Merlin Music Systems VSM Millennium loudspeaker system Page 2
Getting deep bass from a 6.5" vented woofer is problematic no matter how you play with the port tuning or the crossover. According to Palkovic, the speaker's basic alignment is -1dB at 60Hz, -2dB at 42Hz, -7dB at 35Hz, and -10dB at 32Hz. The outboard BAM bass equalizer, powerable by battery or AC and via a tape loop or in series with the preamp and amplifier, applies a carefully contoured boost of 5.2dB at 35Hz. With the BAM, Merlin claims the VSM's response is flat at 60Hz and 42Hz, -2dB at 35Hz, and -4.5dB at 30Hz. A high-pass filter operating below 28Hz prevents unwanted LF (eg, turntable warp and wow). The box uses the same ultra-high-quality parts as the crossover, in an attempt to make the BAM as sonically transparent as possible.
The Millennium Edition of the VSM is distinguished by the buyer's choice of wiring harnesses and a number of other changes designed to maximize its performance with solid-state ("S" version) or tube ("T" version) electronics. Merlin says the "S" harness will "flesh out a damped bottom end, juice up the midrange (and relax it slightly), while making the top end more forgiving," while the "T" version is supposed to "exhibit great clarity and control with extreme dynamics, which is exactly what is needed for underdamped systems." According to information on Merlin's website, the new wiring required "changes in torque settings, damping materials (quality & quantity), and electronic circuit damping..." In addition, the Millennium Edition sits on proprietary damped Z feet, which contain five parts each—including the sharpest points I've yet encountered.
Setup and Use
I welcomed Bobby Palkovic to set up his speakers as he saw fit in my room. The "Golden Section" procedure he used is well outlined in the instruction manual. The outcome of the math required the removal of a couch to shift my listening chair (an ultra-comfortable Ekornes Stressless chair—highly recommended!) 2' back from its usual position. The VSMs ended up farther out into the room (3½' from the front wall) than I usually place speakers, and not as far apart (7') as I'm used to, though this distance is the maximum recommended. This put the speakers 10' from my chair. The VSM is intended to be toed-out so the listener sits 10 degrees off the main axis; a simple wooden tool is provided to help you obtain the desired angle.
The BAM unit went in the Hovland preamp's tape loop via Cardas Golden Cross interconnect. To begin with, Golden Cross was substituted for my reference Harmonic Technology interconnect and speaker cable, the latter being a biwire Cardas pair. The BAM can be run in full AC, in AC/battery mode plugged into the wall, and, after a full charge, in pure battery mode for about 12 hours unplugged. The BAM is available in both single-ended and balanced configurations.
There were none. The essence of what I'd heard at countless CESes and consumer shows I heard in my own listening room. With some speakers, there's a cautious opening round during which I eye (ear?) the speaker warily. Usually, I have an immediate reaction—some sonic characteristic reveals itself early on to distinguish the new speaker from my reference. I then try to listen around that characteristic so I can hear the speaker on its own terms.
That never happened with the VSM at shows, and it didn't happen with the VSM at home. This speaker invited me in and held my attention, communicating music more than sound. However, getting to the essence of what was going on still took work, both because of the crafty design and because I was having too much fun listening to want to take the time and effort to sonically take the speaker apart.
But what drew me in to the VSM first was its smooth, airy, graceful top end, delicate yet detailed. It sounded downright luxurious without being syrupy or unctuous. Bright or peaky recordings were revealed for what they were. There were clarity and focus, without a trace of harshness or grain. Transient events happened naturally fast and incredibly cleanly.
Then I began to notice the speaker's astounding ability to grab post-event decays and hold them way into the blackest recesses of infinity. The VSMs rivaled electrostatic designs in this regard, but seemed to take even longer to fade even further to black—at least compared to the electrostats I've heard. The VSM's retrieval of microdetails was among the best I've ever heard from any speaker at any price. Cascading reverberant trail-offs extended into seemingly impossible depths of time and space, exposing new layers of ultra-low detail from even the most familiar recordings.
All of this revelation of detail occurred without a hint of glare, hyper-edge, or, most significant, congestion. In fact, the VSM was one of the least congested, least mechanical-sounding speakers I've ever heard—which made it among the least fatiguing. I could listen for hours and still leave the room wanting to hear more. I did that most nights.