in my case, it was an upgrade to a bigger speaker.
to answer your question, after living w/ the VSM-Ms for 3 yrs, i can say without question that they deserve the class A rating...i've heard many much more expensive speakers that impress less.
Royy, I've owned the VSM for 4 years. I've gotten to know them pretty well. It is a very picky speaker with respect to upstream components. The "M" version is supposed to be a bit more forgiving with respect the this. But regardless of Bobby's attempts to make the speaker more forgiving, the fact still remains that the speaker is ruthless about upstream components. If you have junk anywhere in the system, it will be exposed.
The VSM is a damped speaker system. Many amplifiers utilize a good bit of damping and feedback. Put those amps on the Merlins and you get a cold, overly damped sound. That is why some had made the mistake in the past of saying the Merlins are bright. My own experience is that zero feedback tubes amps, in particular my Joule OTL, sound best. The Berning is also oustanding and probably the best for the money. There are solid state amps out there that can be a good match as well. My Joule allows the Merlins to sound like they are supposed to - full, rich, textured midrange, solid bottom end, extended highs.
I am telling you this because I think at least part of the reason you see a number for sale is that people give up on them before they match them with the right equipment. I was not particularly happy with my system before I got the right equipment in front of the VSMs. I tried some solid state amps and a few tube amps that were not the right match and I was rewarded with poor results. It was very frustrating. I was trying to do it "on the cheap" (relatively speaking). Now I am getting to where I want it to be with the Joule stuff, and just as importantly, I know exactly what I need to make the system top notch.
Sure, some may be selling because they don't like the VSM. Although, can you find a show report of someone saying the Merlin roomed did not sound "good" and in most cases "spectacular" ---> Proper components, proper setup. True, some may want the last Nth of bass. And, some people sell speakers like they change their socks. But no doubt about it, the Merlins are at least, "Class A". If I ever were to replace them it would be with an Electrostatic, probably Soundlab. Otherwise I would not bother. I have not heard a more resolving, dynamic speaker than the VSM. Especially not anywhere near the money. I am not aware that a better 2 way exists.
I sold my Merlin VSM-Ms but I think they are great speakers. Both comments above are right on target. They are very responsive to upstream components and require some time and effort for setup. That said, I probably would not have enjoyed them nearly as much without my Tact RCS 2.0 that allowed me to bring out a warmer tonal balance (personal preference). I never tried the BAM but rather used a sub with my Merlins. -- If you watch A'gon long enough, there seem to be waves of certain pieces that pop up and then disapear. After nearly two years, two Wright WLA12As showed up in quick succession. I bought them both. Haven't seen any since. Just another possibility for consideration.
This question was asked previously. The above responses touch on the reason why many give before realizing what these speakers are capable of. Tonally I have not heard a better speaker than the VSM, they are just superb in this regard. Add to this their extreme resolution SOTA in my experience and immediacy and you have a transducer that prioritizes system matching to realize their capabilities.
While I feel they work well with a wide variety of tube gear, they are worthy of the best one can afford. Best in my experience with this speaker are the Joule and Berning as Jim notes above. Equally important as the amp interface is the wiring. They will highlight a synergy problem in this regard so it is very important to get it right. A bad choice can lead to less than stellar results and frustration. Bobby P is the best resource for the ones that work with his speakers. Silver cables in my experience are a no no with the VSM contrary to what I have read from others.
The main things to consider with the VSM are amp interface, wiring and room size. I am not sure they are the best choice in a very large room. While they can be played loud they are MUCH better at more moderate levels. They WILL play loud and their dynamic capabilities are quite extraordinary but lets face it, they can't compete with a large system in a large room in this regard without sounding pressed. A subwoofer might help in this regard but I can't imagine one that wouldn't compromise the electrostatic coherency that this design is capable of. These speakers are all about refinement and resovlving the musical information present on the recording. Bobby P is working on a sub for folks that want more bass but in my medium sized L shaped listening room, I feel no lack in this area, it just won't have the power of a larger system. The VSM does orchestral and large scale choral quite well with a wide and layered presentation of the venue.
The last and most important thing to consider is the presentation. The Merlins are about as neutral in this regard as any speaker I have heard. A close miked recording might not sound as appealing on the VSM's as a speaker that is voiced to pull back the sound and they may sound "bright" to some listeners but to me they present the music as it was recorded. Some won't like this but I feel that the design is near perfect in this regard. Honesty sometimes comes with a price but on balance it is well worth it. As you might guess I love the speakers but also recognize the fact that some listeners will feel they are maybe too fussy and give up. If you choice them and stay committed after the purchase and have a small to medium size room, you will be rewarded with a musical package that is tough to beat at any price.
I think that this is a most fair and intelligent question and I would like to present a different perspective on the matter.
There is no doubt that having product go up for resale makes a manufacturer look bad especially if there are larger quantities under consideration. But in the case of the VSM, the sheer number of production units has everything to do with the matter. The VSM has been in production since 1994 and to date, most of the earlier models have been upgraded in some form or another. This means that there are many thousands of pairs of these speakers in user's hands. I would also suggest that the product's acceptance is extremely high in that over 95% of those that own them are so fanatical about their speakers that they will never change them unless a considerable windfall occurs. I have noticed that there are a number of pairs that keep recycling for sale. Could it be that the individuals that purchased these are having problems with them or with set-up? Are they not reading the set-up instructions? Are they just not ready for what the product can do potentially? Are they not willing to make the necessary changes to their existing system? Do they just want to change for the sake of change? Are their family or personal issues? I can clearly say that all of these have been fact.
But the bottom line is what you can't see and that is an extremely high percentage of people are enjoying the product. In fact, we are more that 30 VSM M systems back ordered at the plant as I write this so there is no shortage of new orders.
It is fact that the Merlin VSM has had an extremely successful history in recognition and sales. There are few models of any high end speaker that have as many units out in the field and when you consider the price of these, the history is even more remarkable. The fact is that the more people you touch, the greater the potential for acceptance and the more likely you will be misunderstood for one reason or another.
I know in my heart that this is not the speaker for everyone but can you honestly say that one product can make everyone happy.
Danner, why didn't you use the BAM with the Merlins - even with the sub? I have never heard the VSM-M with a sub but if I were ever to add one I would surely be inclined to use the BAM with it. I would think the BAM should make the sub easier to integrate and you get the added value of lowered distortion throughout because of the subsonic filtering the BAM does. Just curious.
That is why Danner found the VSM needed more warmth. They lose their tonal accuracy without the BAM or if they are crossed over at higher than 30 Hz. By removing the out of band subsonic energy, the woofer can play in linear excursion at much higher levels, at lower distortion and provide much greater dynamic contrast. The system is also more phase accurate and filtered for ultrasonic ringing. Some think of the BAM as just an equaliZer but it is really a speaker management system. One listen and you know how much better things are with it, that is if you use proper interconnects and a real amplifier. I am afraid Danner never really experienced the VSM at its full potential.
The Merlin VSM M speakers are anchors to build a system around IMO. The past three + years, with some suggestions from Bobby@Merlin, I have put together a world class system that is extremely musical and very satisfying.
http://cgi.audioasylum.com/systems/1912.html for system details.
The right size room, careful upstream component selection, low damping ampliphication, wire selection and detailed system set up has yielded some amazing results in my Rig.
The Merlin's can do "venue" like no other...transporting you to the club, the hall, or the studio.
Perhaps the greatest benefit is you are taken off the constant path of "upgrade-itis". This hobby is filled with audiophiles who don't really like their systems and are always obsessing/chasing the next golden component that will take them to audio-nervana. It feels very good to be off that path. I have my rainey day fund for VZN 100 monos going put have poured a lot of resources in building my record and software libaries that otherwise in the past were allocated to "chasing the upgrades".
Are there speaker systems out there that are better than the Merlins? Sure, but they cost tens of thousands more dollars and with kids in college are so far off my radar screen it ain't even funny! Besides, the support from Bobby and his staff at Merlin is the best in the industry bar none in my 30+ years experience in this hobby.
I agree with Tubegroover's conclusion. A musical system that is hard to beat at ANY price.
I can't really add anything that wasn't mentioned above. The Merlins really are amazing speakers if you have (or are willing to find) matching amplification, good upstream components, good wire, and prefer a balanced, neutral presentation rather than a hyper bass sound. I also second the notion that they are best suited for small to medium sized rooms. When everything is in place and the recording is good, the Merlins completely disappear and leave you with nothing but music. On less than perfect recordings they still manage to present the music above all of the extraneous "character". I've had mine for four years now (I think??), upgrading my original VSMs to the VSM-M model, and I haven't felt any urge to buy any other speakers. Like someone said above...the only speaker that I heard with any advantage over the Merlins was a Soundlab electrostatic model (which I believe retailed for $20,000 or $30,000??).
To build on Bobby's comment regarding "is there one speaker to make everyone happy?"
When I look at the short list of speakers that come to mind as the most talked about, praised, successful(at their price point) high end speakers ever, I get a short list...
Wilson Watt/Puppy Series
B&W 800 Series
Vandersteen 2 Series
Maggies (pick your model)
Quad ESL 63 & successors
All of these have many fans. All, except the Merlins, seem to have nearly as many detractors. To me, that says plenty.
I was just noticing why are there so many of these "so many xxxx model on sale?" posts? Can get a little repetitititititititve, you know?