Von Gaylord Audio: A Systemic Approach
System synergy is a tricky affair. Further, it seems to vary in degrees with very few achieving toxic levels (systems that sounded so good, I broke out in a cold sweat). I've experienced this once or twice in my travels. I've always thought how dandy it would be if putting a system together was as easy as 123? Or, better yet - and according to ones budget - simply choose directly from a recommended components quarterly guide? But unfortunately, as I've experienced, as I am sure many of you too, there's much more to achieving sonic synergy between components than picking from some guide. It takes lots of time. Sometimes years. Not to mention the vast amount of energy and income! Here, dear readers, Von Gaylord Audio lets you take the guess work out of choosing components by offering an all-in-one synergistic approach: the complete system!
My first exposure to Von Gaylord Audio was here (NYC), back in 2001 when they went under the name Legend Audio. I remember how impressed I was with the sound coming from their suite. I'll never forget, here was a system that was composed of electronics I had never heard of. I was smitten by the sound of the Legend loudspeakers. These small two-way tykes produced a full-bodied sound that was so open, powerful and coherent, they became the talk of the show. As a newbie, I was impacted and have kept Legend Audio under my radar ever since. Yes, they were legendary indeed.
OK, fast forward to last year's (2012) CES. It was there that I ran into Ray Leung, the designer and owner of Von Gaylord Audio - formally Legend Audio - and once again, I was entranced by the sound. After listening to few tracks off my own demo CD, I sat there thinking whether to ask for a review. While in the middle of contemplating, Ray Leung asked me if I would like to do a formal review Von Gaylord products which included the UniEarth mono amplifiers; the UniPreamplifier; the Return of The Legend loudspeakers; the VS-1 Plus subwoofer and the Von Gaylord silver cables. What else could I say except Yes...Yes...Yes...Yes....and Yes....
Legend Audio Designs was started by Ray Leung and Von Gaylord back in 1994 as a small boutique audio company. It has morphed into a formidable high-end audio company which manufactures complete systems. The company name was changed to Von Gaylord Audio in 2002. This was the result of a legal dispute regarding the right to the name “Legend Audio” the dispute was with a Southern California in-wall surround sound speaker manufacturer also called Legend Audio. This company claimed they came up with the Legend Audio name first which ultimately and unfortunately led to legal entanglements that had Ray Leung in and out of court for two years. This led to Leung finally deciding to rename the company after its original designer Von Gaylord Audio. Ray Leung and Von Gaylord had designed all their products together from 1994. Today, Von Gaylord - the man - has recently retired officially from the company leaving Ray Leung is the sole designer and residing president. Ray Leung’s design philosophy is clear to anyone that has heard his products. He states it simply: “We do not settle nor do we try to compromise. We want it all: dynamics, warmth, transparency, liquidity, lifelike imaging, 3-D soundstaging and most importantly, that audiophile intangible called MUSICALITY." Leung is a passionate music lover who became an audiophile at very early age. He has always been captivated by music and the audio components that reproduce it. In addition he’s a trained classical guitarist who still plays his instrument today.
The UniEarth monoblocks
The UniEarth mono amplifiers are utilitarian tube amps which gives them an understated appearance especially in their standard black ash finish. Built and finished with top quality parts throughout, the UniEarth monos are triode designs that operate in push-pull Class A/B mode and are capable of producing 180-watts of output per chassis. This is achieved compliments of two matched pairs of KT-120 watt output vacuum tubes and 6SN7 driver tubes. The transformer and power supply are housed in the rear quarter of the chassis and in a separate enclosures. Both are complimented with high-spec oil filled capacitors along with point-to-point soldering using the company's own Legend Audio silver wire - for both power supply and signal path. Looking at the rear of the UniEarth mono amps reveals three (WBT) binding posts: one for neutral and one for 8 or 4 Ohm tap (I preferred the more lively sounding 4 Ohm tap). The UniEarth mono amps comes equipped with a single unbalanced (RCA) connection located on its rear left flank. Also located on the rear is a standard toggle ON/OFF switch, standard IEC AC plug, 15-amp fuse holder and a knob that controls the tube balance and output. The power supply appears well ventilated with air vents on each side of its cover. Of particular interest, is why Ray Leung settled on the KT-120 tubes over the more common KT-90 and 6550s. "Because, he states via email, I believe the KT-120 combined the tone of the 6550 and the warmth of the KT-90." Cleverly, the UniEarth mono amps take advantage of the Von Gaylord Audio's Efficient Tube Design: a design that allows the tubes to run cooler and more conservatively. This also ups the life expectancy of the tubes to 5 – 8 years. Von Gaylord is one of the few companies which also provides its customers with a one year warranty on tubes.
The Uni Preamp
The Unipreamp (herein UniPre), is Von Gaylord’s top-of-the-line preamplifier featuring a two-chassis design with a separate external power supply. The chassis are CNC machined finished in heavy-duty steel with an elegantly designed faceplate. a hand-etched Von Gaylord logo gives it a nice finishing touch. The front panel of the preamplifier features a simple layout design using two refined gold-plated control knobs. that provide source selection and volume control. Doesn't get more simple than that. The UniPre is designed as a dual mono Class A linestage with completely discrete left and right audio sections. One matched pair of (NOS) G.E. 6SN7s tubes are used for each channel independently. Like the UniEarth, the UniPre also boasts specialized oil filled capacitor and custom-made power transformers that are said to produce a strong current coupled with a very low noise floor. In addition the transformers are potted in a specially designed steel enclosure to further eliminate noise, hum and vibration. Like all Von Gaylord products, the UniPre is hand-soldered, using point-to-point-wiring with Legend Audio silver wire throughout. The rear of the preamp houses three RCA Ins and Outs (sorry no balanced) completed with a mute toggle switch. The power supply chassis houses the Power On toggle switch that is located on its rear. Remote control has become standard as of January 2013.
Return of The Legend and VG-1 Plus
The Return of The Legend loudspeaker (herein RoTL), is the successor of legendary "The Legend IV" loudspeaker. The former has been a staple for Legend Audio since 1993 and served as the company's centerpiece loudspeaker. The new Return of the Legend loudspeaker has been redesigned from the ground-up and features new eye-catching cabinet finishes. But at its heart is a radically redesigned 2-way crossover and other components. Essentially the RoTL is a simple rear ported two-way stand mounted design that employs a 7 1/4” Focal mid/woofer and a Focal 1 1/2” inverted dome tweeter. The crossover was designed as a true bi-wire and/or bi-amp design. As a result, the RoTLs use two custom-made crossovers totally designed in-house. These crossovers are optimized for pairing the RoTL to its low-end sibling, the VG-1 Plus subwoofer. This is more than just an add on sub-woofer dear readers. It features a dual cabinet, 10” Discovery woofer, with ported design low frequency extension. Ray Leung designed the VG-1 Plus to create a full range loudspeaker when paired with the RoTL. Cleverly, there is no adjustment of any kind that has to be made when connecting VG-1 Plus. All that is needed is a strong back to carry and place it under the RoTL and connect your existing speaker cables (a set of supplied jumpers link from the VG-1s to the RoTL). And Voila! It’s that simple. The review pair arrived finished in a gorgeous Hi-Gloss Mahogany.
After initial set up of the RoTL and VG-1 Plus, I placed them on their recommended 15” stands in the usual locations in my room - about 6-feet into the listening room and 8-feet apart and slightly towed in. The RoTL and VG-1s, though large as far as monitors are concerned looked quite small compared to the statuesque Conspiracy loudspeakers. Not quite 4-feet tall, the RoTL/VG-1 Plus was bi- wired using four single runs of the Return of the Legend speaker cables (Ray Leung recommends bi-wiring first and using jumpers as a last option). The UniEarth monoblocks and Unipreamp powered the RoTL/VG-1 Plus and the Return of the Legend Interconnects were used to connect the Pi Greco Symphonia CD player as well.
Listening to the Von Gaylord Audio System
I was very glad to know that all the equipment here under review had been fully burned in at the factory. This, of course, made my job much easier as I didn’t have to do the usual three to four week burn-in, so I could spend more time listening. But as a general rule, I do not do any serious listening until I put in about a few hundred hours of play time. Finally, I was very excited to finally get a chance to listen to this complete system (minus the CD player) from a single manufacturer. I had briefly listened to the RoTL loudspeakers as a stand-alone without the VG-1 Plus in the beginning and then later as a combo. My aim was to evaluate the Return of The Legend speakers and VG-1 Plus as a set however, I admit wholeheartedly, the sound from this mini-monitor proved way beyond my expectations. The RoTL remarkable freedom from mechanical and electronic artifacts made it easy to hear and engage in many hours of listening enjoyment. This I might add came with very little fatigue as well. The sound was full bodied with surprisingly great extension from top to bottom. Given that they are stand-mounted loudspeakers one would expect the Legends to image superbly, and they do. Mini-monitors are known and admired for their ability to disappear and right from the go, the RoTLs provided a remarkable disappearing act - easily surpassing my reference Conspiracy floorstanders. The RoTL retrieves the location of instruments, especially voices in a distinct but wide three-dimensional window. Their ability to disappear right before your eyes is their most obvious strength however the electronics present a most natural yet vivid quality themselves. This VGA created a sonic synergy that became remarkably addictive. The style and type of music didn't matter either. Whether it was standard jazz, classical or pop, the sound remained always inviting, intensively engaging with a "don't just sit there, get up and dance" sensation.
Return of The Legend + VG-1 Plus = Musical Bliss
Thus far, there were no surprises. The Von Gaylord system poured the music forth just as I remembered at CES months before. One great thing about the RoTL speaker system is that you can start out with just the RoTL loudspeakers first. Later, as your budget or opportunity permits, one can move up to the VG-1 Plus subwoofer and pair the two. Listening to The RoTL coupled with the VG-1 Plus sub system took the performance from a great monitor to a great loudspeaker period. I was able to appreciate just what a sub-bass extension does and what it can to offer up those extra octaves of low-end information. The sound with the VG-1 Plus more weight, solidity, and improved dynamics as one would expect. In addition, unlike a lot of aftermarket types, the VG-1 subwoofer blended seamlessly with the RoTLs. What I’m hearing on my recordings is far beyond my expectations and I can’t offer a good explanation. You get much more bass extension, as expected. But there are significant improvements in the voices and upper frequencies that extended up into the treble region as well. The VG-1 subwoofer seemed to offer more harmonic richness and balance to across the entire frequency spectrum. The first album I put on was one of my favorites, Danny Boy, on “Here’s To Ben Jacinta” (FIM XRCD 020). The RoTL/VG-1 Plus system reproduced Jacinta's rather unusual enunciations in a most natural and realistic manner. Jacinta's voice was deeply layered and reverberant (compliments of the recording engineers I bet). But now it was also enhanced in this loudspeaker systems vanishingly low noise floor due to two independent enclosures. The system provided the same disappearing act that has become synonymous with the Legend brand, but now with more than enough low-end energy. In the final analysis, the improved groove factor or what certain audiophiles call PRaT is what ultimately counts the most. In the case of the Von Gaylord Audio Return of the Legend and VG-1 Plus subwoofer, I constantly got the urge to dance to the music.
I really enjoyed listening to concertos and symphonies with the VGA system. One weekend I was listening to symphonies and I put on Dvorak’s Symphony N0.9 in E Minor, Op.95 and it was rendered free of any colorations whatsoever. Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony gives an outstanding performance of this classic composition. The entire VGA system handled the dramatic heights of full orchestral crescendos with absolute aplomb. The low-level ambience cues that fill in the spaces between performers, the stage and the listener transferred right into the recording venue.
I just had to see how it would perform with chamber music. And, no surprise, the VGA system rendered chamber music beautifully; the strings and piano were reproduced very naturally and in an organic way. Whether it be Mozart or Schubert, it was always engaging. Lately, I’ve been treating myself to Schubert’s string trios and Mozart’s piano trios. One evening I put on Schubert String Trio in B flat, D 581 performed by the Grumiaux Trio (Phillips 438 700-2). The strings sounded very convincing with overtones that shone with a natural sheen; instrumental textures were free of grit and grain and overall timbre was utterly involving. The music emerged from a black background; the subtle details of pitch variation and bowing texture were quite apparent and kept me emotionally involved.
Over the years, Ray Leung, has gone to considerable lengths to improve the Legend brand of loudspeakers. Today, in its current configuration, we have the Return of The Legend and to me, it sounds better and far more full-bodied with the addition of its low-end attachment the VG-1 Plus subwoofer. Von Gaylord Audio is successfully offering a complete system and lets you take the guess work out of creating a system. This gives you more time to listen and enjoy the music rather than trying to find the system synergy by mixing and matching different components. I really enjoyed my time with the Von Gaylord Audio system immensely. I have heard far more expensive components and systems which impressed me far less. In that regard, I would qualify these Von Gaylord Audio components as affordably priced. Von Gaylord Audio lets me forget about the electronics and just think about the music. Hats off to Ray Leung for creating these wonderful components. Highly recommended!
Return of the Legend Loudspeaker:
Uni Earth Mono Amplifier