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VanL Speakerworks Silhouette speaker Review

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The Schroeder Method and impact on bass performance

In my current round of exploration of audio systems I have been developing an idea I had that I named the Schroeder Method of Interconnect Placement. This is simply utilizing two conjoined interconnects in the place of one. Whereas a pair would normally be used, I am exploring use of double interconnects. You can read all about this at my Audio Blast: The Schroeder Method of Interconnect Placement. At this time, the Schroeder Method is an experimental configuration, is a “do at your own risk” activity, and is not to be used with all amplifiers, Class D amps being excluded currently.

It is not an apples-to-apples comparison to discuss the bass output of the Silhouette with the Schroeder Method of interconnects versus a Vandersteen speaker. But, who cares? The difference between the costs of the aforementioned Vandersteen speakers compared to the MSRP of the Silhouette ranges from $4,500 to $10,700. If I give the Silhouette a bit of a low frequency advantage, among other benefits due to the Schroeder Method, a convincing imitation of the low end of a Vandy can be produced, including the classic Vandy plumpness.

Now, this LF is not unlimited at any playback level. The wooden cone driver does reach its limits and begins to break up at what many would consider approaching a live playback level. Heavy LF, that is well under 20Hz, is not very agreeable with the Silhouette at higher listening levels. Kandace Springs opines that she, “Don’t Need the Real Thing,” and with the massive LF bursts of the song the bass of the Silhouette falls apart at elevated levels. With heavy electronic music and hotly recorded artists, such as Trombone Shorty, a light touch on the volume control is necessary.

Coldplay’s A Head Full of Dreams likewise reveals the smallish bass/mid driver to chuff as it strains. With the Counting Crows’ “Big Yellow Taxi” at higher level the bass port’s contribution is obvious and lingers a touch too long. Then again, I am used to dipole and panel speakers as well, so boxy bass always seems relatively sluggish to me.

Take special note of the antidote offered now; aside from the strain at high listening levels, these songs were rendered superbly. Top to bottom the Silhouette fleshes out so much beauty that it was hard to accept that this was coming from a 3’ tall, $3,900 speaker! Like a fruit that has ripened to perfection, the sweetness of the wooden driver ripens vocals to perfection. Frankly, the other speaker that I have used carrying that combination of ripeness and freedom from stridency is the Legacy V Speaker System which uses a combination of dual 6” midrange and dual 14” mid-bass drivers.  I have never heard in my room to such a degree that characteristic ease from a single, smallish mid/bass driver previously.

You simply cannot have both with this speaker – you can’t have your unlimited level LF playback and the rose petal soft midrange. You must go light on level or LF, or don’t buy this speaker.

This is a genteel speaker, not a workhorse. Still, for its form factor, the rated 30Hz +/- 3dB is quite respectable. The speaker has a rated 4-Ohm resistance and sensitivity is 89 dB. You will get softer, less distinct bass if you pair this speaker with a lower power, lower current amplifier. For many that is not sacrificing anything because they are mostly concerned about tonality and warmth. This speaker can do those things exceptionally well.

That, however, is the only big caveat of the Silhouette. As a genteel speaker its voicing is delicious. I was taken aback at how thoroughly the Silhouette convinced that it was an elitist product. I normally do not like small towers, but I really like this one! No doubt the minimalist crossover, consisting of one resistor and one cap on the tweeter, is part of the appeal. John indicates that it is a unique series x-over that is very phase coherent. Also drawing my praise is the ultra low slope filter for the soft dome tweeter. Rising at only 3dB per octave, the tweeter is utterly indistinguishable from the wooden mid-bass driver. The resultant coherence both in terms of driver sets and the images on the soundstage is exemplary.

A surprise to me was my acceptance of the sound even though the speaker is short. Normally I chafe at the dwarfed scale of the presentation as offered by smallish towers, but in this case I had no impulse to jack up the front end and tilt the baffle backwards to elevate the soundstage. Even with the PureAudioProject Trio15 Voxativ I felt compelled to raise the front end using rubber hockey pucks to get the most out of the drivers. Do that to the Silhouette? No, sir! It’s just fine!

 

Ambient Recovery Circuit

John has worked into the speaker a twist, an “Ambient Recovery” circuit. It involves a second voice coil on the wooden driver, and several options of placement of a single wire strung between an upper set of speaker binding posts (either of the pairs of posts works) on the backs of the speakers. The Silhouette is not bi-wirable. The uppermost posts are solely for alternative placements of the Ambient Recovery circuit wiring. Connections of this circuit are as follows:

Black to Black (upper posts): Low Ambient Recovery; 8 Ohm in series, reducing the current to the second voice coil.

Black to Red (upper posts): Mid Ambient Recovery; 4 Ohm in series.

Red to Red (upper posts): High Ambient Recovery; 0 Ohm. Amp “sees” the impedance of the primary circuit.

 

The speaker needs identification of these sets of posts on the back, and VanL Speakerworks would do well to add that post haste. To that end an Owner’s Manual, even if simply but thoroughly done like Dave Belles did for the Belles ARIA Preamplifier and ARIA Mono Amplifiers reviewed, is preferred.

Owners can look to the VanL Speakerworks website for guidance. The website discusses, “We use dual voice coil drivers and an additional connection between the speakers to pass the differential information between the two speakers.” In use this floats the bass more, in a way disassociating it from the propagation point of the driver. One gets the sense that an additional driver has been added to the rear of the speaker, that a dipole element is in use.

This strikes me as a concession move on the part of VanL Speakerworks to compete with larger, home theater oriented speakers, and in that application it is effective. It does not further refine the low end but aggrandizes it and smears it slightly. That word choice is not a smear on the speaker, for it is stunningly fine. It is an accurate description of the widening of the bass perceptually, similar to how the artist of an acrylic painting might concentrate blobs of paint, or spread them with a tool to create an expansion of the color.

This feature can be adjusted several ways, offering a quick means of setting up the speaker for HT use, or offering a bit more nebulous low end for those who prefer a less clinically accurate bass response. In this mode I was reminded even more of the Vandersteen house sound. When I used the 1B and the 2CE years ago I felt the bass was a bit too wooly to be acceptable longer term. I have many times thought of a rerun with those speakers with more capable electronics. Here, the amount of wooliness was adjustable, or defeat-able if desired. The Vandersteen speakers never could be rid of their wooliness, but the Silhouette can by simply pulling a wire from two posts.

Good thing, too, as I strongly prefer these speakers without any differential information passing between them, with the Ambient Recovery circuit defeated. My little trick of doubling (paralleling) the speaker cables was more powerful and more beneficial to the speaker for my purposes. Yet more decisive was employing the Schroeder Method of interconnects. These moves elicited the maximum performance from the time aligned quasi-transmission line cabinet.

When I listen to Marcus Miller play bass I want every snap of the string to twitch my ears. I want the infrasonic vibrations to be heard. There will be no splaying of notes when I do bass. I’m completely jaded in that respect. So, when the Ambient Recovery settings do various degrees of added expansion similar to an effects setting on an electric guitar, it is not my cup of tea. I presume it will be many persons’ cup of tea. The speaker is superior run straight up in my world. But if I had it performing HT duties, especially without a subwoofer, I might think differently.

Thankfully, the Silhouette is such a raging value in terms of performance to the price that one can dispense altogether with use of the ambience recovery circuit and still feel they got the speaker for a steal. The owners who are fuming at this assessment can take assurance that the speaker sells itself based on straight up sound sans the Ambient Recovery. If someone wants to implement it, they can consider it a bonus feature, and a finely implemented one at that.

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