|Wilson Audio WATT Puppy Version 7 Loudspeakers|
|Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Saturday, 01 May 2004|
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Because of the WATT Puppy’s ability to resolve a live musical event, I started my CD listening with one of the most important performances in the history of rock and roll – Jimi Hendrix’s first major performance in the United States at the Monterey Pop Festival (Polydor - Import) in the spring of 1967. As if to flex his musical muscles, Hendrix tackles Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” with a level of musicianship that put Jimi in an entirely different stratosphere than that of Dylan. What is impressive about Hendrix live on WATT Puppies is the resolution of detail of his tone and guitar chops, while the speakers handle of the relatively low bass from Noel Reading with equal dexterity. Hendrix was in brilliant form that night, but not every note came out perfectly. When listening on the WATT Puppy 7s, you hang on each little subtlety like it is the most tasty audio morsel you have ever heard.
On “Rock Me Baby,” I had a chance to increase the volume to a more concert-like level. The impressive 93 dB efficiency of the Wilsons shows its significance here. The immense power of Krell’s FPB Mcx 350 monoblocks (more into the six-ohm WATT Puppies) yields more than enough power, yet the power plus the efficient speakers gives you the luxury of really being able to have the best of both worlds. The result on “Rock Me Baby” is a musical reproduction that has both finesse and power even at high levels. I had fun on this track, adding in the Wilson WATCH center speaker, thanks to Meridian’s Trifield mode on their Version 4 of their flagship 861 AV preamp. Unlike those “concert” and “stadium” effects you had on your old Yamaha receiver from 1991, the Meridian 861’s surround fields are worthy of your consideration for critical musical listening. I found the soundstaging widened and the roll of the Revel Sub 30 subwoofer increased, leaving a more fun, energetic rock ‘n’ roll experience. In clicking back to the WATT Puppy 7s in stereo mode, you can hear more of the speaker’s ability to resolve complicated material. Nevertheless, surround sound fields like Ambisonics, Trifield and Pro Logic II for Music were good fun.
Avid readers of AudioRevolution.com will remember our news stories on how the major labels recently test-marketed a CD-DVD “dual disc” in both Seattle and Boston. The day these discs were on store shelves, I picked up a handful of them to see how they worked and how they sounded. Most of the ones I purchased came from Sony Music and had a CD layer on one side and a DVD layer on the flip side, featuring a higher-resolution (20 bit – 48 kHz in most cases) stereo track. I was impressed to hear the familiar “Blue Rondo A La Turk” (Columbia – Dual Disc) in stereo on the WATT Puppies. Sony has also released a SACD surround sound version of the disc which I own and truly enjoy. The DVD version in stereo also has its moments, especially with Meridian’s direct digital connection from its reference 800 DVD transport to the 861 preamp. I was very impressed with the way the Wilsons were able to reproduce the high frequencies of the cymbals while presenting the richest piano sound I have heard in my room to date. As the piano chords hit, you could feel their impact, while at the same time, you could hear the subtle detail of each note that comprised the chord. I was enthralled for listening session after listening session with this classic jazz recording on the WATT Puppy Version 7s.
While every audiophile reviewer can wax poetic about classic 1950s jazz, I wanted to put the WATT Puppy Version 7s to a real-world test with music that really rocks. This comes in the form of another two dual discs, starting with Audioslave’s 2002 recording of “Show Me How To Live” from their self-titled release (Epic). If you want to hear what Wilson improved upon with the new drivers in the Puppy, all you have to do is find this disc (the CD will do) and turn the volume knob. The bass guitar is textured, rich, low and mannish. The snare pops with dynamite dynamics. The resonance of the drum can still be heard in the more quite passages of the track, which yet again shows off how the Wilsons can go loud without compromising the little details.
I am guessing no one in audio/video publishing history has ever compared AC-DC’s “Hell’s Bells” with Dave Brubeck. However, the decay time on the giant bell that rings in the intro of the song shows off some of the same ability of the WATT Puppies to resolve the decay time of a ringing bell (remember how good the decay from the bell on the cymbals of “Blue Rondo A La Turk” sounded). As “Hell’s Bells” develops, the bass is noticeably better on the WATT Puppy 7s than on past versions of the speakers. I have covered many a song from this classic rock album in my lame cover bands, and for years I have been rocking along to various sets of Wilson speakers, including original CUBs, along with WATT Puppy Versions 3.2, 5.1, 6.0 and now 7.0. Never has the bass sounded better. On the title track on Back In Black, the dynamics sound better than ever. I had never considered using Back In Black as a demo album in the past, but this dual disc on the higher-resolution DVD side shows off the speaker’s ability to reproduce punchy dynamics, which are the foundation of a solid rock recording. I am looking forward to having all of the other staff reviewers (who nearly to a person own Revel or MartinLogan speakers) over for a barbeque this summer so they can experience the differences.
WATT Puppies can make gorgeous music out of almost any CD or DVD. They are the kind of speakers that make you want to find the best recordings of the world’s coolest music for your listening sessions. One of my recent finds is the Academy Award-winning soundtrack from “Shaft” by Isaac Hayes (Stax) on hybrid SACD in stereo. The lush instrumentation is an awesome test of a speaker and no track does a better job than “Ellie’s Love Theme,” featuring Hayes artfully playing the vibes. His percussive strokes on the instrument ring beautifully on my WATT Puppy Version 7s. The space you can hear on the recording is the kind of openness that you should expect when making this level of investment in sound reproduction for your home. I know that if my room was specifically designed for sound, I could do even better. However, there are moments during listening sessions when I doubt it gets better that what I am hearing.
At this point, I hope you aren’t mad at me for using hard to get recordings in this review, because when really showing off what the Wilson WATT Puppies can do, I tend to go deep into my collection. Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West has long been respected as one of the great late 1950s jazz recordings. I recently procured a Japanese import of the stereo album at 24-bit – 192 kHz (I think it is 192) on DVD-Audio. This disc is licensed by JVC Music and only sold in Japan. You might be able to find it at places like DVD4Music.com. On tunes like “Come, Gone,” the walking bass lines of Ray Brown are something to hear. Rollins floats in air as Brown rips low and lean lines in the bass frequencies. Once again, if you want to hear where the Puppy’s improved, this is a great example.
For me, if I had one wish beyond world peace, a balanced budget and a pair of WATT Puppies for all of my readers, I would ask for more music spectacularly mixed and mastered for surround sound. Not every DVD-Audio or SACD disc is worthy of the hype the format gets from their promoters and consumer ambassadors. One disc that is better that you might expect is Riding With the King (Reprise), featuring Eric Clapton and B.B. King. “Key to the Highway” allows me to get the WATCH speaker into the party, resulting in a stunningly open musical experience. Forget what the snotty audiophile magazines say about only listening to two-channel sound. It will only take you 10 seconds of this track to be sold on music in surround, as well as the need for a matching Wilson center channel speaker and maybe even their WATCH DOG subwoofer. While Version 7 WATT Puppies go low, they don’t go subwoofer low, and with music as well as blockbuster movies being mixed for at least six speakers including a sub, you might need to consider more than just a pair of Wilsons. Clapton’s acoustic solo bites with reality panned on the right. B.B. on the left makes his acoustic sing with big bends and bluesy chops worthy of someone universally known as a King.
The DVD-Audio disc I can’t get over is Yes’ Fragile (Elektra). Despite the vintage of the original recording (1972), the surround sound mix for DVD-Audio is one of the single finest one can hear to date. On the hit song “Long Distance Runaround,” you can hear Chris Squier’s electric bass guitar resonate with impressive tone and dynamics. John Anderson’s voice has a height to it on the DVD-Audio mix that I simply couldn’t get with stereo – even with the cool DSP effects on the Meridian 861. The panning effects that start “South Side of the Sky” make me wish I had space and money for a pair of WATT Puppies for rear speakers. Again, the bass is deep, rich and full of amazingly flavorful tone. Steve Howe’s wild guitar ramblings dance in between blasts from Rick Wakeman on organ. As if this was the rock equivalent of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” the WATT Puppies kept pace.
With all of the raves, the WATT Puppies didn’t sound awesome on every disc I played – even DVD-Audio titles. Queensryche’s “Silent Lucidity” (EMI) sounded thin and lifeless. Living Colour’s DVD-Audio release Collideoscope on DVD-Audio (5.1 Entertainment) sounded equally yucky and never made it back into my player for a second spin. The most disappointing-sounding disc was the much-awaited One By One from the Foo Fighters (RCA), which is, along with Audioslave, the best new hard rock album of the decade in terms of performance. The surround mix just never got my speakers singing. The reality is that Wilson speakers (like B&W, Revel, MBL or any other ultra-high end speakers) are only as good as the source material you feed them. While certain characteristics of speakers can help specific recordings sound better, the WATT Puppies are so revealing that they logically tend to do better on the best recordings.
While it is important to point out that the WATT Puppies didn’t gleam on every track I played, I must highlight two examples that gave me goosebumps as I have never had listening to a speaker before. “Chan Chan” from Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit/Nonesuch) on DVD-Audio in surround is one of the most evolving musical experiences you can have in high-resolution audio today. The mild yet jazzy percussion builds a spicy foundation for these master Cuban performers to create a musical masterpiece. The twangy guitars and horny horns resound with authority in ways no LP has ever sounded. Send me hate mail for making you buy more than two Wilson speakers if you must.
The last track that I use to blow away even the most jaded listeners is “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” a Cole Porter tune from Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section in stereo on DVD-Audio (JVC Music). Once again, this is a hard to find disc, but it is essential for anyone with a DVD-Audio player (I do not think it will play on a DVD-Video only player). The cymbal hits that Philly Joe Jones hits sound simply insane on the WATT Puppies when firing at a healthy volume. Red Garland’s piano tone is so detailed and developed that you start to doubt you are listening to a playback system. If the lights are just right, you might just forget you are not hearing live music.