Vandersteen Audio 2Ce loudspeaker Page 4

It's in the midrange, of course, where a loudspeaker earns its rights to house room. I listened for all the usual suspects with the Vandersteens—boxiness, nasality or vowel-like colorations, glare, and grain. I had a hard time pinning any of them down in the Vandersteens. Glare? Yes, if you push them too hard, but any loudspeaker can be made to misbehave in this way. I found the 2Ces' performance in the upper midrange more naturally restrained than that of the 2Cis when I last spent time with the latter. Boxiness and nasality? Very hard to spot. The 2Ces may not have been as open through the midband as the best panel radiators, but they were close. Very close. I listen to a lot of vocal recordings—it's nearly impossible to conceal midrange colorations from the reproduction of the human voice—and the Vandersteens sailed through this type of material with ease.

And midrange grain? Not really. Yet I suppose that some might interpret a certain lack of transparency at higher levels as a form of grain. This was the only problem I had with the Vandersteen's midrange. It was very low in obvious congestion, yet the spaces between the notes, as it were, began to fill in as the complexity of the program and its playback level advanced. This is the hardest test for any loudspeaker to pass, and it's usually not limited to the midrange. The 2Ce's slight warmth, never intrusive in and of itself, may have contributed to this. The problem was not a major one—certainly not in the context of the Vandersteens' price—but I'd have to name a certain lack of transparency, particularly at higher levels, as the 2Ce's most significant shortcoming.

But soundstage presentation, both in depth and width, was not a problem. At first I was concerned, as JA had been in the case of the Vandersteen 3, about that hard wooden top sitting just a few inches above the tweeter. This has to cause diffraction and all sorts of serious soundstage anomalies, right? Well, not really. The soundstage from the 2Ces may not have been as pinpoint-accurate or as layered in depth as, say, that of the WATT/Puppies, but that did not detract from what it could do, given the right material. Well-recorded choral material could be stunning. I found no obvious constriction of depth on "Hostias" from Berlioz's Requiem (Telarc CD-80109), or in the show-stopping layering of the chorus and soloists (the latter rather too far forward) in the best parts of Alberto Franchetti's Cristoforo Colombo (Koch Schwann CD 3-1030-2).

In a totally different musical category, I could almost hear little Joey, third from the left and second row back (almost, but not quite), in "Away in a Manger" from Christmas Time with the Judds (RCA 6422-2-R). (The highs on this recordings are also open, airy, and detailed—what I've said about the former two qualities in the Vandersteens notwithstanding—and the Judds' voices clear and low in coloration. Barry Willis was right about this recording in his "Records to Die For" picks a few issues back in February. Do all the Judds' albums sound this good?) And on Flamenco (Philips 422 069-2), Paco Romero danced up a storm between and around the 2Ces and nearly stomped on my toes.

While most of my listening to the 2Ces for this review was done with the Aragon 4004 Mk.II amplifier, I also auditioned them with both the Hafler 9500 and the Sonic Frontiers SFS-80. The Hafler worked well, but displayed a different set of strengths and weaknesses. I discuss this in more detail in my review of the Hafler (elsewhere in this issue), but suffice it to say here that I strongly recommend either amplifier for use with the Vandersteens.

The Sonic Frontiers was an interesting case. The overall sound here was definitely softer and more laid-back than with either solid-state amp, particularly the more up-front Hafler. With the SFS-80 there was less obvious detail and immediacy. The overall focus was less sharp, with a reduction of air and sparkle at the top. There was also less punch at the bottom. The midrange of the Sonic Frontiers was, however, first-rate and with excellent depth. With the tube amp, there was no mud or muck, no cushy warmth or obscuration, but the sound was just a bit slower, easier, and less punchy overall. The solid-state amps, while less sweet and forgiving, easily surpassed the SFS-80 in overall transient speed and in extension and clarity at the frequency extremes.