David Wilson: WAMM!! WATT?!? WHOW!!! (& the Puppies!) Page 3
Wilson: Lots of dollars per hertz—but it only hurts for a little while! So the development of the Puppy proceeded, the final configuration being two Dynaudio woofers—the units with the large magnets—in an enclosure which basically encloses four other enclosures; a ported design, with a rear-firing port; extreme rigidity to cut down panel readout so that it doesn't color the sound in the upper bass/lower midrange; a crossover point high enough so that it really can take the ball from the WATT up there where the WATT is still dynamically linear, and carry that ball on down into the lower regions; and to do it without dynamic compression; to do it simply, elegantly, and ruggedly.
What we finally ended up with was the Puppy, which has its –3dB point, measured at the port, of around 30Hz. 35Hz is no problem with it. 32Hz is quite reachable in most rooms. We don't get the 20, we don't get 24, but we get a real nice 30—more than we had originally bargained for—and the overall performance envelope is broader than we had expected.
Atkinson: You were saying at the WCES that perhaps one of the things which has restricted the commercial impact of high-end audio is the tweak factor that seems to be synonymous with the words "high end." Is it correct to say that with the WATT/Puppy, you've tried to take all that out of it? That you've tried to make it extremely accessible to non-audiophiles?
Wilson: Mm hmm. All other things being equal, I think that simplicity is a virtue. The component that doesn't exist doesn't break. So by reducing the number of components, you theoretically increase the reliability of the product. By incorporating a passive crossover of extraordinary quality into the Puppy, it's no longer necessary to use a separate electronic crossover with the woofer. It's therefore unnecessary any longer to use a separate power amplifier for the woofer; it's therefore unnecessary to use more interconnects; it's unnecessary to use an additional pair of speaker cables. So right away, consumers wanting high-quality sound in their home can have twice as much space released for family use. It's a system that's going to be more reliable. Overall, it's going to cost the consumer less because there's less associated paraphernalia and equipment that's required.
For people who are terminally tweak, we do provide the option of direct inputs so they can use their separate amplifiers and crossovers. I will tell you this—that it is virtually impossible for such a combination to match the performance of the built-in crossover in the Puppy. One reason is that the built-in passive crossover rotates capacitive-reactance phase angles a certain number of degrees in the lower midrange, which preconditions the signal for the WATTs so that the final acoustical phase linearity is more correct. To my knowledge, no existing separate electronic crossover has that feature. The series inductor in the Puppy is a heroic design. It will not saturate at any voltage/frequency combination above 25Hz or below 1000V. That's volts, not watts. It's a massive, magnificent device, and it's expensive. But we don't use many devices in the crossover, so each one of them can be absolutely the finest quality available.
It's also a system whose footprint, if you will, in the room is no larger than that of the WATT itself. So in terms of usable floor space, it just isn't taking that much. In working with interior designers over the last six years, we have found that there has been a move toward smaller and smaller living rooms and dens, and larger master bedroom suites in new homes. So people are paying more attention to what they put in those rooms. They don't want to waste space. And what they put in those rooms also has to be consistent with the decor that they've chosen. Therefore, if you can combine that kind of decor friendliness with superb sound quality, that's got to be the best approach, and certainly the one that's going to be the most acceptable to a wider range of consumers. That's a very important thing for our industry to succeed in doing, getting the qualities of high-end audio into the homes of more and more people. Not just from the standpoint of sales volume, but from the standpoint of building the credibility of the industry.
Atkinson: I also think that's very important. If you look back at the high-end products that were around 10 years ago, there were preamplifiers which continually broke, and power amplifiers that were both unreliable and were so badly finished, you cut your fingers on the heatsinks. Perhaps it didn't matter then because of the hobbyist nature of the high end in the mid to late '70s. But now you have a mature industry which, as I see it, is the real American consumer electronics industry: indigenous manufacturers making products that still have real value, products that are far removed from being disposable. It is blinkered thinking for these manufacturers to restrict themselves to the hobbyist mentality.
Wilson: This comment about high-end audio becoming the American consumer electronics audio industry reminds me somewhat of the Swiss watch industry, which for decades was built on this magnificent foundation of accuracy, precision of manufacture, elegance, and durability, with a concomitant high price. And then the Japanese come in with their digital watches, and it looked for a while like, no more analog watches. I mean, who would buy one of those things that doesn't give you the number right there? But then people started to realize a couple of things. Number one, digital and analog watches tell you two completely different types of information. And two, people are not so much interested in knowing exactly what minute and second it is as being able to read time relationships—"Do I have a little bit of time before I've got to be in that meeting?" You can tell that at a glance with your analog watch.
What has happened is that the Swiss are now back in the analog watch business. The Japanese too, with Seiko, of course, but the Swiss are now very secure in having a small but fanatically dedicated market which wants fine-quality Swiss watches. And which will not tolerate digital watches. I see an analogy there between the Swiss and their analog watches and the United States and its high-end audio industry. And to a certain extent Switzerland, France, Great Britain. (I don't see too much of it in Japan.) I see most high-end coming from those four countries, but with the largest amount from the US. I feel that high-end audio is a peculiarly American industry and that it's a way of enhancing the prestige of the US overseas. I'm delighted to say that the market in Japan for WATTs and Puppies has begun to take off. We figure one Toyota per WATT/Puppy. [laughs] We've got a long way to go.
Atkinson: I wonder if this maturing of the high-end industry has perhaps taken place without the industry itself realizing it. You can draw a parallel with the high-end magazines. Although many people still do so, it's a misnomer these days to refer to The Absolute Sound and Stereophile as "underground" magazines because, in fact, they are not underground. They are professionally produced, have high production values, are centered within a mature industry, and have achieved respectable circulations, without, I think, changing their ethos from what it was when either magazine was started. But if you compare the current status of The Absolute Sound and Stereophile with the problems suffered by what was once a "real" hi-fi magazine, High Fidelity, then I think you have an exact parallel between that and what has happened to the American high-end companies and to the mass-market hi-fi companies who, of course, are mainly Japanese or Far Eastern.