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Von Schweikert Audio’s VR 1 Studio Reference

Big things come in small packages!

Alvester Garnett

November 2004

Dancing on the tight rope between price and performance

My audiophile listening experience with speakers has leaned more towards the medium-sized, floor-standing variety. So it was with a little bit of skepticism that I took home a pair of Von Schweikert Audio’s VR 1s from Perry’s place. I had done the usual ritual of coming over to our fearless leader’s spot for a bit of socializing and listening. We enjoyed some good laughs and great sounding music, and after a while I left asking myself that recurring question that pops up every time I walk out his door. “Wow, how’d he do that?!”

Usually after coming home from listening at Perry’s I go straight to my system to play back some of the same music I’d heard on his spectacular system as a way of critiquing my own. One of the strong points of Perry’s system (among many) and very important to me is its bass performance. The 2.2 Thiels in my system have always served me admirably in this regard and though not as deep or powerful sounding as Perry’s rig, for me, they get the job done right. Honestly, I didn’t think these little studio monitors were going to be able to satisfy my bass desires. (They certainly weren’t going to satisfy my “base” desires so I kept it to the music.)

The VR 1s’ fit-n-finish certainly looked admirable though there was nothing radically different in their appearance. These boxes were just that – rectangular boxes with a woofer below a tweeter on the front with a small port on the back. I won’t go too much into descriptions since the Von Schweikert web site’s pictures say all that is needed. I used jumpers between the terminal sets to hook up a single Audio Research D200 power amp using Straightwire’s Black Silc speaker cable. I placed the VR 1s on some very good but no longer available Osiris speaker stands that Perry had handed to me along with the speakers. I chose not to fill the stands with sand but felt that their weight and rigidity would suffice for my needs.

As I said their appearance was nothing radically different. But as for my sonic experiences with small speakers in my system I would have to say off the bat that these speakers were a revelation and pleasure for me and my listening tastes. (By the time I took the speakers home Perry and at least one other fellow audiophile had used and burned them in so I can’t comment on burn in time.) The first day that I took them home I was in a terrible rush to get to the airport to go to a gig so my initial experiences with the speakers were hurried in that they the functioned as a backdrop to me scrambling around the house packing clothes and drum equipment and scheduling a car to get me to The Garden State’s “lovely” Newark International Airport. Usually music helps me to move a bit faster and get my work around the house down with a little less stress but on this day the liveliness and rhythmic drive of these speakers only served to slow me down as I was captivated by their performance.

Due to the demands of touring and gigging it was only much, much, MUCH later that I sat down and organized a formal note taking session to review these speakers. I was almost a bit scared to review these speakers against my floor standing Thiels because on first listen they presented a more “exciting” representation of the music than my reference. But as I switched back and forth between the two sets of speakers I gained a greater understanding of the ups (which were many) & downs (which were quite few) of the Von Schweikert VR 1s.


I first turned to Miles Davis’ Four & More SACD [SRGS 4529] for the live version of “So What” recorded in 1964 at Lincoln Center and driven at a blistering pace by a then teenage Tony Williams on drums along with Ron Carter on bass, Herbie Hancock on piano, and George Coleman on tenor saxophone. (I had just recently received this Japanese import version on SACD via Musicselection.com. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Sony/Columbia is taking SO long to continue with releasing the Miles Davis catalogue beyond the miniscule, albeit classic and important few titles they’ve chosen to release here in the U.S. Between Fantast/OJC and Sony/Columbia I’ve counted a paltry 14 SACDs of official U.S. releases of Miles’ material. I counted an additional 27(!) Miles Davis SACDs released overseas in Japan and available for import via Musicselction.com. At $30 - $40 a pop the prices aren’t cheap, the tariffs are a drag and the shipping costs aren’t pretty, but if you need to quench a thirst for hard to find imported SACDs try this site out. http://www.musicselection.com/sacd.htm )

The first thing that grabbed my attention about the VR 1s while playing back “So What” was how exceptionally deep the soundstage appeared and how outstanding these studio monitors reproduced the musical imaging of this live concert. Miles’ horn was gorgeously placed front and center with a pleasurable, full-bodied presence and an acute sense of air and space around him.

I had heard about the typically exemplary ability of small monitors to image precisely but the level of image disparity between the Thiels and VR 1s actually forced me to reassess my Thiel’s setup. I noticed that the diaphragms of the tweeters on the VR 1s were set up a good 1” to 2” farther from the rear wall than those of the Thiels. (The slopes of the Thiels’ front baffles are deceptive when it comes to placing the tweeter’s of the drivers equidistant from the rear wall to those of a more conventional flat-faced front baffle.) After pulling the Thiels out to match the distance of the tweeters to those of the VR 1s, I was confident that both pairs of speakers were on equal footing in terms of setup. Still, I couldn’t help but regard the imaging and soundstaging of the VR 1s as something special. The Thiels presented just a bit more of the air of the recorded space while the VR 1s seemed to lend just a bit more roundness to the images.

As a result of this roundness the sound of Miles’ horn was actually a bit fatter, juicier and more seductive coming through the VR’ 1’s when played at low to moderate volumes. The midrange was probably the most enticing characteristic of this speaker, as it seemed to spotlight Miles’ improvisations the best.

This midrange spotlighting occurred on practically all of the horn and reed soloists I heard through the VR 1s. Not to take anything from the VR 1s but early on I felt perhaps this was a result of the VR 1s sounding relatively rolled off in the uppermost register in relation to the Thiels. I couldn’t help but notice how cymbals, particularly on this recording, sounded a little rolled off and recessed on the VR 1s. Yet even with this, I felt the rhythmic drive of the music was still lively. It seemed that the vivid reproduction of the drive of this stellar ensemble work and soloing kept the music bubbling, despite the slightly reticent highs.

On this record, I favored listening to the VR 1s with the volume set at 10 o’clock. Once I got to about 12 o’clock, the horn took on an unappealing visage that let me know these speakers don’t need a lot of volume to sound good. On the contrary, they seemed to prefer being driven at moderate levels. Even with small group jazz pieces they can play loud rather effortlessly.

The VR 1s only let me down slightly in a couple of areas on this recording when I did try to play them loudly. The first was in respect to the midrange of Herbie’s piano playing. A small amount of midrange glare was consistently there when I would set the volume at the uppermost reaches of my preferred listening levels. Consequently, I stayed away from these levels though at points I missed not being able to play the music back at what I would consider a more realistic level.

The other and most understandable area where I felt the VR 1s left me wanting was in the bass. Quantity was not the issue since the amount of bass these things put out was nothing short of amazing and surprisingly weighty for such a diminutive speaker. The problem I encountered, and once again only after comparing them to a speaker that’s about four times larger and four times more expensive (when it was being sold before being discontinued), was that Ron Carter’s bass tended to be just a bit wooly in its reproduction. But this was not something that was glaringly offensive to my ears. I only noticed it after an A to B comparison.

The VR 1s’ more efficient 89 dB sensitivity versus the Thiels’ 87 was evident when setting my preamp to comfortable listening volumes. When using the Studio Monitors, I typically had to turn the volume down two to three notches to achieve comfortable listening levels relative to the Thiels. (At least as I can best tell since the Monolithic Sound PA-1 Line Stage has no numbers for adjusting volume. Just a little notch is felt at 12 o’clock (unity gain) letting the user know that at that point the line stage switches from passive to active preamplification.) Clearly this is a relatively sensitive loudspeaker and moderately easy load to drive.

Moving on to Belioz’s Symphonie Fantastique Op. 14 as played by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paavo Jarvi [Telarc SACD 60578] the Von Schweikert’s gave a luscious, riveting and delightful presentation. At first listen there seemed to be no apparent distortion in their conveyance of the music. A beautiful sweetness came over the music that I had never heard before. The VR 1s’ showed a superb ability to render subtle and large dynamic changes. This dynamic strength combined with the once again apparent midrange lusciousness and warmth of the speakers gave me a new wonderful perspective of the Symphonie Fantastique.

Only in close A to B comparisons did I notice that the contrabass violin section of the orchestra as conveyed through the VR 1s suffered slightly in detail and resolution as compared to the Thiels. The differences were small but there nonetheless but I certainly could live with the VR 1s without ever considering myself at too much of a musical loss.

On the Berlioz the VR 1s admirably tried to deliver the musical events of the Cincinnati Orchestra’s string contrabass section, but once again the small speaker’s size stumbled a bit in delivering the illusion of lifelike acoustic bass. Once again, this small foible was not a question of quantity but of quality.

At this point I was starting to get a bit more of a grasp of the VR 1’s sound compared to my reference Thiel 2.2’s. The VR 1’s were a generally “wetter” sounding speaker while the Thiels were more transparent and I would dare say “accurate” but at the same time not as beguiling. In general even with the minor weaknesses of the VR 1’s compared to the Thiels I was starting to find the Von Schweikert’s a bit more fun to listen to on some material. They just seemed to “pop” more when being driven by what I had on hand. But at the same time the analytical “left-brain” side of me still preferred the Thiels.

So with this in mind I decided to turn to more familiar material and put on a recording that I had played on to get more to the bottom of what I was hearing.

On Ravel’s Pavane Pour une Infante Défunte from Regina Carter’s Paganini: After A Dream CD [Verve Catalog #4400655542] Paganini’s violin, as played by Regina Carter, was presented in all its luscious, bold and dark sounding glory and clearly richer and darker sounding than the Thiel’s presentation. (I’m sure Regina would have preferred the VR 1’s because she strives for a dark almost viola-like sound and hates the sound of screechy sounding violin recordings.) To my ears this playback was a little darker than what my memory of that instrument sounded like but then again sonic memory is not perfect especially when it is of an instrument that doesn’t belong to me. Furthermore the barrier, otherwise known as the recording process, between my ears and the actual instrument is ultimately half of the equation and here even if I felt the sound might not be entirely “accurate” (I hate using this word when talking about audio), it certainly was engaging and lovely.

Once again I did hear a slight ringing or glare in the piano that I hadn’t noticed before. Perhaps the bloom and warmth I heard in the midrange from horns on other recordings and now on the violin in such a positive manner manifested itself in a negative manner with this subtle glare in the piano.

I found my cymbals as played back through the VR 1s to be duller and not as lifelike as to what I had been accustomed to while listening to the Thiels. Also my brush sweeps as played on my D’Amico Solid Shell Snare drum were not as distinct. They were warm and richly present but the subtlety of my brushwork was slightly obscured. The cymbal rolls and swells lacked the high frequency clarity and extension to which I was accustomed. This mellowing and blending in of the sound might be favored and could be the perfect ticket for some, but for my listening preferences I still preferred the highs and detail of the Thiels.

Chris Lightcap’s bass sound was presented with the same perceptible weight as that of my floor standing reference (once again another impressive feat of the VR 1s) but without as much detail and intricacies of texture. I would not call the sound I heard as anything in the “one note” realm because the VR 1s provided me with very tuneful bass. There were no problems discerning the pitches from the bass as the speakers provided a clearly melodic performance in the bass range. The speakers passed along the warm and full sounding resonance of Chris’ bass but lacked that last bit of high frequency and textural information that comes from the sound of a pizzicato bass. (Yes, I said HIGH frequency information too. This is what helps to give well-recorded acoustic bass its definition.)

Turning to another Miles Davis performance on SACD I chose “Footprints” from Miles Smiles [Columbia Legacy CS65682]. Miles trumpet was heard once again as warm and mellow with the balance leaning more towards “flesh” than brass. This once again was a sound to die for and served to highlight the intricacies of his melodic improvisation in an excellent manner. The subtle and more extreme dynamics within Miles’ lines were rendered in a way that brought on a strong case of the Goosebumps. This all-important aspect of both small and large dynamic shifts in music reproduction is far too often lost in the translation and the VR 1’s seemed spot on in this regard. Listening to Miles’ beautifully reproduced solo on “Footprints” through the VR 1s led me to an even greater respect of his virtuosity and I’m sure it was because if it’s exceptional ability to pass along the dynamics of the music.

However I must note that once again the relatively recessed nature of the highs pushed Tony Williams’s cymbal work further into the background than what I’m accustomed to.

On Luciana Souza’s "House" from her Neruda CD (Sunnyside SSC1132) I heard a clearly different presentation than my usual experience with this CD. I think this was in part because the recording features just Ms. Souza’s voice along with piano and light percussion accompaniment. This allowed me to focus on a smaller spectrum of musical colors. The sound of Souza’s alto voice was velvety and rich with an abundance of nuance. This presentation made the Thiels sound a bit dry and a wee bit bleached in comparison but only in the sound of the human voice.

The overall presentation of the recording was warmer than what I had heard before, but a slight thickening in the sound was obstructing the piano. The opening left hand motif played in the baritone range and right hand chords in the tenor range of the piano highlighted again what I had noticed before – a slight lack of detail in the bass range in this speaker, at least as it relates to the electronics I had on hand for the review. Apparently there is a slight emphasis on the baritone range of this speaker to give it an overall perception of possessing so much weight and authority but this can at times, as is the case here, cloud the music slightly. But then again the Audio Research D200 amp is by no means bass shy if anything it might be somewhat plump in the baritone to bass region but probably because of this it mates beautifully with the harder to drive Thiels. I would have loved to have heard these babies with another amp (perhaps a nice digital amp?) but time and schedules didn’t allow for this.

The sound was very pleasing at lower levels on Ms. Souza’s record and at this point I decided that this studio monitor might make a fine dorm speaker. However one must keep in mind that keeping them away from rear walls will insure the best imaging and to miss out on this speaker’s imaging is to miss out on one of its strongest features.

Up until this point, I had made notes primarily using acoustic music so I turned my ear to Wayne Shorter’s “Children of the Night” from his High Life CD [Verve 314 529 24-2] to ascertain these speakers abilities with more amplified and electronic sounds. This record features Wayne on tenor and soprano saxophones with electric bass, keyboards, guitar, piano, drums, percussion and a small orchestra consisting of brass, reeds, and strings without contrabass. This music is more “fusion” stylistically (“Fusion” is another word I’m not too keen on. Isn’t all jazz a “fusion” of sorts?) Typically in this type of music the bass frequencies are more processed and accentuated than in acoustic jazz. (But as of late I’ve heard some horrendously over processed bass-heavy jazz records). This can be heard not only from the bass guitar but also from the sound of the drums. The bass drum used for this type of music is typical larger and is tuned and muffled for a lower and punchier sound. Along with this comes the de rigueur abundant studio engineered processing to fatten up the bass drum and add more weight to the overall sound of the rhythm section.

On this track the VR 1s performed even more admirably than I could have expected. They got stanky with the funk groove laid down by drummer, Will Calhoun and bassist, Marcus Miller, while at the same time presenting the acoustic instruments of Wayne’s horn and the backing orchestra with a warm, polished, but not too shiny luster. Here the VR 1s truly shined and simply out funked the Thiels even though the Thiels presented a more concise, detailed and solid bass. The excitement factor that these speakers brought to the music (or should I say reproduced from the music) was simply infectious and got my feet tapping and head bopping within seconds after the first down beat. (I was even inspired to play a little bit of bass air-guitar!) The largeness of the sound here was incredulous to my ears even though they didn’t plunge as deep in pitch as the Thiels.

Also on this track the palette is quite complicated in that it combines quite a large number of acoustic instruments from the backing orchestra that enter and leave the music at different points along with the up front soloing of Wayne on tenor and Soprano saxes along with the largely electric rhythm section along with both acoustic and electronic percussion. The VR 1s seemed to just dive in without much stress and tackled the task of resolving all of these instruments with great panache. The constantly varying textures of the ensemble arrangement plus the moving harmonic centers combined with the more “funkified” nature of the groove of this piece present a healthy challenge for any system and the VR 1s lived up to the task. (Not only is Wayne a brilliant composer and player but also an outstanding arranger too)

Did the VR 1’s ultimately reproduce good sounding music? The answer is undeniably yes. In my careful inspections I have noted how I felt both the highs and bass weren’t as extended and detailed as I am used to getting in my system and but I compared these speakers to the floor-standing Thiel 2.2s that are nearly flat all the way down to 28 Hz and were a good deal more expensive than the VR 1s.

Even with my nitpicking over the VR 1’s strengths and weaknesses, I still found their presentation eminently enjoyable. (As a matter of fact, I didn’t want to give them back to Perry but I wasn’t willing to risk losing a good friend over some speakers, though I nearly did.) Apparently Mr. Von Schweikert has made the necessary trade-offs in the wisest areas to achieve an outstanding balance between performance, price, and size. If you are in the market for a $1000 speaker or even a speaker two to three times the price, do your self a favor and listen to these. You will be in for a wonderful surprise.


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Specifications:

Woofer: 6.5" resin impregnated mica/cellulose composite cone, cast frame, high temperature voice coil, and large shielded magnet. VSA Low Distortion Motor system.
Tweeter: 1" composite silk dome VSA tweeter with resin impregnation, large shielded magnet and high-temp voice coil. VSA Low Distortion Motor system.
Crossover: Phase-consistent Global Axis Integration Network with stacked First Order circuits configured to enable 4th order acoustic slopes for minimum cross-talk distortion and reduced lobing.
Frequency Response: 40Hz to 25 kHz (-3dB points, in-room). Anechoic Graphs included*
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal, 5 ohms min.
Sensitivity: 89 dB @one watt/one meter. (in-room, non anechoic)
Power Handling: 100 watts continuous music (200 watts per channel peak).
Minimum Power: 8 watts per channel. Single Ended Triode Amps welcome!
Dimensions: 12" x 8" x 11"
Weight: 13lbs ea. (28 lbs packed pair for shipping)
Inputs: 5-way rhodium plated binding posts.
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor, excluding burned voice coils due to amplifier clipping.

Price: $995.00


Address:
Von Schweikert Audio
930 Armorlite Dr.
San Marcos, California 92069
Phone: (760) 410-1650
Fax: (760) 410-1655
http://www.vonschweikert.com
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Von Schweikert Audio VR 1 Studio Reference