$5,895 PER PAIR Vapor Stands - $500/pr
I first saw the Vapor Arcus speakers at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest on static display and based upon what I heard from the Vapor model that was playing, I knew I wanted to hear the Arcus. Why this particular model? I have a soft spot for air motion transformers and I was using the same driver in a DIY speaker project. Arrangements were made and several months later the freight company truck rolls up and they unload a pallet with the speakers and stands. Though the speakers are not too large for shipping via carriers such as UPS or FedEx, seeing them arrive on a pallet was nice, with much less risk of damage.
According to Ryan Scott, owner and head chef at Vapor, there are three concepts necessary for a speaker to reproduce a live performance: Near unlimited Dynamic Range, Visceral Bass impact with extended natural decay and expansive yet precise imaging. "These three concepts were the design goals for The Arcus, a no compromises, unapologetic, attempt to reproduce a live music experience in a typical sized listening room" he says.
The Arcus is a fairly large two way, stand mount speaker. I hesitate to call it a monitor, as it is a bit larger than what I think of as a monitor speaker but it most definitely needs a good stand. Vapor employs a Beyma TPL-150H for the upper midrange and high frequencies. This is a waveguide equipped Air Motion Transformer, reminiscent of the older Heil AMT's but with a waveguide to control the dispersion. Air Motion Transformers, much improved from the early 70's, are being employed more and more by leading speaker makers. They are very fast (outstanding transient response, and because of their folded material design thus much more surface area, they just move more air than a small tweeter. It adds a bit of sensitivity and low frequency extension.
An Acoustic Elegance TM10M woofer is used, and the crossover is specified as 2nd order at 1050Hz. A second, smaller, AMT is mounted to the rear of the speaker along with an L-Pad to offer an adjustable ambiance tweeter. Cabinet construction is of stacked Medex, a type of MDF however birch plywood can be specified. The cabinet utilizes a cavity filled with a proprietary damping compound termed “Acoustic Inversion Layer”, which is said to reduce cabinet resonance by 20dB. Stands were included with the review pair but are sold separately.
When we say "stacked Medex", a picture is worth a thousand words. The cabinet is made of layer upon layer of computer cut material that is shaped to form a "perfect" acoustic chamber for the accompanying driver.
It looks like this:
The idea is to create a perfect, inert yet acoustically compatible with the driver. Sound has much more trouble flowing through separated layers than a single piece.
Rigidity, which also blocks unwanted vibration that smears the sound is greatly increased. So, in theory (and practice it seems) you get a much cleaner, clear sound with much less
artifacts that do nothing but degrade the original sound. Got it?
Claimed sensitivity is ~92.5dB/1W/1M with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms or it should be very amp friendly, especially tube amps. The Arcus is a ported design employing a large rear facing port and utilizes an extended bass shelf tuning. This allows a flat response to 50Hz and then drops rapidly below that, to -10dB at 42Hz. Although Vapor suggests the use of a sub woofer in most rooms, I tried them with and without subs.
Setup and Initial Listening
With the assistance of my friend and neighbor, the speakers were unpacked and placed in approximately the same spot as my primary speakers. This location ends up being close to optimal for most speakers I've had in my room and is certainly the best starting point. The Arcus has nice (and expensive) Cardas binding posts, but this pair was not marked for phase. Employing a single cell battery, I determined that the post on the right side when facing the rear was positive and thus connected them to the amps using that orientation. Amplifiers for the initial listening session were the Coincident Dragon MK II 211 PP. Ryan told me several times this was a very early pre-production model that lacked a normal fine finish and other little details, so I'm sure this is not intended for what real customers get.
Speaking of finishes, you can have just about anything you want. These are custom, hand made speakers that can be highly personalized with exotic woods or just about any fine automotive paint. Below is a listing of some more popular upgrades, many others are available. Crossover components, wiring, and binding posts can all be chosen by the customer.
Upgrade from a standard veneer to premium veneer – $200 (approximately, price can vary)
Hand Rubbed High Gloss Piano finish – $500
Custom Height time aligned matching stands – $500
Binding Post Upgrades:
Bi-wire option with WBT 0780 – $40
Upgrade to WBT 0730 Polished Gold or Platinum – $100
- bi-wire with WBT 0730, $200
Upgrade to WBT 0710 Silver or Gold – $200 (Finest binding posts available today)
- bi-wire with WBT 0710, $400
Internal Wiring Upgrades:
Antipodes Reference Silver/Gold Litz wire throughout – $800 (price can vary)
Many options available, contact us for pricing and details
Initially I started with the ambiance tweeter set to the mid-point, but things just didn't sound right. I had a huge and very diffuse sound stage, but it was lacking focus and had a larger than life presentation. This will be room and preference dependent and experimentation is key to achieving a setting that is right for the room. The extra output from the rear tweeter also shifted the tonal balance toward the bright side for my taste.
Turning off the rear tweeter changed the presentation in the direction I prefer but I found the sound overly bright and I wasn't sure what the cause might be. The balance was just too hot for my tastes and I was also bothered by port noise. I swapped in my Acoustic Imagery ATASH NC, a Hypex NC1200 based amplifier, thinking this would have more control of the woofers and perhaps lessen the port noise. It was a bit better overall but I was still not happy and my gut told me they were capable of much more.
Determined to sort out why I was unhappy vs what I'd heard from other Vapor speakers and believed them capable of, I spent quite a bit of time adjusting the position in my room. I ended up with the Arcus positioned about 3ft in from the side walls vs. the 30" or so for most speakers in that room. I started with them heavily toed in with the axis crossing a few feet in front of me, as past experience with controlled directivity speakers indicated that would be optimal or at least close. Not so with these, final toe in had the tweeter axis crossing just behind my head. This also caused the ports on the rear to fire further back into my room and I was no longer noticing the ports. Finally, I had found the proper setup for the Arcus in my room. What I was hearing now was much warmer and more inviting and made me want to keep listening.
There really are very few if any speakers (and none much worthwhile) that you can just plop down and leave in that position. Not if you have any ears or musical acumen. Speakers take time and a little moving around. The best source for most people is the owner's manual. Most designers, dealers spend a lot of time telling you how to best set up their particular speaker. But the final decisions is yours. I know many people wold have loved the initial "hot" sound I described. As it turns out, I would have been better off experimenting with moving them rather than start swapping stuff out first, but I love to tinker. I ended up with the same cables and same amps with which I started.
I need the exercise....
Finally Optimized for Extended Listening
Early on I tried plugging the ports and I found the warmth and clarity improved, but of course there was a sacrifice in low frequency extension. With the new positioning, I prefer them with the ports open as designed. I was using a DSD (from my Mofi SACD) rip of Patricia Barber's Café Blue when experimenting with the ports. This is a particularly nice recording with great upright bass definition and it tends to spotlight odd things occurring in the mid and upper bass regions. Listening to the same tracks again with a revised setup is far more enjoyable, however, still very slightly tipped up for my tastes but with a very nice overall balance. The sound stage has great depth with the speakers ending up about 8ft from the front wall and the image extending outside the speakers. It was layered all the way to the wall behind, very nice. On Too Rich For My Blood there is a long section near the end of the track with driving toms. It's easy for this to go wrong and lose the sense of force the drummer is imparting, but the AE woofers Vapor chose got this right and there is very much the sense of force involved.
Queuing up Pepe Romero playing the adagio of Rodrigo's Concierto De Aranjuez (Philips 438 016-2), the emotion conveyed by Señor Romero's playing is mesmerizing, as it should be. This is not the finest of recordings and the strings are a bit on the steely side but the music is sublime and if everything is right, it's near impossible to not be pulled in. Some 12 minutes later I was motionless as the track ended and had been completely absorbed, bravo!
I eventually returned to Milt Jackson, Mostly Duke (Pablo/OJC 968), this is where my journey with the Arcus began. My impressions were very different from the first ones. I still found the overall balance a tiny bit bright for my taste but it varies with the recording, which is generally a good sign that the speaker is doing a good job of translating what is on the recording. I listened to the entire disk and was very happy with the setup; Milt was just swinging. Of note, all my final listening was again with the Coincident Dragon's and the MG Planus III cables. Once I had the positioning right, the magic of the Dragon's was a lovely match with the Arcus.
I tried the ambiance tweeters perhaps half a dozen times and I always ended up preferring them shut off. My preference would be to have an adjustment for the AMT such as those used on the rear tweeter, not something coarse, just enough to allow a subtle shift in the balance to allow tailoring for the room, system and taste. Of course, I'm sure Ryan would counter that such a knob in the line would degrade the sound he strived so hard to achieve. Again, I know a lot of people would love the "excitement" and "vividness" of these speakers.
Comparison and Final Thoughts
Some may know I have owned and used the GedLee Abbey as my primary speakers for the past 4 years. You can see the speaker in the picture at left. I was one of Earl Geddes' first customers and have been delighted with the speakers since day one. Ryan at Vapor was interested in how the Arcus compared to the Abbey. There are similarities between them; both are a fairly large two-way speakers of relatively high sensitivity; both offer controlled directivity; neither plays particularly deep in the bass (though the Arcus goes quite a bit lower than the Abbey) and both currently retail for $6K/pair. I did compare them several times. Switching between them is not a quick process as moving large heavy stand mount speakers is a pain, but of course I've been listening to the Abbey's for a very long time and their sound is my norm.
I found the Arcus to play lower as expected but they also provide a greater sense of high frequency extension. Given the ~5kHz greater response of the AMT in the Arcus vs. the compression driver in the Abbey, this isn't surprising but my hearing drops off at 14kHz, not bad for a 52 year old male. I once attended a demo of super tweeters that went from about 15kHz to 30kHz and it was easy to tell when they were in the system, the source being a very high end turntable and thus not having the brick wall filtering of a typical CD. It seems the extra 5kHz of extension of the AMTs used in the Arcus provides that same effect and I note a similar type of high end with my JBL/Beyma setup, which utilizes the same AMT tweeter. Understand that sound is transmitted to the brain by other factors than the ear.
Which is better? Like most things it depends on your preferences. The Abbeys have greater sensitivity and are a bit warmer and perhaps a bit more coherent, but they really need multiple sub woofers to perform well, driving up the cost considerably. The Arcus will play lower and higher, don't require subs for the majority of music and are quite a bit more compact. Both require stands but Vapor offers some very nicely made stands, while you're on your own with the Abbeys. The cabinets of the Arcus are as dead as can be. My Abbey cabinets were not as “dead” until I added a lot of bracing and even then the Arcus cabinets are noticeably more dead. The newer Abbeys have better cabinets than mine did but I doubt that they are up to the level of the Arcus. Like everything else, you have to pick what is most important to you. Having said that, one might conclude that the Arcus is the winner, if you wanted to pick one.
For our specific (never "highly recommended") recommendation, the Vapor Arcus is a solidly built, very inert loudspeaker using superb drivers that offer excellent dynamic capability, great detail and a superb sound stage. They are not quite full range but for much of what I listen to they go deep enough and the high frequency extension and clarity is excellent. Vapor offers larger speakers that go VERY deep. On rare occasions I do notice the port, but as previously stated, I am sensitive to this. If you consider these speakers, finding the proper placement is a must. They will reward your efforts, but the performance will be disappointing if you don't spend the time to dial them in.
Like any fine speaker, once the right spot is found, they offer a very coherent sound, excellent sound stage and have a high enough sensitivity to not require a massive amount of power. A few times I did run the 75 wpc Dragons out of power, but when using the ATASH amps, that was never an issue. I preferred the overall presentation using the Dragons but both worked very well. I am a firm believer that most folks don't have enough power ~ publisher's note: Mike is right! They don't have enough power OR gain because they buy low sensitivity speakers (never paying attention to that stat) and pair them with cheap amp that CLAIM to have 100 wpc but really don't, the run very resistive cheap zip cables to the speakers where they lose much more power and there you have an inefficient amp trying to drive inefficient speakers through inefficient cables and you end up with all kinds of distortion and clipping and wonder why you can't sit and listen to your system for more than 30 minutes at a time!) and from my observations, these speakers, while being pretty sensitive, still like plenty of power IF you like to listen at concert levels around 90 db average with peaks to 110 or more. I would recommend using nothing less than 150WPC with a solid state amp and at least 75W for tubes in a moderately size room. Smaller room, smaller watts. Clipping always sounds bad and having enough power to avoid clipping the peaks is a very good thing.
Many people will enjoy the rear, adjustable ambience speaker just like a lot of people love panel speakers like Maggies that put out as much sound to the rear of the panel as they do to the front. And you really can't control it if from the speaker if you wanted to. These are designed for and therefore specifically recommended for small to medium sized rooms only.
Stands are important. You need the right height to get the tweeter aligned with your ears as best as possible. It would be a shame to put these rather radically designed speakers with their fine qualities on a cheap, resonant and and not solidly grounded stand. If you don't have such a pair, the Vapor stands are excellent for these speakers for a reasonable price.
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