Vandersteen – An American Audio Legend

There is nothing quite like the surge that runs through your body when the music moves you. Concertgoers know it well.  However, only select audio companies can reproduce the live experience. In the world of audio loudspeakers, Vandersteen Audio is one of the few.

 

Vandersteen Model 7 MKII speakers with M7-HPA 600W Amplifiers

Vandersteen Model 7 MKII speakers with M7-HPA 600W Amplifiers

 

Disrupting the Loudspeaker Industry

Back in the 70s, loudspeakers were boxed into generalized sound types. That is, West Coast (for hard rock, with ported bass) or East Coast (for classical/soft rock, with smoother mids and highs).  Either way, there wasn't much complexity to the reproduction.

 

West Coast sound was like a guy playing a trumpet with the bell stuck in your ear. East Coast sound was like a guy 2 blocks away playing a trumpet with a towel over the bell. Neither was very good.  -Tom Brennan

 

Nowadays, every audiophile is familiar with the sound glossary.  Toss around sonic descriptors (read: audiophile tasting notes) and you'll commune seamlessly at any audio show.

Soundstaging.  Imaging.  Dimensionality.  Attack.  Micro and macro-dynamics, and so on. Back in the day, the master tape may have contained these sonic elements, but they weren't yet part of the audiophile lexicon.  Because they weren't yet part of the home listener experience.

That is, until the Vandersteen Model 2 loudspeaker was introduced in 1977, at the forefront of a new era in audio reproduction.

 

Vandersteen Model 2Ce (Starting at $2700/pair)

Vandersteen Model 2Ce (Starting at $2700/pair)

 

The loudspeaker drivers were time and phase-aligned, which was a brand new concept at the time, This enabled the entire range of audio frequencies to blend seamlessly.

In addition, by foregoing the use of baffles, Vandersteen aimed to isolate the sound-producing components within the speaker from the physical support structures that can interfere with the delivery of the music.  And thus, the same mantra continues to this day.

 

Everything we do at Vandersteen Audio revolves around one simple precept… serve the source. In the case of loudspeakers this means faithfully preserving the waveform produced by the power amplifier.

 

The People are the Product

Vandersteen Audio has been manufacturing loudspeakers in the same Hanford, CA location for nearly 40 years.

In the heart of California farm country, the town center, with its wooden carousel and bustling ice cream parlor both nearing 100 years, absolutely spells history.  Family. Solidity.

Add to these traits a brilliant curiosity, and you get Vandersteen.  Both the man and the products that carry his name are an inspiring balance of tradition-forward.

 

Vandersteen Audio Loudspeakers in Progress

 

Case in point, Vandersteen's hand-built M7-HPA Amplifier.  The liquid-cooled amplifier features a hybrid circuit with a twin-tube input stage and all of five parts in the signal path.

 

Vandersteen M7-HPA (Starting at $57,200/pair)

Vandersteen M7-HPA (Starting at $57,200/pair)

 

The 600-watt mono blocks are built by Richard himself.  The high-pass (above 100Hz) filtered output drives only the upper frequencies--relieving bass duty--pairing perfectly with either the Vandersteen flagship Model 7 or the Model 5A Carbon, as both have an internal powered subwoofer.

 

The multiple-time winner of "Best of Show", the M7-HPA amplifier exemplifies the Vandersteen mantra: get out of the way of the music.

"With an LP of Diana Krall singing Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, so powerfully physical was the presence of the singer in the room." - John Atkinson, Stereophile

 

This same faithfulness to the pure audio signal led Vandersteen to perhaps his greatest discovery yet: carbon speaker drivers.

 

VANDERSTEEN AUDIO carbon fiber speaker driver

Perfect Piston™ Drivers

Many loudspeaker systems are designed to operate pistonically.  In simple terms, this means the activated speaker cone moves forward and back like a piston.

If perfectly pistonic, the entire surface of the loudspeaker cones will move in sync with the voice coil attached to the center of the drivers. However, due to variations in materials, the surface of the driver may not move in unison, resulting in an out-of-phase transmission, and gaps in the frequencies.

This illuminating clip demonstrates fluctuations in loudspeaker driver surface behavior at various frequencies.

 

 

Vandersteen's Perfect Piston™ Drivers are the result of a decade of developing an optimal material for a true pistonic driver.  That is, carbon fiber bonded to high-density balsa wood, a/k/a their "secret sauce".

 

VANDERSTEEN AUDIO carbon fiber speaker driver

 

Vandersteen produces the carbon fiber in house.  The sections of carbon fiber are then cut and molded into pie-like pieces, with the direction of fiber grains alternated for added strength.  They are then bonded to a rare grade of balsa.  The result is a cone with a surface strength that eliminates sonic smearing.

 

VANDERSTEEN AUDIO carbon fiber speaker driver

 

 

In the Vandersteen models 5A Carbon and Seven MK II, all of the drivers are constructed of carbon.  A carbon tweeter cone is also found in both the Quatro Wood CT and Treo CT loudspeakers.

 

Hearing is Believing

Audophiles know from experience that no matter how complex or costly an audio system is, it's no guarantee that it will sound great.  As they are known to say, "trust your ears". 

No surprise here, as a listening session at Richard Vandersteen's home proves ever so gratifying.

 

VANDERSTEEN AUDIO Bob Dylan Records

 

First, a bit of clarification for the uninitiated.  

Audiophiles broadly fall into two distinct types of listener categories: Sound or Music.

Sound-driven audiophiles can freely spend half a day repeating the same 14 seconds from a overly-breathy cover of "Fever", while micro-dissecting the sonic characteristics of the playback.  Endless component swaps often lead to an all-night shell game of recapturing one's reference point inside a delirious haze of audiophilia nervosa.  (Insert scream here)

Others simply listen for the music. When they lose themselves in it, they stop messing with the gear and call it good.

High-end speaker designers must necessarily be versed in both in order to transform the electronics into a personal connection with the music.  In other words, they can deliver both the goal and the experience.

"I only get emotional over my wife and music," Richard says. This is precisely what comes through when listening to a Vandersteen system.

Whether it's Simon & Garfunkel's "The Concert in Central Park", or Mingus's "Ah Um", the Vandersteen loudspeakers literally disappear in the room, and the listener right along with them.  The soundstage is lifelike, to the point that the voices in the Central Park crowd take on faces. 

It's just pure music, and the sense of being cocooned inside of it.  

 

As an extraordinary maestro of the emotional audio experience for over 40 years, Vandersteen delivers again and again.

 

VANDERSTEEN AUDIO - Richard Vandersteen with model 7 MkII

 

And as if 100,000 Model 2s sold and a global dealer network weren't enough to affirm the future of Vandersteen Audio, Richard points to a photo of his four grown children above the mantel.  

"We're good," he says.  "They all work at Vandersteen".

Tradition-forward indeed.

 

To Contact/Order:

Vandersteen Audio
Vandersteen Audio on Facebook

116 West Fourth St.
Hanford, CA 93230
(559) 582 0324

3 Comments

  1. Dana Holmes on October 3, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Great article and great speakers!!

  2. John Rutan on October 5, 2017 at 7:44 am

    In the world of choices for over 25 years being a North Eastern USA Audio Specialty shop owner
    Vandersteen has been our go-to brand as it not only offers pride in ownership, delivers the music’s emotional response and up to the minute technology. Supporting made in USA businesses, in my opinion, is important for delivering genuine performance.
    JohnnyR
    .

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