For those who have lusted after, yet thought they could not afford a full sized Von Schweikert loudspeaker it is time to re-adjust your thinking. The new VR-35 Export Deluxe is here at a price of only $7995. This was released shortly after the introduction of the even less expensive VR-33 ($3750) but while similar in outward appearance is different in some very important areas. Not counting these two new models the least expensive Von Schweikert Audio floor standing model currently produced is the UniField 3 ($15,000), then the VR-4 Signature Limited Edition (starting at $20,000 depending upon finish), the VR-5 Anniversary Mk2 ($30,000), the VR-9SE Mk2 ($90,000) to finally arrive at the very top of the lineup with the VR-11SE ($175,000). After discovering the VR-35 listed for only $7995 my eyes widened with great anticipation and delight to the prospect of being able to afford a Von Schweikert loudspeaker of my very own without sacrificing my son’s college tuition. Talking via email and over the phone to the company’s founder, chief engineer and CEO Albert Von Schweikert, I learned a great deal about the VR-35 and its design concepts.
While the VR-33 was built with an eye towards a more budget conscious consumer the VR-35 takes that same design to an entirely new level in both performance and cost. While the VR-35 Export Deluxe lists at just over twice the price of a VR-33 it does so for some very important reasons. This price increase allows the manufacturer to cover differences in cabinet design, transducers, binding posts and crossovers. The VR-35 has extra damping in specific areas with an additional 2.75 inches of artificial stone and rubberized felt bonded onto the inner surfaces thus increasing each loudspeakers weight from 103 to 112 pounds. The VR-35 incorporates the use of premium drivers, hand-picked at the factory for Grade-A response (+/- 1dB), while the VR-33 uses less expensive Grade-B response drivers (+/- 1.5dB). With the VR-33 you get satin finished rhodium plated posts while the VR-35 has five-way binding posts with a polished rhodium plate for better looks, sound and a much welcomed bi-wiring option. With the VR-33 you get expensive crossovers from Mundorf as well as Clarity Capacitors from Germany and England. Built into the VR-35 you have upgraded US-made copper foil and Teflon dielectric caps manufactured for VSA by a major OEM company. These last changes alone have a combined retail cost of $3,600, as 6 pcs are needed (3 in each loudspeaker) with a retail cost of about $600 each. The decision to make this change came about because as good as the Mundorf caps are the company found the addition of these foil and Teflon caps to allow the VR-35 to obtain an even greater degree of transparency than with the VR-33 speakers.
“The VR-35’s sound good in the larger room, since they will put out a high SPL level and have powerful bass response, making the VR-35 useful for a large cross section of audiophiles. However, they do shine in smaller rooms, where a large speaker would not work due to bass overload."
"The general idea of the VR-35 Export Deluxe is to provide a speaker that can be placed close to a wall, since many people are downsizing their homes and do not have the space for a free-field speaker system that needs to be placed several feet into the room. In order to keep the speakers from overloading a small room with excessive bass, the woofer and tuning chambers were expressly designed to be placed from several inches to a couple of feet from the wall behind the speakers. The woofer needed to have a very fast transient response in order to keep up with the twin 6” full range units on the front of the speaker, and the amplitude pressure was designed to be “flat” by using the rear wall’s boost. An added benefit of “boundary bass loading” is that the resistance of the air pressure close to the wall provides extra mechanical and resistive damping to the cone motion, keeping the bass very tight. In fact, we have not heard bass as tight as the VR-35’s, except for electrostatic head phones."
"In the event that the speakers will be placed close to a room corner, the vent output at the rear can be stuffed with Dacron pillow stuffing. In most rooms, corner loading provides more bass power than the rear wall boundary, since there is the intersection of two different walls to boost the bass pressure. We have found that corner loading works fine, as long as the speakers are pulled away from the corner by several inches. This is done “by ear,” using incremental movements of one or two inches at a time while listening to a bass-heavy sound track. The port is stuffed with one large handful of Dacron, the size of a small grapefruit or a large orange, and this ball of Dacron will stay in the port without falling down into the chambers if it is large enough to require “cramming” it into the vent opening.”
My lovely wife and I adore the idea of having loudspeakers situated near the rear wall thusly opening up additional space and creating an uncluttered look within the room. My previous Legacy Focus 20/20 and Magnepan MGIII-A loudspeakers sounded best about three to four feet forward from my rear wall taking up a good deal of real estate. With that in mind these new VR-35’s were an immediate hit in my household, not only with their placement but the all black model review pair blended into the background quite nicely. The VR-35 has a trapezoidal shaped cabinet thereby doing away with parallel side walls. Looking inside there are five internal shelves located at critical points in order to help dampen cabinet wall vibration. Shelf braces are used to isolate the woofer from the bass-midrange waves. On the front panel you will find two twin six inch (170mm) bass-mid range Scanspeak drivers with composite cones consisting of paper, plastic, resin, and carbon fiber. Located between those drivers is aOne-inch (25mm) Silk Dome Dual Ring Wide Surround Radiator to handle those high frequency chores. It would have been nice to see those beautiful drivers but they remained hidden from view behind the cloth covering encasing the loudspeakers. Once the music commenced all thoughts of unseen drivers swiftly dissipated leaving me alone to just enjoy the music. The VR-35, like other loudspeaker systems, uses the M-T-M array setup, having the tweeter mounted in-between two bass-midrange drivers for an increased sound field with better imaging and off-axis response. Looking around to the back of the cabinet is a ten inch (250mm) rear-firing Scan-Design woofer crossed over at 80 Hz using a Triple Chambered Transmission Line hybrid. Below this woofer are binding posts for use with single or bi-wire cables. Analysis Plus wiring is used inside the cabinets which is a common trait found on even their more expensive models. The VR-35’s cabinet comes in a choice of three finishes with custom requests available at an extra charge. The standard finishes are aluminum, pure black and mocha, each with similar tone matching caps. The review sample came in a pure black cloth outer covering with a piano black finish on both the top and bottom caps. They were very elegant looking indeed, meeting with my wife’s high standard of approval.
“If you do not achieve “goose bumps” when you are listening to the VR-35 Export Deluxe speakers, you have not achieved their full potential — please call us or email for help.”
When you lock these loudspeakers in tune with your room and your listening position you will instantly know it. There was no subtle change taking place but rather one dramatic event not to be overlooked or mistaken. For me a broad smile appeared on my face and a song erupted in my heart as I got up onto my feet to dance with excitement. This transition from brand new to fully broken-in took the VR-35’s from sounding just better than average to a loudspeaker that could be called inspirational. Yes it was quite a change indeed and well worth the extra time and effort required to get there.
When talking on the phone with Albert Von Schweikert he offered to have me call for any needed advice in regards to loudspeaker placement. At the same time he assured me this was not preferential treatment reserved for the press but available to all his customers. He emphasized to me that he openly encourages owners of his products to contact him for help whenever needed and in an additional flyer sent to Von Schweikert customers along with their VR-35’s it that states, “… don’t hesitate to contact us if there’s anything else we can do...” It appears that a “customer for life” concept is at work here, working both for the company and even more so for the consumer. I like it! Back to the specifics of setup, it really should not matter much where the VR-35’s were placed within my own room as each consumer’s room will be somewhat different and these loudspeakers are sensitive to movements by as little as just a few inches. You will need to figure out for yourself where to place them with respect to your particular room but I can offer you a few guidelines.
They liked being close to the rear and out from the side walls, away from direct corner placement. The were placed eight feet apart in a room that was thirteen feet wide (with a cathedral ceiling reaching a peak of thirteen feet in the middle) where they worked just wonderful for me. Toe in was not necessary as they were designed to be listened to off axis and getting them off the floor with the provided spikes and cones proved beneficial in tightening up the bass and clearing up the midrange. This being said, you can still place them in the corners and use Dacron pillow stuffing in the rear firing port to tame any excessive bass or place them further apart to fifteen feet or more when used in larger rooms. Also if you find you need to you can toe them in very slightly if you are placing them far apart. Oh yes and give them power if you really enjoy listening to deep bass at loud listening levels for that is what you will need to properly control that rear firing ten inch woofer. Otherwise you can listen with tube or solid-state amplifiers with as little as only twenty watts if you prefer. For me even my Audio Research with its forty-five watts of tube power provided me with great enjoyment. When needed my Threshold 800A with its 200-watts of Class A power stepped in for times when those lower powered amplifiers could just not produce enough bass slam during high volume listening sessions.
For my normal everyday usage though my Audio Research amplifier with 45-watts of tube amplification was quite satisfying, paired to both my tube Aesthetix Calypso preamplifier and McIntosh MR67 tube tuner. Tubes, I just love them and so did the VR-35’s. With so many variables you can see why placement within your room requires careful attention but remember these loudspeakers have the potential to provide incredible rewards for all the effort you might put forth. Before leaving the setup section one word of advice concerning installation of the top and bottom caps. Even I was able to install them by myself, but it was much easier when placed on a carpet or cloth with the top portion facing down to install the bottom caps first. Then they could be turned over face up to install the top caps. Doing this it was not necessary for me to ask for assistance, although you probably should as they are quite heavy. I actually wanted help but they were delivered before anyone was home yet and the temptation to hear them immediately was just too great. It was different when installing the bottom spikes and cones, my twenty-four year old son was called upon to help dad out here as I dared not try this alone, but working together as a team this was no problem at all.
So Let the Music Begin
My initial worry concerning the VR-35 was with its placement needs in that they must be very used so close to the rear wall. In the back of my mind was the thought this might have an adverse effect on depth of soundscape but those fears were quickly put to rest once the listening sessions began. After playing some selections this quickly became a non-issue as song after song exhibited a deep soundscape and left me shaking my head in wonder at how they were able to do such a wonderful job. Randy Travis's OLD 8 X 10 [Warner Bros. 9 25738-2] CD "Honky Tonk Moon" exhibited that magical tube mid-range people yearn for. The combination of my McIntosh MC275 with Genelex KT88 output tubes and the incredible VR-35’s was stunning. Picking up the pace a tad with "Is It Still Over?" the VR-35's did not miss a beat with enough PRAT to satisfy even this old audiophile. They had a way of making music sound natural and closer to a live performance than I would have expected from this modestly priced loudspeaker and not just when combined with tube amplifiers but also when used in conjunction with solid-state amplification as well. When playing The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Silent Night [CBS Masterworks MK 37206] CD "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel’s "Messiah" the VR-35’s delivered a soundscape which as the saying goes was, "as wide as all outdoors". Music emanating from the loudspeakers extended to the farthest left and right boundaries of my room. They were also able to produce a performance exhibiting great height to rival my taller Legacy Focus 20/20's with row upon row of singers from the choir layered both high and deep. On "Silent Night" voices actually seemed to rise above the loudspeakers as if extending outward to fill a full sized Church. It felt like being in front of a choir listening to this performance live. Breathtaking is the word that immediately comes to mind when describing the VR-35's as song after song gave new meaning to my old CDs.
Now though it was time to put aside my 75-watt tube amplifier and proceed with the rest of the review using the 200-watt Threshold mentioned earlier. Being that James Taylor's CD Hourglass [Columbia CS 67912] in SACD format is not only a good test of mid-range vocal presence but also has some deep drum/percussion passages, made me decide this is where the session shall start. As soon as the first song "Line 'Em Up" rolled out of the VR-35's you could tell something good was occurring. A few moments into the song a low bass presence could be felt stirring beneath the surface as if waiting to explode. There was this strong sense of power waiting to be fully unleashed with a further turn of the volume control on my Aesthetix Calypso preamplifier. Background vocals had a subtle clarity to them providing a sense of space distinct and separate from the main singer, James Taylor. Preceding to the song "Gaia" you must be a little patient for it is not until about three quarters of the way through this song that you experience an incredible solid “rolling bass” effect. Knowing when in the song that moment of impact would occur, I would then crank the volume up loud to get its full effect. At first there was a solid low end presence from the right loudspeaker only and then it rolled across the floor over to the left channel with impressive authority before easing back to the right loudspeaker once more. At high volumes within my 13' by 17' room the VR-35's filled its empty space with tight powerful bass making my chest fill with excitement from its impact. So impressive was this that I just had to play this track over and over.
Remember when you were a kid and would ride the roller coaster all day just to have that visceral feeling you get when going over that spot where the drop is the steepest and most exciting? Well that is how playing this song through the VR-35's made me feel. As you can tell by now these loudspeakers impressed me on many levels and yet there was still more to come. One recommendation though, when using them on a hard wood floor put them up on the supplied metal spikes and coasters. Lifting the VR-35's up off the floor made for a much tighter better controlled bass that was preferable to leaving them flat on the floor. Playing "Gaia" without the spikes made for an even greater pronunciation of the bass rolling from one loudspeaker to the other but at the cost of smearing the bass. I definitely recommend elevating them up on their spikes in order to tame the effects of too much of a good thing. Although not nearly as bass heavy is the song "America" from Neil Diamond's LP The Jazz Singer (EMI Swav 12120) which moves me whenever played back on quality audio equipment. This is a great album and the VR-35's did it proper justice. With these loudspeakers played back at very loud levels his songs came across with great authority, just what you would want from a Neil Diamond concert as he is known to generating great power during performances.
Of course he can also charm you with love songs such as "Hello Again", a ballad that could melt even the hardest of hearts. Listening to the details of his voice as it resonated adding warmth to this performance make for a very intimate effect. The decay of those final few delicate notes of piano keys hung around long enough to sound convincing as did the image and size of the instrument. Bringing back memories from my distant past Donovan's LP Barabajagal (EPIC BN 25481) was dug out of my vast record collection to start with the title song with the same name. For those not quite familiar with Donovan he was a great ballad singer turning out some very lovely albums. Here joined by The Jeff Beck Group and two background singers (Lesley and Madeleine) he added a new twist to his repertoire of songs. It was a bit different than his normal ballads yet very entertaining getting me up from my normal listening position to stand and listen while moving about a bit. Even when the music compels you to move around the VR-35’s will not disappoint sounding good from various different places around the room. With the song, "Happiness Runs” you again get that great mid-range magic as the VR-35's captures the tone of his beautiful accented voice loud and clear. It was back in 1969 when attending the University of Tampa, in Tampa Florida, that as a young college student I saw Donovan in concert. It was quite a nice experience as he played at floor level in a rather close setting. There surrounded by flowers (remember it was the 60's) he was well received by the small gathering of young people in attendance. Lucky for me that years ago I stumbled across a European pressing of Berlioz's Symphony Funebre Et Triomphale featuring the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Colin Davis with the John Alldis Choir. The excellence of the choral ensemble was evident giving the VR-35's ability to produce an enormous soundscape front to back left to right. This gave the impression of a much larger than normal listening space laid out in my review room. As for the Orchestra itself the combination of 200-watts and these loudspeakers made for a very dynamic performance. Even during softer passage the music was alive and vibrant giving off a controlled texture to individual instruments that made listening fatigue a non-factory with the VR-35’s.
Before departing the world of vinyl a short visit to Elvis Presley's Elvis 30 #1 hits (RCA 07863-68079-1) two record LP set seemed to me mandated. Here a listen to his golden toned baritone voice with its wide range of vocal registration could clearly be observed. What is nice about these LP's is they showcase the wide variety of musical styles Elvis’ career encompassed. He sang everything from rock and rock all the way to gospel music. Picking a few songs from so many was difficult as Elvis had the ability to make each song his own and to emotionally involve the audience with that performance. If you want to be pulled back in time to a very young Elvis listen to "Hound Dog" with its youthful high intensive effort. Here the VR-35’s with their high quality drivers never had any trouble at all keeping up to this fast paced exuberant song. Need to slow it down to a crawl, play "Love Me Tender" then sit back feeling the strong emotional commitment Elvis brings to a song. With "Crying in The Chapel" you get to experience not only his magnificent voice but also those of the background singers too. Their voices blended in very clear but separate and distinct from his own. Of course what would a trip to Elvis’ hit songs be if not to play "In The Ghetto", a song to bring tears to all who listen, especially with the VR-35s way with vocals and its distinct mid-range clarity.
Wrapping up this review a short trip back to the land of CD’s is in order. It is harder to imagine a nicer rendition of the Polyphonic Dialogues (2L63) without the piano actually being their live before me. The feeling one gets with respect to the actual size of the piano, the spaciousness of the music and its tonal quality all pleased me to no end. The VR-35's provided me with great entertainment lasting long into the dark night with only my own weariness interrupting this pleasurable and quite memorial experience. This particular recording from 2L is extraordinary in itself but coupled with these loudspeakers helped create a truly extraordinary event. Another note of interest is how unnecessary it was to play this CD loud in order to enjoy its sonic merits, the VR-35's sounded beautiful even at low listening levels for those moments when it was proper not to disturb other members of my family. Taking out another CD from my 2L collection of music is the OLD BULL Violin Concertos (2L67), one which has provided me with many thoroughly enjoyable moments. Here the sound of violins had an uncanny smoothness to their playing as all CD shrillness or edge was lost with only the sweetness of the instrument remaining for my listening pleasure. The backdrop of the symphony was not to be lost either as when called upon to perform it did with all the dynamic detail that was necessary. Percussion and horn sections were displayed with tonal accuracy and in vivid detail. Falling back now on a favorite CD of mine with the playing of YO-YO MA & Friends Songs of Joy & Peace [Sony Classical 88697-24414-2] it is very easy to find so many great performances from many various musicians and singers. James Taylor adds a unique and beautiful twist to the Beatles song "Here Comes the Sun" with his own style of performance as it lay against a backdrop of cello music from Yo-Yo Ma. Here the VR-35's allow one to hear all the intricate details of bow against instrument and the tonal qualities of the singer’s voice. It would be easy yet pointless to keep going on about how glorious music sounded when these loudspeakers were setup appropriately in a proper listening environment. So this review will end with a brief summation of my experience with these charming loudspeakers from Albert Von Schweikert that were able to play many types of different music so well with seemingly little effort on their part.
The Listening Environment
Von Schweikert Audio