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    From The Archive | Positive Feedback Issue 7, Number 2

    April 10, 2023 30 min read

    From The Archive | Positive Feedback Issue 7, Number 2

    Stu’s Place: Super Synergy! The Melos SE-75 & Von Schweikert VR-8
    Stu McCreary, with Mark Porzilli and Albert Von Schweikert

    "I don’t write unless I’m genuinely excited about something." That’s what I told Positive Feedback Editor David Robinson when he was hounding me about missing several installments of "Stu’s Place." The work load in my legal practice and the fact that I do this for love, not money, had something to do with it too, albeit a minor role. It really is true that I need a fire in my belly to get motivated to write this stuff. In the past my motivation has been great new products that deliver outstanding value for the dollar, like the Golden Tube SE-40 or the Von Schweikert VR-4s. In a few rare instances, it’s been a product that just hits a home run with me, regardless of price, like what happened when I put the Blue Circle BC-2 amplifiers in my system.

    In each case, I’ve been keenly aware of how a new piece interacts with my bow tuning (that’s system tuning, for you non-triode guild guys). I am fortunate to have many tuning options in my system, such as switchable Tice power cords and movable Highwire Power Wraps. This has allowed me to accommodate a lot of gear that on first blush I might have written off as sounding too lean, or too fat. As I’ve worked my way through too many tube amps to count, I’ve learned that the most important interface is the amplifier and the loudspeaker. In fact, I’ve gone so far as to state that any tube amp review is really a review of the amplifier and the speaker together. This interaction is so critical and powerful, that normal tuning variables don’t often make the difference — it’s either reasonably right straight off, or it’s not. Which brings me to this issue’s installment of Stu’s Place — and yes, I AM EXCITED ABOUT THIS or I wouldn’t be writing it! I’m going to share with you — no, "share" isn’t quite right — I’m going to gush and blather about the most incredible synergy of components I have personally experienced. So buckle up audio nerds: this is going to be a no holds barred rave-a-roo! If you’re at all squeamish about this sort of thing, I’d suggest you immediately re-read last months issue of Stereo-snooze or Audio-snore.

    Harmonic convergence or providential event?

    It was fate that brought the Melos HC 75 amplifiers and the Von Schweikert Research VR-8 loudspeakers to my listening room at the same time. Here’s how it went down. Over two years ago I wrote the world premier review on the VR-4 loudspeakers. About seven months after I wrote the piece, I got to meet Albert Von Schweikert face-to-face for the first time, when he and his wife Linda made a special trip to visit me. I learned that Albert was considering a relocation and expansion and that he had looked at sites in Texas and Florida. I suggested that he also consider Jefferson County, New York (where I live!), and put them in touch with a friend of mine who was then the director of the County Industrial Development Agency. The JCIDA put together a package that Albert just couldn’t say no to, and another eight months later Von Schweikert Research was right here in my backyard. Everything fell into place so easily that Albert and I both feel it was a providential occurrence.

    As I stated in my original VR-4 review, I considered Albert Von Schweikert to be a friend. At that time, he was just a telephone buddy I had never met whose designs I greatly admired. Now that he’s my neighbor we have become friends in the true sense of the word. We don’t talk shop all that much, but at least twice a month we get together for a "Cars and ‘Gars" session. Two grown men acting like the kids we really are — smoking hand rolled Hondurans and yacking about our shared passion for fast cars.

    One of the perks of having a speaker manufacturer nearby is the receipt of the occasional excited phone call — "Hey Stu, get over here, you’re not going to believe the sound of this prototype . . . !" — which inevitably draws me away from the doldrums of my legal practice and into the listening room at VR.

    Such was the case with the VR-8s. Just days before they headed off to the Winter CES, I was ogling them at the factory and getting a brief test run on the sound. I was mighty impressed, but I refused to share my thoughts with Albert until a proper evaluation could be done in my own listening room. This is the leverage I needed to actually get these beasts over to my place. I made Albert promise to bring them over when they got back from the show, and true to his word, he had four guys from the factory grunting and groaning as they wrestled the VR-8s into my listening room several weeks later.

    The circumstances surrounding the arrival of the Melos SE-75s weren’t quite as obviously providential, but are still a worthy tale. I’ll try to be brief.

    It was seven or eight years ago, I’m not quite sure, when I was introduced to Melos by Dave Carpe, a regular on The Audiophile Network (TAN) and quite possibly Melos’ biggest fan. I was using the Meitner MTR-101 monoblocks at the time with a passive Mod Squad Line Drive preamp, and was thinking that my system sounded a little lean and threadbare. After hearing all the tube talk on TAN and much about the mouthwatering midrange of the Melos gear, I decided to buy a used 115B preamp through Audiomart. It turned out to be just what the doctor ordered, ameliorating much of the threadbare quality that disturbed me. Indeed, the chest register of vocalists returned and cellos sounded like cellos again instead of violas.

    Of course being a true audio nerd, I wasn’t satisfied. I had the innate sense, like a homing pigeon, that there was better performance to be had. So when I saw Dave Carpe advertising his Melos 222C preamp for sale, I zeroed in on it immediately. Dave got me salivating by telling me that his 222C had been personally tweaked by his pal Mark Porzilli at Melos. Mark was (and is) the brains behind the Melos designs — and we’re talking major brains here. He was accessible and quite willing to talk to me about the preamp design and some of the work that he had done to it. I was sold. The 222C proved to be far more neutral and resolving than the 115B, and it held a place of honor in my system for several years.

    Last year I received a review sample of the new Melos SHA Gold preamp. It was a honey of a preamp, featuring the Porzilli Photentiometer, arguably the best volume control in the world. I got the chance to talk a little more with Mark Porzilli about his designs, but being a modest and somewhat shy individual, I came away with a feeling that I had only scratched the surface and that there was a lot more to Mark than was revealed by our brief conversations.

    During the year I had the SHA Gold in house, I was frequently contacted by Mark or his partner, Charlie Gavaris regarding the Single-Ended scene. It seems that they had heard about my "Tube-Fest" series and the many SE amps that had been through my doors, and the many more that were still in my "on deck circle." Mark was developing his own SE amp with a radical circuit and tube complement, and wanted to find someone with SE experience to give his amp an honest appraisal. Charlie had suggested that he drive up to my place, so that he could hear the competition at the same time I got a chance to check out their offering. But being a little timid about our North Country winters, he opted to have UPS brave the elements and tote the gear. The SE-75s arrived in two massive boxes the same week the VR-8s arrived.

    I was so impressed by what I heard with these amps that I was motivated to scratch below the surface and find out more about the unassuming Mark Porzilli. I was amazed by the fact that when I initially contacted him regarding the SHA Gold, Mark offered me very little about himself. I asked him if he had an electrical engineering degree, and he just said, "No, I don’t" . . .and nothing more. I was left with the impression that Mark was probably just a hobbyist who had learned a thing or two about analog circuit design.

    Little did I know that I was really dealing with the Doogie Howser of high-end audio. You see, Mark is such a humble guy that you have to bring a crowbar with you to pry out the really interesting stuff. In his innocence, he hadn’t realized that high-end audio is really a cult of personality, and that to be commercially successful he needed to stop hiding his light under a bushel. Well now, I can fix that. I’m just the guy to yank off the basket!

    Mark "Doogie" Porzilli was a child prodigy who was able to read circuit diagrams at the ripe old age of five. When he was twelve he built a fully functional X-ray machine for a science project, and by fifteen he had a college degree in physics. Mark is 39 now, and he admits to only having made real friends in his adult years. You can just imagine how difficult it must have been to relate to kids your own age struggling over erector sets while you’re putting the final touches on a machine that would have made Dr. Roentgen proud.

    When I told Mark that he was a marketing man’s dream come true, he laughed and told me that "Porzilli" sounds more like something you’d order at an Italian restaurant than the name of an audio innovator. He said, " I wish I had a name like Albert Von Schweikert. Now that’s a name with real substance." Mark had read my review of the VR-4 loudspeakers and had enjoyed my Albert Schweitzer, Albert Einstein, Albert Von Schweikert association. I went to the fount of marketing slogans, our own PF advertising sales manager Rich Brkich, and he helped me cook up something with just the right Italian flare. How about "Marconi, Vivaldi and Porzilli." Give this guy some time and the proper resources and I’ll bet he’ll make a mark on music reproduction like these other great vowel-on-the-end guys have. My guess is that the photentiometer and SE-75 is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Albert Von Schweikert and Mark Porzilli are a lot alike. They are both so brilliant in their chosen field that they get lost in it, and sometimes appear almost absent-minded in other areas. It’s the Albert Einstein phenomenon — so focused and deep in thought that you sometimes forget to tie your shoes or balance your checkbook. I gravitate towards people like this. I guess its because I too have some of these qualities — though the brilliance is debatable.

    What can I say? It’s very cool to see a small audio community begin to form right in my own neighborhood, so I’m working on getting Melos to move up here too! Mark’s got that child-like spirit and the twinkle in his eye, so I know he’ll fit right in with Albert and me, even though he drives an econo-box and doesn’t smoke cigars (yet!). Just imagine what these guys could cook up if I locked them in a room together and didn’t let them out until they’d produced something revolutionary. How about a custom tri-amped loudspeaker with digital crossovers . . . ? Hmmm . . . .the possibilities!

    Let me stop right here and ask to see a show of hands: How many of you have enjoyed the preceding section about the people behind the gear and how I came to know them? If you’re raising your hand, great! You’re my kind of audiophile, and you’re welcome to call or e-mail me any time to talk shop. If , on the other hand, you glossed over it and went right to the sections on how the gear sounded, then you may be in danger of losing your soul to audiophilia nervosa, or its vicious twin audiophilia pomposa — or maybe even (shudder!) to the great monster audiophilia assholea. ("The horror . . .the horror!")

    You see, when the editorial group here at PF speaks about community in high-end audio, we really mean it. We will always value people and our relationships above hardware —way above. That’s why this magazine and its editor has no problem whatsoever in publishing a piece where the principal reviewer — me — has a special friendship with the manufacturers. We expect this sort of thing to happen and, in fact, we encourage it. We know that a good community cannot thrive without a free and open interchange of ideas grounded in honesty. This just happens to be the same fertile soil from which life-long friendships arise. So we embrace it, openly acknowledge it and then tell it like it is — that’s our credo.

    Technical tidbits from the Boys themselves

    Since I’m a technically challenged individual, I thought it best to let Albert and Mark spoon feed me on some of the highlights of their designs. Here’s what they prepared for me, with only some minor editing on my part.


    The Melos SE-75 amplifiers
    By Mark Porzilli

    A disquieting quiet permeated the SE amplifier laden rooms of this year’s Las Vegas CES. The quiet? 10 WATT SE AMPLIFIERS! Let’s be realistic. Music is dynamic. High/low/loud/soft, etc. Otherwise it’s just noise. Test tones. Inane. Dull. Dead. One alleged "engineer" actually asserted to me that his amplifier could deliver a "really big 10 watts." Hmmmm….big watts. I had better look that one up. I don’t remember the definition of "big watts" as opposed to regular watts. Boy I’m getting old.

    At the risk of sounding pretentious, I truly believe that a well trained monkey could build a 10 watt, SE amp and throw a pretty faceplate on it. And in my opinion, unless one possesses a passion for solo piccolo, 10 watts cannot properly reproduce music.

    A speaker, any speaker, presents a rather complex demand on the output stages of an amplifier. But that’s why it makes sound. It reacts; hence it’s a reactive load. When music is delivered into a reactive load, a distorted replica of the previous driver movement is kicked back into the amplifier (electro-motive force). This "back emf" is damped out by the amplifier’s output current. The higher the current, the more thorough the elimination of the back emf and the more natural the delivery of the signal will be.

    The design goal of the SE-75 was not only the elimination of the crossover notch (as is all SE amplifiers), but retaining the extremely low impedance and high current necessary to accurately deliver music into a reactive load. This goal is accomplished via two mediums. Firstly, the choice of tube type. The deflection tubes used in the SE-75 are capable of currents on the order of 3x a 6550 or KT88. These tubes are then driven G2 triode. The linearity of G2 triode operation will quite frankly put a 300B or 845 amplifier to shame. The G2 drive affords an additional benefit of unusually low impedance and the corresponding increase in power bandwidth. Some reservations have been asserted about the ambiguities resulting from the imperfect paralleling of multiple output tubes. This problem was easily addressed through utilization of the DC currents of the "unused" G1, effecting a self- accommodating "auto matching" circuit.

    The resulting improvements in linearity, damping, bandwidth and reduction of 2d harmonic distortion produces a clear, clean purity devoid of bloat or harshness plaguing antiquated SE designs.

    [Gee, I think my chastising Mark about being too shy may have worked...I’ll call him Mark "Pit Bull" Porzilli!!]

    SE-75 Specifications

    • Power: 75 watts per channel, minimum RMS at 2, 4 or 8 ohm from 20Hz- 20kHz, with no more than 0.5% total harmonic distortion.

    • Sensitivity: 2 volt for full power

    • Small Signal Distortion: Less than .05% at midband

    • Phase: Non-inverting

    • Frequency Response: 7Hz to 55kHz +0/-3db

    • Hum and Noise: -90db below full power output

    • Input Impedance: 100K Ohms

    • Dimensions: 19x22x9 inches

    • Weight: 55lbs.

    Suggested Retail: $8,895 per pair

    Melos Audio, Inc.
    452 Lincoln Blvd.
    Middlesex, NJ 08846
    (908) 302-2552 (voice)


    Von Schweikert Research VR-8 loudspeakers
    By Albert Von Schweikert

    Frequency, phase, and transient response, including low distortion and coloration, have seemingly been perfected in modern loudspeaker design. Yet "realism," the missing ingredient, has eluded even the most ambitious and expensive systems. Initially, I thought that extreme clarity would provide this ingredient, and exotic drivers were utilized with lighter, stiffer diaphragms made from woven carbon fiber and titanium. However, although enhanced clarity did provide a better "window" to the performance, it alone did not provide this missing element.

    Several years ago I became interested in developing a speaker system of high efficiency suitable for use with very low powered amplifiers and "rediscovered" the effects of high dynamic range. As the magnet strength was increased and the diaphragms lightened further, the drivers sounded more "alive" due to the actual clarity increase combined with the effects of increased dynamics. Minute details veiled by low and medium efficiency transducers were brought out in full relief. The heightened dynamic range also resulted in a very high excitement factor.

    However, when combining several drivers which seemed to have promise, I discovered that the enclosure and crossover circuitry had to be developed in parallel with the transducers, not as an afterthought. The dissipation of low level detail by enclosure vibration and circuit absorption had a very deleterious effect on realism.

    I have termed this dissipation of low level signal information The Masking Effect, and the resulting design of the VR-8 seeks to achieve the missing realism by eliminating low level dissipation.

    A significant portion of the driver’s energy is absorbed, hence destroyed, by the medium-mass enclosures of typical high-end construction, since the moving diaphragm can either convert the energy of the electrical signal into sound waves or cabinet vibration. Dramatically increasing the enclosure’s mass has the effect of providing a non movable foundation which in turn allows very subtle diaphragm motions to be heard. The increase in low level detail adds a "breathiness" which I found very captivating and high in the realism quotient.

    Next, I did research on typical crossover circuit components and found that normally accepted dissipation in even expensive film capacitors and air cored inductors was absorbing far too much low level detail. Several months were spent testing all available capacitor types, including the most expensive aerospace units not generally available. Amazingly, the best performing units were "ancient" can-type oil filled paper units, dating back to the beginnings of radio. Not surprisingly, these are the same type of caps used in the $78,000 Audio Note Ongaku amplifier, generally accepted as a "milestone" product.

    Further research into wire and inductors led to our design of a proprietary solid core wire, featuring extremely high purity and a foamed Teflon dielectric covering. This wire permits very low level detail to be easily heard, as the reactive effects of inductance, resistance, and capacitance are minimized.

    In addition to the specially designed electrical components and wire, the actual circuit topology is of innovative design. My Acoustic Inverse Replication Tm (A.I.R.) radiation pattern is employed, since the goal of a true reference loudspeaker is to radiate the signal back into the room in the same manner as the recording microphone picked it up. In conjunction with the Global Axis Integration NetworkTm, my name for the special circuit, the A.I.R. design allows a very wide dispersion pattern to develop. Listeners can sit virtually anywhere in the room and hear excellent stereophonic imaging, even when standing in between or behind the speakers.

    The VR-8 system has been dubbed "an unlimited performance system" since every aspect of it’s design and construction has been engineered to provide the ultimate sense of realism. Musical information simply dissipated and "lost" in other systems comes alive. For instance, full bass response and wide sound stage imaging is available at whisper volume levels. The VR-8 has a sensitivity of 96dB, making it at least 3 times more efficient than most planar speakers. This efficiency gain is similar to increasing the amplifier’s power from a few watts to hundreds of watts.

    Since dynamic range is now heightened to very dramatic levels, low level detail is "magnified" and crescendos are rendered to very high volume levels without a trace of distortion or strain. Frequency bandwidth has been extended at the same time, with an available response from 16Hz to 40kHz. Coloration has been reduced to imperceptible levels, as the driver technology is at the state-of-the-art level. Woven carbon fiber fabric is employed in the twin midrange drivers, while oxidized titanium is used for the tweeter diaphragms. Each enclosure weighs close to 500 lbs due to the use of critically braced MDF from 1" to 3" thick. Recommended power is from 7 watts up to one kilowatt. Impedance is 4 ohms with very little variation. The Midrange/Treble unit is adjustable for vertical angle and is Time Aligned, providing the ultimate in depth and imaging.

    VR-8 Specifications

      • Crossover frequencies: Virtual one-way design, using full range drivers as "main" system, augmented at sub-bass and treble frequencies. The frequencies chosen, 100Hz and 3.5kHz, are well outside the ear’s most sensitive range, allowing full midrange coherency without driver overlap.

      • Bass system: 13" sub-bass and 10" midbass high efficiency, cast frame drivers using extremely stiff and lightweight paper cones, large 4" voice coils, and huge 6,000 gram magnets. Separate aperiodically vented enclosures are tuned to a sixth order Chebychev alignment which features transient response speed enhancement due to magnetic overdamping and 100% stuffing fill.

      • Midrange system: Twin 5.5" cast frame full range drivers, featuring woven carbon fiber diaphragms, edge-wound ribbon voice coils, oversized vented magnets, and Norsorex surrounds.

      • Treble system: Titanium inverse dome with dioxide damping layer, phase control plate, transmission line loading, Ferrofluid cooling, and enormous 1200 gram magnetic structure.

      • Ambience retrieval system: Rear firing mid/treble driver (same as front tweeter) with Ambience Derivation Circuit and Spatial Dimensional control for effects level.

      • Frequency response: 16 Hz (with optional filter) to 35kHz , +/-3dB. (Midrange +/-ldB).

      • Inputs: Separate pairs of metal posts for woofer, midrange-treble inputs for biamping or biwiring.

      • Sensitivity: 96dB @ 1W1M anechoic, 100dB measured in room with boundary boost.

      • Impedance: Four ohms nominal rating. High current tube or solid state amps recommended.

      • Power recommendations: Five watts minimum- 1,000 watts maximum peak input.

      • Enclosure design: Two piece stacking type, with wall thickness varying from 1" to 3" using constrained layer damping techniques and cross bracing. Tilting MIT module, Time aligned drivers.

      • Weight: 500 lbs ea.

      • Dimensions: 65" H x 18" W x 28" D.

      • Suggested Retail: $17, 800 per pair

    Von Schweikert Research, Inc.
    800 Starbuck Ave., Bldg. C.
    Watertown, NY 13601
    Phone (315) 779-8748

    So How do they sound, already?

    I’m going to talk a little bit about the individual sound characteristics of these components, but keep in mind that I’m really evaluating them as a system. Both are outstanding performers in their own right, but if you use them separately, your results may differ from mine.

    I started off using the Blue Circle BC-2 amplifiers with the VR-8s on the first day they arrived. I am much enamored with the Blue Circles and I have found them to be my personal favorites with the Von Schweikert VR-4s and 4.5s. It stood to reason that they should also perform well with the VR-8s. They did in fact sound pleasing, but it wasn’t exactly magical. I was concerned, given the height and overall size of the VR-8s, that they might not disappear as well as the 4.5s in my 14’x29x8 listening room. Much to my surprise, they did the same vanishing act as the 4.5s, but with a taller soundstage- the perspective had changed so that I looked up at the stage as if I were seated in the orchestra pit. This was not my familiar or preferred perspective, so I was a little uncomfortable with the presentation.

    I suspected that the 4 ohm nominal impedance of the VR-8s was not an optimal match for the Blue Circles. The VR-8s specifications recommend the use of high current tube or solid state amps and it was quite likely that the BC-2s did not have the juice to really make them sing.

    I should digress for a minute and let you know why this is a 4 ohm speaker when most SE fans are dying for high efficiency and high impedance. Simply stated, the design decision was based on sound quality, not SE compatibility. Early in the design phase, Albert had intended to use a single high efficiency midrange driver in the head module along with the inverted dome Focal tweeter. One highly regarded (and recommended) midrange driver was selected as the best candidate. It had superlative measurements; however, when Albert listened to it with direct mic feeds in a prototype model, he concluded that it was far inferior sonically to the Audax woven carbon fiber drivers he was using in his other speakers. So much for "foobie dust." Albert let me compare these drivers first hand at the factory, and I absolutely agree with him. The Audax sounded much more like his real voice and guitar than did the alternate driver.

    The head module design took a major turn as result of these findings. Instead of a single high efficiency midrange driver, Albert was compelled to use two of the Audax drivers to achieve the same efficiency. The sound quality went way up, but the nominal impedance went down. Fortunately, this isn’t a problem for many tube amps. The impedance plot of the VR-8s is quite level with only a small, gradual dip to three ohms. A tube amp with modest current capability and a 4 ohm tap should have no problem with it. I can attest to this, because in addition to the Melos SE-75, I had excellent results with the 28 watt Caztech SE-845s set on their 4 ohm tap.

    Digression ended. Back to the tale . . .

    The next day I hooked up the Melos SE-75s on their 4 ohm taps and was positively freaked with the results! The soundstage height was now the same as the mid-hall perspective on the 4.5s (spot on, in my opinion), with a vivid and incredibly deep panorama of performers laid out before me. It was stunning. I didn’t think I would hear much better than the 4.5s in this department, but here it was: unmistakable, undeniable. Adding to the sense of realism, was a crystalline clear, unfatiguing presentation of the most subtle of atmospheric cues. It was as if I could sense the waves of rarefied air emanating from the instruments and follow their paths as they filled the venue and careened of its walls.

    I was listening to my favorite soundstaging disc, Kallen Esperian, American Treasure, Pro Organo #CD 7047 (1-800-336-2224) and was hearing new treasures on every cut. There was more, more, MORE of everything. I was excited, REAL excited and I had to share this. I got on the phone with Albert and ordered him to "get over here NOW!….don’t wait, drop what you’re doing and get over here….you’re not going to believe this." Albert arrived about twenty minutes later and I cued up "Going Home." As the track ended and the hall sounds trailed out to what seemed like infinity, Albert turned to me and matter-of-factly stated, "that’s the most incredible sound I’ve ever heard." Our mature composure quickly melted away and we began talking rapid fire about what we were hearing, like two kids who’d saved up their allowance for months and were now playing with the neatest toy imaginable. "Wow, we’re hearing the full potential of the VR-8s here . . .Did you hear THAT?! Oh my god . . .we’ve got to get a pair of these amps for the factory . . ." We played many of our favorites including Diana Krall, All for You, and Sarah McLachlan, The Freedom Sessions for vocals; Holly Cole, Temptation, and King and Moore, Impending Bloom for Acoustic Bass; and Chesky’s Mozart, The Flute Quartets for lilting breathy flute tones and plucked strings. The more we played the wider our smiles. Half the time I was just giggling. Yep, It was that good.

    I think it was a combination of excitement and relief that touched off this reaction. Excitement over the extraordinary fidelity and holographic stage that enveloped us, and for Albert, relief that his toughest critic shared his belief that the VR-8s had surpassed all his previous work.

    Much the same experience was repeated a few weeks later when VR’s sales manager, Dave Kersh, brought over two audiophiles who had made the sojourn to the VR factory from Canada and Connecticut. Dave had entertained them that morning at the factory listening room, and called me to see if I wouldn’t mind letting them hear the VR-8s in my system. Our Connecticut guest had brought along his favorite test tracks, so I let him kick off the session with his own selections. We were all dead silent for about 45 minutes and then the superlatives started to flow –"I’ve never heard that before and I’ve played that track hundreds of times"…. "Incredible"….."the best rendering I have ever heard…." It was like Wayne and Garth on their knees chanting, "We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy!" It was particularly gratifying for me to see this reaction in others. It let me know that my own experience was not hyperbole or the result of audio incrementalism that blows the smallest of improvements way out of proportion.

    The VR-8s let through more detail and ambiance cues at the low to moderate listening levels I favor than any other loudspeaker I’ve heard. This was NOT accomplished by an exaggerated, rising top end — a cheap trick that too many high-priced, high hype loudspeakers use. No, the frequency spectrum was well balanced from whisper quiet to ear splitting crescendos. There was loads of air and startling detail without an ice pick in sight or any nails on the black board.

    The contribution of the SE-75s must be acknowledged here too. These are ultra-high resolution, ultra-low grain, ultra-smooth, ultra-holographic amplifiers. There have been a lot of amplifiers through my doors (over 25 when I stopped counting), and at least nine of them have been SE designs. Only the Blue Circles have shown this same level of grain-free, etchless (is that a word?!) detail coupled with startlingly natural soundstaging. I don’t recall any other all-tube designs achieving this level of performance.

    I am quite simply astounded by how well the SE-75s render the hall, the stage and the individual performers. I know this is an inherent quality of the amplifiers, because I listened to them on some more modest loudspeakers and all the signs were still there (VR 1000’s, the least expensive of VR’s home theater line, if you really must know). You pair these babies up to soundstaging champions like the VR-8s, and you’ll be getting that hair standing up on the back of your neck. You’ll probably be standing up too, like I did on several occasions, to applaud along with the crowd.

    About This Soundstaging And Imaging Thing...

    Given the grief that many of us soundstaging, imaging aficionados have taken of late, I was pleased to learn that these are characteristics that both Mark Porzilli and Albert Von Schweikert hold dear. It’s really no surprise when you listen to their respective products. But what IS surprising is that both of these guys have the same sense of what constitutes natural imaging and soundstaging as I do. I’m going to digress again, but this is really too important for me to pass up, so please bear with me.

    I see two very different schools of thought or experience that have developed in this area of imaging/soundstaging. Well actually three, but the third school is the one that discredits imaging/soundstaging almost entirely as some cheap simple-minded affectation that has little, if anything, to do with our musical experience. That school, led by a few high-brow stuffed shirts, is so foreign to me that I’m not going to deal with it at all. In my opinion, the two schools that merit discussion are the ones that do think that imaging and soundstaging are an important part of music enjoyment. I call these two the "Natural" school and the "Surreal" school. I guess my labeling shows my bias already.

    The Surreal school is populated by far more audiophiles than the natural school. A sad, but I think explainable situation.

    The Surreal group exalts what I believe to be a form of imaging and soundstaging that does not exist in nature. It is a mutation that has arisen only from the toxic amalgam of the typical hi-fi system in the typical listening room environment. It is imaging that many of us "naturals" call "cardboard cutouts" — the kind of presence on the stage that is flattened and has an almost distinct edge, where the soundfield of the instrument or vocalist abruptly ends and the black backdrop begins. You can often tell that a reviewer is a surrealist when he extols the virtues of images appearing out of nothingness, or an absolute black void, or when they write something to the effect of — "the images were so sharp I could practically cut my finger on them..." The surrealist’s stage is a group of these cutouts all lined up on a black felt backdrop. The staging prowess of the system is measured by how many cutouts you can count from left to right and from front to rear.

    Now, I ask you, when was the last time you were at a live performance of a chamber ensemble, orchestra or choir and got the sense that the performers were hanging in a black void, or titillated yourself by closing your eyes and counting how many distinct voices you could identify on two axes. Those of us who do experience a good deal of live acoustic music know that there is no black void. The space around and between the performers is rife with lower level sound I like to call ambiance cues. A lot of this may be secondary, tertiary or even quatranary reflections of original sound sources. In terms of left to right and front to back differentiation, us naturals know that the direct radiated sound from performers expands outward spherically and overlaps those of adjacent performers. If the pockets of sound are too separate and distinct, missing the overlap, it is disturbing and unnatural.

    A naturalist reviewer will likely talk more of the "spherical’ or "cylindrical" qualities of the images and about a sense of the space or atmosphere of the hall. The images they admire are still solid and palpable at their centers. They’re just not hard edged.

    Since I’m on a roll, I’ll venture a few more generalities to stir the pot.

    Not being grounded in the live music experience, surrealists tend to gravitate towards the flashy, hi-fi spectacular qualities of their systems and that usually means exaggerated bass response, hyper detail from rising treble response and bloody fingered, ultra-sharp edged imaging. The stereotypical surrealist system will consist of a push-pull solid state amplifier with a healthy amount of feedback driving a non-time and phase correct, limited dispersion loudspeaker. I believe that these types of systems mask, erase, or obscure much of the ambient cues that appear around and between the performers.

    The stereotypical naturalist’s system will consist of a low or zero feedback tube amplifier, that may be an SE design, driving a time and phase correct broad dispersion loudspeaker. These systems excel in preserving or perhaps enhancing the ambiance cues. I include "enhance" because I have no way of knowing whether these naturalist systems are actually letting through more of this information or whether it is some form of distortion or artifact that I think is real ambiance information. It is sort of like the argument that some digitalphiles use against analog lovers — that turntables and cartridges introduce a form of white noise distortion that for the analog lover makes music reproduction sound more natural. Regardless of the cause, I believe that the naturalist systems sound far more, well..."natural" than do the surrealist systems.

    If I were to establish a benchmark for a naturalist system, at this point in my journey it would have to be the Melos SE-75/Von Schweikert VR-8 combination.

    I know some reviewers who have surrealist systems, and I don’t give any weight at all to their opinions on amplifiers and loudspeakers, because I know that generally what they like, I don’t. I’m not disappointed or hurt when one of my reviews is followed by one of theirs and SURPRISE, they criticize a product that I praised to the sky.

    One such reviewer and friend of PF is Martin DeWulf, publisher of Bound for Sound. In the March issue of his mag, he states: ".....if you are in any way conversant with real music played in actual acoustic space, an SE based system sounds little like it — though I’d be hard pressed not to acknowledge that in some ways it can sound musical and pleasant to the ears. But the constantly overlying sonic signature that one hears with SE gear gets tiresome real fast. Again, it’s all right to desire SE, as long as we don’t delude ourselves into thinking that the road to absolute transparency lies that way."

    Amazing, isn’t it? Two reviewers whose viewpoints couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. But are they really? Viewpoints are drawn from an individual’s limited set of experiences. I don’t know what SE amps, other than the Blue Circles, Marty has listened to, and I don’t know what loudspeakers he used (absolutely critical, in my opinion), the acoustics of his room, or his music preferences. What he heard in his listening room may well have sounded dull, lifeless, rolled off and bass bloated. All that I can say with any kind of authority is that in my room, with my associated equipment and listening to my music, the performance of several SE amps and most notably the Blue Circles BC-2s and Melos SE-75s sounded nothing like the above. I do find it interesting, however, that Marty doesn’t seem to concentrate as much as I do on the differences in imaging/soundstaging characteristics. His focus seems to be more on frequency response and dynamics.

    The moral to this story is that wildly different opinions exist amongst those who review the hardware and readers should never, and I mean NEVER, rely on reviewers to make their purchasing decisions for them. I can’t take off my Stu-colored glasses to make absolute, universal audio proclamations. I can only offer my opinions based on my own limited set of experiences. Those experiences may well include unique, unreproducible circumstances and may even be.....gasp....affected by the friends I keep. You just never know.

    I’d better bring this back home... and what better way then to simply say that Mark Porzilli and Albert Von Schweikert are both hard core naturalists. These products are so uncolored and distortion free, that thier awesome soundstaging characteristics stand out all the more.

    I had Greg Siriani, a world class operatic tenor and audiophile, over for a listening session a few weeks ago. I played for him Kallen Esperian, American Treasure and Telarc’s Divine Sopranos expecting him to comment on the tonal qualities of the vocalists, since he had sung on stage with most of them. Much to my surprise, Greg’s comments focused almost exclusively on how much my room sounded like he was sitting in the hall during rehearsal. On further questioning, he acknowledged that he had heard some systems that got the voices right, but rarely, if ever, had he heard the entire hall rendered so accurately.

    I see a logical progression in the Von Schweikert line. The standard VR-4s are excellent speakers in their own right, but are the most forgiving of the VR-4, 4.5 and 8 series (I’ve left out the VR-6s purposely because I haven’t had them in my room yet). The 4.5s have greater mid-bass punch and low bass definition as well as a finer resolution from the midrange on up. I really didn’t think it could get much better than the 4.5s, but the 8s are definitely a step further on the continuum to the real thing. As is so often the case with this maddening hobby, you don’t understand, appreciate or even conceive of what is better until you actually hear it first hand.

    The level of resolution of the VR-8s make them the least forgiving of the lot. But the time taken to tune and refine the rest of the system reaps from them greatest rewards. The VR-8s are capable of prodigious, tactile bass if mated with the right amplifier and fortunately, the SE-75s were up to the task — taut, but not too dry, and no confusing a bass drum for a de-tuned tympani. I think the outstanding bass performance of the SE-75s is attributable to its high current capability and its low output impedance. I didn’t get the specs from Mark on this, but I’m told that the output impedance of these amps is lower than typical tube amplifiers, and several orders of magnitude less than typical SE tube amps. Nothing is more frustrating than an amp that has a gorgeous midrange and a silky smooth top-end, but no bass control. This is often the case with SE tube amps driving anything less than huge 16 ohm 100+ dB/Watt/meter horn-loaded speakers. Not so with the SE-75s. This is excellent bass performance for any type of amplifier, but for an SE tube amp, its unheard of! A few of the tubed SE amplifiers I’ve had here have had decent to good bass: these include the Manley SE/PP 300B, the BAT VK-60’s (quasi single-ended), the Cary SE301, the Golden Tube SE-40 and 300B. But so far only the hybrid Blue Circle BC-2 and the solid state Pass Aleph 2 have had the kind of bass control exhibited by the all tube SE-75.

    The midrange performance of the VR-8s is quite similar in character to the 4.5s. No surprise here, since the VR-8 uses two of the same Audax woven carbon fiber drivers used in the 4.5. Yet the VR-8s convey significantly more information at low to moderate listening levels and are a notch above the 4.5s in overall resolution and transparency. I would attribute these affects to the higher efficiency of the VR-8s and the massive build quality and isolation of 8’s mid/treble enclosure.

    The treble is another story. The VR-8s inverted dome Focal tweeters are far superior to the modified Vifas used in the 4 series. The top end sounds that much more extended an airy on the 8s....and OH, that effortless detail! I played one of my favorite tracks for top-end detail — the "Glass Hall" (track 3) on Andreas Vollenweider’s White Winds and Whoah!....those glass gongs and bells filled the room with crystalline shards. For the first time I was absolutely certain I was hearing rung glass and not tiny metallic triangles. Massed strings had the right air and sweetness too. New life was breathed into my not so old war horse Corelli, Concerti Grossi, by McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (harmonia mundi). I actually sat transfixed for a full hour as if I were soaking in a brand new performance.

    Integration of drivers is often an issue on very tall loudspeakers. I’m happy to report that, despite the nearly six foot height of the VR-8s, and in spite of the fact that I was sitting a mere seven feet back, you can’t distinguish the driver source. This is one of the hallmarks of a Von Schweikert loudspeaker. You can stand up and walk around and you won’t notice any appreciable timbral shifts. The same goes with the soundstage — it stays put, even when you don’t. I’d call it a tie with the 4.5s for these characteristics.

    The Melos SE-75s are the perfect match for the midrange and top end performance of the VR-8s. These amps will not obscure any of the speakers’ clarity. They have outstanding bandwidth and are utterly devoid of inherent glare, harshness or etch. They breath almost organically with the music — the right amount of air, body and sweetness. Never bloated, carmelly or sappy-sweet. All that I have said about the sound of the VR-8s is equally attributable to this magnificent amplifier.

    I hoped that I wouldn’t soon get used to this new level of airy detail and ambiance retrieval — it was just too damn fun! I only have about a hundred disks that I truly consider to be my time tested favorites. At the rate I was burning through them in the first week with the VR-8s and SE-75s, I thought I’d be done before the month was out...and I nearly was on that angst-filled day when the boys from the VR factory arrived to take the 8’s away (sniff, sob...!).

    As I mentioned previously, the VR-8s are the least forgiving of the VR speaker lineup. This level of clarity, extension and detail should not to be squandered in a half-assed system. Same goes with the SE-75s. You could definitely get them to sound harsh, if your front-end or source material sound that way. Fact is, if you want everything to sound milk toast pleasing, you’re not going to want to own the VR-8s. There are a number of polypropelene-midranged, fabric-domed-tweetered "homogenizers" that I could recommend for this. The problem is, if you go the "always pleasing" route, you will never experience the sublime. Play a world class recording like Kallen Esparian’s American Treasure on a system like the one currently on loan to me and you’ll KNOW what sublime is. If you don’t cry or shout for joy, you’d better back off on the Prozac.


    The Melos SE-75s and Von Schweikert Research VR-8s are milestone products by two of the most brilliant and original thinkers in high-end audio. I have come to expect great things from them and, once more, they have exceeded my expectations. I have to thank them for getting me excited enough to get over my writers’ block.

    I’m cleaning house to make room physically and financially to own both of these products for my reference system. The synergy is so incredible that I don’t think I could bear to be without either of them. If you’re a naturalist like me, Mark, and Albert, you’ll go nuts over this system and probably find some way — devious or divine — to own them. You have been warned . . . .
    And how’s that for a Rave-a-Roo?!

    Stu’s current system

    Modified CEC TL-2 atop Black Diamond shelf and cones on a Bright Star big foot; Audient Technologies Tactic on transport output; Audio alchemy DTI-Pro 32 with latest chip; Audient Technologies Audit; Melos MAX-3 DAC ; Audient Technologies Datrix Reference digital cables (all BNC connections); Reference Line Preeminence III passive preamp; Tice Power Block III; Tice power cords; Dragon Tail power cords; Tice IC-1 interconnects; Tice 416 speaker cables; Highwire Power Wraps; Yamamura sleeves; Shakti stones; Black Diamond Cones; Audio Prism Black Light.


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