I have the "SE" version. Tibes are what Bobby uses. The M's also come in a Solid State configuration which is what i'll upgrade to.
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I had the Rowland Model 10 driving the Merlin VSM-SEs at one point. I also used several other top amps on the Merlins, including BAT VK-60, Fi 300B SET, Atma-Sphere M60 MkII OTLs, and Levinson 334. None of them really worked, the Merlins are fatiguing speakers long-term. I replaced them first with Meadowlarks and now with Kharmas, both speakers are much more enjoyable than Merlins. YMMV.
PS--I tried various Cardas, JPS, Analysis Plus, Nordost, TG Audio, Tara Labs, and Transparent Audio cables with the Merlins. Nothing cured the "in-your-face" nature of the Merlins, though the Analysis Plus was (surprisingly to me) the least objectionable of the lot, even more than Bobby's long-term reference, Cardas Golden Cross and now Golden Reference.
I've used my Merlins with a Pass Aleph 3, a Bel Canto SETi40, a 47 Labs Gaincard, an old Luxman M2000, a NAD 960(?), and an old COunterpoint SA100 (all with Golden Cross ICs and speaker cable). My fave was the Counterpoint, but the speakers worked well with all of the amps. The old VSM-SE were heavily damped to match amps with lower damping rates (usually tube), but the new Millenium versions offer a choice of wiring harnesses to match tube (T-harness) or solid state (S-harness). The Dynaudio Esotar tweeters are very revealing in the top-end, but I've never found them to be fatiguing. The Audio Review write-ups of the Millenium version mention them having more body, but I haven't upgraded yet. I would definitely recommend trying them with your Rowland amp before buying.
Hey folks I just have to comment on the Merlin speakers, (as being a previous owner of many of their speakers)how far can you extend the current design, it is the same sized cabinet as what they started this speaker with and I believe the price was approx. $2500-$3000/pr..I see they arenow offering another version of this speaker for $8000/pr.. Where is the $5000/pr.increase coming from?
Just my two cents worth.
i dont know why anyone would call the merlins bright or fatiguing. they're not. they're neutral. few other speakers are. what will happen is you will hear the intrinsic characteristic of your rowland amp (as well as your ICs &CDP). one of the fun things about merlins is that every change you make is obvious--garbage in, garbage out (well, not GARBAGE out, but you get the idea). sounds like you've got a nice upstream, with the SS wiring harness you might be hooked (i've no experience with the SE, i have the M w/ a SS wiring harness, and have few complaints). ---BTW, merlins are as musical as the music you give them (via the colored components in the signal path). the speakers have NO character. i'd be hard pressed to give a higher compliment to any speaker.---but audition first. as always.
Dkuipers a thanks for a response to a remark you made concerning the Merlin's several months back when you categorized them as being "Hi-Fi" as opposed to "musical". You have finally answered my question concerning why they were "hi-fi" to you. The Merlin VSM-SE are a highly damped design which would make them more optimal with a tube amp. This would minimize their tendency to be rather thin sounding as they can sound with ss. I have owned these speakers for the past 6 months. They aren't easy but true excellence and this degree of resolution takes time and effort to get right. Their intrinsic attributes are this based on my experience - resolving, immediate (if you like laid back, forget the Merlin's). They are completely revealing of deficiencies of source components, especially the recording. They are also very wire dependent. That said if you are willing to experiment with the components that will bring out their virtues which are SUPERB tonal balance, SOTA resolution, excellent dynamics, soundstaging and imaging champs and last but certainly not least excellence at resolving bass in the MOST natural manner without ever feeling overpowered by something that DOESN'T exist in the live domain, these speakers are among the best. But for some, the immediacy will be too much. They have an upfront presentation which may not appeal to all. I haven't listened to the Millenium S (for ss wiring harness) with a solid state amp but can't imagine the SE with SS. With the SE consider tubes as your only option. Oh bty, I love the music coming through these speakers.
BTY I have found MIT speaker cable both 750 and 770 reference a MUCH better match than the analysis plus oval 9's with the Merlin's. I initially liked the AP but long term the sound became fatiguing. The MIT's cured this for good. Harmonic Tech Truthlink interconnect cables work well with this speaker system.
I just ordered the VSM's. I currently have the TSM's with a Pass 250 and a Wadia 6I The Pass is new, before I used an EAR intergrated with the Merlins and Wadia. A very nice sound not fatiguing at all. I wanted a little more bottem end than the EAR/ TSM's could provide so I ordered the VSM's and the Pass 250. The Pass arrived so I put it in the system.My first impression was not good,something was missing, I actually liked the little EAR a lot better untill a friend brought over his Atmasphere Pre Amp. The change was like night and day. I could not believe the sound coming out of these little speakers, I can't wait to get the VSM's. I think a good tube preamp is a big plus in that set up. I ordered the Atmasphere the next day after hearing that sound.
tubegroover: mit cables are about the most colored cables in existence. ditto for HT truthlinks, the treble is waaaaayyy rolled off with those. the only people I've run across happy with the Merlins long term use amps like cj and EAR as two examples. do you not see the pattern here? if it takes colored components to live with the speakers, then the speakers are fundamentally flawed. period.
dkuipers, if that's the case, why don't you search over on Audioasylum (or audioreview) for people's feedback on merlins? "fundamentally flawed?"--that's pretty funny; my guess is you probably like wilson Cubs or Hales (top dollar crayolas!). i've heard $20k speakers that have obvious flaws, but all the flaws my merlins present me with are in relation to my CDP & my AMP. hey NEX_WAVE, try calling bobby at merlin--he'd be happy to talk with you about your setup. i've never met a more responsive manufacturer in my life.
I owned the Merlin VSM SEs for some time trying various things to bring them to my satisfaction. Tubes are the answer. Bobby will tell you what to do. He has always done that with his speakers and it works. They are very admirable speakers, but I don't want to use tube amps. I wouldn't suggest the old VSM SEs with the Rowland even though I haven't heard it. I had the most success with the Joule-Electra Vamp a hybrid amp. But I sold the speakers and bought a pair of 802Ns. I am very happy with these and I don't feel like I am missing a thing without the Merlins. Perhaps the new solid state Merlins would make you happy. I think maybe a Rowland 10 would make me happy. There is one way to find out, isn't there.
Dkuipers I suspect all components are colored to one degree or another what is more important is how they work together. You are not alone in your impressions of the MIT's but I like them in my system and feel that they offer a more realistic presentation of the music. Image placement better bass impact and rather than the highs being rolled off I say more laid back, the music is there its just not "in your face" as it can sound with certain recordings. The HT truthlink cables are in my estimation one of the best values in cable period. Probably something to do with the single crystal casting process. So far as high frequency roll off I can only say I don't hear it. When I get the Trancendent OTL amp in the system I will post further impressions. Are the Merlins fundamentally flawed? I say the flaws lie elsewhere, and not with the speakers. I suspect the speakers are as Rhyno says neutral and the problem lies in the recordings and the upstream components. At least that is my experience to date. As always, audition first.
First of all...every audio product has some characteristic of it's own. Some closer to neutral than others, but all change the sound in some way...it's physically impossible for them not to. I don't think many people would find completely neutral products too appealing. The Merlins have they're own characteristics...some will like them and some will not. That doesn't change the fact that they're excellent speakers, and I recommend auditioning them if they're in your price range. As far as the $8000 price listed above...I'm not sure if that's correct, but it might be if it icludes a BAMM unit and a premium finish (which is $1000 extra, I think...). I assume Merlin...like every other audio manufacturer...increased their price as demand increased. I've noticed many retail prices increase substantially as the positive reviews, and sales, pour in. Some components have even doubled over the last few years. All you can really do is listen to as many options as you possibly can (in, and under your price range...you may be pleasantly surprised)...you'll eventually find something you love.
As an owner of three generations of Merlin VSM (Gen 3, SE, and now Millennium), let me throw my 2 cents in. The Merlin VSM is very revealing, so it could sound too bright with lesser electronics. As with anything revealing, like Jennifer Lopez's famous dress, it shows off perfection, or lack thereof. But with the right gear, it sounds real and musical at the same time. I prefer driving it with tubes (Transcendent Sound OTL) but with the SS harness for the Millennium model, it sounds great according to Bobby, and I believe him, as the straight-talking man knows what he is talking about. As for the $8K price, it is for the premium finish and battery BAM. I think in order to maintain the high quality, Merlin chose to keep their operations small rather than mass producing their speakers. As such, they only make about 200-300 pairs a year. I know Bobby and Bill have their hands on every pair they make, so you pay for that level of craftmanship rather than minimum-wage worker soldering your crossover. I belong to the NJ Audio Society and get to audition many speakers every month at our meetings, and I would put my Merlin up against many speakers costing much more.
In 1994, when we introduced the VSM Gen I, a preliminary 50 pairs were constructed and sold at $3500. We made no profit on these early sales because it was an offering (and everyone knew that) to see what the public and industry thought of our work. These early pairs did not include the Hovland inductors, RC filters, proprietary feet, wires, Caddock resistors, terminals, circuit damping, proprietary woofers, superior and more costly cabinets, seven years of development and probably 100 cost increases. Yes, it is now 2001 and the price of the most similar speaker, the VSM Basic is $4950 not $8150. The VSM M and Battery Bam sell for $7050 and the same system with the Premium finish is $8150. I think it is remarkable that after all the years of effort and production time that this product is only $1450 more. It's an absolte steal, consider the Proac 2.5 sells for the same price and that just my tweeters cost as much as their 4 drivers and all of their crossover parts combined. It is a product that we mark up only 3.6 times to retail. Industry standard is closer to 5 times. Yeh, we're really socking it to our customers. Consider, that if some of the highly regarded companies manufactured it, the cost would increase by thousands of $.
PS I am a fan of Proac products, I feel that their 2.5 is great value. That is why I used it as an example.
PPS It takes many years to design and manufacture world class products. Just because the box size stayed the same and there were many refinements over the years does not make this product undesirable, to most, the exact opposite is true.
I'm a bit biased, I have a set of VSM's that go back to the first that Bobby built and they kicked ass! No, they were not an easy speaker to come to terms with in the beginning. Perhaps they told the truth too well! It took much system tuning to get them to really sing. Well many upgrades later, that original sey of VSM's has made it as far as Gen 3 RC and became steadily more forgiving of both the gear and program material put into it whithout losing one smidgeon of the resolution and truthfullness I originally fell for. Well the Gen 3 RC's are suiting in the hallway outside the listening room supplanted by the only replacement possible, VSM Milleniums. I don't know just what did it, but that same little cabinet and drivers has improved in a manner I could not have imagined. A bigger better, cleaner, quieter, louder, even closer to the real thing kinda sound. Bobby P, you kick ass. I had to hear it in my own place to believe it, and when I heard it, I had to have it. The Milleniums rock! If you want to know how real it can sound, find a dealer and get with the program boys n' girls! FYI the system is: EAD Univ Disc Transport, Sonic Frontiers SFD 2 series 3 (very worthwhile upgrade), Oracle Delphi 5/SME/Benz Ref, ARC PH3, ARC LS2B, ARC Classic 150s, Foundation Research cords/conditioners, and XLO Signature wire everywhere. Enjoy the music! -Vince