|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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Wilson claims that their WATT Puppy loudspeaker system is now the best selling $10,000 plus speaker in audio history. Having sold dozens of pairs myself while working at Christopher Hansen Ltd. in Beverly Hills nearly a decade ago, I wouldn’t argue with Wilson’s claim. At around $22,000, David Wilson’s location monitor has developed into a far more refined loudspeaker system. In adapting to the modern, multi-channel home theater market, WATT Puppies can also be matched with Wilson subwoofers as well as rear and center speakers. To say this transducer has come a long way from the strange little (but very heavy) speakers Dave used to drag along as part of his recording rig is a major understatement.
There are a number of changes to the WATT Puppy for Version 7 from Version 6. One of the most significant changes to the speaker is the use of an even more “dead” material, which Wilson used to make the WATT. It is hard to believe this is possible if you have ever banged your knuckles against a WATT Puppy Version 6. As my friend who recently marketed an electrostatic speaker line from Europe says, “That is a lot of what you are paying for with Wilson speakers.” And he is right. The deadness or inert nature of the cabinet is a major factor in why the Wilsons sound the way they do.
Another major improvement to the product is the use of a new, much better driver in the Puppy (the bottom portion of the speaker that handles most of the bass). Having been lucky enough in my life to have owned numerous pairs of Wilson loudspeakers, including these, my fourth pair of WATT Puppies, I can tell you this driver change and the resulting crossover modifications are worthy of note. Despite what some dealers will tell you, Puppies don’t go extremely low at high levels, as is needed for multi-channel music and home theater applications. This is what a subwoofer is for and why mixes for everything from DVD-Audio to SACD to DVD movies are blended they way they are. What better performance from your Puppies does for you is to allow you tighter, more accurate and punchy bass, which in turn lets you depend predominantly on your subwoofer for the lowest audio frequencies. In the case of the Puppy’s improvement, you can use your subwoofer with even more emphasis on the “sub” frequencies, meaning sub-Puppy.
There are cosmetic changes to the Wilson WATT Puppy Version 7, but the speaker still looks basically the same as it has for years, which is a good thing. One of the reasons why WATT Puppies sell so well is the fact that they don’t just sound great, they actually fit into real-world living rooms without immediately prompting divorce proceedings. Wilson was also years ahead of the curve on the custom finish trend. Dave Wilson is an exotic car enthusiast like many of us audio fans. Years ago, his company started offering consumers the ability to buy swanky finishes that basically color the Wilson speaker cabinets with actual car paint. Now the speakers can come dressed in sexy aluminum hardware, which nicely matches many of the better speaker colors. If you really are looking to make a statement (like investing the better part of $24,000 on speakers isn’t a statement?), you can arrange to have Wilson custom paint your speakers literally any color you can dream of. If you have a 1952 Ferrari Testarosa race car in your garage and want your speakers matched exactly to that color – no problem. Want to match your speakers to a baby blue Porsche 917 race car? Done deal for a reasonable upcharge. If your wife and interior designer team up against you to try to get you to buy in-wall speakers instead of free-standing speakers, you can always “compromise” on the color of your speakers. Having owned and sold Wilson speakers, I can advise you that if you think you are prone to upgrading, stick with the standard colors like black and Mercedes silver because of ease of resale. Two pairs of my WATT Puppies were done in a striking Audi Pearl White. In one case, it took me longer to sell the first pair but I ultimately found someone who went gaga over them. I actually had a reader ask me if I would consider selling him my second pair of Pearl White speakers when I upgraded. Version 7.0s were coming and in about six months, we did a deal. My new speakers, including a WATCH center channel speaker, are in Dark Titanium, which is a less tricky color than the Audi White. Nevertheless, the Dark Titanium has the sophistication of an Aston Martin purring down Rodeo Drive.
Wilson WATT Puppies have always been sensitive to room set-up. Included in the price of buying a pair is having your dealer come to your home and set them up. The speakers come crated and are more complicated to unbox than a standard set of speakers. Once out of the crates, there is a time-consuming process in removing a protective plastic wrap from the speakers. Having done this process a number of times now, it seems as if it is getting a little easier. There is quite a bit of hardware that comes with the WATT and the Puppies, including really nicely made feet that require installation with an Allen wrench and a level. The WATT has even more hardware designed to allow you flexibility in positioning the speaker for your ear height in your room. This is quite a cool idea and, thanks to Wilson’s well-written manual, I was convinced to use the tallest spike for the rear of my WATT allowing for a severe angle from back to front.
It is essential to know in every high-end music and theater reproduction system, your physical room is the most critical element in the way your audio sounds. Doing the best you can to get your room in good shape is always a great idea. In my case, I added four-layers-thick blackout drapes in my right wall to help absorb energy from the first order reflection. After spending time listening to my Version 7 WATT Puppies, I decided to pump literally a truckload of soy-based sonic absorption material into the empty space caused by my seven-inch, dry-walled drop ceiling in my listening room. There was no question but that the insulation helped deaden the echoey nature of my room. I carefully chose a tightly cropped carpet that would offset some of the hard surfaces of the room. I even went so far as to choose a mohair (similar to cashmere) fabric for a fancy club-style chair that would be placed just past the area near my right speaker and the first order reflection on my right wall. All of these little factors end up helping incrementally to create a better-sounding room.
While dealers and Wilson representatives are very skilled at “voicing” their speakers to make them sound really good in your room, as a reviewer with a background in pro audio, I chose to once again to hire audio guru Bob Hodas to help me set up, measure and fine tune my system. Hodas writes how-to features on acoustics for our sister publication, RevolutionHomeTheater.com, as well as professionally treating recording studios ranging from Sony Music in Tokyo to Abbey Road to Skywalker Ranch, as well as many of the finest private residences. Using the Meyer SIM measurement system and a number of laser tools and mirrors for imaging, the Hodas treatment starts off with speaker placement in a given room. Looking at the results from the tests, the slightest changes can be made to the speaker to insure that your speakers are imaging like nothing you have ever heard before. Once we think we have the speakers placed correctly, we work with my feedback from listening examples to get the speakers sounding the way I like them. This includes EQ for both the Wilsons and my Revel sub. Thankfully, EQ and room correction are no longer taboo topics now that audiophile print magazines have fallen from popularity. EQ is used in every studio for nearly every monitor used to make every recording you know and love. Moreover, EQ is used on practically every track that is recorded on the console. Discretion must be used by an audio professional when setting up your system, but with the right set-up, you can get your speakers to do tricks they won’t do on their own.
Nearly all of the EQ we did in the set-up for the WATT Puppies and my WATCH center speaker focus on the bass frequencies and their relation to my room’s acoustics. Integrating speakers with a high performance sub is an art form. What Hodas does for my system is to create a seamless sound between the speakers at the front of the room with powerful, punchy, tight and low bass coming from my new Revel Sub 30 subwoofer, placed literally three feet from my favorite seating position. Amazingly, you cannot really locate the subwoofer in my system. On the top end, I find the Wilson WATT to be just a bit hot to my ears, but I love the openness, speed and dynamics of the speaker. Hodas helps me to cool down the tweeter for the WATTs and the WATCH speaker, so that I get a tiny bit of sizzle out of the speaker without losing its best attributes. Best of all, as a reviewer who is fortunate enough to get the chance to evaluate the best gear from some of the world’s most famous manufacturers, Hodas allows me the luxury of knowing that my speaker system is performing the best it can in my room with mathematical proof. I also get to learn what flaws my acoustic environment injects into my listening experience. This is critical in making high-end component evaluations. More importantly, it removes the audiophile insecurity that we all get from time to time (especially if you have a pile of phile magazines next to your favorite chair) that rob us of being able to enjoy music. When we are taught to focus on the flaws instead of the advantages of a system, we often can ruin the experience. Wilson speakers sound great and I know they measure well in my room, thanks to Hodas. This allows me to get the tweaky “it would sound better if” element of high-end audio away from most of my listening sessions. Can you get great sound from WATT Puppies without an EQ and a Hodas tuning? Absolutely. I just chose to try to get the last level of performance from my imperfect room via some professional help.
One last critical element of my installation was the choice of cables. I used Transparent Audio Reference speaker cable to both of my WATT Puppies, as well as a long run of Reference from my rack, across my room (all through the wall) to the front of my theater. Transparent’s ability to get out of the way of the music is really noteworthy when setting up a speaker of the caliber of a Wilson, Revel, B&W and so on.