Hello Fellow Audiophiles,
We have received many phone calls and emails about the rumor that the VR-4 will finally be discontinued, and so we decided to let you all in on a little secret before the new VR-44 makes its World Debut in room 522 at RMAF. Our room partners are Joe Jurzek and Bill Baker of Purity Audio; more about these geniuses later....
Yes, the rumors are true, as all things must pass.... After continuous production since 1979, the VR-4 will be dropped from our line. It is a sad but exciting time for us, since the VR-4's replacement, code-named VR-44, is so vastly superior that we felt that using the old "VR-4" name would be confusing to people who thought the VR-4 would never, could never be improved upon at its price point. However, it is so different than our original version released in 1979 that we felt we had to change the name, for no other reason than to eliminate confusion.
WHY DID WE DECIDE TO ELIMINATE OUR MOST POPULAR MODEL?
After spending the past two years working on cabinet R&D and evaluating drive units designed for us by the most talented transducer engineers in the world, we realized that the entire VR-4 platform needed to be overhauled if we were to continue to lead the field in audio engineering at this popular price point (the $10,000 to $20,000 range).
The all-new VR-44 is built upon an entirely different principle of wave-launch and transient response effects, which are vastly important to the illusion that the speakers have disappeared and musicians have magically appeared in your room. Of course, the 17 reviews of the VR-4 system starting from 1989 indicated that we were in the right direction from the beginning, so we're proud of the outgoing model and don't wish to discredit the tens of thousands of VR-4's out there in our valued customer's homes. In fact, the first reviewer to write about the VR-4 (then called the Vortex Screen) was Robert Harley, writing in Stereophile, July 1989, where he stated something like this (if my memory is correct): ..."the Vortex Screen might just be the Holy Grail of speaker systems: an affordable speaker that outperforms anything I've ever heard at its price point".... In fact, Mr. Harley bought the review pair which he kept for 7 years (a life time in the span of reviewer ownership, I'm told). As Mr. Harley has said many times as present Editor of The Absolute Sound: even though there are better products coming out all the time, your older components don't suddenly turn into boat anchors, they still sound as good as when you bought them! So, to sum this up, if you own the older model, it still is a great sounding speaker system! However, you just might like our new VR-44 quite a bit more.... something to think about on your next birthday, right?
NEW VR-44 TECHNOLOGY
In order to launch a phase coherent and Time Aligned wave-front from the new combination of drivers used in this system, I knew that I would have to optimize the front baffle shape based on the new drive unit radiation patterns. The new front baffle was specifically designed to combine a multiple-driver pressure front as a "unified" wave that can mimic the sound of a single diaphragm recording microphone. The new VR-44 uses a single cabinet, tapered at the top to provide a minimum baffle for the dual ring Wide Surround tweeter, while the baffle widens to accept the larger width of the midrange and bass drivers. The front baffle also leans backwards in order to Time Align the entire driver array, including the woofers. In the previous VR-4 designs, the woofers were aimed forward, while the midrange and treble drivers were on a slanted baffle to align the driver voice coils. This is called Time Alignment and was first described by Ed Long, an engineer at JBL several decades ago. However, the use of two baffles which have differing sizes and radiation planes does not optimize the entire wave launch as well as anyone had previously believed, even though the measurements "proved" that this type of design is valid.
The "new" cabinet shape and baffle actually aren't really new: we used this design in a previous model called the dB-99 which was current from 2004 to 2008. Although the dB-99 garnered several rave reviews, it was primarily directed towards SET (single ended triode) users, and when the SET fad died down, we decided to discontinue that model. It seems that most audiophiles aren't really interested in super high sensitivity speakers, but want smooth sound and great imaging, something that is lacking in many high sensitivity designs (like horn speakers).
Fast foward to 2009: after working on the TriLaminate cabinet wall technology and testing new "high resolution" wide-range drivers, we designed a new version of the dB-99 which has DNA from the VR-4 platform. This new hybrid model, the VR-44, can be ordered as a "passive" version if the customer has a large amplifier and does not wish to bi-amp; if the customer owns a tube amp, then the Aktive version makes more sense.
The sound field generated by the new VR-44 is extremely "open" and the speakers disappear, as completely as any other speaker we have heard. The new radiation pattern seems to tolerate a wide variety of room conditions and even in small rooms, the sound stage is huge and incredibly stable, no matter where you sit.
The front baffle, along with the rest of the cabinet, has wall thicknesses which vary from 2" to 3" and the entire cabinet consists of three different materials, laminated together. Please read my Technical Paper on "The Audibility of Speaker Cabinet Resonances" posted here last year (and is also published on our website). If you haven't read this paper, I developed a laminate of three different materials with opposing "Q" factors which reduces the tendency of the cabinet to "ring" or resonate when the woofers are vibrating. In fact, this Trilaminate Wall Design is so novel that we have applied for two patents. The most interesting aspect of this new cabinet design is that it is extremely affordable compared to the raw cost of an aluminum cabinet, keeping the total speaker system price to a reasonable level without sacrificing any transparency to achieve the low retail price.
EXOTIC DRIVER MOUNTING TECHNOLOGY
To further reduce the cabinet's tendency to resonate along with the drivers, we are utilizing a driver mounting system that isolates the driver frames from touching the cabinet. By mounting the drive units on a thick gasket of non-drying plasticene (an artificial clay that looks like sticky tar), no vibration is passed from the driver to the cabinet walls. In fact, the sticky clay (developed to damp the hulls of nuclear submarines) will bond the drivers to the baffle without the need for screws, further reducing the possibility of the drivers becoming loose and creating vibrational problems. (However, we still use screws to prevent customers from thinking that we "forgot" to install the screws).
WHY USE A SINGLE CABINET INSTEAD OF TWIN STACKING CABINETS?
Our original design from 1979 was realized as a small 6" two-way speaker sitting on top of an added subwoofer cabinet. At that time, we felt that isolating the bass from the midrange and treble would enhance the clarity, since cabinet technology was not at the advanced level we find in today's most respected speaker systems. After the first pair of prototypes were evaluated in the late 1970's, we later added Time Alignment a year later, with a tweeter set back to align its voice coil to the midrange, ensuring proper impulse coherence. (You don't want the tweeter's pulse to reach your ears before the midrange if you value signal "coherence"). Of course, each pulse should arrive at your ear (or measurement mic) at the same time if you wish to produce an accurate 3-D image recreation along with correct instrument timbre. We are still amazed at the lack of attention that other companies have shown this very basic concept of phase coherency; simple A/B/X comparisons prove that these basic concepts are extremely vital to a genuine 3-D sound stage and correct timbre! Bi-wiring was another improvement mandatory to connect two different speaker cabinets per channel, which is carried over in our new model.
We have "rediscovered" that having a single baffle for all of the drive units to "launch" from provides a more uniform dispersion pattern that is also more coherent than using two dissimilar baffles (one for bass and the second for midrange-treble, as found in our previous VR-4 design). Many designers feel that using multiple small baffles is the correct approach, but there is a trade-off that needs to be addressed. Although it is true that several small baffles will eliminate "diffraction" from a wide baffle, it is also possible to accidentally create a multiple wave front of disimilar wave shapes that do not combine perfectly at the listening position. The use of different shaped and sized baffles is more difficult to implement than is generally known, as I discovered during the development of the UniField Model 3....
When using a single baffle to create a unified wave front, the trick is to eliminate a wide baffle around a tweeter, so that it can radiate a wide wave-front before the sound reflects off the surrounding baffle. Naturally, since the midrange and woofers have larger diameters than the 1" dual ring tweeter, it makes perfect sense to taper the width of the front baffle to reduce baffle reflection effects in the midrange and treble frequencies. In addition, to eliminate the diffraction effects that cause large dips and peaks in the off-axis pressure response, the successful design will utilize rounded or chamfered edges, thus leading to the shape of our new front baffle, which has highly chamfered edges.
If the crossover is the "brain" of the speaker system, then the "heart" of the system are the drive units. As source material improves every year, transducer designers are trying to keep up with the high resolution that high bit and sample rates provide. In order to accurately reproduce an extremely fast transient, the diaphragm has to be extremely light and rigid, which often leads to a peaky response due to "ringing" of the diaphgram. If you have been turned off by ceramic or metal cone drivers in the past, you will be amazed at the blend of accuracy and musicality that our new "high resolution" drivers offer. This musicality and lack of harshness is due to the composite nature of the diaphragms, which are all laminates of different materials, including carbon fiber, aluminum and magnesium alloys, rubber, plastic, and wood pulp fibers. The cones are extremely light and stiff, but are non resonant.
Our European engineering partners in Denmark, Norway, France, and Germany helped us develop new drivers that behave as a single "point source" and were designed as a "system set," not as individual units. This game plan enabled us to create a truly neutral sounding, coherent sound field, since we don't have any driver discontinuities to compensate for. In addition, the transient responses were designed with specific targets in mind, with the understanding that the goal was to simulate a single driver system. To implement this goal, the drive units need to be made from the same type of materials that have a unified sound quality - this insures that there is no discontinuity in the sound quality of the total driver array. A clever transducer designer can further optimize the sound quality by using a "target" transient response figure that all drivers must meet, adjusting the Force Factor of the drivers to ensure coherent and simultaneous driver response in both sonic and mathematical dimensions. To state that the new VR-44 drive units are the most advanced drivers in their price class might be an understatement! The diaphragm materials, voice coils, and edge surround materials were carefully developed to ensure a "unified" sound quality rarely found in multi-driver systems. The clarity and transparency are quite amazing, but most importantly, the new driver array sounds as musical as any speaker we have auditioned, at any price category.
One of the secrets of this result is that we are using a very wide-band full range driver instead of a narrow-band dedicated midrange driver (as formerly used in the VR-4). Since the new full-range driver only needs a bit of augmentation in the deep bass and high treble, the crossover points are completely inaudible, since they occur outside the ear's most sensitive region. For this reason, the VR-44's midrange driver took several years to perfect, since most full-range speakers have a bit of tendency to "shout" in the upper vocal range; ask any Lowther owner (or Art Dudley of Stereophile) about this problem....to reduce the effects of cone flex that creates that "forward" or "shouty" problem, we had our cone damped with carbon powder and synthetic plastics, which sounds FAR better than ceramic, metal, or other attempts at making a wide range driver.
THE SOUND OF A SINGLE, PERFECT DRIVER (?)
If you have read about our UniField Model Three monitor, you can understand how successful this design approach can be. In fact, one of the most respected reviewers who "tells it like it is" (Jonathan Valin of The Absolute Sound) had compared our $15,000 UniField 3 to his $89,000 Magico M6. Mr. Valin's side-by-side comparison in TAS December 2009 was highly illuminating, as he felt that our approach was right on target and he found many similarities in transient response, clarity and transparency between these two speaker systems (even though we are priced at 1/6 of the Magico price point). Mr. Valin applauded our technology and due to the advanced concepts we designed for the UniField 3, we were awarded their coveted Editors Choice Award last year. We thank TAS and Mr. Valin for pointing out our superiority in both sound quality and value. The new VR-44 should create even more excitement due to the larger size of the image, the incredible dynamic range, and "punch" created by the powered subwoofer system!
BABY VR-9 MK2?
We decided to carry over the UniField Model 3's engineering technology into the new VR-44 platform, based on its "Augmented Single Driver Design," but we have also used some of the technology of our super expensive flagship models VR-9 SE Mk2 and VR-11 SE Mk2 to "soup up" the VR-44: namely the powered subwoofer system. Since many audiophiles have wished to build a system around bi-amplification to greatly enhance dynamic range and better tone quality based on using tubes on the midrange-tweeter section, with solid state amplification on the woofer section, we developed the VR-44 Aktive. The bass volume level can be adjusted for room conditions and/or listener preferences, and we guarantee that you will not hear a powered subwoofer system as fast and tight as the VR-44 Aktive!
As many audiophiles all ready own large amplifiers that can drive a medium sensitivity speaker system, they don't necessarily want to spend extra money on a built-in amplifier to drive the twin 8.8" woofers; our Passive version with internal passive crossovers will work just fine for them. Due to its 90dB sensitivity at 4-ohms, the new VR-44 Passive is easy to drive and as little as 100-watts can drive it to concert hall levels (although it will handle 500-watt amplifiers without strain or stress). The VR-44 Passive will retail from $17,000 in standard automotive paint finishes (USA pricing), with optional paint finishes available at extra cost. In other countries, we expect that the VR-44 Passive will have a higher MSRP due to the high cost of Air Freight and the import taxes levied on imported goods.
Since we have seen a definite trend towards medium powered tube amplifiers, most likely based on tube's 3-D imaging and lush tonal balance, the VR-44 Aktive would be the best possible speaker system to achieve a World-Class sonic reproduction of a live orchestra. Why? In a bi-amped system, you can have the best of both worlds: extremely punchy and solid bass response to below 20Hz with blazingly-fast transient response, combined with amazing depth and holographic imaging that only tube amps are capable of. No outboard crossover is required with our design, you only need to use a bi-wire cable set, such as the excellent Delphi Aerospace cables made for VSA. The VR-44 Aktive starts at $20,000/pr in the USA with standard automotive paint finishes, (exotic paints available at extra cost). In other countries, the MSRP might be a bit higher due to the high cost of Air Freight and import taxes.
To sum this all up, the new VR-44 is a pyramid-shaped single cabinet speaker system with a high gloss paint finish (available in custom colors). It is about the same size as the outgoing model, at 42" tall x 13" wide (bottom) and 9" wide (top), and is 27" deep (counting the heat sink fins). Weight is 151 uncrated.
Both VR-44 Passive and Aktive models utilize two-8.8" OEM composite-coned custom-built woofers by SEAS of Norway in our modified quasi-transmission line cabinet design, with a 6" composite cone full range speaker used as a midrange from Scan Design, and complemented by the Scan Design 1" Wide Surround dual ring tweeter at the top. At the rear, you will see twin pairs of WBT NextGen binding posts for bi-wiring and the Morel midrange-tweeter horn driver, driven by our Ambience Retrieval System circuit and level control. The cabinet consists of a 3" thick composite TriLaminate wall consisting of resin impregnated HDF, artificial stone, damping adhesive, and thick industrial felt and foam internal lining. There is extensive bracing, creating the multiple chambers we use for rear-wave woofer loading that terminates in a port at the rear. There is a 100% filling of dense crimped Dacron, originally designed to fabricate tube traps, so it is far more effective than "plain jane" Dacron, acoustic foam, or fiberglass. The bass response from this cabinet, woofers, and loading technique have to be heard, to be believed: yes, we are known for great bass reproduction, but this design tops everything else we have offered at this price point. If you have heard some of the $10,000 powered subwoofers on the market, you will have an idea on how great this powered system can sound on 16Hz organ pedal tones, Kodo drumming, and Fender bass guitar. Concert bass drum whacks will knock you out of your listening chair, so make sure to wear your seat belts! But best of all, the powered subwoofer system is totally integrated into the midrange and treble, you cannot hear the subs working as a separate source that is "disconnected" from the mids and highs. In fact, this speaker sounds more like a one-way electrostratic panel than a multiple-driver cone system....however, it has dynamic range and "punch" that no panel speaker can touch.
The VR-44 is extremely fast, neutral, and highly accurate - but it is not "clinical" or unmusical. Even though it features an amazing abundance of detail, there is no audible coloration, especially when compared to the outgoing model. It is not dry or bright - nor is it warm or soft.... it seems to have no sound of its own. But it is MAGIC in its ability to transcend what we used to believe was possible with reproduced sound; the excitement factor is off the scale! Frequency response is flat from 16Hz to 40kHz and distortion is below 0.5% at 93dB.
RMAF ROOM 522 - PLEASE VISIT US
If you're going to RMAF next week, please drop by and listen to the VR-44's in a World-Class system, with the mind-blowing Purity Audio components such as their $28,000 Ultra GT preamp featuring extremely exotic technology that caught Dick Olsher's attention in his TAS Show Report - as you may know, Mr. Olsher is a very seasoned reviewer but is also a nuclear scientist who worked at an advanced nuclear physics laboratory - you might say "he knows his stuff."
We will also be playing the controversial Eera Tentation CD player, which looks like a $300 unit but sounds like a Studer analog tape deck and retails for $12,000! We will also feature the Delphi Aerospace Master-Built Signature cables and quite a few other goodies, such as the revolutionary Purity Audio Harmony, which is a tube buffer stage that will improve any input source dramatically. We have had a team of acoustic engineers design the room layout and treatment, so you won't have to suffer through a mediocre demo proving that hotel rooms suck....
Bill Baker and Joe Jurzec of Purity Audio, along with Albert Von Schweikert, wish you a safe trip to Denver and as always,