The Audio Cynic

David Wilson: RIP

The first 60 issues of Copper have featured 6 Audio Cynic columns headed “RIP”. One in ten is far too many for my taste; sadly, given the demographics of our industry, I’m afraid that the number will only increase as we go forward.

The first three—Richard Beers in issue #7, Wes Phillips in issue #15, Ken Furst in issue #23-–were writers or promoters. The next three—Arnie Nudell in issue #47, Charley Hansen in issue #48, and now Dave Wilson in issue #60—were among the greatest designers and technical talents the audio industry has known. The first three certainly left a void upon their passing, but the latter three will be very, very difficult to replace. Even if designers arise who match their abilities—and that’s a big if— it’s unlikely that the new designers could ever influence the course of the industry as Arnie, Charley, and Dave did.

Dave originally came to my attention, and that of most folks, as a contributor to The Absolute Sound  a million or so years ago (around 1980). A designer of medical equipment turned amateur recordist—in the best sense of the word amateur—Dave became acquainted with TAS Editor Harry Pearson and joined the magazine as Technical Contributor (his title on the magazine’s masthead) “…to construct a testing program that will allow us to determine if some of the peculiarities and anomalies we hear in evaluating equipment can indeed be numerically measured.”

Ultimately, such technical rigor was a lost cause at the magazine, though Dave made an impression with articles such as a lengthy, meticulous phono cartridge survey. Wilson the recordist made a splash at the 1982 CES with a massive, extraordinarily-expensive speaker he designed as faithful monitor for his own recordings: the WAMM, Wilson Audio Modular Monitor, was an ungainly  construct of boxes and panels offered at the then-astonishing price of $32,000 per pair, out-pricing its contemporary competitors, the Infinity IRS and Levinson HQD. (By the end of their run, the WAMM sold for $88,000.)

WAMM was followed by a smaller-scale monitoring speaker, the WATT (the Wilson Audio Tiny Tot), which  broke new ground for smallish speakers, both in terms of price ($4400/pair in the mid-’80s) and in their acceptance as an industry standard for mobile or near-field monitoring. Paired with the matching Puppy woofer unit, the WATT/Puppy combo supposedly became the best-selling over $10k loudspeaker in history. Dave’s recordings also became accepted as standards of excellence; originally released as LPs, many are still available as downloads.

Over the last 35 years, Wilson Audio grew to become one of the few high-end audio brands whose name was familiar to non-audiophiles. Dave Wilson’s thorough development of  his designs led to long model runs, strong support for products in the field, and a recognizable house style of product design that was imitated worldwide. Even if you weren’t wild about the sound of Wilson speakers—and prior to Sophia, I was not a fan—one had to admire the care of finish and precision of assembly, the skill in demonstration, and the thoroughly professional approach of the company.

Another thing everyone agrees upon: Dave Wilson himself was one of the nicest, most genuine human beings who ever lived. I only knew him for a decade or so, and couldn’t claim to have known him well, unlike many in the biz—but every time I saw him he was friendly, warm, and always asked about my well-being and that of my children. I never knew him to say an unkind word about anyone, and yet—important, for this cynic—never found him to be saccharin or insincere. His far-ranging intelligence and puckish humor always made him a pleasure to talk to.

Whenever I  left Dave’s presence I felt  that I was fortunate to know him, and wished I were able to spend more time with him.

I can offer no higher praise.

RIP, Dave.

Our friend and contributor to Copper, Ken Kessler, wrote about his longtime friend Dave here.
Stereophile contributor/friend/Copper contributor Jason Victor Serinus wrote about Dave here;
Stereophile contributor/Analog Planet Editor/friend Michael Fremer posted an uncommonly wistful reminiscence of Dave here.