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It sounds like you really know what you are doing, but I still have to ask. Have you checked your speaker cables to make sure you haven't wired your speakers out of phase with each other? I'm sure you have, but its such an easy mistake to make, and if you do it sounds just like you are describing. Also, what's your source?
Thank you for your fast reply. Checking polarity was one of the first things that came to my mind too, unfortunately it was not the case. The speakers don't sound out of phase but still there is a similar feeling that the soundstage has impact on the sides and missing something in the very center. I wonder if it is related with the sound signature of Sophia (compared to the previous speakers I use such as the B&Ws) being more laid back in vocals - but it still feels like something's not right... Perhaps Sophia owners can comment on that... I use a Marantz CD player and Network Player through McIntosh's build in DAC and listen to vinyl through Rega RP3/AT440ML occasionally.
I had a very similar issue when I went from B&W to Thiel speakers. The vocals in the center image always seemed soft.
In the end I never fixed it and came to the conclusion that it is just that the Thiels have a wider dispersion of the mids than B&W speakers (especially the smaller ones,803,804 etc) and that B&W speakers have an artifiacally focused midrange. But setup can help a bit.
I could never put my finger on it until I had a demo with the Sophia 3, thiel 3.7 and B&W 802D all in the same room for an A/B/C demo. The Thiels had the worst case of this issue (diffused vocals) but the best lateral dispersion. The wilsons sat right in the middle of focus and dispersion and the B&W had a laser focused midrange.
After a long demo I came to the conclusion that it is a combination of lateral dispersion and driver integration. The B&W sounded the most fake but also had the most 3D image maybe due to poor driver integration. The vocals stood forward, and highs stood out and the bass filled the room and left a very 3D image while being somehow unnatural.
Also what I found that day is that the Sophia is pretty setup critical. Of the 3 speakers it was most effected by the seating height and speaker angel where the Thiels are least sensitive.
So on to solutions. Getting speakers wider and more toed in will help but it sounds like that is not possible for you. With wilsons one thing that could work is tilting them forward as much as possible to get the mids range/tweeter more pointed directly at you. Since the Sophia's head is not adjustable the seating distance window is a lot smaller than the other wilsons.
You could always try a taller/short seat too in order to get the sweet spot right if you limited in you speaker position. I thought the Sophia 3 sounded best with a 10'-ish triangle (every side 10') and tilted forward using a standard couch to sit on.
A foot from side walls is a huge problem. You really need a minimum of 3 feet! The side wall reflections tend to make the sound collapse to the speakers giving you a weaker stereo central image. Move the speakers closer together. Nothing wrong with placing the speakers 4 feet apart and sitting 9 foot back - you will be surprised at how good this sounds and you won't lose stereo image at all - just a bit narrower and it should suddenly be rock solid vocals in the centre.
As others have pointed out, the B&W tend to beam in the mid range producing a rather unnatural sound field but with the advantage that they are much less affected by side walls.
"I could never put my finger on it until I had a demo with the Sophia 3, thiel 3.7 and B&W 802D all in the same room for an A/B/C demo. The Thiels had the worst case of this issue (diffused vocals) but the best lateral dispersion. The wilsons sat right in the middle of focus and dispersion and the B&W had a laser focused midrange."
I can understand your overall experience. The issue with the Thiels are the easiest to explain because they're time and phase correct. They don't give a back tilt adjustment like Vandersteen does, so the positioning has to be perfect. Your head has to be just in the right spot or you'll loose everything. It only takes a couple of inches.
I guess when I read the OP's story that the B&W's are outperforming the Wilsons, I tend to panic. I had the 804's and several other pairs. All I can say is that I've owned many different brands, but I consider myself a victim when it comes to B&W.
I believe shadorne has some good advice. We know the speakers are wired in phase so the next logical step is placement. Definitely try moving them closer together. If all of your components are well matched and of good quality, your system should have no problem imaging beyond the outside edge of the speakers. Actually, I have a pair of Wilsons myself in a 2nd system I put together. They're not as nice as the OP's, but the imaging still goes way beyond the outside edge of the speaker.
Excellent advice by the panel. I have spent much time w/ all of the Speaker brands mentioned. I own Thiel loudspeakers due to their natural, inherent, timbral sound and presentation.
I have owned the B&W 805- a very fine monitor, speaker. I have listened to the Wilson Audio Sophia and Sasha models w/ excellent gear from ARC, Ayre and Bryston. All of these speakers require "room" to breathe, open up and expand the imaging/soundstage. Placement is key.
pseudognostic- your speakers are too close to the back/side walls, collapsing the sound. Try placing a little closer together 5, then 6 ft apart for openers. Keep me posted and Happy Listening!
Wilson set up instructions call for you to sit a distance away equal to 1.1 to 1.25 times the distance between the tweeters so it sounds like you are close to that. Toe in should be so that you can barely see the inside of the cabinet from your listening position. The right tweeter should be directed at the right ear and the left at the left ear . The speakers should be placed in the zone of neutrality re the wall behind and beside each speaker. I think you should experiment with toe in while moving the speakers closer together. That alone should solve your center fill problem. 15 degree toe in is definitely a problem. When you dial it in you will know it because you will get a better center fill, the speakers will disappear as source points AND you will get a wider and deeper soundstage. In a way it's anti-intuitive, but it works.
Dear all, thank you for your responses!
@james633 I believe you've spotted on understanding of my confusion. I feel like I need to pay more attention to listen to the vocals now, which keeps me from enjoying the music. Perhaps, my ears are still adjusting from the forward vocals of my previous speakers. Actually, I had set the Sophias tilted forward - using two pieces of spikes on the back feet and only the first short piece on the front. I thought it helped a little but the speakers looked so weird and I thought that the Wilson engineers must have a reason to tilt the mid and tweeter backwards therefore I put the front spikes back. I have also tried a shorter seat as well as putting some pillows below to increase height - which made me question myself and my hobby =) I will keep experimenting, thanks for your response now I feel like the problem is partly due to setup and partly the difference between two speakers with different sound signatures/specifications.
@shadorne I agree, it is a huge problem which I tried to resolve with putting isolation on the back and near walls for at least helping with the side reflections. I guess the 804's having a curved body and narrower body and depth gave them a little more room to breathe and as a result they dealt less with side reflections better. Also the strong (maybe artificial) midrange helped me to ignore this problem until moving to the Sophias. Alhough I cannot permanently place speakers closer to each other because of the equipment rack partly in between, I will experiment and see if it helps. Replacing equipment racks would at least be a feasible solution, thank you.
@jafant Thank you for your input, I will definitely try moving the speakers closer and keep experimenting this weekend. It is a little harder to move the Sophias around, being 165lbs each - compared to my previous speakers less than half the weight. I guess doing some exercise is always good! I'll keep you posted.
@gpgr4blu I have tried toeing in the speakers more, but somehow it feels not it is not helping because the Wilson tweeters on axis are too hot for my taste. The paradox is, with 0 toe in, the soundstage is bigger and the center image is somehow decent - the speakers disappear more in my understanding of soundstaging. As I toe in the speakers towards my ears, then it feels like two speakers are firing from left and right which I guess curtains the center fill - although it should theoretically get stronger with the toe in process. I prefer the off-axis response but then the center fill is softer than my expectations. Also, I am used to seeing in Wilsons toed in a lot, compared to other brand therefore I should be missing something. I will keep experimenting with different angels of toe in, thank you.
@pops I have some experience with near-field monitors when I was producing music for a while in the past. Considering that Wilsons are used in some studios I will certainly try and experiment with a nearfield listening position after I move the speakers closer to each other, thank you for the thought.
I will keep you posted as I continue my experiments. Meanwhile, do you have any comments on the McIntosh SS & Wilson combo sound signature? Thank you all for your valuable input. Have a good weekend!