Wilson Audio WATCH Center Loudspeaker 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Wednesday, 01 November 2000

Are you insane for investing $6,590 for a center speaker and speaker stand? The unenlightened might say "yes," but now more than ever, a timbre-matched center speaker is of the highest importance. You've likely heard that that as much as 80 percent of a movie's dialogue comes from the center speaker. That's great, but does it require a $6,500 investment? It depends on your system and how you use it, of course. If you've got Wilson MAXX or Grand SLAMM loudspeakers and/or a very serious big-gun video system, then the answer could be "yes."

Realistically, most Wilson clients, current and potential, are looking at investing in Wilson CUB IIs or WATT Puppies v6.0s for front speakers, which are priced between $10,000 and $20,000 per pair. How can these clients justify building up their system with WATCH peripheral loudspeakers for center and/or rear channels? These are the requirements of DVD-Audio. While Wilson loudspeakers have long been used in mastering Academy Award-winning film soundtracks, the majority of Wilson clients, present and past, are music enthusiasts first and film enthusiasts second. Staring November 7, 2000, high-resolution audio will be commercially available on a DVD-A disc, which will enable record companies to release not just 24-bit two-channel remasters of their catalogue records, but also to add in a 20- or 24-bit 5.1 mix for music. If you haven't heard 24-bit 5.1 yet, you may not be with me on this argument, but take my word for it. You won’t want to listen to just two channels any more – you certainly won’t settle for 16-bit two-channel sound.

About the WATCH Center speaker
The WATCH series of speakers from Wilson is designed to be a real solution for music and film playback in surround. The WATCH center speaker is a formidable product with many trickle-down technologies from Wilson super-expensive products. The WATCH center speaker is 12.5 inches tall, 20 inches wide and 16 inches deep, weighing a hefty 70 pounds without a stand. The WATCH is a four ohm speaker with a 94 dB efficiency and a frequency response of 55 Hz up to 22 kHz.

The WATCH center speaker is made of a phenolic resin product that, unlike MDF (a plywood-like product that is found in nearly all high-end loudspeakers), is extremely dense and inert all the way through the cabinet. MDF is somewhat hard on the surface, but it is not nearly as dense beneath as the WATCH’s poured resin. The difference has sonic importance, because when a cabinet is made of extremely dense material, the cabinet itself has very little effect on the overall timbre of the speaker. The designers call the sound the cabinet gives a speaker its "cabinet signature." The WATCH Center speaker does everything possible to reduce its cabinet signature, thus allowing you to hear more music and film soundtrack and less speaker coloration.

In a perfect world, you would be able to place your WATCH center speaker perfectly aligned between your two Wilson front loudspeakers. In the real world, this isn't always the case. This is why Wilson designed the WATCH center speaker so that its PDC (Phase Delay Correction) technology is similar to what you'd find on the Grand SLAMM loudspeakers. The PDC technology allows you, with exacting accuracy, to position the tweeter in perfect alignment with the front edge of your front speakers.

While Wilson doesn't manufacture or sell the product, they will provide you with technical drawings for a hefty bracket that allows for a WATCH center speaker to be mounted on your ceiling. If you decide to go for the ceiling mount, you will need to hire a metal shop to assemble the bracket for you. You may also may want to have the paint matched, which could require a trip to your local body shop. Obviously, this project requires lots of work and extra cost. However, it may allow you to use a high-performance center speaker in a venue that would have physically been impossible any other way.

The majority of WATCH center speakers will be placed on the floor between the front speakers. The big question is, will you invest in the Wilson $1,390 color-matched, super-inert stand? It looks great and it bolts onto the WATCH perfectly, but it is still a $1,390 stand for one speaker - no small sum. The WATCH without the stand comes equipped with the Puppy Paw feet found on WATT Puppies, which allow for the WATCH to be properly angled upward and elevated from the floor. I didn't opt for the stand. However, I could see that, with the stand's extra height, if your screen would allow it, the additional advantage of lifting the WATCH's tweeter much higher than it would be on the floor. This is desirable as it enables you to create a more seamless soundstage across the front of your imaging.

The WATCH drivers include two Seas 6.5-inch woofers on the lower section of the loudspeaker. A more familiar Focal tweeter is found on the top of the WATCH's cabinet. Strangely, it is not the same tweeter that is used in the WATT v6.0, MAXX or Grand SLAMM loudspeakers, but it is similar. The same excellent gold speaker connectors are used on the WATCH as those you'll find on the WATT Puppy v6.0.

Music and Movies
The advantage of the WATCH loudspeaker was evident immediately when listening to music in 5.1 surround, specifically DTS 20- and 24-bit CDs. On the single "Desert Rose" from Sting's Brand New Day (DTS Entertainment – 24-bit CD), the tune starts out with swirling effects in the rear. Backup female vocals fill from left to right, giving a sense of movement and excitement. When Sting comes in with his lead vocals, I heard center imaging simply not possible with only my two Wilson WATT Puppy v6.0s. The vocals were pointed with incredible accuracy in the middle of the soundstage, but even more amazing was the increased detail and height to the center image. While I had no reason to have my screen down at the time, you could clearly hear how the WATCH projected its sound to heights that seemed physically impossible.

On "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing" from Forever Yours - The Very Best of Marvin Gaye (DTS Entertainment – 20-bit CD), you could hear the inner detail of the mix on this famous tune. Marvin and Tammy's Tyrelle's vocal harmonies are intertwined in the center while Marvin is overdubbed and panned farther to the right and left. While this archival re-master is a bit noisy, to hear this kind of interplay between two soulful singers is a treat and a sign of great things to come from the 5.1 surround, pending on DVD-Audio and available now on CDs and DVD-Vs.

I lowered my screen to play The Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over DVD (Geffen - DTS). This was the only disc I found where the center didn't match the fronts seamlessly. While I tried adjusting the level of the center speaker on my Proceed AVP, the mix always sounded as though the center was too quiet when compared to other 5.1 DVD-Vs and CDs I had auditioned. Even The Eagles' Hell Freezes Over CD sounded more smooth across the front channels than the DVD. Don't get me wrong - you could hear everything clearly. Don Henley's vocals on "Hotel California" were audible, but just a little shy of the dynamic I heard on the Sting CD or even the same Hell Freezes Over performance mixed for 5.1 CD. I am not sure if this is a knock of the WATCH center speaker as much as it is a comment on the mix, but it was important to note, as nearly every other track I tested on the WATCH sounded excellent.

Next, I dropped in a new release of an old favorite, Terminator 2. Everyone has their favorite cut on this DVD. Mine is Track 5, the scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator walks into the biker bar and asks the gang member for his clothes, boots and motorcycle. As the scuffle develops thereafter, there is quite a bit to listen for in the scene. The WATCH really helps illustrate and present a stunningly clear aural picture of what is going on. There is a point where one of the goons hits the Terminator over the head with a pool stick. On lesser systems, the effect sounds like a loud crack. With the WATCH, you hear the crack and then can actually locate where, between my right WATT Puppy and the WATCH, the pool cue's broken pieces hit the floor. Later in the scene, the WATCH shows off again when the bar owner steps out onto the porch to let off a gunshot, warning the Terminator not to steal the biker's hog. Not only can you hear the explosive power of the shotgun, you can place exactly where the shell falls.

The biggest advantage of the WATCH center speaker for Wilson owners is the fact that the WATCH can keep up with the speed of its left and right speakers. On Saving Private Ryan (DreamWorks - DTS), in Omaha Beach scene, the WATCH kept pace with my WATT Puppy v6.0 speakers, powered by a Mark Levinson No. 336 350-watt amplifier. This is not small task, when you consider the random nature of the whizzing bullets and the high- speed "plips" and "plops" of projectiles hitting the water, as well as the constant change of perspective created by lowering our view from above to below the surface of the waves. The WATCH handles the challenge and helps to create a soundstage that is seamless and promotes suspension of disbelief.

The Downside
The WATCH loudspeaker keeps up the Darth Vader looks of its biggest brothers, the MAXX and Grand SLAMM. The WATCH is very well-finished, with a Wilson Gloss paint job however some small details disappoint. For example, you can see the wire that connects the tweeter to the crossover when you look down on the WATCH Center speaker. The back plate, which I assume covers the crossover network, is not finished to match the rest of the speaker. Overall, the speaker looks a bit notchy in comparison to the smooth design changes of the WATT Puppy v6.0.

While the $1,390 stand is nice option, it is a very expensive one. If you choose it, bolting the speaker onto the stand is an excellent idea, as is color-matching the stand. There are aftermarket stands for the WATCH, but I think I'd opt for the Wilson stand if I were going to make the extra investment. My testing proved that the speaker performs exceedingly well placed on the floor with the Puppy Paws.

While Wilson does have a pair of rear speaker towers, they do not have a small sub on the market yet. In order to do an all-Wilson 5.1 speaker system, you need to invest in the $20,000 XS sub, which is an incredible monster if you can afford it and/or can successfully install one. At 84 inches tall and 700 pounds, the XS isn't going to make it into too many end-users’ systems. Ideally, WATCH should fit into an entire Wilson surround system but, without a small sub, you’ll still need to invest in a Sunfire or Rel to round out a smaller Wilson music and theater system. There are rumors of a smaller, less expensive Wilson sub in the wings, but none are currently available.

Amazingly, Wilson has come up with another misguided product name. WATCH isn't nearly as cute as "CUB" or as strange as "WATT Puppy." WATCH is simply an inappropriate name for a speaker that the core Wilson audience will buy primarily for its listening value. Ironically, longtime Wilson owners will be using their WATCH mainly to listen to music in 5.1.

In the past, if you wanted to enjoy the magic of Wilson speakers in a high-end 5.1 system, you had to manufacture a half-assed solution like Puppy on its side with two WATTs on top, or a CUB placed sideways with Goldmund cones underneath it. These strategies could potentially mar the gorgeous Wilson finish. The WATCH center speaker is a refreshing end to all of that. The WATCH is a fully integrated, highly efficient center loudspeaker that, powered by one channel of my Proceed AMP 5 (125 watts), kept up with my very tuned-in Wilson WATT Puppies, powered by a big ol' 350-watt Mark Levinson No. 336.

If you are considering investing in Wilson speakers, the WATCH center and rear speakers make the expenditure even more sensible. If you own Wilson loudspeakers, the WATCH may be an addition you'll need as you upgrade your system for DVD-Audio. At $5,200, the Wilson WATCH is a pricey center channel, but it is well designed to work with the Wilson lineup of speakers. I couldn't imagine using anything other than a WATCH with my WATT Puppy v6.0s.
Manufacturer Wilson Audio
Model WATCH Center Loudspeaker

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