.03
<0.02
<0.02
<0.015
<0.04
speaker is impressively uniform in response at 30,
45, and even at 60 degrees off axis it is still essentially
flat to 9kHz. This is the foundation for that great
uniformity of sound quality we heard on audition.
The crossover frequencies at 250Hz and 1.5kHz
had very well tailored 12dB/octave slopes, nicely
extended over several octaves, and at low frequencies
the room-loaded practical 23Hz limit is well
extended by any standards. No stray upper frequency
resonant modes were present in the port output.
The waterfall graphic analysis for energy decay
with frequency reveals an impressive performance.
A near linear phase, time delay adjusted response
was seen, with good time coherence and with clean
transients indicated by fine early energy clearing.
Some later residual is visible in the lower treble,
probably emanating from the upper range of
the mid driver, and that moderate 19kHz treble
peak is clearly shown ringing on somewhat. I also
carried out the waterfall response with the grilles
in place, and while it was still a good result, careful
comparison showed greater complexity and slower
transient clearing with the grilles on, in my view
matching the listening experience.
This speaker has twice the minimum impedance
of the Sasha W/P, implying, within its power
rating, less than half the peak current demand,
which is good news for speaker cables, terminals
and amplifiers. The lowest value is 3.1ohms, but
at around 7ohms over most of audio range it’s an
average load overall, and an ‘official’ 4ohm rating.
The port tuning can be seen at a low 24Hz, while
the variation at low frequencies is moderate, and no
odd glitches can be seen which would reveal stray
resonances from either enclosure or driver. Phase
angles are low, helping make the upper frequency
range sound particularly consistent for different
amplification.
With the grilles on there is a very small measured
difference, and less than 0.25dB average treble
attenuation, though physically they add additional
suspended masses to the assembly. The very hard and
rigid enclosure itself has a very low vibration readout,
and is a notably low coloration example of the art.
Distortion is very low indeed. The spot figures
shown in the table are nicely representative, and
may be seen to be more akin to an amplifier than a
loudspeaker, particularly in that timbre-influencing
third harmonic. Is this low distortion responsible for
the sweet silky sound that follows in the footsteps
of Quad’s ESL63 electrostatic? The third harmonic
results are simply outstanding, averaging 0.04%
overall, while second harmonic is also consistently
low, averaging 0.1% from 100Hz upwards at
medium powers. Sure, distortion will rise to more
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normal figures when belted at low frequencies, but
even here it is very well behaved, and could take
100W sinewaves down to 24Hz without significant
limiting or knocking.
I tried out the ‘micro-tuning’ installation
adjustments available via the crossover patch bay
terminals, and found it possible to make subtle
but useful changes, for example up to 1.5dB over
the broad midrange, 200Hz - 2kHz. In my room I
preferred about 0.62dB of midrange lift, noting that
I generally operated with the grilles detached. This
may be obtained by substituting a nominal 4.7ohm
resistor for the standard 5.9ohm. Dropping the
treble resistor from 6ohm to 3.9ohm gets 1dB more
output and pro rata.
Conclusions
Sophia 3’s sound quality is very like the 2, yet subtly
and beneficially enhanced in almost every respect.
Nevertheless, it’s perhaps debatable whether an
existing Sophia 2 owner should go through the costly
upgrade process. For a new purchaser there is no
debate: for its class, Sophia 3 significantly improves
Wilson Audio Sophia 3 Frequency Response
on the previous standard of excellence. And anyone
contemplating a Sasha W/P, but for anyone not
requiring the greater power and dynamic headroom,
or operating in a modest size environment, the
Sophia 3 may well be the better bet.
An important aspect of its achievement is the
degree of subtlety, of smoothness, of uniformity
and consistent timbre, all rendered with very
good dynamics plus truly exceptional image depth
and transparency. Add in the very wide in-room
frequency response, the genuinely deep bass, and the
more than acceptable amplifier loading with average
sensitivity; include the very low distortion and
consequent low listener fatigue, together with high
power handling and substantial maximum sound
levels, and you clearly have a winner.
The fine appearance, superb finish and build, the
factory specified home installation and the microtuned frequency response option all add to the value
of the package. This speaker makes good friends of
its listeners. It competes very well with many great
loudspeaker systems from £15,000 to £30,000, and
is therefore highly recommended.
Wilson Audio Sophia 3 Waterfall Display for
Energy Decay with Time and Frequency
HIFICRITIC LOUDSPEAKER RESULTS
Wilson Audio Sophia 3 Impedance and Phase of
Impedance (dashed) Minimum 3,2Ohms, average loading
HIFICRITIC JULY | AUG | SEPT 2010
HFC_Sophia.indd 7
Make
Wilson Audio
___________________________________________________________________________
Model
Sophia 3
___________________________________________________________________________
Finishes
Wilson Gloss piano grade lacquer in Dark Titanium,
Diamond Black, Mercedes Silver, Desert Silver, Sebring Blue,
Grigio Titanio, or Coral Green. Others to order.
___________________________________________________________________________
Type
Three driver, three-way, reflex loaded bass
___________________________________________________________________________
Sensitivity for 2.83V
87.5dB measured
___________________________________________________________________________
Amplifier
loading
5ohms typical, 3.1ohm min: Average load factor
___________________________________________________________________________
Frequency response, axial
28Hz to 21kHz +/-3.5dB, (listener axis): ‘Very Good’
___________________________________________________________________________
Frequency
Response, off-axis Excellent power response, see graphs and room response
___________________________________________________________________________
Bass extension
26Hz for -6dB; 23Hz in-room: ‘Very Good’
___________________________________________________________________________
Max
Loudness, in room
109dBA for a stereo pair, 80m3 room
___________________________________________________________________________
Power rating, (max, min)
30 to 200W music program
___________________________________________________________________________
Placement, floor standing,
Spike coupled, near free space location, note mid and
adjustment
treble fine tune option.
___________________________________________________________________________
Size (WxHxD)
35 x 110 x 48cm
___________________________________________________________________________
Weight
75kg (165lb)
___________________________________________________________________________
Price
£16,990 (inc. installation)
7
14/9/10 21:56:26
Subjective Sounds
PAUL MESSENGER
HIFICRITIC
AUDIO AND MUSIC JOURNAL
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8
HFC_Sophia.indd 8
E
ven though I still feel occasional twinges of guilt over my role in publishing
the first English language article on the sound of connecting cables (by Jean
Hiraga, Hi-Fi News, late 1970s), I’ve never really done much switching and
swapping of cables myself.
That’s partly because the Naim components I mostly use have unconventional
connection socketry and protocols that don’t easily lend themselves to alternatives.
But it’s also down to a certain cynicism and scepticism on my part. Although I’ve
tried a number of different speaker cables over the years, some of them with very
extravagant pricetags, all too often they’ve proved disappointing, and sometimes
downright misleading. Furthermore, I generally try to avoid changing my system,
as that’s liable to interfere with my judgements on loudspeakers.
To the best of my increasingly fragile memory, I’ve only regularly used three
loudspeaker cables over more than 20 years. Naim’s own NACA5 is a solid
performer, and exceptional value for money. Put a zero onto the end of NACA5’s
pricetag and you’ll find both the current incumbents. The Chord Company’s
Signature has a similarly muscular character but a sweeter delivery, while Vertex
AQ’s Moncayo with its special damping blocks seems to enhance dynamic range
and is the current favourite.
Or it was until Vertex AQ sent me its latest top-of-the-line HiRez Moncayo
speaker cable. I’d reckoned that £1,500 was quite enough to spend on a 5m stereo
speaker cable pair, having remained unimpressed when trying several much more
costly examples. However, it only took a few seconds to realise that this new cable
offered such a dramatic improvement in sound quality over the standard Moncayo
that I was somehow going to have to get hold of a set.
I therefore struggled to suppress a shudder when told that a 2x5m terminated
run of the new cable cost £10,800. Plenty of cables cost much more than that, of
course. But I’ve not heard most of them, and have no reason to believe they’re any
better than this new Vertex AQ cable, which certainly does the business, and has a
rather more convincing rationale than most I’ve encountered.
Compared to the regular copper Moncayo, voices sounded much sweeter, more
coherent and natural. Stereo imaging is substantially improved in every respect,
with less impression of boxiness, much tighter central focus, and much more
convincing depth perspectives. Most important of all, the ‘hash floor’ seemed to
have dropped quite dramatically, giving a much wider ‘real world’ dynamic range.
Tonally it sounds a little bright, but not uncomfortably so, while time coherence
– and hence the freedom from ‘time-smear’ – is also significantly improved.
The game-breaker came with the new B&W 800 Diamond (reviewed elsewhere
in this issue). I have enormous respect for this speaker, but its exceptionally
revealing nature can become a little uncomfortable at times. Rather it could
become uncomfortable until I replaced the regular Moncayo cables with the HiRez
versions, whereupon the improved coherence, imaging and dynamic range of both
speakers and cables were very clearly revealed. Furthermore, it became much easier
to hear differences between source and amplification components.
The reasons for the superior performance are several. Each HiRez cable uses six
silver Teflon-insulated solid core conductors and two HiRez acoustic absorption
labyrinths per channel, but perhaps the most important innovations are the
multiple (and largely unrevealed) techniques that the cable uses to suppress
electromagnetic and radio frequency interference (EMI and RFI).
However the trick is done, it’s remarkably effective, so I’m going to have to start
saving up. I’m sure I’ll get a good discount from Vertex AQ, but journalists are
suffering financially in this internet dominated world. I just hope I won’t have to
ask my son to postpone his wedding plans…
HIFICRITIC JULY | AUG | SEPT 2010
14/9/10 21:56:43
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