Richard Vandersteen at Audio Connection


Yesterday, I traveled to the NYC area to visit Audio Connection in Verona, NJ. It's a tony little town in the more hilly part of NJ; very beautiful. The store was hosting Richard Vandersteen, and the event was more or less to show of the Quattro loudspeaker, of which I have not yet heard.

I must commend John Rutan's store, he had every model in the line set up and playing, which allowed me to get an overall feeling for not only each speaker, but the entire marque. I've previously met John at Russ' (Rcprince) home, and he struck me as one of the better people in the audio business. Then again, knowing Russ, since they're good friends, why would I ever think otherwise? John and company did a most excellent job yesterday - thank you again, John!

You may or may not know, but I'm not the biggest Vandersteen fan in the world. And, it's strictly product related, as I find the speakers, at their worst, can be dark, muddy, and a bit less than ultimately resolving. I should also say perhaps the most impressive feat of Bill Legall of Millersound, in my opinion, is that a lot of his customers have had him upgrade their Vandersteens (Model 2, especially), and the sonic improvements are more than quite significant. I can think of no negatives regarding the company, their track record and brand loyalty they've developed over the years speaks for itself, and the audio world would be a far better place if more companies emulated Vandersteen.

That being said, this was the best I have heard the entire line ever sound. Again, credit John Rutan. A good dealer should show the line off in the best possible light. Otherwise, in my opinion, he simply is not a good dealer. I should point out that if my recollection is correct, I awarded my "Best Of Show" at HE2001 to the Vandersteen 5/Cary V12 monoblock room - it was very possibly Audio Connection's.

Though it was an "invitation only" event, far more people showed up. Twice as many, in fact. I guess good news travels fast. People even arrived at 1PM. I was just sitting around here for a few hours, waiting for the right time to leave, as I didn't want to get there too early. Had I known, I would have just gone an hour earlier. There were so many people that they decided to break the day up into two showings. I was part of the so-called second group, so I hung out with a few others in the main building, delved into the goodies, talked to everyone, and waited. Of course, if you know anything about audiophiles, you know they're not leaving when their time is up. After a while, they just told us to go over, as it didn't look like the first group was ending.

In the main building, where I was waiting, I was able to hear the Model 1 and 2, and, in a second building, across the street, the 3, Quattro, and 5A. Here are my impressions - please don't have a baby if my recollections on price are inaccurate:

Model 1 ($900), with Rotel integrated. Astounding value! In fact, I was pretty much borderline flabbergasted that a speaker at this price could sound so nice. Don't get me wrong, they are not perfect. Like any and every loudspeaker, they are far from perfect. They become congested at higher volumes, and a lot of my feelings regarding Vandersteens are present here, but I know of no speaker at $900 that sounds better than this. Or, probably even close to it. Their value is not even approached, much less exceeded, by the low cost Chinese offerings these days - a striking point for those who believe products in the USA cannot compete. Even the smallest model allowed the Vandersteen family flavor to come through in full regard. You just get a bit less of everything.

Model 2 ($1800), with Pass X150 power amplifier. The worst sounding set up of the day. In fact, it was not even close. Credit the room for a lot of it. None of the rooms were spectacular there (you work with what you have), the 5A being the best in that it was probably at least pretty good or more. This set up featured the worst of what I hear in Vandersteen speakers, coupled with some serious glare and shrillness in the presence region. Considering the Model 1 in the next room easily smokes it in many regards, I'm left thinking the speaker is clearly in the wrong room. Still, because of everything I heard over the course of the day, I'm left wondering, is there a better speaker at the price?

Model 3 ($3500), with Audio Research solid state stereo amplifier. The best sound, dollar per dollar, I heard. For me, this is definitely the sweet spot in the lineup. Particularly, for people like me, who appreciate a big, macho sound. My friend Vytas later told me the Vandersteen line had a driver upgrade about a year ago, and perhaps this was what I was hearing. I haven't heard the 3 sound like this before. Don't get me wrong, they weren't the most open or spacious sounding loudspeakers, they're Vandersteens after all. Were I ever to buy a pair of Vandys, it would likely be the 3 based on price and what I heard yesterday.

Quatro ($7000), with ARC (didn't see which, sorry) amplification. The reason I showed up in the first place. Though the sheer number of people made it difficult to spend as much time as I would have liked. I did jump into the sweet spot for a song or two, fortunately. Like just about everything the company makes, I feel they have a true winner on their hands yet again. At what is now a very midlevel price for a pair of loudspeakers, they offer a lot of performance. You get more resolution and refinement than the 3, which you should at twice the price. I didn't get a chance to REALLY hear them the way I would like, as we couldn't "open them up". But, I'm pretty well convinced of the continued success of the company; it's what they have to have in terms of a speaker that slots between the 3 and the 5A.

Model 5A ($12000? and up, depending on finish), with ARC tube monoblocks. The company's flagship did not disappoint. The 5As, and the system they were paired with provided the best sound of day. You get more of everything in the positive way, along with the powered woofer section that allows one to run tube amplification effectively. Sitting in the high end of the high end in loudspeakers today, they strike me as offering tremendous value. In fact, you probably have to spend twice as much to match them.

Regarding Vandersteen loudspeakers in general, in my estimation, they offer great value for money across the board. The Model 1, 3, and 5A especially. They also seem to work best with solid state amplification, which true devotees to the brand normally say, the 5A (and Quattro?) notwithstanding. I'll also put forth that using more upfront and engaging cabling pays dividends in having them sound not as dark and muddy as they can otherwise. In general, though they haven't exactly been MY flavor, I can certainly recommend them to many audiophiles, as they'll suit them perfectly.

A few thoughts on Richard Vandersteen... Though he carries somewhat of a reputation for being surly or curt, after seeing him in action, I would say it's more or less a case of mistaking directness for something else. Yes, he can answer a question in a few, emphatic words, but I found his responses thoughtful, honest, on the mark, and without any tinge of malice. Some of the attendees offered up LOOOOOONNNGGG, obtuse streams of consciousness, without any discrenible question or point. A real waste of time for everyone, Richard and the rest of us - to me this is far more egregious than any short answer he provided. Nevertheless, Richard displayed incredible patience and tact. He's the kind of guy whose products I would be interested in; if for nothing more than you understand his bent is towards meat and potatoes, not fluff. I was quite enamored with the way he handled himself.

A case in point, after being asked what kind of wire he uses inside the Vandersteens by one of the attendees, he answered the question thoroughly via manufacturer, compsosition, construction, etc., without giving a treatise. In other words, perfectly, in my opinion. Most manufacturers answer every question along the lines of everything they have is proprietary, and are quite offended one even had the temerity to ask. I contrast Richard with a tremendously well respected manufacturer who, at a social event, I asked to recommend to me a wire for general audio use - three times no less (I had to keep steering him back off of his tangents). I put up with his line of BS until it was clear I was not going to get anything beyond an offer to pay him a lot of money to sell me what he uses at a tremendous markup.

Thank you, John and company for a terrific event! Thank you, Richard for coming out to the other coast to make yourself available to us!
Thanks for the information, very interesting and well written.
I was very impressed with the Quatro at CES, in fact even more than the 5a. To me it had a more natural, organic sound - but there were too many factors to know why the difference. My philosophy at CES is: if something sounds not so good, you can't tell much about it. If it sounds good, it is good. The Quatro sounded good to me.
I've always loved his speakers - and have a pair of Fives now.

If you want to ask Vandersteen a question - he has a "responsive" Q&A on his website. Post a question - he answers.
Nice post, Joe. Top to bottom. Thank you.
I tried last week to get to Audio Connection while I was in Montville with my parents, we went to Sound By Singer (rude salesman and we felt rushed) also went to Stereo Exchange (nice folks great attitude but small selection)
Audio Connection was closed on Sunday so we sadly couldnt go, we did go to CSA Audio in Upper Montclair...great store nice folks and decent products, Wilson Sophia was pretty nice, the Dali Helicon is a very appealing speaker at its price, going to Sound by Singer should have been a was a huge disapointment.
Chadnliz, @ least whether by accident or design, you bypassed the snoots @ Lyric.
Wow! Great post Trelja! Well written and a great read. Thanks.

The more I hear about Richard Vandersteen, the more I like him.

Ya gotta love Richard. He's one the my favorite people in all of high end. Brilliant designer, honest to the core, and a heart of solid gold. In an age of meaningless marketing missives, it's refreshing to see a few people like him who design an honest product then let it stand for itself.
John Rutan spent hours re-wiring and modding my Spica TC-50's many years ago.. only charged me $100 bucks if I remember right... took him all evening. Pretty decent guy. Bought my Magnum dynalab Etude from John.. gave me a good deal and it's still going strong 15 yrs later.
I bought my 3A Sigs in April. They had to be ordered since I wanted beige cloth and walnut end caps. It took nine weeks to get them (the dealer had told me 2-3 weeks when I ordered them). I sent the product registration into Vandersteen along with a comment on how long it took. About three weeks later, I came home to find a voice mail on my home phone from Richard Vandersteen clearly explaining that the long wait had everything to do with the dealer and not their manufacturing process (apparently, the dealer had not really placed the order when I thought he did). Richard asked me to call him for more details (which I chose not to do in this case). I was blown away by such care and concern for his customers. And BTW, the speakers are fantastic!
I too have found Richard to be sincere and of high integrity. Since he discovered the "open baffle" and time and phase correct advantages years ago, he has remained true to them throughout. This consistency of design philosophy has held constant despite the always present temptations to jump on the lastest craze. I admire that conviction he possesses and the willingness to teach what it means to others.
I should add that my Vandys were purchased at a Chicago area dealer where I live (not Audio Connections).
I'd like to echo the sentiments many here have offered up regarding the speakers, the company, and Richard personally.

He did discuss the Vandersteen forums, which many attendees were active participants in.

Again, he must be commended for his detailed and sincere commitment to customer satisfaction. He TRULY invests himself into making sure that each and every customer is treated in the manner I believe a company should. Far too many companies see customers either as numbers, or incredibly, an annoyance. In my opinion, it's a big reason Vandersteen has not only been around since 1977, but flourished, when so many other companies have ceased to exist.
I wish I had known about Audio Connection when I was in NYC.
I also made the mistake of visiting “Sound By Singer.” I was looking to purchase the new Cambridge Audio 640P phono preamp. The staff was rude, condescending and couldn’t give me any information on the phono preamp. Actually they didn’t even know about it – and they’re a dealer. $16.00 wasted on a round trip cab ride.
Pine, to follow up we did make it to Audio Connection a week or so later, what a great store and staff. John gives great attention to questions and concerns, came out to do a home evaluation helped with selling old gear..ect.
Well a Scoutmaster, Phono sec, cart, tube pre, cables, and finally a new pair of Wood Quatro's later, I guess you can tell we have been very happy with John and his staff, Nick is a great guy to deal with also.
I certainly agree that

I too am a huge fan of John Rutan at Audio Connection. Hopefully he will have a room at this year's Stereophile show, as he did the last time it was in New York.
John went to do the final arrangements Friday, I think he said they will be on the 14th floor, maybe with the 5A but more likely (I think) with the Wood Quatro.