Audio Physic Virgo loudspeaker Page 5

How hard was it to get this setup to "gel"? Very. As with any high-performance product—I don't care if it's a camera, a car, or a loudspeaker—the greater the precision, the more of a pain in the butt it is to get it to work right. You notice tiny imperfections in what it's doing—or not doing. I found myself making ridiculously small placement adjustments as I listened, moving my head side to side, shifting my body front to back as I worked to get the center image correct from my seated "comfort zone." Using my usual reference recordings—I can't say I play them for pleasure—I had a great deal of difficulty getting things where I wanted them, though I could tell the trouble would be worth it when things finally settled in. Eventually, they did. Only then did I put the spikes on the feet.

Where'd they go?
Yeah, yeah—you guys want me to hear this big, wide, totally unreal stage, and I'll be really impressed and I'll love your speakers, I thought as I looked at the open space in front of me, the speakers barely in my peripheral vision. I was skeptical.

After about three weeks' worth of late-night listening sessions, I removed the Virgos from my system and replaced them with my ET VIs. Because I didn't like what I was hearing? No. Because through the Virgos I was hearing things in my listening room I'd never heard before. Not from the ETs, not from the NHT 3.3s. Was it the speakers? The setup? Both?

It was both. With the ETs precisely located where the Virgos previously sat—a place I'd never thought to put them—I got some of the same stuff the Virgos had given me: a spacious but well-proportioned soundstage with more of the natural acoustic of the recording and much less of my room. Despite the wide spread, center fill was actually more solidly rendered, with the position of the speakers more effectively removed from the equation.

But much of what was keeping me up late at night was the particular attributes of the Virgos. Once you've got them precisely located, aside from pulling a vanishing act, what they do better than any other speaker I've auditioned at home is resolve low-level detail: spatial and ambient information, and especially texture and touch in the lower midbass and upper bass. There was simply more information to be had in these areas through the Virgos than through either the ETs or the 3.3s.

This revealing of information was not achieved through "etchiness"—exaggerating leading edges of transients (analogous to turning up the "sharpness" control on your television)—or because of a rising high end in the frequency response. Rather, I sensed a lowering of the noise floor—as if the drivers and/or the cabinet simply made less noise—or very low harmonic distortion, or perhaps all of the above.

I took note on record after record of hearing not "bass," but a credible representation of an instrument—electric or acoustic—fingers plucking strings, and the resultant fundamental and harmonic envelope rendered with convincing ease.

On the title track of Davey Spillane's Atlantic Bridge (Cooking Vinyl 009/Tara 3019) is tremendous, almost overwhelming deep-bass energy. Through the Virgos I could hear, more distinctly than ever before, fingers tapping and damping strings to both create and restrict bass energy. Such adjectives as "lithesome," "nimble," "graceful," and the question, "Where'd those fingers come from?," passed through my mind.

Bass pitch definition and transient speed, especially in the lower midbass, were outstanding—again, outdoing any speaker I've auditioned at home. With the Virgos I always knew what was creating the low-frequency energy—I never heard unidentifiable thumps and bumps.

The Virgo's nimble bass performance, its outstanding control—especially its ability to resolve low-level bass information as notes fade into black—is probably the result of using two smaller and easier-to-move and -control drivers instead of one larger unit. Side mounting restricts unwanted high-frequency information emanating from the woofers from reaching the listener, and having four woofers firing across the soundstage helps load the room more efficiently. Then there's the cabinet integrity and the multiple chambers, all of which damp the port more effectively than any vented speaker I've auditioned. No "chuffing," as they say around here.

But what the Virgos could not do, at least in my room, was give me the visceral sock-to-the-stomach bass the NHTs provide—either in terms of low-frequency extension or dynamic punch. On MoFi's outstanding vinyl transfer of Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus (MFSL 2-013), when Richie Hayward sits down in front of his kit at the beginning of the record and gives the set a quick shakedown, with the NHTs it hits you in the gut like it would if you were in the front row. Via the Virgos, instead of "bomp! bomp!" you get "thonk, thonk."

Not surprising: the Virgos are specified as being down 3dB at 30Hz; the NHTs go down into the low 20s. And because the 3.3s put the woofer adjacent to the back wall, you get greater bass reinforcement. My room requires Godzilla-like bass response from a loudspeaker to give me the low-frequency goods: it's a "lossy" room with an unfortunate hollow back wall (footnote 2), which soaks up bass like a biscuit in gravy.

Hearing the Virgos in two other locations convinced me that, despite my room's problem, I was getting an accurate picture of the speaker's low-frequency capabilities. In a bigger room you'll get better extension and a more visceral presentation, but if you're into "red meat" bass, you won't get it here any more than that four-banger Porsche will satisfy you when you're into the thrill of a quad-throated-carb V8 Chevelle. Just don't try taking that curve too fast.

I also heard a particular character to the bass—one I heard immediately at the other two locations, where different associated equipment was used. It was a slight midbass warmth—maybe just too much of a good thing. This quality fit so neatly into the sweet musical web this speaker spun that it was easy to ignore—even to like. But if you could just turn the woofers down a notch but leave everything else unchanged, you'd be on the money.

Footnote 2: Space between the cement foundation and framing made wider than the other walls to accommodate the main sewer line and its trap access. Aren't you sorry you axed?