The Principles of WLM La Scalas
Sometimes a product comes along and positions itself as a no compromise solution between solid engineering principles, old world craftsmanship and a balance on the right end of the money scales. This is what the WLM La Scala’shave presented themselves to be for me.
The WLM La Scala’s retail for AUD $4,685 including delivery.
For this you get a speaker that can be considered more musical instrument than loudspeaker.
As soon as I unpacked these beauties I realised how underrated the finish appears in photos. As a woodworker myself, I can vouch that the finish on these speakers is flawless – crisp edges, clean without being sterile, tight corner joints and an eye for detail on all surfaces. Quality furniture-grade craftsmanship on the outside but I was questioning if they had the goods on the inside.
With a frequency response of 30Hz to 25kHz this speaker will produce everything but the very lowest of low notes. The La Scala’s opened my eyes (and ears) to what a truly musical speaker sounds like. This isn’t a fragile little flower but rather a razor-sharp surgeon’s knife on the end of a conductors wand, with the arm of a heavy weight boxer. It is lightening fast, dynamic and most importantly, it produces the timbre of instruments in a way that is detailed, transparent and wonderfully musical. Sound staging is open and large when required and intimate and close when the recording reflects it. The bass output of these speakers is possibly the most musical and open I have ever come across. A stringed bass for me has never been reproduced with such texture and depth. Once this has been experienced it is almost impossible to go back to anything else.
The La Scala’s are just begging to be driven with well-made dynamic tube amps where 30 watts is more than enough. With a sensitivity of 93dB for the floor standers and 91dB for the monitors, tube amps and WLM are just a match made in heaven. With this high sensitivity the La Scala’s respond with outstanding dynamics and speed.
I didn’t even think about it until it was pointed out to me, just how unusual the tweeter looks for the La Scala’s. At first I almost took this as a bad thing but then it really struck me how much this type of tweeter makes sense. This stiff paper cone tweeter marries up so well with the treated paper cone mid-range / woofer that I started to wonder why others haven’t been using this type of arrangement. It is simply seamless.
So why did WLM choose to use paper? After extensive tests, the team at WLM concluded that paper is the optimum material to balance the demands of mass, stiffness and resonant behavior. WLM have very high expectations on what they can achieve especially with resonant behavior. No driver made is utterly free of breakup modes or resonances. Hence it’s not just distortion reduction that’s vital but the spectral distribution of said artifacts. Here paper turns out to be harmonically more benign than other materials. It also works well in the WLM ethos of using natural materials in all aspects of production. To my ears not only did they achieve their objective, they hit the nail firmly and directly on the head.
One of the big selling points of WLM is the room integration accessible on every level of the product range. From basic tweeter and bass controls through to full-blown active modules, the WLM speaker range are made to adapt to your listening environment. For the La Scala’s, this begins with a tweeter control positoned on the back panel of the speaker. This control adjusts the tweeter output by 3dB either way. I found this particularly handy when listening to certain classical tracks where the high frequency at high volumes, especially through high pitched violin sections that had been recorded with an exposure to this level, was just too much for my ears and room. It was just a simple case of dialing the tweeter control back -2dB and I was in heaven. The second control is through the use of bottom port tuning rings and adjustable spikes to help control the bass output. For my room the rings weren’t needed however in smaller rooms I could see straight away how much this can help people achieve the best balance for them. With the port wide open I opted to keep the spikes at a minimum height to avoid bass boom. Our room is by far the biggest factor in affecting the sound and yet most of us stick our heads in the sand and try to ignore the fact. We change gear on a continuous merry-go-round, never being completely satisfied with one or the other. With WLM you can tweak the speakers to suit the room. Hell – you can tweak the speakers for each record by the simple turn of a dial. This may not be seen as the purist minimalist approach but very few rooms I have ever come across support the complete purist ideal. After all, most of us have our beloved hifi systems in the main living room of our homes, providing the beauty of high quality music in the most comfortable area. The last thing our other halves wish for is a room covered from head to toe in acoustic treatments.
The front end I ended up using and enjoying the most is WLM’s own tube amp (WLM Sonata Integrated) and pre-amp (WLM Linea). These provided the perfect combination of tube texture and harmonics with outstanding dynamics and bass control that only a robust and well-engineered power supply can provide.
These amps are designed and developed by Sasa Cokic from Trafomatic Audio in conjunction with the team from WLM, so it is hardly surprising that this combination is so palpable. This WLM trio can play to frightening loud levels with no hint of cone breakup. I backed down much earlier than they were willing to. Serious party speakers for the astute listener. One of my favorite statements from WLM is that they didn’t want to design amps that play loudly, but rather have amplifiers that are designed to sing loudly. It may sound like a simple separation but when you dig deeper, this statement covers the whole ethos of WLM.
The WLM combination of amps and speakers is by far the best I have come across in a very long time. Synergy, timing, dynamics, high SPL stability, precision and passion are all present and accounted for with no one element being the overriding principle. This is a speaker that can compete with others in higher price ranges and provide music the way it is supposed to sound. Real, alive and emotional with no overpowering sonic signature of their own. Just the way I like it.