VMPS SuperTower IIa/R loudspeaker

One of the nicest features of the High End is its diversity. Regardless of whatever trend is fashionable, there will always be manufacturers to buck it, and sell alternative concepts and sounds. VMPS is just such a case. With few exceptions, the recent trend in speaker systems has been toward small-to-medium-sized "monitors" with good imaging and high resolution, but limited bass and dynamics (footnote 1). The VMPS SuperTowers provide the former, but buck the trend by adding reproduction of the deepest bass and outstanding full-range dynamics.

The SuperTower IIa/R is not the most expensive VMPS speaker—VMPS also produces a $7000 ribbon system—but it is the largest member of the VMPS family. As befits such a senior member, the SuperTower IIa/Rs are both expensive and impressive in size at up to $3500/pair and 500 lbs/pair!

Bass Power and Extension
As this mix of sheer size and driver numbers indicates, the Super lower IIa/Rs do not make polite compromises with the laws of physics. The 3dB-down point in the bass is an honest 17Hz; the IIa/R's deep hass competes directly in quality and extension with the Infinity IRSIII's. Both on test generators (using warble tones, pink noise, sinewave, and pulses) and with live music, the SuperTower IIa/Rs succeed in rivaling the deep bass in the IRS in every way. They also surpass or equal the deep bass of any subwoofer speaker system I have tested. Expensive as these speakers are, they have few rivals at anything approaching the price. Once properly adjusted. the SuperTower IIa/Rs produce the kind of bass you can literally feel, without sacrificing detail, control, and the ability to honestly reproduce bass notes as music.

This kind of dcep bass is important for more than the high-end equivalent of "special effects." Even if you are used to listening to a speaker with relatively extended bass, like the Infinity RS-lb or the Apogee, it is amazing to find out how deep the bass information really goes on some otherwise stock jazz. symphonic, rock, and even some chamber music recordings. Much of this bass cannot be heard, only felt, and in other cases it is simply a faint reinforcement of other musical information. Nevertheless, it provides musical cues immediately reminiscent of live performances but forgotten when listening to most hi-fi systems.

Further, the deepest bass with the SuperTower IIa/Rs is sufficiently effortless that you can hear and feel the entire bass spectrum at live listening levels, without distortion or coloration. This may not on the surface sound unusual, given the number of speakers that claim to be flat down to 35–40Hz. However, most such speakers that measure well, even flat to 25Hz, fail to deliver real power much below 60Hz; they either begin to limit around 85 or 90dB, or they cannot deliver tightly controlled, natural bass power. What you get is doubling, one-note bass, or acoustic mud; what you give up is transparency in the bass.

Like the larger Infinities, the VMPS SuperTower IIa/Rs show that bass extension well below 30Hz, low bass distortion, and high bass-power capability are very desirable in a speaker system. This mix is sadly lost in far too many high-end systems. Such bass power is particularly desirable when you like jazz with a strong bass line, Mahler, the better British rock recordings, Grand Opera, 19th-century Russian composers (someone must like 19th century Russian composers!), or any other music with the full power and range of modern musical instruments.

After all, about 40–70% of the total measurable energy from such music occurs below 100Hz. This is why small minimonitors should be reserved for small mini-music. You may not care for bass you can feel—some audiophiles and musiC lovers can never get used to reproducing deep bass in the home—but once you have listened to a true full-range speaker, you may find it difficult to go back to systems which omit so much musical information. You will also realize just how bad the bass is on most small-to-medium-sized speaker systems.

Dynamics and Power
The SuperTower IJa/Rs also play loud. Very loud. Very, very loud. In fact, the issue is not whether the VMPS SuperTower IIa/Rs are "digital-ready," it is rather, whether digital (or analog) is VMPS SuperTower IIa/R-ready. Not only will the SuperTowers reproduce organ, percussion (ineluding cannon), and all the usual "speaker busters" to levels approaching pain, they will reproduce live instruments at levels familiar only to those who ought to be confined to rock concerts. Mv daughter plugged her bass guitar directly into my system, and promises that the SuperTower IIa/Rs took everything she could put out. I'll have to rely on her word; I left when my ears began to bleed.

This kind of listening level is not my bag any more than extended listening to audiophile records whose only justification is sheer volume and lots of loud bangs (the kind that win the Telarc/Sheffield "Deaf Golden Turkey" Award). The fact remains, however, that virtually all naturally recorded music has very wide dynamic range, and most speakers do not. Most speaker systems operate well only within a dynamic range of about 20dB—usually at some point between 65 and 90dB. Below and above that optimal range, they lose resolution and transparency. They slow down, exhibit growing irregularities in frequency response, and sharply compress sudden transients. Most of the best speakers eliminate these effects at low listening levels, but very few eliminate them at high levels, though such levels arc natural, and equivalent to live listening.

The SuperTower IIa/Rs are dynamic at both low and high levels. They have much of the life of the old horn speakers, although they need considerably more power. Big-band jazz sounds like big-band jazz; Wagner cuts loose without restraint; Beethoven Symphonies have full dynamic power; piano solos lose their politeness or compression, revealing the full power of a concert grand piano; rock effects are neither slowed nor compressed; drum attacks are quick and natural.

Soundstage, Timbre, and Transparency
Neither bass extension nor dynamics would be important if the SuperTower IIa/Rs were not good speakers in other ways. Fortunately, the size and number of drivers is misleading. The VMPS is very coherent for a large cone speaker system, and is as comfortable reproducing Mozart's flute music as Wagner's Götterdämmerung. (Or was it Aïda? They all sound the same.)

The SuperTower haiRs do require very careful set-up. They allow a very wide range of adjustment; it may take you several days to tune these adjustments in to the point where you are comfortable with the tonal balance. Sensible attention to placement is required, and a lot of experimentation to find the position which least excites room effects in the bass.

You will probably also have to experiment with using Mortite to mass-damp the subwoofers—fairlv easy. but requiring careful reading of the instructions, and careful experimentation. Using the largest-size TipToes under the speakers is a must. You will have to take careful steps to reduce the vulnerability of your front end to acoustic breakthrough. and remove any objects in the room that resonate in the deep bass. Tf fanatic, you may wish to adopt the version of Richard Heyser's "live end-dead end" room treatment recommended by VMPS, although you can usually get away with putting your speakers on on the long wall as a substitute.)

Once you have taken these steps you will find that the VMPS IIa/R is remarkably flat and realistic in timbre, from the lowest bass to the highs. Strings, woodwinds, brass, and piano all have their proper tonal balance; so does voice. The soundstage is exceptionally good, with excellent depth and width. Imaging is natural. The information you expect in live music is present, without etching or highlighting.

In fact, if you try light chamber music without a strong bass element, and close your eves, you will have the impression of listening to a good small monitor with excellent imaging. The SuperTower IIa/Rs do, however, have an advantage over such speakers, one that only comes with size: the driver placement clusters the treble drivers towards the top, slightly elevating the image. The imaging and upper-octave data are unusually free of room effects.

My only reservations? The VMPS SuperTower IIa/Rs are not quite as coherent as the very best "small" monitors like the Thiel CS2 or Quad ESL-63, and the cone drivers in the upper six octaves are not quite up to the standard set by the bass. The SuperTower IIa/Rs reverse the normal weakness found in niost of today's speakers. The bass extension is so good that it highlights any weakness in the treble. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear a cone driver that can equal the apparent air, transparency, and life of a good ribbon, EMIT/EMIM, or electrostatic. At the risk of shifting from hear what an all-out version of this speaker would sound like with drivers like the EMIT/EMIMs on my reference Infinity RS-lBs, Admittedly this would probably cost twice as much as the present SuperTower IIa/Rs, but.

Summing Up; Some Important Alternatives
The VMPS SuperTower haiRs are not a casual purchase. They require some very clear choices regarding the value of the deepest bass versus cost and size, They also require a listening room with at least one 20' wall, and a volume of more than 1900 cubic feet. A very large listening room would be desirable, as would a room with an 8' ceiling. It will take several days (or more) to tune the speakers correctly, and literate attention to the instructions. The speakers are designed to be mass-damped by the user, and casual disregard for the instructions may leave them boomy in ways the designer never intended, hut which are easily corrected.

If this sounds a bit fussy, I wouldn't worry. Provided you have a large enough room, the adjustments are easy enough to be part of the fun. You can also get excellent telephone support from VMPS, and may find life easier in other ways. The SuperTower IIa/Rs are also so efficient that you can use a single relatively low-power amplifier, yet are so power-tolerant that you can bi-amp to your heart's content: they have an unusually flat impedance curve. This, plus their many adjustments, mean they can be used with virtually any good electronics.

As for the overall sound, I like the end result, and would be happy to live with it. The VMPS SuperTowers IIa/Rs are part of a full line of speakers which provide extended bass to help make the rest of the music realistic, rather than to emphasize the bass.

I know of no way to get equal coherence and ultra-deep bass power and dynamics at anything like the price, if you are room- or dollar-limited, VMPS can also provide VMPS SuperTower ($1938/pair), and the Tower II ($1198/pair). Both come in kit form at much lower prices. The SuperTower still takes you down to 22Hz with excellent dynamics, and it is only 49" high and 140 lbs. The Tower 11 goes down to about 25Hz, at 43" high and 85 lbs. Both are likely to sound better than the SuperTower IIa/R in small-to-medium-sized listening rooms, and are far less likely to overdrive a room, or present placement problems. They offer even more of a potential bargain in terms of deep bass and dynamic range per dollar, and you can also opt for the subwoofer.

There's hope for the closet bass freak yet!—Anthony H. Cordesman

Footnote 1: It is interesting that thc origin of "monitor" is "studio monitor"—where just thc opposite is true. Low coloration is frequently sacrificed for life-like SPL capability, and imaging is irrelevant in in many studio listening situations.—Larry Archibald