Watkins Stereo Generation Four Loudspeaker

Compelling Bargain

Equipment report
Watkins Stereo Generation Four
Watkins Stereo Generation Four Loudspeaker

The Gen Four is nominally a bass-reflex design with a box tuning of 41Hz. However, the bass tuning referred to as dual-tuned, is patent-pending and unconventional. There are two internal chambers which are said to be damped differently with a proprietary method, proprietary connection, and special absorption material. The end result is a well damped bass range and in-room extension to nearly 41Hz, a remarkable accomplishment for a 6.5" driver in a compact enclosure. I can’t recall another stand-mounted compact speaker in my experience that captured as much tonal authority as the Gen Four.

The bass range didn’t sound like that of a typical bass-reflex design. One of the first things you’re bound to notice about the Gen Four is that bass lines are uncommonly tight, and you’d be hard pressed to believe that it is actually a bass-reflex design. Bloated, tubby, plummy, and muddy are some of the pejorative adjectives that have been hurled at bass-reflex designs over the years. Well, none of them apply here. The bass range was precise and facilitated excellent pitch definition. Electric bass lines often lost in the mix were easily resolvable without any issues. Midbass dynamic punch was plenty adequate in my moderately sized listening room (13.5'  x 19') though be forewarned that there are limits to what a 6.5" woofer can dish out, and I would be concerned about pushing the woofer hard in a much larger room. The impedance magnitude is quite benign and should be an easy load for a tube amplifier; the Gen Four performed wonderfully with Linear Tube Audio’s ZOTL40 amplifier. However, bass definition was best with solid-state amplification, and quite remarkable with Merrill Audio’s Veritas monoblocks, which feature a damping factor of 1000.

To be honest, my initial expectations were rather modest considering the price point and smallish enclosure size. My jaw dropped when I was engulfed by a startlingly transparent and spacious presentation. An exceptionally wide and transparent soundstage coupled with transient speed, precise image focus, timbral accuracy, and an ability to retrieve low-level detail that is unheard of at this price, combined to make for a terrific first impression. Perceived distortion levels were low and harmonic textures flowed naturally without any glaring response peaks. So many twin-cone full-range drivers project a sense of immediacy via presence-region breakup peaks. That may sound spectacular for a while but the effect wears thin in the long run. In contrast, the Gen Four was easy to listen to for hours on end. And with each subsequent listening session I found it more difficult to quit listening. There was always time for one more album. When I had asked Watkins about the recommended break-in period, he must have chuckled, and I quote his response: “Like Gordon said about our WE-1’s, and separate from break-in, I’ve found the speakers ‘grow’ on you—the longer you listen the more you like them.” Well, that’s an accurate assessment of what happened to yours truly.

The Gen Four proved adept at capturing the rhythmic drive and verve of whatever program material I threw at it. That was partly a function of being able to retrieve dynamic nuances and capture much of the music’s emotional content. Neither did it shy away from reproducing macrodynamics with conviction. The range from soft to loud was accommodated with very little change in distortion levels.

Had I auditioned the Gen Four blind behind a curtain and had to judge its value in the hierarchy of high-end audio I would have been happy to recommend it even at a price tag of $7k. Its asking price at a fraction of that is partly due to the direct sales model—there is no dealer markup. It simply sounds like a much more expensive speaker. And I should add that the Gen Four felt comfortable in the company of far more expensive components in the price range of $15k and upward. At no time did I feel it was the weak link in the chain. Kudos to Bill Watkins for conjuring such a superb design, well within reach of the common man. Simply put, the Gen Four is one of audio’s compelling bargains, and a veritable treasure box of musical delights. It represents pretty much a mandatory audition if you’re in the market for a box speaker that is easy to drive and integrate into a domestic environment, all without breaking the bank.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Two-way dynamic, dual-tuned bass reflex
Frequency response: +/-2dB, 41Hz–20kHz
Sensitivity: 88dB 1W/1meter
Impedance: 8-ohm nominal (5.3 ohm minimum 20Hz–20kHz)
Recommended power: 30 to 150Wpc
Dimensions: 8.5" x 14" x 13.5"
Weight: 24 lbs.
Price: $1995

1019 East Center St.
Kingsport, TN 37660

Associated Equipment
Power amplifiers: Linear Tube Audio ZoTL40, Merrill Audio Veritas monoblocks
Analog source: Kuzma Reference turntable and Stogi Reference 313 VTA tonearm; Clearaudio da Vinci V2 mc
Digital sources: DiDit Audio 212se and April Music Eximus DP1 DACs; MacBook Pro laptop running Amarra V3.04 software; ModWright-modified Sony XA-5400ES SACD player
Preamplifiers: Lamm Audio L2.1 line preamp; Nouveau Flamingo (DIY) and Aural Thrills Audio phonostages
Cables: Acrotec, FMS Nexus-2, and Kimber Select interconnects; Acoustic Zen Hologram II speaker cable
A/C power: Monarchy Audio AC-Regenerator; Sound Application power line conditioners