Wilson Audio Specialties WATT/Puppy 7 loudspeaker Page 2

Before the WATT 7, all WATTs were made of ceramic-filled methacrylic. The 7 is made of M material, which is made of multiple layers of nonsynthetic pulp and mineral-based material. Each layer is hard on its surface and soft in the center. "M" has more uniform particle size throughout compared to MDF; the result is a material claimed to be both harder and better damped than MDF or methacrylic.

Wilson told me that M transmits about 10dB less noise when excited than methacrylic, resulting in far less "group delay jitter" than the previous cabinet. The new material's hardness better matches the flanges of the drive-units, resulting in better energy transfer and quicker "settling" in the midrange. Wilson claims this new level of "quiet" allows one to hear deeper into the musical mix than before.

The Puppy cabinet is a combination of M and X material, the latter a high-density mineral and phenolic resin said to be as hard as steel and twice as hard as M, yet with outstanding damping characteristics. X is used for the front baffle and the cabinet's top and bottom. Wilson claims the material is extremely difficult to mill. Milling X takes about 12 times as long as milling MDF, and time is money; and because X is such an excellent insulator, it sends heat back to the milling tool instead of absorbing it, thus destroying the tool far more quickly than other materials.

Overall, Wilson told me, making the cabinets of M and X costs 15 times more than MDF. But, he claims, the result is improved transient performance, transparency, and speed, and far better low-level resolution. The 1" Focal titanium-foil, inverted-dome tweeter and 7" ScanSpeak midrange driver used in the WATT 6, both built to Wilson's specs and further modified at the factory, have been carried over to the 7.

A new Wilson-spec'd, ScanSpeak-supplied 8" woofer with a rubber surround replaces the foam-surround Dynaudio drivers used in earlier Puppys. New cabinet materials and a new woofer allowed Wilson to retune the rear-ported Puppy enclosure for deeper, more uniform bass. Crossovers in both sections were reworked (125Hz from Puppy to WATT, "about" 2kHz from midrange to tweeter); Wilson said the revisions to the WATT's crossover were "extensive," though he provided no other details.

While the WATT 7 looks no different from the 6, there are subtle cosmetic differences that are claimed to result in a cleaner integration of the WATT and Puppy cabinets. Producing the translucent, mirror-like skin is a costly, time-consuming process that first requires extensive surface sanding, then spraying on a sealer coat, then applying a 0.015"-thick coat of a waterproofing gel that's also used on yachts. After polishing, an auto-grade base coat of paint is applied, then the final color coat, and finally a clear urethane sealer. There's no denying the superb level of fit'n'finish, but overall, despite its flashy finish and choice of meticulously applied colors, the WATT/Puppy still looks to me like a squat, businesslike, fairly homely loudspeaker.

By any standard, the WATT/Puppy 7 appears to be exquisitely built. However, I suspect that to truly appreciate its physical and mechanical integrity, I'd have to watch it being built from the ground up, which I haven't. Another way would be to listen to it in my own home, which I have.

Just what I need: another Puppy in the house
Despite its small size, the WATT/Puppy 7 went very deep—down to around the mid-20Hz range in my room. The bass was impressively tuneful and relatively well-controlled, though it had a slightly loose and warm quality right up through to the midbass. The speaker's low-frequency performance had an attractively tactile quality without a hint of bloat, boom, or mechanical resonance. Both acoustic and electric bass were well-served, but some might prefer a more taut tuning that paid more attention to speed and solidity than to extension. The much larger Rockport Technologies Antares ($41,500/pair; see my review in the August 2002 Stereophile) put out far less bass, but was tighter and somewhat better-defined.

The most obvious and consistent coloration I heard was in the transition from the lows to the midbass, where there seemed to be either a slight bump around what I'd guess is near 100Hz or a narrow trough between the midbass and lower midrange. Another contributor to the speaker's overall slightly warm sound could be the unusually large 7" midrange driver, which probably becomes directional, leading to a slightly suppressed reverberant field at its upper limits.

Because the WATT was initially designed to be a standalone speaker, a relatively large driver was necessary to get sufficient low-frequency response. Had Wilson designed a full-range speaker from the outset, it's unlikely he'd have chosen to use such a large driver to handle the 125Hz-2kHz range.

The WATT 7's other sticky sonic fingerprint (stickier for some than others) is the tweeter and/or how it's used. Focal's titanium-foil inverted dome has fans and detractors, and no matter how well you design a box or a crossover, the driver choice—in this case, a very detailed but allegedly "hot"-sounding tweeter that emphasizes the event over its aftermath—will affect the final outcome. I haven't paid attention to this tweeter's measurements in other applications, but I suspect one reason the small WATT/Puppy does so well in a large room is the tweeter's off-axis response. In smaller rooms, such as mine, the HF response can probably be somewhat sharp, but my space is both free of hard, reflective surfaces and carefully treated with RPG devices.

While I preferred the lighter, sweeter, airier HF performance of the Dynaudio Esotar tweeter used in the Rockport Antares and Merlin VSM Special Edition, I found the Focal's speed, transient clarity, resolution, and detail almost as enticing. I've been told that the Esotar can sound soft and rolled-off in larger rooms; there's a price to pay for every choice. In any case, the Focal did not sound so much bright as snappy, with a slight, smooth sheen on the very top.

Wilson Audio Specialties
2233 Mountain Vista Lane
Provo, UT 84606
(801) 377-2233