VSA ESE, Westminster Lab and LampizatOr | AXPONA 2023

vsa ese

If you pay enough attention while moving through AXPONA, a brownish-gray character starts to become a familiar sight in many great sounding rooms, a character that peers out of the racks with its little red Nixie tube eyes. I am speaking, of course, of the $50,000 LampizatOr Horizon DAC, and in this permutation it was paired with a $32,000 pair of Westminster Lab Rei monoblocks and the delightful $29,600 Von Schweikert Endeavor Special Edition on Critical Mass footers–henceforth referred to as the VSA ESE to conserve keystrokes.  

Words and Photos by Marc Smazik

Before I go too much further I feel compelled to disclose I have a prior relationship with the VSA ESE speakers. I have assisted in the setup and tuning of rooms using these transducers and am very aware of their strengths. I am not, however, as intimately acquainted with the reset of the signal path such as the Westminster Labs amps and the Small Green Computer digital source.


The $3,499 Small Green Computer file server/Roon core, as I just mentioned, served as the source. Honestly, the only interaction with this device I had was in the form of a table running Roon. This, however, is significant in itself, a streamer and source that is hidden away and just works is a bit of the big dream of digital streaming. Music is just there, at hand, when it is desired. This is also why I love Roon-enabled streamers and run them at home.  

westminster labs

Next up is the LampizatOr Horizon DAC, which is the opposite. It sits proudly atop the rack with tubes held high, an imposing gray box in some light, brownish in others–please somebody tell me the real name of this color. I love the look of this device, and the Nixie tubes are an especially nice touch for the volume display. If you are going to make a tube DAC, make all the things tubes. I was a bit skeptical of this unit when I first encountered it last year, but it is growing on me. There are many tube options to tweak the sound to preference, just remember the rectifier tube goes in front not the middle, a mistake I made when setting one of these up at Florida Audio Expo.

vsa ese

Next in line are the Westminster Lab Rei monoblocks, which I was hearing for the first time. I must say I was impressed, having some experience with the other parts of the system, they were doing a great job powering the speakers. I love VSA ESE speakers on tubes, and these gave a very similar feeling to the sound. A point was made that these are pure class A amps and are cool to the touch, which was verified, as I was encouraged to get a little touchy-feely with them.

This brings us to the loud part of the signal path, the ever-so-special VSA ESE. These little speakers punch way outside their price point which is ~$25k without the footers. The air network, which is a rear-firing ribbon tweeter on these, creates a sense of space I have never encountered with another manufacturer’s speakers.  The rooms at Axpona are small and challenging to say the least.  It is fun to see how the exhibitors solve the room problems and the Von Schweikert rooms do it with minimal treatments, and active bass traps, which are a pair of diminutive out of phase subs, to kill reflections at the back wall. This has a very potent effect. The cabinets seem to just vanish,  and the stereo image holds up out of the sweet spot seat.

vsa ese

Coming into this room felt like coming home for a whole pile of reasons, but the biggest was the sound. It did not feel like a hotel room that was converted into a listening room in 12 hours, but like a friend showing off a beloved system. 

vsa ese

If you would like to hear even more coverage from AXPONA 2023, check out our recap report and highlights from our audiophile-oriented show The Occasional Podcast. You can stream the episode direct from the embed below, or from your favorite podcast platform including iTunes, Android, Google, Deezer, Spotify, iHeartRadio and more.

Also don’t forget to check out our collaboration to commemorate the event with our solid bronze record weight available only for a limited run. This 800 grams of solid bronze features the PTA roundel on the top with also acts as a 45 adapter. You can purchase direct from the PTA Approved Store here on the site.