Von Schweikert Audio VR-55 Aktiv Speakers
SFAS Event: Saturday, July 11, 2015
By Dan Rubin
The second speaker event of 2015 had us traveling to the South Bay, specifically to Boulder Creek and the lovely home of Joe and Debbie Hakim. Although Albert von Schweikert was the honored guest and spoke at length about his latest creation, what we listened to was Joe’s and Debbie’s system: they own the VR-55 Aktivs and the rest of the gear we heard, except for the two Hypex-based amps we auditioned at day’s end. The specifics:
Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable ($10,000)
Triplanar MkVII Tonearm ($6,200)
Koetsu Rosewood Silver Platinum MC cartridge ($7,200)
Zesto Andros 1.2 phono stage ($4,800)
VTL TL6.5 preamp ($11,500)
VTL MB450III monoblocks ($19,500)
Von Schweikert VR-55 Aktiv ($60,000)
PS Audio PS10 power regenerator ($5,000).
Kubala Sosna Emotion power cables on preamp, phono stage and speaker bass amps; Master Built Ultra speaker cables, Darwin Cable interconnects
We listened exclusively to vinyl, which is the Hakim’s preference and where they have put the most effort in building their system. The selections we heard included:
- The Doors, Soft Parade
- Dave Brubeck, Brubeck A La Mode
- Steely Dan, Aja
- Al Greene, Let’s Stay Together
- Fleetwood Mac, Future Games
It was a beautiful, comfy 80 degrees in Boulder Creek. The Hakim’s listening room comfortably seated about 35 of us, with a few folks scattered around the perimeters (the listening space opens into the kitchen and dining area). The system was situated where it always is, but much of the room’s furniture had to be moved out to accommodate folding chairs. There were suggestions that the sound was less spectacular with the full house of attendees than it normally is. I’ve noticed this at Leslie’s as well – her system can sound considerably better when the sofas are in their normal positions and there are only a few people listening compared to typical event setup with 30-40+ bodies in the room. C’est la vie.
Albert von Schweikert talked at length about the design criteria and choices for the VR-55 Aktiv and shared his point of view about many aspects of loudspeaker design. His point of view, being based on decades of research and experience, carries more than a little cred. The VR-55 is the successor to the VR-5 series, which was made from 2003-2014. To follow the VR-5, Albert knew he needed to hit it out of the park. The new speaker reflects the sum of his knowledge and experience and more than a little new engineering development (read more about this at vonschweikertaudio.com). I was impressed with his discussion of driver selection for the VR-55. He and the team spent two years listening to and testing the range of cone drivers available and chose ceramic woofers and midrange along with a damped Beryllium dome tweeter. They needed to make modifications to ceramic drivers to address ringing. They also had to deal with quality issues, as ceramic drivers tend to be more fragile than most others. This was an interesting sidebar in his presentation, the challenges of high-end speaker manufacture. Because of the relatively small quantities involved, custom-designed or modified components can’t be purchased at typical quantity pricing, so these parts can be prohibitively expensive. If a lot of parts are rejected, things can spin out of whack in a hurry.
Albert von Schweikert tell us how the VR-55 was designed
Albert has lived this reality for decades, but it remains a challenge for him and for specialty manufacturers in the high end.
After Albert’s presentation, we listened. I was struck by the superb technical performance of the VR-55 in a number of areas. The design goals of low distortion, wide dispersion and high resolution were clearly met, and then some. The treble especially captured my fancy, being open, extended and detailed, but smooth and tonally correct in a way I’m not sure I’ve heard before. The speaker is unquestionably full range, though in this demonstration, I felt the deep bass was heard more than it was felt.
This is a $60,000 speaker, which is far out of range for me. But I will say, it’s probably a reasonable price in today’s market for the performance it delivers and the technology it represents. On top of which it is of a reasonable size and is really quite handsome and décor-friendly.
Gorgeous, aren’t they?
As this write-up is more than very late in getting done (mea culpa), let me add that Joe reports meaningful improvement in the sound of the VR-55’s as they continue to break in.
Many thanks to Joe, Debbi and Albert for a great day in the mountains.