I must admit that I didn’t use to be a huge fan of Wilson speakers. I must also admit that saying this is an awkward way to begin a review of a Wilson speaker. But a positive review from a nay-sayer turned aficionado speaks volumes about that product’s performance and capabilities. So, let us, together, go on a journey of discovery and realization.
David Wilson is rightfully considered one of the fathers of the high-end audio industry. He built a speaker-manufacturing empire and one of the most recognizable brand names in the business. When the world lost David, his son Daryl stepped in to shoulder the weight of what Wilson Audio had become. Daryl took the wheel of the Wilson engine and, while always respecting where he and his company came from, chose to move forward with his own vision of what Wilson Audio should be and where it needed to go next. Part of that new vision is a maturation of the Wilson sonic signature, one that better represents Daryl, rather than David; yet, my intuition tells me that the path Daryl started on was initially paved by David’s WAMM Master Chronosonic.
Now, with the “from the mind of” Daryl Wilson’s Alexx, Alexia2, Sasha DAW, Chronosonic XVX, SabrinaX, and just-released Alexx-V, it is clear that Wilson Audio is, indisputably, a Daryl Wilson corporation. And without showing any disrespect to David Wilson’s accomplishments or skill as a speaker designer, my tastes definitely lean toward the flavor of Daryl’s designs.
I bring this up because I speak to seasoned audiophiles every day, who say that they “never liked Wilson speakers,” and subsequently have essentially written the brand off—going so far as skipping Wilson rooms at audio shows, not listening to them at stores, and even speaking poorly of the brand in audiophile circles.…Ummm, ok.
Let me take a moment out of your friendly neighborhood review for an audiophile public service announcement: To audiophiles everywhere, many of the products from more seasoned manufacturers, which previously had reputations of sounding a specific way, no longer do. Forget your preconceived notions based on a demo from a decade or more back, or what a friend once told you about a brand. In fact, try an olive or mango again. You may find you now like them, as well.
OK. I feel better. I hope you do, too. Now, let us talk about the Little Engine that Could.
The SabrinaX is essentially an audiophile speaker built for a very specific purpose. Unlike more costly floorstanding Wilson speakers, the $18,900 per-pair SabrinaX is not designed to sound the best that it can for a given price. What I mean by this is that someone purchasing an Yvette (Wilson’s next-up model) will be getting a full-range, 20Hz-to-25kHz transducer. Aesthetic considerations aside, with the immense adjustability that Wilson speakers offer, a room that can handle an Yvette can also handle an XVX; your speaker choice is based on budget and aesthetics. But the SabrinaX is purposely designed and built with limitations. It is smaller than the Yvette and extends down to “only” 31Hz. Why?
During the design process, a good engineer will forego some aspects of performance rather than execute them at a substandard level. In other words, Daryl Wilson and his design team choose not to compromise in any way. The SabrinaX is purpose built to perform in a smaller room, be that a city apartment or a den in a house in the suburbs. It is also designed at a certain price point. I have no doubt that the folks on the Wilson team could have come up with a sub-$20k speaker that reached down to the mid or low 20Hz range, but they didn’t. They didn’t because the performance in that range would not have been up to Wilson Audio standards. So, they didn’t because they shouldn’t. Plus, a smaller speaker can be played louder and sound better in a restricted environment (like a city apartment), if it doesn’t reach as low. The SabrinaX was designed and built to do what it does in the absolute best way Wilson Audio can think of, in the environment it was designed to do it in. According to Daryl these speakers were intended “for those who love music and for whom physical space is at a premium. For those that have come to expect a deeper emotional connection with their favorite songs while listening to their systems. And for those that love simplicity in form and are not willing to compromise in performance.”
The SabrinaX is truly standing on the shoulders of giants. The entire external cabinet is fabricated from Wilson Audio’s X-Material, as opposed to only the front baffle and lower spike-plate of the previous-generation Sabrina. The composite X-Material, with fabrication tolerances within 4/1000ths of an inch, combines near science-defying damping with equally low resonances and extreme rigidity, resulting in true tonal purity and pitch-black backgrounds. Cabinet-resonance analysis using a laser-vibrometer has led to improvements in bracing, which result in better low-frequency detail. The Convergent Synergy Mk V tweeter is the same one used in the WAMM and Chronosonic XVX, and the 8″ driver is the same one used in the Sasha DAW. The 5¾” midrange driver epitomizes the driver-design and fabrication techniques Wilson Audio is known for, and implements new principles, which we will see more of as the company moves forward with its new speaker lines. The slotted midrange vent port in the back of the SabrinaX represents the new port technology implemented in the XVX, and the machined aluminum bass port, designed to reduce turbulence, was initially implemented in the Alexia2. The SabrinaX uses the new Wilson binding posts introduced on the Sasha DAW, as well as the XVX spike/diode assembly. Wilson’s in-house capacitor-production team developed completely custom AudioCapX-WA, multi-section capacitors for the SabrinaX, first used in the Chronosonic XVX, to help with low-level resolution and provide a cleaner signal path. Transparent Cable is used internally, and a specific strand and twist count is utilized to maintain precise inductance. Large spike diodes and heavy spikes help to improve overall vibration drainage. The SabrinaX is, in so many ways, a scaled-down, single-cabinet baby brother to the XVX. Time alignment is adjusted by correcting rear-spike height relative to the front, to properly align the front baffle to the listener’s seating distance and ear height. I can’t even really define this as “trickle-down” technology because it is not. It is actually the same technology, the same drivers, the same custom parts, and the same chassis materials designed into a smaller, more affordable speaker of less complexity, built to limit, in a controlled way, what it can’t do, yet not to compromise anything that it can do. It’s the speaker version of the Porsche Cayman GT4RS, but the SabrinaX has a stiffer suspension.
Aesthetically, the relatively diminutive SabrinaX fits into most environments. As Daryl explains, “the form must be visually fluid, scientifically precise, faithful to the source, and emotionally engaging.” The gentle angular cabinet remains soft and subtle visually, and its footprint and overall size make it tolerable in any socially frequented room. With the color options available for cabinet and grille, I have no doubt that most buyers and their spouses can find a happy solution. At around 40″ tall with spikes, and only 12″ wide, the speaker sits neatly without calling attention to itself. Unless, of course, you ask for the spectacular Gallardo Yellow Metallic finish I received. Keep in mind the SabrinaX’s weigh 112 pounds each; so, be happy that it is the responsibility of the dealer to get them into your room and properly set them up.
Let us discuss setup and equipment matching a bit before we turn to the SabrinaX’s sonic attributes. The speaker has an 87dB sensitivity and a 4-ohm nominal impedance, with a minimum of 2.6 ohms. My Naim Uniti Star all-in-one (70Wpc into 8 ohms, not specified but probably around 110Wpc into 4 ohms) ran the SabrinaX without issue. From a power standpoint, the Wilsons never sounded starved or fell apart, even at loud listening levels. Yet, when I shifted to the Dartzeel CTH-8550 mk2 integrated (what a combo!), with its 200Wpc into 8 ohms and 330Wpc into 4 ohms, the speakers came alive! As much as the quality of the Dartzeel’s sonics obviously had to do with that, the SabrinaX’s thrived on the added power and control. Needless to say, the SabrinaX exploded with life and dynamics when driven by my reference Pilium Achilles stereo amp with its 600Wpc into 4 ohms. My point is simply that the SabrinaX can certainly provide the goods if matched to an affordable mid-power integrated. But to really let it show what it can do, you will need to feed it with higher-power and -quality equipment upstream; it will scale up with mesmerizing results.
I am learning this to be the case with Wilson speakers in general, even the higher-sensitivity models. They seem to like power and demand quality to deliver the signature Wilson performance. What comes upstream will significantly affect what comes downstream. They are not forgiving.
Speaking of not being forgiving, Dave Wilson went to great lengths to educate his dealer network about proper speaker setup. So much so that the dealers are contractually obligated by Wilson to set up every pair of speakers sold using the special Wilson Audio Setup Procedure (W.A.S.P.). Chris Forman of Innovative Audio came over to do just that for the SabrinaX in my listening room. Wilson speakers, especially the multi-component models, simply demand proper setup. They just don’t sound close to their best without the effort being put in; in fact, they can sound downright wrong. I believe this to be another contributing factor in the “I don’t like Wilson” phenomenon I mentioned earlier. I could go on and on about this. To be blunt and succinct, if you buy Wilson speakers or even just listen to Wilson speakers, be aware you are just not getting close to what they can really get without feeding them power and quality, and having them meticulously and properly set up. The results may very well blow your mind, so spend the time and money to do it right.
Although a review of the SabrinaX requires that I discuss its lineage, materials, and fabrication, I want to talk about how it sounds. This speaker is not just a taste of higher Wilson models; it is everything the higher models are, but in a smaller enclosure adapted to suit the space it will occupy. High-frequency extension is simply open and complete. It’s not lightning fast; it’s not overly airy; it’s not hyper-detailed. It is gentle and refined, poised at low volumes, and ready to pounce when called upon. It was everything I wanted, and nothing I didn’t. The midrange was round and luscious, full-bodied and generous, without ever becoming voluptuous. The new sound of Wilson is warm, but not in a bad way. Think warm as a result of energy—like molecules being excited, not like sitting by a fireplace drinking scotch on the rocks with a blanket over your legs. The SabrinaX’s ability to convey weight and impact, with surprising power and depth, is wonderful for its size. But I will warn that ¼” movements in placement have dramatic effects on these qualities, and on timbre, as well, harkening back to my set-up warnings above. These things demand meticulous placement, but, boy, do they deliver when everything’s done right. I found that the SabrinaX played all genres of music well, without softening, cleaning, or warming anything up. It was quiet and nuanced, but bold and powerful when called upon. At the same time, it also allowed me to resolve the smallest details and easily identify upstream changes. I was constantly searching for new music, different music than my routine listening lists. And listened to it not just for a song or two, but for entire albums. I have to specifically highlight vocal transitions as exceptional, and the driver integration left this 3-way sounding like a 2-way bookshelf speaker. Cohesive and seamless. And with proper power, it can play loud without losing its composure.
“Barley,” from Lizz Wright’s Grace, has a percussion track that reaches both high and low at a contrasting pace, wonderfully mating with twangy guitar and Wright’s deep sultry voice. Yet, her vocals also offer breathy overtones of higher frequencies. There is on this song a complex auditory dance occurring that the SabrinaX handled beautifully. Wright’s position in three-dimensional space in relation to the drums, bass, and guitar was organic and lifelike. The bass guitar, while lacking the absolute visceral impact that the Sasha DAW and Alexia2 generate, presented all the low-frequency undertones and depth that emotionally engage. Wright’s voice was thick yet demure, with hints of that breathy soul she is known for. The midrange/tweeter combo seems to almost exude the music like a scent as opposed to projecting it via moving parts.
Sting’s “Moon Over Bourbon Street” from his Live in Berlin album is another track that let the SabrinaX shine. Sting’s voice was presented with life and dynamics, while the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra played a duet that was more co-star than supporting cast. The orchestration creates a perfect sense of wonder, startling tension, and supernatural strength that so suits the song. The SabrinaX was articulate, had timbral complexity to properly convey the aural experience, and offered almost horn-speaker speed, life, and dynamics. The time-aligned Wilson design also offered spectacular imaging and stage depth. Of course, it lacked the gravitas of Wilson’s bigger offerings, but on its own it offers every bit of what Wilson does so well and sacrifices only what it intended to.
I want to dedicate a separate paragraph to the SabrinaX’s bass performance. Not because of what it can’t do, but because of what it can. There is nothing missing that is not a result of intentional technical and physical limitations. Low-frequency extension to 31Hz (-3dB, average room response) will give you all the music and extension you want, especially in a smallish room. Bass is deep, textured, and taut. The added bracing and X-Material implementation give great low-frequency detail, and the 8″ woofer used in the DAW provides lightning-fast low-frequency transients. Bass blooms beautifully, like a fresh orchid, but never overwhelms the room (as long as the speaker is set up properly).
The transition between the midbass and the lower midrange was seamless and articulate. The SabrinaX always gave a realistic rendering of both stage and instrument in the lower registers and never left me wanting. “Norbu,” from the Himalaya, the Rearing of a Chief soundtrack, is a magical sculpting of Tibetan percussion, plucking, and prayer that offers a large drum presence, which truly tests the power of your speakers’ bass reproduction. The wonderful textures and tones were all there, naturally presented and extending down, but, again, visceral impact was somewhat sacrificed. The SabrinaX’s biggest drawback is the family it comes from, and what I know SabrinaX’s bigger siblings are capable of.
The SabrinaX is a mature speaker. It knows what it needs to do and just gets the job done, without apology for the few things it doesn’t do—the speaker equivalent of John Wick; just don’t keep any pencils lying near it. It has the ability to scale and portray space typically encountered in much larger speakers. Image specificity and separation are realistic, with air and presence around and between performers. This is normally expected of a speaker in this price range, but the SabrinaX does it with greater realism than I was expecting. In fact, the term “reality” was all over my notepad. The presence of performers reminded me of my experience with the XVX at Innovative, which I reported about in my blog on the TAS website—real and engaging with no sign of artifact. I will admit that the SabrinaX gave more of a sense of “they are here,” while the larger speakers presence and size does a better job of “you are there.” The stage had wonderful depth, width beyond the speakers’ lateral edges, and height above the 40″ top of the enclosure; staging was mostly behind the speaker. Micro- and macro-details are something one would expect more from beryllium or ribbon tweeters; yet, Wilson’s soft dome delivers the goods without harshness or loss of extension. Leading and trailing edges were fast and dynamic, harmonics were layered and involving, and the speaker offered a sense of inner resolution that, again, reminded me of a much more expensive transducer.
The SabrinaX is fast, but Bentley Turbo fast, not McLaren Speedtail fast. Overall, there is a sense of luxury and finesse that exudes Wilson lineage and genetics. As mentioned, the SabrinaX thrives on power and quality equipment. The more and better the power I fed it, the better and more impressive it became. This is an apartment or office speaker you could connect to a $6k all-in-one or $80k separates. I completed my review period feeling like I had finished a fantastic meal at a fine restaurant in the city, with just the right matching wine and after-dinner adult beverage—absolutely satisfied with that happy glow of time and money well spent, and a bit intoxicated by the experience.
To be honest, I’m having a hard time seeing Yvette’s place in the Wilson lineup. Other than low-frequency extension, I believe the SabrinaX is both sonically and technologically the superior performer. If you want the extra bass extension and can afford it, go listen to the Sasha DAW; it’s the logical next step up. But if you don’t fancy frequencies below 30Hz, or are looking for a small-room or city-apartment solution, then get your ears on a pair of SabrinaX’s. Is it perfect? No. If you have limitations in placement or limitations in powering equipment, there might be better options. And the SabrinaX may reveal inadequacies upstream that need correction; so, they may cost you more than just the price of admission.
As an aside (or another aside), Wilson speakers are built in the good ol’ U.S. of A., by people who have worked for Wilson Audio for decades in some cases. The cabinet makers, painters, and technicians who finely craft the Alexx, XVX, and WAMM are the same people who build the SabrinaX and TuneTot. The same people make everything. There is not a special team to build Wilson’s exotic product. As a result, everything is fabricated with the same fanatical level of quality and craftsmanship. “Our approach,” says Daryl, “is best summed up as ‘Excellence in All Things.’ This path usually has steep elevation changes and the best views.”
The Wilson sound in general has become big and bold, yet natural and refined, mind-numbingly dynamic, but gentle and complex. The sound is alive and real, no longer overly analytical and resolving. Wilson has retained the best of what Wilson was and transformed it into the best of what it needed to become. As Daryl describes it, “the original Sabrina provided a wonderful platform of stability and musicality that allowed the refinement process to go deeper than originally anticipated. By incorporating what we’ve learned in the last 5 years, since the launch of the original Sabrina, we have been able to increase the performance envelope in almost every sonic category: lower noise floor, more articulate LF, midrange clarity, HF detail, soundstage accuracy, and micro-detail.” I could not agree more. The SabrinaX is a juggernaut in its price class, and absolutely most highly recommended!
Specs & Pricing
Type: Three-way floorstanding loudspeaker
Drivers: 8″ paper-pulp woofer, 5¾” paper-pulp midrange, 1″ silk-fabric tweeter
Enclosure type: Rear-ported
Sensitivity: 87dB @ 1W/1m/1kHz Nominal impedance: 4 ohms/2.6 ohms minimum @ 135Hz
Frequency response: 31Hz–23kHz ±3dB
Minimum power: 50Wpc
Dimensions: 12″ x 38″ (40-5/16″ with spikes) x 15 5/16″
Weight: 112 lbs., each
WILSON AUDIO SPECIALTIES
2233 Mountain Vista Lane
Provo, Utah 84606