WLM Diva - Two Models, Two Perspectives

For our article about the WLM Diva's, I asked our Melbourne representative to share his thoughts on the WLM Diva Monitors and I would then add my input about the WLM Diva Floorstanders.  There are only a couple of reviews in English about these great speakers so we really wanted to share our thoughts on what we think is a very under appreciated speaker.

So firstly here is what James thinks of these great speakers - 

Diva! The name asks, no, demands to be commented on, doesn’t it? It’s not a name destined to fade into obscurity like so many do. I’m sure, no reviewer could resist the urge to make a play of it. Well neither can I.

Diva- what does that conjure for you? Mariah Carey? Sumi Jo? Ella Fitzgerald? Well if we were to play a game of word association, my response to ‘Diva’ would be my wife who happens to be an extremely talented amateur singer. I know I am about to enter into dangerous ground, so let’s tread carefully. The word Diva has its roots in the Italian word dive which roughly translates as goddess (you see darling why I am thinking of you). It came to be a term used to describe female opera singers of rare talent.  In more popular usage it can refer more to a singer’s behavior than her talent. Demanding, fussy, very particular, impossible to work with are just some of the terms one might associate with a ‘diva’. 

Most musicians get handed a piece of music and are expected to play. Singers? Oh no, we have to choose the right key to suit the voice (and we expect the musician to be able to flawlessly transpose it on the fly), we have to be the centre of attention. None of this ‘background music nonsense’, if I am singing then you better be listening or else. We have to get all the compliments too, after all it’s my voice, you are just the accompaniment. No one ever goes to a concert to hear the accompanist. If I sound bitter I’m working on it. I love accompanying my wife. Love it.

My slight hesitation as to what to expect from these speakers was apparent. They might turn out to be an exceptionally fine talent but would they be a demanding one?
You can imagine the ad in the classifieds: Fussy about partnering equipment, no budget sources please, only a diet of the finest recordings, tubes but not too much; expert positioning required, toe-in measured with a protractor, maximum space behind, only some listening rooms may apply.

All of course in an attempt to hit the sweet spot, and oh how sweet that spot would be, as long as you head doesn’t wobble.

Well I didn’t really expect that, I mean I had auditioned some of the WLM range before ever committing to the role of Victorian rep for Audio Addiction, but I certainly did wonder! What would the Diva be like?

As it turns out, completely the opposite: No toe-in required, very compliant regarding placement, great with a variety of amps, the very opposite of ‘demanding’. Actually the Divas are demanding in one aspect. Put on an album and they do demand that you sit down and enjoy the whole show. No getting up halfway through to try something else, it just feels too rude.

I’m not a reviewer, I’m not going to pretend that I have heard every speaker around at this price point, and I haven’t interchanged hundreds of pieces of gear in attempt to appear legitimately unbiased. After all, I sell the Diva. Having said that, I bought one (a Diva Monitor), purely on Tony’s recommendation and on the infectious enthusiasm he has for his Diva floorstanders.

The real question I want to answer is ‘why’? Why do I love the Diva? Why do I get genuinely excited when someone is exposed to these speakers from a relatively unknown Austrian company (at least in Oz) for the very first time?
In a word: tone. These speakers are as tonally accurate and rich as any speakers I have heard.  Tonally rich and accurate? How on earth does that work? Surely rich means excess warmth. Pleasing to the ear perhaps but hardly accurate?

Next time you come to a piano, hit a key and listen. The note doesn’t just appear- it develops, it swells, resonates, and of course when you take your finger from the note, no matter how quickly, the sound does not instantaneously vanish- it gently diminishes, fades, decays. Every single note goes through this development. A speaker needs to be able to convey this information and the greater the accuracy of this, the more ‘musical’ a speaker will be.

Thankfully, there is no jarring harshness on the treble. Tonal beauty is about richness, not artificial, not additional, but full and warm in the ‘live’ sense. The divas? Music pours straight out- as if straight out of the mouth of an opera beauty.

The timbre of an instrument is for my ears, one of the hardest things to get right. There are many factors to consider too before a signal even reaches the speaker. Ultimately the quality of the instrument is paramount. A Steinway sounds like a Steinway. You are not (at least with a little education) going to confuse it with a Steinbach. Of course you need to consider the venue, the recording quality etc, but the speaker still needs to be able to communicate the richness of a Steinway, a Stradivarius.

The Wlm Diva is all about conveying the purity and richness of tone (so long as it is there). Take the title track Tord Gustavsen’s The Ground, a beautifully recorded album which allows the sonorous quality of the piano to shine through. Each note hangs, pregnant with intent and meaning. On the Divas the fullness and richness of each note is so beautifully presented, a sigh of contentment is likely to escape one’s lips- well it did mine.

The Divas tick all the requisite ‘hi-fi’ boxes- clarity, resolution, wide soundstage, good depth, forward without being confronting, air and space, it’s all there. When I first got in to audio, I really had no idea what to listen for, let alone the language to express it. It was a simple matter of what sounded right and what didn’t. These certainly tick the “it just sounds right” box.  A friend explained to me his basic way of evaluating speakers. There are, he said, ‘sins of addition’ and ‘sins of omission’, As no speaker is perfect, each speaker needs to be evaluated on what it is adding to the signal, and what it is not conveying perhaps as well as it might. To my ears, there are no sins of addition. There is no obvious coloration, no ‘boxiness’, no edginess to the tone etc. 

What I like about it though is that although the Divas are not the last word on any category (though they do image exceptionally well) they have no real weaknesses. You will find speakers more resolving, speakers with greater extension, speakers with a more extended treble, more air and space around notes, but often these attributes are elevated at the expense of others. Not with the Divas- it’s all there, in an evenly balanced presentation, a speaker of poise, but at the same time of great energy. 

Different strokes for different folks: probably the most common phrase in any audio forum. People like different things, have different expectations when it comes to audio. It is one of the great things about the hobby and the major reason why there is such a variety of gear to choose from. The speaker that is ‘just right’ for you will depend upon your audio priorities. Is the Diva for everyone? No of course not. But if your priorities in a speaker are weighted towards richness and purity of tone, wonderful imaging, an engaging, even-handed presentation, a foot-tapping musicality than the Divas really are a must audition. Do I sell them? Yes, but I sell others too. What do I listen to? Each and every night- yup it’s the Divas, and for under 5k they really do deserve the moniker ‘diva’, for like all true divas they are truly a rare musical talent.


James Hornby

Now on to Tony's comments about the Diva Floorstanders:

Over the last year of selling Hi Fi and after many years of being a crazy music enthusiast I have become more and more disgruntled with the Hi Fi industry as a whole.  We seem to have found ourselves on the road where numbers, figures and engineering theory have swamped our industry.  Don't get me wrong I think figures and theory are important however I strongly agree with Nelson Pass who said "The ear is not a microphone, the brain is not a tape recorder, and measurements are limited in describing subjective quality. I like to have low distortion and so on, but these things take a back seat to what I experience when I listen."

At some point it seems that quite a few people have forgotten about this - What we experience when we listen.  Reading reviews, spending large amounts of time on audio forums, looking at measurements, going to audio shows to witness and be fooled by the bling factor and forgetting about how the music makes you feel.  At the end of the day reproduced music shouldn't just produce sound.  In someway we connect with music.  Connect with the composition, connect with the artist, connect with the intent of the production team, connect with raw emotion that can cut you down or lift you up.  After all, music is an artistic expression like no other.  There is no culture on earth that doesn't have some form of traditional music for people to express themselves.  It is deeply ingrained into the human condition.  

So how do I feel when I listen to the Diva's?  In one word - Alive.  My heart skips a beat and I feel the emotions of the music.  These speakers allow me to connect.  I'm not behind any barrier.  I can let go and allow myself to be apart of the music.  No speaker on earth will ever allow you to be completely fooled into thinking you have been transported to another place.  The room just has too much influence to allow this to happen.  However good audio systems can still have enough power to create an amazing feeling of space, freedom and most importantly, emotional connection.  I believe that the Diva's do this in the same way some of the legendary speakers of the past have done.  

In fact the head of production and sales at WLM (Hannes Frick) used all of his resources to compare the Diva's against as many of his most cherished vintage speakers that he has in his own personal collection.  Think of legendary brands such as Tannoy with their Monitor Red and Gold series and you will be on the right track.  WLM only released this speaker when they felt they had something special to offer in comparison to these legendary speakers. 

If you look closely you will see some important similarities.  Well designed hand built cabinetry, dual concentric drivers (for coherence) and tone controls feature in both designs.  

Tone controls, it seems that this has become a dirty word in modern audio.  The difference between these tone controls and the traditional tone controls you may have experienced is that these are purpose built.  Only to be used with the speaker that it was designed for.  Knowing the roll off curve of the driver allows WLM to build a tone control exactly for these speakers.  Allowing you to tune your speakers to the room, your mood and to the way we hear.  I guess room and mood are pretty self explanatory but what about the way we hear?

This is where things get interesting.  You see a healthy ear doesn't hear sound in a linear fashion.  Our perception of sound changes depending solely on the volume of playback.  There is a very interesting thread discussed here written by Alan Shaw from Harbeth.  Every speaker designer needs to take this into account during the design stage of their speaker.  Are they aiming for the listening volume to be 85dB, 95dB or 105dB.  Doesn't really sound like much of difference from a numbers perspective does it?  However for every 6dB of increase the perceived volume doubles.  So what do most designers do?  They take a guess at what they think customers will listen at.  Alan Shaw from Harbeth likes to design his speakers for a listening volume of 85dB.  That is the classic BBC monitor number.  So he designs his speaker cross-overs for this optimum.  Other designers I know test and listen a lot louder than this so they design the speaker with a different volume in mind.  So people think, what about the bass boost on your amplifier.  Well yes the theory is right, the implementation is wrong.  You see the amplifier designer is now guessing on what sort of speakers you are using for the boost.  The only way is to have a tone control specifically for your speakers. 

WLM does exactly that.  You have the ability to adjust the bass output through the use of the Diva Control or Pre/Passive Control and around the back of each speaker is the treble control.  If you are listening at high volumes bass generally fills out and loads the room without much need for the Diva Control.  Maybe +1 or +2dB.  However once volume drops down I found I could take the bass up to around +5dB to keep everything in scale.  If I want a larger bass foundation with a warmer midrange I dial it up to +8dB.  The +8dB setting is just out of this world for many types of jazz and acoustic music.    

WLM have provided flexibility for the speaker that very few  others manage to do.  Adjustments can be made so that I no longer need to listen at live concert levels to experience the full effect of a live performance.  Lower listening levels can now have all of the openness and scale of a live concert without destroying my hearing and without upsetting the neighbors through the simple use of the Diva control.

I know there are a few audiophiles who will question this type of implementation.  However I think they need to hear it for themselves.  The tone controls don't change the accuracy of the recording in any way.  They are better looked at as optimizing the performance for the volume that you listen and to allow for your room.  They do not change the tone or timbre of the performance.  For me it keeps me involved when other systems have left me feeling cold.

The Diva is a pretty simple little box that really works wonders.  Music just seems less interesting without it.  You don't need an electronics degree to use it.  It only operates in the analog domain so there is no chance of upsetting anything else with the adjustments.  It will make your amplifier work harder depending on your preferred bass setting however it isn't noticeable unless your amp is running in the single digits and you over do things.

WLM have forged their way into my hardened audiophile heart with solid musical understanding.  Transparent tone, impacting dynamics with refinement and articulation.  These are speakers for everyday.  I never tire of hearing them.  WLM have achieved something very special with these speakers.  With the combined use of the tweeter control and the Diva control there is very little music that I don't get maximum enjoyment out of.  After all, isn't this passion about getting the most enjoyment from music.  For many audiophiles this love for music has sadly become completely forgotten in the pursuit for a technical perfection that doesn't exist.