Audio Physic Virgo III loudspeaker Page 3

Another great showcase for the Virgo's strengths, and another record I've had since the dawn of time, was Franz Helmerson's recording of J.S. Bach's Suite No.2 in d for Solo Cello (LP, BIS LP-65). It's a wonderful performance through any speaker, with a solid, nicely detailed image, a warm, well-described acoustic, and just the right balance of size, distance, and perspective. With the Virgos, however, it was a lot more than that. Rather than something warm and mellow to sit and sip wine to, the Virgos made this recording feel like a live event. There was that same right there quality I'd felt with Court and Spark. The air and ambience seemed to have the sort of electricity that permeates a concert hall, and, as with Mitchell's singing, each note was shaped and crafted, rich with detail and subtlety.

Okay, so the Virgo III didn't quite have a traditional minimonitor's specific strengths and weaknesses—to its credit, in my book. What about the other half of its design brief: full-range performance? JA's measurements will tell the tale, but I'd guess that the Virgo was good down to about 40Hz in my room, dropping off pretty rapidly below that. It was articulate and clean at the bottom of its range, but didn't have the power and impact of a much larger speaker.

The massive gong a few minutes into Dead Can Dance's "Yulunga," from Into the Labyrinth (CD, 4AD 45384-2), was a good example. The attack was clean and the initial tone quite pure, pristine enough to hear the individual waves moving across and out from the gong. But the subsonic pressure waves that expanded out to fill the room didn't have the weight and power that I've heard from other, larger speakers. To be fair, my huge, open space is a lot bigger than the Virgo's intended environment. In something closer to the recommended 210-420ft2, and with an 8' or 9' ceiling instead of my 20' one, they should be much better able to pressurize the room and bolster the impression of deep, powerful bass.

The Virgo III was a solid performer on my other bass tests, sounding more like a good big speaker than a good little one. Listening to Henry Grimes' and Bob Cranshay's bass lines on Coleman Hawkins' and Sonny Rollins' Sonny Meets Hawk (LP, RCA/Classic LSP-2712), I noted that they were clean, warm, and woody all across their ranges. The Virgo did have a warmish tonal balance, suggesting that the 80-100Hz region might be a little more prominent than the 150-400Hz lower midrange. For example, Helmerson's cello sounded a bit bigger and woodier at the bottom of its range than up near the top. However, there was none of the thickening and one-note character of a speaker that creates the impression of bass by boosting the warmth region. And on fast, stressful passages such as the runs on Fourplay's "Bali Run," from Fourplay (CD, Warner Bros. 26656-2), the Virgo was always quick and precise, cleanly starting and stopping in plenty of time to keep up with the music.

The third aspect of merging a minimonitor and bass unit—the merging—is probably the most difficult of all. The Virgos pulled it off beautifully. Images, whether a single, full-range instrument such as a piano or an entire orchestra within a coherent acoustic space, were seamless from top to bottom. There was no hint of temporal, spatial, or textural discontinuities as the Virgos moved across the instruments' frequency ranges.

The Virgo's handling of dynamics, an area where integration often runs into snags, was similarly consistent from top to bottom, and quite good overall. The Virgo's handling of smaller-scale dynamics—the ebb and flow of a woodwind line, for example, or the intricate microdynamics of Joni Mitchell's voice—was excellent. However, the Virgo was not as explosive as some speakers I've used; its dynamic contrasts were not quite as large. But, as with the Virgo's bass performance, I attribute this more to a mismatch between my room and the speaker's intended environment than to any inherent shortcoming on their part. On Dead Can Dance's "Yulunga," the maracas that explode out of the dense, swirling mix didn't have quite the snap, didn't take my breath away, as they have with some other speakers. But given the choice between top-to-bottom consistency and that nth degree of impact, I'll take consistency any day.

Exploring whether or not the Virgo III actually does merge minimonitor strengths with full-range performance is an interesting way to dissect their performance, but it's not really the point. The point is how well a speaker succeeds in conveying the magic of a musical event. That the Virgos did very well. I threw everything at them, from the simple and achingly beautiful Mozart Clarinet Quintet in A, K.581, on Stereophile's Mosaic CD (STPH015-2), to full orchestral works, to small jazz combos, and to all-out rockers from AC/DC and Stevie Ray Vaughan. They were never less than captivating and magical. Antony Michaelson's clarinet was pure, warm, and woody, Vaughan's guitar was hot, swampy, and alive, and vocals—particularly female vocals—were as realistic and "in the room" as I've heard with any speaker, big or small. As I noted early on, Audio Physic's speakers have sounded great in every room I've heard them in. Now I can enthusiastically add my listening space to that list.

Summing Up
I wouldn't call Audio Physic's Virgo III a perfect merging of a minimonitor and full-range bass extension. It is both less and more than that. I think of the Virgo III as simply a great-sounding speaker—particularly given its compact dimensions—and an interesting point on my timeline between the Magnepan MG3.6/R (which they replaced) and the Thiel CS6 (waiting in the wings). Although the Virgo III's technology more nearly aligns with the Thiel's, the Virgo's strengths, weaknesses, and overall presentation were much more akin to the Maggie's. The sweet, delicious highs, the rich, tangible images, and the huge, three-dimensional, walk-in soundstage—all reminded me a lot of the 3.6/R's most captivating attributes. On the other hand, the Virgo didn't seem to have the incredible precision, focus, and clarity of the Thiel CS6, or its dynamic impact and power, particularly at the bottom end.

The bottom line is that the Audio Physic Virgo III is an excellent loudspeaker that I could happily live with for a long time. It's not the perfect match for my room, but even there, a pair of them worked very well, in both the audiophile and, even more, the musical senses. In a smaller room, my caveats about low bass power and dynamic impact would likely come off the scorecard.

The Audio Physic Virgo III is a well-engineered, beautifully executed, and great-sounding loudspeaker that is, to my way of thinking, fairly priced at $6995/pair. Very highly recommended.

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