The Von Schweikert Audio VR4jr Loudspeaker
|The Von Schweikert Audio VR4jr Loudspeaker|
Legendary Sound In A Smaller Package
I don’t mind confessing to you that I was more than a little bit intimidated when our fearless leader asked me if I wouldn’t mind doing a review on the Von Schweikert Research VR4jr loudspeakers. I have been a fan of Albert Von Schweikert and his speaker designs for quite a while. I first saw Albert at one of the Summer Consumer Electronics Shows in the late 80’s. He was in a room with Counterpoint electronics, I believe, and demonstrating a speaker called the Clearfield Metropolitan. I was not a great fan of the electronics at the time but really liked the speakers.
As usual, Albert was holding court and dazzling the audience with his depth of speaker building experience, so I knew I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to chat with him and went on my merry way. Jump ahead ten years to the mid 90’s. After not being heard from much for a few years, Albert comes back to prominence with a new speaker company, this time bearing his name. I had read and heard quite a bit about Von Schweikert Research’s first loudspeaker, the VR4, particularly from Dave Thomas who was one of the first people in the area to own a pair. But I felt there was just too much hype surrounding the speaker and I dismissed it without really spending much time listening to it. It wasn’t until I had an opportunity to go to a local salon called Holm Audio to see Albert introducing the VR4. It was then that I heard what I can now say was one of the finest speakers I had ever listened to. It was an “excuse me while I wipe the drool from my mouth” type of listening experience. It wasn’t just the music that was emanating from these speakers that attracted me, these speakers were beautiful to look at as well. The featured a gorgeous deep cherry red finish and contrasting black acoustically transparent grill cloth around both of its massive cabinets. Since that evening, one thing I’ve learned is that when it comes to claims about Albert Von Schweikert’s speaker designs is that it’s not hype, just profound belief.
Michael Jordan used to torment Isaiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons during the Bulls’ championship run prompting Thomas to label Jordan the NBA’s biggest trash talker. After they both retired from the game, Thomas’ admiration for Jordan grew to the point where he finally retracted his earlier claim saying, “You really can’t call it trash talk if you can back it up”. Like Jordan, Albert makes bold claims about his speaker’s capabilities and he can back them up. The proof is right there for all to hear. Albert has a cool, calm demeanor about him, at least at the times I’ve seen or spoken to him. He also can carry on a lengthy conversation - especially when it comes to speaker design and performance - with anyone on the planet. I say all this to say that Albert is very knowledgeable about speakers and his experiences in speaker testing, design, and consulting make him one of the foremost speaker authorities we have. He’s the gold standard, like the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” of the speaker world. (Editor’s note: please forgive that last analogy. Go Trojans!) You either love his speakers or you don’t. Judging by those that I know and have spoken to, his speakers fall a lot more into the former camp than the latter. When you purchase a Von Schweikert speaker, you know you’re not only getting a quality product, but you’re getting Albert’s expertise as well.
So, the VR4 has a little brother?
I first saw the Von Schweikert Research VR4jr at the 2004 CES. Immediately, there was a buzz about this speaker, not only because it came from Von Schweikert, but because of it’s pedigree. Where did it fit into the VSA hierarchy? Is it a scaled down VR4 Gen III? Will it replace the Gen III? And most importantly, why is it called junior? Actually, I was told that the jrdesignation actually stands for just right and not “junior” as it is often called. The VR4jr is not a replacement for any of the fine speakers that have come before it and the VR3.5 and VR4 Gen III are still firmly entrenched in the current VSA product line. The VR4jr is intended to be an entirely new design and aimed at a somewhat different market niche.
With great anticipation, I awaited the VR4jr’s arrival to my house. The VR4.5 is actually one of my reference speakers, so you can imagine how excited I was to hear how Albert’s newest offering would stack up. When the speakers arrived, my first thought was, “where is the rest of the speaker?” The VR4jr is roughly about half the size and weight of my VR4.5s and came packed extremely well. I was more than impressed with each cabinet being in it’s own velvet sack. Putting the speaker together was not hard at all and the manual that comes with them is informative and contains helpful suggestions. I was impressed with their build quality, the rich woodwork, the lines and shape of the speaker. Still, I thought to myself, “is this all?” Naturally I would think that, especially in light of how long I’ve lived with the twice as big VR4.5s.
The VR4jr is 38.5” tall, 8” wide, 20” deep, and weighs 78 pounds. It’s a four-way design that uses a 1” poly-tri-laminate silk dome tweeter, a 7” carbon mica-cellulose poly-laminate midrange driver, two 7” mica-cellulose poly-laminate woofers, and a 1" rear-firing ambience mid/tweeter with fabric dome and transmission-line loading and level control are located on the rear. According to Albert, these drivers are high tolerance and high performance models that you could easily find in speakers costing several thousands more. The cabinetry is first-rate. The pair I used came in a beautiful cherry veneer and the construction was of a quality you don’t normally see at this price point. The unscientific method, as Albert would say, of gauging the cabinet’s resonance by rapping on the sides and top, showed the cabinet to be “dead”. All of the cabinet walls are of 1” thick MDF and have an internal lining of acoustic felt. Like other VR4 offerings, the tweeter and midrange drivers and ambience retrieval control are in one cabinet that sits atop a larger cabinet housing the two woofers. But the VR4jr also has a 3” wide front port that according to the Von Schweikert literature, this allows for closer wall placement in smaller rooms without adding coloration.
The VR4jr has some other nice touches. There are three sets of rhodium five-way binding posts on the VR4jr. One set is on the tweeter/midrange cabinet and there are two more sets on the woofer cabinet. The connectors are the “over-sized” high strength plastic covered variety that you can really get your fingers around and not have to use a wrench to really torque down. My VR4.5s use brass connectors that you can really torque down though at the peril of possibly breaking them off. These plastic covered posts allow you to get a good fit without having to over torque them so that there’s little chance of breaking them off, though your connector may not be as tight. Either way, you can get a good tight fit on the speakers.The VR4jr has the added feature of a “Data Link” (photo left), which is a 12” cable with two pins in the center that allow you to connect the upper and lower cabinets if you only have one pair of speaker cables and no jumpers long enough to go from the woofer cabinet binding posts up to the tweeter/midrange cabinet posts. It’s a nice touch that Von Schweikert says is a temporary fix, but the speakers are designed to be bi-wired and should be for optimum performance. I’ll just add that while the Data Link is helpful if you can’t bi-wire, you do lose out on high frequency air and extension in this mode.
The little brother takes the stage
The first item of performance that I noticed about the VR4jrs is that they present a breathtaking soundstage. I had them 3’ to 4’ from the sidewalls and 6’ to 8’ out into the room. The stage was wide and deep, which was particularly fun when playing classical music and live jazz recorded in a large venue. This speaker is capable of giving you the illusion of being able to walk around the image and reach out and shake hands with the performers. One of my favorite CDs for imaging and depth is George Butterworth’s, “A Shropshire Lad” and “English Idylls No.1 and No.2,” from a Nimbus compilation of British composers Butterworth Parry Bridge performed by the English String Orchestra conducted by William Boughton [NI 5068]. This is a fantastic recording that, for me, captures the essence of listening to an orchestra perform in a live atmosphere with all of the hall sounds, decay of the instruments in a large hall and rich string tone that I enjoy coming from an orchestra. This recording played extremely well on the VR4jrs, as did Rimsky-Korakov’s Scheherzade performed by The Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fritz Reiner [RCA ARP1-4427].
For a more intimate setting, I played Branford Marsalis’ Trio Jeepy [Columbia Stereo CX2 44199]. Listening to his rendition of the classics “Stardust” and “The Nearness of You”, you get the feeling that the performers are in your presence as they are closely mic'd. The presence factor is high as you can hear the performer’s breathing, blowing, strumming and plucking as clearly as though they were there playing for you. Bass performance is very good even for a cabinet of this size. It has bass that you not only hear but feel as well with tightness, without being too tight, speed, and real good, room-rumbling extension. Not quite in the VR4.5s class in terms of filling the room, but it does have faster and more detailed bass. If you like warm or loose bass, then this type of bass performance may not be your cup of tea. To test bass performance, I like to play Jacques Loussier Plays Bach [TELARC CD-83411] and Bryan Bromberg’s Wood [A440 Music Group 4001]. Both of these discs have strong, room-filling bass with a lot of detail (i.e. string work, bass slapping) that the VR4jr’s speed and open midrange helps brings a greater appreciation for Brian Bromberg and Vincent Charbonnier’s bass playing skill. Moving to something a little more contemporary and with a high boogie factor, Prince’s Musicology [NPG Records] and Jeff Bradshaw’s surprisingly musical and well-recorded Bone Deep [Hidden Beach Recordings EK 90698] more than filled the bill. The VR4jrs showed that they are not stuffy and can get down with the deeply synthesized, funky bass filled tracks with all the rump shaking verve that you would ever need.
Making big brother proud
The VR4jrs are definitely deserving of their VR4 status. It offers excellent imaging and pinpoint soundstaging. Dimensionality and presence are there in spades whether the electronics were solid state or tubes. The only limitations these speakers have are those imposed upon them by the source material. Compared with a comparable speaker that I also reviewed, the wonderful Usher 6371, things get interesting indeed. These have got to be two of the best speakers in their price, size and performance range, that are available. Five years ago, you just couldn’t find speakers of this magnitude with the construction, fit and finish, and musical performance that these speaker are capable of providing. In many ways, they are very close and a choice may come down to whether you like BMW or Mercedes-Benz. The VR4jr has the slightly better upper-frequency and midrange performance but the Usher is right there. The VR4jrs get the nod in the deep bass butwhere they begin to pull ahead is in soundstage width and depth. The rear firing Ambience Retrieval System simply did a better job of filling out the back of the soundstage in my listening room. Instrumentalists and background vocals were more “fleshed out” and contrary to most opinions, produced a better focus. I played the VR4jrs with a lot of gear and it sounded particularly good all around with the Conrad-Johnson Premier 350 and the Red Planet Labs STR201. The pleasant surprise for me was using it with theA50125A tube integrated amplifier from Almarro Audio of Japanrecently reviewed (click above to read). This amp definitely added to the VR4jr’s ability to convey the musician’s presence. The music portrayal was very lively and dynamic with the fine Soaring Audio SLC-A300. Of all the cables I used with them, the Dynamic Design and Blue Marble Audio cables performed the best, in my opinion. All in all, the VR4jr is a wonderful speaker and a worthy addition into the Von Schweikert stable. Its build quality and musical performance clearly place it at or near the top of its class. Highly recommended!
Frequency Response: 23-20 kHz, +/- 2 dB, 20 Hz-25 kHz -6 dB, (+/- 1dB at midband).
Impedance: 6 ohms avg. (4 ohms 20 Hz-150 Hz; 8 ohms 150 Hz-20 kHz).
Recommended Power: 20 watts up to 300 watts music power.
Sensitivity: 89 dB @ 1w/1m using 2.83 v (91.5 dB in room with boundary reinforcement).
Frequency Response: 23-20 kHz, +/- 2 dB, 20 Hz-25 kHz -6 dB, (+/- 1dB at midband).
Finishes: Available in four book-matched wood veneer finishes including African Hazelwood, Dark Red Cherry, Light Maple, and Black Ash. A satin-gloss polyester resin clear-coat protects the fine wood surfaces.
Price: $3995.00pr US
Von Schweikert Audio
930 Armorlite Dr.
San Marcos, California 92069
Phone: (760) 410-1650
Fax: (760) 410-1655