The Wilson Audio Duette II speaker is one that I have been craving to review, and finally the time has come to get my hands on this compact bookshelf speaker. From one of the most highly regarded speaker manufacturers in the world. I have listened to many of Wilson Audio's range over the period of the last few years and have come to love what they do for the high end audio industry as they do not just make good speakers they break boundaries with there intuitive and sometimes breakthrough technology in this corner of the market. The cabinets that Wilson make and the materials or composites that they use play a huge part in shaping what is to become of their latest and greatest speakers.
Wilson commonly name these materials and composites as X and S in their wording for the features. These composites make them extremely rigid and more or less perfect for the role of making their cabinets acoustically inert as possible. When trying to lift a speaker you really do appreciate the weight and rock solid build of each cabinet as lifting them is a two-man job. In my case I have some proper lifting and manoeuvring equipment otherwise my back would really suffer, this gives you an indication of how well built they are. Each cabinet is hand built by one of their craftsmen at the Wilson factory, who are experts and professionals in their field, and are treated as if they are part of the Dave Wilson family such is the importance of their roles.
The Duette series is in its second incarnation, launched in 2014 and nine years after the first one. Now the technology from the Alexia and newer models have trickled down into this version. It can be bought in two different configurations, the first is as a bookshelf only without the dedicated stand. Instead it comes with a decent book size housing (hence the name Novel Crossover) for the crossover section and separate cables that run to the speaker binding posts. Keeping the crossover separate is a key feature and plays an important part in the quality and sound of the Duette II. This allows for more room inside the speaker cabinets so that the 8" mid-bass driver and tweeter benefit from even less induced vibrations or reverberations to happen inside the speaker's cabinet. This has been a major part of the design process and as mentioned earlier plays a key role in the speakers feature list. It also gives more freedom for placement and keeping it tidy and as a high performance bookshelf speaker proposition.
The second configuration is that you can buy the Duette with its dedicated stand, in this case the crossover is built into the stand itself and forms a sleek floor standing speaker which does away with the separate box which is needed for the first configuration, but just the same isolates the crossover from the speaker’s cabinet and is treated much like its bigger sisters floor standers. The front baffle has a 10-degree slight slant to it, so as to make the time alignment more precise than the first generation Duette. Also the tweeter which is similar to the convergent synergy tweeter as found in the Alexia has its own isolation chamber, which again takes performance to another level. Wilson state that it is a near enough the perfect solution for near boundary situations and in their words, the best compact speaker period.
Having owned many high end bookshelf speakers including ones with built in stands it's certainly going to be fun finding out how well they can really perform within my system. Features and Build quality
As every Duette is hand built the quality of the speaker is near enough faultless and as described earlier with the use of their proprietary composites the Duette II is one solid looking speaker and very heavy indeed. The bookshelf is bolted directly and firmly onto the stand which also through testing takes any unwanted energy away from the speaker’s cabinet. Its umbilical cord which wires to the speaker’s terminals and down into the base of the stand is colour coded so as to make it an easy process of setting up. One of the key features is that placement can be as near to the wall boundaries as possible, this gives much more flexibility when positioning in small rooms or awkward scenarios where space is of a premium.
With the Novel Crossover and the newly developed tweeter from the Alexia, and its own isolated chamber the Duette II pushes the performance level onwards. More precise time alignment with the slanted baffle and new crossover built into the stand configuration. With the big 8" mid-bass driver the Duette II is a beautiful looking speaker. One aspect of Wilson Audio speakers that always astounds me is the quality of the paint finish, which is absolutely stunning and are always some of the best looking in my opinion and must take an age to complete as they have so many layers and in this particular example it is like a rustic golden brown which when in sunlight gives off an amazing sparkle such is the quality, truly beautiful to look at. Setting up
Setting the Wilson Audio Duette II Speakers is quite an easy and usual affair of aligning the speakers as per the Wilson set up guide which I have to say is some very sound advice when it comes to getting their speakers in the optimum position. This year I have made quite a few new additions to The Speaker Shack's system and I invested in some Townshend Audio Seismic Podiums which isolate the speakers nicely from my room as I have some real problems with the wooden flooring and vibrations, which can sometimes almost ruin all the good work which goes into positioning and setting up the of the speakers. This allows a much better sound than if I was not using them and the dynamics and bass are just so good with these now helping the setup. I am using the best speaker cable that I can afford and that is the new Transparent Ultra Cable generation 5, which is their latest and greatest cable to date. These allow a pure a signal to be passed along to the speakers as possible and after hearing what they can do for other speakers that I have heard recently they are simply awesome cables to have connected to the Duette's. With them connected and in their optimal position I can now move on to the fun part which is actually listening to the speakers and their performance. Performance and listening tests
As mentioned I have been upgrading The Speaker Shack's system this year and am using my Prima Luna Dialogue Premium HP Integrated Amplifier, but I have now installed the massively powerful KT150 tubes into the unit which gives a huge performance boost to an already stunning amplifier. I have also upgraded the DAC which is now the new MYTEK Brooklyn DAC. This has been a great upgrade and brought with it many sonic benefits over my older Chord Electronics QuteHD DAC, which if I am honest was holding back the system's overall performance.
I am still using the Aurender X100L for streaming use, but I have just got in a new Clearaudio Concept Wood MC Turntable for vinyl duties and the brilliant Cyrus Signature Phono stage which has a mass selection of options to tweak its performance. For CD use I am still using my heavily modified Oppo BDP-93EU with its great digital out straight into the Mytek Brooklyn DAC. Cables are from Transparent and Crystal Cables for RCA connections and also digital.
Music choice is a mixture of Classical on CD and a great new album from Corrine Bailey Rae called The Heart Speaks in Whispers streamed in 24bit 96Khz high resolution.
Track One - The Skies Will Break and comprising of the album's title starts with the electric piano which melodically leads up to the kick of the deep bass vibe that this track has. From the start the Duette's defy logic as their size and the soundstage that they create is simply huge. This is a speaker that can perform as a floor standing speaker with bass that goes low, but still keeping everything like imaging and timing intact. The clarity of the vocals is spine tingling good and you'd swear that Corrine Bailey Rae was in the room with you singing such is the precision of the speakers imaging.
Track Three - Been to the Moon has a harmonising bass note that sounds so musically tight. The Duette's have an uncanny way of throwing the image way out into the room and to the sides that it makes my rather small room feel a lot bigger than it actually is, with each individual instrument separated perfectly and in time and in the space around me.
This is a great album and sounds so immediate and mesmerising through the Duette II Speakers with shifts in tone that the Duette's replicate perfectly. I have placed them nearer to the wall than usual as they interact with the surrounding walls, but using that boundary location to their advantage and driving the room as if they were designed for my room specifically, such is the performance that they produce. The design of the Duette with its composite X varying in thickness in the cabinet has created something rather special. The tweeter and mid-bass simply melt into each other with a velvety smoothness to them and that 8" driver plays to very low levels which defies the cabinet size.
Next up is a classical masterpiece from Stravinsky - The FireBird, with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Track One the Overture with the violins starting off and then the brass section comes in with such precision cutting through the air like a knife, yet buttery smooth. You can hear every nuance being played such is the level of clarity from the Duette's. Each instrument separated in this three dimensional space I am transported to the live recording or at least that is how it makes you feel. This classical piece of music has all the grandeur that you come to expect from such a large orchestral set. The trumpets sound so powerful with a rasping sound that seems to resonate through you, such is the visceral performance it is made all that more convincing. Next track is the Borodin: Overture - Polovetsian Dances which really is a stunning piece of music which deserves good speakers and the Duette's do not disappoint such is the scale of this recording. With the big bass drums power and the chorus of the choir it sounds incredibly real. The Duette's have expanded my room into a cavernous chamber, reproducing every instrument within the orchestra and a choir singing behind them. It feels like I am in audio nirvana such is the quality of sound that these speakers reproduce, hearing this piece of music in such a way that I am totally smitten with the capabilities of these modest sized speakers.
To finish off my listening test I have John Rutters - Requiem and the Choir from Clare College, Cambridge. Track Three - Pie Jesu is such a pure sounding piece of music, that makes you feel emotionally attached to the music such is its beauty when hearing it being played. The Clare College Choir perform this song masterfully with the highest notes being performed by Soprano singer and also solo vocalist Elin Manahan Thomas. Her voice is amazing and sounds as pure as they come. The Duette's manage to reproduce her voice immaculately and show quite clearly that they can play all types of music when required with nothing phasing them at all. I thought I had found the perfect stand mount speaker when I reviewed the KEF Reference One Speaker, but the Wilson Audio Duette II speakers take this to another level and steals this from them and rightly so considering the price difference. With a level of performance which would shame most floor standing speakers, such is the weight and scale of the performance that is on offer. Conclusions and final thoughts.
Having heard quite a few of the Wilson Audio stable, the Duette II stand out as one of the finest speakers that I had the pleasure of listening to in my room. If I am correct this is another creation from Daryl Wilson and again an excellent example of his exemplary knowledge of speaker design. They are so adaptable and can play well in all sorts of surroundings and even in my small room. I absolutely love the Duette II speaker’s ability to play loud and low but keep everything in check, not a single note sounded out of place and everything just gelled together so well when playing. The price might put some people off as they are in the higher end bracket but when you hear how good these sound you start to understand what has gone into the design and build quality of such a high performing speaker such as the Duette II. In the ever so demanding times when space is becoming such a premium, you really need to take a closer look at how well these speakers perform in smaller rooms and then the Duette II speakers look and sound like a much better proposition.
The Duette II Speakers have earned a reference status from The Speaker Shack as they are the finest stand mount speakers I have heard to date and I do not see that changing any time soon, unless the Duette version 3 comes out.
Price at time of review approx. £22,995
The UK Distributor www.absolutesounds.com