Review: Von Schweikert Audio VR55 Aktive Speaker

Category: Speakers

Review of Von Schweikert VR 55 Aktive:

The new 55's black finish on mine is flawless on careful inspection. The speaker is offered in any color with a possible up charge for some choices. The finish is a very deep mirror, so much so that standing above them looking down the side all you see is a perfect reflection of the carpet underneath with all colors accurate in the reflection and no distortion. They shine with a wonderful inner light. The fancy Von Schweikert "V" on front is made of mirrored glass that also sparkles. The white of the drivers is gentled to soft light grey through the metal honeycomb protectors. These are the first speakers that I have ever seen that look attractive to me without the grills on. The back plate holding the binding posts and bass and rear tweeter adjustments is elegantly finished in a silver brushed metal. The spikes are solid high quality brass finished in an attractive pewter color. With grills on, the speakers look sleek and very modern. The speaker has great lines and just looks and feels very expensive. Definitely not just another black box.

I used well recorded CD cuts from favorite classical piano, large orchestral, organ, male and female pop vocal, rock, and world music. My comments will mostly be in comparison to the already excellent VSA VR5 Anniversary MK2 model and other large speakers up to $100,000 in price. I play piano and my ultimate reference is strong familiarity with live music.

The first thing that delighted me is the 55 tweeter. It offers up copious detail and air yet at the same time is never glassy, harsh, edgy, and just sounds right and natural. The Annis have an excellent Revelator tweet, but the 55 tweeter with the rear ambience ribbon outclasses it and all others that I have heard. This results in closely miked female voices and treble piano, single and massed violins, fingers sliding up the frets of guitars, etc sounding more natural with accurate bite but no hardness, screech, or cringe. It also allows more precise location within the soundstage and an improvement of the general feeling of relatedness and position of all the sounds occurring in complex pieces. As I adjusted the ambience tweeter up a bit, my friend in the listening chair smiled and said that the cymbal on far right and back just became three dimensional! I had a three hour listening session last night at loud volume and experienced none of the listening fatigue associated with a tweeter that is ringing or too hot. Instead I enjoyed the excitement, and the beauty of natural treble. And I was delighted to hear that most of the liveliness and all of the beauty was conveyed even at much lower volumes. When you turn down most systems, it is like you turned down the lights and everything gets dull - not to as great a degree here. I spent much of the session grinning and moving to the music, and while planning to just sample many cuts, I listened to every one of them straight through because I was so delighted with what I was hearing - not so much a bunch of new sounds, but rather a better balance and naturalness within both micro and macro detail amidst incredible dynamics!

The midrange was harder to get a bead on. It is really hard to dissect the 55's because the speaker is so well integrated (no crossover points could be identified, all scales from lowest to highest sounded seamless in position, loudness, and character). Everything including voices, brass, strings, and percussion sound right, accurate, and properly fleshed out.

My Nuforce Reference 20s have the best SOTA bass that I have heard. Yet in the VSA showroom I heard the 55 Aktives being run by Constellation pre and amp, and heard bass guitar etc sound uncannily more real. At home through the Ref 20's, once the bass adjustment was properly set (about a 1.5 db boost) I am getting more weight and feel more chest, gut and butt pressurization than I had with the Annis and a touch more warmth, yet still enjoying the excellent slam, and fastness of the Nuforce. In fact I think that the articulation is better too.

The 55's disappear better than any other speaker I have heard. The place I see the most dramatic difference is that with all other speakers that I have heard, symphonies are disappointing - these other speakers simply did not convey the height, depth, width, air and excitement of a live symphony. The frustration was so great that I seldom listened to symphony recordings (though I love them in person) With the 55 Aktives, every symphonic piece auditioned in the small show room and in my large room has been a true surprise at how much of the pleasure of a live symphony the 55s are able to convey. Similarly, never before have massed violins lost their steeliness and sounded as natural and real.

So what next? As Tim the Tool Man Taylor would say - MORE POWER! So I changed my preamp setting from low to high gain (12v setting) to drive my Nuforce Reference 20's (Peak 440W into 8 ohms, 800W into 4, and 1600W into 2) and cranked the system up to high concert levels. I first listened all the way through to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with full Ode to Joy chorus, then Fanfare for the Common Man, and finally the Cirque de Soile's KA. Wow!, Glorioski! Shazam! Everything took on an inner light, the bass (even lowest notes) was stupendous in definition, weight, and impact - it filled my large room, and resonated in my body from my throat all the way down to my seat. In fast Koyoto drum and kettle drum rolls I could feel and hear each individual stroke! The treble and mid range stayed perfect and everything opened up. I found myself jumping up and air-conducting the orchestra (something I have not done in twenty years!). This listening session was truly a transcendental. For several VR 55 sessions now I have the feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction, hours afterwords, that I have in the past only gotten from going to an excellent live concert. That is really something. Just finished a rock session and with Santana Put Your Lights On and Metalica Unforgiven 2, I kept looking behind me as sound seemed to be coming from there too. And when pushed to very high volume, I could detect no hardening, compression, or congealing of the sound. Way cool! I think I found my speaker for life!

As best I know the designer, Albert V, was trying to convey much of the magic of very large (and expensive) speaker systems in a speaker of more realistic size and price. He felt that in addition to being time and phase aligned, it would be important that such a speaker exhibited the ability to convey dynamics without compression as well as the big boys did and project a sound field in all three dimensions including vertical height. In my view Albert has hit one so far out of the park that no one will even be able to find the ball! He has succeeded well beyond price point. In fact, when you hear the VR 55 and how beautifully it conveys music of all types, you might just feel he has established a new state of the art.

I have no commercial interest or affiliation with the manufacturer. Equipment used Ayon CD5’s with 1980 NOS Reflector tubes (Transport, DAC and preamp combined). Nuforce Reference 20 mono amps with Mosaic boxes on top and mass-loaded with lead bags, isolated mechanically and electrically. All Delphi/ Von Schweikert Master Built Signature Power cords, and biwire speaker cables, with Master Built Signature Ultra IC. Guerilla Audio PCs are currently being used on the Aktives bass. Herbie's gliders under speaker spikes. Power is clean with a dedicated circuit panel, PS Audio conditioner, and being the only house on the outside transformer. Comparison speakers Von Schweikert VR5 Anniversary MK2s in the same room with same equipment. Also a half dozen other large floor standers of good reputation in other people's systems

Room 38 by 22 feet with 10 foot peaked ceiling with maple floors on trusses and soft pecky cypress wood walls. Front wall treated with a home made system that sets up in 30 seconds (Doggy bed leaned against the TV with six inches of foam with soft lambs wool covering, then draped in two thick cotton blankets (not pretty but effective and materials are used conventionally when watching TV). Side wall first reflections treated with wood blinds and heavy drapes, floor with rugs, and windows treated with Marigo dots for absorbing reflections off glass.

Speakers set for first listening with Tweeters 38 inches from front wall, 9'8" apart, 6'4" from side walls, 10 feet to listening position with 20 degrees tow in. Have option for critical listening to move speakers out about 5 feet from wall. Doing so deepens and further improves the holography of the sound stage. Impressions are after more than 500 hours factory burn in and four days of home play.

VR55 Aktive Specifications from Manufacturer VSA: site.
"Featuring ceramic honeycomb woofers and midrange drivers along with a damped Beryllium dome tweeter, mounted in cabinet of 75mm thickness of resin/wood powder, artificial stone, and hard rubber. These layers resonate at differing Q frequencies, which reduces sound transmission through the cabinet better than solid aluminum, with measured distortion is less than 0.5% at normal listening levels. The VR-55 Aktive uses a 400-watt built-in woofer amplifier. This bi-amp technique allows anyone, in any room, to achieve superb bass depth (21Hz @ -2dB) and also enables matching of the bass level to the upper frequency ranges. To add the depth found in the concert hall, we have provided a rear-firing ribbon tweeter. This Dipolar Design creates a “bubble” of sound rather than a narrow “beam,” generating a huge sweet space. This new tweeter has the lowest measured distortion of any dome tweeter on the market, cost-no-object." Freq Response 16Hz-40KHz (-6db) 21Hz-40KHz (-2bd), Sensitivity 90db, Size 42"x14"x28", weight 186 lbs. Price $60,000.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
Von Schweikert VR5 Anniversary MK2, Tidal, Wilson
Great job and nice write up Joe!

I know these are a newer breed than before, but it's kinda nice to hear
about "other" speakers that fly under the radar instead of the
"usual" suspects that grace the rags every month.
Rx8man - Thank you for your kind words. Glad you liked the review. The 55's did get Best in Show at RMAF this year from at least two reviewers and a formal review is due in a major magazine in a few months.

I am so happy for you!

Yet you have now put me in a strange position...:-)
Either i wait till you will me your pair or let curiosity get the better of me without surrendering "our" one off little sister!!

Your patience and beautiful set-up has now given you it's rewards...

I don't know what to say and I am very seldom at a loss for words. I hope you are enjoying yours as much as I did, and am now enjoying mine.
Interesting. I have a pair of VR5SE annis that I have owned for around 7 years.

I have been thinking about bi-amping them but then I love the idea of the active sub on the 55s.

But considering how much money I will have to find to upgrade them, are they that much better than the Annie's!??
Whytejon - Just saw your post question - sorry the response took so long. "Considering the money - are they that much better than the Annis?"
At 9 months of ownership, for me they definitely are. They have improved even more over these months since the review in ways that have transcended expectations once again and remain my "speaker for life"  If course, one's room, other equipment, financial position, and love of that last drop of music enter into whether going from the Annis to the 55's will provide you with the same sense of value as it does me.  If you want to PM me to discuss I would be happy to do so.