Audio Physic Virgo III loudspeaker Page 2

I experimented with a variety of room treatments, using the MATT test on Stereophile's Test CD 2 (Stereophile STPH004-2) to augment my listening impressions, and ended up with a very minimal setup. I used two Echo Busters Bass Busters—see my review elsewhere in this issue—to form a half-round centered behind the speakers, flanked by two Double Buster diffusers, the combo pretty much covering the marble-and-glass fireplace behind the speakers. I used another pair of Double Busters on the wall behind my listening chair. I experimented with Echo Busters absorber panels at the first reflection points on the sidewalls, but since I'd begun with a "physics-based" setup designed to minimize the effects of reflections, the benefits of the sidewall damping were pretty negligible.

A final tweak to the system, suggested by Allen Perkins, was to slip a set of his String Suspension Concepts isolation feet under the Virgo IIIs. At first, this greatly offended my rigidity-über-alles audiophile sensibilities—but my wood floor is very springy, and Allen wondered if the Virgos were "driving the floor," which would perhaps muddy the bass a bit and slightly blur the system's focus. Sure enough, the SSC pucks immediately tightened up the bottom end and sharpened things up.

Use and Listening
One of my earliest high-end-audio memories is hearing Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark (LP, Asylum/Nautilus 11) on a set of Rogers LS3/5a minimonitors. I was blown away. The holographic images and pinpoint detail were like nothing I'd heard before.

That memory—polished, honed, and no doubt inflated over the years—is still my gold standard for minimonitor performance. I couldn't afford the LS3/5as at the time, but I did buy the record. And since in the Virgo III Audio Physic has aimed to merge the best of minimonitor performance with full-range extension, it seemed like a good idea to dig out Court and Spark and see how the Audio Physics measured up to my golden memory.

The Virgos acquitted themselves quite well, thank you very much. I cued up "Car on a Hill," sat back, closed my eyes, and Mitchell was right there, solid, tangible, and three-dimensional. I could picture her, eyes closed, leaning into the microphone—so solid was the image that I felt as if I could stand up, lean forward, and look around her to see her from the sides and back. And the soundstage was huge—incredibly wide, deep, and open, with a great sense of clarity and air, and images that were firmly and precisely locked into their places.

But rather than my memory of the LS3/5as, the Virgo IIIs' incredible soundstage and imaging reminded me more of the Magnepan MG3.6/Rs than of the small speakers I've heard over the years. Like the Maggies, the Virgos' images were wonderfully solid and three-dimensional, but not as tightly focused as I've heard from top-flight minimonitors in the past. The Virgos' images were a little bit larger and not quite so sharply bounded, instead merging more naturally with the surrounding space.

This isn't a complaint. A frequent shortcoming of minimonitors is that their images are simply too small to credibly portray the live event—particularly a full orchestra—and often their compact, tightly focused, sharply bounded images contribute to that impression. The Virgos' slightly larger images created a much more naturally scaled portrayal—more important, one that made sense. That is, the sizes of their images and their spacing around the soundstage was consistent with the distances described by the surrounding ambience, and with the perspective between listener and instruments.

The Virgo's reproduction of detail was another area where it didn't sound like most other minimonitors. There was detail in spades—layers and layers of it—but it was inner detail, small subtleties within the fabric of the music, rather than the laser-sharp, pinpoint-located, count-the-chair-scrapes sort of detail that minimonitors are famous for. True, I could follow Joni Mitchell's head moving slightly around the mike, but I wouldn't say I could hear the air moving through her throat and mouth, or the interaction of her vocal cords with the moving column of air. The Virgo's detail just wasn't that flashy or gratuitous. Instead, it was a part of what drove the performance forward and made it come alive.

One thing that I suspect contributed to the Virgo's reproduction of detail was the sound of its ring-radiator tweeter. John Atkinson's measurements may shed some light here, but while the Virgo didn't sound closed-in or dark, it didn't seem to have the nth degree of air and extension, either. Instruments with a lot of high-frequency energy, even some female vocals, didn't pop out of the mix the way they do with the Thiel CS6, for example.

When I zeroed in on high-frequency detail—the circular motion of Frank Gant's brush on his cymbals in "What a Diff'rence a Day Makes," from Ernestine Anderson's Never Make Your Move Too Soon (CD, Concord Jazz CCD-4147), for example—it was obvious that the Virgo's tweeter was doing its job. However, it had a softer, sweeter sound than most tweeters, and reminded me more—again—of the Magnepan 3.6/R's ribbon tweeter than of a conventional dome unit.

Both Magnepan and Audio Physic use unusually low crossover points: 1700Hz for the 3.6/R, 1800Hz for the Virgo. I couldn't help wondering if the Virgo's and Maggie's softer, sweeter treble responses are related not to shortcomings in the tweeters but to inherently lower distortion.

One area where the Virgo IIIs definitely reminded me of good minimonitors was in their wide dispersion and point-source character. Although there was definitely a sweet spot, particularly in terms of focus, their overall sound remained remarkably consistent outside the sweet spot. I found that I could move quite a ways off-axis and still enjoy their performance—a benefit when you've got a new wife to share the music with.

Returning to the music, the Virgos did a fantastic job on Court and Spark. Joni Mitchell's singing wasn't just notes laid out there, or merely released to progress monotonically across the stage. Each note was crafted and shaped, some breathily released to float away into nothingness, some tightly gripped and manhandled, pulled to and fro, dragging me along with them. With the Virgos, Mitchell's singing wasn't just a performance, it was a roller-coaster ride, with her at the controls and me her passenger, hanging on for dear life. Try as I might, I couldn't ignore the music, or just sit back and let it happen. I was always drawn in, further and further, until, inevitably, I would realize I was sitting forward in my chair, gripping the armrests.

Audio Physic
US distributor: Immedia
1101 Eighth Street, Suite 210
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 559-2050