John Atkinson's thoughts on the New Vandersteen System Nine from LA Show


I have read JA's outstanding reviews of Vandersteen speakers for years, but this is the first time he's heard their new System Nine.  Please read all the way down as Fremer mentions the late AJ Conte's outstanding TT:  Enjoy

From JA:
The first room I went to at the 2017 LAAS was that hosted by LA dealer Optimal Enchantment featuring a system based on Vandersteen's Model Seven Mk.II speakers ($62,000/pair) and M7-HPA amplifiers ($52,000/pair), which I reviewed in May 2016, this time reinforced by a pair of Vandersteen's SUB NINEs operating below 100Hz. It may have been the first room I visited but as good as many other systems sounded, they didn't match what Vandersteen refers as System NINE for its effortless sweep of sound, precise, palpable imaging, and smooth yet detailed high frequencies. On the title cut from a test pressing of Dave Brubeck's Take Five, the reverb surrounding Joe Morello's drums in his solo was more audible than I hear from my own system and the textures of his cymbals were superbly well differentiated.

The rest of the system comprised Audio Research Corporation's REF-10 phono preamplifier and line stage, with isolation stands and bases from Harmonic Resolution Systems (HRS) and cabling and power-line conditioning by AudioQuest—a Niagara 7000 for the amplifiers and Niagara 5000 for the front-end components. But it is the LP player in this room that drew visitors' attention.

image: https://www.stereophile.com/images/060217-Basis-600.jpg

Michael Fremer shared my enthusiasm for the sound in this room, which had LPs played on the late AJ Conti's Transcendence turntable with the Super Arm fitted with a Lyra Atlas cartridge. In Mikey's words: "This turntable is the acrylic-free, minimal-plinth design I always hoped AJ would design and build."


Read more at https://www.stereophile.com/content/jas-final-report-2017-laas#mX8Fja9AgBY4SDyp.99
ctsooner
Is there a reason for this unsolicited advertisement?
Tony, not an ad at all. Not sure why you'd say that when it's JA of all folks posting his thoughts on a brand new product by a pillar of the audio world.  

I was also intrigued that Basis decided to attend with their table as they keep things going after AJ's death.  I was blessed to get to converse with AJ often.  Yes, he was one of the true gentlemen in all of audio and is missed by many of us.  I just sold my own Basis TT as I have to get out of analog for physical reasons.  Along with VPI and so many others, Basis makes a great product at all their price ranges.  

I made this post to get dialog going on new and what seem to be cool products that I personally haven't had the chance to listen to.  I'm hoping that some who went to the show can share their thoughts, good and bad.  Don't see how that's an ad, especially since I'm an audiophile just like you and have no skin in the game.  


I'm glad that you're so excited about the new Vandersteen speakers and Basis table. Also, I'm sorry about AJ Conti's passing. However, I know there are many products being introduced daily by many pillars of the audio world that are covered in the audio press. If articles were reprinted here about all of them, there would be no room left for the discussions for which these forums were designed. Not seeing any questions for discussion in your original post, I must have been confused.
Disclaimer:  Vandy Fanboy.

That said, I am suspicious of what benefit *additional* powered subwoofers could add to the Model 7.  I haven't heard the system demoed as the LAAS, so my suspicion is nothing more than that.  My understanding is that these subwoofers are very, very expensive so I would love to hear RV's explanation.
I too think very highly of Mr. Vandersteen and his products. But if I was going to add a very expensive sub to an already full range loudspeaker, it would be the Eminent Technology TRW-17 Rotary Sub---flat to 0 Hz!
pdp, does it have analog room correction built in?  I believe it will just move more air and integrate well.  

Guys, the reason I posted this is to get dialog going as I said.  By using 4 of the same subs, you can do a swarm and equalize any 'hot' spots in the room.  I am strongly considering his smaller subs with my Quatro's for just this reason. 


we seem to get lots of alerts when Vandersteen gets good press...
ALERT!  I am a Vandersteen owner.  I'd like to humor myself with the notion that I can get over my "fanboy" status and attempt objectivity.  I've had the pleasure of listening through various brands of fine transducers and regard them accordingly.  I think the thing about the Vandy line is that ALL of his speakers have that ability to liberate the listener from the speaker and let the music do the talking.  A remarkable career achievement for RV.

One almost unique quality is that the Model 7s are so small of stature compared to the statement speakers of so many other designers.  I'm listening to Treo Cts.  'nuff said.
Hifiman, many of us have been audiophiles for many many years and have owned a ton of gear.  You used the word objective and I concur.  Right now I love Vandersteen's, but I purchased Proacs over Vandy's many years ago, even though my dealer sold both.  I own Ayre, but was always a tube guy and still have an Aestheix Rhea I'm about sell sell (getting out of vinyl) as I didn't like the Ayre phono stage.

Plenty of great gear out there that would make me happy to own.  Before I purchased my new Quatro's, I scoured the market. I went to listen to everything I possibly could hear.  As I've always said, my ear love the Vandersteen's.  I am not into looking at drivers when I listen.  All I know is that when I audition speakers, if I'm talking audio with the sales person after the first two or three cuts, then I know I'm not into the gear I'm listening to.  As audio has gotten better and better, I still haven't found speakers other than my Vandy's where I just want to go up and listen for hours on end.  Others I speak with often feel the same about their speakers and that's awesome and the way it should be.

I guess I knew that haters would come to this thread to change the intent, so I'll try to move it back to what it was originally about.

JA waxed poetic about Vandersteen's 9 system along with the AR pre and the Basis TT.  I was wondering if anyone got to listen to this set up and what they heard.

Again, I'm so intrigued by swarming subs to smooth out the response and also to move even more air as needed.  I know Vandersteen was working on a huge speaker that would have been called the 9, but with that huge cabinet he wasn't able to get the sound to be coherent and point source like, which they are known for.  I think that separating the subs like he's done should make this system even better than the behemoths out there, because the four subs (two built into the speakers) all have 11 band eq and you can move them around the room and aren't tied to just two spots like you are with two speakers.  

I wonder if others will do the same with their systems as it's proven that using 4 or more subs works best.  Even for inexpensive subs like 'The Swarm' you can get really good bass.  Bass is the most expensive part of the spectrum to recreate properly. That means both tonally as well as going deep AND moving air.  I've heard too many subs move a ton of air, but not tonally accurate.  I've heard subs that will move air, but tonally accurate, but NOT recreate the lowest of octaves.

I haven't loved most sub systems for audio.  For me, the only way I've enjoyed a sub system is when you are using a full range speaker so you have more continuity from top to bottom.  

I'm hoping that maybe we can stay on course about subs as I'm trying to learn more. I haven't spent enough time with subs to be totally comfortable with their integration.  The Quatro's are the first subs I've had in my room that work and it's because we were able to eq them and I do like that the design has allowed my amp to be freed up from 100hz on up.  For me, it's been a major transformation.  I don't know if other subs have analog integration like this??  I have yet to hear anything done digitally that you couldn't hear.  I too would love to set up a mike and hit a few buttons and be done with it.  I had that in my spare bedroom with a Marantz AVR set up with some small Paradigm/sub (it was cheap and most folks don't care, lol).  I liked it better without the digital correction. I have also hear the Lyndorf digital deal in a  room that has a terrible 50hz vibration (yes, it's in a showroom and they've had this problem since 1980 or so) and it took care of it, but honestly it ruined the rest of the sound for me.  Spec of veiling.  

Ok, that's where I'm at and I'm much more open minded than many may think when reading my posts.  That said, I'd love to hear thoughts on the few subjects that are out there in this thread and maybe haters can go to another thread since they aren't interested in what I think could be a fun discussion.  Thanks
no haters here...I think the 5A Carbon is as good as any speaker I have heard at length...
so nobody so far except JA has heard it.
i myself wonder because i have a smallish room for 7's and  ( foot print but not volumemetrically )squeezing in subs would be difficult.
my system is pretty flat, yes the first stop is quite audible and articulate. does 99.324 % of my music collection tax it ? NO

am i a fanboy ? sure but i also own and listen to other speakers including Apogee Stage, Cornwalls...( hey i needed something for the garage )

as for the 9 subs - relative to what are they expensive ?
analog EQ
automotive paint enclosure
cabinet inside a cabinet carbon fiber enclosure
600 Watt power factor corrected amp

thank God we have choices

Thanks for sharing Tomic.  Too funny as I have had the Stages many years ago and I wanted Cornwalls since I got started in audio in 69 or so.  Too funny..

I agree on the cost.  I work know a carbon fiber manufacture who designed and makes the CF wheel chairs for racing as well as the BMW hulls for crew.  I have also worked with it and it's very expensive and it's not easy.  Did I mention how expensive it is?  I also know that my Quatro's, that have the auto paint went through many clear coats as well as cutting and buffing.  That's a LOT of labor as I finish my wood projects and it's a long drawn out process to get it perfect.  I have yet to find a flaw in my paint (yes I look with my special light and mag glass, lol.  Not a swirl in the finish.  I am going to do my own ceramic nano coating on them too.  


yes CF especially the aerspace grade stuff Richard uses is brutally expensive.
i was blessed to do some composite work on simple products like the space shuttle, F-22, 787 and more...
getting a bond to balsa core is proprietary and deservedly so.
to my knowlege Vandersteen are the only ones to do it with end grain....
so yes the cabinet is SOTA
Thanks for sharing that Tomic.  We need to talk CF, lol.  BTW, a big box came in the mail for a Basis TT yesterday! Ha...:)  Waiting on a clam shell for a Benz cart....
I am currently using a 5.1 system with a front pair of Quatro Woods in conjunction with a 5-subwoofer Audiokinesis SWARM AND a Meridian G68XXD with Meridian Room Correction (MRC).  I have compared this system to a number of stereo systems including a pair of Vandersteen Sevens, AND the live experience of hearing the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in Powell Hall.  For the bottom two octaves, there is simply no comparison between ANY stereo system and the accurate bass that the Audiokinesis SWARM in combination with modest room correction provides.

The SWARM overcomes the room modes in a way that provides bass fully comparable to what one hears in a good hall.  The MRC cleans up any bass overhang, while leaving everything above 250 Hz untouched.  

The Vandersteen Nine is a separate subwoofer that allows a four subwoofer "SWARM" when you consider the bass response of the Sevens that are used in the same system, and so Richard Vandersteen and John Atkinson are hearing and / or measuring the same benefits that Duke Le Juene has been talking about for YEARS.  The SWARM neatly solves the hardest problem in audio - taming the room.  

The good news is that one can get very close to the same sound quality with the combination of a pair of Quatro Wood CT's and an Audiokinesis SWARM (4-subwoofer array) for a LOT less money.....like over $60K less money.  BTW, Robert E. Green (REG) wrote a great review of the Audiokinesis SWARM which explains all this better than I, for TAS last year.  I suggest those who are curious about this should Google Robert's review.
I personally do not care for Vandersteen speakers. I just don't like the way they sound. I don't like passive woofers either, nor do  I like
4 1/2" mid-range drivers. There's way better out there for less money. It's just my opinion. Please, I don't want to argue with anybody.
I was at the LA show and JA couldn't be more correct. The musicality and tonal correctness of the Vandersteen setup was second to none. There were wuite a few rooms that sounded awesome but none has the relaxed sit down and listen for hours sound like this room. Randy always does a great job at shows. Before the show opened on Saturday I went to his room early and found him carefully listening to every piece of music he was thinking about playing that day to make sure the system was at uts best and to prepare a plan for the day. I've never seen anyone do that before. The new Basis TT was for sure the source that took this system to the next level. The passion AJ Conte had for his craft was refreshing and it showed in his final reference piece he produced. 

At at the show most of the rooms that sounded the best were playing reel yo reel tapes as the source. The price of entry for tapes and the UHA decks is very high but the SQ that comes out of them is second to none. I wish I cound have heard the Vandy room with that set up as well. 

CT no shame in promoting the love you have for the Vandersteen products. IMHO no other speaker at any price pushes all the right buttons in SQ, timbre quality, etc like the Sevens do. With the Sub Nine it takes it to another level. 
@exron Interested in what size midranges you like and what correlations you've observed between midrange size and performance.  


Richfield.  We need to catch up before I go to Cancun on Wed.  Want to hear about the show. Maybe next year I can tag along with you guys.  We'd have a blast for sure.  

Thanks for sharing about the new Basis TT.  AJ told me about it last year I think it was and he probably spent an hour on the phone explaining it all.  Man do I miss him.  Just a great guy and I see why he and Richard were so close for all these years.

I assumed the 9's would take it to a new level for so many reasons, but you are the first one I know who's heard it and shared about it.  I realize it solves the problem he had of moving more air in rooms without hurting the SQ.  Seems like he's solved more problems than creating more by separating the enclosures of the mains and the 2 extra subs.  I will wait until he puts the 11 band EQ into his smaller sub (pray he does this eventually) and get a pair to augment the Quatro's.  I personally like to stay in the same company line if I'm going to use subs. They are voiced the same and integrate better I feel.  That goes for anyone's speaker's/subs.  JMHO
JA is a funny guy, and one I blame for the modern "Stereophile" curve being pursued by so many speaker makers.

Even if he's right about a speaker, he's so biased so often I no longer feel his objective reviews are worth reading.
erik,

I can understand your view.

And  I tend to find JA's reviews less descriptive, leaving me less of a sense of what a speaker sounds like.  He will tend to talk in terms of frequency response etc, whereas Michael Fremer will paint a subjective picture of the sound.  Fremer's descriptions have proven very accurate to my ears, over the years.

At the same time, I've found JA has a very keen ear, and to the extent he describes any problematical issues he hears it's often bang on. 

I actually think JA is something of a treasure in the high end world, in terms of the scope of what he has contributed.  Stereophile's measurements have been a gold mine of info.
Prof, I agree with everything you have said.  We all have favorite reviewers or maybe some hate all reviews.  JA does indeed have a keen ear and although he will find all the good things a piece will do, he won't wax poetic unless he loves a piece.  I believe that he owns Vandersteen 7's for his personal listening as many reviewers do.  I found that out AFTER I became a lover of their sound.  In the 90's, I always wanted a pair of Avalon's, lol.  Loved the cabinet and the sound. I never realized they were also a first order cross over and time and phase correct.  I felt Jim Theil's speakers could be a bit bright back then, but loved what they did.  We've really had some great designers and still do.  There's a new crop of them coming along.  

I do feel the if a speaker doesn't measure well, it usually doesn't sound good either.  I've noticed a ton of the top end speakers tipping the treble up a db to three to sound more 'open' and 'alive', but for me it shuts me down as it's irritating.  Some folks put their list of 'audition' speakers together by the measurements shared before going to listen.  It's not 100% maybe, but it's pretty close I bet.  

Spot on post in my humble opinion Prof. Thanks.
@ctsooner

That is what I call the "Stereophile" curve, or speakers for the hearing impaired. JA also did a hatchet job on the Crystal minissimo, with aspersions not in evidence.

He's just not someone I trust.

Best,

E
erik,

What exactly is the "stereophile curve?"

ctsooner described a rising treble in many speakers and you seem to attribute this to JA, yet I regularly read JA criticizing speakers for non-linearity in the high frequencies, particularly peaks or a rising treble.
Yes, that's not a curve at all.  It's just some designers who, turn up the brightness control like LCD TV's in Best Buy to have them stand out.  These speakers are 'loved' by many, but are not what you hear at live music events.  That's fine if that's what folks want, just like Vandersteen's are fine for me, because that's what I want.  

I don't see how JA has anything to do with how a speaker measures.  I also say measuring isn't a be all end all and there are always a few exceptions to the rule.  

Heck, I can live with the Audio Note speakers and their knock offs.  They remind me of great FM music.  Can listen all day and love listening.  That said, to ME, they don't have a sound stage that many high end speakers have. They aren't as dynamic or tight as many others, but man are they fun.  I feel that I've chosen a speaker that does ALL of that.  

I do want to hear about the 'curve', but in regards to what Richfield posted about the system 9, I can't wait to hear it.  If I could ever afford them and they really do sound like Richfield says they do (I'm good friends with him and know what he likes and what he LOVES),  I will really want a pair that shows only the carbon fiber with clear coats on it (yes, I asked once and they WILL do that if folks really want that).  


@prof
JA is a funny guy. He’ll call one speaker deliberately altered which isn’t, but others with demonstrated treble issues "neutral"

It’s more complicated than merely more treble. The Stereophile involves not only exaggerated treble but also a couple of big bumps.

https://speakermakersjourney.blogspot.com/2016/05/stereophile-reviews-data-doesnt-lie.html

Best,

E
JA also did a particularly bad review of the Crystal Cable Minissimo. In addition to just half- .... er, phoning in the review, he ignores the manufacturers recommendation for placement, ignores his own measurements which show that his alternative placement was not working, and also claims they played around with the treble balance, which was not in evidence in the data.

I can’t imagine some one with that much experience doing all of this for the sake of objective reporting.

https://speakermakersjourney.blogspot.com/2016/09/stereophile-slanders-crystal-cable.html

As a speaker designer myself, I’d be livid, but also, most laymen wouldn’t see the issues I did.
I won't get into the politics of it all as it's not always pretty (but can be depending on who you may deal with), but I've said for years that designers are voicing their speakers in a way I described above.  Vandersteen and Avalon before him, never do that/did that. Real world listening and anechoic chamber listening are also totally different as you know Erik.  

There needs to be a balance to get things right in an every day environment, but the problem to ME, is that we have these references forced down out throats by the pubs/bloggers and so many don't go to enough live performance's or they just listen to others and not their ears. 

Thanks for sharing likes to support what you are sharing.  Makes it much easier to understand.  I'm much more in your camp IRT the manipulated curves.  That's just the way audio is and always has been.  Folks are told what to believe and most don't fully trust their own ears and so many rarely, if ever go to live events. Even at live events, it may be at a venue with crappy sound (so many are).  

You get used to what you own and that's what counts.  Folks always say how happy they are, but Audiogon proves that most aren't.  I look back at my last 5 years in audio and asked myself if I'm being a hypocrite by saying that as I've changed every component in my own system during that time frame.  

Went from a new system of Vandersteen Treo's (now own Vandersteen Quatro's), Music Hall DAC/headphone amp (then to the Empirical Audio ODSE/SE and now the Ayre QX5/20), Ayre AX7e integrated (then the Ayre AX5 and then upgraded to the 20 version).  Music server is the fully rebuilt (by Steve Nugent) Mac Mini with Paul Hynes LPS.  Bought a Basis 1400 TT (just sold it to a friend) and an Aesthetix Rhea Phono pre stage completely rebuilt and updated by Jim White's team (about to put it up for sale).  

I need to get out of Vinyl due to health reasons (can't get up and change albums ever 20 minutes), but I've stayed with the same company for my changes and all were major upgrades that I expected to do when I got my new system 5 years ago.

I don't feel the need to tune with new cables or anything else.  I did go from a Synergistic Research Powercell 10 mk 2 Tesla power conditioner to the new Audioquest Niagara (yes, putting the SR power cell up for sale too, lmao).  I have had all balanced AQ cables and when I did the A/B testing, felt the Niagara was better for my system in my room.

In my ears I trust, lol. Interesting where the thread is going.  
@erik_squires From what I can tell a lot of (if not most) reviewers (including JA) have significant hearing loss in the high frequencies.  Given this, it makes it really difficult to discern much from most speaker reviews.   That's besides the ridiculous fawning for the big speaker advertisers in most magazines.  Somehow every speaker from these advertisers sets a new standard in something or other.  Can't say I blame the magazines since these guys pay the bills, but it guts the credibility of any review regarding those manufacturers.
JV is known for this in Absolute Sound. Every review the product brings out things he's never heard before. I could vomit.
erik,

Your "stereophile curve" is an intriguing hypothesis...but I just don't see nearly enough data supporting it.  And I very often see JA lauding a speaker when it measures very flat, so there's much counter evidence IMO.
BTW,

The discussion as to "what sounds natural" vs "artificial, over-hyped" is one that interests me.  You always see audiophiles - and reviewers - talking about some approach to speaker making being more honorable, and for those who really appreciate "natural sound" vs "hi fi."

And yet you see audiophiles making that same claim, yet preferring speakers that are all over the map.  One audiophile's "more natural/realistic" sounding speaker is another audiophile's "artificial" sounding speaker.  The problem, it seems to me, is that we are currently stuck in the classic "blind men and the elephant" problem.  Currently no audio system can produce thoroughly realistic sound (and add to that the limitations/colorations in the recording chain).  And so the perception of what sounds "natural" or "real" tends to fall to whatever an individual focuses upon most as missing from, or included in, a presentation.
One person may insist on greater dynamics as being the barometer of a more natural system; another on smooth instrumental timbre, another on detail, another on fullness of tone, another on incisiveness, another on a relaxed presentation, etc.  I can't tell you how many systems I've sat in front of were the owner waxed about how he preferred the less hyped natural sound from his components...that left me completely feeling the opposite.  And so it goes...

I myself have favored using tube amps for many years - in particular designs that add a bit of classic tube richness - because one of the things that immediately strikes me as different between live and reproduced acoustic sounds is the relaxed and rich nature of live sound.
Tubes, for me, tend to help add just that quality - even if it's an artificial add on, the result to my ears is more consonant with live sound.

But that's simply what MY mind has tended to focus on.  If you focus your mind on other aspects of live sound, you'll find them missing in many audio systems and want to emphasize that aspect (dynamics, clarity, pitch control, whatever).

One of the biggest boogey-man, as we've seen mentioned here, is the appeal to a rising treble, or treble peak, as being unnatural.  However, in a sense I can see this as just one of the blind men speaking his opinion, while appealing to the part of sonic reproduction he finds natural.
I myself generally go for a coherent sound, so that high frequencies don't stick out and sit "in" to the rest of the spectrum in an unobtrusive manner.  Yet I've heard many speakers that do just this...and yet sound "unrealistic" in another aspect: they lack the jump, surprisingness, "thereness" in many instruments.

I recently listened to a pair of speakers that were designed, in the end, to the ear of the designers who appreciate the vividness of live instruments.  The speakers had a more prominent treble region, and something of a leanness overall.  BUT....damn did they sound more "real" in many instances than even my far more expensive and neutral-measuring Thiels speakers.  Percussion, drum snares, bongos, bells, triangles, etc had a they-are-there pierce the air quality that you can get from those instruments in real life.  Many neutral sounding speakers can render a recording with a holistic fabric, but high frequency sounds don't "pop out" of the mix the way high frequency or percussive instruments can in real life.   There WAS something more life-like about aspects of the sound, vs many more neutral speakers, and if that's what one focuses on, those speakers could be the "more natural sounding" type of speaker.  That is one reason why a hyped treble has often been created in the first place - it can create a sensation that some find mimics a more "realistically clear and present" sound.


 
A more hyped treble only does one thing to someone with no hearing loss - make them run out of a room.
Great 100th post Prof, lol.  I would love to sit and talk audio with you as well as enjoy music.  I agree with so much of what you are posting.  I too have gone from liking 'vivid' speakers etc.. to a more coherent speaker, but I still need a harsh piano key to give me the percussive as well as the actual note with it's true decay.  That can and is being done by great speakers.
-- "A more hyped treble only does one thing to someone with no hearing loss - make them run out of a room."

That's the type of..sorry to say...blinkered... approach to the subject that I was talking about. That's simply wrong, as plenty of speakers with a peaky or rising treble appeal to many with normal hearing.

For one thing: it's not for nothing the classic "smile" equalization curve was so often favored among young people with stereos (certainly was when I was growing up).

Another: generally the hearing loss that occurs with age is an attenuation of the upper frequencies. The presence-region emphasis that tends to make more vivid sound lies within the frequency range still audible to even aging people.  So you don't need hearing loss to hear - or prefer - a lift in the presence range.

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@jwm  
JV is known for this in Absolute Sound. Every review the product brings out things he's never heard before
Not sure what i see as the problem here. I always thought the essence of this hi-fi pursuit was to hear more of what the original artist and engineering team intended? My experience has always been that hearing more is better. Now this is not to say that sometimes an emphasis on a certain frequency range will suddenly spotlight something you have not heard before. For example with the addition of super tweeters in my system I became aware of the noise of piano action on many recordings. As I worked with the system and dialed back the tweeter (shifting x-over from 10KHz to 12KHz) it's still there but no longer so up-front (and arguably annoying) -- so the over emphasis was wrong but I still learned from being exposed to the detail

Another example -- opening the door to my room (into an adjacent storage room) freed up the bass and without the room being overloaded as it was before all sorts of detail becomes apparent (not just the ultra low bass) -- would I want to go back -- no.

So I would hope that as JV makes incremental improvements in his system he hears more/differently and adds to the sonic portrait he had before -- certainly been that way for me, and not in the slightest emetic