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Reviewer: Nicholas Bedworth
Financial Interests: click here
Source components: Weiss Engineering DAC 202 digital-analogue converter; Bel Canto 1.5 digital-analogue converter; Toshiba Qosmio laptop; Seagate 1.5 TB USB hard drive; Audiophilleo1 USB-S/PDIF converter
Amplifiers: Odyssey Kismet monos
Cables: AudioQuest Wild Wood single bi-wire speaker cables, AudioQuest Sky analogue line interconnects; Weiss Engineering Chiron, WireWorld Platinum Starlight, AudioQuest Eagle Eye, AudioQuest Raven S/PDIF and AES/EBU digital interconnects; WireWorld Starlight, AudioQuest Carbon USB cables; AudioQuest NRG-10, NRG-100, Audio Magic Clairvoyant Liquid Air power cables
Accessories: WireWorld Cable The Matrix power distribution block; Audio Magic Oracle power conditioner with liquid conductors
Room: 18’ deep, 12’ wide, 9’ to 11’ ceilings
Price as reviewed: $27,900 plus tax and shipping.

: Ed Kramer’s system down under in the Land of Oz and mine here on Maui have little in common barring the Sashas. We live on opposite sides of the equator symmetrically arranged around the International Date Line, a positioning that alludes to the dichotomy of our respective approaches to high-end sound. Given the inherent differences in our strategies and kit, putting our heads together for this review might have presented a few challenges given that his house is only 5071 miles or 8161km away. But it turned out easier than we thought. And given the truly vast dimensions of the Pacific we’re practically neighbors.

His spacious open-plan listening room is somewhat wider and longer than mine and has a fair amount of furniture. From certain angles mine looks more like a basketball court. It’s mainly empty with high asymmetrical sloping ceilings and completely devoted to listening. My real living room is a big aviary on the back of the house overlooking a sylvan glade complete with luxuriant vegetation, raging torrents, waterfalls and pools. Ed lives in Sydney in a relatively civilized area. Having more horses than people, my neighborhood on Maui is most definitely rural and reliable electrical power is something of a work in progress still.

The complement of gear in my system is intentionally minimal and exclusively solid-state front to back. A Weiss DAC 202 drives Odyssey Kismet monos directly through AudioQuest Sky analogue interconnects. The amps in turn power the Sashas through AudioQuest Wild Wood 'singled' biwire cables. The relatively high-powered (600w+ into 2Ω) and high-current (120A peak) Kismets are just about perfectly matched to the very low-impedance higher sensitivity Sasha. All my tunes are standard or high-resolution WAV, FLAC and WMA lossless files which live on a 1.5TB Seagate USB hard drive (just $89.95 from Costco) connected to a Toshiba Qosmio laptop. From there a completely ordinary i.e. cheap 5 meter USB cable drives the versatile Audiophilleo1 USB-to-S/PDIF converter/preamplifier which in turn plugs directly into the Weiss DAC 202 without a digital cable.

Despite the fact that this all-transistor system—no CD transport or preamplifier—removes layers of analogue and digital interconnects, the remaining cables still consume roughly 40% of the total budget. That's rather high. The reason for this skewed ratio is simple and empirical. Even at relatively modest price points, some of today’s high-value speakers and electronics readily reveal any underlying coloration or other distortions in the wiring loom. Finding cables as transparent as the rest of such a system isn’t easy. Those meeting the grade come from the upper echelons of most cable brands. Even with good but not great cabling the amps and speakers seem restricted, compressed and colored. It’s not hard to hear this. These issues apply to every second of sound from the speakers. There’s nothing to get rid of it. Fortunately a minimalist signal chain frees up money towards superior cabling, a better DAC, amp or speakers. In my view this is an entirely virtuous cycle that delivers excellent performance for the dollar.

Even though Ed's and my approach to living with our Sashas are about as different as could be, both deliver excellent results. That’s remarkable. Does the Coriolis Effect cause audio enthusiasts to inherently rotate in opposite directions? Our experiences and observations should go a long ways towards demonstrating that all-analogue and all-digital systems can deliver the goods each in their own special ways.

Getting to know you: My vicarious interest in Wilson speakers grew over the years starting with noticing probably on some magazine cover 10 years ago the possibly onomatopoetic WAMM with its truly bizarre industrial design and extraterrestrial (if you have to ask) pricing. The tower of boxes motif so prominent in the WAMM continues even to this day although fortunately in a much more refined and evolved form. This is embodied by Wilson’s current MAXX 3 and Alexandria X2. Today’s Wilson Sasha W/P only superficially resembles their long-running success story and cash cow—the WATT/Puppy series—which sold thousands of pairs during its eight incarnations. At a glance one sees how the angular but also graceful and softly beveled aesthetic of the Sasha differs considerably and beneficially from that of the sharp-edged mini Darth Vader, the WATT/Puppy. To my eye the Sasha is by far the most attractive Wilson speaker regardless of cost and—for me—is a radically more agreeable long-term companion in the listening room than the much larger MAXX and Alexandria or the smaller Sophia. And of course Sasha as the diminutive of Alexander or Alexandra suggests a familial relationship which is quite real from the driver technology perspective.

In my opinion choice of color for large speakers is important. In my case the deep bright 'upgrade' Imola red and rich blacks of the Sasha go very well with the rest of my main listening room and general environment. And of course marketing mavens will observe that using Imola—a geographic place name—allows Wilson to bathe in the Ferrari halo without paying royalties. For me metallic paint of any hue is simply out of the question. Could one countenance a metal-flake Guarneri regardless of how well she sings? Ditto vegetable, nut and fruit-themed colors, especially eggplant aka aubergine let alone macadamia (a local agricultural commodity) or 1960-appliance avocado. For me only fire-engine red works. In this garb the Sasha seems more organic (this is Maui after all), less precious and more natural.

A couple of weeks after transferring funds and thus committing irrevocably to a color picked from a sample book (perhaps the audio equivalent of a picture book bride), it was a bit disconcerting to see at a local dealer just how small and rather modest the black or silver Sasha looked in the company of the big-brother Wilsons. Would red look better? It’s all a question of context of course. When the bass cabinets rolled out of their wooden packing crates a couple of months later, it was clear that they would look very good indeed in my moderately sized but high-ceiling'd space.

One thing surprised me, namely how easy it was to get them set up. After a 6’10” mover and his diminutive helper brought the shipping cases up the steps and into the house, it turned out that one not very strong but careful person equipped with a low-speed high-torque electric drill can zip open the crates and effect the initial assembly of the speakers in an hour. Of course one has to work slowly and methodically despite the air of excitement as the newest household deity is installed in the Temple of Sonic Existence. The very large casters under the bass modules allow them to roll the roughly 175lb/80kg mass across wood floors or fairly soft carpet without any difficulty at all.

Even with a helper from the dealership in tow, vigilance is essential when getting familiar with the Sashas. It would be tragic if a blue jean rivet, wedding ring or Rolex bracelet came in contact with the strongly outgassing and still rather soft paint. Similarly one needs to hold any tools with great care and banish all non-essential life forms and potentially animate objects (cables, amps, chairs) to a considerable distance. Attaching the top tweeter and midrange module with its rather lethal-looking pitch-adjusting spike to the bass cabinets was certainly nerve wracking. Putting the tops on is one situation where an extra pair of hands would be quite helpful. But with a little experience the manoeuvre is easy enough although precise movements are required. Fortunately the tops are not very heavy nor particularly large and their shape does offer some good places to grip.

The plastic frisking must come off fairly quickly according to placards on it, say within a day or two. Removing this protective cling film is actually quite difficult. It can easily take a couple of hours including breaks during which one admires the emerging beauty of the polished surfaces while also evolving new strategies and tactics for removing the rest. Keep in mind that firstly, the edges of the film are in many places almost impossible to discern. Secondly, how is one supposed to get it started and what with? Instructions are rather vague. The defrisking festivities would be immeasurably easier if pull tabs like those on the edges of a legal brief were applied to key edges. Numbering them to suggest the best sequence for removing the sheets of film would be better yet. No wonder an installer is normally sent out along with the speakers. This task is the most vexing part of the installation. In anticipation of a long conditioning period—which was in fact very long, hundreds of hours—the casters stayed on for several weeks. The sound evolved considerably during this time and putting down spikes before the end of break-in would seem ill advised.