The Von Schweikert
VR-33 Vortex and the Jolida JD 1000RC Integrated
Amplifier - East Meets West... Coast, that is.
Unless you are amongst a very, very select few I'm sure you're paying special attention to every dollar you have set aside now—or earmarked for future audio equipment funding. These days it has to be about finding quality and reliability for your greenbacks, and while many audio products deliver plenty of value for the shrinking buck, I'm looking a step further. Here, I'd like to evaluate two products that not only exhibit very high-value performance, but also have the potential to provide that special synergistic relationship that kicks performance to the next level, allowing your audio dollars to keep you happy and listening for a long time.
Both Jolida (Annapolis, Maryland) and Von Schweikert (Murrieta California) products are no strangers to my room. I reviewed and owned the VR-4JR MkII. I also reviewed the JD 3000A amplifiers (which, in retrospect, I wish I'd kept) and the JD 3000B preamplifier, and the JD 9A Phonostage .
During a recent phone conversation, Albert von Schweikert got very excited conveying the features of a speaker he had just designed. One with very high performance, an unusual shape, great bass extension and performance, very high quality components, and designed to be placed near a wall (as little as 3 inches!) while still producing a deep soundstage. And all at a price of just under $4k!
The last two features really piqued my curiosity. Albert continued, "The world needs an affordable high-end speaker that can be placed near a wall and which does not dominate the entire room." I agree. At this point in time I'm lucky enough to have a dedicated room, so I can place speakers wherever I want. But I've had to share a room before where my sound was always compromised because of placement. Live in an apartment or a condo? You're probably in the same boat. Is the VR-33 the answer to your problem? Could very well be.
After I got the low-down on the VR-33 I started thinking about a logical mate, the requirements being much the same as the speaker: outstanding performance and excellent value. After a few synapses started firing I remembered PFOer Gary Lea telling me he was getting killer sound pairing the Jolida Musical Envoy system with his Von Schweikert VR-4SRMKIIIs. Why not a Jolida amp with the VR-33s? After consulting with Michal Allen of Jolida, he recommended the JD 1000RC Integrated; a 100-watt EL-34 based integrated.
The VR-33 is Albert's newest (that I'm aware of) project, and, other than his forays into to the high-efficiency world, one of his most unusual. Its lineage and recycled name go back to the 1980s Vortex Screen loudspeakers, considered by many to have legendary performance. Easy to drive at 90dB sensitivity and 8 ohms nominal impedance (min 5), the new Vortex is friendly to both tubes and solid-state. Assembly is a breeze, just attach the bottom plate with 4 screws and then install the high-quality spikes (wait ‘till you really have them in position as moving them is a bit of an issue when so spiked). An unusual trapezoid shape (Albert is fond of odd shapes), the Vortex is wider at the rear, and narrow at the front for less cabinet reflection. Functional. The front driver layout uses a D'Appolito array that radiates horizontally to diffuse sound as it minimizes first reflections from the floor and ceiling, while the back includes the 10-inch rear-facing bass driver, a very large port, and a single set of high-quality binding posts. Crossed over at 80Hz, where wavelengths wrap around the speaker, the Vortex is designed to work with your rear wall while giving the impression the bass is emanating from the front of the speaker. The entire cabinet is wrapped in a "sock" of black (there may be other colors available soon) fabric, with top and bottom covers of stained wood. Albert was very emphatic that this speaker was all about performance, not cosmetics. Yes, the money went into the components, although the VR-33 is no ugly ducking. Overall, a very nice balance.
The Jolida JD 1000RC is part of Jolida's newer generation of products. It provides 100 watts of glorious tube power, 8 EL34s, combined with a very versatile preamp section that features a pair of 12AX7s and 12AT7s. The 1000RC features upgraded cosmetics that include a stainless steel faceplate with a glass window so you can keep an eye on your glowing glass. The mirror in the rear of the tube section gives you the illusion the unit has even more tubes. I like it; lots of performance in an attractive and affordable package.
A weighty metal remote features volume, mute, and standby functions. The front-mounted selector switch includes CD, DVD, Tuner and Aux. (for TV, VCR or Computer). Also included on the front panel are the standby indicator, a remote sensor, and a volume control. The rear panel sports inputs for CD, DVD, Tuner and Aux, fixed and variable outputs, 4 and 8 ohm speaker outputs, a dedicated ground terminal, a power switch, and an IEC Ac connector. Other noteworthy features include custom wound audio transformers with a core of German grain oriented silicon steel, an ALPS audio potentiometer, gold plated RCA input jacks, audiophile grade carbon composite grid resistors, high speed soft recovery diodes, and poly tin coupling capacitors. Biasing this amp is simple enough with a VOM. But, if you are multi-meter challenged, Jolida includes an EZ-biasing procedure that even your grandma could handle.
System connection was easy. I used a PS Audio Extreme Statement AC cord to connect the Jolida to power. Acoustic Zen Satoris and Matrix Reference handled the speaker and interconnect duties respectively. On power-up my first impression was in fact better than expected. I knew the Jolida was broken in, and Albert told me the VR-33s had also been used enough to listen to immediately, but, man, they were sounding great already. Based on their design of near-wall, placement I shouldn't have been all that surprised in how sensitive they were to their actual proximity to the rear wall. The bass power was directly proportional to the distance from the wall, and with the Vortex this can make all the difference in how they sound. The 33 was also very responsive to toe-in. I started in the neutral position, tried toeing in, a little harsh, an eencie-bit of toe-out, just right.
With the 33s about six inches from my wall I heard a coherent, balanced presentation that was surprisingly close to some planars (though with the Vortex, much more bass) I listened to just prior to the Von Schweikerts. I also heard a very convincing soundstage that extended far out into the room and threw images that made you look twice. Hard to fathom, but yes Virginia, the VR33s pulled it off. Looking at the setup I wouldn't have believed it. They did indeed accomplish what Albert claimed—and then some. Very impressive. After a few days of moving the ‘33s an inch here, a millimeter there, I settled on a position and installed the massive, pointy spikes. Instantly rewarded with tighter bass, I moved on to critical listening.
The first thing that jumped out was the very natural tonal balance. Not anemic, not syrupy, not over-analytical. It had substance and gave the impression that all instruments and voices were being very accurately represented. This quality went hand-in-in hand with the very lively sense of pace and timing the 33s possessed. Whether listening to string quartets, acid jazz, Cuban, Brazilian, large-scale orchestral, or simply good pop, the Vortex rendered an organic coherence that always had me listening to just one more CD or record. Its sound was very consistent in this respect.
Dynamics were exceptional. Micro-dynamics revealed the subtle shadings that represent the devil in the details. Macro-dynamics gave me the big swings and instant peaks that give live gigs that certain excitement. These speakers have the Von Schweikert house sound—except in the bass. Because of the rear-firing woofer they do not sound like other VS speakers in this department. This is neither good nor bad—just different. While I was able to get lively and impressive bass performance, it was not as concussive as that found in Von Schweikert's front-firing loudspeakers. Even so, it was very satisfying. Besides, based on their design, the VR-33 endows you with the ability to tailor the bass presentation to your tastes. And, it's very easy to do: want a fuller bass-ier presentation, move the cabinets a little closer to the wall—want a tighter, less fuller bass-ier presentation, move the cabinets further away from the wall—that's it.
Coaxing the type of performance I got from the VR-33 could not have been possible without an amplifier of equal quality. The Jolida JD 1000RC is a gem. It has the unmistakable sound of EL-34s, and endows you with at least a hundred watts of high-current power. Albert Von Schweikert told me he was able to get good sound with the VR-33s using lower powered amps of lesser quality. No doubt my success getting superior sound from the VR-33 is directly related to the Jolida. The 1000RC provided the power required to render the big dynamics that gave punch and excitement to the music, but was also sophisticated enough to paint the micro shadings—the devil in the details—that gives music that oh-so-sought-after subtle emotion. Using an efficient speaker with a high-powered amp has certain advantages enabling you to hear all the dynamics your music has to offer.
The tonal quality of the 1000RC was excellent. The critical mids were natural with a hint of that tube-ness so many of us crave. Fast, accurate, and voiced to balance the entire spectrum, the 1000RC was a pleasure to listen to, and did not induce any fatigue that I could hear. The highs were detailed, yet natural. The bass went low, was very precise and anything but slow. Here we have a very fairly priced, luscious sounding (not too luscious mind you) tube integrated that has enough power for most applications. I also liked its features and flexibility, especially the balanced inputs, fixed/variable outputs, the 4/8 ohm outputs, and the bypass input which allows you to use a separate preamp or processor. Lots to love!
If you haven't figured this out by now, the VR-33 is a breakthrough product in every sense of the word. I hate to put it that way because print reviewers will stroke out if they read this. But, true it is folks. The VR-33 possesses outstanding tonal balance, leap tall buildings in a single bound dynamic abilities, coherence, excellent pace and timing, and offers an (almost) full range presentation. Combine those attributes with the ability to throw a convincing soundstage that includes precise imaging far out into a room—while sitting six inches or less from a wall—amplifier friendliness, and the fact that it costs less than $4K makes this speaker a triple crown winner. This is a product we need right now and a product we'll remember for a long time to come. Frankly, I've not heard a speaker anywhere near the price that approaches the VR-33.
There's no reason to read between the lines when it comes to the Jolida JD 1000RC. This integrated has become my top choice for affordable tube power. A gorgeous sound, power to spare, lots of great features, and affordability give this amp a leg up on the competition. It's easy on the eyes as well. Tube performance for this price was unheard of just a few years ago, and it's so sweet that it's available now. The 1000RC also exhibits Jolida's best build quality to date as I had zero problems for the many months it stayed in my house. You're going to have to spend a lot more to get improved performance. Mike Allen's products just keep getting better.
The products in this review are overachievers, very fairly priced, and backed by established businesses that I trust. Albert and Mike are two of the nicest people I've met in the audio industry, and they've got bona fide winners here. Pair the Von Schweikert VR-33 Vortex and the Jolida JD 1000RC, and for about $6K and you've got all the high end performance many will ever require. Use your computer as a source, add the Jolida Glass FX Mini DAC for $99, and forget about the gear chase—just listen to the music!
Tube Integrated Amplifier with Remote Control
Von Schweikert VR-33
Since Von Schweikert Audio is primarily an engineering company and does not focus on sales or marketing as much as other companies, it is always a joy to find that we have designed a product that has caused an extremely positive reaction to those reviewers, dealers, and customers who have had a chance to hear our new design in the release stage.
As Mr. Zurek points out, the VR-33 was designed to be a "break-through" product in sound quality, ease of placement, and price considerations. That we have used technology "inspired" by speaker systems costing up to $37,000/pr gives great confidence to those audiophiles looking for a reasonably price system that can sound like live music in their homes—without breaking the bank!
Thanks to Mr. Zurek and Editors Mr. Clark and Dr. Robinson for giving us this chance to show PF readers just what potential customers can expect when they invest in a Von Schweikert Audio speaker system!
Albert Von Schweikert