I'd strongly suggest somehow arranging a listening session. They do what they do extremely well, and their fans are legion. However, they may not be appropriate depending on what music you listen to. I listen to mostly Rock (of all genres) and classical. To my taste, the Merlin's were lacking in bottom end and just didn't work for Rock music. The addition of a subwoofer would seem to be mandatory for this application. I imagine they would be well suited for jazz, vocal, and acoustic music.
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Budrew, I am in total agreement with Tvad, these speakers DO DO what they do extremely well. My interest in these speakers probably borders on obsessive, they have given me a true appreciation of their virtues and a sober realization of their shortcomings. In other words they're not perfect, what is? It can't be overlooked that whats good for the goose isn't necessarily so for the gander. Auditioning is always the best way to realize if the things most important to you are captured in a design.
Now to get to the beef. In the areas of your concern, low listening levels and off axis performance, the VSM's are superb. At low levels speakers that definitely would be better are electrostatics, for instance the Sound-Labs which are probably the best speaker on the planet at preserving the proportional dynamics and subtle details of the music without specific frequencies becoming highlighted. On the other hand they, like most planer designs, they have a smaller "sweet spot" which would make their off axis response less appealing than many dynamic designs. I have heard others say differently but personally, I haven't heard it but this is a subjective impression and why auditioning is so important. No one can tell you what YOU may like. The Merlins are SUPERB off axis. The venue is preserved and to be quite honest in my L-shaped room I can enjoy them 10' off the edge of the left speaker. Of course for critical listening I would rather be in the sweet spot.
So far as placement from the back wall, I can't give you a definitive answer relative to your room, reflections, location of the listening position etc. I will say that mine are out 30" and I like it better that distance than closer. Bobby would be a better resource for that question, he is a master of set-up as well as design.
I would feel the BAM is mandatory. I have heard without and feel the speakers have a more tipped up tonal balance without. As Bobby puts it, it is more a management system than a device to be viewed as simply an equalizier, I would tend to agree.
Are you familiar with Purpleheart wood? I would say the color is a bit lighter but with a deep metallic lustre. Personally, I'm a black matte kind of guy myself, it works in any decor.
Musical preferences and priorities are also important as Tvad notes. I personally like all genres of music from orchestral to jazz to rock to choral to vocal. I find the speakers are well balanced across the board but may not be the best choice in your room depending on your perferences. They rock but they won't "Burn the House Down" if you know what I mean. They are more about finess and refinement, with great layering and rendering of the filigree texture that makes listening to them for extended periods so enjoyable to me. Remember, nothing in audio is perfect and we each have different preferences but if you can relate to some of what I tried to convey, they are definitely worth an audition. I purchased these speakers based on what I read, sound unheard. Almost 4 years later I am still enamoured.
Budrew, I have owned my VSMs for 4 years and agree with everything Tubegroover said. I'd emphasize that the BAM is necessary. It is a small unit though but it makes or breaks the system - in my opinion.
If you haven't done so yet, give Bobby Palkovic a call at Merlin and talk to him directly. He has been tweaking this system for 10 years. And if you are conisdering the Ruby Red finish you can take advantage of the MX upgrade that is now available. According to Bobby it makes the speaker much more dynamic, "bigger sounding", blacker background, clearer, etc. And knowing what I know about the speaker, that is pretty astounding because it is already so good.
If you read the reviews out there, and there are plenty, everything that is said about these speakers are true. I bought them based solely on the recommendations also, and glad I did. In terms of the bam, if you plan on purchasing a sub, it would be "mandatory" as the bam will allow you to dial the sub in seamlessly.
Budrew, I too bought the VSM's based only on extensive research here on Agon and everywhere else I could find some info. You'll discover (as I did) that this speaker system is one of the true gems to be found in the audio world. It accomadates anything you put in front of it and demonstrates every nuance of whatever that anything is. They're musically magical for my tastes which are primarily modern jazz and female vocals. I also run the BAM and consider it a flattering asset. The VSM is not the last word in bass slam and extension. However, more import for me, it's accurate and musically truthful bass. The only potential consideration is your room size if combined with a preference for harder rock music. Good luck, Dave
I have the VSM's, and mostly listen to 'rock' (although I prefer to call it virtuoso guitar music, which could range from jazz to classical to bluegrass to funk to screaming heavy metal). I have a large room, sit about 8-9 feet away from the speakers. I have no problem achieving 90 db levels (as measured by radio shack meter) at my listening position, and that's with my preamp only 25% of the way up.
Of course, volume is far from the only consideration. Even on lousy rock recordings, detail, soundstaging, etc. are excellent (to the extent that they can be, given the recording). As far as bass, I had a sub and sold it. Partly that was because it wasn't a great sub, and wasn't fast enough to integrate well with the VSM's. However, I don't think I need a sub for what I listen to. Several people have asked my where my sub is, even though I don't have one! No, the Merlins even with the BAM will not 'shake the family jewels', so to speak. But with the bam AND THE RIGHT AMPLIFICATION/PREAMPLIFICATION/SOURCE (capitalized on purpose, for emphasis!)you will get more bass than you would think possible from a 6.5 in. woofer. If you like techno or something that requires wall shaking bass, then you will need a sub.
Tubegroover, you will be amazed to hear what the VSM-MXs can do in regards to low level resolution at lower volume levels.
Budrew, The best way I can describe the Ruby Heart Red finish is that it is a pure rich dark Red with a metallic flake in the finish (part of the reason why this color is a major SOB to get a good photo of with a flash). I have had customers mistake it as a dark red rosewood finish at a distance. The speakers will work resonably well set up close to the wall behind them .... I do have customers using them as close to the wall as you mention, but no sidewalls are nearby and as long as nothing is inbetween the speakers (except maybe for some room treatment on the wall inbetween the speakers), soundstage and imaging can be fairly good.
FWIW, since they are around 85lbs each and the Z-feet spikes are pretty sharp, this is not a speaker that you can (or would want to) regularly move around. Your best bet is going to try to find a best compromise position for you and your family that results in good performance but without being to intrusive should you get a pair.
I would like to add a point or two.
First, Ruby Heart looks like the Oxblood leather color. We use two coats of black under coat and then spray on the red color and clear. This gives the finish a sense of dimension/depth and richness. A Burgundy wine color or black red is a great description.
The BAM is a very small box that can be hidden easily. It enables the speaker to respond in a manner that belies their size. It also gets rid of ultrasonic noise (which is a must in cities) and out of band low frequency energy (which increases distortion and drains the amp of its power). The BAM is part of the system and not an add on. The speakers would not be optimised without it and their absolute potential would be compromised. One listen and you would never take it out of the system.
Our room sizes are very similar and I have my Merlin VSM's about 28" (front of speaker to wall) off of the long wall in my room.
Most of my listening is at low volumes. I've found that the VSM's maintain a very lifelike presentation as the sound goes down. Instead of the instruments compressing on each other, the stage just gets further away. I think that this is a great complement to Bobby's product.
I listen mostly to jazz and I think that I'd be hard pressed to improve upon the Merlin speakers.
Thanks guys (or gals). My wife reminded me as she heard me speaking to a local dealer that i had promised not to upgrade anything else in my main system until my bday in October. She is very much against consumerism and our disposable society and got tired of me trying new components. The speakers were my last thing to consider, but I cut myself off to be fair. I explained the second hand market and she's figuring out how much I enjoy this hobby, but her frugality still shines through. It's all part of the great negotiation called marriage! By the time October rolls around we'll be close to having kids so low volume listening will be important. I'd like to have my system in a good palce by then so I can focus on family.
The Merlin speaker is still high on my list. I love a deep, rich red and the Ruby Red sounds great in the description. My associated components are Mcintosh tube amp and preamp, Audio Note DAC, Accustic Arts transport, and Nirvana and Audience cabling. My current speakers are Tannoy D500s which I ended up with early on without having tried many speakers.
I am in a dedicated room 20 X 14 treated with MG Tunepack and 4 Argent Room lenses. My VSM M speaker fronts 72" inches from rear wall and about 5'6" apart (Rule of thirds). They throw an incrediblely deep, wide SS filled with holographic images that is to die for.
I suggest you use Bobby's set up guide as a reference and try the speakers w/o the feet at different locations in the room and when you find a spot that has the best sound, mark it with tape, install feet and be prepared to be wowed : ))
Tubegroover, when I first heard the VSM-MX at the Merlin plant just a week or so before we brought them to CES, I thought the improvement was about 15% over the VSM-M. However, after spending more time with the speakers at CES I think the improvement is greater.... I find it very tough to put numbers on things becuase when you get down to it, one guy will think a 15% improvement is nothing and another guy would think that it is a major difference. I will say the improvement is *significant* and that I tend to be conservative when assigning numbers to descibe improvements.
Owner, Signature Sound
I think you have a fine system and would be a solid candidate for the VSM M. Let me know when you are looking for speakers because I may be able to find you a second hand pair at a great price that has the latest technology.
I MX is very new and will not be out for 3 months. It will not replace the Millennium but be available in addition to it. It retails for $10,000 and has some additional proprietery technology that makes it even better but only if you have the finest of systems.
OK, I'm back with another question on the Merlins : ) What size room is too small? Is a fairly nearfield setup with the speakers about 6 feet apart and about 7 feet from the listening position too small for the VSM? The room is perhaps 13 x 11 but the system is in only part of that space. I'm looking for a speaker for the deHavilland Ios 845 SET amp (20-25 watts depending on breed of 845 tube). Would prefer a floorstanding if I can find one that does OK in the small room. Merlins were recommended, along with several other brands along the same vein of a tall, thin floorstander. I'm looking for a bit more bass extension and transparency (musical transparency rather than analytical transparency) than my JMR Trentes provide. Thanks again!
6 feet apart should not be a problem at all. In fact, ideal is only 7ft. apart. 7ft. speakers-to-chair is a little tight, but it should work okay. 9ft. would be much better.
Most good speakers will require as much room. Thus I don't know how high I'd put this criteria vs. other aspects. You can always treat the room w/some roomtune panels, etc. to help offset the small space, and tame some of the reflections. Cheers,
one thing you may want to consider is a diagonal setup in a room nearly square and this size. it will give you much more space behind the speakers (down the center) and allow you to sit farther away and propagate a longer bass wavelength than any other possible set up in this room. room reflection will be handled naturally as the walls run away at obtuse angles. a true win win situation that looks a little odd at first but sounds amazingly good.
remember too that the vsm is unigue in that the bam filters out of band energy below the woofer's fs making them a wonderful small room speaker.
845s will be superb on the speaker and the new mm or mx will provide you with everything you need.