To upgrade or not upgrade? Should I take the plunge and upgrade my Merlin VSM speakers and Master BAM with the Cardas Clear or not?
A simple question but not one that was easy to make. As an owner of the VSM-MXR’s, Master BAM, and Fila amp, as well as an Ayon CD player and Cardas cabling, interconnects and power cords, I was more than satisfied. This system delivered the best sound my wife and I had ever enjoyed in our home. Our friends were blown away, our kids were talking inheritance and I was buying more music and listening more than I had in years.
So what to do? The expense really wasn’t an issue, after all, the upgrade is very fairly priced, the turn around time looked to be quick and the promised improvement in everything from coherence to bass out put sounded great. But really folks, just how much better could it actually be? Well, as it turned out, a lot.
Set up was easy with toe in a little more than the MXR’s. Bobby suggested the seating position should be back about 10 feet, which seemed a lot to me (with my original MXR’s it was about 8 and a half feet). He was right: sound staging opened up and the highs, lows and mids coalesced perfectly at that distance. I was afraid I might lose some bass impact at that distance but was completely wrong.
So, how to describe the improvements? Well, let’s start with sound staging which is now much wider, and way deeper and taller. Depending on the CD, I’ve now got music emanating in space above my head, or right next to me, or crawling across the floor and hitting my feet. Heck, there have been times when I had to look around to make sure no one else was in the room!
The sound staging is not only substantially more expansive but it is also spatially more accurate. As an example, on Radiohead’s latest CD, “The King of Limbs”, track 2 very near the end, an additional bass line is added to the left channel. On the MXR’s before the upgrade, this was heard to the left of the speaker and approximately at tweeter height. After the upgrade, that bass line now emanates in space to my immediate left and slightly above my head. Freaky stuff!
Speaking of bass, all I can say is wow what an improvement! I was not dissatisfied with the bass before the upgrade but now, it is just so much better! How you ask? Well for starters, it is faster, more tonally accurate, more natural and more room filling. This applies equally to electric or acoustic bass. But that description does not get across its visceral impact. It is palpable. You can literally feel it from head to toe. On Tierney Sutton’s CD, “On the Other Side”, 5th track about three quarters of the way through, the upright bass gets a shot at a solo. Before the upgrade it sounded great but was contained spatially, center right. After the upgrade that solo is now more tonally saturated with plenty of front edge speed and physical impact. The bass just wraps its arms around you and gives you a big friendly hug. Very cool!
And speaking of cool, on Thom Yorke’s latest CD, “Amok”, with Atoms for Peace, Flea (from Red Hot Chili Peppers fame), provides a bottom end that is just killer. I don’t remember how the bass sounded before the upgrade but now it is just in your face awesome. Big and impactful, just the way you want rock bass to be.
And yet, while the bass is knocking you out, it does not disturb the mids or highs. Everything remains in balance, continuous from top to bottom. Quite an achievement!
I expected the mid-range and highs to improve but what hits you almost right away is the step forward in clarity, tonality and saturation, as well as resolution. Whether listening to jazz, rock or classical, musical instruments, acoustic or amplified, are more natural. As to the human voice, well it was good before but now it just sounds so, well, real. I know that’s a rather mundane description but…good luck trying not to tear up listening to Eva Cassidy belt out “Over the Rainbow”. The fullness of her earthy yet angelic voice is conveyed so convincingly, so powerfully that my wife was compelled to leave the room. “…just too emotional!”. Need I say more?
As a final example, listening to Bach’s “Chaconne” for solo violin, as played by the Canadian violinist, James Ehnes, is a miracle in touch, bowing technique and emotional impact. I always enjoyed this work on the MXR’s but now the level of refinement achieved is just astounding. A true sonic pleasure!
For me, the singular achievement of this upgrade is the way Bobby has been able to combine improvements in staging and spatial accuracy with additional
improvements in tonal saturation, resolution and impact without the loss of continuity or coherence. The sound now is very visual in its dimensionality. I see deeper, wider and more vertically. The music is so much more alive. It’s richer, fuller, deeper yet smoother (more relaxed). A big step forward!
So, should you upgrade your MXR’s to MXM status? From my perspective, it’s a no brainer! I am convinced this is a qualitative step forward in VSM and BAM design.
If you are considering upgrading your VSM’s or buying the MXM’s, don’t hesitate.
Your favorite music awaits you.