Wilson Audio WATT Puppy Version 7 Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Jerry Del Colliano   
Saturday, 01 May 2004

Introduction
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.

Set-up
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.

The Music
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.

TV and the Movies
Because Wilson speakers are so dynamic, fast and punchy, they make for a great home theater speaker. Recently, I have been watching more TV and HDTV in my reference theater. At this time of the year, Philadelphia Flyers hockey games take precedence over all other items saved on my TiVo. When the Orange and Black are blasting players into the boards, you can feel the impact in my living room. Another great example of the punchiness of Version 7s is on “The Sopranos.” In recent episodes this season, there have been gun blasts that had me jump from my seat. But the blasts never sound shrill or overly harsh, although they are loud and detailed. As cool as electrostatic speakers are (every high-end guy should own them at some point), this is where a Wilson steps above the din of other top speakers. Their dynamics are awesome and that translates into a more believable theatrical experience.

At the suggestion of AudioRevolution.com editor Bryan Southard, I spent some time playing DVD-Video concert videos. As he predicted, a number of them are really good and you get to run your projector also with your favorite six speakers. I had a good time watching Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same” (Warner Home Video), which reportedly isn’t their best performance, but it is as close as I can come these days to the Zeppelin live experience. On the WATT Puppies, Jimmy Page’s guitars burn with a rich sound. Bonham’s snare hits are live are explosive and exciting. Robert Plant’s vocals sound lively, yet never harsh or over the top.

The Downside
Set-up can be a pain if you are impatient. If you dropped $22,000 on speakers, you should make it clear that you expect to have your dealer set them up without excuses. Most, if not all, Wilson Dealers will oblige your request enthusiastically. To them, setting up WATT Puppies and making them sound good is a matter of personal pride.

Re-crating WATT Puppies is a real pain in the butt. At the factory, it seems as if the crates are built around the speakers. Trying to get your custom-painted Puppies back into their crates is a whole other process. It is possible that you will never re-crate your speakers, but if you ever need to, I would hire your dealer to come over and pack them up for you. One slight mistake and you could ruin the beautiful paint job. More complaints on the crates come from the fact that they are physically large. Perhaps if you have the money for $22,000 speakers, you likely have the room to store four big wooden crates. In my case, the crates have to live outside, wrapped up in plastic. Call me a tree hugger if you must, but I would like to ship the crates back to Wilson for recycling. I have suggested the idea to them. Who knows, they might adopt the policy for Version 8?

Conclusion
I called the Wilson WATT Puppy Version 6.0 the best speaker in the world at the time of the review because of their ability to make unbelievably great sound from a manageably-sized speaker. The Version 7.0 WATT Puppy is an even better version of the best speaker money can buy. The competition is still stiff for the WATT Puppy and I would expect any AudioRevolution.com reader to spend the time to audition other speakers such as Revel, Meridian, B&W, MartinLogan and even MBL before making an investment in Wilson. As with comparing fine wine, it is important to know the differences between the best producers in order to know why you like your favorite speakers the most.

The toughest competition for the WATT Puppy Version 7.0 comes from David Wilson himself. The Sophia, priced at $11,700, is a similarly shaped, one-piece speaker that can hang with WATT Puppies for a lot less money. Clearly, though, the WATT Puppies are better. With the need for a Wilson Center, rear speakers and subwoofer you might need to redistribute your budget a bit to make these speakers fit into your life.

Non-enthusiasts visit my home and often oooh and ahhh over all of the electronic goodies. Predictably, the HDTV wows them, but the sound that I can get in my far-from-perfect room is without exception surprising to them. With a DVD-Audio or SACD disc spinning in all of its glory, it is hard to imagine the sound gets much better.
Manufacturer Wilson Audio
Model WATT Puppy Version 7 Loudspeakers
Reviewer





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