Jacob Heilbrunn Listens to the New WAMM Master Chronosonic
Over the past year or so, David Wilson, one of the more sagacious fellows whom I’ve ever run into in a lifetime of running into contemporaries wiser than yours truly, has been making cryptic allusions to the WAMM project, indicating it was—to employ the language of the English literature professors—finally reaching parturition. Mind you, mere whispers of the word WAMM in the past had been enough to reduce me to a trembling jellyfish. It was a word of totemic significance, evoking images of a mythical past when it wasn’t enough just to produce a satisfying speaker but to create one that had to reach for the very heavens. The Valhalla of audio, if you will. I can only imagine the verbal flights of orotundity that the specter of a new WAMM would have inspired in HP, he of the felicitous mastery of describing a new era in audio, which, in a very real sense, the WAMM represents.
Just think of the very verbal connotation of the word WAMM—it’s onomatopoeic, like out of the old Batman TV series, when you would see words fly across the screen as Adam West landed a punch against some dastardly villain such as the Joker.
But the WAMM, friends, is no joke. It’s the real thing. No doubt I traipsed up to Wilson to hear it in an agnostic frame of mind. “How much better could it get?” and the usual litany of audio doubts formed the mental knapsack that I toted with me to Provo, Utah.
Still, the WAMM was supposed to represent the summit of David Wilson’s achievements. I had to know if Wilson’s new creation would surpass the company’s legendary heritage. It was a Lieutenant Kijé by Claudio Abbado recording on a Deutsche Grammophon LP that ultimately delivered the unequivocal, obliterating verdict. Two things stood out. First, the cavernous depth of the tuba; it was playing notes that I had not heard before with a wealth of air around it even as the rest of the orchestra played. Second, the pounding bass drum strokes way back in the hall, cleanly enunciated. That very evening the Wilsons took me to Abravanel Hall to hear a concert by the Utah Symphony. I can only testify that the bass drum whacks during the Prokofiev Symphony No. 3 that evening sounded uncannily familiar to what I had heard earlier that day in the Wilson’s capacious living room.
To be sure, none of this is for the faint of heart. But it isn’t simply that the WAMMs put out a prodigious amount of air. The refinement has to be heard to be believed. On an Anderson & Roe CD of Bach that I had brought along, there was a tactile feel to the sound that I had not previously experienced. And on a Maurice André Erato LP, it was disconcerting to discern an entire sonic refulgence in the midrange of the piccolo trumpet that I had not previously heard reproduced on any system.
Which brings me to the question of Wilson’s previous flagship, the XLF. The WAMM cleans its clock. Not that the XLF doesn’t sound superb in my room. But there is no way around it: The XLF simply doesn’t match the speed in the bass region, the transparency, and above all, the 3D character of the WAMM. The notes are plush and sumptuous and round—fully developed in space with the WAMM—to a degree that surpasses anything I’ve heard.
David Wilson, a man whose personal modesty is in inverse proportion to his immense talents, could have rested on his laurels. Instead he tempted fate and reached for the stars. Did he reach them? I think he has.