An Interview with Von Schweikert Audio's Albert Von Schweikert  

                                             Clement Perry                        

               

To demonstrate his new VR-11 ($100,000 to $165,000), Albert Von Schweikert compared a live performing group, the Misty River Band, (www.mistyriverband.com) with a simultaneous recording of the group, played back through these incredible speakers in a Virtual versus Reality demonstration. Using VAC tube amplifiers (www.vac-amps.com) to drive the VR-11's, famed record producer/engineer Chris Huston, who, by the way, humbly holds 80 gold and platinum records under his belt (www.chrishuston.com), recorded the group using the finest audiophile-based recording equipment in the world; mics were $10,000 Brauner and SoundDeluxe tube condensers, console was the $125,000 Daking analog board, and the recording deck was Ed Meitner's DSD Super Audio system with EMM ADC/DAC converters (you can see this pro recording gear at
www.transaudiodirect.com/info.html).

All cables were Robert Lee's Acoustic Zen, including the custom-built mic cables. The active room correction device included with the VR-11 is made by Rives Audio and is called the PARC. Rives Audio was also responsible for bringing in not only Chris Huston, but also the professional recording equipment and the RPG room tuning equipment, into the most elaborately planned demo room I've ever seen. Power line conditioning was by PS Audio and their impressive looking Power Plant 1000.

As this demonstration was the highlight and my choice for "Best Sound at Show" of the CES and T.H.E. Show, I finally caught up and got an interview with Mr. Von Schweikert to find out how a project of this magnitude was brought to life. Thankfully, he, as usual, was always full of conversation. Here's how our interview went.

CP (Clement Perry): "Mr. Von Schweikert, whose idea was this and how was this enormous task fulfilled?"

AVS (Albert Von Schweikert): "Mr. Perry, I've spent 27 years conducting research into the human hearing process and speaker design. Kevin Malmgren (V.P. Engineering, VSA) and I decided to build a statement speaker in 2001 and spent two years doing experiments to determine whether any speaker design could ever replicate live music. Using research from the field of psychoacoustics, we decided that the technology was available to build a very accurate system. After listening to the VR-11 for a few days, my research team and I became extremely excited, the feeling of live music was incredible. At that point, I knew I had to ask a few friends to join in the live versus recording and make it all happen. All of the companies listed here were in full support of my project after hearing about the VR-11 and it's incredible accuracy."

CP: "It's obvious that your VR-11 is a dynamic (cone) system, using ribbon tweeters. Did you test electrostatic and other types of planar drivers?"

AVS: "Of course. Many people know that my midrange reference transducer is the Quad electrostatic, for tonal and transparency reference. However, all planar drivers have an extreme limitation, and that is the horrible compression of dynamic range due to the clamped edge design and the curtailment of diaphragm motion. Our cone midrange drivers have 70 times more excursion potential, with a consequent increase in the dynamic range."

CP: "My understanding that dynamic range is critically important in the quest for realism, do you agree?"

AVS: "Absolutely! That is why we designed a system with 96dB sensitivity with all controls and amplification set to "flat," with 102 dB in room with full EQ boost. The VR-11 has on-board EQ for deep bass from 10Hz to 100Hz, and in the mid-treble (1.5kHz) and upper treble (10kHz). The VR-11 run at 102 dB in-room has a dynamic range approaching live music, and is very close in transparency to the live instrument."

CP: "How were you able to design a speaker with this incredible amount of fidelity? Have you discovered anything new?"

AVS: "I'll let Kevin Malmgren, my Chief Engineer, explain this one:

KM: "Albert had me test every expensive driver available over a three year period, and as we are both musicians, we did not solely rely on test equipment. Instead, Albert designed a test while a student at Cal Tech, which is essentially a type of "straight-wire bypass" using a live instrument fed into the driver under consideration. If the driver sounds close to the instrument feed, we would take that driver into close consideration for the system design."

CP: "How is the live music test conducted on the driver? I haven't heard of anyone else doing this."

AVS: "We own several different models and brands of condenser mics, some with tubes, some with solid state preamps. Our instruments consist of me on acoustic guitar, I've got a Taylor 815C, and Kevin plays brass instruments. We play harmonica, snare, cymbal, clarinet, sax, and of course, the human voice, into the microphones. Across the room, we have the transducer in a isolation booth made from foam and carpeting. The actual test is simple, we listen to the live instrument for a few minutes, then walk over to the transducer and listen for fidelity."

KM: "Of course, we band limit the transducer with a simple crossover part, to prevent bass modulation from distortion the tweeters."

CP: "This live versus the transducer test sounds simple, why is no one else using it?"

AVS: "Very few engineering companies employ musicians, and frankly, I don't think that anyone but us has thought of this!"

CP: "Are you both part of the group of audiophiles that believe that measurements are not important? Lately I hear that measurements can't prove a thing about a component's accuracy."

KM: "That's not true, measurements are extremely important. For instance, our customized soft ware reduces our development time by a factor of 5, if not more, to discover distortion, phase shift, and other things that are difficult to measure by ear."

AVS: "We use measurements to determine where the distortion components lie, and to gauge whether our development process is going forwards, backwards, or sideways. I know a famous engineer who brags that he doesn't use test equipment, but also claims it takes him years to develop a product. Doesn't this seem foolish? Also, he has gotten some poor reviews lately, so I don't see his point."

CP: "Wow! But Albert, do you feel that the VR-11 sounds like live music? Be truthful now."

AVS: "Clement, of course the perfect speaker has not been designed, not by us or anyone else. However, the VR-11 has a bandwidth of 10Hz to 100kHz (-6dB downpoints) with totally flat response from 16Hz to 45kHz. We've measured the distortion to be almost inaudible at average listening levels, and the coloration is almost non existent. Due to Kevin Malmgren's physical cabinet design, we have a minimum baffle layout that enables pin point imaging, combined with the enormous bass power of 4-15" powered subwoofers at the rear. We can still hear some slight artifacts due to the very nature of the transduction process, naturally, but the majority of showgoers in our room claimed that Misty River sounded incredible, both live and through the VR-11. That's what is important to us. Several reviewers indicated that the VR-11 was the best speaker they had ever heard, and we can't argue with that!"

KM: "It's important to note that Chris Huston, our recording engineer on the Misty River Band project, noted that the mic placement was far more critical than how accurate the speakers are, in the overall sonic picture of the group on playback. When Chris moved the mics around a few inches, the recordings changed dramatically, indicating that the recording process itself is the key to a system sounding live or merely canned."

CP: "Albert, you often mention in your White Papers that your system design is called Acoustic Inverse Replication. You have also been accused of being a hype meister when it comes to your product advertising. Are you comfortable explaining your position on this?"

AVS: "General Motors invents a new form of magnetic sensors to aid the steering mechanism on the new Corvette, and names it Magnasteer. I develop a new type of sound wave projection that mimics the microphone pickup pattern and name it Acoustic Inverse Replication, and my crossover design I dub the Global Axis Integration Network. For these names, I've been criticized. One Internet reviewer went so far to claim that "there is no such type of crossover" and he cited the lack of information in textbooks as his source. As these new developments are our intellectual property, I am not happy to give them away by publishing my findings. After I retire, then perhaps I'll tell all my secrets! However, the GAIN technology enables my speaker designs to radiate a bubble of sound at the listening position, not a beam. We've got 29 reviews that indicate our speakers cast a 3-D image of the sound stage and sound very "real" so I can't complain!"

KM: "What we can tell you is that Albert's work at Cal Tech indicated that a speaker has a definite function, and that is to "decode" the microphone's pickup signal. Since the recording mic has a defined personality and set of constraints that is overlayed on top of the music, these encoded artifacts must be utilized in playback for accurate dimensional realism. Think about how analog to digital converters require an inverse function in the digital to analog converters. This is a simple fact of physics and engineering."

AVS: "My critics all agree that my technology results in highly musical designs; they only criticize my choice of names! Interesting, isn't it? I find that high end audio has become extremely polarized, with political consequences. Fortunately, none of these so-called "critics" have an engineering degree or musical experience; they appear to be bit players wanting some attention. The Internet is filled with these malcontents and no one listens to them."

CP: "Well, I'm one of your believers after hearing the incredible fidelity of your VR-11 playing back the live tapes of Misty River. How did you pick the other members of your Consortium you call "The Masters Of Audio?"

AVS: "I've been using Acoustic Zen Zero-crystal cables for years and have found nothing better (http://www.acousticzen.com). As I grew up with tube equipment, I experimented with several brands of gear until we all chose the VAC stuff, which was the very best blend with the neutral sonic signature of the VR-11. Kevin Hayes of VAC had a similar goal as mine, to develop a highly musical and accurate set of electronics. His emphasis on low distortion design, transparency to the signal, and extreme reliability hit all of my hot buttons. I've personally ordered his equipment for my home as well as our factory showroom." (http://vac-amps.com).

KM: "Due to the revealing nature of the VR-11, I felt that we needed the best line conditioner in the world, and after several tests, chose the PS Audio Model 3000 AC regenerator (http://psaudio.com). Paul McGowen hit a home run with this new technology, which elevates the VR-11's performance significantly, in the realm of clarity and imaging accuracy; all of the instruments float on their own cushion of air, and you can hear all the way around the image."

AVS: "I've admired the Oracle turntable and CD player for years and knew that we needed these units for our ultimate system (http://www.oracle-audio.com). Jacques, their ex-designer, has been hired by our group to design new cosmetics; he is simply the finest industrial artist in the world!"
The recording equipment was supplied in part by Rives Audio and Transamerica.


CP: "Albert, you have been known as a very good designer for many years, but for some reason, you have maintained an underground profile. It seems that you are now well on your way to become a huge force in this business. How did this change come about?"

AVS: "Large scale financing was the key. For several years, we have been developing our product line and making contacts with key dealers, 73 in the US and half again that many in Europe. Now that we are well funded, as shown by our huge project at T.H.E. Show and CES, we will begin large scale advertising to gain a larger dealer base. Of course, our last few reviews have been raves and that is helping things along too! We invite dealers to contact us for an evaluation of our products. Before we had a dealer base, we offered a 90-day refund to customers, only two returned them, out of more than 800 pairs sold at that time! Our dealers are pretty comfortable selling our speakers against models costing twice as much."

CP: "Can you tell me a little more about the VR-11? I'm dying to get a pair myself, that is, if you ever shrink them. Is there a smaller model coming?"

AVS: "We have a smaller version coming, called VR-9, to retail at $40,000. This design will be identical, but with fewer drivers and an overall height of 5.5ft. As you have seen, the VR-11 is 7.5ft tall and requires a room that is at least 14x20. In fact, one of the rooms in which we did final voicing is that size, and since we are using the Rives Audio PARC, which is a device to tune the bass response to the particular room, the bass response was as tight as a drum, with a huge, wall-to-wall image that did NOT overload the room in any way. The VR-11 can focus a voice or solo instrument to its original size; it does not bloat the images like typical line source designs. In fact, although the VR-11 is very tall with many drivers, it is a Time Aligned point source, with a phase coherent driver array . There is no better way of launching and focusing a sound-wave pattern, I assure you!"

CP: "Albert, you've become quite famous for your work, including the Eggleston Andra II. After reading the Andra II review in Stereophile, I saw that John Atkinson was impressed by the measurements your new design generated. However, it is well known that your Global Axis Integration Network circuit design is semi-fourth order; how can that type of design be phase coherent? And if it's not phase coherent, how can it sound good?"

AVS: "Our designs are phase coherent, but that is not to be confused with time coherence. In our design, all of the drivers are wired in-phase and radiate an in-phase pressure wave. Although our GAIN circuit topology is much simpler in its signal path to the transducer, our acoustic response is fourth order, which prevents driver distortion and modulation; more importantly, it prevents the dreaded "lobing" problem".

CP: "What, may I ask, is that?"

AVS: "Excessive driver overlap generates a combined response that has more energy directed in a narrow pattern. This can be heard with pink noise as a "whooshing" or "swishing" sound when you move your head around. Many audiophiles are horrified when they discover that their beloved speakers using first order crossovers are highly distorted in the off axis region! At this time, many designers are aware of this phenomenon and don't use first order circuits; however, they make other mistakes: many speaker designs that are highly regarded have a midrange driver wired out of phase with the woofer and tweeter and are thus non phase coherent. The reason why some non phase coherent speakers are highly rated is because they do other things well; for instance, they might have good timbral response but poor imaging. Our GAIN crossover has a time delay of less than 2 milliseconds, which is inaudible according to research by Zwicker and Fastl, the two most famous researchers in psychoacoustics. In fact, we built a small speaker with Time Aligned voice coils and switched between a time coherent first order crossover and our GAIN design. Both designs sound almost identical on the tweeter design axis, but our GAIN version enabled the speaker to sound accurate anywhere in the room, while the first order crossover version had serious distortion in phase and amplitude off axis. In fact, the first order crossover version had 9dB dips and peaks when we moved the mic off of the tweeter axis, and these aberrations were very audible as room coloration. In addition, the tweeter distortion was excessive with the first order filter, which allows bass energy to modulate the tweeter. In this day and age, no rational designer will chose a first order crossover, if he has the talent to design something better!"


CP: "So John Atkinson liked your technique you designed for the Andra II and believes you know what you're doing. Didn't HP (Harry Pearson) write a rave review of your VR-8 model a few years ago, wherein he called you "one of the world's best designers?"

AVS: "As I recall, HP raved about the VR-8"s coherency, transparency, and overall realism. In fact, he said the VR-8 was the best cone speaker system in the world. I'm hoping that HP will request the VR-11 for review, as I know he is a great fan of live concerts and will be able to determine just how close the VR-11 comes to a live experience."

CP: "Albert, in closing, I want to know if your new VR-4jr model is related to this incredible VR-11."

AVS: "Kevin Malmgren and I spent two years working on the new jr model, which stands for "just right", by the way; it is not a "junior" speaker in any fashion other than being slightly smaller than our VR-4 Special Edition model. The new VR-4jr uses custom-built drivers designed by us, for this application, and are the most advanced drivers in the world at this price point. The jr model is physically Time Aligned and uses phase coherent fourth-order acoustic crossover GAIN circuits. The crossovers are potted in resin and the cabinets use our Sand Trap for resonance damping. If there is a better speaker at this price ($3995/pr), I want to know about it!"

CP: "Albert and Kevin, perhaps tomorrow night I'll drop by for a private audition over at the Alexis Park, to hear this new little jewel. It certainly looks like a winner."

AVS and KM: "Thanks, see you tomorrow night!"


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ascendo