Publisher Profile

A Visit to Von Schweikert Audio retailer Sounds of Excellence, West Covina, California

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Albert von Schweikert must have one of the longest and longstanding learning curves since his days at Caltech decades ago. I am suspecting this not because I have been his classmates at Caltech, or the fact that he has produced many avant-garde, highly regarded loudspeaker designs since the 80s under the company of his namesake and is continuing to do so, or even the fact that he is one of the very few loudspeaker designers with 33 years of engineering experience and enough course credits to earn a doctorate in Physics. Albert’s constant quest for knowledge has him currently working towards a Psychology degree with emphasis in psychoacoustics, since he believes that the next breakthrough in sound will come from developments based on the human hearing process. I have spoken with Albert many times, each dialog infused with insights instilled from an incredibly fertile mind of massive engineering knowledge, and yet none of the inspiring conversations had ever prepared me for a day-long meeting with him in his showroom at The Sounds of Excellence, West Covina, California. We all meet him at shows, but you have never truly encountered the man in his element until you meet him on his ground.

(from left to right, LEFT CHANNELS ONLY): Unifield 3 (2 pairs), VR-9SE, Unifield 3 again, VR-4 SR Mk3 (2 pairs), VR-4 JR

The Von Schweikert showroom is manned by Manny Aguilar, a retired millionaire in his own right who constructed a spacious, beautiful soundroom to showcase the Von Schweikert speakers. I had the good fortune of meeting both Albert and Manny in this soundroom earlier this year, and the partnership is as complimentary as it gets: Albert fully concentrating in his design work with Manny handling the retail storefront. That day in the soundroom, four pairs of Von Schweikert speakers were on display: the VR-9SE ($90,000 per pair), the VR-5 Anniversary ($26,000 per pair), the VR-4 SR Mk3 ($14,000 per pair) and the Unifield 3 ($15,000 per pair). Electronics in use included the Classé CDT-1 and DAC1 system, the MBL 5011 preamplifier ($10,500) and the Spectron Musician 3 stereo power amplifier ($8,700).

The Unifield 3, though a 3-driver design, is a single-driver conception using a full-range custom Fostex main driver situated between the ribbon tweeter and the 7-inch subwoofer in the bottom cabinet. Traversing a range of 85 to 15kHz, the main driver was complimented by the tweeter for top-end extension and by the 7-inch magnesium-coned woofer for the bottom-end. The Unifield 3, though driven by electronics I was not familiar with, reenacted some of the most resolving and meticulous soundstaging and instrument separation I’ve heard in recent memory. The resolution of this model was such, that Albert said he detected distortion in the high-frequency modulation in one of my demo discs. I know it, but I’ve grown to accept it primarily because it was one of the most cherished pieces in my collection. Those were music with special meaning to me, and I would love them however they were played. Although I brought those discs with me with the intention to enjoy them through Albert’s loudspeakers, I did hear manifestation of imperfection through the U3 as well. The two lessons I learned here are: 1) a resetting of my hearing always takes place when I listen to my own discs via a different system; 2) always remember to bring the best-sounding discs when you are doing demo on a pair of the Von Schweikerts. Note: Though designed with smaller rooms in mind, the Unifield 3’s ability to play extremely loud without compression and cone break-up would give audiophiles with a larger room another highly qualifying and viable option in loudspeaker purchases.

Music with potent bottom-end information was reproduced with such force via the 7-inch magnesium subwoofer as if there was somehow a 15-inch woofer fitted into the diminutive cabinet, and yet with such speed as if it was actually a pair of small-diameter woofers pressuring the room. I was completely overwhelmed by the Unifield 3: what top-end openness, what full-bodied midrange, and such solid, powerful and rich bottom-end. I was completely overcome by the Unifield 3, and it wasn’t even driven by my Pass Labs XA100.5 monoblocks.

By creating the Unifield 3, Albert has done the audiophile community a great service. For the countless of readers out there who are ready to spend $10k+ on a pair of “final” loudspeakers but don’t have the room, the Unifield 3 is perfect.

That was a 3-hour listening session, one overly indulgent on my part. Albert and Manny had urged me to move on to the other speakers, but I did not come prepared for how superlative the Unifield 3 was at $15k the pair, although the $26k VR-5 Anniversary they had also put inplace for my auditioning had been standing behind the Unifield all along. And what an experience that was, too.

The VR5 Anniversary painted a much denser sonic landscape, endowing instruments with a deeper character, thus even more apt than the Unifield 3 in communicating the emotions of the instrumentalists and the venue itself. Compared to the U3, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 sounded more expansive and involving via the VR-5 A. If you are familiar with how a maestro pianist can make the 2nd Movement steal into your heart, the VR-5 A also excelled at conquering the listener this way. The partial secret to the experience might also have to do with the elevated soundstage as accorded by the taller cabinet, which placed the VR-5 A’s midrange slightly above the ear level. In addition, the VR5 A’s dynamic capabilities were so seamlessly executed in the context of the overall system performance that it would require certain analytical effort to single it out, thus spoiling the enjoyment.

The VR-5 Anniversary was in the beautiful African Hazelwood standard finish, and per Albert, the cost of drivers alone in the VR-5 A was already four times that in the U3. The crossover parts cost another 10 times over that of the U3. In cone area, the VR-5 A has 3 times of that than the U3. In retrospect, the one U3 woofer cost more than the two woofers in the VR-4 SR, and the VR4SR already was very well-received by the audio press. It did seem that the buck would go a long way with Von Schweikert products.

No, I wasn’t as overwhelmed by the VR-5 Anniversary as the Unifield 3, but that was because I spent more time on the U3, and the first impression is always the most predominant. It also might have to do with the fact that there was the $90k VR-9SE which I must also hear before departure.

VR-9SE. A pair of semi-active speakers with its 15-inch sealed, rear-firing subwoofer running on built-in ICEPower amplification, two 9-inch magnesium midbass drivers, one 7-inch Aerogel midrange, one 1.5-inch dual-concentric ring Revelator tweeter and one 5-inch aluminum pure ribbon super tweeter. Sheer exoticism, blatantly unique, fundamentally brilliant. –

The VR-9SE struck me as possessing the most spacious bottom-end I’ve experienced in memory. The level of ambience detail and tonal subtlety embedded in the recording was retrieved at the most superlative extent by the VR-9SE. For the first time, also, the VR-9SE seemed to have created a soundstage so big that even with the 100+ member orchestra was playing at full force, there was still room plenty to spare. Unbelievable.

My time was cut short partly because of my enthusiasm in the company’s more affordable Unifield 3, and partly because of the impossibly long listening sessions I consistently undertook. But that is also due to the very high caliber of the speakers. We can never look long enough at a pretty woman, so was I as helpless in listening to the Von Schweikerts. Good news is, Albert and Manny will fly me down to Southern California again soon for a more extended audition at the VR-9SE, as well as on a new pair of loudspeakers soon to be released. This time, the digital front-end has been upgraded to the latest Wadia, and a pair of the Pass Labs XA100.5 monoblocks has been installed. Stay tuned.

The Sounds of Excellence audio store is in West Covina, California, close to the Ontario, California Airport (ONT). Call Manny Aguilar at (626) 919-5453 to schedule an appointment. Manny will pay for your plane fare and will host you for one to two days at his expense. Highly recommended if you have no Von Schweikert dealer in your area. www.thesoundsofexcellence.com.

Manny and yours truly

Further reading:

Gary Lea Interviews Albert Von Schweikert

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