Richard Vandersteen Talk at Quintessence Audio

Back on October 12 (before I had two kids) I headed up to Quintessence Audio to hear Richard Vandersteen give a talk on his version of high-end audio (hint: it involves time coherence and waveform preservation in loudspeaker design). Find below some product news, high-end audio industry health opinions, fellow audiophile observations and jokes.

Freaks [emphasis mine] and geeks

Because of the sacred sweet spot, audiophilia is a solo pursuit. The audiophiles that attended Richard Vandersteen’s talk on October 12 confirm that we (audiophiles) are all alone. These guys don’t get out much (not you, dear reader, I’m sure your social skills are top notch, like a Theta amplifier).

While discussing the devil’s audio player, Richard suggested an audience member borrow an iPod from one of his kids. By the deer-in-headlights expression on the guy’s face, you could tell he’d never done anything that would result in the production of children.

The audience mix was definitely tilted toward the winter of life. I really hope some of the audience members pushing eighty or ninety could still hear. Best of luck.

The oddest person to show up was an old lady that would lock herself in one of the listening rooms for twenty minutes at a time. She would then poke her head out and shuffle over to the next room as if Richard Vandersteen wasn’t up in front of us trying to convince an audience member that musicians are terrible judges of high-end audio equipment. At the end of the night I was sitting in the Model 5A demo sweet spot and she crept up behind me and said over the vocal jazz, “Isn’t it amazing how he [the dealer] connects all the wires?” WTF?

New Product Announcements

  • VCC-2: On-wall center speaker to match a pair of VSM-1 on-wall main channels flanking a flat screen display (or front projection, if I ever add a center channel to my system it would only be a Vandersteen, the VCC-2 is a great new option for $1295).
  • Thirtieth Anniversary Model 2: with drivers trickled down from the 3A (not on website, pricing unknown)

Open Q&A

The Q&A was easily sidetracked by one guy who kept going on about the Californian audio industry, and insisting that he gets good component sonic advice from half deaf musicians. Some more subjects:

  • Shaking fists at mass market, “kids today”: Not an iPod friendly crowd. One guy was trying to hark back to some fantasy time (he thought ten years ago) when all college kids had Marantz integrated amps, Linn turntables and box speakers. When I was in college 15 years ago I had an Aiwa portable CD player, and a cassette only boom box. The richest kids had those all in one mini-system/boom boxes that are the main source of noise pollution at Best Buy. If anything, the kids today have it better than my generation did.
  • Way too much discussion of tone controls: Richard reminded everyone of the old days when all integrated amps had bass and treble knobs. Since these have fallen out of fashion for the last 25 years, hi-fi enthusiasts have had to buy colored cables and loudspeakers to suit their musical preference. A very expensive and static way to achieve tone controls.
  • When asked about exotic cables: Don’t spend money on exotic accessory tweaks until you have your dream system, a power cable will never make a Model 3A sound like a Model 5A loudspeaker
  • More advice: A call for visiting dealers, serious demoing, system synergy not a mish mash of problem solvers in the chain. Most important components: source and loudspeakers
  • “What cables, amp, sources do you use, Richard?” These questions were asked multiple times. One exchange went down like this: Vandersteen, “Knowing what equipment I personally use can’t help you, you have to audition components at trusted high end dealers and let your ears decide.” Then, dapper old guy, “So, what amplifier do you use?” Did he just nod off?
  • I asked about how his high pass crossover works after he stated how tired he was discussing it on the Vandersteen customer hotline. So I’m an ass too. He was nice though, and explained it to me.
  • How do you hear waveform preservation?: No time smearing, maybe, this question got hijacked by the guy who wanted to talk about California’s audio economy and guitar geniuses he knows. Since I’ve been able to find opinions and definitions including: a more complete soundstage with a rectangular shape beyond the speaker positions, speakers disappear replaced by performance, instruments sound more real because fundamental and transient frequencies are playing in time.

Richard Vandersteen on the state of the high end audio industry:

  • Few people care about the ideals of high-end audio. Of those few, even less care about waveform preservation (time/phase coherent loudspeakers)
  • Consumer pyramid: Vandersteen and Thiel at very top, alone in the time/phase coherent loudspeaker market. A bright spot: more consumers are exposed to music through convenience of iPod expanding the base of music lovers, so more make it to the top of the pyramid assuring future survival of high end audio industry.
  • Joke: “How do you make $1,000,000 in the high end audio industry? You start out with $2,000,000.”

Time and phase competition

  • Time and phase coherent loudspeakers defined by: waveform preservation is only achieved with the following recipe: One driver per frequency range, all drivers in phase with first order crossovers, flat frequency response, drivers time aligned on each others’ acoustic centers (sloped baffle so the tiny tweeter and large woofer line up) so music from all drivers reach the listeners ear at the same time.
  • Quad ESL speakers only other time/phase coherent loudspeaker in the market other than Vandersteen and Thiel.

On Building Speakers

  • Richard does not trust himself to do any final voicing of the loudspeakers at the factory because he feels that if he knows he put a great new tweeter or crossover electronic bobble in a design he would hear an improvement no matter what, so he hands off that work to other members of his family and staff (largely one in the same).
  • The wood version of the new Quatro presented new design problems mostly having to do with cabinet bracing and having to deal with a baffle for the first time in a design, these factors lead to the price increase.

So now I’ve attended two manufacturer talks, both by die hard time coherence evangelists, Vandersteen and Thiel. I’m a believer in the importance of waveform preservation in loudspeaker design. I have to be, I invested money into a pair of speakers;). Most of the high-end and low-end audio industry don’t think time and phase distortions are audible to the average listener. But we’re not average, are we? My Vandersteen 1c’s are the best speakers I’ve owned, but that’s not saying much. I stand by the benefits of time coherence because it is scientifically correct and speaker designs that don’t meet the criteria are distorted (even if that distortion is hard to pick out). It seems silly to pay for the best sources and amplification and then have the signal mangled in the time domain once it passes through your loudspeaker.

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