B&W's are not lively speakers. They are overdamped by design. They also have a forward midrange.
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Uh...that was helpful (not). I'm looking for a bit more descriptive answers by people who've actually heard the two products and can make a comparison for me.
BTW, Dave, I know you've been around these parts for a while, but that was just basically a one line B&W bash. C'mon, you can do better than that!
Sorry, wasn't actually out to bash B&W's per se. I owned the 801N's and seriously demo'd the 800D's under various conditions and with different components. They have an overdamped design as mentioned in their white papers. The midrange forwardness and tendency to have an upfront presentation is well documented. I would add that you need to bring massive amounts of power for them as well. All in all, not a great recipe for audio bliss. My VS exposure is almost nill, but I have heard they are easier to drive and favor a more even balance with ample dynamics. Neither would be my choice, but that doesn't change the facts I have mentioned.
I auditioned the 802D at 2 dealers & one home, and the VR-4 SR at one dealer, before ultimately buying the Thiel 3.7.
I did not find the 802D tonally neutral in any of the 3 very different systems. Apparently, getting it to sound neutral is very tricky at best.
The VR-4 SR was tonally neutral. My primary criticisms were: (1) it was strained or distorted on peaks in heavy classical music like Mahler; (2) vertical lobing was pronounced, so tonal balance was critically dependent on listening height.
I find the Thiel 3.7 exceptionally dynamic and detailed, tonally neutral, and very tolerant of listening position.
Why don't you listen to both of them for yourself and be your own judge? Lots of folks like B&W, and VS has a loyal following as well. So obviously both vendors must be doing somethig right, for at least some segment of the listening public. Also, you haven't said anything about your equipment or what types of music you listen to.
Having said that, if I had to close my eyes and choose I would probably lean towards Von Schweikert. I have owned both B&W (Matrix and Nautilus) speakers, and had a pair of VS2s for about six months while a friend was travelling. The B&Ws were both very good, if unexciting. The Von Schweikerts are much more lively, musical and fast IMHO. And, properly placed, they image like the dickens.
But why just these two brands? Based on your requirements (and again, not knowing anything about your system) I might suggest that you listen to one of the French speaker lines: Focal, Triangle or (my favorite) JM Reynaud. Not to over generalize, but I have found that all of these brands tend to lean towards warm, detailed, forgiving and great imaging. While Iwouldn't decribe any of them as analytical, the some of the Focals are more so than the Traingle than JMR. I have a pair of Triangle Cometes in my den and enjoy them very much. I just bought a pair of JMR Offrandes (on A'gon) and am looking forward to setting them up in my new listening room, which is a converted 3rd garage stall about the same dimensions as your basement.
Some people don't prefer the B&W 800 series with the diamond tweeters as they are usually heard at dealers who also carry MacIntosh or Classe.
Unless they are hooked up to Mac 501 monos or Classe CAM 400 monos and at least bi-wired, they can sound constrained and you'll never hear what they are capable of.
I listened to these amps with my 803D mains and wasn't entirely satisfied. The speakers, however, woke up when connected to a Spectron MK2 that has 600/watts of power and I've never heard them sound so good whether at low or medium volumes.
The B&W 800 diamond series are tough to drive as their nominal impedances of 8 ohms drop to 2-3 ohms during play and only a few amps are stable at these impedeances. The Spectron is stable down to 0.1 ohms.
I also have them shotgun wired with Mont Blanc speaeker cables and they sound better with speaker wires that are at least bi-wired.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the responses so far. I know there are many other speakers out there, but for the purpose of this thread, I'm only interested in comparisons between these two brands. I am not interested in other brands at this time.
I listen to lots of different music, ie, jazz, vocalists like Sinatra and Norah Jones, classic rock, pop, some big band and orchestral music, etc, however, I'm really just generally asking for the characteristics and distinctions between these brands and these particular models.
I own the N803 and the older matrix 803s2. I've listened extensively to the 803D and 802D, and I really like their sound. I personally do think that the B&Ws are lively. I cannot listen to the VSA's, as there is no dealer in NYC/LI area, but I've always admired the reviews and board opinions of these speakers. That's why I'm trying to compare them by others opinions.
Thanks. Look forward to more comparisons.
I am more familiar with the VR4 JR (I own two pair) than the VSA speakers you listed. You have listed quite a range of VSA speakers. While there may be a house sound, you will hear differences across this group in the attributes you listed. Bass tends to be fairly quick for all the VSA speakers listed, but there is generally more impact and abiity to go lower with the VR5 than the VR4.
I find the high end of the Von Schweikert to be less fatiguing than the B&W speakers and somewhat more forgiving of recording quality. The Von Schweikert speakers also seem to be less amp dependent in achieving optimum sound than the B&W speakers you listed. It is difficult for me to make detailed comparisons because of differences in room acoustics, associated equipment and break-in when I have heard these speakers.
You might find an owner in the NYC/LI area willing to provide a demo of Von Schweikert speakers. Try posting in the Von Schweikert forum on Audiocircle.com if you want to pursue this possibility.
If you look at the multitude of threads that are basically people looking to "fix" their B&W issues with a [insert cable, amp, pre-amp, new speaker, etc.] it should tell you something. To my ears they sound good at first but after just a few minutes the sound and lack of musicality wear thin. I have even seen a dealer sneak a sub into demos of his B&Ws.
VSAs in comparison have a smoother but delicate top end, better sound stage, and they dig way deeper with good authority on bass. To me the VSA are better from stem to stern and are pretty great options at their price points. In a 15X18 space the 4JR would be a good option.
I think Maineiac nailed it, plus he has great taste in women. You'll be happy with any pair of Von Schweikerts for many years. The VR-4Sr. certainly helped me get off the crazy upgrade highway, and I owned probably 20 high-end speakers before settling on Von Schweikert. The VR-4Jr. is probably one of the best deals in audio.
I am guessing that 9rw is referring to the fact that my plasma is showing Carrie Underwood in my system pictures.
I have not heard the VSA 5HSE/SE. I am purely guessing that because of your room size that the 4SR might be a bit overpowering on the bass and they are just physically big speakers too. I would call Albert to discuss.
I did extensive demos of B&W 803N (not D) as well as thiel, sonus faber, usher, etc. and could never get comfortable and enjoy what I was hearing. The instant I heard VSA4JR it was a done deal. The 3D capability of VSA is incredible. I am not sure if there are many dealers left because of the change in the sales model a year or two ago but you should hear the VSA for yourself if at all possible.
If you like the B&W sound and flavor then moving up and across lines may be what you need. It just never worked for me.
There have been a number of Von Schweikert owners that have upgraded from the VR4 JR to VR4 SR or one of the VR5 versions and were pleased with the improvement. Likewise, few would put the VR4 JR in the same class with the B&W 803 or 802. I do not question there is an improvement, but IMHO you may pay a substantial premium for this in the cost of both the speaker and the associated equipment required to get the best result. In a room that is not too large (my own listing room is 16' X 23' for example) and when the bass module is loaded with shot and the speaker positioned with care and the rear tweeter control set for the right level of ambience, the VR4 JR deliver bass with impact and clarity down to 25 hz as well as excellent imaging, a smooth midrange and very good transient response. Would I trade my VR4 JR for VR4 SR if the additional cost was modest (<$1000)? Absolutely. However, to me it is not worth the several thousand dollar premium the market demands even for used speakers. Your experience may differ.