Wilson Audio's Watt / Puppy Speaker System, Version Six
Mike Silverton
6 March 2000

product photoSpecifications

Nominal impedance: 4 ohm
Woofers: 2 - 8 inch
Midrange: 1- 7 inch
Tweeter: 1 - 1 inch inverted titanium dome
Sensitivity: 92 dB (1 watt @ 1 meter)
Minimum Amplifier Power 7 watts per Channel
Weight: System Net: 324 lbs
Frequency Response: 21 Hz - 21 kHz (-3dB)

Wilson Audio Specialties, Inc.
2333 Mountain Vista Lane
Provo, Utah 84606
Phone: (801) 377-2233
Fax: (801) 377-2282
E-mail: was@wilsonaudio.com
Website: www.wilsonaudio.com

"I find the Six more fun to listen to. It's as simple as that. If I were held to one word, inviting."

For simplicity's sake (and because they're the only two speakers I've lived with for better than five years), I'm going to compare the latest WATT / Puppy, No. 6, to its predecessor, the WATT / Puppy 5, soon after 5.1. (There never was a WATT / Puppy Four. Wilson does a brisk business in the Far East where, among the Chinese, four is an unlucky number. Heads-up marketing, that.)

Why the Five gave way to a 5.1 modification is an interesting story that bears in an amusing way on the WATT / Puppy 6. When the Five appeared in the marketplace, several commentators remarked a less than ideal transition -- a touch of tubbiness -- between the lower unit, the Puppy, and the topside WATT. Wilson acknowledged the criticism by re-fashioning the removable Puppy Tail jumper connecting the two enclosures. O paltry, silly Puppy Tail, what a bone of contention you've been! Everybody and his rabbi's optician felt he could better Wilson's own design. I tried several such and soon returned to the authorized 5.1 modification, manufactured to Wilson specs by Transparent Audio. One of these proposed substitutions defies credulity. A prominent cable designer-manufacturer concocted a rig which, had it gone into production, would have cost close to the price of the speakers! Mind, I'm discussing a swap for a set of jumper wires. Yes, all right, they tell me that the Puppy Tail is networked, but still.... According to Dave Wilson, the designer-manufacturer's alpine kaboombah didn't quite cut it. My guess is that the good folks at Wilson Audio were thoroughly fed up with unsolicited offers of help. Hardwired into the Puppy, the Six's jumper is unavailable to removal. So there!

Or, it would seem, acknowledgement. The Six's manual amply illustrates all aspects of installation, including how to set the WATT atop its Puppy by way of an innovation new to the WATT / Puppy, a tripod of spikes. The rearward of the three, the Alignment Spike, supplied in four lengths, the end user or his installer selects by means of Phase Delay Correction Tables, i.e., tabulations of distance and ear height. But in this wealth of detail we see no picture anywhere of the now captive Puppy Tail. Only a brief admonition against reversing the polarity of these phantom wires to the WATT's gorgeous binding posts. (I'm assuming that Transparent is still the subcontractor for these wires. The jewelry-grade solder at the lugs looks like Transparent's work. The binding posts, identical on the WATT and Puppy, are a lot easier to manage.)

To return to the speaker the Six replaces: I've always regarded the WATT / Puppy 5.1 as a great accomplishment: lovely to look at, handsomely crafted, exquisitely dynamic, resolution to burn, timbrally precise, beautifully balanced throughout the spectrum, with a remarkably detailed and dimensioned soundstage. The WATT / Puppy's ticket reminds me of the quip about a pleasure craft as a hole in the water into which one tosses money. The humor turns on an effect absent its cause. In terms of illusion -- that improbable, hull-shaped hole in the water -- with regard to where the recording happens in one's room, a pair of WATT / Puppies might as well be cigar-store Indians. I'm no less impressed by the 5.1's revealing demeanor. Whatever one does to his system upstream, he hears it. A recording venue's qualities? Clear as a cloudless summer sky. A layered studio monstrosity? Nowhere to hide, not from the Fives. There is, of course, that restricted low end. Thirty-two-foot organ pipes had best seek for attention elsewhere. A limitation noted, of the speakers I've lived with in this space, I hear the 5.1's bass as the best defined by far. Crystalline seems to me the ideal summation of the 5.1's overall demeanor. (See note below for details on system and room.)

To continue with the pleasure-craft analogy, the audiophile who thinks that No. 6 will occupy the 5's scoop in the water with a minimum of slosh is in for a surprise. Among several distinguishing features, Puppy Six, the woofer section of the WATT / Puppy system, is a full two inches taller and deeper than its predecessor. The WATT's dimensions remain the same.

"I try to avoid terms like musical, since they tend to imply coloration, which in turn suggests inaccuracy. However attractive, an inaccurate system -- a colored system -- imposes its flavor on everything it plays."

Several speaker designers properly lay claim to important innovations. Wilson Audio's most significant contribution to the art is surely enclosure technology, the proof of which, in a left-handed way, is the plenitude of copy-cats. The craft these Wilson boxes calls to mind is that of the stone mason, with exotic hardwoods as optional ornamentation. (Given a growing sensitivity to forest depletion, I rather expect that these chi-chi finishes will soon go the way of the leopard-skin coat, except perhaps in Asia, where, among the well to do, environmental concerns take a back seat to powdered rhinoceros horn.) Colorwise, the unpainted Puppy 5 in basic black was never quite a match to its painted WATT, particularly in direct sunlight, where the Puppy's brownish tinge becomes apparent. Because it is made of a different material, the Puppy 6 takes the same remarkably lovely finish as does the WATT 6. (I opted for Mercedes silver and am most pleased that I did. Dave Wilson is a great car buff. In the catalog of ten basic WATT / Puppy colors we find Ferrari yellow and Ferrari metallic blue. Custom colors on request.) I thought the Five well made. In terms of finish and fit, the WATT / Puppy 6 is a yet more impressive piece of work. As but one departure from the Five, the WATT 6 sits atop its Puppy on its tripod of spikes within the Puppy’s enclosing rim, a sculptural detail likewise new to this branch of the family. The lip's inward pitch is precisely that of the tapering WATT. Beautiful!

How does the Six differ from the 5-5.1?

I find the Six more fun to listen to. It's as simple as that. If I were held to one word, inviting. The Five has a mildly analytical character that can lead to fatigue after a few hours of hard concentration. (My main gig is record reviewing, thus these lengthy stints.) Perched before his Fives, one is likely to think, yes, spectacular resolution, drop-dead soundfield, exquisite dynamics, but I think I'll take a little break. With the Sixes, one wants to stay put. I try to avoid terms like musical, since they tend to imply coloration, which in turn suggests inaccuracy. However attractive, an inaccurate system -- a colored system -- imposes its flavor on everything it plays. A listening session illustrates: I'd been sampling bits of a recent arrival, a splendid Deutsche Grammophon set of the fifteen Shostakovitch string quartets with the Emerson Quartet [five CDs, 463 284-2] recorded live at the Aspen Music Festival, and was hugely smitten by the lifelike texture and weight of the strings. I then put on a just-in Angel promo of a group called Hat Trio (accordion, pump organ, etc. / violin, viola / guitar, dobro, etc.). Like the string quartet set, a lovely, warm-sounding recording [7243 5 56935 2]. Again, warm-sounding. Could it be that these speakers have -- gasp! -- a character?

Hardly. The third disc in succession, another recent DG, this of Elliott Carter's Clarinet Concerto and Symphonia, routed any suspicion of feel-good coloration [459 660-2]. An illuminating brightness suffused the room. A solid low-end presence, certainly, but on the whole an upward-tipped presentation. I'd simply been hearing as clearly as hardware allows the thumbprint talents of good recording engineers: For the Shostakovitch, Da-Hong Seetoo, and Max Wilcox, for the Carter, Tryggvi Tryggvason, and Oliver Knussen (the composer and conductor of these performances). I've no production information for the attractive Tin Hat Trio. I had an especially rewarding time with one of BMG's High Performance reissues, a 1968 / 69 set with Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston and Chicago symphony orchestras in, respectively, Stravinsky's Petrouchka and The Rite of Spring (no original production information provided). I suspect that with my Fives, I'd not have heard the midrange detailing the lush harmonic complexity of the string sections quite this amicably. Similarly, Ton Koopman's highly recommended Bach cantata series on Erato, which played on the Fives a tad wiry, particularly in the choral passages, now sounds to me in ideal balance (Adriaan Verstijnen, engineer, and editor). Suffice that the dozens of discs I’ve played to arrive at these conclusions suggest as neutral and revealing, and at the same time friendly, a presentation as an acoustically untreated listening area permits.

I judge the Six remarkable in that it surpasses the exemplary Five as a source of enjoyment, yet it sounds to me at least the Five's match in resolution, transparency, dynamic gradation, and a solid and precisely dimensioned soundfield. I'm obliged to remain vague with regard to direct comparisons, since the older speaker is no longer here. I feel confident, however, in my overriding impression of significant improvements, albeit with a strong family resemblance. The Six is a large, evolutionary step up, not a new departure. It's also something of a pleasurable enigma. Generally, speakers we like to describe as musical, enjoyable, liquid, forgiving -- the reviewer's specialized vocabulary in this department is large -- tend to sacrifice those very qualities for which I treasure these WATT / Puppy Sixes. How to account for it?

There is, first, the larger Puppy's richer low end, which sounds to me at least as well controlled as that of the Five. As a personal thing, this is good news. My listening area places obstacles in the way of smooth bass performance. I've had several good speaker systems here that have broken out in large, floppy blossoms down in the valley. I especially valued the WATT / Puppy 5.1 for declining the invitation to floridity and am relieved to hear the Six resembling the Five in this regard while providing a larger and richer bass dimension. It's entirely possible that the bulk my good opinion traces to the beautifully shaped balance of the WATT to its Puppy. A commanding low-end presence will affect one's perceptions in terms I've laid out here.

I see also that the inverted-dome titanium tweeter differs in appearance from the Five's. Same maker, later iteration. In the event, the top end is as extended and unlabored (this begins to sound like a mantra) as ever I've heard. I notice also that the WATT has a removable plate at its base for, presumably, easier access. It's probably fair to assume any number of modifications to internal bracing, crossovers, the like (a term of convenience for that which I do not understand nor care to). Audiophilia nervosa be damned! I expect I'll be holding on to these beauties for a good, long time.

I also expect I'll be back again with further impressions and (if my man at Wilson comes through) some technical skinny. Meanwhile, walk, drive, fly, swim or crawl to a Wilson dealer to confirm for yourself that the Six is every bit the daisy I say it is.

* * * * *

Note: My wife and I live in a small loft in Brooklyn's Park Slope, on what was once a factory street. Our 12-unit co-op, erected in 1916, served originally as a parking garage and later several kinds of factory, converting to residential in 1979, the year we took occupancy. We've done a great deal of work in terms of cabinetry and carpeted platforms. At a far remove from the listening area, two double thicknesses of 5/8th-inch sheetrock on either side of metal studs divide our place from our neighbor's. Otherwise the structure's thick bearing walls are faced inside with brick, which I painted white. The ceilings are similarly thick concrete and, at fourteen-plus feet in height, an acoustic benefit. Floors consist in the listening area of carpet over underlayment over badly installed pine floorboards over concrete, more about which below. Platforms, cabinetry, a large number of seating cushions, and a generous sprinkling of wall-hung and freestanding art serve as effective diffusors.

The system: a pair of Mark Levinson No. 33H mono amps on Bright Star Audio Big Rocks (sand-filled boxes). A Mark Levinson No. 39 CD player has beneath it a Bright Star Audio Air Mass (sandwiched air bladder) atop a Big Rock. Capping the player is a Bright Star Audio Little Rock (weighted slab). The player has its own line conditioner, an Audio Power Industries' Ultra Wedge 114, for which I've alternated between API's own power cords and those of Harmonic Technology. For the purpose of this report, we go with API. The cabling has been Nordost alternating with Harmonic Technology. I find that I prefer Nordost's Flatline SPM balanced interconnects and speaker cables with the Six. (I found the SPM interconnects a tad dry in the WATT / Puppy 5 system. Now they sound just right.) No preamp. It's a CD-only system and the player has its own, good-quality analogue level control.

We return to the developer's sloppily laid floorboards. To conceal damage I'd done to our carpet in attempting to provide the Puppy's spikes with a firmer foundation (I'm too embarrassed to go into detail), I ordered a pair of Big Rocks as Puppy Paw replacements. A Big Rock elevates the WATT / Puppy to within a quarter-inch of a set of basic Puppy Paws (i.e., without optional spacers). I could not have been more pleased with the result, even though the physics behind the Puppy Paw and Big Rock has got to be at odds. Be that as it may, I can report in blithe ignorance of these technical matters that Big Rocks make first-rate Puppy Paw alternatives. I hear no maverick resonances, humps, bumps, anomalies. As an unlooked-for plus, my downstairs neighbor tells me she's less aware of the system. I've compared the 5.1 to the Six both thus modified. Perhaps some day, when we get around to this section of flooring, I'll try the Puppy Paws again.

Finally, as a most interesting tweak, a pair of Quantum Life Symphony line conditioners. These small, stand-alone pods connect to nothing save their own power source, a nine-volt transformer at an outlet. I've tried to disabuse myself any number of times of what I hear as an improvement to the system, and I cannot do it. When I disconnect the Symphony pods from their power, that fine veil of grime returns to a diminished soundstage. Quantum Life's designer, Bill Steirhout, tells me the technology relates to that of an MRI. It was Harry Pearson who introduced me to the term observational as preferable to subjective, as in subjective evaluation. I am, to say it again, a listener -- an observer -- for whom the Symphony's effect is obvious, never mind the spooky principle by which it operates.