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February 2004
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine Von Schweikert Audio VR-2 Reference Grade Tower Loudspeaker
Review by Wayne Donnelly
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

Von Schweikert Audio VR-2 Loudspeaker  As noted in my November 2003 review of the VR-1, I first heard that minimonitor, the VR-S/1 subwoofer and the subject of this review, the compact floorstanding VR-2, at the 2003 CES. These "entry-level" offerings reflect VSA's approach to marketing in the highly competitive $1K-$3K price range. All three are made in China from Albert Von Schweikert's designs, including custom-designed transducers. VSA's familiar brown cloth-wrapped enclosures have given way to smoothly finished cabinets in a choice of four clear-coated wood veneers: blonde maple (the color of my review pair), dark cherry, black ash or African Hazelwood.

 

For Detailed Technical Information

The VSA website provides several pages on the VR-2. This includes detailed descriptions of the drivers, crossover and cabinet construction; clearly presented graphs and discussions of the loudspeaker's impedance curves and transmission line characteristics; and comprehensive specifications. Expectedly, these manufacturer's descriptions are entirely positive, and they are obviously intended to sell the reader on the technical superiority of the VR 2's design elements. But the descriptions are by no means egregiously "salesy," and there is much to be learned by reading them. Since all of that important information is only a click away, I see no point in paraphrasing it here. My commentary will focus primarily on audio performance; I strongly encourage any reader interested in exploring the many technical details of this loudspeaker to visit Von Schweikert's website.

 

First Look

When the pair of shipping cartons arrived, they sported several additional layers of cardboard "end caps" at both ends—an intelligent and economical way to combat the "let's-drop-it-off-the-truck-and-see-if-we-can-smash-in-a-corner scenario so beloved by delivery drivers everywhere. 

Unpacked, the VR-2s convey an impression of simplicity and matter-of-fact competence. The cabinets are plain, verging on stark; the only departure from pure rectangularity is a narrow 45-degree bevel surrounding the black grille cloth. The grille extends the bevel effect by maintaining that 45-degree slant for about an inch. All other edges and corners are 90 degrees. A black-lacquered MDF plinth screws into the bottom of the cabinet to provide a larger footprint and lessen the likelihood of knocking over a loudspeaker, and adequately sturdy spikes are supplied to screw into the plinth. 

Closely grouped vertically at the top of the front baffle are a coated fabric dome tweeter and two 6.5-inch drivers, one serving as a mid/bass driver, the other as a dedicated woofer. A fourth "ambience retrieval" driver located on the rear panel delivers out-of-phase-to-the-front music; its output is regulated by a rotary control. Two pairs of rhodium-plated copper binding posts enable bi-wiring, and jumpers are supplied for single-wiring. At the bottom of the rear panel is the transmission line port.

 

From the Bottom To The Top

After about a month of home theater/break-in service in my secondary system, the VR-2s came downstairs to play with the big boys. While they do not in most respects challenge the resident Von Schweikert-custom-modified, eight-times-more-costly Eggleston Andra Iis, the VR-2s are quite at home in the context of my reference system. They share with their smaller sibling VR-1 and other VSA loudspeakers I have heard an engaging "personality" that seems quickly and effortlessly to draw me into the music. That quality is particularly evident with the wire-frame fabric grilles removed, and all of my listening was with the drivers exposed. 

The modest dimensions (40 x 8 x 16, HxWxD in inches) of the VR-2 simply do not prepare you for the depth and power of its bass response. VSA specifies the –3dB frequency [i.e., one-half of flat amplitude response] at 25Hz, and I believe it. Listening to one of my favorite bass torture tests, Leonard Bernstein's Candide Overture on Reference Recordings CD, I am amazed to hear that these little loudspeakers deliver the massive bass drum strokes more authoritatively than do my pricey Egglestons, going deeper and louder without doubling the woofers!

The VR-2's rhythmic agility, clear pitch definition and gutsiness continued to impress, whether on orchestral bass drums and low strings, the fleet Bluegrass acoustic bass of Union Station, the subtly colored shadings of Patricia Barber's bassist Michael Arnopol, or the synthesized crunch of a Laurie Anderson arrangement. 

After a couple of weeks I began occasionally to find the bass a bit larger than life on some music — nothing serious, but now and then a touch "plump." Deciding to break down and RTFM, I discovered that the VR-2 incorporates a hollow chamber that can be filled with shot to damp bass resonance. After consulting with VSA, I added 10 lbs. of lead shot to each enclosure to be about half to two-thirds full. The result was just what I was hoping for: a subtly leaner and quicker bass attack and decay. On many recordings the difference was virtually indistinguishable, but on recordings that had previously sounded somewhat overripe the extra modicum of control was perfect. (In fairness, I must report that I have spoken to VR-2 owners who are perfectly content with the undamped out-of-the-box bass performance. It's really more a matter of taste than a flaw that demands correction.) 

Bass performance is far from the whole story of the VR-2. I alluded earlier to their relaxed and engaging presentation, and I attribute much of that quality to the VR-2's smoothly balanced midrange character and successful transition through the mid-bass frequencies — a degree of refinement that speaks well for Albert Von Schweikert's transducer and crossover designs. Low-level detail resolution, while bettered by a number of much higher-priced loudspeakers, is outstanding at under $3,000 per pair. 

I am particularly impressed with the VR-2's ability to project the weight and harmonic richness of the piano, as well as the emotional warmth, the "flesh" of my favorite instrument(s), the human voice in all its permutations — from Howlin' Wolf to Renee Fleming, and all points in between. Any loudspeaker that can do that is a winner in my book. 

When I first began the "official" VR-2 review process in my reference rig, the one area that seemed to fall short of the loudspeaker‘s general overachievement was the high frequencies. Not that they were bad; there was ample extension and detail, but the tweeter sounded slightly coarse and spatially restricted compared to the outstanding bass and midrange. That phenomenon turned out to be a matter of break-in; after another three weeks of heavy service the treble became more relaxed, open and "airy. " This tweeter may not be the ultimate in resolution and refinement, but its performance when fully broken in is hard to fault, especially at this price point. Overall, the octave-to-octave balance of the VR-2 is excellent.

 

Spacey Enough

The VR-2 throws a satisfactorily large soundscape, with good depth. The loudspeakers "turn loose," quite effectively, so that there is little sense of the music being anchored to the loudspeaker cabinets. Interestingly, the small VR-1s — which share the same tweeter and mid/bass drivers produce an even broader soundscape, with greater height. They also "lock" images — individual voices, solo instruments, etc. — with slightly more precision and stability than the VR-2s. That's no big surprise; spatial cues are largely in the upper frequencies, and given the limited bass output of the minimonitors the listener's attention is drawn toward the high frequencies. The differences between the two are not great, and even if they were, the VR-2's far superior bass and dynamics are more than ample compensation.

 

Compatibilities, Strengths And Weaknesses

The VR-2s performed enjoyably enough in my reference system that I seldom pined for my Andras. Throughout the several weeks of the review period I gave them a very thorough workout, sometimes pushing them with my 750-watt VTL Reference monoblocks to output levels well beyond what they could reasonably be expected to handle. Yes, they can be driven to become stressed and "shouty," but that requires truly unreasonable playback levels. At robust volumes that do not endanger one's hearing, the VR-2s can party all night. 

At the other end of the power spectrum, the VR-2s also perform very well, and play quite loudly, with the 40 WPC Jolida 202A that drives my secondary system. If you examine the impedance graphic on the VSA web site, you can see that the VR-2's impedance curve falls almost entirely between 10 and 20 ohms, which makes them unusually tube-friendly even to fairly low-powered amplifiers. 

Weaknesses? Nothing that can't be related to price. The VR-2s are fine all-round loudspeakers, and I really enjoyed my time with them. I am hard pressed to think of another loudspeaker at this price that offers so much musical pleasure. Enthusiastically recommended!

 

ABOUT THE NUMERICAL RATINGS: The reader should bear in mind that the following numerical ratings are intended to reflect ABSOLUTE values, not relative "for the money" performance. Too often there is a tendency toward "grade inflation," leading to the assumption, for example that a $1,000/pair loudspeaker scoring, say, 60 on bass response has poor bass performance. Actually that would be an excellent score. Can we really expect $1,000 loudspeakers to approach the performance of designs costing 5, 10, 20...100 times more? The scoring range is 0-100, not 90-100!

 

Tonality

91

Sub-bass (10 Hz - 60 Hz)

85

Mid-bass (80 Hz - 200 Hz)

85

Midrange (200 Hz - 3,000 Hz)

89

High-frequencies (3,000 Hz on up)

85

Attack

90

Decay

90

Inner Resolution

87

Soundscape width front

89

Soundscape width rear

87

Soundscape depth behind loudspeakers

87

Soundscape extension into the room

85

Imaging

87

Fit and Finish

86

Self Noise

NA

Value for the Money

96

 

Specifications

System Type: 3-way, 4-driver system, with Transmission-line woofer design

Woofer System: Twin 165mm (6.5") composite cone drivers

Treble System: 1" (25mm) fabric dome tweeter with soft resin damping layers, low distortion motor, Ferrofluid liquid cooling/damping, and long-throw voice coil and motor assembly

Damping System: Resonance Trap cavity provided for insertion of lead shot.

Crossover: Global Axis Integration Network, 4th order slopes using cascaded 1st order filters at 200Hz and 2.2kHz. Polypropylene caps and air-core inductors are utilized. All drivers are connected in phase.

Ambience Driver: 1" (25mm) soft dome tweeter with wave guide mounted at rear of the cabinet and Dimension Control for effects level adjustment, calibrated

Frequency Response: 25Hz to 25kHz, -3dB (+/- 1dB in the midrange).

Sensitivity: 87.5dB/W/m anechoic, 90dB in room.

Impedance: 8 ohms nominal, 7 ohms low to 20 ohms high.

Power Handling: 20 watts minimum, 200 watts maximum r.m.s., 500 watts peak.

Wire Connection: Five-way binding posts, fitted for 6mm spade lugs, with CE approved sheathing. Twin pairs are fitted, for bi-wiring or bi-amplifying. Jumper straps are supplied.

Warranty: Ten years conditional, excluding abuse and/or burnt voice coils due to clipping. Warranty is transferable to the second owner.

Dimensions: 40 x 8 x 16 (HxWxD in inches)

Weight: 66 lbs raw, 85 lbs with sand, 95 lbs with lead shot

Price: $2,595 per pair

 

Company Information

Von Schweikert Audio
1040 - A Northgate St.
Riverside, CA 92507

Voice: (951) 682-0706
Fax: (951) 682-6701
E-mail: info@vonschweikertaudio.com
Website: www.VonSchweikertAudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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