VAN SCHWEIKERT AUDIO’S VR-1 STUDIO REFERENCE
|VAN SCHWEIKERT AUDIO’S VR-1 STUDIO REFERENCE|
“The saxophone is, unaided, a humorist. It looks like a sea horse and sounds like a canned fiddle.” (Music Critic writing in 1912 about an instrument that had only just begun to catch on.)
In the pages of the Stereo Times, several of my colleagues have written glowing reviews of Albert Von Schweikert’s wonderful loudspeaker products. Most recently, Alvester Garnett wrote a very insightful review of the new two-way VR-1. Due to some fortuitous circumstances, I too came across a pair of the VR-1s and decided to add my two cents about this little gem of a speaker.
Upon their arrival, I placed them into service in my small office space, which measures 8’ x ’12. The VR-1 employs several of Von Schweikert’s proprietary technologies, many of which are used in his more expensive designs. Like the critic who wrote about the sax, some may be skeptical of this newest Von Schweikert design, after all, what kind of alchemy allows him to get so much bass (down to 40Hz) out of such a small box (8” x 11” x 12”)? But as my listening sessions over these many months confirmed, these loudspeakers offer the listener many musical rewards, especially when proper room size and synergy with companion gear is realized.
The VR-1 is a dynamic two-way, using a pressure-release damping system (its small port is periodically tuned to frequencies below the driver resonance and thus provides no bass output, allowing for placement inside wall units or preferably, on sturdy stands close to back and side walls). The 165mm woofer is composed of newly devised composite cone materials (mica-impregnated acetate pulp with polymer resin damping) using a long-throw aluminum voice coil and a basket of cast polymer with venting for spider decompression and noise reduction. The 25mm tweeter is of semi-rigid composite construction utilizing textiles and synthetic damping compounds. Close attention has been paid to the cabinet design, as the VR-1 employs internal cross bracing, submarine-hull damping gaskets and proprietary stuffing designed to reduce cross talk and midrange colorations. Finally, the VR-1 employs a proprietary crossover utilizing a fourth-order acoustic filter design that claims to provide a high degree of accuracy and an improved three-dimensional image for such a diminutive speaker. The pair I had came in a ravishing cherry veneer.
I used the term “ravishing” to describe the cosmetics of my cherry veneered pair (workmanship was first rate, including attention to packaging and user-friendly manuals). This description crystallizes what I heard from the VR-1. I echo Alvester’s observations that the VR-1 offered a pleasurable full-bodied presentation, with lots of air and space surrounding musicians, in a surprisingly wide and accurate soundstage for such a small speaker. The real treat here is the upper bass and lower midrange regions, offering some of the most accurate depictions of acoustic space that I have encountered with speakers of this size. For example, listening to the St. Louis Symphony playing Aaron Copland’s 1938 one-act ballet,Billy The Kid, [EMI Classics 5736532], the “Gun Battle” begins with an explosive burst of bass, snare and low brass, punctuated by xylophone runs. It ends with a profound recession of this explosive color until nothing remains but sonic smoke. The VR1’s propelled me into this colorful scene, with bass that was quick, meaty and full, and without any bloat or smear. In my near field listening, I heard midbass and midrange notes struck and fade naturally into the soundstage in an accurate and truthful fashion. Alvester noted in his review some observation of bass “wooliness” on some cuts, but I only discerned such qualities when the VR-1 was still in its (very lengthy) required break in period. (Albert advises at least 300-400 hours of break-in time to realize the engineering target and I found this definitely to be the case with the VR-1.) This speaker reveled in high-energy, bass-driven, rock and roll, as well as electric and acoustic blues. Turn that dial up and head over to the “Gallow Pole,” from the Blue Rider Trio’s Preachin’ the Blues [Mapleshade 56962]. Jeff Sarli’s “slap” bass was produced with full weight, eerily suggesting the confines of the acoustic recording space for which Mapleshade discs are so well regarded. Turning to one of my favorite recordings for bass reproduction, Keith Richard’s eclectic, “Main Offender” [Virgin 864992], “Eileen” literally exploded out of the VR-1s with power and sizzle, with bass lines driving a tight, weighty foundation. The VR-1 is a great dynamic loudspeaker in a small space and I bet, would be great in a multi-channel setup to capture the full weight and delivery of soundtrack elements racing by.
Moving up the frequency ladder, the VR-1 captures a lot of midrange meatiness and warmth, only giving away some virtues in the mid to high treble frequencies. I agree with Alvester that the treble in general seemed a bit recessed and gave up a small amount of high frequency extension and delicacy when compared with my treble champ in the small stand-mounted speaker category, the Penaudio Rebel 2 loudspeakers. However, female vocalists on the VR-1s were still very enticing, with a warmth and rounded character that many would enjoy. A great example of this was listening to Ella Fitzgerald on her seductive Take Love Easy duet with Joe Pass [JVCXRCD0031-2]. The VR-1’s presentation of Ella’s range, from low registers to her velvet highs, was luscious and yes, ravishing. There was a harmonic richness that can’t be beat here, drawing the listener into the event and the ambiance of the recording space. In this same recording, Pass’ guitar lost a bit of its shimmer and delicate detail, in favor of a warmer and weightier presentation, that some might prefer. This does not translate to detachment from the musical event, on the contrary, it is the voluptuousness of the VR-1’s presentation that draws us in. Summing this up would be best served by a listen to the great Yo-Yo Ma and his wonderful foray into Brazilian music on his disc,Obrigado Brazil [Sony Classical 89935]. Oh, what a marvel this recording is and what breadth of vision! Through the VR-1 lens, Ma’s cello has all of the woody warmth and tension that one would like, with a tonal accuracy that is a joy to hear. When other great Brazilian musicians surround Ma, for example, on the romping “Brasileirimho,” the VR-1 offers a wide and glorious soundstage, again with a slight recessing and blending of percussion and piano color, in favor of an enveloping rich, full “Virtual Reality.”
The VR-1 is a ravishing partner who will lead you into a warmly lit soundscape filled with accurate timbre to enjoy all genres of music and dance well into the evening. It affords its vision of musicality best at low to moderate volume, perfect for small listening spaces. It should be placed on the audition list of anyone looking for a stand-mounted speaker for a small to medium listening space, especially given its pricing and musical value. Some final observations: Be aware of the long break in period necessary for this dance partner to agree to come join you on the dance floor. It can sound constrained in the bass and tinny on top before this is accomplished. Secondly, make sure to experiment with associated gear, as I found some amplifiers and cables to be much better dance partners with the VR-1. Solid-state amplifiers, with lots of headroom, speed and control were best. I used the new MBL 7008 integrated (review forthcoming) and found it best, although less powerful and less expensive solid state amps, such as the Portal Panache worked well too, but were just a little shy in getting all of the speed and bass out of the VR-1 capabilities. Cables that tended to the warmer side, such as Acoustic Zen Holograms, were less successful in bringing out the full soundstage and treble detail of the VR-1. I found Audience Au24 cables to be a perfect match, as they worked to ratchet-up the dynamic energy, detail and soundstage width of the VR-1. Highly recommended! Keep dancing, my friends.
Woofer: 6.5″ resin impregnated mica/cellulose composite cone, cast frame, high temperature voice coil, and large shielded magnet. VSA Low Distortion Motor system.
Tweeter: 1″ composite silk dome VSA tweeter with resin impregnation, large shielded magnet and high-temp voice coil. VSA Low Distortion Motor system.
Crossover: Phase-consistent Global Axis Integration Network with stacked First Order circuits configured to enable 4th order acoustic slopes for minimum cross-talk distortion and reduced lobing.
Frequency Response: 40Hz to 25 kHz (-3dB points, in-room). Anechoic Graphs included*
Impedance: 8 ohms nominal, 5 ohms min.
Sensitivity: 89 dB @one watt/one meter. (in-room, non anechoic)
Power Handling: 100 watts continuous music (200 watts per channel peak).
Minimum Power: 8 watts per channel. Single Ended Triode Amps welcome!
Dimensions: 12″ x 8″ x 11″
Weight: 13lbs ea. (28 lbs packed pair for shipping)
Inputs: 5-way rhodium plated binding posts.
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor, excluding burned voice coils due to amplifier clipping.
Von Schweikert Audio
930 Armorlite Dr.
San Marcos, California 92069
Phone: (760) 410-1650
Fax: (760) 410-1655
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