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Positive Feedback ISSUE 54
Compact WZ-5 Collector's Edition Loudspeakers
as reviewed by Gary Lea
If there is one thing that Grant Fidelity excels at it is bringing some incredible value to the HiFi market via top quality components coming out of China. I have reviewed the CD-327A Upsampling Tube CD Player, Opera Consonance Droplet LP5.0MKII Turntable with the ST600 tonearm and the A-534B Performance Pure Class A SET Integrated Tube Amp so I am rather familiar with Grant Fidelity and more importantly both Ian Grant and Rachel Zhang. I continue to be impressed by the ever expanding offerings that they bring to this side of the globe. The compact WZ-Collector’s Edition speaker is another of these items that seems to be full of value for the buck!
The current landscape is filled with speakers at the $4000 – 4500 range, and it is not hard to find a speaker that satisfies even the most as ardent fan of Hi-Fi at that price range. But what about a speaker at $4500 that delivers on the level of much higher priced speakers, say in the $10,000 range?
Well this is where the Compact WZ-5 Collector’s Edition speaker comes into play. The WZ-5 was developed in 2009 in direct response to the demand for speakers that can deliver high resolution music. The manufacturer claims it can bring you as close as possible to the original recording and performance.
Well who are these people making such a claim? Before the WZ-5 I have to admit that I was not very familiar with this brand, and certainly had never listened to any of their speakers. According to Ian Grant of Grant Fidelity, Compact Loudspeakers was established in 1993 in Southern China—Guangzhou, the heart of the Chinese Hi-Fi industry by local audiophiles with the desire to create China's own high end speakers in the 1990s. This was in response to the very expensive western designed speakers.
The about-to-get-wealthy Chinese then were still very cost conscious, and a few thousand dollars spent on a pair of loudspeakers was still beyond many audiophiles' wildest dreams. Compact Loudspeaker is the first Chinese manufacturer that started working with world leading speaker driver design companies to deliver high quality yet reasonably priced speakers to the Chinese market.
With China's vast pool of fine carpentry talents, it did not take Compact Loudspeakers long to bring out beautifully finished cabinets. Along with western designed drivers, Compact soon became China's top speaker OEM destination for western brands.
Compact's very first model CS-20 bookshelf speaker released in the 1990s was so popular that Compact Loudspeakers received its nick name "Cyclone", meaning its loudspeakers literally swept the whole Chinese market with beautiful cabinets and stunning sound like a cyclone (their words, not mine).
Over the past decade, Compact has worked closely with Tymphany, who used to own Vifa, Peerless, and Scan-Speak brands, and operates its manufacturing facility near Guangzhou. (In 2009, Scan-Speak was bought back by a Danish management team) Compact had Tymphany custom design speaker drivers for all Compact speakers. Compact Audio has also been involved in numerous OEM projects to make many of the world's highest quality speakers, including developing and building the renowned Pioneer TAD speaker series, which retailed for over $100k. (If you have not listened to TAD speakers you are missing out).
Fifteen years of OEM experience has resulted in Compact developing a solid team of speaker designers with technology and exceptional know-how. Now it's time for Compact to bring their own innovations to the western world. Grant Fidelity has visited Compact in the past two years and tested various models from the factory. Now they are rolling out their top of the line speakers to our fellow North Americans.
So here we are with the Compact WZ-5, which is a three way speaker with three drive units in a vented design. The WZ-5 SE Collector's Edition has adopted numerous high end speaker features from inside out:
3 way 3 unit vented design
Power: 40w - 180w, designed for constant 4
So there are all the things that techies want to know. For the rest of you it would probably be prudent to get right to the point. They sound pretty damned fine.
I have lived with this speaker for months, and I can tell you that being a fan of Sonus Faber and Chario speakers, it was hard to miss the intentional similarity in design and finish. The sides of the WZ-5 are finished in a beautiful and thick walnut, the front baffle is painted black and is wrapped with a weave material that looks to be the same as the grille. It is rather transparent and I listened to the speaker with the grill cloth on and off with no discernable degradation of sound with it on.
I allowed the speakers to run in about 75-80hours in a smaller system in my house before hooking them up to my main system. Once sufficiently run in and loosened up I sat down and finally began to listen in earnest to these speakers. I actually had the Von Schweikert VSR4 MKIII set up at the same time so I could compare this directly with the VS, even though the VS cost three times as much as the Compacts.
Since both speakers are 4 ohm I thought it an interesting comparison. I found the Compacts very easy to set up and place. After a good deal of anal retentive placement fits, I settled in the speakers sitting 71 inches out from the front wall and seven and one half feet apart and about nine feet from the listening chair. This proved to be the optimum position in my room.
One of the strong suits of this speaker has to be the bass. It goes deep and low and is still fast with a good control of tunefulness to it. These speakers can rattle the windows and that is something quite astonishing considering the rather friendly dimension of the speaker cabinets and the size and number of drivers. While listening to Keb Mo’s "More Than One Way Home" from Just Like You, the Compacts handled the rather playful bass with aplomb. They took it in stride and where a lot of speakers will present the bass in this song in a muddy texture, the Compacts brought the tunefulness out of the bass with superior control. It was never wooly or hazy as I have heard it with other speakers. The drums are pretty pronounced especially the kick drum and here again the WZ came through with tightly controlled bass with a great deal of slam and impact. You could feel the air move.
Another strong suit is the tweeter. This speaker delivers astonishingly clear and realistic high frequencies with a smoothness that may be in the top ten speakers I have ever had in my room. There is a test track I use, I have not been able to identify who recorded it, but it opens with a giant hit to a sizeable gong, and then decays into the sound of tinkling glass. Most good speakers will handle this relatively well, but the WZ presented the image as a giant arcing sound, the with glass raining down on the room in a slow steady progression, and it seemed to fill the entire room, not just the soundstage in front of me but rather all around and without the slightest hint of edge or shrillness. I would label it almost alluring and relaxing. I was startled by the delivery. The only speaker I have that has ever rendered this any more realistically was the VRS4MKIIs and they are $15k the pair. When the track had sizzle, that is what the WZ delivered. Cymbal decay was particularly good especially on songs like "Tin Pan Alley" from Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Troubles Couldn’t Stand the Weather LP. There Chris Layton’s cymbals are laid back, with the WZ they are still laid back but seem to be a bit more pronounced and the decay is very palpable in the same way you would get sitting in a smoky club up close to the band. Very realistic in a word!
As for the midrange, I saved this for last. We all know that a great deal of the information we hear is in this realm, and the WZ did an admirable job. I say admirable because it did not draw attention to itself and I had no qualms with it at all. It was just that the delivery of the extreme ends was so astonishing I expected some miraculous presentation out of the midrange, and there was nothing spectacular at all. Oddly enough that is exactly what it should be doing. It was the kind of midrange one would expect from a speaker in this price range. Precise, filled with life, and appropriate to the music. Again my all time midrange test track is "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from Eva Cassidy. This song tests the true presentation of midrange unlike any track that I have heard. Eva’s voice is absolutely angelic, and a speaker weak in the delivery of midrange will not be able to deliver the true emotion in her voice. Kudos to the WZ for its flawless delivery of her singing.
I think what caught me out a bit, and yes it does happen to reviewers if they are honest about it, is that the weight of the bass was much bigger than this cabinet suggests, and the spatial imaging from the tweeter seemed much broader than a single driver could produce. These two points initially seemed to make the midrange seem, how do I say this? Mundane? In reality it was anything but, and the more I listened to the speaker the more it became apparent to me that it simply worked cohesively and delivered stronger in some areas than others, considering price and size.
In the end I found the Compact WZ to bring a good deal to the party. It meshed well with anything from 211 tubes to 600 watts of pure solid state zoom without a whimper. CD, vinyl? Nothing I threw at it ruffled it at all, and the more I listened to it the more I liked it, especially when it got to the point of having 200 plus hours on it. Perhaps that may seem like an inordinate break in time but it was never hard to listen to right from the box.
As with most things that come from Grant Fidelity, you get a great deal of bang for your buck and the Compact WZ Collector’s Edition is no exception. Fine sound, very fine looks in an easy to live with package. If you are shopping in this price range, you owe it to yourself to check them out and decide if you think that a speaker sounding this big and this good should be labeled "Compact". Gary Lea
Compact WZ Collector’s Edition