David Wilson: Speaking the Same Language Page 2

Phillips: What has differentiated the successive generations of WATTs from one another?

Wilson: The enclosure has stayed the same—the geometry of that enclosure and its structural integrity are hard to improve upon. The 6.5" drivers have always had paper cones—in fact, the first three generations used the same bass driver, a SEAS unit which sounds wonderful in the midrange. I always voice a speaker by starting in the midrange and gradually working up an octave, down an octave, up another octave, down another octave—which is how I "vowel" a WAMM when setting them up in the field. We were going to use a different driver in the series IV, but we ended up using it in our new three-way system, the WITT.

The tweeter has always been an inverted dome, which has become the trademark of Focal, who make more of them than anyone else. Focal and Wilson Audio have worked very closely on the development of specific drivers—we fine-tune the magnetic structure, the pole-piece structure, of these drivers, and Focal builds them for us on a proprietary basis. The first version had a fiberglass inverted dome with a "Tube Trap" behind the pole-piece. The second version had the same fiberglass inverted dome, but had a larger trap behind the pole-piece. The third version had a different magnetic structure, but kept the larger trap. The current tweeter is an inverted titanium dome with a very large bass trap behind it.

The Puppy's drivers have been the same in each iteration. The crossover network on the WATT has been completely different on each version, to accommodate the different characteristics of the drivers. The first version had an impedance dip at about 2kHz that would drop down to about half an ohm. Occasionally that would cause problems with certain amplifiers. Series II dropped to about eight or nine tenths of an ohm, which made it easier on amplifiers in a number of ways. By the third version, we were up to about 1.5 ohms, and the reactive nature of that impedance dip was more benign than previous ones. Series 5 does not have a 2kHz dip at all! The crossover configuration is not only different in specific values, but the topology is completely different as well.

Phillips: Wait a minute—did you just say that there's a new Wilson loudspeaker?

Wilson: Yes, it's a single-enclosure three-way called the WITT, and it's shipping now. It costs $8888 a pair—we think it offers more than 80% of the performance of the WATT/Puppy System 5 for about 60% of the price. Everybody who has heard it is quite excited by it. [Stereophile's reviews of the WITT appeared in January and July 1996, and January 1998.—Ed.]

Phillips: Was there anything that might have predicted your success as a speaker designer?

Wilson: In 1948, when I was about four years old, my parents bought a console phonograph—it even had a 9" television in it—and my sister and I would lie down on the floor and listen to 78rpm records of Hopalong Cassidy and Dumbo and all of these wonderful stories. It was like magic to me. My father wasn't really able to explain how a phonograph record worked, but I do remember looking at the grooves and being fascinated by how they made sound.

In 1958 there were experiments with stereo simulcasts—Bell had done this earlier, but this was the period when they were trying to make it commercially viable by having people experience it—where they would broadcast one channel on FM and another on AM. One night I lay down with that old 1948 Zenith console on one side and my seven-transistor portable on the other while they played "Ghost Riders in the Sky" with Vaughan Monroe and I thought, "This is just incredible! This is really great!" I was the only one in the room—I think my folks were downstairs watching I Love Lucy on the big TV. But that was an important experience for me.

When I went to college, I focused on biology and zoology, but I built my first loudspeaker system in 1958—so audio was a hobby. I'm really thankful that I had that hobby, because audio is one of those rare pastimes that gives satisfaction in more than one dimension. You have the technical aspect, which I believe is definitely an art form in itself, and you have the musical satisfaction. As a teenager, I suspect it kept me out of a lot of trouble—I've got four kids now, and having a good hobby like that is a wonderful thing.

When I met Sheryl in college, one of her first questions was, "What are you going to do with your life?" She's always been extremely practical. I replied, "I'm going to go into cancer research." I did go into clinical research and I designed equipment for research, which I found satisfying, but the audio hobby continued to grow—Sheryl says it metastasized. It got completely out of control and I ultimately left my employment at Cutter Laboratories, where I was designing medical equipment.

It's been challenging, but I think the trip's been worth it. I'd like to think that I've given people higher levels of musical satisfaction in their own homes—some of that same thrill of discovery of music that I still seek and enjoy now.

Later we fell into a conversation about photography—specifically Ansel Adams, for whom we share a great admiration. I quoted Adams, thinking Wilson would have an affinity for his observation that "There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept."

Wilson: [laughs] That reminds me of some of the windmills our industry has been jousting with for many years—THD and some other measurements that companies spend years reducing, never realizing that the methods they are using are creating unknown distortions more objectionable than the ones they're trying to correct. Sometimes I think we have an industry that has come up with brilliant solutions to irrelevant questions.