Wilson Audio’s WATT / Puppy 8: Follow-Up

Mike Silverton

[January 2007.]

I pegged my first round of remarks about Wilson Audio’s WATT / Puppy 8 speaker system on a Wilson ad, the text of which fairly describes what I’m hearing in my digs. More recently, on p.125 of the January 2007 Stereophile, the banner of an audio / video shop’s ad confesses that “We were wrong! After months of listening to the all-new, remarkable WATT / Puppy 8s, we have determined that the ‘System 8’ is even better than we originally said it was!”

Remaining in the exclamatory mode, a subtitle to this postscript could easily be “What a difference a room can make!” When my wife and I renovated this old house, we had the contractor tear up flooring in the attic and barn. The attic required more insulation and Lee, an interior designer, turned the attached, near-to-collapsing barn into a dramatic work-and-exhibition space for art. Charming as old pine boards can be, the removed flooring was not reusable as such. Lee created a mudroom adjoining the garage, its walls consisting in good part of salvaged planks in a board-and-batten configuration. Other boards became hinged screens. (The scrappier pieces lay stacked in our cellar on four-by-four spacers. A dry cellar is as rare on our coastal Maine hillside as coconut palms. We perch atop a bayward-flowing aquifer, as do most of our immediate neighbors. We figure that a 165-year-old annoyance poses no imminent threat. It’s a small enough price to pay for living in a delightful little town.)

About those screens: Our contractor’s two helpers passed a number of age-blackened boards through a planer (with hidden nails wrecking a few blades). By the time the guys finished they looked like coal miners after a shift. Thus treated, the boards emerged a gorgeous honey-tone. You just can’t get new wood to look like that. To one side of the 15×15 listening-living room, behind the smaller of two couches, is a nine-foot-wide bay, half as deep. The three screens have for several years stood, angled, in front of the bay’s three windows.

And they’ve been a delight to the eye, but we did miss the daylight. So, finally, screens out, drapes in. The room’s five windows — the other two are behind the longer couch facing the speakers — are hung with bamboo-and-reed blinds, all of which remain. For the bay’s windows, my wife ordered lined drapes, and for the two other windows, lined Roman shades. Kilim rugs of loomed wool cover the backs of both couches. An armchair and hassock round out the seating. Atop a sisal carpet lies a smaller Afghani wool carpet. Opposite the bay, we’ve a wall of disc storage Lee also designed. A lot of art hangs on the walls.

Soundwise, the addition of the Roman shades and substitution of drapes for screens have turned this into a different room. I’ve always thought the acoustics were good. I’d no idea how much better they could be. A modified environment permits me to perceive the System 8’s merits all the more clearly.

I’m hearing a better-defined stereo image. It’s likely that the screens created deleterious room reflections. There’s no question that the drapes and Roman shades have deadened the space. You can feel it when you step into the room. Beyond the pleasures of a better soundfield, I’m hearing to a heightened degree qualities I dwelt on in my first report. The system’s resolution and coherence are, alone, worth the fuss, bother and expense we sound freaks go to. The presentation is utterly seamless. Wilson’s own ad for the System 8 boasts of having dealt effectively with crossover jitter. I can’t comment on that, but I can report that a good recording’s upper reaches are spectacularly open, extended and smooth. I have to agree: The ad’s claim that improving the WATT / Puppy’s treble presentation all the more clearly permits one to gaze into the recording, and yet, in singling out a speaker’s highs, the observer implies a sense of separation. Here would be a good place to repeat one’s overwhelming impression of seamlessness. And of dynamic delicacy. And of the kind of neutrality that allows differences in recording production to shine through as never before.

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The system behind the System 8: Integris CDP (AurumAcoustics), a CD-only player with sophisticated preamplifier features; two NuForce Reference 9 SE mono amplifiers (NuForce); Nordost Valhalla balanced interconnects and Valkyrja speaker cables; Aurum Acoustics’ modification of Cardas Golden Reference power cords for the CDP and amps; four FIM 880 duplex outlets, each on a dedicated line.

At my CDP designer’s suggestion, I’ve plugged a Richard Gray’s Power Company 1200S line conditioner into the duplex the CDP occupies. According to Derrick Moss, his CDP profits from the 1200S’s huge choke even though it isn’t plugged directly into the RGPC. He also recommends the substitution of a gold-plated Isoclean Power fuse, which he now includes in his CDP.

The electronic components array across an old, 20-inch-high Chinese cabinet. The CDP sits on a home-brew isolation platform consisting, from the bottom, of four upward-facing Vibracones supporting a 16x16x2″ concrete tile, upon which the CDP sits on a trio of ceramic DH Cones and composite DH Squares (GoldenSound). The inclusion of DH Cones and Squares is also at Derrick Moss’ suggestion. The amps are on a trio of DH Cones and Squares. All the cones point downward.