Watkins Generation 4 Speakers


WBF Technical Expert
May 19, 2010
The Watkins brand is hardly a well-known name in high-end audio circles. This family-run company has been around for about 60 years, though, with first Bill Watkins Sr., and now his son, Bill Watkins Jr., running the operation. A short interview with Bill Watkins Jr. can be found here. Bill Jr. published a book in 2022 titled "Loudspeaker Physics and Forced Vibration."

And, confession time: The only reason I bought the Graham LS8/1 was that when I wanted to move on from the Sanders 10e for various reasons, these Watkins speakers were not then available. The Watkins Generation 4 was out of production with no stock available for about two years. After REG reviewed the Graham LS8/1 I bought the Grahams since I thought they also had great potential and I certainly was not wrong about that. But I stayed on the waiting list for the Watkins, waiting for production to resume and for the entire time I’ve owned the Grahams.

Like many small businesses, Bill Watkins’ former woodworker (who produced the Gen 4 cabinets to Watkins’ specs) went out of business near the beginning of the pandemic. It took Bill a LONG time to find another woodworker willing and able to make the rather complicated cabinets to Bill’s satisfaction at a price which would enable Bill to sell the speakers for a price he believes his market would tolerate. As it is, the price went from $2,500 a pair to now $3,000 a pair with the new woodworker. Bill told me these new cabinets are the best he’s ever offered in terms of fit and finish.

My fascination with the Watkins Generation 4 developed because I saw it as the ultimate refinement of the old EPI 100/Epicure 10 two-way module developed in the early 1970s by Winslow Burhoe. I have long admired those speakers. While the top octaves were a bit or more bright sounding when listened to on axis (see Julian Hirsh’s test report here), when arranged so that the speakers face each other and listened to at right angles to the baffle, those speakers were remarkably refined and hugely open sounding for their time and even today. They were a simple sealed two-way box speaker with a minimal first-order analog crossover (a single capacitor to roll off the bottom-end response of the tweeter) with bass extension down to 40 Hz or so. The Watkins Generation 4 takes this minimal first-order crossover concept and adds physical time alignment via a sloping baffle and premium parts to this formula. It also has a custom-damped tweeter and the famous Watkins woofer alignment which is ported but rolls off at 18 dB/octave rather than the usual 24 dB/octave of a ported woofer or 12 dB/octave like a sealed cabinet. The big Infinity speakers that HP liked back in the day used Watkins woofers.

I was also fascinated since one of my early audio heroes, J. Gordon Holt, founder of Stereophile, used a predecessor of the Generation 4, the enormous Watkins WE-1, designed by Bill Watkins Sr., as his reference speakers for several years back in the 1980s, an eternity in high-end speaker advancements. Most listeners, as well as Bill Watkins Jr. himself, believe that in most ways the Generation 4, despite its relatively diminutive size, is by far a better speaker than the old WE-1.

My fascination was also piqued by Dick Olsher’s review of the Generation 4 in The Absolute Sound in 2017. To my knowledge, that’s the only “serious” review of the Generation 4 speakers, even though, yes, the Generation 4 has been around for a few years now. Some changes to the design were made after Olsher’s review. See the manufacturer’s discussion of the updates here.

The walks-on-water testimonials from owners of the Generation 4 further piqued my interest despite the lack of other reviews by the audiophile press.

I should also confess that when I first received the Generation 4 speakers, I was reluctant to set them up. The Graham LS8/1 were sounding so very wonderful with the recent addition of Lumin L2 and fiber optic networking to my system. The Watkins speakers sat in their unopened boxes for about a week. When I finally got around to unboxing them, I set them atop the Skylan 30-inch-tall SP-30 two-post stands (with posts filled with wood pellets) which I months before had purchased and set up in anticipation of finally acquiring the Watkins speakers. There they sat for another week, still unauditioned.

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So how do the Watkins Generation Four speakers sound, especially relative to my current reference, the Graham LS8/1?

When I finally did audition the Watkins, I casually placed them beside or in front of the Grahams and merely moved the speaker cables from the Grahams to the Watkins. First hearing was not promising at all, but before the first night’s listening was done, I did find a near-field position (about 36 inches from drivers to my ears) where the Watkins sounded very promising indeed. A day or two later I moved the Grahams out of the room so I could locate the Watkins in my preferred location in this room, where the Grahams and other speakers have been.

There followed a few days of almost utter despair. I was ready to give up on the Watkins speakers and literally give them away. Listening sessions were painful. The Gen 4, without the Grahams in the room, seemed both appallingly bright in the mid-highs and appallingly lacking in bass. At volumes above quite moderate, there was a “crunch” to the sound on certain loud vocal, piano, and some other transients which produced a “cringe” response in me. There was also a hooded or hooty sound to voices and a general lack of clarity in the mids. Spatial reproduction was mediocre at best, with much of the sound clinging to the baffles.

But I thought I owed it to Bill Watkins to at least play the speakers long enough to “break them in” which Watkins specifies as about 40 hours of playing music at reasonable levels. Well, I have NEVER heard such a transformation of speaker sound (or, for that matter, any item of audio electronics or other equipment) as occurred over the break-in period. I would say that the full break-in requires a good deal longer, at least 100 hours of playback at reasonable volumes.

The first thing which started to correct was the bass. Gradually, the low end began to fill in. The hooty/hooded quality of the mids then receded and eventually disappeared. Increased clarity followed, as did greatly increased three-dimensionality/envelopment. The “crunch” on transients disappeared. The last part of the break-in involved the receding of the over-emphasized treble/tweeter, plus great improvement in the three-dimensionality/envelopment/detachment of the sound from the speaker locations.

After this very-much-required and rather amazing break-in process, the Watkins Generation 4 speakers sound spectacularly fine indeed. I think this newest version of the speakers is even better than Dick Olsher’s assessment. Perhaps Olsher never fully broke them in. But the treble hotness Olsher talks about, which I agree was there at first, does vanish in the current model with continued break in.

I have no firm idea of what needs so much breaking in on these speakers. I suspect that the forming of the audiophile-grade capacitor which comprises the sole electronic crossover component is part of it. The mechanical low-pass roll off of the woofer may be the rest of it. The mechanical parts of the woofer may need to “loosen up” considerably with playing. Those are strictly conjectures, however. One thing is certain: these speakers should be broken in with at least 100 hours of playback at reasonable levels before passing judgment on them.

With that break-in accomplished, I’m prepared to declare the treble balance as “just right” as opposed to “too hot” without the 1 to 2 dB of treble shelving down that Olsher mentioned. The treble also sounds the lowest in distortion and the greatest in clarity and dynamic freedom I’ve ever heard in a speaker in my room.

Spatially the fundamentals and overtones of notes line up where they should be on the stage. This produces an unprecedented certainty of image placement of sound sources on the stage. As Watkins’ website material states: “you hear each instrument in its own space with a natural air between them, along with the natural ambience of the recording site.”

In fact, as far as I can tell, all the sonic claims for the Generation 4 stated on the Watkins website are true to my ears in my room once the break-in process is completed. This goes also for the testimonials from owners/users on the Watkins website. None of the testimonials seem outlandish given what I’m hearing after break-in. There is no marketing BS in the sonic descriptions on the Watkins website, in other words.

I’ve always thought that the one weakness with both the BBC-influenced Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 and the Graham LS8/1 is that the top two octaves of treble is, while at about the right level relative to the rest of the sonic spectrum, a bit or more defocused, especially on non-classical music. Many other speakers in my experience also share this quality. Using cymbals as an example, they have neither quite enough stick impact nor shimmer and not nearly enough temporal separation of the stick impact and the following shimmer. Robert Harley used to refer to this problem (especially with digital sources) as cymbal sound resembling more the sound of high-pressure steam escaping from a valve than the strike and following shimmer sound of real cymbals. The Watkins, with its well-time-aligned output, and subjectively matchless low distortion, lets me hear all elements of the high frequencies overlaid in a way which makes perfect temporal and spatial sense and at the proper relative levels.

The bass is now at a near-perfect level and, as the manufacturer and other listeners claim, it is subjectively deep enough not to require subwoofering. It is taut, punchy, AMAZINGLY detailed, and yet also warm-enough sounding. Bass lines can be followed easier with these speakers than with any others I’ve ever owned. I daresay that you probably don’t know what is really going on in the bass in terms of pitch and SPL changes from moment to moment until you’ve heard the Watkins woofers in action.

That said, even after break-in of the Watkins, I believe that many if not most listeners will find the Grahams still superior in overall tonal balance, especially for classical music. As the published frequency response on this page shows, there is no built-in low frequency warmth in the Watkins. The Grahams, on the other hand have a low-frequency warmth and naturalness and a good measure of gravitas that is beguiling indeed on most commercial classical music recordings. Also, the Grahams are matchless in their apparent freedom from annoying micro-resonances on voices, piano, and strings. These sound sources just sound spooky real.

On the other hand, the Watkins are superior in terms of how they handle dynamic swings, both large and small, even though the Grahams really don’t lack in this department at all. The Watkins swing and sway in ways that bring to mind the old Linn concept of superior PRaT. And as Bill Watkins says, they also have a “grow on you” quality that makes me want to continue to listen to one selection after another, and to have multiple listening sessions per day.

The Watkins excel the Grahams in their ability to point out sonic differences among recordings and about the physical and electronic set up of the speakers and the rest of your system. Whether that is a good thing or not is open to debate. But clarity and subjectively low distortion is at least a match for the Grahams and for non-classical music the Watkins bundle of good qualities seems at least as good if not better than those of the Grahams. The Watkins’ top octave air and detail is clearly superior to that of the Grahams; the transients of cymbals and all other kinds of instruments sound more real on these than on any other speakers I have yet owned. Leading edges of both vocal and instrumental transients are unmatched in their clarity and instantaneous “rightness” in my experience.

Spatially, I’d say the Watkins are a close match for the Grahams. Both are quite satisfying and superior to other speakers I’ve had in this room in terms of envelopment and the freedom of the sound from the physical positions of the speakers. The Watkins do seem to produce a bit taller and wider soundstage, while the Grahams tend to produce just a bit more layering of depth.

The main decision with the Watkins speakers is whether their tonal balance is warm enough for your taste. As Olsher’s review says, you can trade off a bit of the stellar three-dimensionality for greater bass warmth by moving the speakers closer to the wall behind them, and/or by listening a bit off axis. In my small room, the off-axis “fix” works better if the speakers are over-toed rather than under-toed--so that you can just see the side of the cabinets nearest the side walls, in other words, rather than the sides of the cabinets toward the center of the room. But, frankly, I’m inclined to aim the speakers directly at my ears and go for broke on the imaging and soundstaging, just as Olsher was.

Any perceived tonal balance problems of the Watkins can be substantially ameliorated via very simple electronic equalization. For example, the Muse DSP parametric EQ function of Roon seems capable of transparently reducing the highs and warming the bass. In my room and to my ears, a high frequency shelf filter set at 2 kHz at minus 1.1 dB with a Q of 0.5 brings the high frequency level in line with that of the Graham with the Graham's front-panel high frequency switch set at 0. For the lows, I find that a low frequency shelf filter set at plus 3.7 dB with a frequency of 250 Hz and a Q of 0.5 makes the low frequency balance satisfyingly warm on classical music. So set, the Watkins give me superior temporal coherence on high frequency transients. However, the Grahams will still give you an extra half octave of low bass beyond what the Watkins offer, with the Grahams extending to 30 Hz before roll off starts, rather than the 40 Hz of the Watkins.
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I think the Skylan stands I’m using with the Generation 4 speakers are close to ideal. Noel Nolan of Skylan recommended his two-post stands for speakers of this size and weight. They run about $320 delivered. The top plates are about 8” x 13” just a bit smaller than the speaker footprints. Noel supplied neoprene bumpers pre-mounted near the corners of the top plate, as well as a choice of spikes or glide feet for the bass. At my request, the bases were predrilled with six rather than four steel inserts to allow the use of either three or four feet per speaker stand. I’m using three glide feet per stand, with two in the front corners and one in the center rear. The speakers are noticeably heavier in front than in the rear, so this arrangement works well in terms of load distribution and makes leveling the stands without rocking so much easier. A 20-pound bag of hardwood pellets (the post-filling material recommended by Skylan) costs about $25 online or at a hardware store. One bag is just enough to fill all four of the pillars of my two 30-inch-tall stands.

Watkins says that the ideal listening axis is half-way up the speaker height. The speakers are 14 inches tall. Thus, measure your seated ear height, and buy stands which will place the bottom of the speakers about 7 inches lower than your seated ear height. In my case, my chair positions my ears about 37 inches off the floor. Thus, my 30-inch stands are about the correct height for my situation.

Watkins sells less expensive stands for these speakers from his store. Feel free to consult him about his recommendations. He is also happy to give you advice about matching speaker cables and other equipment for his speakers.

As to the grills, they are quite transparent, but I marginally prefer the sound with the grills on. I also prefer the aesthetics with the grills on. I recommend experimenting with the grills on and off. They are held in place magnetically and can be exactly centered with respect to the beveled cabinet corners if you are so inclined. If you like, the speakers can be special ordered without the grills or the little magnetic posts which hold the grills in place.

You may wonder whether such small speakers (about half the volume of the Graham LS8/1) can put out enough bass SPL and SPL generally to fill your room. All I have to go on is how they perform in my small (161” L x 132” W x 103” H) well-damped room. In my room, the Watkins Generation 4 speakers play as loud without a hint of strain as I need on any material in any frequency range. Part of their package of excellences is the fact that they remain clear, clean, dynamically unrestrained, and quite fun to listen to at all frequencies even when you want to turn them up “just for fun.” Not that these aren’t speakers for serious listening; it’s just that they are also “big smile” speakers as you turn them up toward realistic levels.

Don’t think that you will save space in your room with these. The footprint of these on their Skylan stands is about the same as the Grahams on their dedicated Something Solid stands. And since the whole Watkins speaker and stand assembly is a bit taller than the Grahams on their dedicated stands, the subjective impression of physical size in my small room is about the same for the Watkins and Graham speakers.

The system driving the Watkins speakers is described here. The procedure for setting up the speakers is basically the same as I used for the Graham LS8/1 and is described at posts 11, 12, and 13 of my Graham thread.

So where do the Watkins Gen 4 stand in my pantheon of subjective speaker sound quality? The Grahams still have the edge in absolute tonal balance rightness and total lack of overtly or subliminally annoying small resonances. No electronic equalization is needed to achieve this in my room to my ears. But the Watkins come close, very close, to even those best aspects of the Graham sonic quality level for much less money and any perceived tonal balance issues are very easy to remedy with electronic equalization. Remember that, in the United States, we are talking speakers which cost only 30% of what the Graham LS8/1s cost!

If you primarily or only listen to classical music and can afford the Graham LS8/1, I’d go with them. Even more well-heeled classical music listeners should also check out the Graham LS 5/5 models or the Harbeth M40.3 for twice as much or more money. The extra money buys you more low-end gravitas and perhaps a bit more ease at higher SPLs, but you may lose a bit of coherence by adding the extra crossover below 3.5 kHz.

But if your musical tastes are, like mine, more eclectic and especially if you can’t afford or just would rather not spend $10k or more for a pair of speakers, then by all means the Watkins Generation 4 is a Godsend at only $3k a pair. For eclectic listening, I believe the Watkins Generation 4 to be at least the overall equal of the Graham LS8/1 in terms of music listening satisfaction. In other words, the Watkins Generation 4 speakers are an incredible bargain!! Just remember that, unlike the Graham, it takes the sound of the Watkins a good while to get to this level.

Note that you cannot commercially audition these Watkins Generation 4 speakers anywhere but at Watkins Stereo in Kingsport, Tennessee. There are no other retail dealers. They are only sold factory direct to consumers from Kingsport. Watkins does offer a 30-day return with refund policy, however. Thirty days should afford ample opportunity for break-in to occur if you don’t let them sit around for weeks without playing them like I did.

To repeat: In my judgement, once the break-in is completed, I believe the Watkins Generation 4 for their $3,000/pair asking price are an incredible bargain!! What we have here is a small, very honest and reputable manufacturer with great ears for what sounds right and real and who is not given to BS marketing. Bill Watkins Jr. is also highly committed to offering the Generation 4 to his customers at the absolutely minimum cost for a very fine product indeed.

Shipping is extra but was only about $120 a pair from Tennessee to my Chicago-area address for two-day delivery via UPS. The speakers are shipped one to a box. Packaging seems bomb-proof but simple: a very sturdy and thick Watkins-labeled box, custom made hard foam inserts to hold the speakers well away from the inside of the box, and a heavy poly bag to guard the speaker finish. Room set up suggestions are provided, as are Caig Deoxit Pro wipes for enhancing the contact of the speaker cable connections.

Watkins currently seems to be building the Generation 4 speakers in small runs of about five pairs per run with a new run completed about once a week. Wait time is down to a few months at this point but may get shorter as production continues. There was a considerable backorder situation since the speakers were out of production for so long.

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My ears are just over 59 inches from the drivers. The procedure for setting up the speakers is basically the same as I used for the Graham LS8/1 and is described at posts 11, 12, and 13 of my Graham thread.

The more I listen to the Watkins, the more I like them. They disarm criticism, whether heard from inside or outside the room. It takes effort to go into analytical mode. The music just sounds so right, despite any technical limits on low bass extension, bass warmth, or whatever. The music takes over and demands listening with that other part of my brain. And not just on "great recordings." Right now I'm listening to the Europa Jazz Radio internet radio stream (320 kbps) from my computer desk outside the room and it's beyond critique.
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I find the Watkins Generation 4 to be a smidge more sensitive than the Graham LS8/1. What that means is that for any given setting of the Leedh-processed digital volume control of my Lumin X1 streaming DAC, the SPL at the listening position is a bit higher. My two Benchmark AHB2 amps used in mono mode are more than sufficient, in other words, to compass all the peak dynamics at any reasonable volume level. Bill Watkins Jr. himself uses amps rated at only about 90 watts per channel to demonstrate the speakers at his retail shop.

I want to re-emphasize how dynamically agile and revealing the Watkins are. They reveal moment-to-moment small and large dynamic nuances I have never heard before with any other speakers both on voices and instrumentals. These dynamic changes work hand-in-hand with how revealing of moment-to-moment tonal changes these speakers also are. Musically, taken together these factors matter a lot, making any program more interesting and involving, helping to disarm criticism of their performance and constantly bringing the focus of listening sessions back to the music and keeping it there.
Thanks for a very detailed report on this speaker. When Olshers review came out years ago it seemed like an exciting find and potential giant killer.
I expected to see more reviews and some forum buzz and instead there was….. nothing.

Good to hear they are back with an updated and improved version.
In the last paragraph of post #2 above, I talk about using Roon's Muse parametric EQ to alter the response of the Watkins Generation 4 to more closely model that of the Graham LS8/1. i kept editing the adjustments talked about as the speakers continued to break in. I started with a suggestion of plus 6 dB in the bass and minus 2 dB in the treble and gradually reduced those numbers to plus 3.7 dB in the bass and minus 1.1 dB in the treble.

Now, however, on most material I'm finding that even those suggestions are unnecessary and not as naturally balanced sounding as just no equalization at all. Whether the Watkins have continued to break in or whether the sound is just growing on me, or a bit of both, is hard to tell. I have not been measuring the response of the speakers along the way. I'm just reporting my subjective reaction to the frequency balance of their sound as weeks of ownership have gone by.

The Watkins also seem to have continued to improve in the way they portray three-dimensionality and envelopment of the sound field. These speakers continue to amaze me with both their wonderfully natural and involving sound and the value they represent at just $3,000 a pair!
I want to emphasize another aspect of the exceptional sound of these speakers. More than any others I have experience with, the Watkins Generation 4 allow each instrument or voice in an ensemble to have its own "lane" in the imaging, staging, and mix. It is thus easier to follow what each instrument or group of instruments are doing without concentrating hard on doing this. This characteristic in no way impedes the ability of the speakers to present the ensemble as an ensemble. There just is less blurring of what each instrument is doing when many are playing together. This even applies when different instruments or singers with similar tonality are playing/singing the same note. For example, when Lani Hall and Janis Hansen, the female soloists of Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66, sing unison in Mais Que Nada, the two voices are more readily distinguishable than with other speakers in my experience. On many systems this duet sounds in fact like a single slightly distorted-by-recording voice. The Watkins more clearly reveals the truth about this recording than any other speakers I've owned.
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Another aspect of the remarkable sound of the Watkins Generation 4 speakers is just how good they sound at lower SPLs. Except for getting the subjectively correct bass level (Fletcher-Munson and all), there is no need to turn these way up to hear all that is going on. In this respect they are just the opposite of early Magnepans which needed to be goosed in order to sound clear and reveal detail. Even at very modest late-night levels, these are wonderfully clear and revealing of all the the musicians are doing. My ears even quickly accommodate to the lack of bass heft and things sound more tonally correct at low levels than they have with other speakers, even though I know that the Watkins are in no way over-emphasizing any part of the bass range.

I suspect this comes partly from the minimal crossover and resultant dynamic life these have. They really bounce, swing, and sway even at low volumes. But there is also true clarity, a lack of veiling that allows me to hear everything in a very satisfying way even with the volume low. In this respect, the Watkins are hands down better than any other speakers I've ever owned. They are disarming of criticism and maximize musical interest and joy even at late-night listening levels.
tmallin, Thank you for your thoughtful and informative review of the Watkins Generation 4. I grew up about 25 miles from Watkins Stereo in Kingsport, TN and loved visiting the store while I was in high school in the early 1970s. About that same time I also became captivated by The Absolute Sound magazine. It was a great surprise to see the Watkins Gen 4 receive the magazines accolades (Golden Ear, Editors' Choice) in 2017 and every year since then. I am a performing musician and conductor (Professor of Music Emeritus), so I know a little bit about the sound of real instruments in real spaces. For the past 40 years my speakers have been Acoustat 2+2s. As you stated: "Note that you cannot commercially audition these Watkins Generation 4 speakers anywhere but at Watkins Stereo in Kingsport, Tennessee. There are no other retail dealers. They are only sold factory direct to consumers from Kingsport. Watkins does offer a 30-day return with refund policy, however." It is my understanding that other audio magazines have declined to review the Gen 4 specifically because they do not have a network of distributors. In December I made an appointment with Bill Watkins and spent nearly three hours with him listening to these speakers. I was very impressed. Two weeks ago I called him and placed an order for my own Gen 4s with stands. Your review helped me make the decision. Thanks!
The Acoustat 2+2s were my favorite of the old Acoustat models. Enormous imaging and staging, enough bass (the 1+1 always sounded deficient to me in this respect), and not overly much vertical venetian blind effect as there was to my ears with the 3, 4, and larger 6 and 8 with more than a single angle between the panels. I never purchased a pair of 2+2s because when they were new I did not have a room which could accommodate their height.

By the way, I did not enjoy the electrostatic Sound Lab speakers from close up (as they would need to be heard in small rooms of the type I've always had) as much as the Acoustats. The multiple horizontal angles from which the sound radiates from Sound Lab speakers always gets in the way of naturalness, I feel. If I move my head even a little, I hear the vertical venetian blind phasiness caused by the multiple facets.

I'll be interested to learn what you think about the projection of sound into the room from the "quasi-point-source" Generation 4 vs. the line source 2+2. A line source of that height automatically has great image height and tends to produce a vast soundstage, but to my ears tends to soften image focus a bit and also tends to conceal the projection of sound upward and outward from particular points/areas on the stage compared to well-designed quasi-point-source speakers like the Watkins. I think you'll be shocked at the differences on piano, voice, and violin. In a small room like mine, the Watkins type of projection is uncanny in its realism and lack of artifacts.
In my current listening room my speakers are several feet from side and back walls and are about 9' apart. My primary listening seat is about 11.5' from the speakers, with several feet behind me, much like the Watkins listening room. This setup is significantly different than previous rooms, which were smaller with the listening position much closer to the speakers. With the 2+2s I have not encountered any vertical venetian blind effect but have recently become annoyed with the horizontal venetian blind effect, which seems to be much more pronounced than in my previous smaller room. A small turning of my head or L-R movement really messes with the imaging in my current room. I am thinking the Gen 4s would be much better in this regard. I would welcome any observations or recommendations you might have to offer. The image height of the 2+2s is stunning. I hope you mean "shocked" in a good way! I know many audiophiles use music to listen to their system, rather than using their system to listen to music. I try to be a healthy mix of both approaches.
Perhaps my use of "vertical venetian blind" effect is confusing. It's an analogy to the way light comes through vertical blinds where the pattern of lighter and darker is in vertical slits or strips. Thus, if you move your head sideways (as opposed to up or down) you may hear a change in tonality, image shift, and a "phasey tugging" at your ears as you transition from primarily hearing one panel to another. This effect is common in speakers whose drivers are segmented horizontally, like Magnepans, Acoustats, Soundlabs, etc. Yes, there can be similar effects caused by up and down head movements, but those are usually less obvious with most speakers. All this is more audible the closer your listening position is to the speakers. In my room, I'm only 59 inches from the drivers, so I tend to hear much more of this than you would back 11.5 feet from the speakers.

If the Watkins sounded fine to you at the demo where the distance was similar to what you have at home, they should sound fine at home also.

Dipoles like the Acoustats involve the side wall, floor, and ceiling reflections of your listening room much less than wider dispersion speakers like the Watkins. However, dipoles reflect VERY strongly off the wall behind them and behind the listener, and most listeners do not damp those surfaces very much because they regard such reflections as part of the good part of how dipoles sound. I disagree and listen even to dipoles from close up and damp the wall behind the speakers and the wall behind the listener. Note that dipoles lose their advantage as to the sidewalls to the extent you toe them in since with toe in the back wave from the speakers is also strongly reflecting off the part of the side walls behind the speakers.

Line source speakers also tend to generate their own imaging and staging effects because the actual radiating area of the speaker is so tall and wide. Yes, the image height is stunning. The precedence effect keeps the apparent source directly in front of your ears, but the image is stretched vertically and horizontally because your ears don't totally ignore the fact that sound is being generated from a large sheet-like area above, below, and to either side of the center point of the speakers. This tends to blur the image and stage effects a bit. Again, many folks like this bacause it always sounds "big."

The Watkins will put the images right in front of your ears as long as your listening height is roughly even with the vertical middle of the speakers on their stands. They will generate considerable image height and soundstage size as well. But with good recordings I think you'll find that there will be a superior sense of sound emanating from places on the stage and then radiating outward and upward toward your listening position, just as happens in the concert hall. The sound does not appear to come from an initially huge sheet of speaker, but gets larger as it radiates out from the speaker. It's a different effect, and I think one which is more realistic in terms of comparison to concert hall sound heard from the front part of the hall.
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After thinking about it and rereading your posts, I believe we are talking about the same thing: movement of head from side to side changes the image! image.jpg
A picture of the Watkins Generation 4 as set up in my room is at post #3 above. The rest of the room set up is similar to the pictures shown in this post which show the Graham LS8/1 speakers and my prior Van Alstine amps.
Let me emphasize today how much these speak with one voice. The level of coherence between the drivers and between the left and right speakers is uncanny. The seamlessness of the sonic tapestry is unequaled in my experience. These seem like there is no crossover, just a single driver, but they have none of the spatial "smallness" of presentation I hear from single-driver speakers. And between the left and right speaker the blend is also totally seamless. The images and stage are just "there." I can move my head left to right and back and forth a few inches and not lose this impression. To expand on one of the user testimonials on the Watkins website, you forget about the presence of the speakers, the sound is so detached from them and "of a piece."

Please read the testimonials about these on the Watkins website. The more I listen, the more I agree with the seemingly over the top compliments these have garnered. This level of praise is so very well deserved!
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I still do not understand how this dual bass tuning works, and is it really a unique thing no-one else has done? Not that Watkins actually says that, but I have never heard of it before.
Some discussion of the dual bass tuning concept is provided on the "Dual Tuning for Better Bass" page of the Watkins website:

Inherent to small speakers is an undesirable bump in frequency response of around 3 to 6 dB in the upper bass with the low bass falling off below that, thus they are notorious for poor bass response. We employ a new and unique concept of dual-tuning, which focuses on the driver and the enclosure, resulting in phenomenal and detailed low bass response for a speaker of its size.

Two types of tuning dominate 95% of the market, sealed box and vented port, each having different advantages and disadvantages. Our new and exclusive technique combines the advantages of both, without the disadvantages of either.

Unlike other small speakers, where the frequency response in the low bass has dropped down in volume, the wattage creating the undesirable bump in their upper bass is now re-directed into the low bass to bring it up to par in volume. This eliminates the bump and creates flat frequency response throughout the entire bass region, allowing the harmonic structure of music to be reproduced correctly. You hear bass instruments with detail and a tonal quality that spells realism, and are a pleasure to listen to.

Note in the response curve shown below that the roll-off is precisely 18 dB per octave. This is exactly what it should be for a hybrid between the 12 dB per octave for a sealed box system and the 24 dB per octave for a vented port system.

On the Technical Details page, the website says:

The Generation Four operates in the dual-tuned mode of our own exclusive design, providing unsurpassed low deep bass in a small cabinet. The lowest notes on the bass fiddle (its lowest octave) are reproduced at full power with detail between each note, and with natural tone unique to a small speaker. This is due to extended and flat frequency response below 100 Hz, that reproduces each note with its original volume and tone intact. This applies to the low notes on other instruments as well. The end result is a foundation for music that provides full and satisfying sound, again unique for a small speaker.

Also, on the "Our Goals and Accreditation" page the website says: "We invented the Watkins Dual-Drive Woofer, marketed world-wide by Infinity. It received world-wide acclaim and was decisive in putting Infinity on the map."

The Watkins website links to a discussion of vintage Infinity speakers on the David's Audio website. That discussion notes the use of Watkins woofers in several vintage Infinity models, the QLS and Quantum 2, the InfiniTesimal, and the RS4.5 and RS2.5. The linked Infinity brochures on David's Audio website mention and describe the qualities of the Watkins woofers. While I know that Infinity also was experimenting during that Arnie Nudell period with servo-controlled woofers, I'm not clear as to whether the Watkins woofers were ever used in the servo-controlled-woofer models.

In any event, I think the Watkins Website is clear that Watkins invented this type of woofer alignment and thinks it was unique, at least at the time it was invented. Bill Watkins Senior was granted a USA patent for the Watkins woofer. The Watkins woofer concept is apparently discussed in some technical detail in a 2023 AES paper outlined here.
I have made a further improvement in the sound of the Watkins Generation 4 speakers in my system. As noted in the information about the speakers on Watkins' website, the speakers have a bit wider dispersion than most in the mid and high frequencies. As with past speakers, I have employed about 128 square feet of natural white Acoustical Solutions four-inch-thick AlphaSorb Flat Foam acoustic foam covering first-reflection areas of all walls of my listening room.

I usually have not treated the "popcorn" finish ceiling (beneath the "popcorn" finish is plaster) since this finish provides a bit of dispersion of high frequencies on its own and because with relatively short speakers like the Watkins and Graham LS8/1, the ceiling is more than five feet away from the speakers. Also, the popcorn finish makes it is difficult to mount foam bats to the ceiling "temporarily." Neither staples nor the stickiest of tape or velcro work very well as I've found from past experiments.

At to the floor reflection, I have usually relied on my plush pile carpet and pad to absorb reflections from that surface. I know that is not ideal, but with several recent speakers, I haven't really noticed any sonic improvement when placing the acoustic foam atop the carpet in the first-reflection areas. The Sanders 10e, for example, has VERY limited vertical dispersion so reflected very little sound from the floor or ceiling. Also, due to my near-field listening position (ears 59 inches from the speaker drivers), the first reflection of the speaker baffles from the floor as viewed from my listening seat is very close to my feet. It thus is difficult to site enough foam on the floor and still leave room to safely put my feet while sitting in the listening chair, much less safely get into and out of the listening chair. The foam is both a trip hazard and due to its melamine nature, it is easily damaged by physical contact with feet or shoes.

With the Watkins speakers, however, I noticed significant acoustic benefits from placing acoustic foam on the floor. This is probably because the Watkins disperse more high frequencies downward than the Sanders 10e and Graham LS8/1 I've also used in this room in the last year. Thus, I set about experimenting to see if I could size the foam pads so that they both did enough acoustically to make a significant sonic difference and stay far enough away from my feet to be safe both for me and for the foam.

The size of the first reflection spot of each of the small Watkins speakers as viewed from my seated listening position fits within the size of my rectangular 4" x 6" flat mirror placed on the floor. After experimenting with cutting down the standard 24" x 24" acoustic foam pad, I found that the pad could be no larger than 12" wide by 24" long for safety. That pad is still three times wider than the reflected image of the speaker width and four times longer than the reflected image of the speaker height.

To make sure the floor pads were optimally placed, I drew lines on the top side of each of the two pieces of acoustic foam, bisecting the length and width of each foam piece. Then I placed my 4" x 6" flat rectangular mirror exactly centered in the "crosshairs" of these lines, orienting the mirror to be parallel to the sides of the rectangular floor pad. I then moved the floor pad until the image of the speaker seen in the mirror from my listening positon was exactly centered in the mirror, with the image of the speaker's sides, top, and bottom parallel to the sides of the mirror. The attached picture shows approximately what I see with my right eye looking at the reflection of the right speaker from the mirror centered in the floor pad.


While it would be even better sonically to have a 24" x 24" acoustic foam pad at each first-reflection area on the floor, I have determined experimentally that even this pad, which provides only two square feet of foam absorption for the floor reflection of each speaker rather than four square feet, makes a substantial improvement in imaging and staging.

Specifically, the sound is yet freer from the physical positions of the speakers. Depth of field is substantially deeper. Envelopment around the listener on recordings where phase is manipulated or where significant hall ambiance is captured is increased. Generally, the spatial presentation sounds more three-dimensionally "solid" and image placements are yet more anchored. Tonally, high frequencies sound yet cleaner, more focused, more integrated into the rest of the sound, and yet better balanced with the lower frequencies.
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