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Actually, I cheated. I started with the Diva Monitor + Duo 12 combination. I wanted to comment on how that threesome compared to my customary full-range Zu Definition Pro setup while my aural compass still considered that true north. To redo my usual rig post mortem would involve quite the schlepp. Pricing between both speaker systems is highly competitive. It's $11,000 for the Definition Pro including the Rane EQ which also serves at its low-pass filter. It's €9,560 for the WLM combo [€2,990 for the Diva Monitor; €3,600 for the Duo 12; €1,490 for the Pre/Passive Control; €1,090 for the Bass Control; €390/pr for the basic Stand I]. Both setups require dedicated bass amps. The Zus need stereo, WLM gets away with a mono amp. The WLM setup can be completed in stages - monitor + stand; Diva Control; sub and active network boxes. The Zu rig goes for broke out of the gate.


The kind of DHT SEs I fancy are magical yet bass impact and control are nearly by definition compromised if such a SET really does the triode magic in the midrange and treble. If it were somehow bass optimized, you'd likely not be at hello for the rest of its band. The solution is to bandwidth-limit direct-heated triodes. In the Zu scenario, the SET driving the frontal array produces a full-range signal. There is no crossover between it and the speaker. It's not really relieved then of producing LF voltages. In the WLM scenario, the SET needn't see the two bottom octaves at all. In practice, this increases its headroom rather dramatically, especially on challenging material. The punishing LF transients will no longer clip the amp at levels you previously had to tactfully avoid. Overall compression prior to clipping disappears as well.


In use, WLM's active crossovers will be far less intimidating to the average audiophile than the complex "gazillions of dials and sliders" that are part of Zu's chosen Pro solution. Score one for the Austrians. To combat pernicious room-induced bass peaks or suckouts requires active cut and boost. That's something the Diva setup can't do. While you can contour its bass response, you can't surgically notch-filter. Score one for the Americans. Regarding real estate, the added WLM subwoofer takes up extra space though its separate nature allows far more placement flexibility for best bass integration. The stand-mounted Divas and floorstanding Definition Pros take up the same amount of space. Both teams play even here. Cosmetically, WLM is fine furniture while Zu is all about ultra-modern custom paints and lacquers. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so we'll consider this score a draw as well.


Theoretically, the Zus have the upper hand in the bass. They produce stereo bass down to 20Hz. The WLMs convert to mono below the handover point (unless the Divas run full-range which can create problematic overlap with the sub and undue thickening in the second octave). In practice however, Martin Schützenauer's active filtering is so cleverly implemented that sufficient stereo cues survive past cutoff -- attenuated of course -- for the ear
to 'see' stereo all the way. While this did twist my preconceived notions, I would not worry about a second Duo 12. With the playing field thus fairly leveled, there were of course differences. That's expected. For starters and even without PAC, the Austrian treble was superior to the Americans. This would seem blatant compared to the Druid which is admittedly opaque in that department. To a lesser though still meaningful extent, it also held true against my Definitions.


While neither the Zu house sound nor the WLM Diva sound would ever be called airy or diaphanous -- for that, there's far too much image density and tone -- percussive and instrumental key clicks and clacks, brushed cymbals, triangles and sharply plucked strings had greater incision power; the harmonic splash of impact carried farther with the deep-throated WLM paper tweeter. Perhaps that's why the WLM three-piece setup struck me as even more dynamic. You heard that in the ferocity of close-miked strings, how much of the initial spike of excited metal rose and cut through the air. You heard it with drum beats, slap bass funk, anything with forceful attacks. Likely because the Diva tweeter sits a little higher off the floor, the WLM images project a bit taller. The next difference was in the meat department. The Diva Monitor + Duo 12 combo sounded even denser and more corporeal, particularly noteworthy as the aural glance penetrated deeper back stage to ferret out where things began to bleach out.


Obviously, performers farther away from the listener should seem more ghostly and spectral than those closer up. On that count, the meat reach of the WLMs extended beyond my Zus. At first, this could seem less resolved because it was actually thicker. But it turned out that thicker wasn't congested to mean less visibility. It meant more body, more hereness. Even though I'm not Parisian, I'm positively hooked on so-called Gypsy Jazz. Angelo Debarre (guitar) and Ludovic Beier (accordion) jam up a storm on Swing Recontre [Harmonia Mundi | Le Chant du Monde 274 1294], accompanied by rhythm guitar and double bass. Debarre always sounds leaner than Stochelo Rosenberg, Tchavolo Schmitt or Joscho Stephan - all nicotine and caffeine, very little creme brulee. Over the WLMs, this album had made a quick detour through the patisserie. That effect wasn't due to subdued treble. We already said that
the Austrian high frequencies were a bit more extended than the American. The upper midrange was fleshier instead.


Not having sat in at the Domont Guitare Village session, I of course don't know what's more accurate. All I can say is that the WLM sound retained slightly stronger metal on the attack and followed up with more woodiness than even my Definitions manage. A bit more crack and whip on the front, a bigger bear hug on the follow-up if you will. There was a flip side to this, however. The Divas wanted to be played just a bit higher on the dial before all this goodness of jump factor and tonal persuasiveness unfurled fully. If I undercut that level, the involvement factor leaned out a bit faster than over my Zus which positively excel at late-night sessions perhaps because their effective efficiency is higher.


In general, there's far more similarity than not between the house sound of WLM and Zu. If you're into the hyper-rez dazzle of a typical Kharma setup (or a ribbon-tweeter endowed speaker without its metallic resonances addressed), you'll probably not get what these two companies are on about. Theirs is a different aesthetic. It's focused on the flesh-and-blood factor. That said and first based on show exposure and suspicion, now home familiarity and certainty, I believe that sonically, WLM takes the Zu-type sound to the next level. The Eminence-based driver technology overlaps a lot of course. Hence the overall similarity of flavor. 10-inch paper cones with hard cloth surrounds simply sound different than 5-inch Beryllium or ceramic cones that are hung off loose butyl rubber. The former are more natural, relaxed and full to my ears. In turn, they're not as overtly 'resolved'. The sharpness and leanness often associated with accuracy is missing.


While it's sheer guess work to point a finger and pronounce a specific ingredient as responsible, I believe that it's the electrical IQ which Schützenauer has instilled into his active crossover progeny that have them eclipse the Zus. Many will protest this particular juxtaposition of course. A €3,600 mondo passive subwoofer and €1,580 worth of filters no matter how smart are a lot to add to a purportedly entry-level €2,990/pr maxi monitor. Apparently WLM agrees. By popular demand, HiFi Munich 2007 will see the launch of a more affordable, everything-included Diva sub with built-in crossover, EQ and amplification.


In the here now, the 0dB default setting of the Diva tweeter shows just a bit of excess energy in the crossover region. That is logical because the rear-mounted control merely works in the negative. There is zero boost. It has to start slightly high to be useful both ways. Absorbent rooms will benefit from the default value, highly reflective rooms might want a 1 to 2dB cut. The purists with their test discs and 10 albums of highlighted playable tracks will twitch of course. Real-world listeners meanwhile will take to this flexibility. They'll fine-tune according to their ears. Nothing divides audiophiles as quickly as subjective treble balance in speakers. Handing you the remote as it were puts you in charge. That's smart and practical.


As coaxials with quasi wave guides, the Divas of course want to be toed in. The exact amount once again is a means of tailoring sonics. The closer you sit and the wider they're apart, the steeper you'll want to angle them.


Unless you play material with significant data in the 20-30Hz band; or like to rock down the house but don't quite have the main amp for it; stepping back from subwoofing to Diva + Diva Control proved far less of a setback than the associated cost savings might have suggested. Since the repeat mention of the word 'meat' has alienated vegetarians already, we can unapologetically use it again: the meat of the Diva Monitor performance as well as the meatiest zone of its bang-for-buck curve is when you use it as a smartly equalized 'part active' solo monitor.


A 3dB boost on the control already does very nicely. The Diva testicles drop and the voice does too. Once you hear it, going back to Diva plain will seem less interesting - an unnecessary sacrifice. The control fills out the sound to do a solid 40Hz. That's enough for most intents and purposes, average rooms and pleasure listening. As you increase LF lift further, your main amp will work harder and harder. If it's a 20wpc tube amp, you'll hear it when you overdo it. If you have 100 watts on tap, knock yourself out. The 10-incher will take it fine. For the €590 surcharge, the Diva Control will do far more for the overall performance than a fancy power cord or a new interconnect. If your budget won't stretch that far off the bat, put it on the books for later. Unless your room is simply so small that passive room lift alone will give fully satisfactory LF extension and oomph, the Diva Control should be considered part of the Diva package. There's even a fringe benefit. When you listen at really low volumes, crank the bass EQ up a notch to compensate for our biological roll-off. This compensation even works for the treble if you've dialed the tweeter control below 0dB for regular volumes. With the Pre/Passive Control, you can opt for remote control and discard a preamp altogether. Don't snob against the modest-looking box. It works really good in that capacity as a session with the new 120wpc Firenze Audio battery-powered Tripath amp proved.


A/B comparisons between sub/sat 3-piece mode and monitor-only 2-piece use were child's play. All I had to do was set the left toggle on the Bass Control from on to off, then flip the middle toggle of the Pre/Passive Control from Sat-Woofer to Full Range. Yes, Kodo drum spectacles at jump-out-of-your-skin levels do better when the Divas are low-pass filtered and the macho Duo 12 handles abuse in the basement. Play regular music though and the properly augmented Divas will do e-bass with all the growl, menace and zong you could want if your main amp is up to the task. This is not a toy speaker. It'll play far louder without putting its drivers at risk -- yours ears are another matter altogether -- than many hi-falutin HiFi-approved speakers would tolerate or survive. Pro driver manufacturers have that game licked and Eminence makes and sells the highest numbers of professional transducers. Musicians play larger venues than our average listening rooms. To boot, they play louder no matter what. Selling transducers to musicians doesn't have anyone keen on getting called by an irate agent, to be told that his top act just blew up its stage stack in front of a sold-out house.


Ostensibly, the 'hi' in 'fi' isn't about loud. It's about sophistication. Still, you should be able to rock out when you please. What's more, large open floor plans have a lot of sound pressure meant for your ears get lost in space instead. Having a speaker that can compensate so that what does get to your ear remains wholly satisfying becomes important then. While only a monitor, the Diva will do civilized fi and double duty in larger rooms whose owners will probably shop a completely different price range; plus survive the abuses of the younger crowd who still believe their hearing is immortal.


What even the Control-enhanced Diva Monitor can't do is air. The Diva makes a dense bold sound. It's very saturated in tone color like a superior tube amp. And it's very dynamic. There's plenty of treble detail but it's not floating aloft to be obvious nor is it endlessly spacious like Gallo's famed CDTII. I expect that's what the PAC and Super-PAC systems add to the WLM equation. They'll add sharper focus as well. The Diva does focus just fine for my tastes. Certain audiophiles however are crazy about an intensely holographic, deep-space presentation that floats as though suspended. That the Diva won't do. It is intensely meaty, earth-bound, get-down and madly dynamic. Compared to these virtues, most outer space travelers will seem a bit pale and malnourished. If one could marry the two as we'll assume WLM has done in the Grand Viola Monitor with Super-PAC treble system... well, that could be a tall tale for another day.


The Diva Monitor is a contemporary speaker as far as the French and Japanese audio underground go. There vintage and retro values rule. The Diva is not modern as though it subscribed to the same values that are embodied by most modern speakers. It doesn't. It makes the kind of sound many gravitate toward after they've exhausted the other options to the point of frustration and capitulation. One of the top qualities that makes the Diva useful to these been-there done-that types who want simple but stirring and soulful is the kind of amplifier it lets them use. A 20-40wpc valve integrated like a Manley, Melody, PrimaLuna or equivalent is the perfect mate. You neither need nor want more. Simply connect the Diva Control between your source and amplifier. Yes I'm sure that measurements would show a bit of lobing and comb-filtering typical for uncorrected coaxial drivers. Perhaps that's what prevents the last degree of inner articulation, the kind which planar devotees congregate around. Planars won't come close though to the jump factor and fullness which the Diva dishes out so nonchalantly. In this price range, speakers must balance their respective virtues. By now, the Diva virtues should be abundantly clear.


To my ears, the Diva Monitor suffers no weakness. It's got very obvious strengths and -- think aforementioned lack of ultimate air and dead-lock focus -- areas of solid competence rather than outright brilliance. But there's nothing here weak except for the 55Hz limit sans Diva Control. In my book, 40Hz solid is mandatory to enjoy all types of music with over the long term. With just a bit of Diva Control LF lift powered from a quality but affordable valve amp, that's exactly what you'll get here (if not more - but that'll depend on your amp's ability to keep up with the increasing demands of bass compensation).


By the time you diva all the way to end up with more than double of your original financial layout, the Diva + Duo 12 combo becomes a seriously kick-ass proposition. It's of Zu Audio Definition Pro caliber but entails more placement options, less operational intimidation and the aforementioned sonic advances. This recipe of the high-efficiency widebander mated to a coaxial tweeter, dedicated high-efficiency subwoofer and quality active compensation should be more widespread than it is. It truly speaks for itself and the first reviews from France and Canada suggest, in a universal language no less. If WLM can package all this in their new Diva subwoofer for a lower price -- the Duo 12 will be overkill for most Diva customers in size and price -- many a manufacturer will want to play catch up. Or perhaps not. After all, this type of sound is still in the distinct minority for present-day speakers.


For now, the Diva Monitor with Diva Control is the value/performance leader at WLM. How good would this work on the April Music Aura Note? That's a one-box CD/receiver with 50 watts of push/pull transistor power by way of a single Hitachi MOSFET per phase - think Linn Classic. To loop in the Diva Control, I'd need an external source since the Aura Note lacks a tape loop. I'd strap on the Raysonic Audio CD128 for that scenario. Total outlay for that complete audio system to complement the boosted Divas would come to $4,185. This includes CD player, tuner, USB DAC, remote-controlled preamp, stereo power amp and headphone amp (with Aura's own top loading CD player thrown in for good measure). Without bass compensator, the Divas would of course run straight off the Korean box, zero add-ons required. That makes the required electronics $2,495, period. Cue Marvin Gaye. "Let's get it on..."


Guts and glory was the verdict. At 42 on the dial down from 100 max, the Divas cottoned to this transistor diet in ultra-dynamic fashion. They flat-out rocked. Leading edge definition chiseled out of the surrounding sound to a greater extent than over the valves. This raised jump factor by another notch and put me front row with Thierry 'Titi' Robin's searing guitar and buzuq strings on his album stunner Anita. I also thought that the Mosfets damped the ported bass alignment in superior fashion, making me lazier to invoke bass augmentation from the Diva Control (Pre/Passive Control in my case).


Switching over to the Raysonic in fact showed that with this amplifier, the compensation setting that had worked so brilliantly over the Melody valve integrated was a tad overcooked. I backed it off and presto, smiles. You gotta love this kind of flexibility. What's more, obsessed tube devotees will be pleased to know that this valve fossil took to the Aura Note/Diva presentation like a duck to water. It was my first serious encounter with the Korean machine. I'd performed preconditioning in the media room on the 82.5dB 4-ohm Mark & Daniel Rubys. Their low sensitivity rating meant that I didn't suffer noise pollution while the amp was doing its thing. At the same volume setting, the Divas would have had a party yet the Canadian speakers were barely audible. Consider me mighty impressed now by the combo in the big room. It proved that with the right -- toneful -- speakers, solid state has much to offer the glow-in-the-dark brigade indeed.


Naturally, the 'stolen' bass below the Diva's native roll-off isn't quite as dry and taut as the sealed Duo 12's when that's in charge of the two bottom octaves. Likely because of the port, the Diva's bass is a bit looser and more resonant. It doesn't 'pop' as hard as its hard-driving upper bass does. It goes more 'pow', ringing out a bit longer on the open vowel. That's one reason to aspire to the external sub. If you like to crack hard and dry in the bass registers, dual twelves in a sealed alignment driven from mondo transistors with high damping will do it each time. The reason for this Aura Note exercise was simply to affirm the above statement, about how the Diva does really well on good but relatively modest electronics. That's of course as it should be. Still, we all know li'l speakers far more finicky about their diet. Despite their name, the Divas don't act at all like prima donnas. They do, however, fancy a bit more power and damping than their sensitivity rating on paper might suggest. Tube listeners might in fact think push/pull.


Wrapping up, the semi-active concept in either augmented full-range or sat/monitor mode plus the tweeter contour circuit give Diva owners near unprecedented flexibility in this sector to get the sound they want rather than living with the one that's imposed on them by the manufacturer or room. The Diva combines high-energy dynamics with mondo tone and image density for a very fetching combination of kick and warmth. Time domain behavior seems top-notch indeed. This makes for a very non-fatiguing sound that's rhythmically live. The soundstage projects high above the speakers for 6-foot performers who rise well over your seat. No stumpy images here. Staging is very spatial but not the last word in spacious. This means that placement is layered as it should be but the extra holographic dimension that only comes from wide-dispersion tweeters isn't fully entered.


The presentation is completely counter analytical. It's holistic and approaches playback from greased dynamic reflexes and dense tone colors. Images focus but don't lock in razor-edged HiFi fashion because the treble is enfolded rather than separated. Cymbals sound right but don't decay with the endless shimmer of harmonic fire flies you might get from a ribbon. The central bass is a bit more redolent than iron fisted. Because the lower midrange/upper bass range kicks very hard though, the general low-end impression is one of considerable feistiness and punch. It's why WLM's Hannes Frick is so fond of the Diva Monitor. From its stout box, it develops a lot of pressure in the musical power zone. Needless to say again, the Diva also plays very loud if asked to.


Above all then, this is a fun speaker. It has you stop obsessing over the irrelevant stuff. It greets you with a bear hug and then makes sure you don't stay aloof but join the party. It's a speaker that will tweak certain people because it lacks what they consider prerequisites for a hi-end worthy design - narrow baffles, small midrange drivers, exotic diaphragms, famous tweeters. WLM gets by with apparently lesser ingredients. Still and to my ears, the end result is a more inviting, tastier dish. What that really says about current high-end hifi sensibilities you may ponder yourself in some spare time. On the subject of time, be aware that Diva's pro-arena driver roots of stiff suspensions absolutely, irrevocably and undeniably mandate and beg for a very long break-in. That's a handful of powerful words but the truth. While I was spared that gnarly process, I've been there and done that with my Zus. If you believe break-in is a myth, don't buy any Eminence-fitted loudspeakers. They'll make you wrong in a big way - but only if you're patient enough to really learn that lesson. On a different note, Martin Schützenauer, WLM's resident bass fiend, recently leafed through Alto's new amplifier catalogue and came across the A500.2 Dragonfly model, a Class D variant on the high-power workhorse amp pro musicians rely on. Hannes had to acquire his own unit for testing since Martin wouldn't let his go. The upshot of this team spirit is that henceforth, the Duo 12 subwoofer will be packaged with the Dragonfly amp. Since it doesn't require forced convection cooling, it'll be dead quiet rather than emit a faint whooshing sound from a running fan. It's also physically smaller and lighter. The necessary 1/4" plug-terminated cables will be included.


As our own Jeff Day reminds us, there's a music lover's perspective which deviates from the studio monitor credo of 'warts'n'all'. Music lovers first and foremost insist on an emotional connection with the music. Secondly, they insist -- very sensibly if you ask me -- that all of their music and not just a very narrow selection thereof be enjoyable. The Diva Monitor conforms perfectly to this omnivorous demand. It's a tone monster. That makes it a fabulous addition to the retro/vintage sector of loudspeaker design where large paper cones with pleated cloth surrounds remain en vogue. Those counter the over-articulated 'starving super model' ideal that's pursued to excess elsewhere. It returns us to the earthy curves of a Sophia Loren, the power and brio of Classic Rock and the soulful tone of a Mesa Boogie. The Diva with Diva Control is quite the package then.


It's also the latest addition to Casa Coral Bay's growing in-house collection of musical instruments. These Austrians will serve more elaborate amplifier and speaker comparisons in the future and otherwise play merry tunes when the silly reviewer's cap gets hung on the rusty nail where it belongs. It's all about having fun. And the Divas deliver fun in spades. If you want to get really serious, add the Duo 12 in filter mode. Now you've got the kind of fire power that seems to have blown away not just showgoers or reviewers. Even competing loudspeaker manufacturers were confused who themselves service a far more upscale clientele that may never stop to consider that they needn't spend even half as much to get equivalent or better performance. If they just knew where to look. The well-deserved award is for the Diva Monitor + Diva Control. The Duo 12 will mandate its own writeup. WLM - warm, lively, massive. That's it's in a nutshell.
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