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Positive Feedback ISSUE 65
january/february 2013


Audio Ramblings - The Vandersteen Quatro Wood Loudspeakers
by Dave Clark


Never thought I would say this, and damn never thought I would hear this, but for the affordable price of $11k… the Quattro Woods check off so many of the wants and likes that these could be the next speakers to sit happily in my system... on a permanent basis. Of course $11k is not chump change and even at a respectable accommodation, they are not anything I could jump at without making some serious adjustments to my spending patterns… but every time I sat down to listen to ANYTHING, the overall engagement, fun, music, bliss, whatever I could think of … or not think of… swept over me. The Quatros are that good. No make that silly good!

So what makes them so special? Other than how they play the music here—and I mean any music I tossed their way—is that they are really a somewhat full-range speaker sitting atop full-range subwoofer. And that is a subwoofer that is designed for, and allows for, complete integration with the room and upstream amplification. No muss, no fuss. The controls allow one to fix, to a great degree, room issues that are realized at the bottom extremes. And all quite satisfactorily.

Even though the Woods have a small footprint, there is quite a lot going on with these beauties… (taken from the Vandersteen site):

Exclusive tapered transmission-line loaded magnet system with investment cast chaises, 1" ceramic-coated alloy dome tweeters extend frequency response to beyond 30kHz ….

Patented Reflection-Free transmission-line loaded 4.5" midrange drivers have curvilinear, woven composite diaphragms and no reflective magnet structures …. 

… mid-bass and lower midrange frequencies are delivered by newly designed 6.5-inch woofers with woven fiber cones and precision-formed magnet assemblies, including copper faraday rings. These drivers are limited to a frequency range of 100Hz-900Hz….

Deep bass (20Hz-100Hz) in each Quatro speaker is handled by dual, 8-inch drivers with carbon-loaded cellulose cones and ultra-long throw motor assemblies. Purpose-designed 250-watt Class B linear amplifiers and 11-band room compensation controls are combined with Vandersteen's exclusive Passive High-Pass' subwoofer integration system for a periodic response and deep bass….

Room compensation controls, in conjunction with bass level contour controls, allow the speakers to be placed where they image best and the bass to be optimized in that position.

The Woods do require the addition of the M5-HP external crossover matched to the impedance of your amplifier. What is the M5-HP and why does one need it? From the Woods' User's Manual…

The Quatro uses a unique crossover and subwoofer amplification configuration to provide the true benefits of bi-amplification and reduce the current demands on the main amplifier. By inserting a passive high-pass crossover between the preamplifier and the main amplifier then connecting the Quatros like conventional bi-wired speakers, the main amplifier remains in the signal path to the subwoofer, but its current demands are reduced. This ensures sonic continuity as the main amplifier's characteristics that are evident through the upper frequencies are maintained to the deepest bass, but with the power and control of the Quatro's internal 300 watt amplifier.

The M5-HP is the high pass crossover for the mid-bass driver and must be installed in the system between the preamplifier and power amplifier before the Quatros are used. (The only exception is in systems with a high-pass amplifier as noted below.) Properly configured to match the input impedance of the amplifier, the M5-HP will roll off the low frequencies going to the amplifier so that they are-3dB at 100Hz referenced to 1kHz. To compensate for the low-frequency roll-off induced by the crossover, the response of the Quatro's amplifier is contoured to restore the low frequencies to the proper level. The M5-HP is a totally mono design; two are required for a stereo pair of Quatros. M5-HPs are available in both balanced and single ended configurations to match any system.

These are simple aluminum boxes that connect to the inputs of your amplifiers or amplifier and your interconnects from the source or preamp feeds into them… simple and well executed. They work, and for all I could tell added nothing extra to the music or signal… seamless.

So what you get is an elegant and stylishly-clean enclosure that offers the listener a true full-range presentation possessing that ribbon-like seamlessness. Seamless, they have that down. Smooth and silky… yes it is all there. No hint of being either reserved/reticent or analytical cold/hot in the least.

vandersteen quatro woods

As good as it gets? Well… perhaps not, but man, this is so damn close. Hard for me to imagine anything better... that I could afford that is! So much fun, so much musicality, so much happiness. Yeah, finally I might have found a speaker that does more than my beloved Reimer Tetons… the Vandersteen Quatro Signature II Woods. Wow. Richard… dude… sweet things these are my friend. You scored big. I mean my previous experiences… or impressions of Vandersteen speakers were that of being more laid-back… more 'back' there than 'right' here. Something that needed, make that demanded, some juice to come alive…. to startle, to engage… to blossom and really open up. For me, back when (this is a good 30 years ago), a Vandersteen loudspeaker, such as the 2 for example, possessed a quality of being rather sedate and passive (But then gee Dave, it has been 30 years! Where you been man?! Well just not in the Vandersteen camp.) The Quatros are cut from a different cloth. A different beast these are… they are anything but sedate or laid-back. No more ho-hum… the Quatros are the startle to Richard's calmness.

vandersteen quatro woods

This is not to suggest that they are in your face or upfront, not in the least… but for me at least, they are more 'perfect'. Perfect in the sense of how they are placed on the scale of being neither too much of this, nor not enough of that.

Pretty much like Richard Vandersteen, the man himself. Besides, what do you mean Richard's calmness? Friendly and cordial, Richard is a man of a few words. He presents calmness while eschewing excitement or aggravated engagement, unless of course you get him to open up, then you realize that not only is Richard crazy smart about loudspeakers, but also about a lot of other things. Like airplanes (he built his own and flies everywhere) and anything else requiring an engineer's intellect on how best to make something 'work' better. Richard is a loving family man with a keen wit and big sense of living life right. Open-minded but with a strong opinion on what is what, Richard is a cool guy.

Just like his speakers! The Quatros are so thoroughly engineered, so tweaky in how to deal with the room and upstream electronics, so well thought out with respect to working 'right'… that they sing as one piece. One piece of musical 'completeness'… a loudspeaker lacking seams, colorations, or anything that I could put my analytical finger on and say this about that.

They can play as loud as any sane, or insane person, would ever want while never faltering. Believe me when I say I pushed them really hard… hard enough to get to the Quatro's limits (with Richard's assurances that I would not hurt them in any way) but nada. They played loud I tell 'ya… the bass held tight and controlled, the Quatros never got hard or glary… they retained their coherency and dynamics … damn! The two 8" subs were seamless and loaded the room like no other speaker I have had here; a 'complete' speaker with no discernible identifiable transitions between the top and the bottom frequencies… way cool. A true rattle and roll experience. No bottom or limit to their excursion… they play bass deeply and are controlled. Fully integrated, fully realized. Toss them some Hecq or Ben Frost and see what real extension is all about. Scary neat.

vandersteen quatro woods

As I mentioned earlier, the Quatros due to their respective design (time and phase coherent) are so… so ribbon-like from top down… all the way down into the lower midrange. Each speaker is fine tuned in an anechoic chamber… measured to a standard. The result is a killer sense of dynamics and resolution… that seamless togetherness (er… cohesion) that only such a design will produce. Not that other speakers can't get close, and many are scary close, but dude, the Quatros do it right. The Quatros are silky right with all the definition and resolution one would ever need, let alone desire… and without a hint of grain, edge, brightness, or whatever to make one look away. Vocals, individual instruments, all the little things, all the subtle hidden things… nothing was missed, nothing was forced on you… the Quatros gave you the space, the ambiance, the dimensional air that made my music so engagingly fun.

Yeah, you do have to place them right, angle them right, tilt them right, but all of this is explained in the easy to read set-up manual … or have it done by the dealer; or in the setting of the 11-band parametric equalizer for the subwoofer to tune the speakers to your room. Easy to do with the right tools (a test CD and modified Radio Shack SPL meter), but I did appreciate that Richard was here to guide me through this to make sure they were right. Like I said, something that either the dealer should do or that Richard assured could be done over the phone with Vandersteen's guidance. When done, and done right, one rids their room of any serious bass bumps, humps, lumps, troughs, valleys, dips, slips, or whatever. Now what is cool is that you do not remove the character of the room per se… I was still left with an ever so slight hill (more like a mole hill) at 50-60Hz allowing me to retain a quality that I am so endeared to, though one that when mated with a speaker possessing the same can push things way too far. Have experienced that and yikers… too much boom and bloom that no amount of moving can fix. I will say that I do not hear this with the Reimers… no they fit in just right. But the fact that the Quatros allow for a taming or fixing of such issues means that one can experience all they can do and then some.

vandersteen quatro woods

Here is how it went. After we placed the speakers where the Reimers had sat (this, it turns out, was the optimum spot for any speaker I have had here for review) Richard played the bass sweep CD and measured from the listening seat. He then guided me as to which control to either turn down or up (rather small changes to each individual band via the speaker's equalizer on its rear). As I noticed that the before and after measurements were not a fix but more of a reduction, he said that the goal was not to eliminate the character of the room, but to tame it so that nothing was out of place or causing a serious interaction; to smooth things out a bit. The results were, as I said, astounding. No doubt not the same as running some digital speaker/room correction, but then that is not what Richard is trying to do with the Quatros. As I said, he wants them to fit in while maintaining the 'sense and feel' of the room. After that, one can then adjust for bass output and 'warmth' to their heart's desire. I found that after we had them set up “correctly" I preferred a bit more bass output, that they were perhaps a bit too lean… an easy fix. Heck, I was even able to tune them to what other listeners wanted… a bit more of this please…could we have less of that will you? Easy cheesy! Way cool.

vandersteen quatro woods

The Quatros present the music in a way that belies their size. While being of a more diminutive stature than all those drivers would suggest (not sure how he does it, but sheesh they all fit) and looking more Danish modern than a decent enough rectangular box with veneer, they can fill the room with a wide and deep soundstage; one that goes high and wide while placing the music in the room as opposed to the listener somewhere else. I prefer this presentation, as opposed to transporting me to some magical place… the last thing I need to do is to realize I am no longer in my room when listening to music! Freaky shot that would be… no I prefer to bring them here. Easier to get a beer or relieve myself when the time calls.

vandersteen quatro woods

The Quatros were foot-tapping fun to have here. Many a friend who dropped in to spin some tunes just sat in devilish happiness with whatever was playing. Yeah, they did so move them… oh so musically. Richard has a winner here. Even non-Vandersteen believers, after sitting and finding something to criticize, would then exclaim that they loved the music… wow that sounds wonderfully good!

Fun. Yeah, I loved my music as presented by the Quatros. Way cool.

Quibbles? None that I can put my finger on—they simply do so much right, for me here with my music, that they are the right speaker for me. They made more of my music musically engaging than any other speaker I have heard here. Yeah, the Reimers come close, but then I have built my system around what they do… so go figure. Would I buy them? Sure would love to, but as a public school teacher who has not had a COLA in close to 7 years… not happening. One day though, perhaps one day!