Vandersteen Audio Treo loudspeaker
In one sense, Richard Vandersteen has been the victim of his own success. His Model 2 loudspeaker (footnote 1), introduced at the 1977 Consumer Electronics Show, put his company on the map but proved a hard product to improve on. Based on the idea that the HF and midrange drive-units should have the minimal baffle area in their acoustic vicinity, both to optimize lateral dispersion and to eliminate the effects of diffraction from the baffle edges, the Model 2 also used a combination of a sloped-back driver array and first-order crossover filters to give a time-coincident wavefront launch.
But of perhaps equal if not more importance to the commercial success of the Model 2 and its variantsmore than 80,000 pairs had been sold by the turn of the century, and the speaker is still available as the 2Ce Signature IIwas the fact that Vandersteen had offered the speaker at a price significantly lower than should have been possible for the sound quality on offer: $1125/pair in 1986, and only slightly higher, $1295/pair, in 2000. He managed this by dispensing with the usual wood-veneered enclosure, instead surrounding the speaker's carcass with a black rectangular sock.
And such was the Model 2's performance/price ratio that it wasn't until the introduction, in 1997, of the technically sophisticated Model 5, with its powered subwoofer section, that Vandersteen had a loudspeaker that wasn't undercut by the then-venerable Model 2. The Model 5 also broke with tradition by having a veneered enclosure for its low-frequency drivers, though it continued the minimal-baffle concept for its upper-frequency drivers. Vandersteen's Quatro and Quatro Wood, respectively reviewed by Michael Fremer in July 2006 and Wes Phillips in December 2007, combined a less-expensive development of the Model 5's powered subwoofer with a tweeter/midrange/upper-woofer array mounted on a conventional baffle at the top of a tall enclosure. The Wood had a veneered enclosure; the basic Quatro saved its purchaser money by enclosing an unfinished box in a black cloth sock. However, the Quatros continued the minimal-baffle concept by tapering the enclosure toward its top.
The next Vandersteen designs were both more and less expensive than the Quatro. The Model 7, reviewed by Michael Fremer in March 2010, took Vandersteen's design ideas to a new level of performance, though at a price: $48,000/pair upward, for which you could purchase 20 pairs of Model 2Ce Signature IIs (which now costs $2395/pair). The Treo, which I listened to in prototype form at the 2011 CES, goes in the other direction. It's conceptually similar to the Quatro Wood, but replaces that speaker's active, equalized bass unit with a conventional 6.5" woofer and an 8" flat-cone subwoofer, both loaded with a 2" port. Whereas the Quatro Wood costs $10,900/pair, the Treo is priced at $5990/pair. Once the Treo was in production, I asked for samples; Richard Vandersteen sent me a pair in fall 2012.
The Treo . . .
. . . has the same dimensions as the Quatro Wood43" high by 10" wide by 15" deepbut weighs 80 lbs, compared to the more expensive speaker's 122 lbs. The enclosure is finished in wooden veneer, but all but the bottom 7" of the front baffle is covered by the substantial black cloth grille. Each of the three upper drive-units stands proud of the baffle on a small subchassis; the grille's frame surrounds each of the diaphragms with a smooth surface to optimize diffraction and minimize reflections of the high frequencies from the baffle edges. Use of the grille is mandatory, therefore.
The tweeter is the same ferrofluid-cooled, hard-anodized, aluminum-alloy dome used in the Quatros and the Model 5. Mounted immediately below it on the gently sloped-back front baffle and crossing over at 5kHz is what appears to be the same 4.5" midrange unit as used in the Quatros: a woven-composite cone and dustcap terminated with a flat surround, and a die-cast chassis with minimal aerodynamic obstruction behind the cone. Mounted immediately below the midrange is the 6.5" upper woofer, which handles frequencies below 900Hz and has a woven-fiber cone and a substantial half-roll rubber surround.
At the base of the baffle section is an 8" subwoofer, covering the range from 36 to 80Hz. This features a shallow carbon-loaded pulp diaphragm to which, over the dustcap, a ring has been glued to add mass. The two woofers are reflex-loaded with a 2"-diameter, downfiring port mounted under the Treo's integral plinth. Two cones screw into the front of the plinth to provide the necessary floor clearance for the port. A third cone screws into the center rear of the plinth, while two outrigger spikes prevent the Treo from tipping over.
The crossover is first-order, with 6dB/octave slopes. Electrical connection is via Vandersteen's traditional terminal strip mounted to a metal plate on the speaker's rear, with one pair of screw-down terminals supplied for the midrange and tweeter, another pair for the two woofers. Richard Vandersteen holds that a terminal strip provides a more secure, more reliable connection. However, the Treo's terminals are too narrow for the chunky spades of my AudioQuest Wild cables. I used Cardas Clear connected to the low-frequency terminals, with Kimber Kable jumpers connecting the upper-frequency drivers.
Overall, the Treo is a good-looking piece of audio furniture, elegantly proportioned.
The Treos proved relatively straightforward to set up in my room. The primary adjustments I made were to bring the upper- and lower-midrange regions into balance by experimenting with the distance of each speaker from the nearest sidewall. However, the upper midrange remained a little emphasized in absolute terms. This didn't lead to any noticeable coloration, but it undoubtedly aided the Treo's superb clarity.
Footnote 1: Stereophile has reviewed several variants of the Model 2 over the years. Click here, here, here, here, and here.