A decade ago I encountered a loudspeaker from the famous Austrian piano maker Bosendorfer. It was called a VC7, was designed by Salzburg resident Hans Deutsch, and was intriguingly different from the norm. However, in 2008 Bosendorfer was taken over by the Japanese multi-national Yamaha, which also makes pianos and loudspeakers amongst other devices (including motorcycles!). Inevitably perhaps, Yamaha was much more interested in Bosendorfer's piano than its loudspeaker businesses, so I wasn't too surprised when the speaker range disappeared.
However, a year or two later I met Deutsch again at the Munich show, only this time his loudspeaker range was being relaunched under the Joseph Brodmann brand. I've never been a big fan of pianos or piano music, so wasn't aware of the Brodmann name, but gather that Ignaz Bosendorfer was originally an apprentice to Joseph Brodmann early in the nineteenth century. History and the politics of Viennese piano making aside, the Brodmann VC7 looks very similar indeed to the Bosendorfer speaker of the same name that I originally encountered ten years ago. The price has increased significantly during the interregnum, indeed by rather more than inflation might have suggested: versions now start at £13,790/pair (or rather £15,495/pair in the very attractive burr walnut finish of the review pair), and also include still more costly examples which incorporate marquetry.
The brand is imported to the UK by NuNu Distribution, which distributes a number of brands including TAD (Technical Audio Devices Laboratories), an autonomous US-based operation originally founded by Pioneer. Although TAD is better known for its hi-tech speakers, it also makes a comprehensive collection of electronics, including a powerful (500W/ch) M2500 digital stereo power amp (£17,995), an example of which was supplied to drive the speakers. While it certainly sounded rather good, I made the decision early on to focus this review on the loudspeakers.
Deutsch's current speaker operation has now been around for more than a decade, though he's actually been designing and building loudspeakers for more like forty years. His approach is both unusual and radical, rejecting conventional resonance control techniques, such as physical damping materials (and indeed complex, steep-slope crossover networks), and making the controversial statement: "Without resonances, there cannot be lifelike sound". His intention is to view the loudspeaker cabinet as a vibrating, resonant body, in order to allow: "the creation of a three-dimensional, transparent, true-to-life sound".
Although techniques like crossover simplicity and the avoidance of damping materials both have their adherents, deliberately adding resonances is very much at variance with normal loudspeaker design practice, so these Brodmann speakers will inevitably sound rather different from the norm.
Not only is the enclosure proper left undamped, it's equipped with what are called 'acoustic sound boards'. There are two for each speaker; each has an area of 132x17cm, a depth of 1.8cm, and is spaced out from but attached by strategic fasters to the sides of the enclosure. These panels cover and are somewhat excited by the reflex ports that are (presumably) also set into the sides. (These ports are not visible directly, but their existence is revealed in the impedance trace.) The panels will also be excited by enclosure panel vibrations coupled through their mounting studs. A justification for these added resonators is that many 'real' (acoustic) instruments don't create music by 'pumping air' with small speaker diaphragms: instruments like 'cellos, basses, pianos and so on work by generating microscopic movement in large panels.
Amidst eleven loudspeaker models in toto, this VC7 is the largest of three stereo floorstanders in Brodmann's Classic range. At 19.5 x 133 x 40.3cm (WxHxD), it's a tall, deep but also very slim speaker, so the visual impact isn't as dramatic as the dimensions might suggest. The carcase is presumably MDF or similar, but the real wood high gloss veneer that decorates the front panel and the soundboards on our samples is of the very highest standards. Said veneer work covers more than half the visible area, the rest being finished in high gloss black, alongside the fabric covering the two full height grilles. The latter are quite large and have nicely angled front edges, though the frame around the drivers is left unchamfered.
A proper plinth ensures good overall stability in all directions, and the speakers are supplied with pretty gilded spikes. However, the UK distributor was keen to 'float' the VC7s on the Townshend decoupling springs that I normally use with my B&W 800 and PMC IB2SE points of reference, so this was done instead, and presumably did their usual job of cleaning up the bottom end (and removing some resonances!) on my wooden floor. The driver line-up is very unconventional. This is essentially a simple two-way reflex-loaded design, but actually uses no fewer than six drive units. The front panel features just a pair of tweeters, apparently identical devices with 25mm soft dome diaphragms in doped fabric. On each side and in vertically staggered locations are two small bass/mid drivers with cast frames, relatively stiff surrounds, and 95mm diameter paper cones. Signal is fed via a single pair of terminals low down on the rear.
Starting with the negatives, my measuring microphone shows a substantial (c10dB) excess 50-80Hz; a dip 100-150Hz; and a -5dB zone above 6kHz. Furthermore, because the port is tuned to 50Hz here, output is very limited through the very lowest octave. On the plus side, however, the broad midband from 150Hz right up to 2.2kHz holds within ±2dB, and stays within ±3dB from 125Hz to 6kHz, which is very creditable indeed.
That 50-80Hz excess is probably largely due to the port tuning exciting a major room mode, while the -5dB upper treble may well be down to interference between the tweeters, though neither of these problems seems to have as much subjective consequences as one might have anticipated. I was quite surprised that the loss of output through the very top octave wasn't rather more obvious. Even though the sound might have had a little more 'air' and 'sparkle', I have to conclude that the largely flat and relatively smooth broad midband and presence zones dominated the proceedings and took precedence over the problem areas.
Sensitivity is a generous 92dB, though that is substantially down to a relatively low and hence current-hungry impedance, which hovers around 3.3ohms through much of the bass and midband (rising slowly but surely above 500Hz until it reaches 6ohms at 10kHz). However, that observation makes it abundantly clear that this will be a fairly difficult amplifier load. Interestingly, although the bass tuning looks slightly different, the tiny glitches visible at around 150Hz and 280Hz (presumably due to undamped enclosure modes) are exactly the same as those recorded with the Bosendorfer VC7 some ten years earlier.
The VC7 may not be an 'accurate' speaker in the monitoring meaning of the word, but it is an intensely musical one that lovers of acoustic instruments, and classical music in particular, are likely to find extremely seductive. And although the overall sound might be a little too 'warm' for some tastes, the timing is actually very good on rock material, perhaps because of the essential simplicity of its two-way configuration.
The stereo imaging is a little odd, presumably because of the unusual drive unit positions and the relatively high proportion of reflected sound. Precise positional information isn't available here, but in my opinion much the same is true of the concert hall experience, and the ability to imitate acoustic instruments in apparently natural surroundings actually makes this speaker a fascinating experience, much of which is down to its fine dynamic realism.