During the product launch, in the Maroon Peak room at RMAF 2018 in Denver, the Ultra 9s were set up along the long wall (the room is 750 square feet, 30' x 25' x 10'). It was while speaking with Kevin Hayes of VAC, sitting against the side wall, at what could only be described as an extreme listening position, about eighteen feet from the front wall, some twelve feet behind the plane of the speakers and roughly eighteen feet from the left, and twenty-five feet from the right speakers, that I heard something that made my jaw drop. Kevin didn’t miss a beat; he looked at me with that Cheshire-Cat-like smile and said, “You just noticed!”
Normally, in such an extreme off-axis position, you will hear the closest speaker, period. Yet here, I not only heard the proximate left speaker; I also clearly heard the more distant right, and a significantly dimensional soundstage between them. The stage was obviously skewed, with the center being closer to the left speaker, but it had an astonishing degree of depth and instrumental specificity. This was not a one-time fluke experience, as I was able to duplicate this in my room for dozens of visitors during the review period. But it clearly demonstrates and validates the effectiveness of the remarkable capabilities of VSA’s unique Ambient Driver array and dividing network.
As hard as this is to write, in all my time with them I simply could not find any particularly egregious fault or vulnerability to criticize. While I freely admit that they are not perfect—what loudspeaker is?—what they deliver, day in, day out, is so engaging and compelling, that I simply have no bones to pick with their overall dazzling performance.
I Can See for Miles
As music lovers and audiophiles, we live in an astonishingly exciting time. Today we are able to select from so many truly affordable speakers, electronics, and source products, all capable of producing more accurate and engaging sound than was possible from even the very best and most costly products in the early 1970s—the period that marks the start of what has become the high-end audio world we know today, as well as the start of my own audiophile quest. In addition to the number and excellence of affordable products, there have never before been so many luxury-class products capable of expanding the boundaries of what can be accomplished in the reconstruction of a live performance.
The trailblazing work that VSA is doing under the direction of its current chief designer, Leif Swanson, and CEO Damon Von Schweikert, building upon the groundbreaking work of the company founder, Albert Von Schweikert, epitomizes what can be done to recreate an authentic musical experience in the home. A product like the Ultra 9 elevates listening to music to the level of an enormously enjoyable event. At every turn, from its remarkably inert and voiceless enclosure, to its fabulously coherent drivers, to its distinct, serene, and transparent dividing network, to its extraordinary ambience, and speaker array with its unparalleled room-integration capabilities, we see how the Ultra 9 can deliver this exceptional musical expressiveness, with such heightened transparency and vanishingly low self-generated noise.
While I have traveled this particular road for almost five decades, and have had the pleasure and honor of reporting on this industry since the late 1980s, I find the Ultra 9 loudspeaker from Von Schweikert Audio a new pinnacle of achievement in recreating the reality of a recorded event. In terms of making music, of having that inexplicable ability to foster the suspension of disbelief, of permitting listeners to forget that what they are listening to is a recreation, the Ultra systems in general, and the Model 9 in particular, appear to have no equals today. The Ultra 9 consistently allows me to forget that the time and space of the events unfolding before me are merely auditory illusions generated by a complex reconstruction engine, a conglomeration of electro-mechanical devices. It more effortlessly and emotionally persuades listeners that they are hearing music, not recordings, than any other system I have encountered to date.
Just in case I’ve not made my case, let me sum up: The Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 9 is the most authentically musical loudspeaker I have yet encountered. In fact, it represents such a remarkable achievement that to my wife’s distress and my banker’s unconcealed joy, I have decided to trade in my VR-55 Aktives on the Ultra 9s. Even if they are not in your price range, you owe yourself a listen, if only to experience the wonder that can be achieved by a loudspeaker whose design, components, and integration represent today’s state of the art.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Six-way, eight-driver dynamic loudspeaker
Driver complement: Front baffle: 8" woofer (2), 6" midrange, 1" tweeter, 5" leaf tweeter; rear baffle: 15" powered subwoofer, 1" tweeter, 5" leaf tweeter
Woofer loading: Sealed
Impedance: 4 ohms
Frequency response: 16Hz–60kHz
Dimensions: 12"–21" x 50" x 32.5"
Weight: 535 lbs. each
Price: $200,000 per pair
VON SCHWEIKERT AUDIO
1040-A Northgate St.
Riverside, CA 92507