Wilson Audio Specialties WATT/Puppy 7 loudspeaker Page 3

Couple the detailed, slightly crystalline, but not etched top end with the subtle warmth below, and you have a recipe for a speaker that would seem to be more about love than respect, more about pleasure than analytical accuracy. Yet the choices made by Wilson and whoever else worked on the 7's voicing were so masterfully applied that I didn't notice them unless I went looking for them. (You have to make peace with whatever speaker ends up in your room. If you can't hear through it now, count on doing so eventually.)

The WATT/Puppy 7s produced an enormous sonic picture in my room, with the second most effortless presentation of depth and layered images that I've heard there. (First place goes to the Rockport Antares.) The WATT/Puppy convincingly placed reach-out-and-touch-'em images in space across the stage, well in front of the speakers, with greater delicacy and precision than any speaker I have reviewed—with the possible exception of the Rockports. They did likewise at the back of the stage, where their image clarity and transparency also rivaled the Antareses'. Overall image focus and solidity was in the Rockport class as well, which, before the WATT/Puppy 7, was a class of one in my reviewing experience. Also like the Rockport, the Wilson produced ultra-black backgrounds from which the most delicate and easily damaged sounds emerged unscathed.

Kuiet Kabinets are King
Though the Rockport Technologies Antares and Wilson WATT/Puppy 7 had completely different sonic signatures, my listening experiences of them were similar, most likely due to the fanatical attention both designers have paid to ridding the cabinets of resonances. While Rockport's Andy Payor went to almost heroic efforts, Wilson's achievement is also impressive, based on how the WATT/Puppys performed. I doubt the 7's cabinet-resonance measurements will be as impressive as the Antares', which were low to the point of being nonexistent, but I'd say the 7's cabinet was probably deader than most.

I found out what an essentially dead cabinet can do when the WATT/Puppies left and my reference Audio Physic Avanti IIIs returned. I had been playing a superbly recorded solo-piano CD, True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead (Odyssey/Sony SK 87321), through the WATT/Puppys and marveling at the textural and tonal delicacy of the piano and its focus and clarity between the speakers. The keyboard's lower octaves were reproduced with the same percussive and harmonic clarity as the middle and upper octaves, with not a hint of clouding or congestion. I could almost feel O'Riley's fingers tapping the keys, and I bathed in the woody percussive afterglow as the felt hammers hit the strings. A velvety pitch-blackness behind the piano put the instrument in such dramatic relief that I could almost see its outline. This was the Antares Experience revisited: sound that was quick, almost ethereal, that melted in my ears and evaporated. That's what a speaker can sound like when its cabinet doesn't sing.

I'd heard True Love Waits only on the WATT/Puppy 7—the disc arrived after the speakers had already been installed. I gave one last listen just before JA arrived to take the Wilsons away to be measured; then, after reinstalling the Avanti IIIs, I listened again. The Audio Physic Avanti III ($12,000/pair) is an intelligently designed, well-engineered, sturdily built speaker with an ultra-sophisticated Hornflex cabinet. Overall, as expected, the Wilson outperformed the AP, though I'd bet the Avanti III's overall frequency response measured flatter.

The biggest difference I heard with the O'Riley disc was at the bottom end of the keyboard, where the 7's overall transparency easily bettered the III's rendering. While the piano's delicate tonal and textural characters and spatial presentation remained fixed through the 7s, the IIIs' presentation changed when O'Riley hit the lower notes. Transient and tonal clarity gave way to a slight cloudiness, congestion, and softness of intent, with a subtle loss of image focus and delicacy. The illusion of the piano centered between the speakers was, if not shattered, then somewhat disturbed. As with the Rockport Antares, the WATT/Puppy 7's freedom from congestion at all frequencies and at any volume level gave it an addictive ease and transparency that was like looking into a bottomless lake.

I fixated on Kenneth Wilkinson's superb recording of Vladimir Ashkenazy, Georg Solti, and the Chicago Symphony performing the five Beethoven piano concertos (Decca SXLG 6594-7, 4 LPs). Again, the 7's reproduction of the piano had a transcendent clarity, delicacy, transparency, and octave-to-octave consistency that the III, not surprisingly, couldn't match. Nor could the Avanti compete with the WATT's velvety, pitch-black backdrop. That's most of what you get for your extra $10,000: clarity, transparency, jet-black backgrounds, and a sense that, once the event has occurred, it drops off quickly into a black hole of nothingness without "singing" back.

About the time the WATT/Puppy 7s arrived, Halcro's Philip O'Hanlon asked if, just for kicks, I'd like to audition the dm10 preamp and a pair of dm68 monoblocks. Although adding more unknown variables would only complicate the review, I couldn't say no. So, during my two months with the Wilsons, I listened to: the revealing, almost painfully neutral Halcro combo; the Hovland HP-100 preamplifier driving the Halcro monoblocks; the Halcro preamp driving the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 power amp; and my reference combo of Hovland HP-100 and Nu-Vista 300. And for about a week, a Naim NAC 552 preamp was available as well.

Halcro wished that I would listen to the amps with Shunyata Research cables, including the Andromeda speaker cables ($2995), Aries interconnects, and a variety of power cords. I already had Shunyata's Hydra power-distribution system. Depending on your sonic perspective and your associated gear, these eye-candy cables are either sonically transparent, translucent, and pure, removing layers of baked-on grit and grain—or they modestly roll off the high-frequency response, soften leading edges, and cunningly suppress and sweeten upper-octave balance.

Whatever they do, I found myself flip-flopping the Shunyatas with a full set of Harmonic Technology Magic Woofer speaker cables and Magic interconnects, which produced a completely different sound on top: more edge, transient speed, and detail, sometimes with more satisfying bite, sometimes with unpleasant grit. With so many choices and variables swirling around my system (including, sometimes, essentially a whole different system), I'm not about to make sweeping pronouncements about how the Shunyata Research cables sounded. But with the WATT/Puppys, I preferred them overall to the Harmonic Technology cables, regardless of partnering electronics.

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