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Once he'd acquired his passion for audio, one of young Dave Wilson's first activities was to build a Heathkit amplifier. His enthusiasm outran his discipline, however, and as soon as he threw the power switch on his newly finished creation, the house filled with acrid smoke.

Out of disappointment came an important lesson; from that day forward, Dave understood the value of a careful and methodical scientific process, taking one step at a time, testing and recording results. That method has been the foundation of everything Dave has done since.

As an adult with a serious hobby, Dave found himself dissatisfied with commercially available loudspeakers and began to experiment with hybrid designs.

He took a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10s and added an ESR electrostatic tweeter and a Braun mini-monitor. From this aesthetically challenged amalgam he gleaned the notion for the Wilson Audio Modular Monitor—the WAMM—which became his assault on the state-of-the-art.

Modern WAMM

Dave debuted the WAMM at Garland Audio in Northern California in 1981 and immediately sold two pair. One of the first dealers to recognize the promise in this new design was Peter McGrath, the owner of Sound Components in Miami. (Decades later, Peter McGrath is a universally respected recording engineer and the National Sales Manager for Wilson Audio.)

Throughout the 1980s, Dave continued his secondary career as a recording engineer, producing, along with his wife Sheryl Lee, a series of records on the Wilson Audiophile label which are prized to this day for their holographic recreation of soundstage and for their natural musicality. During this time, Dave began to yearn for a portable location monitor that would offer him the same kind of transparency and neutrality he could achieve with the WAMM. Again, finding nothing commercially available that met his standards, he disappeared into the garage and emerged some months later with a small (but heavy) loudspeaker shaped like a truncated pyramid.

Eary WATT Dave needed a name for his new creation, and, exercising his penchant for whimsy, took his cue from the pre-school his children were attending, the Tiny Tots Preschool. The Wilson Audio Tiny Tot (WATT) became the fledgling company's second product.

Dave initially regarded the WATT purely as a professional tool, whereas Sheryl Lee saw its potential as a home loudspeaker, despite its $4500 (in 1985 dollars) price tag. The WATT created a stir at the Consumer Electronics Show that year, and Wilson Audio suddenly had a slew of orders for their more affordable loudspeaker. (By 1989, WATT owners were demanding a dedicated woofer for the speakers, and the aptly named Puppy—a tiny tot's best friend—was introduced. The combined WATT/Puppy still holds the distinction of being the best-selling over $10,000 loudspeaker in history.)

Meanwhile, the Wilson's home had become their de facto factory, with WATTs and WAMMs spread throughout the garage and living room.

Next: The Provo Years »