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Product Review - Audio Specialiste Virtuel Speakers - June, 1999

Brian Florian

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Audio Specialiste Virtuel Speakers

Model V-404: One 1" Fabric Tweeter, Three 6" Polyproplene Mid/Bass Drivers, Dual Cavity Bass Reflex; 37 Hz - 20 Khz, 6 Ohms Nominal

Model V-Center 3: One 1" Fabric Tweeter, Two 6" Polyproplene Mid/Bass drivers, Bass Reflex, 37 Hz - 20 Khz, 6 Ohms Nominal

Model V-Sat 2: One 3/4" Fabric Tweeter, One 5.25" Polyproplene Mid/Bass Driver, Bass Reflex, 55 Hz - 20 Khz, 8 Ohms Nominal

Model V-Sub 112: One 12" Miner Polycone Driver, 225 watt rms Amplifier, Low Pass Variable 40 Hz - 120 Hz, Bandpass Enclosure, Variable Phase, Ground Lift Switch

Package Price as Reviewed: $2,036 USA

Audio Specialiste, 1060, Provencher, Suite 100, Quebec, CANADA G1N 4M9; Telephone (Canada) 418-687-3202; Fax (Canada) 418-687-4046; USA Telephone 207-373-0996; Web http:www.audiospecialiste.com; E-Mail sales@audiospecialiste.com.

"Young speaker companies hold great favor with local audiophiles through use of original thinking and Vifa drivers." Make that statement to a dozen audiophiles, and all twelve will likely name a different company for whom it describes the beginnings. All the more reason to keep an eye on Audio Specialiste (AS), the five-year-old speaker manufacturer from Quebec. According to the local press, AS is very popular with music and movie lovers in the company's home province. I gave my Paradigms a break for a month to listen to a six-speaker suite.

Audio Specialiste offers four distinct lines of speakers, each containing up to ten models ranging from bookshelf to floorstanding, and centers to subs. I chose six pieces from what I thought was their most conventional line: Virtuel. I say 'thought' because I was pleasantly surprised by some fresh ideas.

V-404

The 404s are not at all what meets the eye. They are best thought of as two enclosures glued together one on top the other, as there are two completely independent chambers inside. The top three drivers form a D'Appolito array consisting of the 1" fabric tweeter crossing over at 2,700 Hz to the two mid/bass units that carry things the rest of the way down. These drivers are nice. And nice is what people expect from Vifa. Poly cones, rubber surrounds, and cast alloy baskets are all great features I wasn't expecting. The bottom chamber houses a third mid/bass driver which itself gets a low pass at 300 Hz. Speaker DriverBoth chambers are vented, so there are two ports on the back with the all metal binding posts in between. This makes the 404 neither a true two-way nor a true three-way but something in between: a 2 ½ way. All of this academic data translates into decent, credible sound, and in great quantity.

The 404s sounded good when played softly, they sounded good loud, they sounded good at dangerous levels of output and did so without complaint, testament to their being on the more efficient side of things. I thought about it for a second: There are six 6½" cones all participating in the low end which is the same surface area as a 16" cone. In my estimation, the bass is sufficient to about 40 Hz and then gracefully fades away. Both the midrange (voices) and upper end are quite neutral, which to me means Audio Specialiste did their homework with the crossovers. If anything, the 404s are ever so slightly relaxed, which makes them an excellent termination for systems like mine (which leans ever so slightly towards the bright side of things). All pieces of this suite were given equally opportunity not only to a Rotel five-channel power amplifier, but to the modest Yamaha receiver built-in amps. Here, I found evidence that the 404s did not hold up as well with the lesser amplifiers in the receiver (see below), losing some bass resolution. I did find that if these speakers are positioned just so, the upper bass could sound heavy, but a few inches this way or that, and a little patience, was all it took to tweak the sound. Bi-amping? Sure! I recommend it if you can and want even more clean output.

Receiver owners beware: These are 6 Ohm speakers, so watch your load capabilities. Metal cone feet are provided. All in all these speakers offer a lot for the money, and will likely be favored by those consumers who have large spaces to fill with sound versus those users with small intimate spaces who may be able to get less capable designs in terms of power while offering a little more refinement.

V Center 3

Make no mistake, this is an imposing piece. It's the largest center speaker I have personally handled. It could easily be mistaken for a floorstanding speaker on its side in that it's not that much lighter or smaller than one of the 404s, so measure your space first (the top of your TV). Having said that, the tweeter is identical, albeit a shielded version, of the one found in the 404s. The two mid-bass drivers are ever so slightly different though. The basket is cast from a space age plastic of sorts which felt to me rigid and remarkably light. The cones are of a polymer-coated paper, and the surrounds (this refers to the pliable ring that attaches the outer edge of the cone to the basket) are of the rubber variety. The back sports a port in the center, and the all metal binding posts are bi-wireable/bi-ampable.

"We find these drivers to be very crisp," I was told by Denis Guerette of AS. I chose to quote AS here because I could not think of a more succinct word to describe the V-Center 3's performance: very crisp! I actually ran some films with the TV off to really, really listen to this one. Dialogue was served very well, bass was great (ought to be in an enclosure of this size), and the drivers didn't complain on my acid-test sine waves. Perhaps due to the sheer size of the front baffle, this center has the potential, like the 404s, to have a little smearing in the upper bass that could be tweaked with positioning/angling. On the whole, I describe the sound as large. Even though the drivers struck me as being mounted far apart from each other, there was a good link between the tweeter and other cones. Further, there was an excellent splice between this speaker and the front left/right 404s, creating a huge wall of sound. For large, LARGE rooms and screens, the V-Center should be right at home.

V-Sat

"Cute little things," I thought, when first unpacking these. I'm sure a second set of 404s in the rear would have been wild, but I wanted to keep things more real world (let's face it: spousal units are more likely to accept a small pair of surrounds rather than another pair of monoliths). As with the 404s, I was surprised. The V-Sats have a similar but smaller cloth tweeter and an again similar but smaller mid/bass driver, complete with poly/paper cone, rubber surround, and cast chassis. The speaker terminals are still all metal posts! This shows a certain understanding for what's important. As surrounds, they were excellent, surprisingly so for their size. By mounting them on my existing rear wall brackets, and angling them slightly to the side walls, I was able to achieve a really sweet surround effect. Despite different drivers, they blended so well with the fronts that in material of perpetual sound (say a rainfall where a similar sound is output from all five speaker), the sense of envelopment was most complete. Considering this credible surround effect and that they are designed to be placed (unconventionally) with the tweeter below the mid/bass cone, I began to contemplate turning my usual front firing surrounds upside down just to see (hear) what would happen.The V-Sats would also be great as a bookshelf set for the den or office.

Sub - 112

The 112 is just on that border between normal sized subs and the really big ones. It is a band-pass design with a 12" poly cone, rubber surround, and stamped metal chassis. A wide mouth on the back serves as the port, above it the 250 watt amplifier. Now I don't want to get into a whole big thing over sub designs right now, but one thing we can agree on I think is that the band-pass offers a tremendous amount of slam for what you put into it, at least in terms of watts. With no coincidence, it is used frequently at this price point. The 112 fits the profile, having a tremendous bang within its useful frequency range. I had just purchased "A Bridge Too Far", and with the help of the 112, discovered that the soundtrack had excellent deep bass associated with the artillery fire (particularly so given the age of the film). I should note there was some distortion/turbulence which came to light when going through the sine-waves. Now I appreciate music and film aren't made up of single fundamental sine waves, but they do bring out the worst case of things. On the positive: a good quality three prong cord is provided, along with a ground lift switch and a variable phase adjustment, both of which can help to really dial this sub in. These are the sort of things I'd like to see on more subs in this price range. The low extension was fairly deep, reaching just under 30 Hz with the bulk of the output at 40-70Hz, but alas, the 112 still could not usefully produce a sub's holy grail: that glorious 20 Hz sensation.

Although it serves up a loud whomp, I had some gripes: both line level and speaker level ins and outs are provided, but I found it strange that where even the V-Sat had binding posts, the 112 has clips which would barely take a 16 gauge wire, let alone the 12 gauge that I keep around. If your receiver/processor does not have bass management, the 112 provides a nice high-pass for your speakers, but you'd be limiting yourself to very thin speaker wire. (Lee Lareau of AS said, as we went to press, that they will be putting binding posts on future manufacturing runs of all their subwoofers, including the 112.) Also, the auto on/off seems not quite sensitive enough, as at modest listening levels, it might not come on until well into a film or song. In fact, with my decoder's sub-output set to the max, the 112 would frequently turn off and come back on with a thump, numerous times during a film. (I am told by AS that they have responded to this by adjusting the sensitivity of the circuit and lengthening the time to turn off.)

Conclusion

Audio Specialiste is serious about sound, and very serious about home theater (just try to fit a V-Center 3 on a 27" TV!) With the exception of the points already made on the sub, I could find little in the way of compromises in the designs or materials, and that carries over into the sound. I look forward to more good stuff from this company as their presentation matures, and they begin to market their products on a larger scale. Although the system worked very well as an ensemble, it is the 404s that will be missed the most when I've sent them home to Quebec.

Brian Florian


Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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