Questions for Vandersteen 5A owners...

I finally got to audition 5A's yesterday. Involved 9 hours of driving, but it was worth it. :-)

I realize no speaker is perfect and it's a matter of tradeoffs. I am attracted to Vandersteen because of a strong reputation and the fact that it includes a powered bass module with 11 bands of EQ per speaker. I have a troublesome room. Currently have Aerial model 9s - a great speaker but not ideal for my room.

Anyway, I wanted to post my impressions and see what owners have to say.

1) Larger than life sound. Holy big imagery. High hats sounded like they were 3 feet in diameter.

2) Wide dispersion of sound (i.e. large sweetspot). Vocals stretched from speaker to speaker. Panning of instruments off center was hard to pinpoint.

3) Bass seemed EQd well (couldn't hear any notes being louder than others) but all in all it wasn't as articulate as I expected. Bass was very fat sounding.

4) Problem at loud volumes? It might have been the 200 watt amp, but when the volume was cranked it was very distorted. I notice that Stereophile recommends the speaker but says "won't play as loud as other speakers". I have never experienced a speaker that had a volume limitation per se, so I'm not sure what to expect - distortion or were they simply meaning it wasn't very sensitive? I don't listen to music at crazy volumes, but these would also be used for home theater - where speakers should be able to handle loud peaks. Have any of you noticed this?

5) A lot brighter than I expected and very revealing. Highs sounded less smooth/laid back than I expected (or was used to for that matter). Almost harsh at times. Could have been the recordings, but I played stuff I was very familiar with so I'm puzzled here.

6) Midrange was very nice.

Anyhow, I'm interested in others' perceptions here as I can't audition these in my own home. I do believe that the dealer could set up the bass well in my room, but am generally worried about some of the points above.

Thanks in advance.
I am using Vandersteen 5A's with Ayre components...very synergistic coupling. I have pinpoint imaging...left to right, and front to back. I noticed that it was good however became very much better when I upgraded the power cords to the amp and preamp. The speakers now disappear - the sound is very lifelike. I am a professional violinist, and shudder at wirey highs. The highs on the 5A's are very lifelike and extremely fast. It gets plenty loud into my large room... 20x44 foot room with 12 foot ceilings. If I can be helpful let me know. If you're in the Scottsdale Arizona area, listen to mine.
My dad owns the Wood Quatro and has been back and fourth for auditions of the 5A, I dont agree about the brightness, if anything some say they can be too relaxed, the image is huge but image is easy to pin point when I heard them many times also the speakers are good at dispearing with that minimal baffle, maybe it was the set-up. As far as volume I think its more of the use of first order crossovers that can limit sound but these certainly wont play 115db and thats not something Richard V will ever care about, he is very cautious and even warns of hearing problems with levels greater than 85db, if you buy his speakers expect a personal note in that regard.
How far were the speakers out in the room? I dont think I ever heard some of the image and pin pointing issues you have so that makes me curious of placement and area around them. I am a huge fan of Vandersteens 5A even tho I sadly cant afford them but I think it is one of the truely best values in audio.
Madfloyd, what you describe appears to be a little atypical of well fed and well setup 5As. May I ask what the electronic was, cabling, etc. . .?
Madfloyd, I have owned the 5As for several years and have had them set up in two different rooms using ARC tube equipment. I have also assisted friends and associates in the setups of several other 5A/room combinations, some including 2 channel and home theater, with a variety of SS and tube equipment.

What I have experienced is that when you get the room right, and when using appropriate electronics and well recorded source material, these speakers dissappear and create a high, wide, and deep sound stage with a uniquely holographic image. They have a very realistic sound over a wide dynamic range and play louder than you would ever need with no hint of distortion.

Locations of instruments are precise, for example down to inches when hearing the finger plucking a string. The bass is solid, tight and tuneful, and the mids, especially vocals, are extremely realistic and beautifully presented. Highs are delicate and precise with no sense of harshness or distortion. The entire spectrum is very well integrated and cohesive.

As to your observations above, when I hear "fat" sounding bass, it is usually the room contribution and this can not be totally eliminated with the EQ controls alone. Distortion at high volumes can come from a number of sources including electronics and media, however, the use of the high pass filter between the preamp and amp reduces the power demands on the amp and makes these speakers quite easy to drive. My ears are also very sensitive to any high end shrill, etchiness, or distortion and I can listen to these speakers for hours with no fatique.

Obviously, I am sold on the 5As and would highly recommend them. The engineering advancements and workmanship of these speakers is quite astounding. I would also welcome you to visit and listen for yourself if you are in my area. Feel free to email for more information as well.

PS, I am just a passionate audiophile, and not in the audio business.
I went and listened to the 5A at my local dealer and I thought they sounded OK nothing special. The room looked fine and saw no reason whey they should have sounded just OK. I since moved on to Wilson Watt Puppy, Aerial 20T and Kharma speakers but never was real happy with any of them. I went back to the dealer again 3 years later and listened to the 5a again. They sounded better buy not great. I bought them anyways because they sounded better then what I had.

The dealer came out and set them up which didn't take too long. Pretty easy and much easier then everybody makes it sound. They sounded the same in the dealers room as they did in my room. I listened to them and let them break in and after about 1 month I decided to take the time and set them up myself. Long story short. The dealer set them up to what he thought sounded good. That is why it sounded the same as his room. He didn't follow Vandersteen instructions 100% so i went back and redid everything. After me taking 4 hours making adjustments WOW. The best speaker I have ever heard. They just gets better with time.

My point is if you buy 5A take the time and read the manual and set them up yourself to your likings. You will be rewarded.

BTW I thought the Watt Puppies were harder to set up.
Mtdking et al... I think dealers really TRY to set up speakers and turntables, but they really can't spend the time to do it really right. If you follow Vandersteen's very time consuming, but very accurate setup directions, you'll win. Even more complicated and time consuming is turntable setup. I've spent months with it, and am now on my way to fine tune it even further.
Mtd, cool story and I never would have guessed that would happen but it makes looks like th OP heard something that just wasnt right.
The 5A's really is an amazing speaker because of what it can do from top to bottom. I get flat response all the way to 17 hz. With any other speaker you would have to spend $75,000 to get that. Being that the speakers are in phase that also can be different at first if you never heard a speaker in phase.
I do wish that Richard would not scare everybody in the manual about setting up these speakers without a dealer. He makes it sound like only a dealer can do this. It really is a very easy thing to do plus you will learn about your room and acoustic problems. It's a win win.
I have a friend that has a nice system and I went over to listen one night. The image was off to the left and after about an hour I asked him if he heard the same thing. He said no and I said but it is. Later that year he went to his doctor and during his check up he wanted his hearing checked and he found out that he had some hearing loss in his one ear. How would you like that guy setting up your speakers or me setting up his speakers. See my point....
Thanks for all the responses. Being the perfectionist that I am, I do wonder if I could dial the speakers in better myself, but don't know what kind of measurement tool I would need; good to hear that someone has done it succesfully.

Guidocorona, I heard the 5As using mostly ARC gear (CD player, PH7 phono, REF 3 preamp) and an Aesthetix Atlas amp. I don't know what the cables were. I have the same preamp but use Theta Citadels for amps.

The speakers did sound nice - and perhaps better than anything else that I've auditioned so far. I am leaning towards acquiring them.
Madfloyd - I owned Vandersteen 2ce sigs and 3a sigs, and have listened to the 5As a number of times. Don't mistrust your ears--in my experience, the 3A sigs and the 5A's can sound annoyingly bright. Operative word: "can". Personally, I think ARC gear and Vandys are not a good combination, though supposedly Vandersteen has used the combo in shows. For my taste (and I don't like "warts and all" type hyper-detailed sound--at all), Vandys work best with easy-going and warm-ish tube gear--with lots of power. My gut sense, also, is that 3A's and 5A's probably work best in larger rooms. Mine is 14x19.

I eventually quit trying to make Vandys work for me, in my room, and moved on. But I want to emphasize that I've heard 5A's sound very nice with the right equipment. There are many very satisfied Vandy owners, and as some of the other posters attest, set up (and associated gear) matters.

But also, trust your ears. At least for me, my biggest buying mistakes have come when my ears were saying "I don't know," but my brain was saying, "Yeah, yeah" because of what other people said, or because it was a great deal, or some other thing that brains do from time to time.

Good luck.
The problem with "go hear it for your self" axiom is that often the setups are lacking. My demo could have been much better, but I was able to work around what I heard and make a decision.

The 5As are not bright, they are high resolution and if given sh!^ in they will pass it on.

I wonder if your demo had the rear tweeter on and turned up. I doubt anyone with a proper set up uses it. BTW it was added because some thought the 5A too layed back! But it is not needed if the 5As are matched with any of the equipment you would expect them to be used with.

I would agree that the 5As don't play as loud as some other designs, but they go plenty loud in my fairly big 17x27x10 foot room. I think they are so clean sounding that it is easy to max out a 200W amp. If that amp gets nasty above clippng you will hear it. When I want to rock out a bit I can feed my 5As all of the watts from my ARC Ref 210s with out a problem. But then tubes can clip a little in a way solid state doesn't. I don't do it long though.

As for fat bass. That is so room dependent. But one of the 5A strengths is the flexable built in sub. I agree with the post above that you may want to read just after dealer set up. I did and I felt that it was for the better. It takes a block of time but it is not that hard.

As for sound staging, I am very happy. With a vinyl front end and Ayre and ARC equipment I get a deep and wide sound stage with very good height. And unless the recording has it on it, I do not get the giant mouth singing thing much at all.

I think the 5As shine with vinyl. And it has been easy to hear the changes in equipment that I have made over the years. I also think the 5As are fairly easy to set well but they reward you with careful set up and system matching.

Terry good point! My dealer did have the rear tweeter turned on when I heard both of my demo's. They do that for the shock value I think.
Madfloyd, I have listened many a times Babybear's system consisting of TEAC Esoteric P-03/D-03/G-0S + ARC Ref 3 + Theta Citadels + 5-As. The combination is wonderful. . . clean, musical, and involving. Vandees require loads of power from refined amps to shine. Citadels are said to be one of the most sought amps for the 5-As.
A number of you have mentioned the importance of set up. It takes patience and care, but I agree it does not require a dealer. I observed a well known dealer set up the sub EQs on a pair of 5As and he spent less than 30 minutes! Clearly he was running a business and time is money, but it was not nearly as carefully done as one would have expected. It can be accomplished quite easily with a RS meter and some simple instructions, so don't be afraid to plan on doing it yourself.

I have learned a few tricks that refine the overall placement and inprove the imaging that aren't in the manual as well. One involves a slighty different approach to ensuring the speakers are exactly vertical and aligned to each other which doesn't assume the floor is perfectly level under both speakers. This seems to be critical for a time and phase aligned system and the manual does not emphsize it as much as I think it deserves.

If anyone is interested, I will describe it and post it here a bit later today when I get some time.
Again, thanks for the responses. I heard them in a room that leaned towards diffusion rather than absorption - very nice wooden diffusers at the rears, lots of fake plants in between the speakers and to the sides etc. Only absorption I saw was for immediate side wall reflections.

The rear tweeters were not turned on - and they didn't need to be in my opinion. I know what this can do as I used to own Von Schwekert 4.5's that had a rear firing tweeter.

I don't think the amp was clipping - at least not in the sense of solid state since it was a tube amp (or hybrid perhaps?) - Aesthetix Atlas.

Good to know that my Citadels would be good for the 5As. The dealer said the same thing.
..if you have 40,000 dollars to spend, the Vandersteen 7's are coming.
I'd be interested, Zargon.
As to mtdkings' stmt above, I also considered new 5As from a dealer, but the manual made it sound like a heroic effort to set them up, and didn't want to have to depend on a dealer if I ever moved or even moved my speakers around or changed upstream equipment. It would be just to much of a hassle. It just seemed really intimidating. It's a shame, because I always liked them at the NY HE show.
I ended up with Harbeths (very nice, setup is a breeze).
Where have you heard about a Vandersteen 7? I would be interested as to what major improvements have come up that would justify a new model. All I need is that temptation now.
The concerns you voice certainly are not the common experience. With a purchase this size I would recommend at least one or more additional auditions. I know you're no where near West Des Moines Iowa but if you ever are the invitation's open here as well. I can't imagine you'd notice the same problems here.
I have been hearing about the Vandersteen 7 for 2 years now. I heard that there was no Vandersteen 7 just a rumor.
Vandersteen 7's from Richard himself. New cabinet, new crossover, new midrange and tweeter, new amps....some of the improvements can be incorporated into the 5A's giving about 80% of the 7's. The look is upper grill assembly. The speakers are awaiting a patent approval...some new cone material.
Richard V is making no secret the new model is coming but thats about all he is saying except its going to have all very expensive Carbon Fiber drivers, and its going to be between a Quatro and 5A in size. Hopefully by show times next year they will be ready for public viewing, at this point he isnt sure exactly what they will cost but bet on closer to $40K than not. BTW the model "6" wasnt used for number associated reasons..bad luck and the like.

Here are two things to pay extra attention to when setting up the 5As. They probably apply to a large extent to any speaker setup, but I found they are especially important when setting up the 5As.

1. To get maximum benefit from the time alignment, these speakers need to be vertically parallel to each other, both side to side and front to back. Even small errors can cause readily discernable variation in the image as you move your head around.

Don't assume that the speakers are vertical just because they are on 3 cones resting on the carpet/floor. Tighten the cones, remove the grill top, and level front to back and side to side by readjusting the cones. You might be surprized at the amount of adjustment needed.

2. To maximize the phase integration in the image, these speakers need to be the same distance from front and side walls, and have the same toe in. Minimizing variation in these distances, while unavoidable in unsymetrical rooms, adds to image clarity and depth.

A small lasor is very helpful for setting toe in. Measure and place some tape on the back wall where you want each speaker to be aimed, and use the lasor to get a precise alignment.

These are refinements and you can do them after finding the preferred location of the speakers and getting familiar with the image and sound. They are good rainy day afternoon tweeks that will bring satifying results.
If this all comes to pass, I think I might consider the upgrade path depending on the price. A $40,000 flagship kind of flies in the face of the principles I've come to know Vandersteen for. I've always been impressed that they make a more accurate and satisfying product than the megabuck designs and sell it for a realistic price. I'm sure Richard wouldn't do this if he didn't see it as a worthwhile pursuit. I'll bet 80% of that performance would be enough for me assuming the price is right. Then again, it's hard to complain about what I have now. I assume that this would not be a user installable upgrade path and would require shipment back to the factory?
I agree with you Sonofjim... I was just listening to my 5A's and they are so musical and satisfying, I can't imagine them to be any better...from the deepest lows to the most etherial highs. Richard says that the new 7's are more "pistonic" and that all the drivers are made of the same material so there is a smoother transition from one to the other. I haven't heard the 7's but to tell you the truth, I can't tell when one speaker starts and the other stops with the 5A's especially since, the Vandersteen crossovers are overlap so... I suspect that the differences between the 5A's and the 7's are subtle. The 5's to the 5A's were, and I can't believe there would be a big difference in the new speakers. I for one would probably go for the update and not get a complete net worth is not what it once was.
In reply to Zargon, I have never came across a pair of 5A's that had any toe-in....atleast none of the 8-10 systems I have heard them in.
Pardon if I've missed this but where did you audition the 5A? Nine hours is a long drive. It seems to me you're out east somewhere. Is that right? For me, even in Iowa, there are two dealers within a 4 hour drive(Milwaukee and Minneapolis). I would urge you to check the Vandersteen website and see how many dealers may be within range. I thought they sounded good on 1st audition in Milwaukee but also checked out Minneapolis and that's where they really sang. Set up is probably even more important than associated equipment. Also, even in the same set up, they may sound different to you any given day. I would really recommend hearing these in as many different situations as is feasible before making a decision.
In addition, if you haven't already, read a good review that details the technologies implemented here(Richard Hardesty's has a link on the Vandersteen site). Once you read and understand what went into this design, I doubt you'll be able to look at speakers in the same way again. I know as I page through an audio magazine and see speaker adds I can usually pick out several major design flaws(in my opinion)from one picture.
I heard the speakers in NJ; I live in Massachusetts. It was 4.5 hours each way.

The dealer was excellent as was the speakers (overall). I'm sure setup could be tweaked a little - as it's subjective to a certain degree (apparently you smooth out humps, not flatten them or it will sound EQ'd)

I agree that it would be good to re-audition them - even if in same room, with same equipment. I considered Rockport Ankas and auditioned them 3 times. I'm not up for that much driving anytime soon however.

Overall I liked the speaker a lot - I just wasn't expecting such huge, larger than life imagery or the distortion at loud volumes. That being said, my Aerials produce a smaller-than-life soundstage, although they image very well and timbre is great. Piano sounded different on the 5As - another aspect I would like to audition again, but I don't know that the timbre was incorrect - I might just be too used to the Aerials. Sometimes you have to get used to the sound of a speaker.

I agree that in theory, the design of the 5A seems excellent.

If you listened to the 5A's in NJ at Audio Connection with the best dealer I've ever encountered in this long affair with high end stereo, I can totally recommend John and his crew for excellent setup and a great deal. John really knows his stuff and is extremely helpful. He will check every parameter and tweek it without checking his watch and running out before its perfect. You will be satisfied.

WRT toe-in, I agree that in large rooms (>18 ft wide) it is not necessary nor advisable to toe these speakers in. They image best straight ahead. However, at CES Richard regularily uses some toe-in in the hotel rooms which run more like 14-15 ft wide. He only recommends it to reduce the side wall first order reflection.

Interestingly, he has be come a proponant of diffusion on side and front walls as well. I like the use of diffusion, but I have found that diffusion works best when the sound wave strikes it near head on at a distance (>4 ft), something that is not possible when used in a narrower room on the side wall.
One additional tid bit I learned from Richard about the new 7As which hasn't been mentioned. The midrange cone is formed from balsa (by turning it on a lathe), and is then reinforced with carbon fiber. This forms a kind of truss which is very light, yet very stiff. It has the properties of being more "pistonic", e.g. responding quickly, having less troublesome breakup modes, and being internally better damped when breakup does occur. As I understand it, this midrange is one of the upgrades that would be available to original 5A owners. Seems like this has the potential of being quite noticable.
Middle range driver alone will set you back about $3500 - not including labor.
40k is also nothing to sneeze at.
Candy apple red is the color of the first pair which will debut in 2009 CES.
No veneer options as far as I know.
This is all very interesting. Is the price of the 7A indeed $40,000? It seems quite a jump in price from $18,000 for the 5A. I think it's more than I could justify on speakers at this point. The upgrades may be tempting especially if they were customer installable. I don't like the idea of sending these to the factory and going through all the set up again.
$40K? Lets wait and see given what is happening in the financial world right now. Its hard to say how much less custom exotic drivers/speakers will cost in 6 or 12 months (and how big the market will be), but I think many things will priced down 12 months from now. I hope the 40K number was based on things when oil was $120-140.

I also hope that things stay good enough to keep stuff like the 7s on track to come out.

From what I hear (R.V) ,

*cabinet materials cost is about 10K alone
*drivers ...... guessing , about 5K
*labor, cabinet material treatment, crossovers, amp, accessories etc. - 3K

Total = 18k (if my info is correct)

Of course this amount will change if the production quantity will raise (less 20%-30%)

* This is a prototype cost

Assuming that "7s" will target the wealthiest, it is going to be a short series(IMO) based on special order purchases (only two dealers are expected to have "7s" in their showrooms).
And gleams of what we might see/expect in the future from more affordable Vandersteen line of speakers.


According to R.V ,
"7s" are 40% better then recent top of the line 5As.
Distortion is claimed to be 0.5% which is the lowest achieved in the business (do not mistake with elect. spects which is a completely different cup of coffee)


The upgrade for 5A owners will be granted (at unknown least at this time) to ORIGINAL owners.
Second owners - sorry...........or make the arrangements with the previous owner (good luck with that);)

Sound characteristics:

In comparison to Quatros or even 5As,
"7s" sounds almost to laid back with less presents.
This is a result of lower distortion and when given a little time, details and information which were unheard/"missing before are quickly realized and noticed.

Bass amp is more or less the same. Some changes in crossovers - obviously.

I could be wrong but - no rear firing tweeter this time which is not something R.V is about anyway. It could however be found useful in over dumped rooms.
We need to start a 7 thread!
Agree ;)
Why don't we wait till it come out before we start a new thread. I been hearing about this Model 7 for 3 years now and it keeps getting pushed back each year.
2009 CES , I promise
Forums like this present valuable feedback for manufacturers..........hopefully
they are listening.
40K was/is an estimated asking price.

Richard told me that based on some recent experiences with room-challenging dealer set ups of the 5As, he is stongly considering including the rear firing tweeter on the 7. As you indicated, he felt it was critical when dealing with overly damped rooms. Although most of us probably don't use it, when it is needed it would be a shame not to have it, especially at this price.

While not fully consistent with a point source time/phase speaker, its contribution is not too different from the attenuated time/phase delay of the first reflection off the front wall in a live room. It adds presence and a larger sense of space.

I agree with the idea of a Vandy 7 thread.
I tried the rear tweeter for HT when experimenting with a fantom center channel. I thought it helped a little either with or with out a center. But 5A controls are not designed to be used constantly on/off so its is stays off since the rear tweet hurts the image of analog playback in my room.
Should the rear tweeter be included in Vandersteen model 7 speakers is Richard's personal choice.

IMO, it isn't a necessity ........but why not give out the option of screwing-up the sound to those who can afford it.


Another interesting feature in new "7s" is :

*and easier tilt adjustment

Laser tool is included along the "step by step" instructions to optimize the toe-in and tilt. For your own protection a "Dummy head" is also provided as a target (just do not get any crazy ideas) and should be placed in the listening "sweet spot".

Distance from the floor to the speaker, side-to-side and back-to-front adjustments are now much easier to accomplished due to "new spike system".
$40,000 is a lot of money but is about half what the new Wilson Maxx 3 costs ($70,000). Still a comparison of these two speakers isn't really fair. They should probaby be compared to the $150,000+ Alexandrias. Knowing Vandersteen, I'm sure the design of the 7 incorporates more impressive innovations than both of these speakers combined. I guess that sort of puts the price in perspective. Still, expensive.
I am from Italy, where there is no Vandersteen dealer.
So I am disturbing you to know if the powered subwoofers can work at 220 volts ( universal voltage ).
In this case I could proceed to purchase the 5a's in Usa.
Many thanks in advance for reply.
Best Regards
Piero, it may be best for you to ask the question directly by calling Richard Vandersteen at 559-582-0324. Guido
Vandersteen makes a special internal power supply for export with 220 volt application Powered subs.
Otherwise you would need a Step down if you purchased them in USA.
Best John
Piero, you may want to check the Vandersteen web site. There is a long Q&A section. You could send them an email as well. Vandy has a lot of dealers outside the US so you may be right.
It seems evident that you came down to Audio Connection to hear Richard speak and to audition the 5A's. It should be noted that after the show, John, the owner of Audio Connection moved the speakers more toward the rear of that room. I have listened to the 5A's in that room a number of times, and each time I came away wanting more. After hearing the sound after the position change, I am sold! They sound great. I have the REF3 and the PH7 coupled with a big Krell FPB700cx AMP. I had considered moving to an all Audio Research stack and after hearing that with the 5A's, I must say I was impressed and pleased. I am headed to CES and will make my decision on a new set of speakers after the show, but I would be surprised if anything at the 20K pricepoint comes close to the 5A's.