It took a trip to North Carolina for me to understand the Von Schweikert Audio Endeavor E-3 Mk. II speakers. That might be an odd way to evaluate a speaker that had been in my listening room for the better part of six weeks before the trip. But continue reading, dear reader, and all with be revealed.
Words and Photos by Graig Neville
When Von Schweikert offered the Part-Time Audiophile reviewers an opportunity to listen to their product line I was like Arnold Horshack from Welcome Back Kotter, waiving my raised hand. Von Schweikert Audio has earned quite a reputation among high-end audio speakers, earning repeated Best of Show awards at the audio shows. The brand, however, had eluded my ears up until now. Several months later the Endeavor E-3 Mk. II arrived on a pallet and made their way into my system about a month before AXPONA 2022.
Inside the Endeavor E-3 Mk. II
The Endeavor E-3 Mk. II was well-packed, and despite some footprints on one of the boxes everything was in great condition. The Von Schweikert Endeavor E-3 Mk. II arrived in a natural walnut finish that was understated, but attractive. There’s something about natural wood that ages into a beautiful patina, and I would expect the E-3 to be such a product. Don’t be putting your single malt scotch with the huge ice cube on top of the speaker, or leaving it exposed to the sun for ten years, but otherwise I think E-3 will age nicely. Other finishes include black piano lacquer, but VSA is known for coming up with any finish you want as an option.
Removing the cleverly magnetized front speaker grill reveals a tweeter with a dual ring radiator design, while the 165mm midrange is Kevlar with a phase plug and transmission line loading. The dual 175mm woofers are aluminum cones, and on the back there’s a rear port just above the binding posts.
Looking down from the top, the Endeavor E-3 Mk. II has a trapezoidal and somewhat narrow shape. I assume this is to control standing waves, but the configuration results in a speaker that appears easy to tip over. Von Schweikert addresses this with a pair of outriggers that fasten to the bottom of the speaker. This helps considerably, but I would still recommend keeping large dogs and small children at a distance.
Speaker terminations were a single pair of 5-way binding posts that accept spades, bananas, and bare wire. The terminals were large enough with good grip to tighten by hand. I thought fit and finish were furniture quality and appropriate for a speaker at this price point.
The crossover is a Linkwitz-Riley design. When I spoke with Von Schweikert’s chief designer, Leif Swanson, he mentioned that the Endeavor E-3 is time and phase aligned. When pressed he mentioned that using 1st order crossovers for time and phase alignment is a textbook design, but here they have progressed well beyond that fundamental level.
Based on the manufacturer’s specifications, the Endeavor E-3 frequency response is from 29Hz – 22kHz. Initial impressions of the bass support this 29Hz number. The E-3 is a relatively efficient speaker at 89db @ 1W@ 1m. Each speaker weighs in at 82 lbs and has a nominal impedance of 4Ω. The minimum recommended amplification is 60 watts/channel. Retail for the Endeavor E-3 Mk. II is $9,000 per pair, depending on finish.
The Von Schweikert Magic
Von Schweikert Audio’s founder, Albert Von Schweikert, has an extensive and well respected history in the music and audio industries–alas he passed in May of 2020. Even though the E-3 Mk II is a Von Schweikert product, its origins are more circuitous. Leif Swanson was mentored by Albert Von Schweikert, but eventually left to start his own company, Endeavor Audio. After developing several speakers on his own, Leif returned to Von Schweikert to work with Albert’s son, Damon, who had become CEO after Albert’s retirement.
Von Schweikert Audio then incorporated the Endeavor line below the cost-no-object Reference and Ultra Reference Line speakers. Some tweaks and alterations have been made to the Endeavor E-3, hence the Mk. II moniker, but these speakers have not had all the technological upgrades found in the Ultra Reference line. The special edition of the E-3, known as the ESE and previously reviewed by Marc Phillips, does borrow plenty from the higher lines–for additional cost, of course.
I have to note that speaking with Leif, he couldn’t stress enough how much Albert Von Schweikert mentored him and even helped him out with his Endeavor pursuits. It’s a refreshing story in the audio industry to know that there are still some really nice guys out there, another reason why Albert will be missed.
Endeavor E-3 Mk. II Set-Up–First Try
Ok, that’s nice and all, but how did the VSA Endeavor E-3 Mk. II sound? Inquiring minds want to know!
Initially after pulling them out of the box, Leif suggested 300 hours of break-in. The bass was taut and authoritative, but I knew something was missing. So I tossed a blanket over them and played music for several days to see if the midrange would loosen up a bit. I casually played around with placement for a few weeks and corresponded with Leif a few times, but I still felt like I was missing something.
Gear used in the review included the Backert Labs Rhumba Extreme 1.3 preamp (review forthcoming), Audio by Van Alstine M225 amplifiers, a LampizatOr Golden Atlantic TRP DAC, a Shinola Roswell turntable with Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, an AudioQuest Niagara 1200 and Core Power Technologies power conditioners, various AudioQuest and Cardas interconnects, and Purist Audio Poseidon speaker cables.
Then AXPONA 2022 was upon us and I had the pleasure to meet Leif and Damon in person. I was impressed enough with the Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 7s to give them my Best of Show
endorsement on The Occasional Podcast, which can be found here. At one point the Ultra 7 stepped back to allow a pair of the ESEs to shine as well. I know the ESE has more tech and refinement than the E-3, but the light bulb moment occurred. “This is what I was expecting the E-3 to sound like!” Bass was authoritative, the midrange and treble had plenty of air and presence, and imaging was solid with a definitive center and good placement of instruments in space.
VSA Endeavor E-3 Mk. II at Hubcom
When I returned from AXPONA, I played around with placement, validated the correct outriggers had been sent (as suggested by Leif), and scratched my head a bit as I struggled to get the VSA sound I had experienced at Axpona. An impromptu road trip to Chateau McNair in North Carolina–for our self-named Hubcon 2022 summit for PTA writers–interrupted my E-3 review. Hubcon 2022 was revelatory. As a mastering engineer of some repute (see thirteen Grammys and more to come), Dave McNair schooled all of us in critical listening and how stuff really sounds in his mastering studio. Dave’s a professional of the highest order and it was quickly obvious that my ears are nowhere as trained as his.
But I digress. What does this have to do with the Endeavor E-3 Mk. II? Quite a bit, actually. We spent time with the Qln Prestige 5, Acora SRC-2 and the VSA Ultra 7s on VAC, Pass, and ampsandsound electronics. Having so many different, but highly musical pieces of gear, along with the critical ears and conversations of Dave, Grover and Eric Franklin Shook, was a journey towards the summit of hi-fi. But it went beyond just the listening experience.
All the Hubcon 2022 attendees had a different perspective on how music and hi-fi gear spoke to us. It changed me for sure, and I learned about my tastes and preferences and why they are relevant to me as a reviewer. I don’t have the trained ears of Dave or Grover, or the industry knowledge of Eric. But I do have a germane perspective as an audiophile. Music is therapy for me and when I connect to it emotionally it is food for the soul.
Back Home with the Endeavor E-3
I returned home and had a silent, but firm discussion, with the Endeavor E-3 Mk. II. Well not really, I just looked at the speaker for awhile and thought really hard. I don’t think the E-3 really listened, BUT I took a fresh perspective when it came to placing the speaker in my room.
There are some great recommendations in the user manual for setting up the Endeavor E-3 Mk. II in the listening room. I think that will get you good sound, but I wanted GREAT sound. Like what I heard at AXPONA and Hubcon. With everything I had tried before, from starting at the recommended setup in the manual (which, again, is quite good), to moving the speaker around several feet wider, narrow, towards the wall, away from the wall, etc., the E-3 imaging didn’t quite meet my expectations. So, I ended up pulling the speaker further into the room than I had before and played with minute changes in toe-in as well and VOILA! Imaging snapped into focus. My hypothesis is that the rear port needs some room to breathe properly to allow the bass to support the imaging.
Endeavor E-3 Sound
Once the imaging met my expectations, I could describe the rest of what the speaker could do with more accuracy. The bass of the Endeavor E-3 stayed as tight and focused as my initial impressions indicated. It played with authority and pressurized the room in an immensely satisfying way. The E-3 Mk. II has awesome bass, tight, punchy and deep. Just know that with that rear port, you may need to pull them out further into the room than you might with other speakers.
The midrange opened up with an even tone and what I considered to be a flat frequency response. The treble has wide dispersion, which I think contributes to the tricky placement to get optimal imaging, but once you get it the treble is suitably sparkly with pizzazz, but never harsh or fatiguing. I’ve certainly heard brighter and darker tweeters, and the E-3 tweeter is right where I think it should be for tonal honesty.
I’ve listened and reviewed several speakers over the past two years that fall in the $8,000 to $12,000 range. The cost of the VSA Endeavor E-3 Mk. II fits into the lower to middle of that highly competitive range. So, how does it stack up to the models that have come through my room over the past two years? Very well, actually.
At this price point, design decisions must be made. A speaker in this price range can’t do everything, and those design choices have been made for the E-3. Compared to some of the competition I’ve heard the E-3 seems to have a flatter frequency response. None of the drivers seems to be tilted up, down, U-shaped, or any of the other frequency deviations that many speakers in this price point often have. This makes the E-3 very neutral sounding, which can be a good thing depending on what you are looking to achieve with your system.
The Endeavor E-3 bass is phenomenal; tight, punchy, appreciably deep for a relatively small cabinet, and it easily pressurizes a room. Other speakers may have MORE bass, like the Atohm GT-3, but the quality of the E-3 bass is fantastic and will please everyone but the most ridiculous of bass heads. Imaging is good on the E-3, but I think the wide dispersion tweeter and finding optimum room placement might limit the E-3 a bit. But I think it’s a trade off to get a large soundstage and presence, which the E-3 does exceptionally well.
Finally, that leaves the E-3 midrange. The Kevlar midrange was so clean and clear that it added nothing to the sound that I could discern. Other speakers had a character to the midrange that always seemed to add something. It could be tone, sweetness, forwardness, warmth, etc. The E-3 did none of this. It seemed to just play what was on the source. The E-3 never sounded dry or analytical despite the accuracy and frequency neutrality it presented, but it also didn’t add any tone or spurious harmonic structure to the music either. Folks looking for midranges dripping with warmth and gooeyness need to look elsewhere.
Again, in the right system, and from a longevity of listen perspective this is a better design approach than something with pizzazz and in-your-face antics that quickly leads to fatigue.
I do need to mention the power handling of the E-3. The recommended 60 watts/channel is really a minimum. I did have a 20 wpc First Watt J-2 on hand that I hooked up and it just didn’t have the juice to drive the E-3. The bass was flat and lifeless, which no longer supported the midrange, and the imaging suffered. The J-2 usually images great, but wasn’t up to the task so I pulled it out of the system.
Those looking to power the E-3 with flea-weight electronics beware.
In closing, the VSA Endeavor E-3 MkII is a strong performer in a very competitive market. Is it the best in its category? Maybe if you are looking for a great all-around performer with amazing bass, a large soundstage, the ability to play as loud as you would ever want. The E-3 has a neutral and true to the music presentation instead of sculpted frequency response or tone, so if that is your musical cup of tea check out the E-3. I enjoyed my time with the VSA and highly recommend it.