Vandersteen Audio 2Ce loudspeaker Page 6

Comparison #2
And what of the 2Ce's big brother, the Vandersteen 3? After JA finished his review for last month's issue (March 1993), I moved them into my listening room for some head-to-head comparisons with the 2Ces. The 3s are larger, but do not look very different (the only obvious functional change is the 3's use of much more convenient—to me—screw terminals in place of the 2Ce's banana jacks).

Changing over to the 3s did not result in a dramatic shift in my impressions. They were clearly cut from the same cloth as the 2Ces. They appeared to have a bit more overall bloom and a little more ease and extension in the bass—though arguably with a bit less midbass tautness and more warmth. This slightly reduced my ability to focus on inner details with the 3s—the a cappella voices on The Fairfield Four (Warner Bros. 26945-2) or the backup singers supporting Mary Black on "Bright Blue Rose," the best-sounding cut from her Babes in the Wood (D2 77528), for example—even while resulting in a somewhat larger, more expansive soundstage. The image focus of the 3s was good but not striking, though depth was very effective. Yet the overall soundstage—in both depth and lateral placement specificity—was no better than that from the 2Ces. It was, arguably, perhaps even not quite as precise.

First impressions can be deceptive, but specific examples might serve to better pin down my relative impressions of these two loudspeakers. The Hafler 9500 amplifier was used in these auditions. With The Fairfield Four, in addition to the slight reduction in the clarity of inner detail noted above, I also noticed just a bit too much body in the midbass with the 3s—a quality also noted on a number of other male vocals. These two qualities are not unrelated; an increase in the midbass will nearly always reduce overall clarity. But it is also a quality most amenable to alteration by different listening rooms and slight changes in setup. While there was no time to further tweak the setup, I was able to subjectively open up the midbass by small changes in the midrange and high-frequency contour controls (slightly up for the highs, slightly down for the mids). This is not as strange as it seems—we're talking here about both overall balance and the relative level of overtones which are responsible for the subjective "speed" of the bass and midbass. With this change, the 3s still sounded slightly warmer than the 2Ces, but had a more expansive, more "free-breathing" quality. On balance, however, the differences were not dramatic.

Listening to Albeniz's "Festival Day in Seville" from Trittico (Reference RR-52CD) as sampled here from Reference's HDCD Sampler (RR-S3CD)—a demonstration-quality cut if ever there was one—I noted similar differences. It was not an easy call. The greater expansiveness and ease of the 3s were evident, and there was no question that the big bass drum on this piece was more profound over the bigger, more expensive Vandersteens. The 2Ce remained very impressive, however, perhaps even more "alive" overall than the 3s, if less full-bodied. The percussion—particularly a gong which adds significantly to the drama of this work—exploded out of the 2Ces with more clarity, if with a bit more obvious effort, than from the 3s. Not an easy call.