Von Schweikert speaker experience
I went to LA on business a couple weeks ago. Before departing, I was talking to a friend and casually mentioned that I would be interested in checking out some of the newer speaker designs. My speakers are Ruark Excaliburs. They have beautiful cabinets and use ScanSpeak and Dynaudio drivers. They are a 10 year old design; speaker technology has moved on several generations since then. In particular, I have always suspected that my system was limited by the speakers on full scale dynamic orchestral music (ie full body contact Mahler listening sessions). The Ruarks have dual 8" woofers and are limited in bass extension.
Through a serendipitous sequence of events, I wound up in contact with Albert Von Schweikert himself. We spoke for a while, I described my tastes and system (Cary tube amps) and that I liked speakers that could accommodate bi-amping. Albert told me about his showroom in the LA area and said that he was already going to be demoing some VR-9se's and that I should stop by for a listen. And a listen I got!!
First, Albert was a gentleman. He is very easy going and enthusiastic about music and (obviously) speaker design. I had heard of Von Schweikert speakers, but did not really know much about the brand. It was a real treat to talk with someone that has spent over thirty years designing speakers. A true wealth of knowledge. He knows his subject well - the proof is certainly in the pudding.
The showroom has an acoustically designed room (run by Manny). The electronics included a First Sound tube preamp, VAC power amp and Wadia CD/SACD player (781i if I recall correctly). Most of the cabling was sourced from Von Schweikert. The showroom had three pairs of Von Schweikert speakers set up: VR-9se, VR-5 and Unifield 3 speakers. Even though I would have enjoyed hearing speakers at lower price points, we just could not tear ourselves away from the VR-9se's.
While I have heard some larger speaker systems (Avalon and Wilson) I have not heard them all. Still, I was not quite prepared for what I experienced. The VR-9se has a rear firing 5" aluminum ribbon driver for enhanced ambience. The speaker has a rear firing 15" subwoofer with a built in 1,000W amp. It's a six way design, all the details are on their web site. The speaker is a nominal 6 ohm design and 94 dB sensitivity. Very tube friendly.
The sound was - glorious, spectacular, amazing and just superbly musical. With good recordings, the sound stage was sweeping and could convey the grandeur of an orchestra. Time seemed to be suspended - the flow and pace of the music dominated my experience. The soundstage was neither in front of or behind the speaker. It was seamless and integrated. The bass and mid bass was so well articulated I could hear counterpoint lines in cello and double bass that my speakers cannot articulate. The evening was punctuated with goosebumps and frisson from recordings I was very familiar with (I brought a stack of familiar CDs and SACDs).
The listening started with an Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass XRCD to allow me to evaluate the mid-range. Timbre, texture and palpability were perfect. Female voices were rendered with the sound of the chest, throat, head and column of air. From that listening I requested some toe-in to suit my tastes and things got way better. Next up was some organ and orchestral music - again the flow of the music and clarity of each instrumental voice was enthralling. I think I melted in the chair. The deep bass with the organ was thunderous.
The experience left me wishing for a larger speaker budget and a room suitable for the VR-9se speakers. The Ruarks have been a real treat and have provided lots of satisfaction. Something like the Von Schweikert VR-5, VR-9 or maybe the VR-7 next gen would be a huge step up.
Another serendipitous moment happened while we listened. LA had a small earthquake. So I get to say that I listened to Von Schweikert speakers and the Earth moved. Literally. And figuratively. And all from a brand that until that evening was an unknown (to me anyway).