Vandersteen 2Ce Signature II loudspeaker Page 2

But one cable option deserves special mention: I had excellent results with a pair of Alpha-Core AG-1 speaker cables that were sent to me a couple of weeks into the review period. These flat-conductor silver cables were set up for biwiring, with large spade connectors at the amplifier end and sensibly small ones at the speaker end, the latter cleverly stamped from the conductor material itself. It was a short (4') pair intended for use with monoblock amplifiers scooted as close to the speakers as possible, and the level of system synergy was stunning, with leading-edge transients that were sharp but not too sharp, and tremendous tunefulness, texture, and presence overall. What a great match!

On another front: Some hobbyists will be surprised by two features of the 2Ce SigII that aren't generally associated with high-performance loudspeakers: rear-mounted level controls for the tweeter and midrange driver, for use in contouring the sound to suit dull or bright rooms; and, for the 8" woofer, temperature-sensing protection circuits whose job it is to reduce the signal and alert the user with a front-mounted LED during moments of sonic duress. During the review period I did not use the former—they were set to their central "0" positions—and I don't think I used the latter.

The Vandersteen 2Ce Signature II made itself at home from the word go. It liked my records, my room, and the rest of my system. The speaker was superbly balanced from bottom to top. It didn't have quite the transparent, hear-through quality of a Quad ESL—I'll come back to that aspect in a moment—but the Vandersteen's tonal proportions, for want of a better term, were very much the same. Its treble range was soft but substantial, and perfectly suited to its bottom-octave response. The 2Ce SigII was neither bright nor dull; it was simply right, and consistently listenable.

Earlier, I described the bass loading chosen for the 2Ce SigII and how it resulted in an especially gentle rolloff, with audible response into the music's lowest octave. Whether by design or coincidence, the speaker's high-frequency response rolled off at the same apparent rate: a perfect complement. The effect was like looking out through a window of reasonable size: Even though the landscape curled off into the distance, my attention was drawn to the things within view, rather than wondering why I couldn't see the next state over.

That analogy may be appropriate in another way. In terms of the sense of space between the listener and the music, the 2Ce SigII gave a perspective more distant than average. I enjoyed that for the most part, although the sense of distance was a bit too much for me with orchestral recordings that themselves sound less than intimate—such as the recent Mahler Symphony 5 with Temirkanov and the St. Petersburg Philharmonic (SACD, Water Lily Acoustics WLA-WS-76-SACD). Anything on Deutsche Grammophon, such as the fine Mahler Symphony 6 by Pierre Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic (CD, DG 445 835-2), was a safer bet. Those and other more "modern"-sounding classical records were great through the Vandersteens: immediate and clear but not overcooked.

Mated to the Vandersteens' likable perspective was a really good sense of scale. The 2Ce Signature II wasn't as capable of portraying hugeness as, say, a large horn—but it did an excellent job of suggesting differences in size among various instrumental sounds. One of the experiences that most impressed me in that regard—and one that I came back to many times while the Vandersteens were here—was listening to the Tony Rice Unit's version of Jimmy Martin's "Hold Whatcha Got," on Manzanita (LP, Rounder 0092), and hearing the sheer size of Todd Phillips' upright bass, in comparison with everything else.

Another nice thing about living with the Vandersteens—and I do mean living with them, as opposed to sitting down one hour a month and concentrating on them with my chin in my hands, audiophile style—was the way they portrayed the sounds of cymbals in pop music, even when heard from off to one side: As their individual sounds decayed, the sound spread out in all directions, as it tends to do in real life. Especially with well-made live recordings, the effect was one of unusual realism.

It didn't hurt that the Vandersteens had an excellent sense of depth and weight with kick drums, floor toms, and other such instruments. Referring back to that Mahler Symphony 6, orchestral drums had fine depth, and much more of a sense of force than I'm used to hearing with my Quads. Yet the 2Ce SigII was similarly capable of describing timbral subtleties with clarity and, I think, accuracy—such as the differences among various brass and woodwind instruments in the first occurrence of the opening Allegro's very strange chorale, surely the most distinctive eight measures in 20th-century music.

Voices came across well: There was no exaggeration of sibilants, plosives, or the like, and the sorts of gross frequency-response aberrations that plague other loudspeakers were completely absent. I've heard other, more expensive speakers reproduce singers with somewhat greater immediacy and realism; compared with various electrostatic panels, for instance, the Vandersteens were a bit veiled. Nor did voices—or, for that matter, solo violins and the like—have that amazing, pop-out-of-the-mix presence that I've heard with various Lowthers.

But it's rare to find such extreme qualities in a package as well balanced as this one—the 2Ce Signature II was musically satisfying in every way. It was also consistently clean, uncolored, and enjoyable—in those regards, it stood comparison to virtually anything I've heard—and for $1995/pair and almost no setup work, it was amazing: a loudspeaker with no musical shortcomings or obvious sonic faults.

Today, as 20 years ago, the current Vandersteen Model 2 is an easier recommendation than most of its similarly priced competitors: How can you not like something that sounds this good, plays music this convincingly, isn't at all fussy, and sells for just under $2000/pair?

With effort and luck, you might find a similarly priced loudspeaker that does certain things a bit better. So be it. The Vandersteen's greatest strength was an aggregate strength: It was better than average at virtually everything one expects from a loudspeaker. It was the consummate all-arounder. Knowing that Vandersteen Audio has done so well, and that the Model 2 has come this far, is comforting in a way.

So we're back to where we came in. Today's 2Ce Signature II is an unambiguously fine loudspeaker, and from what I recall of its forebears, the latest refinements have endowed it with even more openness and clarity. When friends came by to visit, I didn't drag them into the hi-fi room to show off the Vandersteens, as I sometimes do with my homemade Lowthers or rebuilt Quads. But while the speakers were here, every time I brought home a new record or remembered an old one, regardless of style, I played it without worry and loved it without measure.

Vandersteen Audio
116 West Fourth Street
Hanford, CA 93230
(559) 582-0324