Audio-show exhibitors love keeping the lights low. It creates a moody, exotic atmosphere. But for aging scribes like myself, it also presents challenges. The way I do not want to make an entrance is by tripping over a chair and getting the outline of a 300B tube permanently seared into my forehead.
You may chuckle at the Pink Panther-ish mental image, but it’s nearly happened to me a couple of times. (The chair part actually has happened, the tube tattoo, well … close.)
Such calamities were on my mind as I carefully crept into the somewhat dim Musical Surroundings/Audio Alternative room at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Possibly helping my retinas out a bit was the fact that I had just emerged from the Zu/Peachtree space, which was pitch-black.
It may not have been bright, but I certainly could hear some interesting music coming from a pair of Vandersteen Model Seven Mk. II speakers ($62,000 a pair). I’ve been a Vandersteen fan going way back to the days when I used to listen to a friend’s Model 1Bs and, later, his Model 3s.
Vandersteen has come a long way from those budget-speaker days. Founder Richard Vandersteen began enthusiastically pursuing bigger and more sophisticated designs in recent years, and the new flagship Model Seven is the product of those ideas and loosened financial concerns.
The Model Seven is a relatively compact speaker, measuring just 14×42.5×20 inches. The driver complement includes a 1-inch tweeter, 4.5-inch midrange and 7-inch mid-woofer, all made from a three-layer carbon/fiber/balsa material, along with dual 12-inch aluminum woofers (internally powered by a 400-watt amp) and a 0.75-inch, ceramic-coated, rear-firing tweeter.
Vandersteen says one of the biggest improvements in the new model is a mechanical alteration of the “acoustic lens” that surrounds the midrange and high-frequency drivers. The tweak is intended to better align the centers of those cones to decrease the amount of hand-tuning required in the compensation network. The company claims this improves image focus and creates a taller, wider and deeper soundstage.
Another change was to weave the voice-coil leads directly into the spiders of the push-pull subwoofer cones in the powered subwoofers, which Vandersteen says boosts linear excursion and authority.
Driving the Model Seven was a rig that was anchored around two Vandersteen M7-HPA high-pass amplifiers ($52,000 pair), as well as a trio of components from Audio Research, the Reference 6 line stage ($14,000), Reference CD9 CD player/DAC ($13,000) and Reference Phono 3 ($14,000).
Spinning wax was either the new AMG V12 Turbo with 12 JT tonearm ($22,000), outfitted with the new, upgraded DS Audio DS Master 1 cartridge ($22,500), or the new Clearaudio DC Performance Wood with Satisfy carbon-fiber tonearm ($4,600) with a Musical Surroundings SuperNova III phono stage ($3,500) and a Hana SL moving-coil cartridge ($750).
Wire was by AudioQuest, with the company’s Niagra 7000 employed to condition the Denver Marriott Tech Center’s AC.
I offered my home-burned test CD and soon was listening to “The Way It Always Starts” from Mark Knopfler’s exquisite soundtrack to Scottish director Bill Forsythe’s “Local Hero.” The haunting track, which features stirring acoustic guitar by Knopfler, terrific piano by underrated Alan Clark and guest vocals by Gerry Rafferty, suggests what “Romeo and Juliet”-era Dire Straits would have sounded like with a more capable singer.
The Model Seven aptly reproduced Clark’s keyboard runs and Rafferty’s resonant, nasal voice. The system also excelled at reproducing the wide dynamic range on this Neil Dorfsman-engineered cut. And, true to Vandersteen’s claims, the soundstage was impressively large.
I also listened to The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” on vinyl. The DS Audio cartridge, which in previous iterations has been one of my favorites, again offered its alluring mix of detail and smoothness. The Vandersteen-Audio Research pairing, meanwhile, allowed the group’s voices to be easily identified in the mix.
The Vandersteen Model Seven, in this setup, may not have delivered the last word in treble purity, but the midrange was well-defined and palpable. In addition, whether the source was CD or vinyl, one common denominator was full, firm bass.
As my eyes got adjusted to the low light toward the end of my demo, I noticed a pair of Vandersteen’s new SUB Nine subwoofers (price TBA) tucked slyly into the dark corners, behind the main speakers and further shielded visually by some large potted plants. So, even with dual, powered 12-inch woofers in the main transducers, Vandersteen was taking the hit-a-tack-with-a-hammer approach. But the subs obviously were being used only to fill out the lowest notes, with the upper bass remaining free of bloat.
There could have been other facts and clues I missed at the scene, but at least I avoided a Jacques Clouseau-esque series of pratfalls. That’s Chief Inspector, to you.