Vandersteen 5a's - an upgrade from Vienna mahlers?

I have Vienna mahlers and have tried a few tube amps without success. I am thinking of the 5a's as I like the idea of SS powered bass and vandersteen's no fatiguing detailed sound. This will enable me to use a nice tube amp
I like mostly rock/alternative/pop/electronic type music with some blues and jazz.

Will the vandersteen be a positive step or just a sideways step.
In my personal opinion, a properly set up pair of Vandy 5's would be a major leap forward. The fact that you can tailor the bass response of the Vandy's, either to best suit your room acoustics or your personal listening preferences, is of massive benefit. The Vandy's will not only be easier to place in the room due to their bass tuning capabilities, but you'll get better performance out of them too. Sean
Hi Sean: Is your advice premised upon the fact that Vandy's have adjustable bass and thus have room placement advantages (and all that that entails), or do you also have direct experience with both of these speakers and have A/B'd them in a system?

I have listened to both speakers, but not in the same systems or rooms. Having said that, i've always found the bass of the larger Vienna Acoustics speakers to be very round, sloppy and ill-defined i.e. the trademark of a very poorly designed vented speaker. The first time that i heard them, i was with my Brother. We both looked at each other and smiled as we were thinking the same thoughts. That is, they sounded like Legacy's i.e. big, dynamic and thoroughly bloated but with a little more finesse up top. Stereophile commented on this and said that the Vienna's that they reviewed were some of the hardest speakers that they ever had to place in a room.

On the other hand, one can play so many games with the Vandy's in terms of the sound that you want out of the bottom end, that one can EASILY match their room and / or sonic preferences. The fact that they come with their own bass amplifier removes much of the heaviest load from the main amplifier, offering the potential for sonic upgrades there too. Much of this will depend on how "sturdy" the main amplifier is to begin with though, so i wouldn't immediately count on this happening. The more anemic the main amp was, the more room for improvement there is in that regards.

Technically speaking, the Vandy is light years ahead of the Mahler's in most every respect too. This is probably why it is a better sounding speaker, regardless of the versatility associated with the bass section. The fact that Richard uses custom built "subwoofer" drivers AND supplies a high powered amplifier AND user adjustable controls to assure the best in-room response possible for the price that he does whereas the Vienna's use off the shelf drivers that make use of poor woofer placement should speak volumes about the integrity of both the designs and the designers. This is not to say that everyone will "prefer" the sound of the Vandy's, but that i don't consider these two speakers as being anywhere near equivalent products for the aforementioned reasons and a few more. Sean
Sean: I respect your opinion and trust that you heard what you have reported about the Mahler's sound, but wonder whether your comments may be a bit harsh.

Each Mahler has two 7' midwoofers, two 10" woofers and two ports, making its midbass and bass interaction with a room particularly complex. My guess is that most ported speakers having that many low-frequency sources will sound bloated and boomy if not set up properly or if used in a smallish room. You mention the Stereophile review -- Robert Deutsch reviewed the speaker in a 14 x 16 x 7.5 room -- I doubt there is a worse venue for a speaker with prodigious bass capabilities than a smallish, basically square room. If you read JA's measurements accompanying the review, he made a point of noting that "[t]ry as I might, I couldn't find any particular measured problems in the bass."

My experience is that they require a large room and careful placement in order to produce smooth bass, which I do not think is too much to ask of a speaker. They also benefit from a high-current amp and carefully selected speaker cables (I got excellent results from Rowland Model 6's and Kimber Select speaker cables, but they also sounded excellent run with my VAC Renaissance 140/140's with no feedback). They do favor bass slam over bass definition, something that was documented in Tony Cordesman's review of the speaker for Audio. I believe the emphasis on slam over definition was a design choice, however, not a design flaw, and will be anything but unpleasant to many listeners (I also have Salons, recently had Dynaudio 3.3's, and ran Dunlavys for years, so tight bass I am no stranger to).

As for comparing the Mahlers to Vandy 5A's, I never A/B'd them side to side, so I am reluctant to proclaim one better than the other. The Vandy's cost 50% more and are made in a lower-cost venue than the Austrian-made Mahlers, so they have certain advantages in any comparison. In my listening, however, I found the Vandy's to lack transparency compared to my Mahlers and my Salons, and I hated the tiny sweet spot (the bane of time-aligned speakers) which reminded me of my old Dunlavys. Then again, I heard them at an unfamiliar dealership on an unfamiliar system and only for about an hour, so I probably shouldn't be making any comments about them at all.

As for how the Mahlers ultimately compare to Vandy's, the Vandy's powered, in-room adjustable woofer will certainly give them an advantage due to versatility of set up. But if both speakers are set up properly and put head to head, I am not so sure that the Vandy's win -- not so sure at all.
I would listen to Sean. The Vandersteen 5a is one hell of a speaker and the Mahler's will never match it in the bottom or anywhere else for that matter. The 5a is one of the finest, most technically thought out speakers in existence. Vandersteen does his homework. No way ported bass will compete with the woofers in this system even under ideal conditions. Ports will not do bass as well as a sealed system (especially one as capable as the Vandersteen.)
I have heard both speakers and, sorry, it's just not there. I hope to have a pair of these in my sound room by summer.
But, what is great about audio, you can decide for yourself.
There are plenty of choices.
The very first words of my first post read "IN MY PERSONAL OPINION, a properly set up pair of Vandy 5's would be a major leap forward". I shared my opinion and then expounded on it when asked to do so. Others with different opinions and / or preferences are obviously welcome to contribute to the thread. I don't know all there is to know about any given subject and to be quite frank, i know very little about any given subject. Having said that, what i do know and what i have experienced, i am more than willing to share. At the same time, what i do know came from others that were willing to share, so i encourage open conversations.

I would only add that studying loudspeaker design would be helpful PRIOR to investing the kind of money that we are talking about on either of these models. If one does that, they will learn that driver placement, cabinet alignment, Q, room loading characteristics, etc... are all very important factors that contribute to what we hear. Once one knows the science behind how & why things work the way that they do, they'll know what to expect out of a given design, sometimes even before they hear it. As was the case with both of these designs, they lived up to their design heritage. That is, as far as i'm concerned.

I don't own either speaker and hope that those that do own one or the other are happy with their purchases. I was simply sharing some observations that i've made about them after studying both design approaches and then listening to them in different listening areas. Sean

PS... There is a difference between "slam" and "high output". "Slam" requires both "high output" and tremendous transient response capabilities. That tremendous transient response is what is also required for definition and articulation. In my opinion, the Vandy's are capable of all three aspects of bass reproduction i.e. high output, transient response and articulation whereas the Mahler's are only capable of the "high output" aspect of the equation. That's because using a port instantly introduces poorer transient response into the equation. This is due to a lack of internal damping and the uncontrolled oscillation with out of band leakage that the port ( Helmholtz resonator ) itself introduces into what we hear. Ports are used strictly to boost the quantity of output, but this is done at the expense of quality. The only way to increase the quantity of output without sacrificing damping / transient response ( quality ) is to use more active drivers. Anything else is strictly an engineering / design trade-off. As i've always said, one should buy & use what they like, regardless of what others think.
thanks guys, good debate going on here.

What is the difference functionally between the sweet spot produced by Vandersteens with that produced by non time aligned speakers.
I know with my Mahlers, that there is ideed a sweet spot and it is quite small, however standing up, or moving sideways does not alter the musical delivery as such, but it no longer provides that sweet spot.
After you have dialed in the right height for the Vandersteens, is the distance from the speakers flexible?.

I am looking at the vandersteens due to the fact they are flexible to adjust the bass and have a good reputation for musical sound and I would like to use a tube amp.

ps, I have a feeling that the vandersteens are better value as much of the 10 k list price for the mahlers is taken up by distributor and dealer markup. You can always buy a 5 and upgrade to the 5a later.
I'll keave sonics aside for the moment and look at practical & operational issues.
First point: Raquel notes above that the V's cost +50%. Major consideration.
Second: the Mahler are a VERY diffult load, hardly the ideal for a tube amp (mentioned in the original question). A brute SS with a ridiculously hi amp PS is more the ticket.
3rd: the V's are biamped, a very useful feature, are an easier load and may be driven by a tube amp (i.e. the main spkr).
4th: the V's engineering looks far superior to the Mahler.
5th: again, the Vs are twice the price of the Mahler...
Downunder mentions that the Mahler's list at $10K where he is located ( Australia i would assume ). While i don't know how much Vandy 5's run "down under", there might not be as much of a price difference as was initially mentioned. I guess it would be a good idea to mention where one is posting from as this might offer further insight / additional info to take into consideration when responding. Sean
I respectfully disagree that people who purchase ported speakers have not done their homework regarding speaker design, or, that there is consensus among respected speaker designers that acoustic-suspension / sealed-box designs are superior.

I lived with a classic acoustic-suspension design, Advents, for nearly seventeen years. I then owned a more serious application of this design principle, six-ft. tall Dunlavys, for six more years (and spent a lot of time listening to my friend's Dunlavy V's, which are one of the most serious attempts at the sealed-box design principle). In between, I owned ported KEF's and now own ported Mahlers and ported Salons. Both sealed-box and ported designs have their advantages and disadvantages, as does electrostatic technology, planar ribbons, transmission-line loading, single-driver, etc. ad nauseum. I dislike sealed-box designs because even giant sealed-box speakers are prone to compression on fortissimos, something that is unacceptable to me given that I listen to a lot of orchestral music. On the other hand, I recognize that the use of ports introduces resonances into the sound, the exact opposite of what a speaker designer should be attempting to do. The following article is helpful to clarify the advantages and disadvantages of ported v. sealed-box woofer loading:

My experience is that quality of sound in speakers is not so much determined by choice of design principle, but rather, how well a given design is implemented. Returning to the Mahler, they are designed for truly large rooms and can sound bloated and loose if used in small venues (Sumiko, the Vienna Acoustics and Sonus Faber distributor in the U.S., used to recommend Mahlers over the Amati Homage in large rooms). As for the quality of the drivers used in the Mahler, it uses the Scan-Speak carbon-fiber midwoofer that is used in the WattPuppy 7, Maxx II and Alexandria (it is also used in the Blue Heron II, and used to be used by Verity), and uses an expensive Scan-Speak tweeter that is floated in silicone gel to isolate it from cabinet resonances. The upper midwoofer is run from 70 Hz. to 4 kHz, spanning six octaves and giving the speaker a coherence that I find very appealing. The side-mounting of the woofers is a perfectly legitimate design choice that is currently also used by Audio Physic, Genesis, and Mission to name just a few, the benefits of which are described succinctly by Israel Blume of Coincident:

The Vandy's powered woofer is nice for the reasons described above, but I would not own a powered speaker because it is just one more thing to break on an item that weighs a couple hundred pounds boxed and will be a real pain to return to the manufacturer (or God forbid, a powered speaker breaks and the manufacturer has gone belly up, which is real possibility -- speaker manufacturers seem bested only by restaurants when it comes to business failure rates).

So is the Vandy an engineering tour-de-force and the Mahler just a pretty face? I don't think so. I respect Richard Vandersteen, but I lived with time-aligned speakers for six years and do not care for their tiny sweet spot. The Vandys' use of both first-order crossovers and a sealed-box design limit dynamics and that is unacceptable to me, given the type of music I listen to. Powered woofers are a potential maintenance problem. Vandys to me are ridiculous looking, while the Mahlers look like furniture. When the homework is done, and be it for technical or aesthetic reasons, the Mahlers can be a very deliberate and very defensible choice.
With the Vandersteen, the woofer amp and all components can be field repaired or taken out and returned to the factory if need be. You don't have to ship the speaker-thank God! Vandersteen has been in business since 1977. I really don't think he will be going anywhere until his retirement considering his success to this point.
As I said, each to his own. However, I personally will buy the Vandersteen's. The 5a's ARE more furniture if that rocks your boat. However, I don't think the rest of the Vandersteen line is that bad looking compared to some of the other offerings in the market (ie; electrostatics)and I'm not in this for show. I for one buy for sound not furniture. If the two coincide, so be it.
As for ported vs sealed bass, the only place ported will win out is in shear volume---that's it.
The link to Israel Blume's comments about side-firing woofers referenced in my last post did not come through -- here it is again:
"I lived with time-aligned speakers for six years and do not care for their tiny sweet spot" - and I'm new to them and can't seem to locate this "tiny sweet spot". My 3A Sigs sound wonderful in or not in my sweet/spot - seat.

"The Vandys' use of both first-order crossovers and a sealed-box design limit dynamics and that is unacceptable to me" - like in the other thread, I'm not hearing this limited dynamic knock on the Vandy. From jazz, to classical, to acoustic , to rock and roll, none of it sounds limited to me. Now, factor poorly recorded music into the mix, and they will tell you about it. If I love the artist/the song enough, I don't much care - I just won't use it to try and show my system off. Put on Ray Brown - Solar Energy or Eva Cassidy's Songbird - well what's limited there? Absolutly nothing.
I know of NO manufacture that will not say his design is the best compromise. However, as Sean says, some basic research is required into such design when you are going to spend this kind of money.
I can only say from my research that [I] will stick with sealed designs. I have spent considerable time with the 5a. It does not have a small sweet spot(of course, personally, I haven't found any Vandersteen to have that small of sweet spot if set up correctly.) It is dynamic, transparent and has some of the best bass I have ever heard from a speaker system. It also reproduces voices as good as I have ever heard with the proper height and width and a amazing holographic soundstage. It will play considerably louder than other Vandersteen's(if you are in to that.)
By the way, I have a set of Advent "The New Advent" (circa 70's) and let us hope we have come a little ways since then. They were excellent in their time but not up to todays standard. But even back then, a ported speaker couldn't deliver the bass it would.
Dunlavy's have some inherit design flaws that can only be ameliorated by designing the height of the room around them. This has to do with room nodes and room reinforcement. The same goes for any speaker that uses a woofer that is measurably above ground level.

Side mounted woofers were first utilized by AR ( as far as i know ), but they did their homework in terms of the how's and why's of why this can work and be beneficial. One of the requirements that one must deal with in such a situation though is a very low and sharp crossover frequency. Designs that don't take advantage of such an approach are bound to have both room placement problems in terms of low frequencies and the potential for cancellation due to lobing. Having said that, there is something to be said for the sound of a direct radiator that indirect radiation can't match, even at low frequencies.

Other than that, we could continue this thread on forever. The fact that you are comparing your multi-thousand dollar modern speakers to 30+ year old 10 inch two ways ( Advent's ) really has me scratching my head. As to the Dunlavy's, unless you had about 1000 wpc feeding them, you've never really heard what the speakers were capable of. The compression that you were hearing was the amplifier giving out, not the speaker.

As to the design compromises involved with various approaches, ports can not match the linearity of a sealed design, even if the ported design is fully optimized. All a port does is to destabilize the air spring within the box, introduce uncontrolled leakage, produce an uncontrolled resonance and increase the potential for woofer damage if fed a signal below the resonant frequency of the vent. The end result of such an approach is that bass is extended and "may" play louder, but the quality of bass suffers in most every aspect. The drawback to sealed designs is that they are inefficient and require greater amounts of power to obtain the same amount of amplitude output. Pay your money and make your decisions. Sean
We used the 5As at CES 2004. You can see photos in the current Audiogon CES coverage, room 1756 and read impressions of the speakers/room from the pros in TAS, Positive Feedback, Bound For Sound, Sound StageAV and other coverages of the event. I’m sure the Mahlers are terrific speakers. With a bit of TLC the 5As will give you the ability to tune your room out of the equation. Room 1756 is located on the 2nd floor of the Alexis Park and the old wooden floor bounces like a trampoline. It sets up a resonating field that distorts the signal on its way to your ears from the speakers. It's discouraging when you're trying to accomplish excellence.

Richard Vandersteen, who is a peach of a guy, set the speakers up using a simple radio shack sound level meter and dialed the floor out of the equation. By the end of the event, we were tuning the speakers to our taste by ear. This is one case, but it elucidates the flexibility of the speakers and inherent added value.

And, as you said, the inboard sub-amp gives you a wider range of choices for tube gear. The 220 watt Joule-Electra Rites of Passage were more than the speakers needed. We could have used the 160 watt Grand Marquis easily; maybe the 100 watt Marquis (not sure).

We all have different listening environments and there are many terrific speakers to choose from. I hope passing along our experience with the Vandersteens and the man himself, help you make a more informed buying decision.


Critical Mass Systems
Sorry for any confusion, I should have written, CES 2005.

Critical Mass Systems
Vandy's, Vandy's, Vandy's. One of the best speakers I have ever heard. I put them up with the Quad 989's, Magnepan 20.1's, SoundLab Ultimates, and Wilson's (just about all). There is so much good stuff out there now, isn't there?
The Vandy's sound amazing, but at $14.5k you better be pretty excited about them. I just picked up a pair of mint Mahlers from an Audiogon member for $3,900. He has more gear than he knows what to do with. He also lives in a small apartment and the Mahlers obviously don't work there.

I have a large listening room and am upgrading from a pair of VA Beethovens that have been delightful.

I will be driving the Mahlers with the new Mcintosh MC207 and the MX119 processor.

Setup is tommorrow.. I can't wait!
I'm compelled to say, be very careful to demo any Vanderstein before purchase. For an hour or two, put the engineering and technical erotica away from sight in a drawer, and listen to your music. Obviously the thing to do with any speaker, but good to keep in mind particularly when considering a product line like this with such a devoted following.


"I love Audiogon." As someone fairly new to Audiogon(member since Jan. 2005) I have to say "I love Audigon." It is a thread like this one that really makes me appreciate the knowlegde that goes into this hobby. I have never heard the speakers in question, but the 5A's have for a while been my "dream" speaker because I love quality and I love Bass. Reading and learning through these posts just makes me love the hobby more.
Unfortunately, you can't put up all the technical stuff with a Vandersteen because setup takes some doings. Let me ask this one simple question, when going to a dealer, how many dealer "Associates" have ever measured your ear height at the listening position? If the speaker is not tilted back and set up to YOUR ear height, you will NEVER hear what any Vandy speaker truly offers!
I ended upgrading from the MC-207 to the Mcintosh MC-402 to drive my Mahlers and they took on an entire new level of control and sonic delight!
Hi Bigtee,

The ear height measurement is not that critical if the rest of the set up is spot on. The 5As simply have too large of a "sweet spot". Yes, it helps, but I've not noticed a big difference between one washer and two as an example. (This goes for the Model 2s as well.)

Interesting thread. . . how did I miss this until now? I have had the priviledge to audition the Vienna Mahler last October at the Denver Audiofest in the Soundings HIFI / Rowland suite. The system consisted of a CDp from Sweeden whose brand I regretably do not recall, Rowland Concerto linestage, the just released Rowland 312 power amp, and of course Mahler speakers. The setup had been tuned by Sumiko technicians. The sound was. . . stunning. Not in a fire-worksy-hifish-glitzy way, but profoundly musical, linear, extended, three-dymensional and tuneful. I was drawn back to the suite 4 times during the show because I could not have enough of it. I played exerpts from my own compilation CD, mostly Bernstein conducting the Israel Philarmonic on the 2nd movement from Dvorak's 9th Symphony, Edgar Meyer playing the prelude from Bach's 5th suite on double-bass, and Lara St. John on Bach's Adagio-Fuga from the 3rd violin sonata. I was stunned by the -- albeit subjective -- impression of musical correctness of the presentation. Besides the adjectives employed by me above, on all the selection I played, the sound was marvellously harmonically rich, but without ANY obvious frequency hotspots nor any of the bass bloating attributed to the Mahlers by some other contributors in this thread. Even in the critical bass register -- bass trombone in Dvorak and lowest string in the Meyer performance, the sense of pitch remained perfectly defined, outlined, and I should say perfectly sculptured. At the other extreme, the treble was extended, clean and filigreed, without a hint of harsheness. The midrange was cleanly fleshed out, but never forward. Macro dynamics was magnificently authoritative but not Bombastic. But what made my jaw drop was the subtlety and interplay of microdynamics and micro detail, which rendered for me this system by far the most emotionally involving of the whole show.
Granted, a significant part of my unconditional praise must go to the new Rowland 312, because whenever the 312 was replaced by its smaller twin brothers, the 501 monoblocks, while still extended and broadly dynamic, the system lost a lot of its great magic, musicality, microdynamics, and ultimately a substantive portion of its profound emotional impact.

In the end, ported vs sealed, dynamic vs. planar, tubes vs solid state vs ICE modules. . . matter not an ounce. Rather, the final result is a product of the total design, overall construction, engineering quality control of the individual components, their mutual synergy, the care of the setup, and finally the synergy of the whole with the musical taste and expectations of the listener.
Mikej, Have to totally disagree. The tilt back is one of the most important aspects. If it doessn't make a profound difference in your system, you are probably suffering from some room reflection that are masking some of the differences. The window is really not as big as you think. Talk to Richard V. if you don't think tilt is important.
The other aspects get bass correct and the soundstage focused. Tilt gets the integration correct.
I can change mine with a 1/4" difference. It begins to lose high frequency focus. There's one spot where you don't have a question it's right.
i have a healthy respect for vandy, but i don't think its a clear upgrade.
I have finally taken the plunge. . . retired my Maggies IIIAs and just received a brand new pair of Vienna Mahlers. I have now started a thread to chronicle their break in and discuss Mahler related stuff. See you all at:
With respect to the question of the 5A's bass and dynamic capability: The 5A's have a dynamic advantage that outweighs any potential limitation due to 1st order crossover slopes and that is their active push-pull woofer. No passive speaker can begin to move the amount of air with the level of control and agility that the 5A's active subwoofer does, especially when properly eq'd for the room.

Passive bass from a conventional driver with a single motor sounds dynamically soft, round, and blurred by comparison, even aside from other compounding issues like a ported enclosure. Even Vandersteen's own otherwise excellent 2Wq subwoofer with its more conventional drivers cannot come close to resolving bass information like the 5A.

I sell Vandersteen and Vienna (although not the Mahlers).