Vandersteen Audio 3A loudspeaker Page 3

The sound of the 3A was not entirely at odds with my impression of Vandersteens in the past—a little warm and forgiving rather than analytical and detailed—which is why I didn't immediately look for solutions. But after a couple of days of this, I was certain that something had to be done. My first reaction was to rearrange the listening room and try other setups—the diagonal setup I'd chosen didn't allow me to try the setup guidance suggested by Vandersteen in their excellent owner's manual. I wasn't concerned about the tilt-back of the 3As, as I had carefully adjusted that aspect of the setup. The 3As were also spiked with the furnished cones, and, prior to doing any listening, I had run them in with moderate-level pink noise for more than 75 hours.

Before rearranging everything, however, I took careful stock of the rest of the system—most especially, the Pioneer player/transport and DTI interface. I had used the Pioneer with the Levinson No.35 in another room with another system, and had found it a surprisingly good, if unlikely, combination. But it had erred then in the direction of warmth—unlike the Krell KPS-20i, either by itself or driving the No.35. Fortunately, the KPS-20i became available to me again, so I reinserted it into the system, replacing the Pioneer/DTI combination.

What happened will not be easily accepted by those who don't accept the proposition that transports can have an important effect on the sound. My impression of the system—and of the 3A—was transformed. On a sliding scale of values, one could say that the difference was small. But it was much like, if I may use a video analogy, the difference between correct flesh-tones on a television and those that are very subtly green. It takes only a slight adjustment of the tint control to correct such an error, but this makes the difference between something which is enjoyable and something which is vaguely irritating.

The initial entry in my listening notes following the reinsertion of the Krell transport reads, "Wow. All kinds of things are happening right now that were wrong before. Voice is in tighter focus...kettle drums are tighter, with more power and snap. There's a subtle but noticeable increase in depth. More life...better sense of microdynamics. Still a slightly forgiving sound, and I'd like a bit more snap and air on top, but now the lights are on, and the motor is running." Any thoughts I might have had about needing to rearrange my listening room receded into the background.

The improvements were audible across the spectrum, though I suspect that the real improvements were in the upper-midrange/treble region—which translated into a subjective impression of better performance everywhere. The 3A was now cranking on all cylinders. The sound still sounded a bit warm and sweet—very much in that Vandersteen tradition—but now there was real detail and clarity to go along with it. The top end was pristinely clean. Sibilants remained generally sweet and inoffensive, yet now there was no question of their differences from recording to recording.

The character of a singer's voice was clearly presented—for example, the gravelly edge to the vocal in "Superman's Song," from the Crash Test Dummies' The Ghosts That Haunt Me (Arista ARCD-8677). The sound was now open and transparent, and while I might still have liked a bit more air at the very top (even after turning the tweeter level up to +1, where I left it for most of my listening), neither did I particularly miss it.

The 3A proved to be a solid performer at the bottom end as well. I didn't find the speakers to extend as low into the bass as their specs indicated—somewhere in the low to mid-30Hz is my estimate of the extent of their lowest useful response. Still nothing to sneeze at. The bass had both punch and weight—if it couldn't match my recollection of the performance of either the Infinity Epsilon ($14,000/pair) or the NHT 3.3 ($4200/pair) in either of these categories, remember that the 3A, at $2595/pair, is the least-expensive loudspeaker by a significant margin (dramatic, in the case of the Infinitys). If it lacked the subjective weight of the Veritas v2.8 or even the Mirage M-7si in this same room, it also lacked some of the subjective mid- and upper-bass rise of both of those loudspeakers.

The 3A nonetheless handled with aplomb everything from the bass drum on Enya's "The Long Ships," from Watermark (Geffen 9 24233-2), to the deepest bass passages on "Napalm for Breakfast," from The Apocalypse Now Sessions (Ryko RCD 10109) (originally released on LP by Wilson Audio).