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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello everyone. Since subwoofers seem to generate a lot of interest on this forum, I decided to write a user review of the Von Schweikert Audio VR-S/3 subwoofer ($2,195 retail, price increase scheduled for 11/2001). Keep in mind that these are my subjective impressions and that I don’t have measurements to back me up. I always take consumer reviews with a healthy dose of skepticism, and you should do the same here. Nonetheless, I think this is a serious product that deserves notice.


The ported S/3 is a relatively large sub, although its design is compact enough to fit into most spaces. It measures in at 25.5’’ high, 14.5’’ wide, and 18’’ deep. It weighs 105 lbs., although the unit feels much heavier to me because of its massive and solid build. The amp is a 600 watt (900 watt peak) Class A/AB design that was selected over a Class D switching amp by VSA because of “reliability, depth, and tone quality.†The 12’’ cone is light yet rigid, and is made of aluminum, Nomex, and Kevlar. VSA claims that the cone “will not flex or distort at any volume level.†A fairly bold claim, I think. Albert Von Schweikert also told me that I could stand on the cone without it bending.


To put such claims to the test—except for the one about standing on the cone—I started out with music. I like to try many different types of music to test out a sub, but lately I’ve been using the second album from a pop trio from the early 90s called Animal Logic. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, this band featured Stewart Copeland on drums, Stanley Clarke on bass, and Deborah Holland as singer/songwriter. As you can imagine, the rhythm section of Copeland and Clarke is very lively and dynamic, and their instruments are quite prominent in the recording (especially Clarke's bass). A heavy sounding and boomy sub will really slow down the pace of this album and overwhelm and muddy up the mid-range. The S/3 had absolutely no problem keeping up with this album. Clarke’s bass lines sounded tight, powerful, and tactile, while Copeland's percussion maintained its drive and attack throughout. And yet the S/3 never allowed the bass to drown out mid-range detail.


I’ve often heard that a good sub will “open up†the midrange of main speakers, and in this regard, the ported S/3 significantly outperformed my $3,000 “audiophile†sub, a sealed unit with two 8’’ drivers that is certainly no slouch when it comes to music. I mention this observation because a lot of people feel that sealed subs are more “musical†than ported ones, but I think subs like the S/3 prove that a well-designed unit, whether it is ported or sealed, will handle music playback in an exemplary fashion.


I’ve tried a lot of my other CDs with the S/3, and the clarity, pitch definition, realism, and depth of the bass that this sub produces has improved the sound of all of them. If the level, phase, and crossover are adjusted properly, the sub will integrate with the mains exceptionally well and add depth and spaciousness to the soundstage. And if the recording has little bass content, the S/3 will not force its way onto the scene. In short, the S/3 has greatly enhanced music playback in my system in a very natural sounding way. I think it actually makes my main speakers sound much more expensive!


Now on to film soundtracks to give you an idea how the sub handles deep bass. After reading the Widescreen Review of the new Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace DVD, I had to pick up a copy to see how the S/3 would handle it. This DVD has deep, powerful, and exceedingly clean bass throughout, and the S/3 presented it all in exactly that fashion. Impact and slam were very impressive because the sub delivers bass transients with authority and without overhang. I also never felt like the unit was straining to produce the full dynamic effect of the soundtrack, which is no small feat. Trust me, what other people are saying about this DVD is true: it is truly a system threatening DVD that is going to put the hurt on some woofers out there. As another example, I tried a very loud DVD, The Mummy Returns, and played the Scorpion King’s opening battle scene—oh my! The S/3 really challenged the structural integrity of my apartment. I recently switched from large, full-range speakers to the Sonus Faber Concerto Homes because I moved into a smaller place, and I was initially somewhat disappointed because my DVDs just didn’t have the grand, theatrical sound they once had. With the addition of the S/3, the large-scale dynamics are back and my Sonus Fabers sound much larger than before.


Are there any negatives to report? The only problem I encountered was when I played the Avia LFE low frequency sweep at a high level. I did hear some wind noise through the port as the tone was close to 20Hz. But to be fair, I accidentally ran the test at a higher level than what I would normally use for music and movies. Also, this turbulence is common among ported subs, even high-end ones. For example, The Perfect Vision gave the original Talon Roc (a $4,000 unit) their highest rating for a subwoofer earlier this year, but the reviewer still reported that he heard some “chuffing†or port noise at very loud levels. I asked VSA about this issue and they claimed that none of their dealers have heard the noise on real world material. I certainly didn’t hear it during The Phantom Menace test, which is again, quite a subwoofer workout. I guess the bottom line is that if you have a large room and really listen to material at the kind of levels that would cause this noise to be audible, you may want two S/3s. Then again, if this is your listening preference, you undoubtedly would need multiple subs no matter what make or model. And don’t underestimate the power of one S/3. In my 12x18 room I have the sub’s level usually nowhere near halfway up because the flimsy walls of my apartment just can’t handle it. Albert Von Schweikert said that when they power test the S/3 in a 75 ft. wide by 250 ft. long concrete building, people located on the other end of the building think it is an earthquake because the concrete slab moves.


Placement and calibration took some time as well, but that’s because my relatively small room can be problematic. I experimented with many different positions because it’s just not fair to evaluate a sub without careful placement. My room has some locations that yield very peaky bass response, so it was well worth the time and effort to find a spot that produced the smoothest results.


Overall, the performance, build quality, and finish of the S/3 are all first rate. I feel that it beats my $3,000 sub in every way. I knew the S/3’s larger enclosure and bigger driver and amp would allow it to best my old sub on film soundtracks, but I was surprised that it defeated it so handily on music as well. I would like to see it compared directly with other more expensive subs because I think the S/3 would acquit itself quite well. (Incidentally, wouldn’t it be really cool if the guys at Secrets would do a high-end sub shootout similar to their progressive-scan DVD player benchmark?)


It’s seems like a good time for subwoofers. There are some exciting products out there and software to put them to the test. The S/3 was designed to produce deep, realistic bass at very high levels with great clarity. I feel it delivers. That’s about all I could ask for.
 

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As I own the first version of the S/3 (a custom job Albert did for me to match my VR'7's) I thought I would add a few points.


The S/3 is the culmination of a long project undertaken by Albert to achieve superior performance for a VR series sub. I was in El Cajon with Albert and Kevin when the final testing was done and it is true that at the right frequencies the entire building shakes.


As allways with Albert the manufacturing of the cabinet is a major issue and as such the project took longer than expected. I have a custom one off cabinet in dark cherry (this took forever to get done, but was worth the effort).


I do not use the sub for music as I have found it exceedingly difficult to combine a sub with mains especially in an environment with a classic 2 channel preamp. At the time I had the VR5's and I felt that the VR5's on their own (with reduced bass output) performed better on 2 channel music than a VR5 / S/3 combination (quantity versus quality issue). On HT it is of course another matter and I find the S/3 to be on par with the upper end subs including Talon and Aerial.


My only complaint with the sub is the relatively low quality of the amplifier package. The amp is a repackaged Madisound package. The crossover options and connectors are no where as sophisticated as the Aerial. It does however do the job extremely well.


On the port design, Kevin spent a lot of time trying to minimize the effects of a ported desgin and as stated I have never found this to be an issue aside from test material.


As you stated sub placement is highly dependant on room shape and size and thus I would not classify placement as an issue for this sub (versus any other sub).


At the $2k price point (and the new $3k price) this sub is a great value and IMHO compares to subs in the $4k range.


Steve
 

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Jim,


Your review says it all, completely and succinctly, the S/3 sub offers first rate performance whether for music or HT.


I might add, the price you quoted for the S/3 will be raised Nov 1st as will the MSRP on a number of other models in the current line-up. Anyone considering the purchase of a hi-end sub in this price range should give listen to the Von Schweikert,,,, quick!. The increase will add approx $800 to list,,, still priced below competitive brands, but offering greater build parts/design, as well as sonic benefits.



Jack
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Steve,


I agree that the connection options and controls on the S/3 are pretty basic. There are line-level inputs and outputs, speaker level inputs and outputs, a 0/180 phase switch, adjustable lowpass filter from 50Hz to 100Hz, crossover bypass switch, auto-on/off switch, and level control. But I find these controls provide pretty much what I need for my set-up. And my $3,000 sub doesn't even have this much flexibility, as it doesn't have line level outputs. This other sub does have a room gain control, which is supposed to help control "room boom" as well as dry bass, but this control is of questionable value. For more fine tuning, adding an outboard equalizer to the S/3 would be an option, but of course, that raises the overall cost.


With regard to the question of using a sub for 2-channel listening, since I don't have full range speakers, I couldn't imagine turning off the S/3 during music playback. It improves the sound of my speakers across the board. But you have full range speakers and your preference is perfectly valid, and I know many others who believe that achieving a perfect blend between sub and main speakers is very difficult. I feel the S/3 blends in with my main speakers very well, but then again, perhaps because I value the benefits of a good sub so much (added sense of weight, depth, spaciousness, etc.), maybe my mind sort of "fills in the gaps" if the blend isn't perfect. But I guess that's a matter of psychoacoustics. Let's just say that I'm addicted to bass.


Also, when I use the S/3's line level ins and outs with my receiver's preamp outs/main ins, I can get an ever smoother integration because I'm not stuck with the THX standard 80Hz crossover point. This set-up also allows me to use the sub with my receiver's "source direct" mode, which bypasses the surround sound modes and tone controls and opens up the sound considerably.
 

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My only complaint with the sub is the relatively low quality of the amplifier package. The amp is a repackaged Madisound package.


Upon further discussions with Albert, it would seem that while the amplifier looks like a stock Madisound unit it is not. As the woofer is difficult to drive (it has a very low impedance and requires a minimum of 750 watts peak to drive), the inexpensive amp chips found on the stock Madisound amp are replaced by heavy duty units capable of twice the current output of the stock amp, there are also several other small changes to make the amp to Albert's liking.


Having lived with this sub for a while now, it continues to impress me in its ability to integrate smoothly into my HT system and the ability to deliver the goods when called upon.



Steve
 
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