Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 9 Loudspeaker


Equipment report
Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 9 Loudspeaker

If bass isn’t tonally truthful, accurately extended, and distinctly defined in pitch, the rest of the system’s performance suffers—from its overall fidelity of tone color and balance to the representation of the acoustic of recordings. Given the Ultra 9’s native ability to allow a level of room matching unsurpassed by any other single offering, regardless of price, these critical bass performance parameters can be optimized in any room in which it is installed.

With the subwoofer phase set at 0° in my room, there was clearly a bit of bloat and thickness to what was otherwise a very fast and relatively detailed low end. As Leif stood behind each speaker in turn and slowly adjusted phase, at a certain point, (in my case, somewhere near the 3 o’clock position on the potentiometer) that overemphasis evaporated, replaced not just with a clarity of definition and pitch, a sense of unconstrained transient speed, and an overall smoothness, but also with a dynamic heft and undeniable enhancement of the demarcations of the acoustic environment of the recording venue.

What VSA has accomplished here simply represents, in my opinion, the most articulate, best-defined, and most potent performance under 50Hz available today. Once the configurable time alignment, phase, and bipolar or dipolar radiation patterns are attuned to your room, the output offers a striking fidelity of transient performance, from seemingly instantaneous excitation and perfectly defined fundamental pitch and supporting harmonic structure, through an accuracy of decay, with no overhang, no slur, and no smear. This 15" driver settles seemingly as quickly as it is triggered into life, transcribing sounds with a power and authority more closely resembling the real thing than any other speaker in my experience. And performance is every bit as convincing through the lower midrange in transient response, tone color, fundamental and harmonic structure and texture, creating a brilliantly meticulous portrayal of both weight and impact.

From conveying the skin tone and ominous impact of the timpani in the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Solti and the CSO), to pressurizing the entire listening room when the lowest key on the organ is depressed in the second movement of Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3, to the regeneration of musical drama like that served up by Jeff Porcaro’s churning drum storm near the climax of a “It’s a Miracle” from Roger Waters’ masterpiece, Amused to Death, the Ultra 9’s pitch definition, body, timbral faithfulness, and unyielding yet utterly articulate weight, impact, attack, and transient fidelity are simply unsurpassed in my experience. While I’ve heard other loudspeakers offer similar degrees of transient definition, none do so quite as effectively. Further, when you add their pitch, timbre, and timing authority to their unrivaled ability to convey body, bloom, and texture, the Ultra 9s redefine what can be accomplished in the bottom octaves, establishing a new reference.

As hinted at above, the Ultra 9s possess the best ability I’ve yet heard to convey a general sense of natural flow and organic-ness, while still rendering every musical nuance and instrumental detail. Their uncanny ability to offer a higher-resolution view into the music while at the same time reproducing more harmonic complexity and musical richness—more resolution and body at once—represents a fundamental step forward, not just a clearly apparent sonic difference.

One of the Ultra 9s’ most significant virtues is their unmatched ability to represent differences in timbre. They portray tone color with a finer graduation between hues than I’ve heard from any other transducer. This enclosure, driver complement (most notably the modified Accuton 4D midrange), and dividing network are so free of distortion, so resolute and transparent, that the Ultra 9s consistently reveal unprecedented nuances and tonal shadings. 

For a six-way, eight-driver loudspeaker, communicating with the blended voices of 16 drivers, the resultant degree of coherence, of convincingly speaking with one continuous voice, is simply extraordinary. That voice is so full-bodied and replete with the complex harmonic structures of individual instrumental accents that it renders an overall tonal balance that is as faultless as I’ve ever experienced. The Ultra 9s create a sonic representation so immediate and palpable, so vivid and articulate in detail, and so utterly correct in voicing that you simply must hear them to understand.

When it comes to dynamic performance, though I’ve touched on their singular ability to handle the deepest bass, the Ultra 9s reset all standards. As much subtlety and fluidity as they possess in the microdynamic realm, their explosive forcefulness is simply stunning, reproducing weight and impact with a deftness, definition, clarity, and focus unlike any other speaker in memory, save for their larger sibling. This system frequently and demonstratively evokes fight-or-flight responses when reproducing unexpected or overwhelming orchestral or rock crescendos. In general, transients are so spectacularly fast, so clearly defined and cleanly delineated, that the quietness between musical impulses is more distinctly resolved—a factor that only serves to make more relevant the message of the artist, adding an inexorable gravitas to the VSAs’ ability to communicate the power of musical expression. 

Beyond their assertive dynamic prowess, their ability to communicate the presence, as well as the scale and vitality of the music they recreate, is simply the most truthful I’ve heard. Maintaining the proper loudness across the spectrum of each instrument, from its lowest to highest registers, combined with the essential non-existence of any notable additional coloration or losses of body across the entire audible spectrum, represents a new benchmark in my experience. The Ultra 9s speak with an immediacy and intimacy unmatched in my view. 

Their ability to render stark transparency to the sources, to reveal any nuance in detail or scale, is disarming. Their ability to resolve so lucidly the subtle differences among recordings and the nuances of each, to reveal staging cues or microphone placement techniques, is exceptional and only closely matched by a few other speakers of similar class.

Given their exceptional facility to resolve low-level spatial cues, and their markedly coherent voice, it will come as no surprise that they present a degree of soundstage layering, of image specificity, size, and shape, that is extraordinary. Instrumental locations are dimensionally solid and stable; image sizes are unquestionably realistic, neither bloated nor diminished; and the sense of air and space around and between the highly individualized voices throughout the stage is remarkable. With recordings up to the challenge, the stage is compellingly wide, deep, and, most notably, of the appropriate height, with clear illumination deep into the rear corners, where so many speakers lose their lucidity.

With effects like QSound, from recordings like Sting’s 1991 The Soul Cages, the sudden “appearance” of Sting in the very last seconds of “When the Angels Fall,” just off your left shoulder saying “Goodnight,” is flesh-and-bone real. The reality of the spatial presentation, including hall dimensionality, instrumental placement and interrelationships, the space between and around those remarkably defined voices, as well as reverberant cues, sets a new benchmark.

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