Vienna Acoustics Mozart loudspeaker

Vienna is a beautiful city known for many things, but the design and manufacturing of audio equipment is not one of them. Waltzes and strudel, yes; loudspeakers, no. One exception is Vienna Acoustics, a company that has introduced a line of loudspeakers named after composers: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Haydn. At the 1996 Las Vegas WCES, Sumiko, US distributor of Vienna Acoustics products (footnote 1), demonstrated the second-from-the-top Mozart, and Stereophile reviewers as diverse in their approaches as Jonathan Scull, Tom Norton, and Sam Tellig (as well as yours truly) were unanimous in our admiration of the sound.

An impression of sound quality made in a show environment does not always provide an accurate assessment of a product's ultimate worth. If a system featuring a certain component disappoints under such conditions, this is not necessarily an indictment of the specific component: poor sound could be due to another component in the system, unfavorable interactions among components, insufficient break-in/warmup, or the ubiquitous "room problems." On the other hand, if the system as a whole sounds good, this would suggest that each of the components is performing to at least an acceptable standard. However, it's still possible for unusually good show sound to be due to a particularly synergistic combination of components and/or a room/speaker interface that just happens to minimize a speaker's problem areas. Furthermore, show attendees have only a limited amount of time to listen to any one system, and problems not apparent on initial exposure may become more obvious and bothersome in prolonged listening.

To evaluate a product fairly and accurately, there's no substitute for long-term listening in a familiar environment, with high-quality associated components and familiar source materials. In the case of speakers from Vienna Acoustics, it behooves the reviewer to prepare for listening sessions by consuming generous portions of strudel.

Yes, it's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

Design
Sleek, slim, and finished to a furniture standard, the Mozart is said to "gracefully blend into the finest decor." Since I'm not sure if the decor in my home qualifies as "the finest," I couldn't verify this claim, but the Mozart is undoubtedly a very handsome loudspeaker, and its relatively small size means that it's likely to fit into listening/living/family rooms without unduly disturbing the decor, finest or otherwise.

The Mozart's baffle is narrow but fairly deep; that 11.6" depth, combined with its 37" height, gives it a substantial volume useful in extending bass response. The two-way design pairs a ScanSpeak 1.1" silk-dome tweeter with two 5.5" woofer/midrange units made to Vienna Acoustics' specifications. The cone of the woofer/midrange is made of "XPP," a new silicone/polypropylene composite material said to possess an exceptional combination of stiffness and self-damping. The crossover has a 9dB slope for the first octave (both high- and low-pass), and 12dB after that. Designer Peter Gansterer says that crossovers measuring almost the same sometimes sound very different, and that much of the development time was spent listening to various crossover configurations.

The construction features expensive hand-picked capacitors, 2% tolerance metal-film resistors, and 0.7% tolerance air-core inductors. Special attention has been paid to the input terminal block to reduce the number of internal connections. There are two sets of speaker terminals, with a removable link that allows for bi-wiring. The woofer/midrange drivers have separate and dissimilar internal enclosures, each with its own rear port, and a chamber in the base of the cabinet can be filled with sand (I did so). The cabinet itself is built with materials of varying densities and thicknesses, and bracing is used to stiffen the enclosure. Four spikes are provided to allow for firm mechanical grounding.

Setup
I first set up the Mozarts more or less in the position I've found to work well with other speakers: along the 16' wall, with unequal distances to the back and side walls, the speakers subtending a wide angle (about 75 degrees) to the listening position. For the first two or three weeks I listened only casually, making no attempt to fine-tune the speaker position—John Hunter, Sumiko's Director of Sales/Marketing, had told me that he wanted to visit and tweak the setup. John is known in the industry as a setup man extraordinaire (he presented a trade workshop on this topic at HI-FI '96 in New York), so I welcomed the opportunity to see an expert at work. Before he came, the sound was pleasant and laid-back, but had a midbass emphasis with a certain lack of focus and a rather "phasey" quality.

John's pronouncement on first listening to the system: "Not bad, but we're not there yet." He started adjusting RoomTunes and Tube Traps, and moving the speakers by small increments, listening to the effect of each change, while I practiced the poker face that all Stereophile reviewers are advised to put on in this sort of situation. After a couple of hours he pronounced that the setup was to his satisfaction. The speakers were a little closer together than where I'd placed them; the angle from the listening position was about 60 degrees. They were tilted backward (as much as the adjustment range of the spikes would allow) and toed-in to about halfway between the straight-ahead and the facing-the-listener positions. He also pulled the Tube Traps slightly out from the corners, and placed RoomTunes in strategic positions next to some of the record-storage cabinets to damp reflections. The result was much-improved focus and soundstaging; the phasiness was gone, and the sound seemed to "breathe" more. Most pleased, I had difficulty maintaining my poker face.

Listening more critically after John Hunter left, I felt that there was still a little too much emphasis in the 50Hz region. I knew that the Vienna Acoustics factory provided optional foam plugs for the ports; John had told me that he didn't like the effect of these plugs, so he didn't ship them. I phoned him and asked for the foam plugs to be sent. He agreed to do so, and suggested that I also try placing a RoomTune panel about 12-15" behind each Mozart. Placing the RoomTune panels in this manner (with the nonreflective side facing the speaker) indeed helped smooth the bass response, and resulted in a further improvement of imaging specificity. As for the foam plugs—well, I have to agree with John's reluctance to use these for bass control. Putting one in each of the lower ports certainly resulted in tighter, leaner bass response, but had a detrimental effect on focus and the speakers' "open" quality. I did all the rest of my listening without the foam plugs. I also placed the speaker grilles where they belong: stored safely in the closet (footnote 2).

Sound
Prior to the individual setup of the Mozarts in my listening room, I placed them next to my reference speakers, a pair of Dunlavy SC-IVs (Stereophile's 1994 Component of the Year). Six feet high and weighing about 180 lbs, the SC-IV is a big speaker by most people's standards (although it looks positively diminutive next to the Dunlavy SC-VI that was the magazine's Joint Loudspeaker of 1996). I switched the cables from the SC-IVs to the Mozarts and put on the ever-popular Chesky Jazz and Test CD (JD37).

"Hey, come and listen to this!" My wife, Beverley, in the tradition of long-suffering audiophile spouses everywhere, complied. She listened for about a minute and turned to me. "It's a trick, right? You're playing the big speakers!"



Footnote 1: I found out later that Sumiko's role extends beyond that of distributor; they've made a major contribution to the development of design priorities for the Vienna Acoustics line.

Footnote 2: The only speaker I have experience with that doesn't sound better with the grille off is the Dunlavy SC-I: its grille has thick felt strips that are an integral part of the design.

Company Info
Vienna Acoustics
US distributor: Sumiko
2431 Fifth Street
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 843-4500
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