Wilson Audio Specialties WITT loudspeaker Page 3

It didn't. With the Levinson No.332 amplifier and the XLO cables, the sound, special enough before, was now even better. There was a little less midrange immediacy than before, but it was hardly missed. The mid- and upper bass were now well-balanced—more full-bodied, certainly, than with most other audiophile loudspeakers, but somehow right.

There was also now clearly more detail in the bass than before. Jerry Goldsmith's score for Congo (Epic EK 67266)—by far the best feature of a so-bad-it's-almost-good film—is loaded with fast, explosive percussion. Without the proper sense of weight from the loudspeakers, this recording sounds thin and brittle. No such problem with the WITTs: the sound was solid and explosive.

Want something a little less cinematic but still rather, ah, strange? Dead Can Dance's Into the Labyrinth (4AD 45384-2), superbly recorded in a church, has a thick bass line which can easily become garbled. The Wilsons' now first-rate resolution opened up the sound, producing a defined yet rich bass, sharp overall image focus, and a more open, airy top end than before.

I did, however, find the bottom octave a bit subdued. There's certainly no lack of a solid foundation here, but below about 35–40Hz the sound lacks the gutsy bottom-end rumble possible, for the most part, only with a good subwoofer. The soft, low-level, but skin-tingling organ pedal that opens the second movement to Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony (De Waart, San Francisco Symphony, Philips 412 619-2), for example, was not audible from the WITTs in my listening room. It's rare for any single-enclosure loudspeaker to reproduce the full power of this passage. But it's not unheard of.

The NHT 3.3, for example, with its boundary-reinforcement woofer design plumbs the organ-pedal and explosion territory better than the WITT. The Wilson loudspeaker, however, is the clear winner in mid- and upper-bass punch, and certainly in overall sonic refinement. The Energy Veritas v2.8 seems to go a little deeper than the Wilsons, though the difference here is small enough that it could well be due to a better "room match." Nevertheless, you're not likely to find anything important missing with the WITTs unless you're a devotee of those few pieces of music that scrape the bottom of the audible range.

Or, perhaps, a devotee of Home Theater. No, I didn't try the WITTs in my Home Theater setup (in another room), but I did play back several stereo selections, digitally transferred direct from my own laserdisc collection to CD-R. The sound here was so impressive, within the limits of some very good soundtracks, that I have no hesitation in recommending the WITTs as possible candidates for an all-in-one music-and-film playback system, provided a setup can be established that does justice to both types of material. (The screen-proximity placement requirements of Home Theater are a major reason why a combined system is not always equally adept in both applications, even when the screen is moved or rolled up out of the way.)

Given the growing popularity of Home Theater, the WITTs' ability to perform spectacularly with both film sound and straight audio is a significant benefit. In the absence of dedicated matching center-channel and surround loudspeakers from Wilson—something I'd be very surprised to see—three WITTs would work across the front, with the center behind a perforated screen. WITTs might also work for the surrounds, though my experience suggests that surrounds work best if elevated above ear height—a prospect I don't even want to consider, given the WITT's sheer mass (footnote 4). WATTs might be used for surrounds, though with full-range surround channels becoming more common in 5.1-channel playback, the WITT (at roughly the same price as a Puppy-less WATT) seems to be the better option, despite its size.

This would make for one very expensive setup, especially given the sort of amplification usually sold for a loudspeaker like the WITT. Nevertheless, the sonic qualities of the latter—a clean, unexaggerated, even slightly forgiving top, good midrange presence without unnatural shoutiness or other identifiable colorations, a solid, robust bottom, and that prodigious output capability—suggest that they might just be dynamite in a combined music/Home Theater system. Only in the deepest bass might a subwoofer add that bone-rattling, wall-shaking thunder that's a fixture of the best film playback. I did find, incidentally, that the WITTs alone passed one of my film-bass torture tests—the dinosaur stomp from Jurassic Park—but couldn't quite hack it with the falling boulder from Aladdin's Cave of Wonders sequence. It broke up noticeably at the high playback levels likely to be used with this type of material.

Cables, Amps, & Spikes: For the WITTs' first two setups I spiked them with their standard spikes; in the last position, I used the Wilson Puppy Paws—heavier-duty devices designed for the WATT/Puppy 5, but also usable with the WITTs. I can't say for certain how much they contributed to the overall improvement in the sound of the system in this final position—I preferred to spend the remaining time before deadline soaking up the great sound that was filling my listening room, rather than doing an A/B test of spikes. Spare me.

But the Puppy Paws do look great, and they certainly didn't appear to be hurting anything. A chicken-soup fix? Maybe. The only downside is that they're optional—at extra cost, as the car ads say, for $320 for a set of eight. A little pricey.

Just as the Puppy Paws became available to me shortly before deadline, so did a set of MIT MH-770 loudspeaker cables. Combining these with the MI-350 interconnects mentioned earlier, I could now compare a complete set of MITs with the XLO References. I know Wilson tends to favor MIT (and Transparent) cables in their public demonstrations (and, presumably, in their development work as well). But I couldn't get the MITs to gel in my setup. When I replaced the XLOs with the MITs, the old excess warmth returned to the mid and upper bass. The top end was sweeter, though not dulled, and the midrange was just a bit more reach-out-and-touch-me alive than with the XLOs. But I couldn't get past the extra richness the MITs produced. Perhaps in another room, or with further exploration of setup options, the MITs could be made to work. But I wasn't about to start out on another setup safari; I was too satisfied with what I was getting with the XLOs.

Amplifiers? In addition to the Levinson, I tried both the Carver Lightstar (again) and the Krell KSA-300S. In the new location, the Carver/WITT combination sounded much as it had before—richer and fuller in the bottom than the Levinson '332/WITT, but less controlled. The Carver still displayed that vivid midrange and clean top end, but couldn't match the overall clarity of the Levinson on the WITTs. The Krell KSA-300S, more powerful and more expensive than the No.332, was tighter and better-controlled in the bass (though the difference wasn't dramatic), and more sparkling in the treble. The Levinson was arguably a little sweeter-sounding, but it would take a lot more listening to decide which of these super amplifiers I liked better on the WITTs, and your choice might well be different. I can recommend either one for a serious audition with the Wilsons.

All loudspeakers require work to sound their best; the more expensive the product, the more the user owes it to him- or herself to get the best from it. The WITT is no more demanding of placement than other loudspeakers of its size and bass capability; all such loudspeakers will reward careful setup. I suspect that a pair of WITTs will be most comfortable in a reasonably large space where they can "breathe," and where placement options are more flexible.

The WITT is also revealing of associated equipment, though no more so than the best loudspeakers I've used previously. It's less forgiving through the midrange and bass than in the treble, in my experience. And while I didn't try the WITTS with any tube amplifiers, I wouldn't recommend using them with any amp—tube or solid-state—that is overly full-sounding or poorly controlled in the bass.

Properly set up and fed by a good front-end, the WITT is among the finest loudspeakers I've had in my listening room, both in build quality (Wilson likes to use the Mercedes analogy, and it's not inappropriate) and, more important, in sound. The Thiel CS7 and Infinity Epsilon may have tighter bass, the Energy Veritas v2.8 more sense of air and space, and the NHT 3.3 a more subterranean bottom octave. But the Wilson matches them all in soundstaging ability, while cleaning up in sheer output capability (though the Energy gives them a run for the money here), impact, and the combination of midrange authority and lack of coloration.

Is the WITT the perfect loudspeaker, then? I've listened to far too many speakers over the years to make so rash a statement. I don't think it'll quite fit into Class A in this magazine's "Recommended Components," but only because it could be marginally improved by a really good subwoofer, assuming a good blend could be made (not a trivial exercise).

And how does the WITT compare with the WATT/Puppy 5? Time didn't permit me to make a direct comparison of these two systems for this review, but certainly anyone in a position to afford either should audition both and let their own ears—and bank account—be their guide. You may well like the WATT/Puppys better, but don't assume that because they're nearly twice the price they must be better. The WITTs are a tough act to follow—for Wilson or for anyone else.

When I heard that Wilson was coming out with a more "affordable" loudspeaker, I was more than intrigued. "Affordable" is a relative term; for most of us, even this junior Wilson must remain pie in the sky to our low-fat diets. Still, that taste is to die for.

Final comments from TJN
MC's measured results correlate very well with my listening impressions. The only differences: I didn't find the WITTs to sound recessed in my listening room, and the 15kHz peak wasn't a significant factor in my observations. In MC's in-room measurements, this peak essentially disappears and it is MC's room curve agrees so closely with my observations. The rich mid- and upper-bass balance was clearly a problem, though I eventually solved it to my satisfaction.

The slightly recessed low to mid-treble clearly contributed to the WITT's forgiving nature, while being subtle enough to keep the sound from being in any way dulled or lacking in detail. And the broad, slight elevation from 100Hz to 1.5kHz relates well to the immediacy of the sound produced by the WITTs.

Clearly, MC and I agree on almost everything except for the possible desirability of a subwoofer to really scrape the bottom octave. I guess that's an American preoccupation!—Thomas J. Norton

Footnote 4: Besides, raising a conventional pair of loudspeakers to the optimum height for surround use places the listener well off the optimum vertical axis—a problem that hasn't yet been addressed in the still fast-changing world of Home Theater. You can angle small bookshelf loudspeakers downward. What would you with the WITTs?