Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy System 5 loudspeaker Page 3
I've also rarely heard a system that transported me so physically into the acoustic of the recording venue. One evening, in a mildly foul mood, I played Emmylou Harris and the Nash Ramblers' At the Ryman CD (Reprise 26664-2). As I listened to Stephen Foster's "Hard Times," I was somewhat aware of the warmth of Emmylou's breath, of how life-sized the image of her standing in my living room was, of how solid and full the backing harmonies were—I'd have to have been dead not to! But what stunned me—and totally drew me out of my funk—was the tumultuous applause that greeted her performance. I looked up in shock: someone had removed my living-room wall and replaced it with 2000 people sitting in rows and clapping at me. Damn, that felt good!
Naturally, I programmed my CD player to A-B from the beginning of the ovation to the end and sat there basking in wave after wave of adulation, graciously acknowledging how moved I was by the tribute of all those fine folks. It became my reward for any onerous task: mopping the bathroom floor, emptying the cat-box, writing a review. Actually, if you'll excuse me for a minute, I could use a dose right now...
Dynamics? Lord, does this speaker system limn the full dynamic range. No detail is too slight to hear—this is the rare speaker that truly distinguishes between pp and ppp. On the other hand, if you want to hear a blast of raw power, this is your meat. My first exposure to the current generation of the speaker was at Audio Consultants, the Chicago-area Wilson dealer, back at the 1994 Summer CES; Mark Wilson had invited me over to watch him "vowel" a pair into position. After the speakers were set up and we fell into the usual pattern of trading favorite cuts, I got around to whipping out my Corigliano First Symphony. The excerpt I chose started quietly, so I turned up the preamp. As the third movement ground relentlessly toward its climax, I felt that it was getting a little loud, but I really hate it when a listener stomps all over a work's integrity by potting it down as it is supposed to be growing in authority.
Did I say authority? By the end of the movement, Mark and I were practically being pushed back in our chairs by the force of the sound. In the sudden silence at the end of the movement, I swear I heard air molecules still sizzling. Mark looked at me and asked, "Do you normally listen that loud?" Well, no. But the sound never got distorted or congested. As we left the sound room, the manager rushed in and began checking the Sheetrock seams: "I don't know what they were doing in here, but on that side they were bulging!"
If there's a price to be paid for every boon, then in the case of the WATT/Puppy, that price is the extent to which it will reveal everything about the chain of reproduction. I mean everything. Most wire is slower and much more colored than these speakers, so matching cables to them becomes an almost overwhelming task. I found MIT's MH-770 CVTerminator speaker cable to be the best match given the components I had on hand, which makes a certain amount of sense since Wilson employs MIT as the umbilical between the WATT and Puppy. I'm sure there are other complementary packages as well; I didn't have a chance to experiment with much of what's out there.
Component matching was also a sensitive issue. "These speakers are microscopes," one manufacturer claimed; "small stuff gets magnified until it seems monstrous." Every time I thought I could describe the WATT/Puppy sound, I found that changing a component in the system changed their character. This means that they're not a speaker system for the uncertain. If you're the type of audiophile who tends to be fickle in your sonic affections, these speakers will cost you a lot more money than their purchase price as you stagger from component to component in your search for perfection.
This doesn't mean they're picky about what they play with. I connected them to a lot of modestly priced equipment and they performed well. In fact, the first system I listened to consisted of Audio Alchemy's DLC preamp, VAC's $2000 PA 80/80 amplifier (footnote 2), and McCormack's SST-1/DAC combo—a front-end I really enjoyed, and which costs out at less than $5000. Ultimately, however, I moved on to other gear, discovering when I did so that the sound I had enjoyed was not, in fact, that of the speakers themselves, but of everything else. A WATT/Puppy system must be carefully constructed around its owner's sonic preferences. Leaving it to a dealer or randomly choosing Class A components from Stereophile's "Recommended Components" might well generate a reference-quality system that would still manage to disappoint.
Footnote 2: Other amplifiers used to drive the Wilsons in the review period were a pair of Pass Aleph 0 solid-state monoblocks, and Audio Research D-200 and Conrad-Johnson Premier Eleven A stereo amps.