On the track, “Remember” from Ray Montford’s A Fragile Balance, I was captivated by the bongo percussion. On many setups, there is impact and definition but textures are not captured at a level that allow one to clearly differentiate finger strikes from the palm slaps. Not so with the WOW XL / London Gold setup; here, with each strike on the bongos, I could call out the nature of the strike, as if I was watching the performance before me. Speed too was also well handled, along with intrinsic definition – the percussion sounding quick and taut. This combination of speed with detail and accurate timbre carried through to the guitar play. The strings were incisively rendered but also preserved their elastic quality. Moving to the track, “When Darkness Takes Flight” the soundstage stretched out beyond the side-walls of my room and there was very good depth, reaching past the front-wall. Instruments remained stable in their positions with lifelike precision, most noticeable with percussion. I was impressed by the sweetness and abundant detail of the guitar’s strings, which possessed harmonics and tonality that revealed the transitions between the nylon and steel strings.
When it comes to soundstaging, you can talk about width and depth but there can also be height. Getting all dimensions, along with front to back layering is the mark of fine soundstaging. On Beck’s Morning Phase album, and the song “Blue Moon”, the WOW XL presented a huge layered soundscape, with flowing background vocals set deep and beyond my room’s confines. The elements within were revealed with different heights and there was an intoxicating buoyancy to the sonic effects. I also took note of the rich and full percussion and the bass guitar’s weighty and aptly saturated notes.
It’s great when vinyl is played back with energy and life that brings the performance alive and this was just the case when I gave listen to Sonny Rollins’ Way Out West LP and the track “Come Gone”. Here the WOW XL portrayed the cymbal splashes with crystalline purity, allowing me to follow each of the strikes, the characteristic sound of the metal embodying just the right amount of sustain to avoid any blurring. The stand-up bass was delivered solidly, with natural plumpness and the ensuing percussion strikes were impactful and authentic. Sonny’s saxophone phrasing and delivery was portrayed with emotion, coming alive with the natural tone of the brass masterfully captured.
The combination of the WOW XL, TA-1000 arm and London Gold cartridge was able to put me on the edge of my seat with the Talking Heads album Stop Making Sense. Listening to the song “Psycho Killer”, the opening audience claps were lucidly real, fleshy rather than staccato – a place where many table/cartridge combos can be challenged. The heavy drumbeats were visceral – tight and dynamic with great drive and David Byrne’s voice had both clarity and physicality. The London Gold again amazed me with its incisive and dynamic nature, rendering the ‘wang-chung’ guitar strums with energy and impact. An abundance of detail, aided by accurate tonality, allowed me to hear the plastic pick striking the guitar strings.
I’ve been able to hear Anne Bisson play live and unamplified on a number of occasions and most recently at TAVES 2015. Playing the song “Hoping Love Will Last” from her album Blue Mind, the WOW XL setup brought remarkable authenticity to Anne’s voice. There was delicacy and nuance but also strength in the vocals, giving her palpable substance. The overall tone was full and complete but in no manner over-ripe. Accompanying her voice, the WOW XL depicted cymbal strikes delicately with an airy shimmer that lent to authenticity and the piano possessed believable warmth with key strokes radiating a honey-like sweetness.
The Acoustic Signature WOW XL with the TA-1000 arm and London Gold cartridge was a tantalizing combination. If I had to find a fault, I would say there was some uppermost air and space surrendered but this resulted in less surface noise, a sweeter treble and well, just more musical beauty – all good things. The table, arm and cartridge provided an amazing blend of gentle warmth, resolution and graceful transparency, avoiding any cause for fatigue. Often audio components that deliver on speed do so at the expense of completing the notes and as a result, sound terse; however, this was not the case here. Rather, the WOW XL setup supplied abundant speed and timing with a fullness and roundness that breathed life and realism into recordings. Splendidly built, exciting, sweet and finessed the Acoustic Signature WOW XL, TA-1000 arm and London (Decca) Gold cartridge are a winning team.
Funk Firm Achromat
The Funk Firm Achromat comes in both 3mm ($130) and 5mm ($150) thicknesses. For the review, I used the 5mm version. I compared the Achromat with the standard mat that accompanied the Acoustic Signature WOW XL, which required an adjustment to the VTA. My perception was that the Achromat provided greater focus to elements in the music, a quieter background as well as greater separation and air. Music had improved pace, with bass considerably more taught and tuneful. Cymbals gained a crisper and more metallic nature.
Acoustic Signature AC-1 Linear Power Supply
Though the Acoustic Signature WOW XL employs a digital speed control, I was surprised to find the performance improved by the use of the optional AC-1 linear power supply ($450). Soundstage size increased with elements noticeably pushed out further, leaving more space in-between. Images within the soundstage gained sharpness and also were presented with additional height. The perception was that of faster transients with improved PRAT. A veiling seemed to be lifted, resulting in a greater sense of transparency.
Distributed by Goerner Audio
Acoustic Signature WOW XL
TA-1000 9-inch tonearm ($2,190)
London (Decca) Gold cartridge ($1,500)