Bow Technologies Wazoo integrated amplifier Page 2

The Wazoo's low end had a distinct character that complemented most speakers. It seemed ever so slightly warm in the upper bass, ever so slightly lean in the lower bass. The effect of this was positive on every speaker I tried.

The first setup was with the Gershman GAP-20x speakers, the Wazoo behind them and the sources running through 10m of Cardas Cross interconnect. Compared with other, bigger amps, the Wazoo was their equal at all reasonable levels until this 50Wpc overachiever ran out of steam—and that was at levels sufficient to raise my neighbors and the dead (only the former responded). Not only was the sound sweet and fairly well balanced, several visiting (audio) firemen from the AES meetings were impressed, as was I, with the sheer kick and gusto of the sound on jazz and rock recordings.

The tightness of the Wazoo's lower bass served the Gershman GAPs well. In addition, the Wazoo had a taming effect on the HF lift that had plagued the GAPs with other amps. The elimination of the preamp stages was not the issue, since, with the Uther DAC, I could run sans preamp into any of the amps. Thus, the Wazoo seemed to work very well with the GAPs, supporting their strengths in the midbass, softening the top end, and throwing a pretty impressive soundstage with orchestral recordings.

Next in the ring with the Wazoo were the (then) resident Apogee Duetta ribbon speakers. With most amps, the Duettas tend to sound very big and projective in the bass and midrange. As dipoles, they have excellent (some might say artificial) soundstage depth, but they have their greatest problems with intimacy.

The Wazoo turned this around. Fine detail and very neutral voice reproduction characterized the Wazoo/Duetta combo. Livingston Taylor sat "right there" on the small settee between the speakers! Chamber music sounded superb, and I could hear sweet detail all the way across the frequency spectrum at moderate levels. Bass was tighter than usual, and well extended. Soundstage width was pretty good, but depth seemed a bit reduced from the Apogees' usual generosity.

Pushing the system to get the bloom of the full orchestra didn't work, however. The Wazoo/Duetta combo didn't break up or get hashy, but it couldn't re-create big size and/or space in a convincing way. My favorite CDs for this are the Previn/LSO recording of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances (EMI 7 69025 2) and the Willow soundtrack (Virgin 90939-2). As I increased the gain (who listens to these at low levels?), everything got louder, but remained flat in perspective and lacked presence. I kept turning up the wick, but to no avail. Rated at 90Wpc into 4 ohms, the Wazoo was not able to do its usual impressive tricks with these speakers. Despite being a highly resistive load, the Duettas' low efficiency and low impedance were probably significant.

There were no such problems with the recently arrived Genesis 500s I served up for the last course. In this setup, the CL-20 CD/DVD player was placed directly on top of the Wazoo and linked with 1m Cardas Golden Cross interconnects. The real complication here is that there are no fewer than five controls on the back of each Genesis 500, and these are being moved around and tweaked almost daily as I carefully titrate the balances. Although still far from an optimum match, the Wazoo was big, bold, and lucid with the 500s—the superiority of the Chesky and Classic Records 24/96 DVD discs to their equivalent CD issues was embarrassingly apparent. The music on the aforementioned Livingston Taylor cut just floated in the air as if all the gear in the room had nothing to do with it. Similarly, the hoary Johanos/Dallas version of Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances (Classic DAD 1004) seemed more spatially unconstrained than ever.

Returning to the Willow depth-demon CD, all the trickery of the engineering was effectively revealed, with instruments widely spread from wall to wall and some voices a city block away! Power output from the Wazoo was more than sufficient in this context. It was less forward in the HF than the McCormack DNA-1, and slightly less grain-free throughout the spectrum than the Simaudio Moon W-5. Of course, the Genesis 500s have their own (sub)woofer amps, which eased the task and permitted the Wazoo to do its magic. And magic it certainly was—the $2800 one-box amp did marvelous things with those $10,000 speakers.

The Wazoo's longest employment, however, was in my weekend system, where it was fed by an Assemblage DAC-2 or Audio Alchemy DITB with CD and DMX sources, and also by the audio from my TV. The speakers were Paradigm Esprit bipolars, the only ones I've found to be suitable in my very difficult 16' by 15' by 8' room. Power output was not an issue, even though the resident amp here is a tricked-out +200Wpc Adcom 555 with fully regulated power supplies.

The Wazoo's 50Wpc could drive the Esprits with abandon, and made the room and the components sound much better than expected. The very bottom on the Esprits is surprisingly extended (especially considering they have only paired 6.5" drivers in each box), but the Wazoo gave them an unexpected firmness and authority in the bass and midbass. Again, the Wazoo's low-frequency character seemed to match itself to the speaker, providing warmth and control exactly where needed. And despite the mere 7–8' listening distance, the Wazoo/Esprit combination was completely successful in placing cymbals and sibilants in the soundstage and not at the tweeters, without any apparent shelving of the HF, which remained crystalline and extended.

All of these enhancements were aptly demonstrated on the title track of George Faber's It Beats Workin' (PopeMusic PMG 2023-2), a gritty and dynamic recording of great refinement. I have to admit that, once I got the Wazoo into this system, it was difficult to remove it. For the first time, I found myself looking forward to my weekend audio experiences, whether musical or home theater.

There was only one fly in the ointment: The Wazoo's 1.2k ohm input impedance was a problem for the audio output of my Sony TV, which wants to see a load of at least 25k ohms. The Sony solved the problem by simply turning off every so often. So much for mass market meets High End!

Wazoo or Schmoo?
It was a pleasure to use the Wazoo in my systems over a long period of time. It never failed to perform well, never made any extraneous noises, never produced any noticeable hum, never did anything other than make music. (Oh, I forgot: It did elicit murmurs of admiration even when turned off!)

I'm reminded of Al Capp's wonderful invention, the Schmoo. Schmoos were extraterrestrials who looked like bowling pins with big shiny eyes and short legs. Their only desire was to please mankind, as represented by Li'l Abner and the other Dogpatch denizens. Gaze hungrily at a Schmoo and it would turn into ham and eggs, stare thirstily and it would transform itself into a jug of milk—whatever you desired.

Well, the Wazoo's a Schmoo. Connect it to a small-driver system in a hard room and it supplies warmth and grip. Connect it to a large and powerful system and it provides subtlety and detail. Connect it to a neutral system and it is commensurately transparent.

What makes the Wazoo special is that it seemed to supply the exact character needed to make each of my systems sound better. More than that cannot be asked of any component. Unless you have unusually inefficient speakers, or you think that $2800 is too little to pay for a truly high-end amp, I don't see how you can avoid considering the Bow Technologies Wazoo for your system.

Postscript
Weeks after I shipped off the Wazoo to Santa Fe for John Atkinson's examination, he told me that it had grossly misadjusted biasing and was capable of only about 10W of clean output. (I don't usually see the lab findings until they're published.) He added that Bow thought this might account for the less than stellar performance with the Apogee Duettas—and, by the way, that I should expect Wazoos One (#0052) and Two (#1038) by return post for comparison.

Wazoo One was eminently satisfactory with the Genesis 500s, and so was Two. With the 500s' built-in woofer amp representing (probably) a nice resistive load, neither Wazoo was stressed at volume levels that induced stress in this listener. (Fans of single-ended triodes, if they bother to read this, will be nodding and smiling—they know how far a decent 10W amp can take you.) Consequently there was little to choose between them, with the exception of a slightly, but audibly, lower noise floor on the Wazoo Two.

Switching over to a pair of Coincident Technology Super Conquests, the Wazoo had to provide full power in the bass—and believe me, I cranked these guys mercilessly. Under these conditions, differences between the two samples became apparent. In addition to the recordings used in the original review, I selected Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth (4AD 45384-2) because this recording has a very open acoustic and a wide dynamic range; it is, therefore, quite revealing of timbral changes in individual instruments. At lower levels (read: normal domestic levels), the Wazoo One was as reported earlier; when pushed hard, however, its distinctive low-end characteristics grew increasingly prominent. The midbass warmth approached woolliness, and the extreme bottom became overly constrained. Switching over to the new Wazoo, the sound simply got louder with rotation of the volume control, but the general character remained constant.

Finally, I tried them both with the Previn/LSO Symphonic Dances in order to assess soundstaging and resolution with a recording of a large ensemble. As before, the differences became apparent only at levels exceeding domestic needs. Both were capable of creating a comparably deep and wide soundstage; when pushed, however, the first Wazoo wimped out on the bottom end, and began to add noticeable glare and hash in the upper midrange and treble. Wazoo Two recognized no such limits, providing all the clean output my stressed ears could handle.

In all these auditions, the soundstage presentation of Wazoo Two was the same as that of One. Because of this, and because the Duettas create a satisfying spatial illusion at low levels with other amps, I suspect that lack of power per se was not responsible for their mismatch with Wazoo One. Since the Duettas are now in someone else's living room, I cannot confirm this, or deny Bow's contention that Wazoo Two might drive the Duettas more successfully.

From this comparison, I contend that my assessment of Wazoo One is also a fair representation of Wazoo Two. They had the same tonal balance, generous bass, and silky highs. They both re-created wide and deep soundstages, and permitted the listener to distinguish the subtle characteristics of source material and source components. They differed primarily in how they responded to a demand for high power. Wazoo Two is, as they say in the detergent commercials, bigger, bolder, better.

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