Dave Wilson (1944-2018)

I first met Dave Wilson in the pages of The Absolute Sound in 1980 when he was a reviewer and I was too poor to own much of anything written about in the magazine. Actually, Dave was listed in the masthead not as a reviewer, but as a “Technical Writer”.

My budget limited me to a Hafler DH-200 stereo amplifier, which I built from a kit. In one issue Dave suggested changing the amp’s D.C. blocking cap, which he claimed would greatly improve the sonics. I’d already done that, having read in another magazine about how capacitors “sound” and knew his claim was true, but for this to appear in a non-technical, “esthetic” magazine like TAS was singular. Dave was there to clarify, de-mystify and “technify” a fanciful publication.

“DAW” as he was known in TAS, and the other contributors were once asked to describe their listening biases in a story called “How to Read The Absolute Sound”. Because of the insights offered into the writers’ very different listening biases, which fascinated me, I Xeroxed the pages and kept them in a file that was easy to retrieve all these years later.

“When evaluating audio equipment", DAW wrote," I am most impressed when I hear a preservation of those musical qualities which, once lost, can never be retrieved. Although overall tonal balance is the first sonic characteristic that many of us hear upon initial exposure to a new piece of gear, it is transient response that I really listen for…… Do transients sound coherent? In other words, are the midrange and high frequency components of a transient all contributing accurately to its sense of attack? How much fine detail within a cluster of transients does the equipment preserve?”

Wilson then explains that while tonal aberrations can be corrected, once these other timing aspects are lost they cannot be “re-equalized” or “reprocessed” back in. He concludes by stating that while some other shortcomings like dynamic-range constriction and non-linear tonal balance are “annoying”, he is more tolerant of them than he is of an “objectively equal failure in transient cohesiveness.”

Those “listening biases” informed and drove Dave Wilson’s almost 40 year career as a loudspeaker designer and manufacturer, culminating in the $685,000 WAMM Master Chronosonic introduced in 2016. Like his original 1981 WAMM designed as a personal home reference tool to monitor his recordings but which ended up in the homes of more than two dozen audio enthusiasts at a cost of $88,000/pr., the new WAMM, also designed for Dave’s personal use has also found its way into the homes of audio enthusiasts around the world.

At the behest of wife Sheryl Lee, Dave designed the original WATT—a more affordable, compact, high resolution monitor that I first heard in the mid- 1980’s in the home of recording engineer Roy Halee, who I’d been assigned by TAS founder and editor Harry Pearson to interview. Somehow, I’d made my way onto the magazine’s staff as pop music editor and “Graceland” had recently been released, produced, engineered and mixed by Halee.

There were two systems in his listening room. He pointed to one consisting of Mark Levinson electronics and Wilson WATT speakers and said “When I want to hear what I’ve actually recorded, I listen to that system”, he then pointed to the other system which was a pair of giant Infinity IRS speakers driven by Jadis tube amps and he said “When I want to listen for pleasure I listen to that.”

The last time I visited Roy a few years ago he had a pair of Wilson Alexandria X-2s that he listened to for pleasure. Over the years Roy and Dave became good friends as have I with both of them. Lucky me.

When I was a nobody in this business Dave Wilson treated me like a somebody. I remember a Wilson press event probably a year or so after I joined the magazine. I sat star struck listening to Dave’s presentation when much to my surprise he pointed me out by name and referenced something I’d written.

In the ensuing years (decades!)I have an assemblage of fond memories of Dave at press events and Dave and family at home where he often held more intimate events hosting members of the press (as in the photo at the top of this story). The last time I saw Dave at home was when he introduced us to the new WAMM Master Chronosonic. He was in great spirits but appeared somewhat frail.

Last December he called to tell me the cancer that he’d fought a decade earlier and that had been in remission had returned and that he was preparing to fight yet again, but that it would be an uphill battle. That out of the way, he went back to being the same generous, caring, funny, optimistic Dave who’d singled me out at a press event all those years ago.

We talked music, family, and dogs. Like the Fremers, the Wilsons love dogs. I spoke again with Dave a few weeks ago. I knew by then that the prognosis was not good. Yet Dave was still in great spirits and directing the conversation away from his situation to more pleasant, shared pursuits, though he was, he told me, writing his memoir and the conversation’s tone was one of looking back more than forward.

We talked about his wonderful wife Sheryl Lee, his family and of son Daryl’s accomplishments and well-deserved accession. How fortunate are he and Sheryl Lee to have such fine children including one with the talent and spirit to successfully follow in his father’s rather large footsteps. While son Daryl toils here, Dave has moved on to a place where an infinite number of transient clusters have lined up to achieve a level of sonic perfection well beyond our abilities to imagine.

Please also read Jason Victor Serinus’s Stereophile tribute.

BillK's picture

He will sorely be missed.

At least Daryl's recent efforts (Alexia v2) have shown he inherited his father's listening abilities.

Ohjoy50's picture

I had no idea he was ill. Dave Wilson was one of the true professionals in this industry, a true lover of music, and was his goal in life to create loudspeakers that captured the essense of live music. I go way back with wilson products as a salesmen at Christopher Hansens selling the Watts even before they had the puppies. So i have sold all the iterations of the watt products including the wamms. He was an amazing speaker designer and this industry will miss him dearly. My condolences go to his family he will surely be missed.

OdinLoki's picture

When music sounds, gone is the earth I know,
And all her lovely things even lovelier grow;
Her flowers in vision flame, her forest trees
Lift burdened branches, stilled with ecstasies.

When music sounds, out of the water rise
Naiads whose beauty dims my waking eyes,
Rapt in strange dreams burns each enchanted face,
With solemn echoing stirs their dwelling-place.

When music sounds, all that I was I am
Ere to this haunt of brooding dust I came;
And from Time's woods break into distant song
The swift-winged hours, as I hasten along.

Walter de la Mare

azmoon's picture

...thanks for posting it.

EdAInWestOC's picture

It hurts our world when we lose a kind person. The fact that Dave created some of the great speakers makes his passing a particular loss but that is selfish. His loss is first and foremost something for his loved ones to endure.

I hope they can find the strength to continue their daily lives and remember Dave for all of the good things he brought to them.

Adios Dave and thanks for the knowledge and great products.

You will be missed,

hiwattnick's picture

Beautifully written, Michael. It’s obvious that David and yourself had a wonderful friendship. I feel truly sorry for his family, his friend’s, and the world’s loss. He was and will always be one of the greats, both in Hi-Fi and humanity. R.I.P. Dave Wilson. You will be missed.

vinyl listener's picture

back in the original TAS, DAW was one of my favourite writers.
his reviews were a model of clarity. his issue 37 1985 survey of step up devices, complete with carefully drawn diagrams explaining what he heard still stands as one of the great audio reviews.

yuckysamson's picture

Beautifully written piece, Michael. Befitting the man and your relationship with him.

Anton D's picture

"Dave has moved on to a place where an infinite number of transient clusters have lined up to achieve a level of sonic perfection well beyond our abilities to imagine."

I think he would love that sentence!