Mining For A Heart Of Gold With Vandersteen And Audio Research

OK, before reading any further you should know that I’ve purchased and used Vandersteen audio loudspeakers as a reference for the last several years, and that I’ve had many intimate and extremely satisfying experiences with Audio Research’s gear as well. So, when I rolled over to the Vandersteen-ARC-Kubala-Sosna room at the CEDIA off-shoot T.H.E. Show, these people were preaching to the already converted to be sure!

Still, the sound I heard in this room on some great music video material was simply phenomenal, and easily the best thing I’ve heard in Denver this week. Organized around a Pioneer Elite plasma TV were Vandersteen’s Quatro loudspeakers ($7K/pr.) with a VCC-5 Reference center speaker ($1,995/ea.) and VSM-1Signature surrounds ($1,795/pr.) connected to 2Wq subwoofers ($1,295/ea.). An Esoteric UX-1 universal disc player with built-in decoding was the source feeding an ARC MP1 six-channel analog preamp ($6,995) and powered by ARC’s 150M seven-channel amp ($9,795) based on Tri-Path switching modules. The entire system was wired with Kubala-Sosna cables and power delivery components from Richard Gray’s Power Company were employed to cope with the dodgy power at the Denver Athletic Club’s facilities (I know, there’s no weirder place for a high-end audio trade show than an athletic club, but it worked).

Before describing the sound I should note that this system, tucked neatly in an admittedly large room, actually disappeared into the dcor far enough to border on being a lifestyle system, especially for one based on a floorstanding loudspeaker with built-in powered subs! It looked downright elegant in the largely wood paneled room at the DAC.

While live concert video material of Keb Mo and Solomon Burke from Lightning in a Bottle and Boz Scaggs’ Greatest Hits Live looked and sounded great, and certainly contained awe inspiring performances, it was the clips of the Neil Young concert movie Heart of Gold that lit my heart on fire and gave me goose bumps at the same time. (Heart of Gold was directed by Jonathan Demme, the Academy-Award winning director whose resume also includes another all-time great concert movie, The Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense.)

The sound was full bodied and warm and full of rich natural timbre and texture, but more than that, it just breathed naturally into the room making this fine concert movie a sublime, emotionally overwhelming experience. There was ample bass, but it was perfectly woven into the fabric of the music, never bringing undue attention to its presence- just a rock solid foundation, no more and certainly no less, If some of the other exhibitors here at this show could hear sound this warm and natural, but also sweet, airy, spacious and enveloping, it might change their lives. This is what high-end home theater is about, and music is at its heart, pure and true.