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von schweikert audio
VR-22: Shattering Price-to-Performance Expectations
as reviewed by Greg Weaver
The latest and least expensive entry in the long and exceptional VR line of products from Von Schweikert Audio, the VR-22, landed here recently… and it has made quite an impression. Let's talk…
The new model VR-22 looks much like a slightly shrunken version of the remarkable Vortex VR-33 that I reviewed here in the fall of 2010 that were SO good, I bought my review pair. Also trapezoidal in shape, my pair arrived covered with a dark grill cloth and were finished with a beautifully fashioned top cap and plinth made of Brazilian Coco Noche hardwood. The new '22 measures 40" tall by 16" wide (at the rear) by 10" deep. Weight is svelte 86 pounds each—106 pounds in their individual shipping carton.
To realize the remarkable VR-22, Albert Von Schweikert, VSA's President and gifted designer, utilizes a new 8-inch woofer from ScanSpeak of Denmark that features a cone fabricated of glass-fiber nanotubes! He has explained that upon close examination, one can see the hollow glass tubes, woven together, and covered with a gray sticky compound that he says feels like silicone. Yet this remarkable new nanotube cone is just the beginning.
ScanSpeak combines this cone with a motor that is just as new and unique; their claim is that it offers 10 times less distortion than their standard fare motor! This is an AMAZING claim, one that Albert says he still can't verify, even with any of his personal test equipment. Nevertheless, he went on to say he has no difficulty believing this claim, given what he is hearing. I can second that opinion… but more on that soon.
The tweeter used in the '22s is yet another new design from ScanSpeak. They have developed an updated, restructured version of their well-known dual ring radiator design, but with a new twist. Called a wide surround model since it looks like a small dome with a very wide fabric surround formed from the dome itself, unlike the previous dual-ring drivers, this tweeter incorporates two different sized rings.
With this new model, the outer ring is now a bit smaller than the center section. This dimensional difference between the two sections reduces the surface vibration of the dome that is exaggerated by using twin rings of equal diameter. In this case, the dissimilar diameters of the central portion and the outer ring tend to cancel the combined vibration, since the two portions of the moving assembly have different masses and resonant frequencies.
Further, Albert adds that this new tweeter behaves much like a small midrange, one having a free air resonance of just 485Hz. In his testing, he found it very difficult to get this tweeter to distort, even when playing it quite loud and with no filtering! When I asked about these drivers and why he settled on them, Albert sent along this response in an email.
"The tonal qualities of both drivers are identical, and I know why—the same gray compound is on the tweeter dome and it has the same type of new motor design. When I put in some high-speed pulses in the millisecond range at 1 kHz, both drivers had almost identical pulse replication, which is amazing since the woofer cone weighs many times more than the tweeter dome. I don't know how they pulled that off, but I believe it is one of their secrets that enable this driver combo to sound as a "single driver."
Next, this remarkable new driver set gets mounted in an exquisite cabinet fabricated with Albert's Patent Pending "Triple-Wall Laminate Construction," a method employing the layering of three vastly different materials, all with inherent differences in their natural "Q" factors. The three distinctive layers are bonded together using a rubberized adhesive, that, in and of itself, constitutes yet another barrier to mechanical vibration transmission.
The outer-most layer of this composite consists of a sheet of resin-based MDF (medium density fiberboard), a '"medium" Q material, one that, when used only by itself, has a relatively high degree of sound transmission. The middle layer consists of a sheet of synthetic stone, fabricated from crushed gravel, various other minerals, and a resin binder, bonded to the inner surface of the MDF outer shell with a thick layer of industrial anti-vibrational rubber-based adhesive. Another layer of the same rubber-based adhesive binds the third and innermost layer of hard felt (which has an extremely low "Q" factor) to the synthetic stone sheet. The resultant triple layered wall thickness may vary from about 2.5" on the UniField series and approaches 4" on the VR series.
Here is a cut-a-way view of VSA's Patent Pending "Triple-Wall Laminate Construction." The molded outer layer of resin-based MDF is to the right of the photo, with the white synthetic stone layer in the middle and the hard felt inner layer shown in dark gray. The black material shown in between laminate layers is the rubber adhesive layer used for bonding and vibration damping. The white fluffy material to the left of the felt layer is Acoustic Dacron® polyester fiberfill, used to damp the internal cavity resonance created by the hollow cabinet.
In addition to effectively bonding these three disparate materials as one, because the two adhesive layers are comparatively thick (on the order of 1/5th of an inch), they afford yet an additional mechanical barrier, presenting a fundamental "shearing" of energy, converting unwanted mechanical motion into heat for dissipation.
To finalize this extremely effective construction technique, three different thicknesses of bonded Dacron® batting are applied in a method VSA has termed Gradient Density DampingTM. Packed extremely tight closest to the cabinet walls, its density is gradually decreased (it is less densely packed) as it nears the rear of the driver in its baffle. This technique provides exceptional absorption while greatly reducing reflections back into the cone.
This inventive wall construction was pioneered for use in the VSA UniField Model 3 speaker system in 2007, and is the result of Albert's extensive research using Cal Tech's Laser Interferometer labs to measure speaker cabinet wall vibration and subsequent release of stored-and-released energy. This approach has proven so successful that, as I've mentioned, Albert utilizes it in all VSA models in production today, from the VR-22 (the least expensive product in the VSA lineup), to their statement $140,000 Über VR-100XS Universe.
Readers who are relatively new to this hobby/sport/disease we call high performance or fine audio might not fully appreciate just how much engineering, design, and technological know-how has gone into creating this ostensibly "budget" product. Such readers are also likely to be unaware that you just don't expect to see nanotube-coned drivers in speakers in this price range!
Such exotic and pricey driver materials are normally reserved for use in loudspeakers with prices starting at 4 or 5 times that of the delivered price of the VR-22; products such as the splendid Magico S1 ($12,600) or the YG Acoustics Carmel ($18,000). As both the S1 and Carmel employ advanced cabinetry (milled aluminum), nano-fiber woofers, and are single woofer (7-inch), two-way loudspeakers, it should not to too far-fetched for them to be seen as sonically "competitive" products to the VR-22, even though they are much more expensive offerings.
Just for the record, Albert is quick to point out that solid aluminum does sound far better than plain ol' MDF. However, he is just as quick to make the equally valid point that his Triple-Wall design, besides being much easier to achieve, is sonically as effective as solid aluminum, and is much more cost effective! It affords measurably equivalent sonic results at a much lower cabinet production cost.
To Albert's way of thinking, companies who choose to sink a huge chunk of dough into the very costly process of milling a solid aluminum cabinet are effectively "squandering" value. The cost of building such an enclosure will quintuple or sextuple the price of the resultant loudspeaker! The new Von Schweikert Audio VR-22 is all about delivering remarkable sonic results at a price point that, prior to their introduction, just couldn't be achieved! Now, with their under $3000 price point, just about anyone can afford sound that in many ways rivals and, I'd argue, in some ways bests, speakers costing four to six times as much!
Finally, the VR-22 was designed with the same exceedingly room friendly placement strategies as both the Vortex VR-33 ($4250/pr.) and the VR-35 Export Deluxe ($7995/pr.). These models are all designed to sound best when placed quite close (just 10 to 20 inches) to the wall behind them, rather than needing to be placed well out into the room, yet still deliver incredible soundstage depth reproduction, combined with fantastic bass power.
Albert has designed the response of the speaker to work with the rear wall as a boundary, rather than designing the speaker to operate in an anechoic environment (which, by the way, is not how your speaker interacts with its room anyway). Everything about this remarkably affordable series of VSA speakers, from driver placement, through crossover design, to their trapezoidal baffle shape, all contribute to the effectiveness of this design, which has patents pending.
The sound waves from the VR-22's front drivers are directed side-ways by the slanted side walls of the trapezoidal cabinet, preventing the original wave launch from initially reflecting off the rear wall, helping to preserve the inherent depth of a recording. Since the frequency response of any speaker system must factor in the boundary gain from the rear wall, the necessary response tailoring was accomplished in the crossover design, thus "shaping" the response to the desired psycho-acoustic sound target. Albert claims his design actually enhances soundstaging depth and imaging properties! From what I've heard, from both this remarkable new VR-22's and the original Vortex VR-33's, he isn't kidding!
Just what does all this sophisticated driver selection, advanced cabinetry execution, and room integration design bring to the music reproduction table? More than you'd have any right to expect!
As to the placement of the VR-22, after spending a bit of time doing a modified version of the audiophile shuffle, I settled on a location about ten inches away from the wall behind my equipment stands.
Spatial cues are wonderfully presented, affording a deep, wide, and remarkably focused sound stage. Instrumental and vocal mages are recreated with lifelike size and with remarkably accurate and intricate layering, recording permitting, of course. And while I discovered that when positioned further out into the room, say at eighteen to twenty inches, allowed them to serve up slightly more accurate dimensionality, I found the overall balance of timbre, bass impact, and general spatial recreation to be optimized at that ten inch placement in my room.
Overall, this new loudspeaker speaks with an exceptionally clear, cohesive, and articulate voice. What was immediately audible and overwhelmingly apparent to me within minutes of starting this audition, was that the VR-22 offers speed and clarity commensurate with an excellent electrostatic panel, but with more cojones!
Now, when you first hear the low frequency performance of the new VR-22, you will wonder how one 8-inch woofer, in any alignment, could possibly have this much room-filling impact and extension. Damn! This new driver, in this remarkably effective enclosure, offers extraordinarily deep bass, served up with incredible slam, rife with detail and definition. Once properly placed, I've NEVER heard a single driver, 8-inch, 2-way loudspeaker, at ANY PRICE, fill a room with SUCH impact, pitch definition, and weight at the lower end of the spectrum, with such UTTER authority, prowess, and accuracy!
Moving to the all-important midrange, that part of the spectrum is recreated with an inescapable coherence, an alluring liquidity, and a lifelike vibrancy, giving them the unmistakable ability to render crucial voices like those of the piano with remarkable "rightness" and texture. Human voices are clearly recreated, with excellent focus and that joie de vivre that just pulls you into a good performance.
The upper registers with this tweeter are crisp, clear, and remarkably well extended. In all my listening, these remarkable tweeters never got harsh or showed any sign of glare, so long as it wasn't an attribute of the recording. Yet they have the ability to add that almost effortless "air," sparkle, and shimmer to really well recorded cymbals and triangles. You are easily allowed to forget that you are listening to a recording and are drawn into the performance.
Did I mention… they play LOUD for their breed, with no sense of strain or breakup…so long as the amps are up to the challenge? I fed them from a number of amps while they were in-house, including a 200Wpc integrated, a pair of 40Wpc gain-clone mono's, and both a 200Wpc and 500Wpc pair of world-class, Class-D monoblocks. While the 40Wpc monos couldn't drive them to anywhere near their full capability, they were able to show off their signature purity and liquidity with ease.
Let's talk about resolution! No, I don't mean in your face, take-the-paint-off-the-walls, etching shrillness that many inexperienced listeners fallaciously try to pawn off as resolution, but honest to GAWD musical resolve. Because they seem so hyper-revealing, the VR-22 clearly prefers to be paired with very smooth and balanced sounding equipment. Consider yourself warned: Use less than equally exceptional sources, amplification, or preamplification, and you WILL hear it. However, don't try to blame the VR-22s! I assure you, this little overachiever is up to the task. The better the associated gear, the better they sound.
The VR-22 is the least expensive speaker I've yet heard that has the technical chops to effectively blur the line between being musical or resolute. All too often, loudspeakers in this class, given the compromises that must inevitably be made to realize such price points, come down very decidedly on one side or the other of those two disparate sonic choices. More often than not, in this price range, a speaker that is very resolving has no musical soul; they just can't boogey. Not the VR-22! These little guys do both so well, you will find it difficult to believe that they are so affordable.
While we all know nothing is perfect, especially in this very down-to-earth price range, this remarkable and inexpensive creation from VSA really tests that postulate. If it suffers any flaw, it would be that the overall tonal balance comes down ever so slightly on the cooler side of natural. Just a shade... Many may not even notice it is that slight. That’s it! In all honesty, I can’t think of another single loudspeaker that retails for under three grand which doesn’t suffer many more, and more serious, faults.
Simply put, the VR-22 is a sonic MARVEL, utterly unlike anything I've ever experienced at this price. I have heard all those very interesting (and pricy!) big name single driver, 7-inch, 2-ways, but in all honesty, as good as they are, none of them possessed any real deep bass authority or offered significantly visceral dynamic contrasts, at least, not in the setups I've experienced. To my ears, the VR-22 offers virtually equivalent degrees of clarity and image focus as those aforementioned big name exotic products, yet it delivers on all that missing deep bass slam and raucous dynamic prowess.
You owe it to yourself to hear this remarkable new entrant from the VSA lineup. It has impressed me well beyond anything I would have expected, and I've been at this for over four decades! I'm sure you will have a similar reaction once you hear them. Most enthusiastically and musically recommended! Greg Weaver
Von Schweikert Audio
Type: Two-way dynamic system with 8" woofer and 1" tweeter.