This unprecedented ability to tailor virtually every aspect of this loudspeaker’s response sets the Ultra 9 (and for that matter, any of the VSA Ultra lineup) apart from all other traditional speakers, allowing you to enjoy nearly perfect frequency response in virtually any room.
VSA’s proprietary crossover technology is described by the terms A.I.R. (Acoustic Inverse Replication), and G.A.I.N. (Global Axis Integration Network); however, given their proprietary nature I will not be able to go into them in any depth. But VSA sees the sonic result achieved by the utilization of this unique and intricate crossover circuitry as what elevates and separates its products from the competition—its signature defining advantage.
Formulated from experimentation he was doing in the laboratories of Dr. Richard C. Heyser at Caltech as early as 1972, Albert published his Acoustic Inverse Replication theory in 1980 after four years of development. It stated that a music recording is actually the “encoding of microphone voltages containing the clues of spatial dimension,” and A.I.R. has been the driving principle at the core of the sound of every Von Schweikert loudspeaker. This technology has been honed and improved since its first practical implementation in Albert’s second commercial product, the VR-4, in 1992. (As a point of interest, his first commercial product, the Vortex Screen, released in the late 1970s, was the subject of the first published review of our own Editor-in-Chief, Robert Harley, in July of 1989.) [See this issue’s From the Editor for the full story. —RH]
G.A.I.N., the second component in this sophisticated dividing network, is a circuit that enables soundwaves to be radiated in a spherical pattern without beaming, more as they are with live instruments. The resultant soundfield allows VSA speakers to sound nearly identical both on and off axis. Integrated with A.I.R., this circuit enables soundstaging and imaging over a broad, wall-to-wall area, and replicates the psychoacoustic cues necessary to more realistically recreate a live performance. In effect, this dividing network lets the speaker behave like a microphone in reverse, allowing the originally recorded perspective to be reproduced in your room.
In fact, this circuit is unique, and so unlike anything that you may encounter in the standard crossover-design “cookbooks” or that has been implemented by any other manufacturer, that when the late crossover guru Siegfried Linkwitz was visiting Albert in 2010 they discussed this circuit topology at some length. After considerable dialogue, including describing how this design was able to allow a fourth-order acoustic roll-off of every driver, Maestro Linkwitz asserted that Albert had produced an entirely new form of crossover.
Over the decades, VSA has done research on typical crossover-circuit components and found that even the normally accepted dissipation levels of expensive film capacitors and air-core inductors absorbed far too much low-level detail. As such, after testing all available capacitor and inductor types, their final selections were based on delivering the least intrusive impact on signal integrity.
Further research into wire and inductors led them to MasterBuilt Signature and Ultra wire, which uses proprietary metallurgy and geometry, and is fabricated and built here in the U.S. Used internally throughout the entire Ultra product line, this wire permits very low-level detail to be easily distinguished, as VSA feels that the reactive effects of inductance, resistance, and capacitance are minimized.
If you’d imagined the Ultra 9s, as substantial as they are, would be a challenge to unload and position, you’d be as mistaken as I was. I have to say, four of us rather easily glided them down the staircase into my basement listening room. Once the crates were opened, each Ultra 9 rolled effortlessly into position in my 600-square-foot (or 4300 cubic-foot) listening space. Using the location of my VR-55 Aktives as a starting point, with laser-measuring device in hand and constant listening for validation, we had the speakers optimally placed within an hour. This was without question the quickest and most straightforward setup of a speaker of this class I’ve ever been party to.
When you witness the incredible virtual reality created by the Ultra 9 driven with appropriately capable electronics, sources, and cabling, it becomes clear that VSA’s encompassing approach to advancing fidelity by quashing the myriad distortions that speakers are heir to is highly worthy. I am witness to the fact that VSA has made a clear bull’s eye of its target, culminating in an amazingly resolute, transparent, yet organic-sounding loudspeaker of unparalleled performance and accomplishment.
To be clear, my use of the term “resolute” here does not mean bright, spot-lit, or hyper-detailed; nor is it code for excessive upper-midrange or treble energy. True resolution uncovers detail and nuance, revealing microdynamic subtleties with superior refinement and accuracy of instrumental tone color and texture and particularly fine reproduction of transient information. It is indicative of an enhanced ability to follow a single instrumental line deep within dense arrangements by the depiction of a starker sense of the space between and around images within the soundstage.
Improving resolution in a loudspeaker can be accomplished only through increasing clarity. Superior clarity is achieved through diminishing or completely stripping away anything other than the applied signal. Typically, such advances come by improving and advancing a design and/or by applying new or unique materials, leading to lower distortions in the form of a more linear or less reactive response to the driving signal or the reduction of otherwise self-induced noises, both electrically and/or mechanically. Such improvements result in the unmasking of previously obscured information, not by enhancing or emphasizing any particular bandwidth or frequency range. In short, I would apply the term “unmasking” to express what true resolution represents. And in the end, resolution serves transparency.
The Von Schweikert product lineup has represented some of the most authentic bass available since the time of the first VR-4, and was in fact a significant factor driving me back to dynamic speakers (with my purchase of the VR-4 Gen II) from the world of 8-foot-tall electrostatic panels I inhabited in the mid-1990s.