Wilson Audio Specialties WITT loudspeaker Page 2

Round One: The soundstage produced by the widely spaced WITTs was, as I noted above, huge. At first I thought the soundstage focus was a bit more vague than I'm accustomed to; this may well have been due to the spread of images within that soundstage in contrast to the usual left, center, and right. Still, I was able to sharpen up the stage noticeably by minor alterations in the acoustic treatment in the neighborhood of the loudspeakers (footnote 2). When I was finished, I found the soundstage surprisingly precise laterally, with good, though not exceptional, depth.

But the biggest impression made by the WITTs was neither their enveloping soundstage nor their prodigious output capability. At output levels short of sensory overload—but well beyond risking visits from the Police Nonbenevolent Association—they had a dynamic, punchy sound well beyond what you hear from most "polite" audiophile loudspeakers. The mid- and upper bass could be startling in their solidity and impact. "Kick" drum had a literal meaning. So did bass "slam."

Further up the scale, the midrange had a palpable sense of being there. Vocals were immediate; solo instruments had a real presence. There was no sense of the sound being pushed forward in the listener's face, however, and even at high playback levels the midrange retained its composure. All loudspeakers will begin to "glare" at the listener above a certain level; with the WITTs, that level is well above any level at which I'd ever choose to listen.

The top end of the WITTs was sweet and detailed—even, perhaps, a little forgiving. My general impression was that the low- to mid-treble region was a little laid-back, though there was no sense of dullness or lack of resolution. I did notice that material that sometimes sounds a little raw on a number of other good loudspeakers sounded a little sweeter and easier to take on the Wilsons. Sibilants on the otherwise well-recorded "Superman's Song," from the Crash Test Dummies' The Ghosts that Haunt Me (Arista ARCD-8677), were now pristine rather than slightly fizzy. Saxophone on King & Moore's Potato Radio (Justice JR# 0802-2) lacked its usual edge. It should have had a little more bite. Despite this, this is one metal-domed tweeter that doesn't sound metallic. I've heard the Focal Tioxid tweeter in at least two other loudspeakers—though not in my own system—and this is the best I've heard it (Wilson says that their version is not the stock Focal design). Though my first impression—that the top was a little forgiving—remained, this is still one exceptionally fine tweeter.

The only quality about the WITTs that bothered me in this first setup was a noticeable bottom-heaviness. But not irritatingly heavy; there was a majesty and weight to the sound that was enticing to hear. But there was also a pervasive warmth that didn't suit all material. Wilson Audio argues that the WITTs are exceptionally revealing loudspeakers, and I wouldn't deny that; it's possible that the rest of the system, which tends more toward warmth than to an incisive edge, was contributing to this warmth. Nonetheless, I strongly suspect that the mid- and upper bass were up by several dB.

A little warmth is far preferable, in my opinion, to a lean, bright, leached-out sound, but this was really too much of a good thing. Could I rearrange the system for an improved balance without throwing out that punchy, dynamic quality I so admired in these loudspeakers?

Round Two: The Wilson setup procedure is certainly a useful one, and I have no doubt that Wilson and their dealers have had good results with it. Any ordered, effective approach to setting up loudspeakers is to be desired. But any hard'n'fast procedure relies on certain assumptions. The biggest assumption here is that it's possible to optimize bass response, mid- and top-end timbre, and soundstaging, with a single-box loudspeaker. This won't be true in all rooms; usually, some compromise will be required. This has nothing to do with the quality of a given loudspeaker, and everything to do with the physics of a one-box loudspeaker design and the physical attributes of real rooms.

One of the best compromises I've found for my room is to set up the loudspeakers on a diagonal; fortunately, my room is large enough that I can do this and still keep the listening seat well clear of nearby walls. It's not practical to use the Wilson setup procedure with this arrangement, but I've found this off-the-room-bias positioning to give outstanding results with a number of loudspeakers. I was determined to try it with the WITTs.

So, despite the massive protests of these 200-lb canaries, I maneuvered them into my favored arrangement. The WITTs were now a couple of feet closer together than before, and still toed-in.

My first reaction to the new location was very positive. The midrange remained alive and immediate, yet natural and uncolored; from Gordon Lightfoot to the King's Singers to Mary Black to you name it, vocals had that magic, in-the-room quality. The top end, while still a bit forgiving, seemed more open than before. The soundstage was every bit as precise as before, with even better depth, though it was not quite as immense. The bass retained its striking impact and punch, and seemed tighter and better-defined. There was still more than a trace of warmth to the sound, but I didn't find it bothersome at first. That big, beefy sound was definitely appealing!

I had begun experimenting with cables and amplifiers in the original setup, and those experiments continued here. Two amplifiers were involved—the Mark Levinson No.332 and the Carver Lightstar Reference. The Carver had the more immediate, palpable quality through the midrange, and was equally sweet—perhaps even sweeter—on top. But it definitely had a richer, warmer sound than the Levinson—definitely not the best match for the WITTs.

The overall balance of the '332 was superior with the Wilsons. (I find it interesting—and puzzling—that the Carver, despite its warmth, sounds superb with the Energy Veritas v2.8, which also has an elevated warmth region in my room.)

Up to this point I'd done all my listening with either Cardas Hexlink or MIT MI-350 Reference CVTerminator interconnects and Monster Cable M1.5 loudspeaker cables. Now, however, I tried XLO Signatures—Type 1.1 interconnects and Type 5.1 loudspeaker cables. My earlier experiences with XLO cables pointed to a rather tight, fast, yet lean and even slightly bright sound. This seemed tailor-made to complement the balance I was getting with the WITTs—and it was. With the Levinson '332 and the XLOs, the bass was now noticeably tighter. Inner clarity was improved; soundstage focus was even better than before. If the midrange was perhaps just a little less palpable, well, it was a worthwhile tradeoff. The changes were definitely in the right direction.

But I was now becoming more conscious of a narrow band of low frequencies that still seemed to be energizing the room. It was uncovered either by the generally leaner bottom end of the XLO cables or, just as likely, by exposure to a growing variety of program material as the listening tests continued. I first noticed it on music (mostly pop) with an already heavy bass line, but other material—the drums on Mokave's Afriqué (AudioQuest AQ-CD1024) brought it out as well. While I felt I was 90% there in getting the best out of the WITTs, the siren song of that additional 10% kept calling, "try another setup, try another setup."

Final Round: And so I did. This time, I returned the loudspeakers to the short wall, but in slightly different locations from before. To expedite setup time I used an Audio Control SA-3050A 1/3-octave spectrum analyzer to arrive at positions for the left and right loudspeakers that offered both a reasonable spectral balance and a setup that experience suggested would produce a good soundstage. The WITTs were now slightly closer together, and closer to the wall behind, than with the Wilson-derived setup.

To confirm the compatibility of this setup with the Wilson procedure, I did my own quick "voweling-in" (footnote 3). The loudspeakers appeared to be just on the inner edge (farthest away from the side walls) of the desirable zone, and while I can claim no experience with the Wilson procedure, the new setup didn't appear to be out of line with it. I was ready to further fine-tune the setup by ear if that proved necessary.

Footnote 2: My alterations consisted of a little futzing with the sidewall damping, and thin folding screens zigzagged across the stage a few feet behind the loudspeakers. I've found the latter, made primarily of heavy rice-paper in frames and courtesy of the Damark catalog, to be useful both sonically and aesthetically.

Footnote 3: David Wilson's term for their setup procedure.

Wilson Audio Specialties, Inc.
2233 Mountain Vista Lane
Provo, UT 84606-6222
(801) 377-2233