Review: Merlin Music Systems VSM-MMe

Category: Speakers

I once read a review that said something along the lines of "something that sounds good, sounds good right away." I have found that to generally be true; I know what I like when I hear it. It's that simple.

Since I'm not an audio reviewer/writer please bear with me, but I felt compelled to post my impression of the Merlin VSM-MMe now that I've just passed about the 200 hour mark since unpacking these beasts. They replaced a pair of TSM-MM monitors that I bought about a year and a half ago.

My reasons for upgrading were two fold. First, several times I found the TSM-MM a speaker that was incapable of playing at volume levels I needed. Not all the time, mind you, but on occasion I crank things up and the material is often just too dynamic for the TSM. The woofer would bottom out and the tweeter distort on loud, complex passages. This is not a "defect" per se, just the product’s limitation in my situation.

Second, I grew to love the Merlin house sound as I changed components that reacted in positive synergy with the TSMs and wanted more, in every way … capacity, resolution, transparency, inner-detail, clarity, etc. and my readings on this forum lead me to believe these were realistic goals. I am thrilled to report that the results far exceed my expectations.

Two aspects of the VSM sound were immediately apparent right out of the box, and that is one serious box Bobby! Merlin's attention to packaging detail and durability should be every manufactures priority. Too many boxes of heavy equipment turn to squishy marshmallows with just one trip across the county, IMHO, but I digress.

The TSM, while one of the finest speakers I've owned, have a slight glare on the upper mids and congestion with complex material that was not apparent to me until I compared them to the new VSMs. There were times when I would slightly cringe when certain passage were coming up that simply are handled cleanly and with no evidence of strain by the VSMs.

I find this kind of performance similar to a free revving Audi 4.2 V-8 that redlines with no rough machinations or feeling of strain as compared to a less refined 3.0 liter six that tends to sound like in might fly apart as you push it to its limits.

I'm not a PRAT kind of guy so I can not elaborate in those terms, but I will say the VSMs display a level of resolution, speed, transparency and inner-detail that, in my experience, only a Quad ESL-63 electrostatic can match. Couple that with the VSMs organic clarity that displays no crystalline nastiness or harsh edges, as well as superb overall dynamics ... I find them to be about as "complete" a speaker as one can possibly desire.

The VSMs simply disappear with holographic soundstaging that, as appropriate with the recording, consistently emanate from two pulsating spheres in space that extend outside the boundaries of the speaker with layer upon layer of stage depth. Instruments are rendered in space with natural timbre, presence and decay with amazing tonal accuracy and sense of realism. Vocal duets are resolved no matter how closely aligned with both voices clearly distinct from one another. Attack and decay of percussion instruments such as cymbals are precise and uncannily realistic.

I listened to the VSMs today for over four hours straight, my longest stint yet, with zero fatigue and no sense of time passing. I just wanted more, one LP/CD after the other, as if I could not stop until I had listened to my entire music collection again for the first time. Granted, this has happened before with similar quantum leaps in performance, but changes this dramatic are priceless with regards the increase in enjoyment of music they provide.

Past speakers I've owned have been built by KEF, Acoustat, Quad, Janus, Vandersteen and Green Mountain. In each case I eventually found reasons to move on and while I would never-say-never, the VSM-MMe currently contributes greatly to the finest music reproduction system, in my home, in over 30 years and I see no changes coming for a very long time. With deliberate consideration to synergy of the source and amplification combination, the VSM-MMe deserve serious consideration.

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: Cary V12R, 50 WPC Triode
Preamplifier: First Sound Presence Deluxe Mark II, ARC SP-10 Mk II
Sources: Esoteric DV-50, Modified Lenco L75, Alphason HR100s, BM Reference 2 Silver
Speakers: Vandersteen 2Wq subwoofer
Cables/Interconnects: Zu Gede, TG Audio HSR
Music Used: Eclectic, heavy electric blues, jazz
Room Size (LxWxH): 21 x 16 x 9
Excellent review. I agree with everything you have written about the VSM's especially the importance of the partnering equipment. I have VSM MX's mated to a Berning ZH270 and a First Sound Presence Dlx Mk II. Source is AA Capitole Mk II. I previously used the VSM's with SS gear (very nice sounding Rowland Concentra II integrated). Until the Berning and then the FS entered the mix I did not fully appreciate what these speakers could do. The Capitole also adds something very special. The speakers are simply wonderful, and Bobby is great to deal with (just as Emmanuel Go is, I have discovered, at FS) if you ever have any questions about system set-up, cabling, or anything. Enjoy.