Tweak City Audio WAF-1
Before I begin, I have a few things to say... 1) I write really long reviews...jeez. I apologize for that. 2) With that said, it's been a while since I have done this, so forgive me if I am not as methodical and thorough as I have been in the past. I doubt you'll mind, though, as it's long enough as is.
As many of you know Tweak City Audio was founded by fellow forum member and Audio/Video enthusiast, craigsub. With the economy taking a turn, and even though he had just gotten things off the ground, Craig decided to hold off on his plans and cease any further production for a while. Well, that time is over and this month TCA released their first speaker; a monitor-style 2-way called the WAF-1 (we all know what WAF means
I ordered a pair of the WAF-1’s, and they arrived Friday afternoon last week. They arrived much speedier than I thought, so kudos to Craig and his team for a quick delivery. The speakers were unmolested, but I sure was worried as the box had a nice punch/dent in it. Close inspection ensued and I discovered no driver or veneer damage (also confirmed in my listening sessions). The only aesthetic anomaly was what looked like a dirt mark transfer where the initial impact occurred. Oh well, I can live with a scuffed grill.
After running the speakers for 5-6 hours downstairs while doing chores upstairs, I went down for my first real listen. I was pleasantly surprised at how “BIG” and enveloping the sound was. The soundstage on Nine Inch Nails’s “The Fragile Left” was literally room filling. Now excited I ensured proper setup and toe-in, cleared the basement of the children’s toys and began to listen. After what seemed like 5 minutes of listening to Daryl Stuermer (it was really 40), I was interrupted and could not listen again until the following week. What I heard had me excited, mostly because the sound was impressive for such an affordable speaker. Still focusing on what I just heard I decided to break out a pair of speakers that I had forgotten I owned and compare them to the WAF-‘s at the next opportunity available. Those speakers were Canton LE103’s. I remember really liking the Canton’s when I purchased them just under a decade ago, and with the price being about double that of the WAF-1’s, not to mention the larger sized driver, I figured it wouldn’t be a fair fight. I was wrong.
The Tracks selected were chosen for no particular reason other than they are what I’ve been listening to lately. Incidentally they are pretty diverse and cover a few different genres of music. The music selection is as follows:Rob Thomas – “All That I Am”
Daryl Stuermer – “Land Of Confusion”
Dream Theater – “Misuderstood”
Tangerine Dream – “Too Hot For My Chinchilla”
Jack Johnson – “Upside Down”
NIN – “Into the Void”
Diana Krall – “Temptation”
Joe Satriani – “Rubina”
Having the place all to my lonesome was crucial in order to be able to critically review the speakers, so thank God Tuesday was that day. After a quick level match settings check (used pink noise to find the proper dB on the preamp and marked the knob by covering it in masking tape, then notching where each speaker should be turned up or down to. Not exact science, I know, but I didn’t care). I kicked things off with “All That I Am” by Rob Thomas. The dinging of the xylophone (I assume that what it is) extended well beyond the speakers, almost sounding as it was next to me. It grabbed my attention quickly, putting a smile on my face. I know monitor style speakers are suppose to image well, but $229 monitors? Yup. Getting back to it, the vocals were clear and precise, being presented in a very large manner. “Big” and “full” are two words I wrote down while listening. Separation of instruments was also very good, as I easily distinguished everything including the different tones of the xylophone. In comparison, the Canton’s were also very clear, with a slight edginess to them. It became immediately obvious that this speaker had a “brighter” sound to it, with more sibilance/hiss. Some might prefer this because minute details are easier to hear, but I grew weary and fatigued by it later though the audition (more on that to come). Vocals were also big and tall, but thinner sounding. The sound stage was large and imaging was precise. I’d call it a draw as far as those two attributes go. Separation of instruments was also good, with the subtle nuances being a tad easier to hear through the LE103’s.
Next up was Daryl Struermer’s “Land of Confusion.” I love guitar, something that is fairly obvious if you know me.
What can I say other than Daryl (ex-Genesis member) can play! Starting off with the Canton’s this time the instruments were clear, with an “in your face” presentation. The hits to the cymbals were a little shrill, with too much sibilance. Back in the day I was drawn to a brighter sound, as I didn’t know any better and maybe due to my room acoustics, but these days it’s just too much. Daryl’s guitar was very clear and had a big sound, though not as big as the WAF-1’s. It was also a little thinner sounding than I thought it should be. Maybe it’s the recording (we’ll see)? Bass was punchy and tight; slightly better than the WAF-1’s due to lower extension and larger woofer. Moving on to the the WAF-1’s was like listening to a better recording of the same song. There was no midrange thinness or forwardness to it. It wasn’t laid back, but rather smooth and groovy. This was the song that I started bobbing my head to and that really got me into the music. My focus shifted from “analytical reviewer” to “music lover.” What I did write down was that the ambience of the song was superb. Everything was captured pretty precisely. It was definitely a more “you’re there” experience than on the Canton’s. The sound stage was a little larger on the WAF-1’s, but neither of them blew my mind in this area (the recordings fault, maybe). The bass line of this track is very groovy, and it came across very well, with a nice fullness to it (but thinner on the Canton’s, regardless of the larger woofer). Separation of instruments was good, with everything being clear. Again the Canton’s were clearer, but at the expense of my ears telling me to run for the treble knob and turn it down (it was disengaged on my preamp, in case anyone cares to know).
Moving along to another rock n’ roll tune I threw on Dream Theater’s “Misunderstood.” DT is my favorite band, as they can pretty much do anything they want (concerning rock and metal styles) and still be impressive. Their recording quality varies from good to not good, but their production makes up for it. Listening through the WAF-1’s the acoustic guitar and ambience in the beginning of the song was enveloping. The sound stage was very large, extending many feet beyond the speakers on both sides. It had a 3-D, holographic presentation, which I immediately appreciated (I am a sucker for that). Overall the sound was very neutral, with tight, lean bass and airy highs. The ambience and air in the vocals clearly came through, giving James’ voice a holographic presentation (just as it’s supposed to). Usually when I listen to Rock ‘N Roll/Metal styles I could care less about the vocals and I just focus on the musicianship of each band member other than the vocalist, but this was not the case listening to this song. I mainly focused on vocals because I love the way they were recorded and how they were reproduced through the WAF-1’s. In contrast, the Canton’s also captured the ambience and holographic sound, with a little more detail being captured. In that sense the holographic sound was enhanced, but the voice sounded thinner (again), and the sibilance walked the line of too much. Bass was more extended and punchy through the Canton’s, as it should be with the bigger driver. At this point I decided to forgo running both speakers full range and instead cross over to my subs. I was desperately missing the low extension that neither monitor provided (no fault of theirs, as there is only so much one little driver in a small enclosure can do), not to mention the midbass punch. The midrange on both speakers opened up a little due to this, so it was win win for me.
After a short break due to fatigue (perhaps from the Canton’s) the next track up was Tangerine Dream’s “Too Hot for My Chinchilla.” What a great title!
Tangerine Dream would probably be considered “New Age,” or “Outer Space” music…who knows? Listening through the Canton’s the sound was clear with an overbearingness to it. The sound stage was a decent size, but not enveloping. This is an instrumental song, and overall it had good ambience through the LE103’s, but was a little thin and lackluster. Swapping over to the WAF-1’s gave me more of the sound I was looking for; fuller, bigger and more neutral. The thinness was gone, at the expense of a little loss of clarity. Sitting through this atmospheric song, I much preferred the fuller, more neutral sound as opposed to thin and bright. Sure, details were a little harder to hear, but I think it was a more accurate presentation. If not, I didn’t care because I preferred it. I should note that the bass response was much better having crossed both speakers over to the subs. And yes folks, I ran them flat (used REW to be sure).
Jack Johnson’s “Upside Down” was the next tune to be heard. This track has great bass and is very well recorded (most of Johnson’s stuff is). Through the WAF-1’s Jack’s voice was very clear and had a large presence. I was easily able to distinguish the vocal harmonies, as well as the decay of the instruments in the end of the song. Sibilance was a little bright, but not too bad. Finally, the sound stage was a decent size, but not as big as on some of the other tunes. Listening through the Canton’s Jack’s voice was very clear, while being slightly thinner (are we seeing a pattern here?). No offense to those who like an “in your face” upper midrange and high frequency sound, but it was just ruining the human voice for me. My ears told me “no more,” but I trekked on. Imaging was precise, just as it was on the WAF-1’s, with the sound stage being a little smaller through the LE103’s. At the end of the song I took another break; just couldn’t take the edginess anymore I guess…
After my break I decided to try out some Nine Inch Nails. Everything I’ve read about Trent Reznor has been positive, with many people proclaiming he’s a master of sound. Well, his music isn’t for everyone but I understand why people praise his efforts. His skills cannot be described accurately, and you just need to experience them, so I won’t bother with that. I will say that the dude knows how to produce an album, though. Moving forward, “Into the Void” was very clear through the Canton’s. They threw a huge sound stage and produced pinpoint imaging. I could easily hear the panning of whispers throughout. I won’t go into describing the bass, as it was mostly the subwoofers, but NIN provides plenty of it, and it’s just so cool to experience. Swapping over to the WAF-1’s resulted in no less of clarity, with the sound stage growing larger and imaging improving a little bit. At times during the song some of the sounds seemed to be coming from directly next to my left ear. Cool! The overall presentation was smoother and easier to listen to, but without ruining the ambience of the song. Honestly, this song was cool through both sets of speakers.
The second to last track was “Temptation” by Diana Krall. I don’t often listen to Jazz, but the set of pipes that Miss Krall has makes me more enthusiastic about it. The song opens with a cool bass line than just screams “smooth, dadio, smooth (picture a sly looking kat with a smoke in his mouth, a slick straw hat and an aura of subtle confidence surrounding him…kind of like those dudes in Back To The Future part 1 who played music at the school dance).” The song never really “picks up,” but it just has that ultra cool swagger to it. I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but I can “dig it.”
Anyway, Diana’s voice was very clear and powerful through the WAF-1’s. It was both large and full. The sound stage was averaged sized, and instrument separation was very good. Sibilance was decent, with good timbre of instruments. The piano sounded very large and enveloping. Moving onto the Canton’s clarity was slightly improved, while Miss Krall’s voice was not (thinned out, AGAIN). Her vocals lost their power IMO. Separation of instruments was a cinch, while cymbal sibilance was overbearing. I don’t know how I lived with the HF’s of these LE103’s almost a decade ago. Finally vocal ambience was good and the sound stage size was slightly smaller than through the WAF-1’s.
My final song choice is one that has grown dear to me: Joe Satriani’s Rubina. It’s a beautiful song that Joe wrote for his wife (Rubina). It’s an instrumental, but I still can’t help but feel the emotion that went into it, as if Joe was singing sweet nothings to his love. In other words, vocals were not necessary for me to “get it,” as the music speaks to me on its own. While listening to “Rubina” through the LE103’s the sound stage was large and instruments were very clear, but with edginess to them. Imaging was great, but cymbal sibilance was piercing at times. “Rubina” has a lot of ambience to it, but there was almost too much; it kind of ruined the presentation for me, taking away some of the enveloping fullness. Once the lead guitar kicked in I had had enough of the Canton’s – it was thin and smaller sounding than I remember. Quickly swapping over to the WAF-1’s my confidence was restored in the song. There was no loss of detail, though they were a little harder to make out, and the sound stage was even bigger, sustaining that sense of ambience and fullness. The lead guitar sounded MUCH bigger and holographic this time, and the triangles were as easy to make out as they were on the Canton’s, but with a more accurate presentation (not too much ZING). I was surprised to have again connected with a song emotionally while listening to the WAF-1’s? Why? Because price is always on my mind, and it’s so easy to ignore a speaker in a lower price bracket. I guess I am little bias in that I usually pass over said speakers, but shame on me if I would have passed over this one (I won’t be making that mistake for future listening sessions).
To be sure I wasn’t all enthusiastic about the WAF-1’s solely based on the fact that, in comparison the Canton’s made them superstars, I went through the entire catalog of songs again later that evening when the family went to bed, this time only listening to the WAF-1’s. Yup, they still had that magic that a $200ish speaker shouldn’t (or so I thought).
In conclusion, listening to the WAF-1’s was a bit humbling for me. They performed superbly for their asking price, while having a look that will pass WAF (hence the name). Did I expect them to hang with my SongTower’s? No. Did they? No. Should they have? No. What they do for less than $300, however, is throw a huge sound stage, give the listener a sense of neutrality that I have not found in any other speakers in this price bracket and help introduce the listener to some very good sound quality, all while not evening coming close to breaking the bank. For an “entry level speaker” you’re getting a heckuva lot for your money in my opinion. Do they have flaws? Of course. However, are you really going to gripe about them considering the cost of the speaker and how minor they are in retrospect? Only you can answer that, but my answer is “nope.”
For what it’s worth, I was expecting a good product, but not this good. No, let me re-phrase: not this good for this little. They aren’t giant killers, but I think they are very good for the money. Yup, I cannot get past the price/performance ratio when it comes to audio. Sue me.
I’d love to see more comparisons made, with B&M’s being the main focus (stuff found in Best Buy and what not). I think anyone that is considering Bose or some cheap HTiB really needs to consider going this route instead. Bose has a great marketing team, but they don’t have the sound quality that these little WAF-1’s do. I don’t know if TCA offers a trial period like some other ID companies, but if not I’d still say take the risk. You may just be blown away by what these speakers can do for the price.
For those interested, here is the WAF-1's frequency response (measured at one meter in my room. I will try to take everything outside and get a more anechoic-like measurement if I can):