Upgrade from Merlin VSM-M to What?

I have a wonderfull pair of Merlin VSM-M speakers, but I want fuller range. I have the balanced/single ended battery bam and it does extend the bass, but not as low as some other full range speakers. I have been lead to believe that my Karan KA-i180 integrated amp could sound even better with fuller range speakers. I don't want to spend a bundle of money. I just purchased a Pioneer 5060HD plasma and my budget for speakers are $1000.00 more then I will get for my VSM-M's. So my hope is for used speakers costing between $4,000.00 - $4,500.00. My thoughts are toward Dunlavy or Eggleston. Shipping these speakers must be taken into account. I do have sub woofers, but don't use them. They are Velodyne servo 1200's. My integrated does not have preamp outs and I think using the subs x-overs in the speaker line would harm the sound.
Suggest you Keep the already excellent Merlins and get TWO better subs. Perhaps the Vandersteen 2wq model.
All it seems you are wanting is the low end that the Merlins are not providing. However they are about as good as it gets the part of the audio spectrum that they do cover.
Good luck!
Why not upgrade to the MX with the super-BAM? It is true that the bass will not go any lower, the cutoff/filter/whatever is still at the same frequency, but the MX with the Super-BAM produces much more, and much better bass, than the old Milleniums with the old BAM. If you listen to pipe organ music or electronica or anything with 20 cycle bass, then going to the MX won't work, but otherwise it will be an improvement. In my room, with my system, it almost sounds like there IS a well-integrated sub in the system. Bass weight, clarity, and articulation improved dramatically with the MX ( i had the Milleniums too before going to the MX) and even more so with the super-BAM.
Again, though, if what you're looking for is LOWER bass than 28 cycles, you'd have to go elsewhere.
How is it possible to integrate a sub into a system using the merlin bam and having no preamp outputs in my integrated? I don't need 28 cycles, just more of what the VSM's do. I am afraid to ask what the upgrade cost is to the MX and Super-BAM + shipping. My budget is $1000.00. I am surprised at the used asking price of VSM-M speakers. I purchased mine used. At $7200.00 new and asking less then $2500.00 used seemes cheep. Other speakers that are older and cost about the same new are asking, and I assume getting $3500.00 and up. Why?
I recently bought a used pair of VSM-MXs, and upgraded the BBAM myself to work with large external SLA batteries. This upgrade (or doing the Superbam upgrade for $450 thru the factory) will increase the performance of the VSMs by an astonishing 30-50%. They will have more bass authority, bigger dynamic envelop, tactile realism, and greatly reduced midrange and treble grain. I have not heard speakers at any price surpass the Merlins in refinement after these mods. If after upgrading the BAM you need deeper bass, then sell your amp and get a preamp with a line-level output to a sub.

Also, have you properly set them up? The bass extension of the VSM is finicky-- very dependent upon placement and correct use of the spikes/cones.

Don't sell them!!

If I had to choose one update would you think the BAM update over the MM update? $450 for the bam seems good.
Just call Bobby @ Merlin & talk it over w/him. Your other gear might determine which upgrade makes more sense. He is the most trustworthy you'll find, and he knows what he is doing. His advice is hard to beat. Cheers,
It would make more sense to aquire the "Magic Mod" upgrade than the "SuperBam", which is icing on the cake.
I'm not sure what is involved in the MX update, but the BBAM upgrade sounds like a whole new line stage or source component. The BBAM is an op-amp based design, and op amps require a top notch battery source in order to lose their synthetic and unfocused quality. The BBAM upgrade improves upon the batteries and voltage regulation stage.

the speakers will give plenty of bass if you use them the way they were designed to be used. they are also very indicative of the gear that precedes them so if the amp sounds less full then that is the way they will sound. the same can be said for the wires and sources. i have not heard your amp but certainly an mm speaker mod and super bam mod would do a lot to help you go in the direction you want to go in.
My amp outputs over 200 watts into 8 ohms with pure class A to 75% of the max output. A damping factor of 2500:1 and 72 Joules of stored energy per channel. The bass control is fantastic and the Karan loves the Merlin VSM speakers. I can't overstate enough about the Karan integrated quality! My music taste is old Genesis (pre 1977), Gentle Giant, Yes etc. (head music).
Chris Squire, Tony Levin & Mike Rutherford all vote for the speaker mod! ;-)Cheers,
After reading all these fine answers, I think that your cables maybe a source of concern.I know the amp and speakers are excellent but also know that they are only passing a signal.A cheap solution would be to try some well rounded cables that have full bandwidth capability.Also one should look into the grounding scheme that the system is utilising.I have found that improving ones ground is a fundemental improvement to the whole system. Also the amp uses the ground as a push off point, like a runner using starting blocks for a sprint.The other thought is that your electrical power maybe suspect, this would also limit the fine Karan in current and voltage. I hope this helps and gives some alternatives before you decide to update your very fine speakers ( I would blame the speakers last).Take care Dennis
this amp has a very high damping factor that may be over kill for the speaker which has considerable damping of its own. this is why i asked. what cables are you using and source electronics? are the cables shotgun? are you using my jumpers?
it is not a question of extension in the bass but of tonal balance that leaves you wanting more. i feel that the set up may also be suspect. you really should consider giving me a call at 585 367 2390 during business hours. i am on the east coast and get in around 10 am.
i will do my best to help you and this could save you a lot of money in the end.
Love your post Sbank!!
Cenline, my speaker cables are Gregg Straley's Reality Cables. My interconnect cables could be suspect and my power cables, I am ashamed to say, are tied to a power strip connected to a 14 gage extention cord.
I own a construction company and I have wired a few homes myself, so I have no excuse. All of your posts prove to me that I should not upgrade my speakers. Maybe I needed some re-assurance. I feel much better now. I will upgrade my power supply and maybe experiment with interconnect cables. I am using the Eastsound CD-E5 with one set of cables that came with the cd player and distech platinum cables to tie in the BAM between the cd player and the integrated.
Thanks Bobby.
I use a single run of speaker wires and cheep, left over old speaker cables, cut into jumpers. I am on the east coast as well about 2 hours outside New York City. I have to run to Philly tomorrow and will try to give you a call before I leave.

Service from Bobby alone makes it a no brainer to keep the Merlins. What was I thinking?
I also have Gregg Straley's Reality speaker cables that I've used with my TSM-MX's. They are excellent sounding cables, however, I'd strongly caution mixing and matching with others in the system. In both situations I've heard them there is some synergy in using his speaker cables in conjunction with the interconnects. Much the same result with Cardas Golden Reference. When I mixed the CGR and Reality Cables, the overall sound was less coherent and becomes thinner sounding with less slam. Good luck - Bobby will take care of you if you ask questions and listen.
I have VSM-MX. Love them. I just had the BAM upgraded to Super-BAM staus. I was already getting great bass. Now it's very robust. Very satisfying. Very real. I will say this: If you do indeed purchase other speakers keep the Merlins on hand long enough to make a credible comparison. It temporarily ties up funds to do that, but my money says you will put the "new" one's up for sale and keep the Merlins. Ya want more bass out of em? Give Bobby a call...
i'll just bet that if you get the merlin/cardas jumpers for that speaker, you will have way better sound and a richer tonal balance. i will explain better when you call but if the jumpers you made use bigger than 15 gauge wire, the dc resistance will be too low going to the tweeter and it will play too loudly. this will shift the spectral balance point up. lighter bass will be the result.
give me a call and i'll get this a lot better for you after you answer a few questions.
bobby at merlin
I guess it depends what you mean by "fuller"....if you mean the sound you hear on the street from a souped up car stereo system then I think the Merlin's will disappoint you....but this sound is not accurate music anyway it is mostly all resonant harmonic distortion.

I suspect that the Merlin VSM-M is doing a fasntastic job especially with your amplifier.

Proper base will not be boomy and room shaking all the time...most often it should be tight accurate and lean ...it is rare that the source material is "boomy", "fat" or "full" sounding.

Try adjusting your speaker placement...remember you get bass cancellations from rear walls at anything less than 2.8 meters from a rear wall!

Try either very far or very close to the rear wall...and avoid corners.
Stereo you state:
My music taste is old Genesis (pre 1977), Gentle Giant, Yes etc. (head music)
Some of the R&R mixes from this period SUCKED...maybe that's could be a factor. The problem exists on the original master tapes. I have Leon Russell's CARNEY on a DCC Gold CD [re-mastered by Steve Hoffman] The big hit "Tight Rope" was severely compressed; all of the other songs sound entirely different. Record labels would purposely compress songs on many albums if they intended to possibly release them as singles. Made them sound louder on cheap ass FM car stereos of the day [similar to Phil Spector's "wall Of Sound"...which sounds hideous on any decent stereo].

Try some known good recordings...ask for suggestions if you need!
I will point out that the SuperBam has resulted in a significant increase in the bass. Speed, tightness and perceived extension. It was well worth the $. And if you are 2 hrs from NYC, you are probably 1/2 way to Merlin outside of Rochester.
when you have a cjance get that bam back to me so it can be fixed my friend...i am really sorry for the problems!!!
My speaker jumpers stink. They are larger then 15Ga.

The speakers are not bright, but smooth and detailed. When I used my Melos Audio separates (before the Karan) I was able to use the second set of pre outs to my subs. I did not own the VSM's at that time. I was using North Creek Rhythm speakers that I built, and my subs.

My favorite cd is Genesis Trick of the Tale. I know that the mix wasn't great, but some of that low keyboard bass was amazing. I am open for other suggestions. I also enjoy SuperTramp albums Breakfast in America (MFSL gold CD) and Crime of the Century.

I will try other interconnects. I have a pair of 2m Cardas Hex-5 I haven't tried. Gregg tried to talk me into his interconnecs. I should have listened.
when the tweeter plays to loudly it sounds nasal and smooth and is too full in the lower treble. the spectral balance will shift up towards the tweeter and this is going to alter the tonal balance.
i still suggest that you give me a call because i want to ask you some questions about your set up and future plans.
I like the Straley IC's even better than the speaker cables. Ask Gregg, but I think the speaker wire is actually the same as the IC, maybe not as optimumized for higher voltage/current for speakers. They do need some break in time to sound their best.
Jeez, with already over 20 posts, I don’t think that my post will add much, but what the hell.
I have owned the VSM-SE, M, MM, and finally the MX with the Super BAM. These speakers do not put out the quantity of bass as say the Revel F-30, Gershman Acoustics Avant Garde RX-20, etc., BUT after plenty of equipment/speaker purchases, they DO put out the right amount of bass as measured and by my ear. As stated numerous times via myself and others (including Bobby) these speakers do require more user involvement than others. By that I mean that the matching equipment should be fuller sounding (think Joule Electra type equipment, not highly damped equipment such as Krell as an example) and the room placement/seating position should be followed as per the instructions. As a personal example, I had a Sonic Frontier Line 2SE preamp and wanted what I thought was deeper bass from the speakers, so I bought a REL Storm III subwoofer. After hearing Bobby tell me numerous times that that preamp was not a good match, I finally sold it and bought a used Joule Electra LA 100 MK III preamp. Did the bass go deeper? No. Did the speakers sound fuller, more “relaxed”, and more musical? Yes. I sold the subwoofer.

The VSM’s are such great speakers that they are the cornerstone of my system.

Just an aside, as you (and most everybody else!) are concerned about money, you might want to have a look at the integrated that Bobby now imports from Spain – the ARS Sonum Filarmonia. The retail price of $3500 US is a fantastic match for the VSM’s. I am waiting for mine to come in.
You can email me directly if you want more information/background.



By the way, I have been over to Bobby’s workshop in Hemlock NY several times. It was always well worth the 3 hour drive!
Are you moving from the VZN-100 to the ARS? Is this an up or side-ways move?

I really don't know. When I receive the ARS Sonum Filarmonia (I have had it on order for a while), I will have several options as I have also bought from Bobby the TSM-MM. I will definitely try the ARS in the VSM-MX system and see how it compares to the LA150/VZN-100 combo. If it is close, I will probably sell the Joule equipment and buy another ARS to go with the TSM-MM. I will just have to wait and see. Of course, there is that slight difference in retail cost as well...

Please keep us posted on the new ARS !
Dave, what were you conclusions regarding the ARS. I'm contemplating making a similar move to yours, although from CAT to ARS. What are you impressions? How did the "test" go?
Jeez, I forgot all about this thread!
Long story short, I sold the Joule equipment and bought the ARS Sonum Filarmonia. I couldn’t really hear that great of a difference between the Joule equipment and the ARS and, more importantly, I really like the idea of the simpler integrated amp approach. As mentioned before, there is that slight price difference… so the money that I saved I bought a turntable. There are so many roads in this fun hobby!
Thanks Dave. I'm going to give this ARS integrated a try. I know that Bobby knows his speakers inside out, and had this integrated developed/optimzed for the VSMs (not that it would not sound good with other speakers); is very promising indeed. As you say, there is the price difference, and one is tempted to think this $3,500 integrated unit could not possibly be as good (or real, real close) as my $20,000 seperates - but if my experience ends up being like yours, who would not want to save the money and own a much smaller, lighter, and less expensive to buy and maintain, alternative to the Joule/Atma/Berning/CAT combos that have long been used to make the Merlin's sing. I'm sure I'll have to wait a while to get them, but I'm very interested in the possibilities. I'm ready to be "schocked". Thanks for your comments.
Try the Devore Fidelity line!!!!!
Its going to be interesting to hear your feed back on Filarmonia. As ive discussed earlier that im really sold on VAC gear but if i can save and get very close to the same quality sound with the Fila integrated, then its a no brainer for me sound and value wise. I still might be interested in the placette active you've had in your system.

" but if my experience ends up being like yours, who would not want to save the money and own a much smaller, lighter, and less expensive to buy and maintain, alternative to the Joule/Atma/BERNING/CAT combos that have long been used to make the Merlin's sing. I'm sure I'll have to wait a while to get them, but I'm very interested in the possibilities. I'm ready to be "schocked". Thanks for your comments."

Well, Pubul I can understand most of what you say above relative to the amp in question but while the Berning is a bit higher in price, IT IS light (10 lbs), efficient (only uses 100 watts at idle and 300 at full power, extremely inexpensive to maintain (is 20,000 output tube hours enough to qualify?) and flexible (it can be used directly from a line source but sounds better to me through a preamp). I can't add too much more other than, oh yes, it is a world class component regardless of price although preferences do come into play in this hobby so YMMV.

It may or may not be more preferrable than the ARS Sonum Filarmonia with the VSM. Just wanted to set the record straight. My enthusiasm can become overbearing at times and those that see my comments on this amp pop up so frequently just might think I have some vested financial interest in The David Berning Co., don't, just want to point out that this amp is a tour de force in design, efficiency, performance but decidedly less so in roadside appeal.

Thanks for listening! :)
I saw where you were acknowledging the jumpers on the speakers stink, they need to be killer quality and as neutral as you can get, AU-24 or JPS SC2. I have some wire that is Nordost Valhalla category that I can send you a foot of to make jumpers that are as good as it gets.

The guy who does the design work on JPS has Merlins so he knows how to make them fly. Don't mess with anything until the wire is right. How are the speakers supposed to have a balanced sound if they aren't getting a balanced input signal?
the jumpers that come with the speakers are cardas radially wound crossfield copper litz and the correct gauge/dc to make the balance of the tweeter and woofer, right. by going to a bigger gauge you will decrease the dc resistance and allow the tweeter to play louder which is the opposite to what stereo wants. he wants a fuller tone and what you suggest will make them sound lighter in tone.
my jumpers are a copper crossfield litz made by cardas with copper tinned o ring connectors. if you judge things by looks i get your point but they are very sophisticated and exactly what the speaker needs to make it function correctly. now if stereo wants a fuller tone he should get a lead free power cord for his super bam, new 230 mah cells for the bam and lead free jumpers. all this is very inexpensive and works like a charm.
bobby at merlin
Tubegroover, I agree with your comments regarding the Berning, in fact some very good reasons to own the Bernings. I was thinking of my 180lb CAT Jl2s with 22 tubes, etc. I've not heard the Bernings, but one cannot argue with the ergonomic factors of light weight, long tube life, and low heat - very good attributes in any amplifier. I'll tell you one thing, if the "tiny" simple ARS can compete with my CAT, I'll be talking about it an awful lot to anyone willing to listen. I get the sense (hasn't happened yet) that a long term audiophile who as tried many pre and amp combinations finally finds an integrated that performs to the level of SOTA separates will like get off the equipment merry-go-round. Well, maybe I'm kidding myself. Although for me the VSM-MXs has really stopped me from considering different speakers. For my taste in music, sound, and room they never make me wonder about my "next" speaker. If the ARS could do the same - well that would be something.
I doubt that the CAT's are wanting in too many areas especially dynamics which I can't imagine the ARS or Berning are going to approach at 35 and 70 watts respectively. I too am curious to hear the ARS especially after reading David Berry's comment that he didn't hear a significant improvement over the Joule to keep it. The Joule is quite special with the VSM and to think that one can spend 3500.00 on an integrated that is going to approach that level of performance/enjoyment is saying a lot.
In the $5000 range used Legacy Audio Focus 20/20 is a nice upgrade. For about $1500 more, used Wilson Sophia are far superior to what you have in both build quality and sonics.

There are many speakers at your price point offering significant improvement if you buy used.
p and t,
just consider that the unit uses cryoed hovlands (along with a cardas pc and terminals) like your speakers! then think about its sound potential with its design in regards to the vsm's needs.
this is not for everyone, certainly.
but it is remarkably good and uncomplicated sounding on merlins.
Since this thread is over a year old, what did you purchase? Do you still have VSM's? I think threads should have an expiration date.
Well, I did it. My order is in for the Ars Sonum. It will be interesting to A/B against the Placette Active (which I prefered for the CAT SL1)/CAT JL2 combo. I don't believe for one second that the Ars Sonum is the equal of the CAT Amp, which IMHO is one of the great amps on the market and perhaps the very best P/P amp. The CAT will sing in ANY system, with almost any speaker. In that sense the CAT is clearly better, because it has wider, more universal application. That being said, I'm buying into the idea that an amp that is highly optimized to perform very well with a specifc speaker in mind is very promising - while I suspect (know?) the CAT is the greater amp overall, the Ars Sonum just might be able to provide just what the Merlins need to sound their best. If after A/B the two, the Ars Sonum is close to my current $20,000 worth of separates, I will be selling my Placette and CAT on Audiogon, pursuing a simpler path to musical enjoyment. If it can't beat them IMO, I will tell you that to. I suspect it will be several months before I get the unit for evaluation, by which time this thread may indeed have a expired. But then I'll start a new thread in the Pre/Amp category where that discussion should probably take place. Thanks.
agreed as this string keeps coming up and going in a different direction. perhaps stereo should have considered getting another amp which would have allowed him to utilize the vsm's potential in the areas where they shine and the subs too for that matter. it would have been a remarkle system.
even having the vsm m upgraded to the mm or mme superbam may have put him right where he wanted to be as far as room filling qualities are concerned.