Wilson WATT Series 3-Puppy 2 loudspeaker Page 3
The soundstage presented by the WATTs and Puppies was big, relatively deep (though not as deep as that thrown by the KEF 107s I reviewed in May), and sharply defined. Just before the Gerontius passage mentioned earlier, for example, an unaccompanied double choir antiphonally requests God to be merciful and to spare Gerontius's soul. The WATT/Puppy soundstage is of such delicacy that you can hear each of the eight voices as they enter, superbly delineated in the recorded acoustic.
The imaging tests on the Chesky Test CD (JD37) confirmed the imaging excellence of the Wilson system, though the images that are supposed to be to the left and right of the left and right speakers, respectively, instead moved back behind the speakers at the extreme positions. The LEDR "Up" and "Over" tests also reproduced with impressive image height, though they were a little more unstable than with the best speakers I've heard with this test.
Relatively effortless dynamics coupled with superb transparency made my time with the WATTs and Puppies rewarding. Their ability to decipher the subtleties of what was ahead of them in the reproduction chain, be it equipment or recordingsthey made it so easy to hear that the admittedly excellent-sounding Klavier recut of the classic Fremaux Massenet Le Cid LP (KS522, available from Acoustic Sounds) was still not as good as the 1977 HMV Greensleeve reissue of the 1971 Studio Two original (ESD 7040), but without having it thrust at you, without the system shouting "Are you deaf? It's different!"made critical listening a joy rather than a strain.
It was, in fact, in the catholic nature of their overall performance that the WATTs and Puppies proved their worth. They were as good at playing one of the superbly natural Wilson chamber music recordingscheck out the Beethoven and Enescu violin sonata album, W-8315as they were handling a full symphony orchestra playing flat out, the Chesky reissue of the 1962 Horenstein Brahms Symphony 1 (CD19), for example (possibly the finest Brahms 1 available, regarding both performance and sound).
In many listening sessions, I put on a record to listen for a specific performance aspect, but found myself listening through to the end of the work. And then perhaps putting on a musically related disc rather than one to do with the review. One night, for exampleI forget the exact audiophile reason whyI reached for the EMI CD of Nigel Kennedy playing the Elgar Violin concerto (CDC 7 47210 2). Then for the 1978 Ida Haendel with Boult (EMI ASD 3598). Then for the 1932 with the composer conducting and the soloist a youthful Yehudi Menuhin"[A] wonderful boy," said Elgar; "So trusting and casual a composer!" said Menuhin (HMV Treasury HLM 7107). From stereo CD to stereo LP to mono 78 transcribed on to LP, all with the technical aspects of their sound open for inspection by the listener but not so as to interfere with the music.
Tony Randall or Jack Lemmon?
It would seem appropriate to compare the WATT 3 with the older series 2 design. This didn't turn out to be as straightforward as it sounds, due to an attack of "reviewer's luck." Right from the start, one of the WATT 2s had sounded a little more subdued in the highs than the other. Then, after I set the 2s up again following the arrival of the 3s, first that same speaker started to emit buzzing noises, then its tweeter died completely. Apparently, one batch of Focal tweeters suffered from the faceplate separating over time, with this sonic result. Wilson sent me a replacement tweeter kit, complete with detailed instructions and special solder, and an hour's careful work saw the speaker back in operation (footnote 7).
As I was only interested in the differences between the speakers for these comparisons, it seemed appropriate to eliminate the Puppies' effects. Both pairs were therefore driven directly by the Mark Levinson No.23.5, still sitting on the Puppies but with the latter's inputs shorted with lengths of cable.
Tonally, the differences were relatively small, which is not to say that they're unimportant. Though the WATT 2 had a warmer midrange and a slightly less emphasized top octave than the 3, it was noticeably more uneven in both the upper midrange and low treble. On Stereophile's Poem CD, the declamatory flute arpeggios in the final movement of the Prokofiev sonata were both less well-balanced from low to high notes and also more shrieky, for example. Both speakers had mid- and low bass missing in action, which lent piano reproduction a rather "toy"-like aspect, though the low midrange was tonally accurate on both. Noticeable on voice, however, was more of a cupped-hands coloration via the Series 2 speakers, which also slightly emphasized the reedy nature of recorded organ.
Both speakers had similarly good articulation, but the 2 had noticeably less "pace" than the 3, sounding less dynamic. By this I mean that the performance seemed a little slower. You may be wondering how this can be. Let me illustrate: a favorite choral recording, in that it sounds so natural, is of the Proprius Bach Wachet Auf cantata (released on LP in 1979 on the English Meridian label, E77016). The continuo cellist, playing a dotted quarter-note figure, seems to hang back more with the WATT 2s than the 3s, almost as if he or she is playing with more of a triplet feel; the more recent speakers reproduce more of the essential sense of forward movement that the iambic, dotted nature of the accompaniment implies. This relative lack of rhythmic drive could also be heard on Peter Mitchell's organ recording on the Stereophile Test CD. While both speakers lit up a dome of ambient space around the organ pipes, the 2s' performance was more deliberate, with less musical flow.
These comparisons certainly confirmed that the Series 3 is a more musical, less colored performer than the WATT 2. But they also left me with the feeling that without the Puppy, the WATT is a superbly transparent curiosity, best destined for special purposes only rather than for general musical listening, such as location monitoring. Which is the reason David Wilson designed it in the first place, of course!
To sum up...
With a total system price ranging from $10,940 to $13,140 depending on finish, the Wilson WATT/Puppy combination is one of the more expensive loudspeakers to be found. To be recommended at all, it must be capable of offering a superior musical sound on a consistent basis.
And this it does.
In spades. With a relative immunity to the swings and arrows of outrageous system setup and matching. While the WATT 3 on its own is too specialized for general recommendation, the WATT/Puppy combination is a genuine Class A contender, the subjective whole being greater than the sum of its objective parts.
Footnote 7: Dismantling a speaker in order to repair it leaves no corners where inadequate build quality can hide. However, as with the Celestion SL700, which I also once had to repair, such an experience left me even more impressed with the WATT's construction. While such build quality doesn't outflank sound quality when it comes to defining a product as "high-end," it certainly should not be forgotten in that it certainly contributes to the purchaser's pride of ownership.