Archives for Vandersteen

Marty’s Review of the Vandersteen 2Ce Signature IIs with 2Wq Sub

This winter, I started the process of buying new speakers. Step one in that process was putting my former speakers up for sale. They sold right away, faster than expected, so things were looking good. Unfortunately my bank account wasn’t full enough to afford the Vandersteen Treos that I desired, but Jon advised me not to overlook the 2Ce Signature IIs, especially when paired with the 2Wq subwoofer. This fit my financial situation better, so he and Bob set up that combination for me in the store and I came down on a Saturday morning for an extended audition. I was more than impressed listening to them and a pair was ordered for me. My new cherry wood Sig IIs and matching 2Wq were soon in my living room.

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I attached the bases that allow the correct angle to be set and then spent some time with a tape measure and the owner’s manual to get the set-up right. Although the set-up is more involved than with most other speakers, the measurement guidelines are straightforward. The angle must be set relative to your seated ear height and the relationships between the distances to back wall and side walls are critical. All this is fully spelled out in the owner’s manual and just takes a little time, but this time spent on getting it right is well worth it. The result is “the Vandersteen sound” and it is immediately apparent. Because of the phase and time alignment that are part of all Vandersteen speaker designs, music sounds more natural and real. All of the music reaches your ears with the timing created by the musicians and instruments intact. The imaging and depth of soundstage is truly something special. If I had to sum up Vandersteen sound in one word, it would be “dimensionality.” I have heard the Treos and Quattros, the 5A carbons and the Sevens. They all do it. Naturally the higher up the line you go, the better they are, but at this price range the sound is remarkable. All of the audiophile buzzwords are there. Air, depth, imaging/dimensionality, and with the 2Wq sub perfectly integrated bass and slam.

Speaking of the 2Wq subwoofer, Vandersteen does subs differently from other manufacturers. When you introduce a 2Wq (or two) into the system, the main speakers are rolled off in the low bass and the sub fills in these lowest octaves for a full range frequency response. I am sure Jon and Bob can explain this better than I can, but just know that it works! You won’t get that one note bass boom like a home theater sub, but real dynamics and tonality. Listening to an upright bass on a good jazz recording you realize that there are actual notes being played. Plus, with adjustable “Q” on the sub’s control panel, you can really fine tune how tight or loose you want the bass. If you like that big boomy sound or maybe are using it with a home theater set-up you can have it that way, but you can also set it for a more musically accurate experience. Another benefit of the 2WQ is that when I can trade up to Treos, I can use the same subwoofer.

Ok, so how does it sound? I would say that the soundstage is about depth. Janis Joplin on “Try” is 4 or 5 feet behind the speakers. Shelby Lynne on “Just a Little Lovin'” is not as far back. The thing is, you can easily tell the difference. On the great SACD “Jazz in the Key of Blue”, Roy Hargrove moves around as he is playing. It’s easy to tell when he backs up and moves forward. He also moves side to side at different times. It’s like he is on the stage and you can tell right where he is. Not just left or right, but how much left or right.

Of course, all of the dimensionality in the world doesn’t matter if the tonality isn’t right, but the difference between a baritone sax and tenor is apparent as is soprano sax and clarinet. Back-up singers and individual instruments are easily defined. When Satchmo’s voice comes in on “St James Infirmary” I always get goosebumps.

So this must be the greatest speaker ever right? Well the Treos and other Vandersteens on up do all these things better and cost more for a reason. But at this price level, the combo of 2CE Signature IIs and 2Wq subwoofer is phenomenal. Vandersteen has sold over 100,000 Model 2s for a reason. I think one reason the price is so reasonable is because they have been in production for so long, but they have been continuously upgraded over the years. And they are made in the USA.

At the beginning of this review I said that I hoping for a pair of Treos. Well I am very happy with my 2s. At some point I will move up the Vandersteen line, but until then I still get to listen to the Vandersteen sound. Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it. And you can always tell when a speaker doesn’t have it.

Happy listening,

Marty

Spring, huh?

Well, that was an interesting snowfall Monday. I initially thought my two stage snow thrower had broken its impeller as I was having to stop every thirty feet or so and unjam the chute. But when I garaged it and pressed my single stage snowblower into action, and it behaved virtually identically, it dawned on me that what was coming down was not snow, but some sort of white adobe. And plenty of it.

I only mention it because I remember thinking when Kaitlyn wrote about Richard Vandersteen coming and you all “joining us on a most welcomed Spring night in East Tosa” a few weeks ago. With the thought that if it were this nice in February, imagine what March 22 will be like. Now, I’m thinking it might be like the weather we were supposed to get in February. But the weather doesn’t matter when Richard is in town. We’re gonna have fun! And, while we won’t be unveiling any new product, we will have a cool retro surprise worked into our demo setup. So if you’ve missed the other umpteen ways we’ve tried to get the word out, consider this your last warning. A good time is in (the) store next Wednesday, March 22. RSVP by phone (414) 221-0200 or to my email address jonathan.spelt@ultrafi.com . Technically, we are full, but we’ll make room.

This past Saturday almost felt like a spontaneous similar session. A whole bunch of good people showed up, impromptu, and Bob and I led a little jamboree of music lovers. I decided, about mid-party, to trot out my soapbox and again make my case for full bitrate CD rips. Eh, what?

Well, most people reading here probably already know we don’t fool with no lossy digital formats (MP3, Apple AAC, etc.) if we can help it, and we almost always can (internet radio being the one exception, but that’s background anyway). But a lot of people seem to think that “lossless” formats, which carry all the original data, sound just as good as full bitrate rips. The facts are quite different and all in attendance agreed that a WAV or AIFF rip makes a lossless version sound quite anemic by comparison. Ask for a demo next time you are in; it will likely have you rethinking your CD copying protocol.

Also, worry not if you’ve spent the last half lifetime ripping your collection at a lossless rate. You can “transcode” those files to full bit rate and all the sound comes back, whereas if you’ve ground them into lossy MP3 hamburger, or are streaming or downloading iTunes tracks, or listening to Spotify and the like, well, I’m afraid it can’t be steak again. And before I tread too heavily on lossless, let me say with no ambiguity Tidal and Deezer, which both stream lossless, blow the doors off all other streaming services and iTunes sonically. If you don’t have a substantial CD library, or aren’t up for ripping it, you can live quite well with a lossless streaming service.

Soon, we will have a guide to vinyl record care and feeding, but I’ll leak a little about an exciting new product. By the end of March, we should have the new AudioQuest Conductive Record

Brush. No, it is not a “battery biased” tool for cleaning your records, but it does have gold plated contacts where your fingers grip it to let your body dump static charge to ground, and it has zillions of much finer carbon fibers for greatly enhanced “reach” into the grooves. If not a replacement for a liquid and machine deep cleaning process, expect this to radically improve daily dust removal, all for $20.

The weather, as it happens, is perfect for curling up with a good recording. See you in the store or online soon.

Recharge & Reboot

I just checked.  Five months and nearly a half ‘nother since my last writing.  Yikes!  Inexcusable.  But I do have a reason.  I didn’t feel it.

I bounced back quite nicely from my surgery back in September.  With one small glitch, I am indeed good to go.  I’ll need an annual CAT scan, and, assuming it shows nothing, I am “as healthy as my neighbor” as my oncologist put it.  Fortunately Jeff appears the picture of health so I am too, I guess.

And I feel a lot better, too.  Better than in a long time prior to the surgery, even. But I haven’t felt like doing this.  This musing thing.  It has been the longest part of my recovery.  I think it has to do with the fact that I was pretty focused on the day to day realities of getting back to full health and performance in all areas of my life.  That stuff all has to be right before I have the extra brain space to write, for which I need to be able to get away from the normal living stuff and let my mind wander where it wants to go.  And when I set it free to do that lately, it went out a few feet, turned around, came back and parked at my feet like a shy puppy at its first day at the dog park.

Well, things are starting to limber up.  It really feels as if I’m back.  But, after five months away, I am challenged to pick a topic to break the silence and feature today.  So I’m going to leave you with some examples of the things that have helped me get back up to speed.

IMG_5515

  • Setting up a number of AMG turntables, including the new 12 Turbo tonearm on the Viella ‘table, and basking in their profound ability to dig seemingly every last iota of music out of the wiggly grooves. One owner called it “the best sound I have ever heard” and another pronounced his “revelatory.”  Amen to that.  I’m weary of the “analog vs. digital” fuss as I am firmly in the “both, please” camp, but the combination of AMG and Lyra is incredibly compelling.  Vinyl is vitally alive at all strata, but it sure is fun to hang out at the summit.
  • And Aurender’s machines are one of the reasons I am weary of the war. Life with my N10, or the N100H, has been a non-stop journey of (re)discovery of old familiar (ripped) CD’s as well as high res files and the myriad offerings on Tidal. It continues to stun me how good Redbook CD bitrate material can sound when played back through an Aurender.
  • Speaking of Tidal, the emergence, finally, of MQA files thereon has revealed some really special improvements in sound quality stemming from their work reversing the AD (analog to digital) converter-based problems in digital masters. The jury is still out for me as to whether the other function of MQA, that is “unfolding” the streamed file into a higher res file “in your home” bears much additional fruit, but I am at least initially quite impressed with the A/D converter fix.  Now we see if they can continue to convince the record industry of the cost/benefit of the technology. But they’ve got Warner on board and I saw they just signed up Universal Music Group, so…
  • So how did the Moon geniuses get so much sheer fun to come out of the one-box super solution ACE? That machine does things, at $3500, it has absolutely no right to do!  Phono, DAC, MiND streaming and a great sounding amp and preamp in one box the size of any one of those components separately?  Get one before they are outlawed by the Value Police.
  • I have also enjoyed dialing in and doing MASTERS sets on several great audio systems. Vandersteens, Sonus fabers, KEFs, RELs and others have sprung to life before my ears as I optimize them in homes.  It always amazes me how important that final step is!  “Night and day” is not an uncommon reaction.
  • Bob and I have both been gobbling up the new Audio Research Foundation Series gear. Four brand new masterpieces, a DAC, phono preamp, line stage, and power amp, in the space of less than six months!  A person could wrap them all up into a system and retire from the race indefinitely, they are that good.  Or, replace an older component with any one and revitalize a system.  Home runs, all!
  • The Carbon generation of AudioQuest headphones are making even bigger waves than the shock one that the original NightHawk sent out, as well they should. NightOwl, Skylar’s first closed-back design, is particularly valuable for those who need isolation in their headphone listening.  He seems to have nailed it without any of the typical sonic compromises.  Can’t wait for my next plane trip!
  • Bob unboxed the first AudioQuest Niagara 5000 a few weeks ago and, hoo boy, it’s crazy good! Even Garth contends it’s much of what you get in the 7000 and it sure sounds like it from our perspective.  If you are looking for the second best power conditioner on the planet, they are now in stock.
  • Finally, my first Musing since my surgery comes, coincidentally or not, as Kaitlyn returns to manage our web/social media presence. She, too, it seems, went through a spell of “writer’s block,” from entirely different causes from mine, but I’m happy to see she is following her muse again.* Here’s hoping it lasts a good, long time!

*Editor’s note: There comes a point in life when you realize that if you must work, it’s better to surround yourself with really great people…

Recharge and Reboot

I just checked.  Five months and nearly a half ‘nother since my last writing.  Yikes!  Inexcusable.  But I do have a reason.  I didn’t feel it.

I bounced back quite nicely from my surgery back in September.  With one small glitch, I am indeed good to go.  I’ll need an annual CAT scan, and, assuming it shows nothing, I am “as healthy as my neighbor” as my oncologist put it.  Fortunately Jeff appears the picture of health so I am too, I guess.

And I feel a lot better, too.  Better than in a long time prior to the surgery, even. But I haven’t felt like doing this.  This musing thing.  It has been the longest part of my recovery.  I think it has to do with the fact that I was pretty focused on the day to day realities of getting back to full health and performance in all areas of my life.  That stuff all has to be right before I have the extra brain space to write, for which I need to be able to get away from the normal living stuff and let my mind wander where it wants to go.  And when I set it free to do that lately, it went out a few feet, turned around, came back and parked at my feet like a shy puppy at its first day at the dog park.

Well, things are starting to limber up.  It really feels as if I’m back.  But, after five months away, I am challenged to pick a topic to break the silence and feature today.  So I’m going to leave you with some examples of the things that have helped me get back up to speed.

IMG_5515

  • Setting up a number of AMG turntables, including the new 12 Turbo tonearm on the Viella ‘table, and basking in their profound ability to dig seemingly every last iota of music out of the wiggly grooves. One owner called it “the best sound I have ever heard” and another pronounced his “revelatory.”  Amen to that.  I’m weary of the “analog vs. digital” fuss as I am firmly in the “both, please” camp, but the combination of AMG and Lyra is incredibly compelling.  Vinyl is vitally alive at all strata, but it sure is fun to hang out at the summit.
  • And Aurender’s machines are one of the reasons I am weary of the war. Life with my N10, or the N100H, has been a non-stop journey of (re)discovery of old familiar (ripped) CD’s as well as high res files and the myriad offerings on Tidal. It continues to stun me how good Redbook CD bitrate material can sound when played back through an Aurender.
  • Speaking of Tidal, the emergence, finally, of MQA files thereon has revealed some really special improvements in sound quality stemming from their work reversing the AD (analog to digital) converter-based problems in digital masters. The jury is still out for me as to whether the other function of MQA, that is “unfolding” the streamed file into a higher res file “in your home” bears much additional fruit, but I am at least initially quite impressed with the A/D converter fix.  Now we see if they can continue to convince the record industry of the cost/benefit of the technology. But they’ve got Warner on board and I saw they just signed up Universal Music Group, so…
  • So how did the Moon geniuses get so much sheer fun to come out of the one-box super solution ACE? That machine does things, at $3500, it has absolutely no right to do!  Phono, DAC, MiND streaming and a great sounding amp and preamp in one box the size of any one of those components separately?  Get one before they are outlawed by the Value Police.
  • I have also enjoyed dialing in and doing MASTERS sets on several great audio systems. Vandersteens, Sonus fabers, KEFs, RELs and others have sprung to life before my ears as I optimize them in homes.  It always amazes me how important that final step is!  “Night and day” is not an uncommon reaction.
  • Bob and I have both been gobbling up the new Audio Research Foundation Series gear. Four brand new masterpieces, a DAC, phono preamp, line stage, and power amp, in the space of less than six months!  A person could wrap them all up into a system and retire from the race indefinitely, they are that good.  Or, replace an older component with any one and revitalize a system.  Home runs, all!
  • The Carbon generation of AudioQuest headphones are making even bigger waves than the shock one that the original NightHawk sent out, as well they should. NightOwl, Skylar’s first closed-back design, is particularly valuable for those who need isolation in their headphone listening.  He seems to have nailed it without any of the typical sonic compromises.  Can’t wait for my next plane trip!
  • Bob unboxed the first AudioQuest Niagara 5000 a few weeks ago and, hoo boy, it’s crazy good! Even Garth contends it’s much of what you get in the 7000 and it sure sounds like it from our perspective.  If you are looking for the second best power conditioner on the planet, they are now in stock.
  • Finally, my first Musing since my surgery comes, coincidentally or not, as Kaitlyn returns to manage our web/social media presence. She, too, it seems, went through a spell of “writer’s block,” from entirely different causes from mine, but I’m happy to see she is following her muse again.* Here’s hoping it lasts a good, long time!

*Editor’s note: There comes a point in life when you realize that if you must work, it’s better to surround yourself with really great people…

An Evening with Vandersteen

 

As seen in Stereophile Magazine (!), you’re invited to rub elbows with one of the best.

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WHEN: Wednesday, March 22nd, 7-9pm

WHERE: Ultra Fidelis – 7125 W. North Ave. Wauwatosa, WI

WHO: A special treat for our loyal customers.

WHAT: A fun night’s diversion with a man who always entertains and whose loudspeakers lead the way in performance value.

WHAT ELSE? Enjoy some refreshments, will ya?

RSVP: Please call 414-221-0200 or email jonathan.spelt@ultrafi.com to reserve your spot. As you know, space is limited. Can’t make it? Catch the action Live on Facebook.

 
In these times when it seems a challenge to find anything universal, one thing we can all agree on is that our music and home theater systems brighten and restore the zest in our lives. Join us for lighthearted conversation and share your passion with Richard Vandersteen and other HiFi enthusiasts on a most welcomed Spring night in East Tosa.

 

Living with the Niagara 7000

I first heard the effects of the Niagara 7000 on November 10th at the official U.S. launch by Garth Powell of Audioquest at Ultra Fidelis.  As I wasn’t feeling tip-top, I chose to sit in the back row in a room full of audio aficionados.  Mr. Powell started out the evening by playing some live music on his drum kit to “set our ears” and to give us a point of reference for the rest of the night.  What I heard the rest of the evening, even from the side of the back row, impressed me enough that the following week, I purchased the first store stock unit of a Niagara 7000 to arrive at the store.

I will say that a little planning goes a long way when setting up the Niagara 7000.  It weighs in at about 80 pounds and had the tightest plug sockets known to man.  I was able to plug in all of my equipment before sliding the unit onto the bottom shelf of my HRS rack.  Since then I have moved one power cable to separate my CD player from my pre-amp — much easier with the unit out of the rack.

Anyway, what the Niagara 7000 has done for the sound of my system is quite amazing.  I find myself listening at lower volumes than ever before.  And, while listening at lower levels, there is a much greater sense of focus, ease, openness and dynamics than previously.  Additionally, the soundstage extends both in front of and to the sides of my speakers.  Previously, the soundstage was defined by the location of my speakers. Listening to Roger Water’s Amused to Death on 200 gm LP, the sound is almost 3D fully immersing me in the sound. On Shelby Lynne’s Just a Little Loving, also LP, there is clear space around her voice and the instruments.  Even listening after my wife has gone to bed at very low levels (4 on my REF 5 SE volume setting) there are still good dynamics and details creating a whole new late night listening experience.

Bottom line: the Niagara 7000 has taken my already very good system to a new level.

System: Audio Research REF 5 SE, Audio Research REF CD9, Simaudio MOON 610LP, Audio Research REF 75 SE, Vandersteen 5A Carbon, Audioquest Niagara 7000, Audioquest Fire and Wild interconnects and speaker wire.

 

-Bob F.

The Vandersteen Adventure

I flew to Portland (The West) to set up a wonderful system this past weekend.  Vandersteen 5A Carbons (newly updated) and a bunch of Audio Research and Audioquest paired with a nice VPI turntable.  The unusual part is this system had recently come home to the U.S. from China where it had spent its life so far.

We had shipped what I know to be the first pair of Vandersteen 5A’s to China over a decade ago for a Wisconsinite who moved there for business  He is making long term plans to come back to the U.S. permanently as opposed to occasionally, so it now makes sense to have the music gear back here.  The interesting part for me was that, rather than ship all his electronics back to their manufacturers for “U.S.-ification,” he had an electrician wire his listening room for 240 volt operation.  And here, it’s even balanced as opposed to what he got in China.
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Hearing the sense of dynamic ease and grip made me wonder why we don’t all do that.  Oh, I know there are reasons (120 volts is safer, it’s what Edison’s orginal light bulbs drank, and it’s what we are served here, so many manufacturers won’t sell anything but 120 volt gear here), but if it sounds better, I say damn the torpedoes!  It’s got me scheming.