Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy System 5 loudspeaker Watt/Puppy 5.1 upgrade
Wilson Audio's WATT/Puppy 5.1 is the latest version of that long-time audiophile reference loudspeaker. What's involved in the change? The Puppy Tail—the wire connecting the high-pass outputs of the Puppy subwoofer to the WATT's inputs—has been replaced with a new cable, designed by Wilson to act as "a more perfect electrical interface." The system's list price has risen from $14,990 to $16,290; owners of the WATT/Puppy 5 can upgrade to 5.1 status for $695.
When I reviewed the WATT/Puppy 5 back in November '95 (Vol.18 No.11), I really fell for its dynamic impact and precise projection, but ultimately felt it to be a tad uninvolving. Remarkably, the new Puppy Tails address that very issue, while to a great extent ameliorating the midbass "blump" that tended to blur details around the crossover's 70Hz overlap point.
All this from a wire? Wilson Audio emphasizes that the new Puppy Tail has been carefully designed to match the electrical characteristics of the two units, and that it is internally quite complex. However, they won't say much more than that—other than to claim that one of their design goals was to increase the speakers' musicality.
The differences wrought by the new Puppy Tail are remarkable. They might not seem that extreme in the context of an average speaker system, but the WATT/Puppy 5 isn't an average speaker system—it's rated Class A in "Recommended Components," and has become an industry standard for resolution. In that context, any change is significant.
The WATT/Puppy 5.1 sounds much more full-bodied than its predecessor. Where the 5 had a slightly lean, somewhat aggressive sound, the 5.1 sounds robust, more powerful. The 5.1 sounds as if it has deeper bass, too, but I suspect that this is merely a reflection of its more uniform sound below 150Hz. Listening to "Ophelia," from The Band's Across The Great Divide boxed set (CD, Capitol 89565 2), I was struck by how punchy Rick Danko's bass guitar sounded, and how powerfully it integrated with Levon Helm's lithe drumming to drive this song along. Yet the bass and drums didn't overwhelm the track, instead matching the immediacy of the other instruments and Helm's singing—which had previously overwhelmed them.
The top end of the WATT/Puppy—which some listeners have found a bit zippy—benefits from this newfound low-end body. It is no longer a lean-sounding speaker. Like a Great Dane puppy growing to match its huge paws, the system 5.1 has at last grown into its sound—the WATT/Puppy is much more musically involving now.
Paradoxically, the improvements have made me aware of Puppy-related problems that have always existed but were previously obscured. The first is that, good as it is, the Puppy is nowhere near as inert as the WATT—it adds a somewhat chesty coloration. This characteristic, subtle but now audible in the 5.1, seems to be exacerbated by the Puppy's port—as I discovered when I accidentally covered the port while checking connections. I was able to change the sound drastically by partially obscuring the port's output. I'm no speaker builder, but I'd be surprised if some sort of stiffening—such as the straws with which ProAc used to load their Tablette's port—or a tuning plug of some kind wouldn't offer substantial benefits. The port is modular and easily replaceable, so...who knows? We might even see another inexpensive modification to these speakers.
Boy, you just can't please some people! The fact is that the WATT/Puppy 5.1 improves a speaker that was awfully good in the first place—a speaker good enough to be in our highest category of recommendation. It seems a shame we can't recommend it any higher than that.—Wes Phillips