Vandersteen Audio 3A loudspeaker Page 4

However, the introductory drumstrokes on the Jurassic Park soundtrack (MCA MCAD-10859) did cause the speaker to break up at realistic—though not unreasonable—levels. The drumstrokes didn't cause the woofer to bottom, but did result in a distorted, fluttery sound until I turned down the volume to a level that degraded the sheer visceral impact of the piece. I wouldn't expect this to be a problem in a smaller listening room (mine has a volume of about 5000 cubic feet. I have found this particular passage to be a problem for other loudspeakers—including the Infinity Epsilons when they're driven with insufficient bass power.

The slight warmth I noted in the sound of the 3A didn't intrude in any way on its midrange performance. Initially (and with the original setup), I thought I heard a trace of midrange nasality in the speaker, but turning the midrange level control back to -1dB, combined with the change in transports, rendered it inaudible. Solo voices were timbrally right. Chorus had enough inner definition to make it clear I was listening to a collection of individual voices. There was also a precise rendition of depth and image placement. On the new All Star Percussion Ensemble II (Golden String GSCD 013), the instruments were precisely positioned in both width and depth. I should also add that those microdynamics were now rewardingly precise.

The "Mapping the Soundstage" tracks both from the new Stereophile Concert CD (STPH005-2) and the Sheffield Lab/XLO Test & Burn-in CD (Sheffield Lab 10041-2-T) were precisely handled, though I obtained little sense of imaging outside the boundaries of the loudspeakers. This is not an unusual occurrence for me—only rarely have I achieved it, and only then on select recordings. Perhaps this is because I prefer a tightly defined central image, and tend to set up a system accordingly. The recommended positioning for the 3A is firing straight ahead; for me, this resulted in insufficient soundstage focus. So I used a slight degree of toe-in (the inside faces of the cabinets remaining clearly visible at the listening position, however).

The 3A remained just a bit on the sweet side of neutral throughout my auditioning—even after I substituted a set of AudioQuest cables, which were more crisply detailed than the softer-sounding Monsters. The 3A never had quite the "jump factor" of the Energy Veritas v2.8, or the sheer soundstage size and overall dynamics of either the Veritas or the Mirage M-7si—two loudspeakers which have recently spent significant time in my listening room. But the 3A made up for that in sheer listenability—a self-effacing quality which, with the proper selection of associated equipment, does not compromise the reproduction of natural detail and dynamics. And you shouldn't assume that only expensive transports and processors will bring the 3A to this level of performance. I would, however, recommended that you avoid combining the 3A with associated equipment that in itself sounds overly warm or rich.

In addition to the Krell KSA-300S, I drove the Vandersteen 3As with the McCormack DNA-0.5 I reviewed in February (Vol.18 No.2). Though the Krell has more inner detailing and sheer clarity than the McCormack, the latter doesn't sacrifice much. In trade, it also sounded more forward and immediate than the Krell through the Vandersteens, providing a more "palpable presence" (pardon the cliché) than was evident with the Krell. And the bass slam with the McCormack would have been astonishing had I not heard it before on other loudspeakers. The McCormack's lows were extremely satisfying—perhaps even more so than that of the Krell, which reins the bass in under tighter control. The Krell was more accurate, perhaps, but less gutsy-sounding than the DNA-0.5 with the Vandersteens. Vandersteen more often than not uses McCormack amplifiers at shows—it's apparent that the choice isn't merely one of convenience.

Thiel comparisons
Since the original Vandersteen Model 3 wasn't available to me, it would be a dicey proposition for me to comment on how great an improvement the new model is—especially since it's been nearly two years since I last heard the Model 3, and in a different room. Vandersteen's track records on improvements in their other models—particularly the Model 2—has been consistently good, however, which at the least would seem to make an audition of the new model mandatory for owners of the original design.

What I did do, however, was compare the Vandersteen Model 3A with one of its most popular competitors, the $2750/pair Thiel CS2 2. In most respects, the two were different in the expected ways. Vandersteens have always struck me as sounding warmer and richer than Thiels, and so it was with the 2 2 vs the 3A. The midrange of the Thiel was a little more laid-back. Its top end was crisper and more tightly focused, but also less forgiving of mediocre program material.

While the Thiel's bass was tighter than that of the Vandersteen, it also appeared less extended. The bass drum on Enya's Watermark didn't energize the room in the same shuddery fashion as it had on the Vandersteen. But it was hardly anemic, and, at the same time, was subjectively "faster" than that of the Vandersteen. The Thiel also had similar problems reproducing that bass track from the Jurassic Park soundtrack.

Which loudspeaker did I prefer? Don't pin me down. I liked the bass and the relaxed, forgiving nature of the Vandersteen, but also the crisper, tighter focus of the Thiel (I like detail as long as it isn't thrown at me with a shovel). Both are superior performers, but even in this price range you have to choose your compromises. And if size is a consideration in your listening room, the Vandersteen is considerably larger and more visually dominant.

The Vandersteen 3A certainly is deserving of the same praise that's been given to its predecessor, the Model 3. The 3A sounds terrific with a wide range of program material. If it does this by sounding just a bit sweet and forgiving, it doesn't go so far in that direction that it's insensitive to the equipment feeding it. As with all good loudspeakers, it will repay careful system-matching.

Vandersteens have long been the sort of loudspeakers that, once you hear them, you start figuring out a way to buy them. If you audition them and go home $2600 lighter in the wallet, don't come crying to me.