Review: Merlin Music Systems VSM-MX Speaker

Category: Speakers

What originally drew me to these speakers was the overwhelming response I was reading from user reviews along with the professional write-ups. I also have a trusted friend in the audio business who has always been dead on when helping with solutions for my system; when I asked him candidly what he thought of the Merlin’s his response was “I really like them”, that’s all I needed to hear. Of course I had a conversation with Bobby Palkovic (Bobby@Merlin) discussing my electronics in combination with his speakers, and he did explain in his own words how they would sound and differ from my present speakers, but honestly I had already made my decision by that time. As you can imagine I had mixed feelings about my purchase; on the one hand I had very high expectations, but on the other hand I was apprehensive about purchasing a pair of speakers I had never heard. My original purchase was based in large part on faith in others, and the truth would only be told when I actually hooked the Merlin’s to my speaker cables and they played music in my room.

My original order was for a pair of VSM-M speakers with premium finish as the X version did not yet exist. I was fortunate to place my order in the midst of the X project, and I was able to upgrade and have my speakers delivered as the VSM-MX model. For a complete history of the VSM speaker and model distinctions see the Merlin web site. The B.A.M. (Bass Augmentation Module) for my system is a special balanced unit wired with single ended inputs and outputs, and for this reason it arrived a week later than my speakers. My speakers were ordered in a beautiful metallic Champaign finish; if they had wheels and an engine I would enter them in an auto show, the paint work is outstanding.

My Merlin VSM-MX speakers were delivered six weeks ago and were finally connected to my speaker cables, speculation was now pushed aside by actual listening and this product would now “speak” for itself. From the beginning I could tell these speakers might be special, but just how special remained to be seen. I probably spent eight hours that first day listening to music, and an embarrassing amount of time over the first week listening as well. Keep in mind I was doing all my listening the first week without the B.A.M. unit. Just when I thought I was starting to get a feel for the speakers and an idea of the amazing performance they seemed to be capable of the B.A.M. shows up at my door. I felt the bass was adequate in my system/room without the B.A.M., but with this unit installed it became deep and full. What I didn’t expect is the B.A.M. unit to have such an overall effect on the speaker. Bobby had explained that it was an integral part of the speaker system and even put a percentage on how much improvement he thought I might hear. I still wasn’t prepared for the changes the B.A.M. made in frequencies above the bass region, as well as imaging. After six weeks I have only become more aware of what an incredible job these speakers do in reproducing music, any kind of music. That’s one thing that truly impresses me, I’m listening to just about anything, I don’t have a huge collection of music, maybe 300 CD’s, but after six weeks I’m seriously beginning to run out of material, I’m grabbing everything off the shelf, even my wife’s CD’s. After all, this was supposed to be the goal, spend more time listening to music, and less time playing with equipment. That’s my biggest concern lately, what am I going to listen to and where am I going to get it.

But what do they sound like? Well, they don’t sound like, Aerial Acoustics, Audio Physics, B&W, Dahlquist, Energy, Magnepan, McIntosh, Monitor Audio, ProAc, or Wisdom Audio; that’s about everything I’ve owned, had in my house, or heard in a show room worth noting. I’ll attempt to interpret what the Merlin VSM-MX sounds like in my system/room. They are very cohesive and extended; if there are any frequency bumps I can’t detect them, this gives them the ability to reproduce any instrument or vocal in a uniform an accurate way. The sound is full; instruments and vocals have a depth I’ve never encountered before. They are delicate and revealing; details which were blurred or simply hidden are now unveiled. They are powerful; when pushed by even the most difficult passages they can produce the full weight of the music but yet have the ability to keep everything clearly separate. Imaging and staging is uncanny; precision, placement of instruments, and the feeling of space between them gives the sense you could stand up and walk amongst the band. They are smooth; not smoothed over, but meaning the music flows smoothly. They are nimble; having the ability to properly reproduce timing cues essential to music’s rhythm and tempo. They are transparent; I’ve been describing how these speakers sound, but from what I can tell, for a speaker, they don’t add much of their own signature.

I thoroughly enjoy this hobby because there is so much to learn. I remember visiting an audio dealer near Chicago on two different occasions and listening to two completely different systems, which had been set up in the very same room, and both systems sounded incredible. It took me awhile to realize that maybe it wasn’t just the components; it was their careful matching and setup (especially the speakers), the dimensions of the room and thirty thousand dollars worth of room treatment. The Merlin VSM-MX speakers have taught me some lessons as well; that a speaker can be much more than the sum of its components, but as a product of hard work and refinement by its designer and builder it can become a work of art. I’m sure there is a substantial amount of science which went into the design of the VSM speaker, but what I feel makes them truly mature is the dedication to push the design to it’s envelope, a process which has been ongoing for over ten years, and has culminated in the VSM-MX model. Somebody loves these speakers a great deal and it shows in the quality of their construction, and most of all in their ability to reproduce music.

Kevin Heemstra

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
ProAc Studio 125, D15, 2.5, 3.8 / Audio Physic Virgo III, Avanti III / B&W 804, 803, 802 / Magnepan MG 1.6, MG 3.6, MG 20 / Aerial Acoustics 7B.
Wow! You have had a history of speakers. Which model of the Wisdom Audio line did you compare these to?
Could you explain the difference between the two?

You're right; there is a history with speakers that goes back about 20 years, thanks for pointing that out to me. I've only owned six different pairs of speakers. All other speakers were either on loan from friends and dealers or heard in their homes and showrooms. The Wisdom speakers systems I was fortunate to briefly audition were the Rush and M-50. I couldn't even begin to compare the two brands, and it wouldn't be fair to either Wisdom or Merlin for me to even attempt. I can tell you the Merlin VSM-MX is the best speaker in my world.

Take Care,
Great review! Thanks!
Am I reading correctly that you feel these speakers sound and image better than Avanti 3's from Audio Physic? Also, can these be bi-wired?
Thanks for doing the review.
How many hours do you have on the Merlins now ? Are they finished breaking in and after how many hours did you find the big changes/improvements ?
Nice writeup. If you haven't tried it yet, be sure to run your BAM in full battery-powered mode. For me, the difference is shockingly apparent, and such an improvement that I'd argue that you haven't heard the MX until you hear it in battery mode. Enjoy,