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Product Review - Velodyne Surround Sound Speaker Package - March, 1995

By John E. Johnson, Jr.


Two pairs LD-2 speakers (satellites and rear surround), one LD-3C Center Channel Speaker, and one VA-1012X Subwoofer. LD-2 has one 6" magnetically shielded mid-bass driver and one 1" tweeter, frequency response 85 Hz - 20 kHz, nominal impedance 6 Ohms. Size 14"H x 8"W x 9"D, black oak grained vinyl, weight 18 pounds (each). LD-3C has two 6" magnetically shielded mid-bass drivers and one 1" tweeter, frequency response 85 Hz - 20 kHz, nominal impedance 6 Ohms. Size 8"H x 21"W x 10"D, black oak grained vinyl, weight 32 pounds. VA- 1012X has one 10" magnetically shielded active front firing driver and one 12" downward firing passive radiator. Built-in 80 watt (rms) class AB amplifier, 85 Hz crossover frequency, 6 dB per octave - high pass, 12 dB per octave - low pass. Size 18"H x 17"W x 17"D, black oak grained vinyl, weight 55 pounds. System price $3,000. Velodyne Acoustics, 1070 Commercial Street, Suite 101, San Jose, California 95112, (408) 436-7270.

Although Velodyne Acoustics has been noted primarily as a subwoofer manufacturer, their introduction of the DF-661 low distortion mini-monitor two years ago was perfect timing for their entry into the home theater arena. The satellites and rear surround speakers described in this review are part of Velodyne's first home theater speaker system. Amplifiers usually have low distortion compared to most speaker designs, and Velodyne has addressed this issue very firmly with the DF-661. The LD-2 satellite speakers and LD-3C center channel speakers use the same drivers as in the DF-661 except that the counter coil is not present, and the rubber surround (the ring that attaches the cone's outer edges to the frame) is different. Secondly, the main drivers are magnetically shielded in the satellite speakers, rear speakers, the center channel speaker, (and the subwoofer). This is accomplished by the use of a metal cap which surrounds dual opposing- field magnets. Since all the speakers are magnetically shielded, a user can save a few hundred dollars by using another LD-2 as the center channel instead of the LD-3C, if so desired. However, after you audition the entire system, we think you will want to have this specially designed LD-3C center channel speaker. Thirdly, there is no port on the LD-2 or LD-3C. It is assumed that these speakers will be used with a subwoofer, such as the VA-1012X, so the sealed enclosure limits cone excursion below about 90 Hz, allowing the speakers to be driven to loud volume levels without damaging the 6" drivers. This matches nicely with the fixed 85 Hz crossover frequency of the VA-1012X subwoofer included with this system.

We tested the Velodyne package with a surround sound receiver, using signals from TV cable, as well as a VHS test tape containing segments of movies from laserdiscs, and sine waves.

One of the problems we have noted in many surround sound speaker systems is that there is so much disparity between the front left/right, center, and rear speakers, the sound is unbalanced to the degree that the ear is continually being distracted by the difference in sound tonality coming from the various channels. By using the same speakers for the satellites as for the rear surrounds, the Velodyne system has eliminated this problem, and the results are one of the most beautifully balanced surround sound speaker systems we have ever heard. We put this to an extreme test by moving all the speakers very close to the listening position, with the front satellites, center channel, and rear surround speakers only four feet away. The tonality was still in marvelous balance, with a surround sound so natural that several rear channel effects caused us to think that there was some activity going on in the next room. Only by replaying the tape could we be sure that the sound we heard was coming from the rear speakers! When there is improper tonality balance in a surround sound speaker system, this effect does not occur.

The subwoofer utilizes a 10" front firing active driver and a 12" downward firing passive radiator. The active driver, which was specifically designed for low distortion, has a free air resonance (fs) of 30 Hz, and the enclosure is tuned to 34 Hz. The passive radiator is heavy, with the idea that very low frequencies will be reinforced. We tested the subwoofer with sine wave inputs at several low frequencies. At 24 Hz, we measured a maximum cone excursion of plus or minus 6mm, while at 16 Hz it was plus or minus 9mm. This is quite a lot of excursion for a 10" driver. The crossover frequency of the subwoofer is well matched to the rolloff of the LD-2s, as music and movie surround sound passages never sounded as though there was too much in the 70 - 100 Hz region. The sound from the LD-2s and LD-3C was, to our ears, neutral throughout the audio spectrum. Orchestral music from CDs coded with surround sound had the pronounced depth that surround encoding provides, without the vacant mid-range, tinniness, or shrill highs that small surround sound speakers often have. The subwoofer was not boomy, although it was not as clean as the Velodyne F series which uses servo-feedback. Of course, this is to be expected, and the VA-1012X is much less expensive than their servo subs.

The placement of any subwoofer is critical, and this is especially so when only one sub is used (as opposed to a stereo pair of subs). We thought that perhaps there would be noticeable phase cancellation when all the low frequencies were being handled by a single subwoofer, but this did not occur to any significant extent. Every once in a while, we could hear a beat between two competing low frequency sounds, but most of the time, there was room shaking bass galore. In fact, the presence of the passive radiator added significantly to the ambience of the bass, allowing more of a non-directional effect. Although 80 watts of power to the sub may not seem like very much, and we could get it to overdrive when we used the sine wave torture test, music and surround sound tracks were handled with ease.

The LD-3C center channel speaker is larger than the LD-2 because it uses two 6" drivers to maintain the lateral dispersion characteristics which are desirable. This resulted in the vocals being very forward when the volume controls were all set to the same level. This is easily adjustable on any surround sound amplifier, but the irony is that voices are often drowned out by the tendency these days to make the special effects and background music so loud. The LD-3C took care of this issue quite handily, again, sounding very well balanced in relation to the LD-2s on the sides and rear.

The magnetic shielding of the speakers is very good, as no color abnormalities occurred when we placed either a LD-2 or LD-3C directly on top, or LD-2s adjacent to the sides of a 35" direct view TV monitor. The subwoofer is magnetically shielded also, but it is unlikely that it would be placed immediately next to the TV. However, the shielding is there, just in case.

The cabinetry of all the speakers in this package is very well constructed. Gold plated heavy duty binding posts adorn the LD-2s and LD-3C. RCA jacks are present on the subwoofer for connecting the preamplifier outputs of stereo channels, and feeding the signal (minus sound below 85 Hz) back to power amplifiers, along with spring clips for connecting speaker outputs from the main amplifier if you have no other way to hook up the sub. We used the VA-1012X connected to the subwoofer preamplified output from the surround sound receiver, by inputting to one of the RCA jacks.

In sum, Velodyne scores a big one with this surround sound speaker package. The low distortion design of the drivers, borrowed from the DF-661, combined with their standard setting subwoofer technology, results in an excellent system very much worth the $3,000 price tag.

John E. Johnson Jr.

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