VON SCHWEIKERT VR-22
Price: $2,895 per pair which includes shipping
What is value? We each have our personal definition of this concept and it probably goes something like this: the relative worth or merit of an object or its material worth. We should note that Stereomojo was the first in the world to review Albert Von Schweikert's new VR-33 back in 2011. In fact, it was deemed to be the BEST Value speaker of the year for 2011. Let's see if it's VR-22 baby sister stacks up...
When people say a pair of $30,000 mono amplifiers are a good value, you may think they are nuts! This person’s definition of value might greatly conflict with your own. This doesn’t make either of you right or wrong but it can sure be frustrating to the average audiophile.
I start this review trying to get you to think how you would define “value” in a high-end audiophile loudspeaker. What elements are important to support your definition of value? For now, let’s concentrate on features which define value. At a lower price point, say below $5000, I propose balance is the best approach to getting a value product.
For example, if we create really great speakers from outstanding drivers, crossovers, and an overall exotic driver engineering standpoint, then put it in a Sonotube and paint it black so the cabinet is really good structurally - it looks like hell, but I don’t consider this approach balanced or a good value. I submit there has to be a balance of virtues and a balance of intelligent tradeoffs or you end up with a product, or in this case a loudspeaker, which is less than the sum of the parts. Let me put it this way, if the whole is greater than the sum of the parts then we have a great balanced product which truly defines value.
All of this introduction was to share that I have just spent some time with a set of loudspeakers I consider a real world “value” product that represents an outstanding buy for the monetarily challenged audiophile. While no single product can be called the best at a given price point, this product can easily be called the best value loudspeaker I have ever heard for less than $3,000. Don’t believe me, read on and see why I think the Von Schweikert Audio VR-22 is such an outstanding “value”.
The VR-22 is priced at $2,895 per pair which includes shipping in the Continental USA. The speaker has a 90-day in home trial as part of the deal, along with various finishes at the standard price. Although Von Schweikert Audio products are sold through the standard dealer network, these high-value products had to be marketed differently to keep the price as low as possible. Von Schweikert Audio knew in order to offer the consumer the best value at less than the $3,000 price they had to get creative, innovative and think outside the box. Von Schweikert Audio realized their sales method is somewhat unorthodox but mandatory to support their vision of value.
Von Schweikert Audio wanted to offer extreme-performance but realized they had to keep money in perspective. In these times, who is really interested in paying $10,000 or $20,000 for a two-way speaker system? What if a manufacturer was willing to offer a product with a very high level of dynamic range, deep bass extension, 3-D imaging and real transparency for a fraction of typical audiophile price? How close could Von Schweikert Audio come to a $20,000 sound for less than 1/6th the price. What a design and marketing challenge!
Driver/Crossover Design Details
Before I get into the details of the design let me state a well-designed and executed two way speaker system is often superior to many 3-way systems. I believe it comes down to simplicity versus complexity. A 2-way with less of everything (drivers, crossover components, complex cabinet, etc.) is often easier to design and results in better overall balance and performance. I believe starting with a simple 2-way design and good components have paid real world dividends in this design.
In a 2-way design, synergy is very important. Anybody can pick two different drivers and say they are a speaker designer. Have you ever heard a 2-way with a ribbon tweeter and a cone driver and realized they just don’t speak with one voice? You can hear when the music is going between the disparate drivers and no matter how hard you try, your attention is drawn away from the music and to the sound of the stereo. The real key is the drivers have to voice and integrate correctly or they just don’t make real and believable music. You can have the perfect crossover, but if the “character” of the two drivers is different than the end result is often less than optimal. Von Schweikert Audio’s decision to concentrate on simple and well integrated drivers was an excellent choice in my opinion.
To accomplish their goal, Von Schweikert Audio worked with a famed European transducer engineer and Scan Speak of Denmark to develop the perfect driver combination. Uniquely at this price point, the two drivers were developed from the ground up as a system, not just as two well performing drivers that they would figure out how to integrate later at the crossover design. Finer details such as timbre matching, complementary transient speed response, and a successful overlap at the midpoint of the ranges so neither driver would be driven into non-linear operation during high volume application could be addressed holistically.
The materials science behind the drivers is interesting to understand. The ideal driver is a combination of disparate properties resulting in a well-behaved driver. Desired driver properties include stiffness, light weight, not bending or flexing at the frequencies the driver is reproducing and some internal damping to eliminate ringing to pull it all together. Many exotic drivers including diamond, ceramic, and metals have all of the attributes above except some natural self-damping. These exotic driver materials often are seen as slightly bright or lean since there is very little or no internal damping. Paper and plastic can have the internal self-damping but are either not light/fast or bend which provides a degree of stored energy resulting in a veiling of the sound.
To quote Von Schweikert, the VR-22 uses “glass fiber nanotube filaments, when woven into a fabric using carbon fiber/resin bonding agents, have the desired properties we sought: a very high Youngs Modulus (ratio of stiffness to weight), a total lack of bending wave distortion, and very high internal damping (due to the weave of the filaments) which prevents unwanted wave transmission through the cone/dome materials.”
This system approach to drivers and integration has yielded some impressive sound few others can touch at anywhere near this price point based on my experience.
The tweeter is also fairly unique in design and allows a very low, free air resonance of 485 Hz. In many ways you can say the tweeter functions as a small midrange transducer. In spite of this impressive detail, the tweeter extends out to 40K with very good detail and air. The tweeter uses a very low distortion motor very similar to the woofer along with a new dome material and some proprietary damping techniques associated with the transmission line rear chamber.
The crossover uses a minimum of crossover parts in series with the drivers. All other “adjustments” such as phase correction, impedance control and level matching are accomplished with shunt circuits outside of the direct signal path. The crossover slopes are steep helping preserve phase coherence. A minimum number of good quality crossover components in conjunction with well-designed drivers which don’t require much compensation are a winning combination.
Loudspeaker cabinet build quality is an important factor in getting transparent sound. Great drivers in a poor cabinet can smear the sound and ruin transparency. Flimsy light-weight cabinets with minimal bracing can destroy a designer’s hard work with drivers and crossover components. Have you ever been in a showroom and seen a good size speaker/speaker cabinet and gone to move it and realize it is very light. The visual impression is big and solid but the reality is light and insubstantial. You rap your knuckle on the side of the cabinet and get this huge hollow and echoed sound and realize this will create a huge acoustic problem.
The VR-22 uses the Von Schweikert triple wall laminate with 2.35” thickness in critical areas. This proprietary noise cancellation design consists of 1” high density fiberboard (HDF), 0.25” rubber adhesive, 0.75” artificial stone damping blocks, 0.35” rubber sheeting, and 100% stuffing density of industrial-grade crimped Dacron. The cabinet also has a lot more honey-comb internal bracing than speakers at this price point. This cabinet weighs in at 86 pounds per speaker. An 8” two-way floor standing speaker from oversees often weighs 20 to 25 pounds per speaker cabinet. While weight isn’t the only indicator of quality, it sure leaves the impression of solid as a brick and a quality product. I tried the rap test and just laughed when I got a dull thud and a sore knuckle.
Be aware this speaker is a quasi-transmission line design which adds internal pieces of wood to create the folded horn and its four chambers which essentially tune the port. In conclusion, this is a heavy well-braced cabinet which takes the high road in quality and is impressive based on the price.
Here is where Von Schweikert did some nice sleight of hand. The VR-22 is simple in appearance but not devoid of style. Instead of the standard box speaker, the VR-22 takes a trapezoid form with sharp edges and essentially a simple black-sock cover between two end-caps. The end caps are wood and can be had in a number of different finishes. When you are making good engineering decisions and balancing against aesthetics it pays to make smart decisions. By sacrificing finish such as high-priced real wood veneers, fancy polished finishes, and exotic paint finishes the company can put more money into parts affecting sound quality.
I think the speaker looks nice, simple and clean. The overall look seemed to blend nicely in my room and was neither obtrusive nor bland. It would not qualify for any audio jewelry award but at the same time it would not meet the ugly duckling criteria either. Overall, the VR-22 aesthetic is a well-executed and cost effective design that addresses affordability.
Design Feature Wrap-Up
Another aspect of the overall design which is an important factor to the consumer is how easy is the speaker to drive in real world listening conditions? If all of this engineering and work resulted in an 82 dB efficient speaker then we have a real problem. Luckily, the VR-22 has a 90db sensitivity (8 ohms) which means you don’t need huge power to drive the speakers. Von Schweikert recommends a minimum of 10 watts for low level listening and up to 200 watts for music power. I suspect 10 watts is very low listening and closer to 30 watts is a more realistic number. I have a 30+ year old receiver which puts out 20 watts and it sounded surprisingly good, although a little thin in the body and bass department. I also ran them with NCore 1200 monoblocks and they played surprisingly loud and stayed under control to a much higher level than I would have expected for a 2-way speaker at this price level.
As you can probably tell, I think Von Schweikert has made some excellent design decisions and found the best way to eliminate waste or boutique cosmetics. What the consumer is left with is a solid product which looks reasonably good and punches way above its weight sonically.
Positioning of the Loudspeaker
Positioning is fairly simple with this speaker. It was designed to go very close to a back wall if needed but can also be brought out into a room to create a bigger sound. Since every room and situation will vary, I’ll give you the quick and easy for my set-up. First, I believe the speaker is fairly room friendly. I used no toe-in and very little toe-in and found it made little difference. I placed the speakers from 9 to 11 feet apart and anywhere from 10” to 24” from the back wall. I found much closer than 10” and they became boomy and indistinct. I found 18” to 24” gave the right bass re-enforcement and provided the optimum soundstage. While there were differences in each location, they were relatively small which points to fairly room friendly speakers. With smaller rooms and competing with furniture and the wife, I think 18” to 24” out from the wall is pretty reasonable and fits many lifestyles. On the other hand, many speakers need 36” to 48” to integrate correctly and then they look out of place and compete with real world living conditions. All in all these speakers score very high on real world usability.
I could wax poetic about the sound and break it down into great detail but it would take pages and the conclusion would be pretty obvious. Every speaker sounds different depending on the environment you place the speaker into. Since the speaker seemed to be very room friendly, I quickly found a placement which was outstanding and produced a big, full and coherent sound. The overall timbre of the speaker seemed to be spot on in my set-up. I would consider the balance of the sound to be ever so slightly on the warmer side. I consider this a blessing in a speaker at this price point. So many speakers are too bright and edgy for my taste often veering into the hyper-detailed camp which is impressive on first listen but wears thin over time. Resolution in the mids and upper frequencies was outstanding in spite of the warmer balance. The VR-22 seemed to fill my room with ease. It could get extremely loud but still hold together and sound under control.
Once I found the right location in my room, the bass was full, tuneful, fast, impactful, and just plain right. The integration with the tweeter was seamless and provided a clear window on the overall sound. I can’t really complain about much. Unless you listen exclusively to heavy organ music and at volumes which might peel paint off the wall, the speaker provides a full measure of sound for many real world rooms it will likely occupy. Overall, it is an excellent value monetarily and an excellent sounding speaker many people can actually afford and appreciate.
In the beginning of this article, I wanted you to focus on what “value” meant to you. I believe I have demonstrated this is an extremely balanced product with intelligent trade-offs which results in an extreme value in this industry. The VR-22 is a balanced product design with intelligent tradeoffs and I do believe the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Extreme value in high-end audio is very rare and the exception to the standard rule. If you are in the market for a set of speakers at twice the price, do yourself a favor and audition these speakers. You might be surprised at how close they come to $10,000 to $20,000 dollar boutique speakers with some newfangled finish or claim to fame.
The ultimate test of a speaker is how long you “want” to listen without uncovering flaws or shortcomings which detract from your musical enjoyment. If you can sit down and enjoy the music for hours and not switch on the analytical part of your brain then you have a great product. At under $3k delivered the VR-22 is proof you don’t have to spend a small fortune to experience the high-end. What’s more, Von Schweikert Audio, by offering a 90-day home trial on the VR-22, have removed one of the primary obstacles for most audiophiles; that of hearing the speakers for themselves in their own room/environment.
Von Schweikert Audio has delivered to the market a speaker system with the highest ratio of sound versus cost I have ever experienced. The Von Schweikert Audio VR-22 is greater than the sum of the individual parts and has resulted in an outstanding balanced product which truly defines “Extreme Value” in my book. Congratulations to Von Schweikert Audio!
PRICE: $2,895/pair, delivered (C.O.N.U.S. only). Ninety Day in-home trial, sold factory direct.
SYSTEM TYPE: Two-way dynamic system with 8” woofer and 1” tweeter.
BASS LOADING: Quasi-transmission line using 4 chambers with tuned port.
FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 30Hz to 40kHz, +/- 3dB. (1dB tolerance in the midband).
IMPEDANCE: 8 ohms nominal, dropping to a low of 5 ohms at 30Hz tuning frequency.
SENSITIVITY: 90dB @ 1watt/1 meter. Can be placed against the wall to save space.
SIZE: 40” tall x 16” wide x 10” deep. Weight is 86 lbs. per side, 106 lbs. in shipping crate.
RECOMMENDED POWER: 10 watts for low level listening, up to 200 watts music power.
AVAILABLE FINISHES: Black or beige fabric wrap, with large variety of end caps available.
WARRANTY: Five years parts and labor, not including abuse. Transferable to 2nd owner.