Review: Vandersteen 2Wq Subwoofer
As you can tell from the associated gear list, I have a combo Home Theater/2-channel audio system. The front L/R channels of the Sherwood pre-pro run into an input on the Connie-J preamp. 2-channel sources (CDP, TT) are run directly into the C-J.
If you are not familiar with this subwoofer, I recommend you read about it at www.vandersteen.com. It is unlike most other subwoofers, in that a line input from a processor is not included. The 2Wq is connected directly to the amplifer speaker outputs. A crossover is inserted between the amp and preamp. The supplied filter is adjustable to match the impedance of the amp, and crosses over (first order) at 80 Hz. As a result, your mains must provide decent output to 40Hz, as do my Vandy 1Cs, which Richard Vandersteen considered when designing the subwoofer. The subs come with cables (spade lugs for the amp and bananas for the sub end) and carpet-piercing, screw-iin spikes. With the spikes, the sub is very stable.
Until I was able to obtain one (in February of 2006) and then a second 2Wq (in October of 2006), I augmented the 1Cs with the Def Tech PF-15, a 185-watt, 15", sealed-box sub. It does not lack power, but is very boomy in the mid and upper bass (partly due to room acoustics). To reduce some of the peaks, I added both a Paradigm x-30 controller (to provide gain and phase control) and a Behringer Feedback Destroyer Pro, which includes a multiband parametric EQ. I was able to smooth out the Def Tech's response considerably, although the sound was no more refined than before, and seemed slow and plumby.
The Vandy subs provide the bottom octave for my left & right channels only. Bass from other channels is directed to the Def Tech as before, as well as LFE information from the pre-pro. My system is in my cellar, which has a concrete floor covered with unpadded commercial carpet, drywall walls & ceiling. Overall size is 20' X 26' X 6' (low ceiling), but the listening area is in one corner, which has two corners in the front about 10 feet apart. The Vandy subs are in each of these front corners. The 1Cs are about 2.5' from the side walls and about 3.5' from the front wall behind them. Unfortunately, there is a 55" RPTV between the 1Cs, although the 1Cs are forward of the screen, and toed-in slightly. The listening seat is about 9 feet back from the 1Cs.
Once I had the Vandy subs connected and dialed in (there is no level control, but a dial which is calibrated in dB of efficiency to match your mains), I did some critical listening. My musical tastes are fairly wide ranging, but I love alternative rock and lots of stuff that is usually poorly recorded. Listening to Ned Rorem's "Three Symphonies", the thing that truly impresses is that, even with the supplied crossover (Vandersteen recommends it be replaced with more transparent, fixed-value, in-line filters), is the transparency. Unlike some subs which always seem to be pounding out bass, even when there is none in the source material, the 2Wqs are sonically invisible until a bass or bass drum is played. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the deep, defined sound of a bass drum is both heard and felt, with explosive dynamics. This is the 2Wq's real strength and real value. Since it derives its signal from the same amplifier speaker taps that the mains do, the 2Wq becomes just another part of the mains. Phase relationships are maintained (at least when a pair of 2Wqs are used). When there is deep bass, you hear it. When there is no deep bass, you don't hear the subwoofers. I should note here that the 2Wq is not for you if you just want more bass. For that, something like the Def Tech, or perhaps some form of EQ, will suffice. The 2Wq is what you get when you want to add the lowest octave to speakers that are fine down to about 40Hz. That would be its only weakness, if it is in fact a weakness: This is not a Home Theater boomer that will make everything you play sound like it has gobs of explosive bass.
I also enjoy singer/songwriters. The cello on "Pretty Good Year" by Tori Amos (Crucify CD) was deep, and one could clearly hear the bow being drawn across the strings. It played beneath the rest of the band, and Tori, not over them. A good sub, IMO, will avoid masking resolution of higher frequency information.
Recordings with strong bass, like the Brad Meldau track on a JVC Jazz Festival promo CD I have, is rich, tuneful and with just the right amount of sustain and decay. Attack is excellent, and you can clearly hear the pluck of each string just before it blooms. Please note that I have set the "Q" factor, which is adjustable on this sub, to "1", where it will produce the tightest, best defined bass, but will not be boomy or bloated-sounding. I have yet to experiment with this control, but, frankly, I really don't have any desire to mess with what I feel is highly accurate, deep bass.
Peter Gabriel CDs represent real challenges to the bass reproduction capabilities of stereo systems. The Us CD can sound murky and confused if your rig produces bloated, boomy bass (as it did with my Def Tech). With the 2Wqs, the bass snaps into focus, and no longer clouds the lower mids. The music really opened up. Listen to "Don't Give Up" on the So album. At the end, the tempo changes and there is a strong, complicated bass line that continues as the track fades. A great test for bass, this section sounded terrific on my system with the pair of 2Wqs. Again, I could clearly hear the strings being plucked (probably picked), and each bass note was clearly defined.
These are heavy (~90 lbs. each) subwoofers. They are very well made and even during passages with a lot of deep bass, I could feel only the very slightest vibration when I placed my hand on the top of the cabinet.
This is also the first time I've had stereo subs in my system. Although subtle, I do feel that that the sense of air and space has improved somewhat. The C-J PV11 is known for a 3-D soundstage, but not as much for pinpoint imaging. That is indeed what I hear. A realistic soundstage with good center fill and some directionality, but the music is presented as a big whole, not as an assemblage of individual performers. Still, I think this is a function of the C-J preamp more than my speakers/subwoofers, since before the C-J came on board, imaging was stronger while soundstage dimensionality was weaker.
One concern I had was that a first order crossover would cause so much upper-bass output from the subs that it would become localized. Even when I was running one of the 2Wqs (in the far right corner of the front of the room), this was not an issue. In fact, the 2Wqs integrate seemlessly with my 1Cs. I would expect that any speaker that can reach 40Hz cleanly will work well with the 2Wq.
In general, I search for that sweet spot in audio gear where you get "entry-level high-end" at an affordable price. The Vandersteen 2Wq fits perfectly in that category. Although I bought both of these used, even at the $1300 retail price, they are a bargain, IMO. This is no big surprise, since I have felt that Vandersteen products offer great bang for the buck ever since I got the 1Cs about 6 years ago. I may someday upgrade from the 1Cs, but I expect I will own the 2Wqs forever (unless I get something like the Vandy model 5A or Quatro). Based on it's unique configuration, I doubt that I would want any other sub, regardless of price.
Combined HT/2--channel system:
Vandersteen 1C mains & surrounds
Vandersteen VCC-1 Center Channel
Paradigm Atom Back Surrounds
Definitive Technology PF-15 Subwoofer
Paradigm X-30 subwoofer controller
Behringer 1124P parametric EQ
Sherwood-Newcastle P965 Pre-Pro
Odyssey Audio HT3 3-channel power amp
Pioneer VSX-24TX AVR (used to amplify surround and back channels only)
Conrad-Johnson PV11 pre w/phono
Rotel RCD-02 CDP
Pioneer 220 DVD Recorder
Sony NS55P DVDP
JVC S-VHS ET VCR
Thorens TD-166MkII 'table w/Thorens arm
Ortofon OM10 pickup
Monster Reference, Signal Cable, Blue Jeans Cable, Kimber 4PR speaker cable
Definitive Technology PF-15 subwoofer