Merlin Music VSM-MXR

Category: Speakers

I decided it was necessary to write a review about my new speakers because of the revelation they have caused for me. It's important that I add my voice to the praise these speakers have already received. I have owned two pairs of Merlin first pair purchased about 2 years ago were the second to latest model the floorstanding VSM-Mme in flat black. When I first set them up I ended up spending hours popping in cd after cd of well known music hearing more and more detail and additional information that I was completely unaware of.

I spent a completely satisfying 2.5 years with them and had no inclination to upgrade speakers at all. This in and of itself was a strange experience as I generally have my eye on new purchases shortly after acquiring the current model. Not this time, my system changed around the speakers but the speakers remained a constant joy to listen to.

In early 2010 I saw that there was a new upgrade available for the VSM series of speakers. Bobby at Merlin had made revisions to the BAM(Bass augmentation module) a custom equalizer that goes with every set of speakers and the RC networks which are basically a Zobel network. From what I understand the main capacitors were replaced with VERY expensive Duelund variety and initial reviews were exceptional.

So I decided that I would send Bobby at Merlin my BAM and RC Networks for upgrading. This is what started the road to my new purchase of a whole new set of speakers. I had always wanted a pair in Ruby heart red and after rolling around the idea in my head decided that if I could sell my speakers before the parts came in for the upgrade that I would buy my self a brand new set of VSM-MXr in beautiful Ruby Heart Red. I honestly wasn't expecting that much of an improvement as the Mme's were nearly perfect in my estimation. They could occasionally stray into the slightly bright range on recordings that leaned in that direction and while they had great dynamics there wasn't a lot of impact. I mean you would never think you could get bass like that from a 6.5" woofer but it didn't hit very hard.

Well, I was able to find a buyer for my Mme speakers so I placed an order with Bobby and began the painful wait...

Finally they arrived in Canada and I began to set them up with the help of a friend. Damn these things are heavy! For small floorstanders they must have the highest size to weight ratio in the audio world. If they had any more mass they would collapse into their own baby black hole.

The first thing I noticed is how amazing the finish on these speakers is. It's much more beautiful than you can ever tell from looking at the pictures on the internet. It's deep and glossy and has a mirror like quality.

After setting them up, luckily I had marked the positions of my old ones so I knew exactly where to place them for optimal sound, I warmed up the EAR 834 50w class A tube amp and sat down for a listen. I listen to many different kinds of music from Guns and Roses and Pearl Jam to Eva Cassidy and Rebecca Pidgeon. I want a speaker that can make them all sound like they should.

The first thing I noticed was how loud I could play them and still be completely comfortable with the sound. I perceive this as a lack of distortion or coloration that typically increases with volume. It didn't SEEM all that loud but I couldn't hear myself talk( I realized this when I said Wow out loud).

I also noticed that these speakers hit a lot harder than my old Mme's the dynamic impact was up about 20%. The bass is fuller and more prevalent. It almost defies belief that this level of bass can come from a 6.5 driver. I have a large room and I never feel the need for more.

When pushed, on certain recordings the Mme's could start to be a bit bright...this seems to have been totally cured. From top to bottom they now present a unified sound. I would guess that the new capacitors should get a lot of the credit here.

Another thing I noticed was the image stability...there is still a definite sweet spot but the strange thing is that when you move towards the speakers the image stays in place.

I think I stayed up until 2 or 3 am that first night just listening to different music. Everything I listened to was clearly better than I remembered it. From top frequencies to bottom they are better speakers. It's almost inevitable that some part of your body starts tapping or twitching to the music.

The Merlins have always been masters of detail retrieval and these are no different. There might be a slight increase as compared to the Mme as if a thin curtain was pulled back. The nuances of a singers intake of breath or the rattle inside a snare drum are both reproduced perfectly. There is a real sense that if it's there in the recording you will hear it.

I haven't yet gotten to the point where I was fatigued listening to these speakers. On some speakers and systems there is nothing to point a finger directly at that you can say is off but there is that itchy annoying feeling on the back of your neck after a while. I have spent hours and hours listening to these speakers and never had that feeling.

When I listen to this speaker I get the sense that I am hearing all that there is to hear and exactly how it was recorded. I don't imagine that I will ever feel like upgrading speakers again, a bold statement I know. They are just that good.

Associated Equipment:

EAR 834 50w Class A tube amplifier
Denon DVD-2900 Lvl 2 modified
Equitech Ballanced Power conditioner
All cabling is Audience AU-24
Interesting review Malcolm. So I guess you didn't get a chance to try the new BAM with the old MMe? I've been complaining about the "slight" brightness (try a violin concerto or sonata) for awhile now. Although few people have chimed in with the same issue. Rumor has it that the new BAM quells the issue. I'm not willing to sell the MMe and buy the MXR just to see if it solves the problem.

The lucidness in sound with an increase of volume is probably due to the lack of brightness you were hearing before.

On the other hand, how is the low-level clarity? At what level does the speaker sound balanced? I've always felt that the MMe needed a little volume to sound good. They're not breathy at low volumes. This is one speaker where a remote to adjust the volume is essential.
Dpe, Thanks for the reply. No, I was never able to try the master series items with the MMe. From what I have read they make a significant difference with the MMe and Bobby offers an option to upgrade your existing super bam and RC networks(if you use them). I was going to do this in any case whether or not I sold my speakers.

In regards to low level clarity that's a bit harder to answer. Most of us know that if you played two identical systems for a person with one at a higher volume they would say the one with the higher volume sounded better(unless it's pushed to distortion).

For myself I don't think I am a good person to answer this question as I haven't really spent any time listening to them at what I consider a low level. I'm a bachelor in my own home therefore when I listen I put it at a volume I feel comfortable with and go from there. What I can say is that I don't have a volume remote and rarely get up during a listening session to change it unless I change recordings which were mastered at significantly different levels.

Thanks for the reply Malcolm. You need to have children that go to bed early to understand the value of low level clarity.