Vandersteen Model Seven loudspeaker Page 3

Soundstages were as wide and deep as was appropriate to the program material, but their height was less than fully realized—not surprising, given the Model Seven's height of only 3' 8". Still, the sonic pictures extended well north of 44", just as their width and depth pushed well beyond the physical boundaries of the baffles—but if you're used to line-source arrays—or tall, well-integrated speakers, as I am—the low ceiling of the Sevens' soundstage will be noticeable. That single minor limitation is easily forgotten, however, given the clarity, coherence, and transparency of the three-dimensional pictures the Sevens re-create.

This high level of resolution of reverberant decay sometimes had an unintended negative consequence. Recordings mixed on lower-resolution speakers sometimes sounded too reverberant and not nearly as solid as before, which gave them a distant, watery sound they don't have through lesser speakers, through which they might sound ideal.

When the novelty of spectacular spatial presentation had worn off, the Seven's tonal balance stepped forward. That first night of listening made clear that either Richard Vandersteen likes a lot of bass, or he thought I did—there was way too much of it with recordings that had a great deal of good, deep bass. My wife soon reinforced this perception by phoning me from upstairs: "Those speakers have way too much bass!" In my house, that's another way of saying "Turn that $#%&* music down!"

It was easy enough to turn the bass down to produce a tonally more balanced sound, but an obsessive audiophile, given so much direct control over the amount and quality of the bass (never mind that rear-firing tweeter), may never find peace, forever wondering if all the Seven's controls have been correctly set—as if there were any absolute "correct" setting, especially of Q.

Once I had found the proper subwoofer level, its blend with the midbass was seamless, and the sense of separate low-frequency events never intruded. In fact, one of the reasons it was so easy to have the bass dialed up way too high and not initially be aware of it was the quality of the bass: taut but not mechanical, rich but not sloppy.

The Seven's tonal balance was impressively neutral from top to bottom, though perhaps a bit laid-back at the very top of the presence region, which tends to draw you into the music rather than project it out at you. Perhaps the Seven's tonal balance was somewhat lean in the midrange as well—it certainly wasn't rich and full—but that might have been a perceptual hiccup resulting from the speaker's almost showy emphasis of instruments' transient attacks and the aforementioned decay, at the cost of the sustain that fleshes out the textural and physical qualities of instruments and voices.

Most visitors were as completely bowled over as I was by the Model Seven's performance; many asked, "What more would you want?" A few, however, while respectful, felt the speaker's sound was too analytical and insufficiently fleshed out: great bones, not enough meat. I didn't agree. I didn't hear the Seven strike any false notes. If anything, it was a proverbial tabula rasa on which—using as pencil or paintbrush a tube amp or preamp or warmish-sounding phono cartridge—one could draw more fleshed-out instrumental spectra or enrich the midrange, if that's what one felt was needed.

Driven by my solid-state combo of darTZeel NHB-18NS preamplifier and Musical Fidelity Titan power amp, the Model Sevens produced sensational transparency and resolution of refined detail, while never developing a hard analytical edge—unless the recording so dictated. Instrumental harmonics were well fleshed out, but I felt there was more midband richness to be had, and which a big tube amp probably would have produced from these 83.5dB-sensitivity speakers. This was less a design fault than a matter of choosing the right associated gear.

Grain, etch, glare, and other additive distortions that can spoil the illusion of live music and remind the listener all too vividly of the speakers' physical presence, were seemingly nonexistent. The Sevens "disappeared," never positioning events at or near the speaker baffles. Depending on the recording, the front of the stage would be set up well or just in front of the baffles, or just behind them, or way behind. In fact, one of the telltale signs of the Seven's greatness was its chameleon-like lack of a sonic personality: bright recordings were bright, dull ones dull, and the acknowledged great ones . . . well, they sounded greater, particularly those celebrated for how much air and space they contain. Every good-sounding record I pulled or CD rip I pushed for using the Meridian Sooloos revealed something new and spatially interesting.

Test pressings of a new 45rpm reissue of The Nat King Cole Story (5 LPs, Capitol/Analogue Productions), remixed live to lacquer from the original three-track master tapes, arrived during the review period. With no previous reference, I feel confident in saying that what I heard sounded as if I were sitting in the recording studio, listening to a full-range, monitor-quality system designed to evenhandedly reveal without false emphasis. Turning the bass back up to Richard V.'s original setting would have had me reporting "too much bass"; but backed off to where I eventually left it, the tonal balance was ideal.

With the volume set at a natural, relaxing level, the sensation of being in the recording studio, on the other side of the mikes from Cole and his musicians, was preternaturally convincing: the Model Seven toed the line of super-detailed super-resolution without ever crossing over into the "hyper" zone. Their sound was never mechanical or etched.

The Seven behaved equally well at low and high sound-pressure levels, sounding involving, detailed, and evenly balanced regardless of volume. Dynamic compression, where a loudspeaker's character changes as it plays louder, was never a problem, especially with more than 1000Wpc driving just the midbass and up. Still, the Model Seven wasn't the last word in large-scale dynamic slam—it never came at me viscerally. Rather, it was a highly evolved, highly resolving, refined but exciting loudspeaker that produced a vivid, three-dimensional, notably coherent picture that I could observe and appreciate and connect with—though not in the sense of Maxell's old blow-your-hair-back ads.

Richard Vandersteen has a long history of building high-performance, competitively priced loudspeakers universally respected for their innovative technology, high build quality, and spectral and spatial coherence. He's also long trained his sights on producing time- and phase-coherent speakers, which he achieved decades ago with the Model 2.

While the Model 5 was more graceful-looking than earlier Vandersteens, it still lacked the visual "wow" factor of some of the pricier competition. And while some other speakers bettered the Model 5 in terms of ultimate resolution, midband transparency, transient snap, and, especially, dynamic slam, overall, the 5's performance was and remains as impressive and well balanced as anything at or near or twice the price—particularly in the bottom octaves, where few speakers can touch it at any price.

With the Model Seven, Vandersteen has finally made a speaker with "wow" factor. This relatively small, living-room–friendly package contains a dramatically graceful-looking, ultra-high-resolution speaker that continues the brand's sensational time- and phase-coherent soundstaging and unbeatable powered bass performance. Three of its highly evolved drivers feature Vandersteen's new cone technology, which produces the speed, transparency, and low distortion of the best planar and electrostatic panels—all in an exceedingly stiff, well-damped cabinet that also houses a powered subwoofer, with an 11-band room-compensation system thrown in.

If the Model Seven has any shortcomings, they are the shortness of its soundstage height (which is minor), and the lack of the ultimate in visceral slam, particularly with orchestral climaxes, which only much larger speakers deliver. Even so, few speakers in my experience have provided so much listening excitement and involvement with so little listening fatigue—actually, none has. Usually, speakers that initially excite end up being fatiguing, and speakers that initially sound relaxing and "involving" eventually grow boring.

While the Model Seven is expensive compared to previous Vandersteen speakers, it's among the finest-performing speakers I've heard in a pack where the competition costs more than twice as much—without the powered sub. But add that powered bass, a compact and attractive cabinet, and 11-band EQ, and this speaker might simultaneously be Richard Vandersteen's most expensive and his best value. With a pair of Model Sevens, I could live happily ever after.

Vandersteen Audio, Inc.
116 W. Fourth Street
Hanford, CA 93230
(559) 582-0324