Vandersteen Audio 1B loudspeaker Page 3

And finally, in the area of dynamics and ability to boogie, I have to rank the 1B as below average. Although I only tripped the driver-overload protection circuits once, driving the speakers at even minimum Rock-Approved levels caused them to sound hard and congested long before the protection circuits kicked in. Even when driven by the 200W Aragon 4004 Mk.II—which you know wasn't even breathing hard—the 1B lacked the capacity for loud, dynamic rock and blues. Even unaccompanied vocal material such as the Fairfield Four album sounded a bit strained when played at realistic levels.

All this was very frustrating for me, because my natural inclination when a speaker doesn't seem to open up and say "Ahhh!" is to crank it up! But the 1B just became hard and confused when cranked. As Vandersteen points out in its manual, this is not a "party speaker." All the same, I expected a higher dynamic ceiling from the 1B than it was able to deliver.

But is it high end?
You probably think I hated the Vandersteen 1B. But I really didn't dislike it as much as I felt that its designers aimed high and missed the target. The 1B didn't do anything particularly well, and seemed to be pretty subpar in nearly every important area of sonic performance—but I've found that to be true with nearly all the sub-thou speakers I've heard, aside from overachievers such as the Spica TC-50, NHT 1.3A, and Epos ES-11.

There is, however, one thing that the Vandersteen 1B doesn't do wrong: It doesn't offend. That's actually a pretty fair trick for sub-thou speakers aspiring to high-end distinction. The li'l Vandys don't have the shrieky highs, the lack of real bottom end, and the uglified cosmetics of most members of their genre, and for a lot of Real World music-lovers, that's enough! In fact, I found myself enjoying music played over the 1Bs more than once—but only when I was concentrating on something else. As soon as I focused on the 1Bs, they suddenly didn't sound so hot. Though these speakers were intended for high-end status, they don't reward scrutiny—they're much better suited to the non-critical music listener who wants a good-looking, unassuming little speaker to play music with.

That's not really the High End. And since a true high-end speaker under $1000 is what I'm looking for, the 1B doesn't make the grade.—Corey Greenberg

Muddy responds
Meow...for the record, I must say that I quite completely disagree with Corey's opinion of the Vandersteen 1Bs. They are easily the finest loudspeakers on the market today, bar none. That CG found them so unfulfilling is a mystery to me. My reaction to the Vandersteens was most emphatically the opposite, I can assure you.

To begin with, the 1B's grillecloth is quite literally in a class by itself—clawable, chewable, scratchable. Eartha and I simply couldn't get enough of it. Most speaker manufacturers today skimp on the grillecloth by using inexpensive synthetic fibers that don't play upon my, shall we say, baser passions in the slightest. But the grille socks on the 1Bs must have been soaked in some kind of catnip-like chemical—it was truly a sublime experience to sink my claws deep into the luxurious black fibers and pull out thousands of little snags, some of them a good 2" in length.

Oh, to be lost in rapturous abandon as I lashed my silent lovers again and again and again, until their very skin was reduced to a field of frayed knots like tiny explosions of black dandelions! No matter how many times CG yelled, "NO! NO! Aww, what's the #%$& use?!" the Vandersteen's wondrous grillecloth kept me entranced—from the moment I awoke to the moment I fell to my bed, drained from a full day's clawing. What more can one demand from a loudspeaker, I ask?

In summation, I must heartily recommend the Vandersteen 1B. Even if you don't own a hi-fi system, you owe it to yourself to have a pair of these fine loudspeakers in your living room. Merely open a can of Fancy Feast, dim the lights, and let your most provocative fantasies become—reality.

Class A, unquestionably.—Muddy the Kat

Eartha responds
Muddy already, like, spazzed about how ex-cel-lent the Vandersteen's grillecloth is, but he, like, totally didn't mention the best part of the whole speaker—the tummy hole cut in the top of the cabinet! The 1B's top-cap has, like, this big open space in the middle of it, covered by this, like, totally comfortable stretchy piece of the grillecloth. Oh-m'GAWD, it is just the best feeling to lie up there with your belly hanging down through the hole! It's like a hammock, but without that back-and-forth swinging stuff, which I totally hate, y'know? I mean, rilly.

Anyway, every other speaker CG's had in the living room has been, like, totally fun—NOT—to lie on top of. I mean, do these manufacturers even, like, care about what it feels like when you lie on their speakers all day long? Mr. Vandersteen was, like, totally smart to cut out the tummy hole on the top of his speaker, and the only other thing I rilly wish is that CG would quit buying generic-clay kitty litter, 'cause, like, it sticks to my butt, y'know? It's, like, eeeee-yew!

Anyway, I rilly loved lying on top of the 1Bs, and if you have cats, too, then you should totally consider buying a pair, 'cause they are, like, totally ex-cel-lent! Rilly!—Eartha the Kit

The Vandersteen 1B has been a difficult product to write about. It does nothing to offend, but I found its sound to be distinctly lacking in nearly every area in which I demand good performance from a speaker, at any price. While the $695 ($780 with the must-have Vanderstands) 1B will offer a more full-range sound than most speakers in its price range, it does not meet the standards of neutrality and musicality set by the best of the breed. Ironically, this speaker is best suited to the kind of music lover who wouldn't be reading this magazine in the first place, as its low overall level of resolution and high-ish midrange coloration don't reward the kind of critical scrutiny that is part'n'parcel of the Audiophile Trip.

Ultimately, if I had a friend looking to spend $800 on a pair of speakers—and I do—I would not recommend the Vandersteen 1B. Although it's a credible, non-offensive speaker, there are others in its price range—the Spica TC-50, NHT 1.3A, and Epos ES-11, to name three—that achieve far more in the way of truly high-end sound (footnote 3).—Corey Greenberg

Footnote 3: Steve Guttenberg's Home Theater review of the revised Vandersteen 1C, introduced in 1996, can be found here.—Ed.
Vandersteen Audio
116 West Fourth Street
Hanford, CA 93230
(559) 582-0324