Go to Home Page

 

Product Review
 

VMPS Ribbon Monitor 40 (RM 40) Floor-Standing Speakers

February, 2005

Jason Victor Serinus

 

Specifications

  • Two 1" Tweeters, Four 8" Neodymium Midrange Panels, Two 10" Woven Carbon Fiber Woofers

  • Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms

  • - 3 dB at 24 Hz

  • Power Handling 500W

  • Bi-Wireable

  • Dimensions: 66" H x 12.5" W x 17" D

  • Weight: 240 lbs each

  • MSRP: $5,000/Pair USA Depending on Finish; $6,200/Pair for Review Units

VMPS Audio

www.vmpsaudio.com

Introduction

VMPS is a speaker company located in El Sobrante, California. One of the things that differentiates VMPS from other manufacturers is that their speakers are available as kits as well as factory assembled. This approach has been successful for Brian Cheney, President of VMPS, as the company has been around quite some years.

The VMPS RM 40, under review here, won the BEST OF CES - 2002 award in the High End Audio category from Tech TV, a media arm of the Electronics Industry Association. The following year, the Ampzilla RM/X-Trinaural processor, exhibited driving three RM 40s, won Best of CES - 2003. Such awards, combined with an unbelievably low MSRP (for what you get), have made the VMPS RM 40 a long-standing favorite among audiophiles.

I first learned of VMPS speakers via a long-discontinued model of floor-standers owned by a member of the Bay Area Audiophile Society. Though I was told that designer Brian Cheney lived relatively near me in Northern California, it was not until a few months ago that our paths finally crossed.

My initial encounter with Brian was on the Secrets Forum, where he briefly attempted to reason with those who insist that high-end power cables do not make a difference in sound quality. Brian and I immediately discovered ourselves of one mind on the issue.

The second encounter with Brian was in person, when I finally met him at the RM 40 demo at CES - 2005. That demo, held in a small room in the St. Tropez, featured three RM 40s, powered by Ampzilla and the award-winning Ampzilla Trinaural Processor.

Less than two weeks after CES, Brian brought a pair of RM 40s to Casa Bellecci-Serinus for review. The speaker cabinets, sourced from China, were finished in a beautiful rosewood veneer that proved a handsome complement to our décor. I wish my Talon Khorus X, a demo pair finished in a pale blond that doesn’t enhance our other color choices, looked as good as these.

When Brian paused to look over some of the vocal recitals in my ever-burgeoning music collection, he discovered that we share a love for great vocal singers of the past. Such commonalities made me further eager to evaluate the RM 40s.

Two days before Brian was scheduled to transport his speakers to Casa Bellecci-Serinus, he hosted a Bay Area Audiophile Society RM 40 trinaural demonstration at his residence. Though I could not participate due to family commitments, I received copious feedback from BAAS members who had attended. One of those men later joined me at my home for further evaluation, wanting to hear the speakers in a different room in basic two-channel configuration. I have taken his feedback into account while penning this review, which reflects personal encounters with the RM 40 variously paired with two solid-state and two tube sources of amplification.

The Design

In an e-mail update from Brian, he explains, “The RM 40 was introduced in December, 2001 at $4,600/pair. We have added options over the years as customers demand. We switched from the pair of spiral ribbon tweeters (moving mass 100 mg each) to the free-swinging tweeter (13 mg MM) a year and a half ago and raised the price of the standard version to $5,000/pr to pay for it. A free-swing tweeter is suspended top and bottom only and is transformer-operated.

“We offer Auricaps as a $550/pair option and TRT's as a $1,200/pair option. Analysis Plus 12 gauge silver bass wire adds $400. With maximum upgrades (excluding cabinetry), the RM 40 maxes out at $6,600/pair including shipping. The pair heard at CES and submitted for review lacked only the Analysis Plus silver wire. It lists for $6,200/pair including shipping in 48 states.”

The 240 pound, 66” tall floor-standing RM 40 derives its name from its 40” vertical ribbon mid/tweeter array. The speaker boasts the 10” Woven Carbon Fiber Megawoofer lowbass and 10” WCF midbass from VMPS in a symmetrical array with four 8” Neodymium midrange ribbon panels (166 Hz to 10 kHz) and one free-swinging tweeter (flat to 25 kHz) in a column 12.5” wide and 17” deep. VMPS claims “thin dimensions and full driver symmetry guarantee pinpoint imaging and a soundstage both wide and deep, with layering and detail that is simply breathtaking.” Cabinetry is one and one half inch thick MDF baffles (plus 1-1/8” sides and top) treated with Soundcoat for 10 dB less panel vibration. The result is 24 Hz bass with ultraclean 115 dB/1M output levels.”

The website also states, “Neodymium is a relatively new alloy that can hold eight times the charge (i.e., magnetic field strength) of old strontium ferrite panels while providing sufficient energy to extend the light, quick ribbon (1.25 g moving mass) down to its 166 Hz cutoff. There is no stray field from the Neo magnet structure, linearity is unsurpassed, and fidelity to source is outstanding, far beyond the capacities of even the best cones and domes regardless of shape, size, or diaphragm material.”

There are three ways to operate the RM 40. The first is full range, with a single amplifier as a source. This is how I operated the speaker. As such, the system presents a steady 4 Ohm load, resistive above 166 Hz, with 90 dB/1W sensitivity.

Audiophiles can easily switch to the bi-amp/bi-wire configuration via the back-baffle toggle switch, and run a separate bass amp through the speaker’s passive bass and mid/treble crossovers (which consist of all premium parts such as Axon polypropylene caps and hi-Q Erse 14 gauge laminated core inductors).

The third option is bi-amping with the passive bass crossover removed, an outboard 24 dB/octave electronic crossover driving a separate bass amp, and a second amp running the ribbon panels through their built-in 6 and 12 dB filters. The latter setup allows bass levels to be set with great precision (0.01 dB increments) and crossover frequency to be adjusted Hertz-by-Hertz. The VMPS electronic crossover designed for this purpose sells for an additional $950, and requires a second amplifier.

The RM 40 is a tunable speaker. Not only does it offer separate treble and midrange controls, easily accessible and adjusted from the rear of the speaker, but it also features a downward-firing passive radiator hidden at the very bottom of the cabinet that can be fine-tuned by means of applying or removing bits of a small ball of putty secured on its cone. The VMPS website contains a long discussion of how this may be accomplished. Such adjustments, as well as a choice of caps and wiring, allow the speaker to optimally function in a wide variety of system set-ups.

Configuration

Brian and two helpers arrived on a Saturday morning exactly on schedule. It was no easy task moving the unwieldy 195 lb. Talon Khorus X Mk. II speakers off their ball-bearing Ganymede supports, across the carpet and onto the hardwood floor without damaging anything. (I could feel the absent spouse’s eyes gazing intently at the back of my neck.)

Positioning the RM 40s was far easier than moving the Talons. Despite their height, the VMPS speakers are perfectly balanced on their own wooden platforms, and are designed to sit directly on the floor without spikes. The behemoths easily slid across the carpet. Once you’ve got them on carpeting that won’t shift under them, a single in-shape person – including one approaching 60 who is a good inch shorter than the speakers – can move them into place.

When Brian and I took our initial listen, I noted a significant amount of disturbing bass resonance. I therefore suggested that we further decouple the speakers from the floor using the Ganymede ball-bearing supports. Though Brian initially thought this would not make a difference, an initial sonic comparison, followed by another conducted at the end of my time with the speakers, confirmed that the Ganymedes not only lessened the bass booming somewhat but also added welcome extra air to the presentation.

Brian showed his RM 40s at CES and at the BAAS demo using with Ampzilla solid-state amplification. It is with the Ampzilla stereo amp Brian brought in tow that I first auditioned the RM 40. When we switched to the Red Planet Labs STR201 solid state amp, I found it far more full sounding than the Ampzilla. It was to this amp that we initially tuned the RM 40s.

Tuning the Speakers

The tuning process initially threw me for a loop. Having once owned Michael Green Chameleon IIIs, a frequently revised speaker whose sound was absolutely dependent on the optimal positioning of no less than eight tuning lugs (two of which were hidden within the speaker and difficult to adjust), I had sworn that I would never again mess with a tunable speaker. Yet, all of a sudden, without prior knowledge of the RM 40’s design, I found myself with a pair of tunable giants dominating my listening space.

Brian positioned the speakers between 6 and 7 feet apart. They were aimed to crossfire a good foot or two in front of the center listening position. Both Brian and Ken Gates of Epiphany Audio endorse such positioning, claiming it more inclusive of listeners sitting outside the normal sweet spot. (Mike Farnsworth of Talon Audio does not crossfire his speakers due to their wide dispersion pattern; he prefers to aim them slightly wider than the center point.)

Two subsequent visitors to Casa Bellecci-Serinus, CC Poon of Monarchy Audio (dropping off his monoblocks for future review) and the BAAS member who had attended the demonstration at Brian’s, complained that imaging was compromised when they sat other than in the center position. CC found that Diana Krall’s vocals were off center unless he sat exactly in the center position. Perhaps optimal imaging in the crossfire pattern is dependent on sitting exactly a certain distance from the point where the speakers crossfire. If so, we were sitting wide of the mark.

After a prolonged period of initial tuning, Brian suddenly announced that he had to leave. Although the speakers sounded considerably better than upon arrival, the sound was far from ideal. Significant bass booming (undoubtedly far less of a problem with the leaner sounding Ampzilla) and a zingy treble left me eagerly anticipating Brian’s return a week later.

Needing to review CDs and accustom myself to the RM 40 in Brian’s absence, I did my best to tune the speakers on my own. There was one evening when David and I spent a while comparing tenor Rolando Villazón’s just-released performances of several French arias with versions by Jussi Björling and Franco Corelli. To be frank, the ringing on high fortes was extremely irritating. I found myself constantly turning down the volume on the brand new Villazón recording, cursing Virgin/EMI’s lousy engineering.

I spent a good half hour trying to adjust treble and midrange to optimal levels. I stuck with the solid state Red Planet Labs STR201, the same amp Brian had heard; I wasn’t about to switch to my trust tubed Jadis Defy 7 before I got the sound right on the Red Planet. The sound improved greatly, although still not enough to take Virgin/EMI off my blacklist.

I’m sure the speakers would have improved more had I also played with the putty on the hidden passive radiator. But after spending several years sticking my arm deep into the bowels of the Chameleon III, trying to turn lugs just a teeny bit only to find them sticking and moving much too far, I went on strike as concerns lying on my belly and playing with a little ball of unviewable putty. Instead, I prayed for the week to go by.

Tuning - Part II

Brian’s return was divided between tuning the speakers and a half hour mutual love fest with the artistry of soprano Elisabeth Schumann (1888-1952). I had to, in fact, watch the clock and tell Brian when it was necessary to cease soprano adulation and return to tuning.

Brian must have worked on the putty 8-10 times/speaker. Toward the end, he was removing what amounted to a speck of putty on each pass before returning to the center seat to listen. Since we were using my usual test CDs, whose sound I know backwards and forwards, I supplied constant fine-tuning feedback. We were a good team.

By the time Brian left, I was now deeply impressed with the sound of the RM 40. The solid state Red Planet Labs STR201 sounded as sweet as the best tubed amplification, with a remarkable degree of focus and accuracy. And bass weight and extension were definitely superior to the Khorus X. Yes, there was still a modicum of disturbing bass boom, not heard from the Khorus X Mk. II, that Brian could not eliminate. But the sound was nonetheless beautiful. I may not have heard all the air I usually associate with the Khorus X, but in its place were a clarity, focus and bass impact audiophiles dream about.

David and I spent one evening comparing performances of Richard Strauss’ “Morgen,” a song we’re both working on. The experience was treasurable. Voice and piano were always in perfect focus and natural sounding. I loved listening to the speakers. Had I stopped auditioning the RM 40 then and there, and kept the STR201 in the system for the next few months, I would have been a very happy camper.

Alas, I neither own the STR201 nor can afford to spend several months listening to a single system configuration. It was, therefore, necessary for me to switch amps, auditioning both my trusted Jadis and the tubed Monarchy monoblocks CC Poon delivered for review. I figured that once I had the sound right with all three amps, I would be ready to use the RM 40s to review the Blue Circle preamp next up for review.

From Solid State to Tubes

All was hunky dory until I replaced the STR201 with the Jadis Defy 7. Instead of beautifully balanced, pleasing sound, I heard a preponderance of midrange, mushy bass, and very little top. Things sounded better with the Monarchy lower-priced, leaner monoblocks that lack the Jadis’ extra plush midrange. But the near-perfection Brian and I had achieved was nowhere to be heard.

I spent my next several listening sessions attempting to adjust midrange and treble without messing with the passive radiator’s putty. (If it wanted more putty, Brian had taken it home, so there was nothing I could do. And if it wanted less, I was sure my self-imposed limits would have made determining the ideal amount next to impossible.) By the time my fellow BAAS member joined me for audition, I felt I was 90% of the way home. Treble had been turned up and the midrange down. The Jadis may have sounded very different than it did with the Khorus X, but it was quite pleasing on certain pieces of music.

The RM 40 did quite well on simpler fare. But when we played the final trio from Richard Strauss’ opera Der Rosenkavalier (alternating between versions featured on recitals by Renée Fleming and Natalie Dessay), we were less than happy. As the trio approached its conclusion, and two sopranos and a mezzo sang at the top of their lungs, while the orchestra swelled toward romantic climax, either the speakers’ tweeters or its midrange ribbons rang like crazy. What was most interesting is that the ringing seemed to pass from voice to voice depending upon what part of the range was traversed. We were able to ameliorate the ringing somewhat, but we simply couldn’t get it right. As before, the deepest bass was quite impressive. But what should have transported us to bliss instead hurt our ears and led us to turn the volume down.

We next replaced my trusty Jadis with the Red Planet Labs STR201 and attempted to duplicate the settings Brian had achieved on his second visit. Clearly an ideal balance between midrange and treble, which can differ on each speaker, is crucial. I had nowhere the success Brian and I achieved as a team. The unquestionable beauty of sound I had heard these speakers produce with the STR201 eluded me.

Again, I take responsibility for a lack of patience. I’ve spent hours upon hours comparing tubes, power cables, interconnects, hook-up wire, capacitors, amps and preamps, you name it. I love comparing the sound of equipment and performances, and look forward to doing far more of it. But when it comes to fine-tuning controls on speakers, I’m afraid the Michael Green experience has left me with a short fuse.

Conclusions

If you enjoy tweaking and fine-tuning, the RM 40 is the potential speaker of your dreams. With a seemingly infinite combination of finite adjustments at your command, it enables you to ideally tune your speakers to room and equipment configurations. As you change equipment or move, you can fine-tune your speakers rather than replacing them. As long as you get the tuning right, you may find yourself in sonic heaven.

With the caveat that fine-tuning, careful system matching, and an abundance of patience are essential, I heartily recommend auditioning this speaker with equipment of your own choosing. With the solid state amp we used for initial listening, it made unquestionably beautiful music. Few speakers anywhere near its price can achieve its ultimate range extension and truthfulness of timbre. That in 2005 Brian Cheney sells the whole baseline package for $5,000 including shipping boggles the mind.




- Jason Victor Serinus -


REFERENCE SYSTEM

Digital Front End:
Sony 707ES transport modified by Alexander Peychev of APL Hi-Fi
Theta Gen VIII DAC/Preamp
Theta Carmen II transport (on loan from Theta)

Amplification:
Jadis Defy 7 Mk. II
Red Planet Labs STR201


Loudspeakers:
Talon Khorus X speakers MK. II (with latest modifications and Bybee filters on woofers and tweeters)


Cabling:
Nordost Valhalla single-ended and balanced interconnects and balanced digital interconnects
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Nordost Silver Shadow digital interconnect for DVD-V
Nordost Valhalla Power Cables
Elrod EPS-2 Signature

Also on hand and sometimes used:
Interconnects: WireWorld Gold Eclipse 5 and Gold Starlight 5 digital, Harmonic Tech Magic One, Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II balanced, and Nirvana BNC-terminated digital.
Power cables: Elrod EPS Signature 2 and 3 plus EPS 1, 2, and 3; WireWorld Silver Electra 5, PS Audio X-treme Statement, Harmonic Tech, and AudioPrism SuperNatural S2.


Accessories:
PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with MultiWave II
ExactPower EP15A
PS Audio Ultimate Outlet; PS Audio Power Ports
Ganymede supports in main digital chain and under speakers
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks and Corner Tunes
Michael Green Audiopoints, and Black Diamond Racing Cones elsewhere
Shakti stones on amp, Theta, and transport
Stillpoints ERS EMI/RFI sheets on most components
Bedini Dual Beam Ultraclarifier, Audioprism CD Stoplight,
Marigo Signature Mat for use atop CDs, Ayre demagnetizing CD and the original Sheffield/XLO demagnetizing and break-in CD.

Room Size:
25.5’ deep, 37’ wide opposite the speakers, 21.5’ wide in the listening area. Ceilings are 9’2” high with heavy wooden cross-beams. Floors hardwood and carpet. Speakers are totally decoupled from the floor, resting on Ganymede supports and maple.


 

© Copyright 2005 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

Go to Table of Contents for this Issue

Go to Home Page

 

About Secrets

Register

Terms and Conditions of Use