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Wilson Audio Sophia 3 Review by Ranjeet Rain

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ranjeetrain

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Wilson Audio Sophia 3 Review by Ranjeet Rain


Introduction: As stated in the thread about "Hifi scene in Asia", I embarked upon a week long journey to audition various components that had long been on my "to-audition list". As I have summed up/will sum up in the thread, this audio-yatra was a very highly successful one, with me accomplishing most targets from this yatra. The first stop of this journey was at Needs Audio in Kowloon, Hong Kong where I auditioned a number of components. First of them being Wilson Audio Sophia 3 speakers. Here I summarize my experience of the time spent with Wilson Audio Sophia 3.

[IMG2]http://www.theaudiobeat.com/equipment/pics/wilson_sophia_3_1.jpg[/IMG2]Background: I have long been researching about best value high-end speakers. Some of the speakers that have been most praised and often find themselves in discussions are from the stable of Wilson Audio.

Wilson Audio needs no introduction in high-end audio. Wilson Audio has produced more products that have been shamelessly copied than any other high-end product. Wilson Audio Watt Puppy are the most copied speaker. They have "inspired" numerous designers around the globe. It is no wonder that Wilson Audio has been on my radar for a long time. Unfortunately, a slightly disappointing fact about high-end audio is that it doesn't come cheap. Wilson Audio and cheap, quite naturally, can't be used in one sentence. Fortunately, an encouraging fact is that even a high-end company such as Wilson Audio has products that classify as budget (relatively). Enter Wilson Audio Sophia!

Wilson Audio Sophia are the cheapest and one of the most successful speakers in the Wilson Audio line up, but by no means less expensive by themselves. By now Sophias are in their 3rd generation and have become a part of many studios in the US and are in the reference system of many noted reviewers. It was due to these facts that Wilson Audio Sophia caught my imagination. Therefore, I called up the Wilson Audio authorized dealer in Hong Kong and set up an audition.

I arrived an hour late at the venue due to trouble in finding the address, however, the owner welcomed me, and audition started without any further ado as the system was all switched on, connected and warmed up and waiting for me to play.

The setup:

Source: Wadia CD Player
Amplification: MBL Pre, MBL Monoblocks
Power cables: Van Den Hul
Interconnects: Transparent Audio
Speaker Cables: Transparent Audio
Power conditioner: Not recorded
Room treatment: Numerous absorbers/diffusers used
Room size: 500+ sqft
Place: Needs Audio, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Price of review component: USD 18,000
Web address: www.wilson-audio.com
Reviewer: Ranjeet Rain
Reviewer Email: rrfeedback@live.com
Copyright: Please treat the contents of this review as copyrighted material. If you quote parts from this review anywhere kindly link back to this page.





[IMG2]http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5479/10248212235_0bbce31009_o.jpg[/IMG2]The setup looked magnificent, though it was a modest setup by every means of comparison with a typical high-end audio setup. The listening room was easily bigger than 500 square feet of area with a 9ish feet high false ceiling. Numerous absorbers/diffusers were placed all around the room. Side walls, ceiling, back of the setup, front of the setup, corners. Not just because of the room treatment, but also due to the fact that the entire building (20+ floors of them) is entirely dedicated to hifi dealers, the background was extremely quite for a commercial building. Background noise level was no higher than a typical downtown residential complex.

When I arrived a western classical recording unfamiliar to me was being played at low volume. The impression was that they sounded good even at low volume. But personally as a person I am not a fan of low volume listening when it comes to western classical. I mean if I am listening to an orchestra then it better sound like an orchestra. I noticed that unlike many dealers who just push up the volume till the system starts to distort and bleed the listeners ears, this dealer was not very keen on pushing the volume up. The reason? My best guess is sensibility. The dealer was one from the lot who don't think you need to play at rock concert level to bring out the best in a system. Or, it could also be that the system was good enough to play at a rather high level even while playing at moderate volume levels. Or could also be that he didn't want to overdrive the system. (Good for the buyers who would buy ex-demo from this dealer. They can rest assured anything they buy would be fully broken in in a high end setup plus never abused).

Since I was already late, after exchanging niceties, the dealer quickly asked me if I would like to play certain specific music. There was a lot to choose from at the dealer. I quickly chose FIM Audiophile Disc Vol-4 which has many of my familiar and favorite recordings. In all these years of auditioning hifi gear, by now I have acquired enough experience to gauge a system's performance by playing merely half a dozen tracks. This disc had 3 of them. So this was a great point to start and we got going as soon as I handed the disc over to the dealer.

The first piece to be played was "Spanish Harlem" by Rebecca. This is one of the very widely used reference tracks. The texture in Rebecca's voice and the entire soft feel in the track is nothing sort of astonishing. Sophias did justice to the track. I didn't find anything lacking or overly done/saturated. It did sound like a reference system. An honest representation of what was on the disc, no less, no more.

The next track to be played was "La Vezina Catina" by Esther Ofarim. This is one of my personal favorites. This track has one of the sweetest rendering of female vocals among non-Indian music I am familiar with. The track has a bit of Rabindra Sangeet feel to it. The track has some recording flaws despite it's an amazing track to judge a system performance. Playing this track brought out some flaws in the system. The upper octaves of Esther Ofarim's voice were not quite as open and extended as I have heard on some other systems. It felt as if there was low-pass filter being applied or the room or the speaker's cabinets were serving as a natural filter/slope limiting the high frequency response. Listening to this track left me wanting for more. Definitely I expected more from a pair of speakers this reputed.

The next track to be played was "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler. This is another of my personal favorites. This tracks has an amazing depth, sound staging, shimmering sparkling highs free of any kind of sibilance, not to mention great voice of Bette Midler. On a true reference system this is the only track I would listen to all day long. Playing back this track left me wanting even more. The highs, the sparkles, the shimmer, the extension, the depth everything was lacking. Not that it wasn't there, but it wasn't there as much as I expected (based on my experience of having listened to this track on dozens of systems of varying price levels). This track is my test for checking how much a system can connect me to a certain recording. Sophias (the whole setup) failed to do that. I certainly expected more from such highly reputed speakers.

I did audition many more tracks on the setup, but I will save the individual track details and proceed to sum up my report.

Wilson Audio Sophia 3 are great speakers. They do a lot of things right. The most notable of that is "bass". They didn't drop a single straw anywhere doing bass. 10 on 10 for bass on Sophias. Clean, clear, tight, controlled bass delivery everywhere. Listeners for whom the bass quality is the highest priority, look no further. These may be best spent US$ 18 grand on a pair of speakers. They are just the right speakers for bass lovers. Mids were open but not entirely forth coming. Highs could be better (at least for me as an individual). Sound stage was deep and wide. Sounds were placed quite well where they belonged. Overall sound signature was pretty darn close to that of Sennheiser HD 650 except that hump in the upper bass region that the headphone has and the veiled mid-range presentation of HD 650. Take away these two attributes and you pretty much have an idea how do Sophias sound.

I do have to comment on the partnering equipment to complete the perspective on these speakers. The partnering gear was all solid state. I felt Sophias could benefit immensely being driven from 30+ watts of tube gear. Macintosh, Octave, Consonance Opera could all be great partners to Sophias. Also a more liquid sounding CD player could do better in this setup.

Another perspective I must share here was the listening room. I liked the listening room quite a bit, but this was far from being an ideal listening room with so many speakers in the room. I am sure it contributed in some manner in muddying at least the mid-range from the Sophias if not the (upper) bass. I believe Sophias will perform a notch or two above in a better listening room.

Would I buy this pair? No, personally I would not, until I have heard it perform better, somewhere in a different setup. Why? Is it that bad a speaker? No, it isn't. It's a great speaker, just that it doesn't suit my taste. Would I recommend this to others? See my comments above. I would totally recommend this speaker to people who place the maximum weight on the bottom (no pun intended). But people who pay more attention to mid region and the top (again, no pun intended, please), may not enjoy Sophia as much.

What else, if not Sophia? Search is on!
 

prem

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The most professional review i have read on this forum. There's lots for all of us to learn from the way you have reviewed
 

captrajesh

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Nice review Ranjeetrain. I don't think I've heard any of the tracks mentioned by you but you have piqued my interest. I'd appreciate if you could also mention genre these tracks belong to and also the other tracks & genre that you've listened.
 

ranjeetrain

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Nice review Ranjeetrain. I don't think I've heard any of the tracks mentioned by you but you have piqued my interest. I'd appreciate if you could also mention genre these tracks belong to and also the other tracks & genre that you've listened.
Sure captain, here you go.

Though it's quite hard these days to classify genres of specific music as artists have developed their own styles and many artists are hard to classify as one single genre. World music scene is very dynamic and one CD these days may contain as many as 5 genres. The first track, "Spanish Harlem" is a Jazz/Soul track. "La Vezina Catina" is a Folk track. "Wind Beneath My Wings" is a Pop/Popular track.

Usually the tracks I choose for auditioning a gear includes a vast range of genres. Jazz, Blues, Pop, Vocal, Classical are usually the genres that primarily dominate my track selection. I am not into Rock (Hard rock, Rock n roll), Metal (Heavy metal, Punk), Trance (Psychodelic, Goa, Indie) kind of genres. Besides those I listen to everything. So when auditioning something I do make sure to include all kind of music.

I listened to a lot more on Sophias. I was in a hurry to finish the review and bring it online. Later I will add a supplement to the above review, to include more stuff.

Also, since I auditioned a lot more stuff, I'd be writing more reviews. Most of them will have references to this review (it's funny how you keep comparing something with what you have heard in past). You'd get plenty of ideas about Sophias from other reviews that will follow in coming days.

The most professional review i have read on this forum. There's lots for all of us to learn from the way you have reviewed
Thanks prem, I always strive to raise the bar.
 

ranjeetrain

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I feel I didn't elaborate on the specifics of the sound from Sophias enough. So an addendum to this review is very much in order. Here I go over sound from Sophias again.

Strengths:

  • -> They offered details in spades. If it's there on the disc, you will hear it.
  • -> Reference level sound. They don't emphasize any specific frequency band. They have a very evenly balanced tonal characteristic.
  • -> Though I didn't play any specific music from Dance genre, my feeling is Sophias would cope well with fast paced music. They never seemed to lose grace, regardless what volume level they were playing. I heard them at low to medium volume levels and they sounded perfect. But there was a potential to increase the volume and start partying.
  • -> They imaged very well. They placed instruments very precisely. The sound-stage was vast and expansive.
  • -> Their presentation is relaxed. They never seemed to be in a hurry to deliver. Hearing them play was like watching a composed Rahul Dravid play. They performed like a seasoned performer.
  • -> The bass from these speakers is top rate. Among the best I have heard from any speakers (including many that cost multiple folds).
  • -> Fit and finish is as good as it gets. They look as good as they sound.
Weaknesses:

  • -> They sounded more Hifi-ish than musical (to my ear, in the room I heard them and with the equipment I heard them. in a different room with different gear this should change).
  • -> They were too graceful a performer to be entertaining. You like the precision of a Rahul Dravid, but like to watch a Sachin or a Sehwag play more.
  • -> Speaker like Sophia will need careful partnering. With wrong electronics they may come across as analytical.

Verdict:

Wilson Audio Sophia 3 are great speakers that do almost everything right. They play well. They play soft, they play loud. Should you play classical, they will give you the everything down to the lowest octave. Should you want to party, they will play loud. Should you play normal volume, they will offer a relaxed insightful presentation.

If you have a round about 500 sq feet of space, they are a great speaker to own. Since Sophias are designed to be an easy load (a rarity in high end audio), they can well be driven by tube gear. Based on how you like them sound, you could partner them with appropriate gear. Once partnered with appropriate gear Sophias will provide a very insightful rendition of music.


Link to manufacturer's site: Wilson Audio: High Performance Loudspeakers
 

arj

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I feel I didn't elaborate on the specifics of the sound from Sophias enough. So an addendum to this review is very much in order. Here I go over sound from Sophias again.

Strengths:

  • -> They offered details in spades. If it's there on the disc, you will hear it.
  • -> Reference level sound. They don't emphasize any specific frequency band. They have a very evenly balanced tonal characteristic.
  • -> Though I didn't play any specific music from Dance genre, my feeling is Sophias would cope well with fast paced music. They never seemed to lose grace, regardless what volume level they were playing. I heard them at low to medium volume levels and they sounded perfect. But there was a potential to increase the volume and start partying.
  • -> They imaged very well. They placed instruments very precisely. The sound-stage was vast and expansive.
  • -> Their presentation is relaxed. They never seemed to be in a hurry to deliver. Hearing them play was like watching a composed Rahul Dravid play. They performed like a seasoned performer.
    ..
Weaknesses:

  • -> They sounded more Hifi-ish than musical (to my ear, in the room I heard them and with the equipment I heard them. in a different room with different gear this should change).
    ...
...
Really loved reading your review ! looking forward to more
If i could Hazard a guess, i would say this is the Wadia CD Player. the speakers might be very acoustically transparent thus the Source coming thru strongly
 

reignofchaos

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Fantastic review! This is probably the best equipment review on hfv and good enough to be published in any magazine.

My personal opinion is that the Duette bookshelf sounds better to my ears than the Sophia. I heard both of them at the same place with the same electronics (Mark Levinson) and I greatly preferred the Duette.

The Sophia was a bit uninvolving and though it played well, I could never really emotionally connect to it.

The Duette on the other hand was outstanding in that regard. It obviously doesn't go as low as the Sophia but what it threw out was far more cohesive.
 

Gerry_the_Merry

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Nice work, Ranjeet. But is this a speaker review or a system review? Did you a similar upstream chain in all your tests with the speaker being the only material difference?
 

ranjeetrain

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Really loved reading your review ! looking forward to more
If i could Hazard a guess, i would say this is the Wadia CD Player. the speakers might be very acoustically transparent thus the Source coming thru strongly
Thanks Arj! You're quite right. It could also be the CDP. That's why I said a more liquid sounding CDP could do better. However, on the same chain MBL speakers bowled me over. So, it is also true that comparatively Sophia has a somewhat dry sound (which need not be a bad thing). Put them on tubes and enjoy them sing. In a well-matched setup Sophia may very well come out triumphant, no two ways about it. My verdict is not negative. It just has a word of caution that in a all solid state setup I found it to lack involvement to a certain degree.

Fantastic review! This is probably the best equipment review on hfv and good enough to be published in any magazine.

My personal opinion is that the Duette bookshelf sounds better to my ears than the Sophia. I heard both of them at the same place with the same electronics (Mark Levinson) and I greatly preferred the Duette.

The Sophia was a bit uninvolving and though it played well, I could never really emotionally connect to it.

The Duette on the other hand was outstanding in that regard. It obviously doesn't go as low as the Sophia but what it threw out was far more cohesive.
Exactly! Sophias sound more Hifi-ish than musical. Please wait for my Sonus Faber review. Sonus Faber at a fraction of price turned out to be a musical genius. Listening to Sophia I was never lost in the music. That's my only complaint. After spending 18k I'd expect a pair of speakers to move me emotionally a bit. They a fine pair of speakers otherwise.

Also, I did feel the whole setup on which I auditioned Sophia was not favored to suit Sophia's character. It was tilted in favor of MBL. More on that in MBL speaker review.

Nice work, Ranjeet. But is this a speaker review or a system review? Did you a similar upstream chain in all your tests with the speaker being the only material difference?
That Gerry! You have a valid point. As we go high up in the chain and the components become more transparent by themselves and more critical of their company, it becomes harder to tell whether it's a component that you are listening to or a system. If a system, which is the dominant component. This is where past experience comes into picture. Besides, I was lucky to have auditioned MBL speakers also, both on the same setup and a different one. More to come in MBL speaker review.
 
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reignofchaos

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Did you manage to listen to any analog gear? I see a massive stack of records in front of the equipment.
 

alphacentury100

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how would the wilson compare to the saloon-2. They both are in the same price range. (Saloon-2 is known to produce very very flat response, which some call CLINICAL, while Wilson audio is known to produce very uneven response (+_10db), but still appreciated by many)
 

Staxxx

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how would the wilson compare to the saloon-2. They both are in the same price range. (Saloon-2 is known to produce very very flat response, which some call CLINICAL, while Wilson audio is known to produce very uneven response (+_10db), but still appreciated by many)
Alpha, for what it's worth. I have had the old Revel Salon Ultimate and the Wilson Watt/Puppies 7 at some point in my earlier life. Both were for less than six months in my system....mainly because I wanted to try something else, but also because the system synergy did not work to my liking.

In a nutshell I feel the Revel was on the cold side of neutral and revealing. Could be all those aluminum drivers. And the Watt/Puppies were very bass heavy in my room. Both were imaging champs. They were both not my personal first choice for speakers and still would not be, although they have their own tremendous strengths (as RanjeetRain's excellent review also mentions). So definitely if one is seriously considering spending this much money one has to give it a good listen - and I believe accompanied by the rest of your system and ideally in your home. Almost an impossible ideal though I am afraid nowadays.

We are really lucky in these times - there are some tremendous choices out there for much less money than it used to cost in the old days to get great sound. I think there are several great speakers at the $15,000 level - if one has the partnering electronics - that will give almost as good as you can get sound! IMO.
 

ranjeetrain

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Did you manage to listen to any analog gear? I see a massive stack of records in front of the equipment.
Nope, no analogue. The stuff in the front of the equipment were all optical discs, not vinyl.

how would the wilson compare to the saloon-2. They both are in the same price range. (Saloon-2 is known to produce very very flat response, which some call CLINICAL, while Wilson audio is known to produce very uneven response (+_10db), but still appreciated by many)
Wilson Sophia and Revel Salon are quite different.

Sophia is a more humble speaker. It is less demanding of partnering equipment (compared to Revel Salon). It is also easy to setup is smaller spaces. 500-600 sqft is an ideal space for Sophia. For Salon you need a minimum of 600 sqft. Revel Salon is all about details. It also handles power extremely well. It's also super demanding of partnering equipment. Overall cost of owning a Revel Salon would be much higher than owning a Wilson Sophia.

Revel Salons are considered among the best sounding speakers regardless of the price. Salons are the pinnacle of Revel's technology.

Wilson speakers are dream speakers for luxury Hifi buyers. Sophia is the cheapest Wilson. I doubt, however, that Sophia will be +- 10dB on their rated FR. 10dB is a lot. I guess you got a wrong figure there. In any case, sound from *any* Wilson speaker (till date) is still reference class.
 

bhagwan

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Respected Ranjeet,
Kindly pardon my 'entry' into your 'review' thread.
What you heard & commented about the Wilson, is your opinion & I am OK with that. It is a well documented review. Well done...
I am just 'putting my 2 cents' worth when it comes to Revel.

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These are some pics of me with the Revel & its chief designer.
Mr. Kevin Voeks.

Revel is a 'serious' loudspeaker maker.
All its drivers are made to their specs.

I hold Revel in high regard.
However, it does have an 'american' sound & that is something that never suited my ears - cause it never works in Indian houses - materials the rooms are made of.

Among the Wilson's I like the Sophia 2 a lot.
It is a super VFM Product.
Wilson Audio Sofia MKll Wilson Audio Sofia MKll Mint Conditon In Original Crates | Full range | Oak Beach, New York 11702 | AudiogoN - The High-end Audio Community
8/- K for this in my books is great value.
Yes, it is not musical, but a great product for someone that wants to play the audio game.
Give it the correct Matching Electronics & this speaker will sing. Transparent Cable is a Must for it & Krell Amplification is 'desired' :p

Sounds best with Boulder;
I do not like it with Audio Research,.

Ideal Partner for WA imho is Pass Labs & EMM Labs & Transparent Audio
Pass Labs XA-100.5 Mono Blocks Original Owner | Solid state | Charlotte, North Carolina 28270 | AudiogoN - The High-end Audio Community
Incorrect Price but a good match - again imho.
 

ranjeetrain

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Respected Ranjeet,
Kindly pardon my 'entry' into your 'review' thread.
Sir, no caution is needed. You are very welcome. No one knows everything. I am always eager to learn and accept knowledge whichever quarter it comes from.

And I do respect you for your experience with Hifi, even as I don't prefix respected (as it's not really the norm). You have seen, heard and owned a lot. You are definitely among the most experienced people in this hobby/business. Respected seems a bit too much to handle to me. I am a humble fellow, Respected title is not needed. Really. Just Ranjeet is fine! :)

Among the Wilson's I like the Sophia 2 a lot.
It is a super VFM Product.
Do you have something to say on Sophia 2 vs Sophia 3? Wilson claims they have trickled Sasha technology down into Sophia 3, and that Sophia 3 is a vastly improved speaker (especially in the low end department). I definitely liked the low-end on Sophia 3. But low-end is not be-all in music. Sophia 3 didn't sound compelling. I fail to understand how Sophia 2 could be more impressive while all pointers say Sophia 3 is a vastly improved speaker?

Please do shed some light on Sophia 3 vs 2 if possible.

PS: I would definitely like to audition Sophia 2 if it's available somewhere near for an audition.
 

alphacentury100

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Have you people heard of this guy "AcuDefTechGuy". His comments can be seen frequently in "avsforum" and he owns a lot and lot of hiend gears, to name a few : REVEL SALON2 . B&W 802D2 . KEF 201/2(5) . ORION3 . TAD 2201 . ATC SCM7 . FOCAL 826V . DYNAUDIO X32 . PHIL HARMONIC-3 . FUNK 18(2) . RBH SX1010 (5) . VELODYNE SC600(4) . DENON AVP-A1HD/AVR5308/AVR3312 . ATI 3005/3002/2004/6012.

Must be a luck guy to be able to own somany audio gears. Passionate and crazy too.
 

ranjeetrain

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Thanks for sharing that bit of info, Alpha. Yeah, seems like my kind of guy. I own a lot of Hifi too, but not the expensive type, just a lot of gear (that I keep buying out of bad habit). The guy you mention, does own a lot, but that's nothing by western standard. Sensible buyer, his equipments are good sounding, without being expensive. In west, any passionate + well-off hifi lover may have been through dozens of complete systems. If you want a glimpse of what High-end looks like, head west to Audiogon. Audiogon is simply the richest forum for info on expensive audio. What we see on most other forums pales in comparison of that forum.
 
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