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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Opera Audio Reference 2.2 Linear; Raysonic CD128 [on extended loan]
Preamp/Integrated: ModWright SWL 9.0SE; Music First Audio Passive Magnetic; Bel Canto Design PRe3; Wyetech Labs Jade; Supratek Cabernet Dual [on loan from owner]; Melody HiFi I2A3; Raysonic SA-30A [on review]; Eastern Electric M520; Yamamoto HA-02

EQ: Rane PEQ55 active merely below 40Hz
Amp: 2 x Audiosector Patek SE; Yamamoto A-08S; FirstWatt F3 & F1; Bel Canto e.One S300
Headphones: AKG K-1000 w. hardwired Stefan AudioArt harness; audio-technica W-1000
Speakers: Zu Cable Definition Pro in custom lacquer; Anthony Gallo Acoustics Ref 3.1; Mark & Daniel Ruby

Cables: Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable, Zu Cable Varial, Gede, Libtech and Ibis; Stealth Audio Cable Indra, MetaCarbon & NanoFiber [on loan]; SilverFi interconnects; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer
Stands: 1 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular five-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room

Review Component Retail: €2,990/pr; €590 for optional Diva Control; €3,600 for Duo 12 sub

An old proverb says that if you want to know how a company is run, check the cleanliness of their bathrooms. I'll add two fresh proverbs for today's purposes. If you want to suss out the professionalism of an audio company, clock the time it takes them to respond to an inquiry and check the spirit and comprehensiveness of their answer. If you want to know the heart of a loudspeaker designer, check out what he's listening to at home. With Hannes Frick, one of WLM's three Austrian principals based out of Sulz 700km south of Vienna, the response time was instant, the very friendly reply complete. These guys are turned on.

About what he's listening to, prepare to turn green with envy. The analog nature of Frick's obsessions has photographs speak louder than words. So we'll do exactly that - let a few images do the talking. The fact that Hannes also runs an audio retail establishment means that unlike most audio manufacturers, he knows what it's like to sell on the retail floor. In fact, he sells many speaker brands other than his own.

What those are is just as telling - Living Voice, ProAc, Reference 3A, Tannoy. His electronics include mostly tubes - Audio Illusions, Border Control, E.A.R. and Manley Labs. To certain folks, that already predicts quite loudly at what WLM speakers will excel and by implication, what they most likely won't sound like.

From EMT to Garrard and Thorens tables, from Saba and Studer to Sony open-reel decks, casa Frick is analog haven.

Add tubes and a cozy domestic feel with plenty of natural woods in evidence. Frick was a furniture maker and sculptor in a past life and played the clarinet as a hobbyist. You just know that sterile, mechanical or aggressive sound won't be on his menu. Nor that of his fellow team mates at WLM of course, Martin Schützenauer [lower middle] and Thomas Gröfler [lower left]. As far as how responsibilities are assigned, Mr. Frick handles marketing, production, company management and industrial design of the products. Mr. Schützenauer is the resident engineer and in charge of all design for electronics and passive and active networks. A few decades of personal R&D predate his invention of WLM's proprietary PAC treble system. States Frick: "With his extraordinary and unique creations, Martin is without a doubt one of the best in this field. Over the last 25 years, I've always owned the best speakers the market made available yet when I first crossed paths with Martin's wildly cobbled-together prototypes, the encounter rendered me unfit to enjoy any of my former speakers. Musically speaking, I'd entered another world altogether, one of pure emotions. The voicing of all our models is accomplished in joint listening sessions and A/Bs between him and me." Martin also is a 6 times Olympics athlete and silver medal world champion in the bob sled competition. Mr. Gröfler studied fine woodworking and cabinetry under Frick in his former shop. Even as apprentice, he was the most talented employee Frick ever had. As fully accredited master craftsman now, he is responsible for the flawless fit'n'finish and book matching of all WLM speakers - which, incidentally, are fully manufactured in Austria.

I first ran across WLM at T.H.E. Show 2005. "The by far most exciting loudspeaker discovery at CES based on brand novelty to the US and stupendous performance was the Vienna Loudspeaker Manufacturing firm of Wiener Lautsprecher Manufaktur now represented by Globe Audio Marketing of Audio Aero fame. Using a patent-pending HF driver about which nothing is divulged until the proper time, these passive or active speakers cast the proverbial wall of sound with expansive layering likely compliments of the excellent French tube electronics running them. The most powerful impression here was one of complete annihilation of the usual differential between left, center and right image density. Plainly put, this was one of my favorite systems if not the Big Kahuna."

I next spotted the firm's wares at the Polish Audio Show in Warsaw earlier this year where the new coaxial Diva Monitor with optional Diva Control was introduced [opening image of this page]. Using Cary's V12, this room made great sound and
played wildly compelling music, not dry scores. At the end of my show report, I'd singled out this and the larger WLM exhibit as two of my five favorites of the event. Clearly the time had come to take a closer look at this product. The company's launch of their new Basic Series -- Diva Monitor and Diva tower, same coaxial 10" Eminence drivers, same minimum-phase crossover -- provided the perfect excuse. 97dB efficient, tube-friendly, highly dynamic, toneful by using paper-cone transducers, the most affordable entry into this line - all my hot buttons were pushed.

Equally attractive are the finish options. The WLM team loves exotic woods and offers some that aren't often available - Zebrano, Tineo and Makassar. Standard choices for the Diva range are Maple, Cherry and Zebrano. Tineo, Makassar and Rosewood add a 15% premium surcharge. The floor-ported Diva adds €1,000 over the stand mount.

Three different stands by Liedtke Metalldesign are available in black. They are distinguished by using one or two hollow uprights [€390/€560]. The other option is for a straight-edged 12 or 20mm bottom plate with spikes mounted from below to remain invisible from the top [€45 surcharge for thicker plate]. The Exclusive adds a contoured 20mm plate with outrigger corners and thru-hole spikes adjustable from the top via big knurled knobs [€690].

An interesting upgrade path for both Diva models is the so-called Diva Control. It inserts into a tape loop or between source and integrated or preamp and power amp. It's an analog bass equalizer said to improve bass quality and extend the Diva Monitor to an impressive 32Hz.

Most audiophiles raise eyebrows at the notion of EQs. That's shortsighted and disingenuous. They're listening to an EQ as it is. Their room is an equalizer that's always on, albeit with its slider controls permanently locked and its cut and boost values permanently blanked out.

Perhaps motivated additionally by Frick's retail experience, the WLM team insists on ultimate flexibility with its speakers to make them as room-adaptable as possible. Accordingly, all models offer rear-mounted tweeter contour circuits and the Reference models are available with passive or active crossovers, the latter necessarily outboard affairs to insert ahead of the customers' chosen amplifier. Active drive couples the drivers directly to the amplifier outputs.

Anyone familiar with this scheme already knows what most career audiophiles refuse to accept. Everything else being equal, active drive will always outperform passive. WLM is realistic to make this optional though. The market in general doesn't accept the active concept yet. Here, audiophiles can vote with their wallets and beliefs.

The optional Diva Control is semi-active in concept. You don't bypass the passive network inside the single-wired speaker. You precede it with an analog circuit ahead of the amplifier that offers up to 12dB of boost in 0.25dB increments. Roughly speaking, it's an add-on tone control. It counteracts the natural roll-off behavior of the Divas' ported alignments by delaying it.

The above production line shot shows the 110mm floor-firing port of the Diva floorstander. More air volume in its enclosures equals a lower F3 of the alignment. Conversely, larger MDF panels of 22mm thickness will make for more box talk than with the smaller Diva Monitor (either cabinet uses solid hardwood braces). The latter's vocal band could be cleaner as a result, its overall appearance one of greater speed. It's the old give'n'take - more bass for a warmer if perhaps slightly fuzzier presentation; higher articulation with a lighter tonal balance. As with their contour circuits and the passive/active routes, WLM lets you have it both ways. Again. The customer is king.

Added Hannes Frick that another advantage of the Monitor is its dynamic pressure potential in the 80-150Hz midbass band. That's what audiophiles rightly call the power zone of music. Superior speed and dynamic response here always translate to greater excitement, impact and it factor - more musical mojo, greater emotional conviction.

With the added Diva Control, the Monitor is said to make 32Hz, i.e. what the passive Diva floorstander reaches without assistance (though it too can benefit from the

add-on box). "Diva Control offers the advantage to smoothly adjust bass performance to room and listener bias. So-called neutral doesn't exist, each room and system reacts differently. Our flexibility is a great boon for us at trade shows. There we experience time and again how different rooms really are and how much of an impact they have on final performance.

Naturally, neither Diva will compete in the upper midrange/treble band with our proprietary PAC or SUPER-PAC tweeter systems in the Reference and Signature Series models. That said, our signature house sound is immediately obvious also with the Diva range. During R&D and voicing, I've relied heavily on the older coaxial Tannoys in my personal studio. Only when we felt that we had something superior to offer did we release the Diva models. The very highest performance in the Diva range comes from pairing the Diva Monitor with the Diva Control and Duo subwoofer which also offers a rational upgrade path in discrete steps that can be accomplished over time."

When it came time to pick which model to review, I opted for the Diva Monitor with Diva Control. It's the most economical entry into the WLM offering and I sensed another Realsization discovery in the wings. The tie-in with my favored Zu Audio speakers is obvious, too: reliance on wide-band drivers with paper cones and pleated surrounds; addition of a 'super' tweeter to extend treble performance; sensitivities conducive to low-power valve amps but of sufficient power handling to strap on high-power transistors as well.

In fact, the Diva floorstander bears a strong conceptual resemblance to the Zu Audio Druid MkIV with its floor porting and dimensions. Even the efficiency rating -- 97dB vs. 101dB -- is relatively close. Call me a one-trick pony but I do have one enormous advantage. I trust my ears. I know what I like and I trust that and my personal biases implicitly. (Many audiophiles do not trust their own ears. Strange. I've never understood why). Having had premarital noogies already with WLMs at multiple occasions, this assignment was anything but a blind date. It was a foregone conclusion in the sense that I knew it would be my kind of sound.

What remained to be explored were the details. You only discover those while living with something for a stretch. Hannes is very fond of their uncommon Indian Apple veneer called Tineo. I had to admit, the photos he forwarded to make his point looked exceedingly fetching.

"Do me" I told him just like certain clients would tell me in one of my past lives as a masseur. Add that WLM's toilet inspection above not only passed muster but suggested rare excellence and familiar sympathies. This promised to become an exciting little chapter in my review career. But first, further specs on the Diva Control box. How, exactly, does it work?

WLM believes in electronic compensation to improve damping and phase behavior. Depending on the complexity of their -- or even competing -- loudspeaker systems, they offer a number of solutions. The remote-controllable Pre/Passive Control can replace a conventional preamp, offers three inputs, bi-amp outputs with dedicated bass EQ and an output to their Bass Control unit with adjustable low-pass filter for their subwoofers.

The full-on System Control package below even includes a Harmonic Wave control for the HF circuit which allows 0° to 45° phase adjustments at 10kHz to tailor subjective treble performance to an overdamped room.

"Sacrilege" hisses the purist high priest. "Move to a new house if you don't like your present room." Very rational advice indeed from our celibate priest.

Purveyors of acoustical room treatment meanwhile will promise you the world from assorted triangular pillows, room dividers, egg crates, corner traps and wall-hanging diffuser panels.

"Fine and good if I had the dedicated audio room," agonizes our 'phile. "But they'd still be butt ugly." The high priest shakes his head. Mortals. They're just not willing to suffer for their hobbies. Nor seems WLM when you consider their practical, stealthy and simple solutions.

As a quasi tone control, the Diva Control naturally is centered on a fixed frequency and inserts a specific slope at that point to increase the signal voltage below it by the dB amount set by the user with the rotary control. It takes no genius to realize that despite the Monitor's high efficiency and friendly load presented to low-powered valve amps, a heavy hand on the Diva Control will rather tax the partnering amp. Just 3dB of bass boost will double output duties in the more challenging lower registers. Remember, the box is capable of asking for up to 12dB. If you intend on having a party, make sure your amp's up to the task. Think stiff power supplies and headroom reserves quite in excess of your median playback levels. Phase linearization in the control circuit assures that this sleight of hand comes off without giveaways.

Fully opened, boost begins gently at 150Hz and hits 12dB at 27Hz after which it attenuates by 5dB to 10Hz. Above 150Hz, the Diva Control is perfectly passive - 1:1 as Martin refers to it, including passing on harmonic distortion from preceding tubes since the box doesn't introduce its own.

The precise compensation curve fixed by the circuit is specific to the speaker model, i.e. different for the Diva than for the Lyra model. With the gain control at minimum, the boost is limited to 2dB at 30Hz above which the signal is passed unadulterated.

The Diva Monitor is an 8-ohm load with 5 - 250-watt power
requirement/handling and an unequalized F3 of 50Hz. It's quite lightweight at 14kg/30.9lbs, with dimensional specs of 470mm/18.5" H x 265mm/10.4" W x 330mm/13" D. Should the desire for bass in excess of Diva Control arise, WLM offers its Duo subs. They are called thus because of their mirror-imaged up- and down firing woofers. Weaponry is 12", 15" or 18" in diameter, all at 100dB sensitivities and loaded into massive hexagonal enclosures. A 500-watt strapped external amp fed from the Bass Control unit controls the twin weapons of the Duo 12. The orientation of the two pro woofers cancels enclosure resonance. To demonstrate just how well these subwoofers blend, Hannes suggested to send an 80cm/31.5" tall, 33kg/72.75lbs heavy Duo 12 along for the review. Still in do-me massage mode and to chronicle the full upgrade path, I accepted.

Hannes requested that I at least try the subwoofer behind the listening position as well. It's not a conventional placement for sure nor guaranteed to be the best in any given space but it is something WLM has successfully employed in acoustically challenged rooms during shows - with apparently excellent results. Convinced I'd not be able to hear this counter-intuitive placement (i.e. point at the sub as an obvious sound source), he'd throw in the requisite long cable just so I could confirm the claim. To facilitate seamless hookup, he'd also send along their Passive Control together with the Bass Control unit which would split the signal into the necessary sub/satellite feeds at 80Hz/12dB/octave. The Passive Control employs exactly the same EQ curve and phase compensation as the simplified Diva Control (but adds subwoofer integration and Harmonic Wave functionality). It would allow me to also test the Diva Monitor solo, without the Duo 12 but with corrective assistance exactly as a customer would with the Diva Control. For a simple PowerPoint presentation with seven slides on different hook-up options, click here.

Incidentally, Tom Frantzen of Stereo Test in Germany is well ahead of proclaiming excitement over the WLM Diva Monitor concept. As a result of his review, the magazine, in its short list of Top Reference monitors, named the Diva Monitor with Diva Control at €3,580/pr in the same breath as the Dynaudio Confidence C1 at €5,000/pr, the Focal Micro Utopia Be at €5,000/pr and the MBL 121 at €9,500/pr. It takes no guess work who out of the four nabbed 4 stars for value and who only got two. The Diva Monitor aced their impulse response test with flying colors. That's testament perhaps to its designer's penchant for extreme speeds - Olympic bob-sledding style?

For bass duties, WLM packages its Duo subwoofers with Alto Mac 2.2 or 2.3 pro-arena amplifiers that are modified by the Austrians. Hannes used to run a Crown K2 and claims the Altos are every bit its equal in this application - for significantly less coin. The smaller unit offers 560/800 mono watts into 8/4 ohms, the larger one 900/1400. The way the stereo amp connects to the sub -- hot left, hot right -- bridges it automatically. Martin, needless to say, runs two Duo 18s off two Mac 2.3s in his own crib. As bass fanatics know, it's not about SPLs. It's about speed, articulation and displacement. WLM supplies properly terminated subwoofer cables to specified lengths for turn key satisfaction. A less ambitious Diva subwoofer with built-in amp is on the drawing board for 2007.

Concluding this introduction, Hannes Frick was keen on elucidating their active concept for the entire WLM range. Active drive is very different from self-powered. Self-powered condemns the owner to the manufacturer's choice of amplification as built into a speaker or subwoofer. That's anathema to WLM. While its principals are tube heads (except for bass applications), they wouldn't dream of telling you what amplifiers to use. Rather, they want to empower you to more, not less choices. 2A3s or 45s on the top, KT88s for the midband, bipolar transistors for the bass? Dig in. Solid-state across the band? Why not. Active simply means that one positions the crossover networks ahead of the amplification units to eliminate the less precise, current-robbing passive components between amplifier binding posts and driver voice coils. By outfitting its external boxes with the necessary control circuitry, the WLM end user can have a field day with amplifier choices. All the parameters necessary to insure optimal workings have been provided with the active boxes.

The high priest of purity groans once again. This so goes against his stubbornly held one-size-fits-all notion of neutrality. But remember your room. It's the secret equalizer always on. You can't turn it off. But you can counteract some of its effects. WLM recognizes this and has built its entire line around it. Some will get it, others won't. To me, it makes perfect sense. What a concept it really is, to honor the sanctity of personal tastes and needs and provide the necessary tools to support them. Our priest, for all his idealism, really should get retired and make room for a more enlightened successor.

From Diva Monitor solo to Diva Monitor plus Diva Control; to Diva Monitor plus Passive Control plus Bass Control plus Duo 12 sub - this had all the markings of a mondo assignment in Cyprus. Incidentally, all WLM models are two-ways. Crossover points are a very low 800Hz for the Grand Viola and 1000Hz for the other models except for the two Divas. Those hand over at 1500Hz.

Listening impressions in the new year when the shipment arrives. Due to the tight cloth surrounds and spiders of the wideband 10-inchers in the Diva Monitors, significant break-in is required. I requested that WLM put the requisite hours on my units so they'd be ready for action upon arrival. Stay tuned for what the German review promises will be small, precious and loud... the latter of course in reference to the fun you can have with 97dB efficiencies and superior dynamic range...