Vienna Acoustics Schönberg Speaker System Page 2

The Short Form

Price $6,099 (AS TESTED) / / 510-843-4500
A high-end system that looks the part and sounds it, with smooth, detailed sonics and an effective small sub.
•Stunning "architectural" appearance, superb craftsmanship •Smooth, balanced sound with superb midrange detail •Fine, small sub blends beautifully
•Slightly warm treble balance may not be a great match for very "dead" rooms •Big rooms or cinema-level playback may demand a larger sub
Key Features
•Schönberg ($2,500/pair) 1-in dome tweeter; (2) 6-in cone woofers; 41.3-in high; 30 lb •Webern center ($795) 1-in dome tweeter; (2) 6-in woofer; 19.8-in wide; 16.5 lb •Berg surround ($1,000/pair) 1-in dome tweeter; 6-in cone woofers (2.5-way); sealed enclosure; 8.3-in high; 11 lb •REL R-305 active subwoofer ($1,595) 10-in driver; 300-watt RMS amplifier; 12.5 x 14.3 x 13.5 in; 41 lb •Finish: gloss black or aluminum
Test Bench
The Vienna Acoustics' unusual driver arrangements deliver frequency response that varies widely by horizontal angle, meaning that listeners tend to get different sound based on position. The REL sub had uniform output from 32 to 62 Hz, averaging 102 dB SPL; max output was 107 dB at 62 Hz with 10% distortion. But it lacks dynamic capability, delivering just 84 dB at 25 Hz with more than 20% distortion. - Tom Nousaine Full Lab Results
This input is active along with the sub's conventional LFE line-level input, as are independent level controls for each. REL and Vienna recommend using both - essentially making simultaneous speaker- and line-level connections. Musically, this worked very well, though it eliminates the ability to adjust overall subwoofer level on-the-fly via your preamp's remote - a convenience I missed.

MUSIC PERFORMANCE Heard solo, full-range, and unsubwoofed, the Schönbergs drew my ear to a very well-defined midrange. An excellent piano-trio SACD of the David Hazeltine-George Mraz trio on Chesky Records delivered an impressive range of colors, textures, and subtly shaded chord voicings from the piano, all without any of the "congested" or muddled piano sound you can hear even from some otherwise excellent box speakers. (I'm guessing that the Schönbergs' unusual cabinet construction and shape help, by reducing or eliminating box resonances many conventional enclosures struggle to tame.)

Overall balance was distinctly on the "relaxed" side of the bright/dull axis. The Viennas produced extended, detailed treble-the Chesky disc's superbly recorded brush and cymbal work and snare and piano transients sounded eminently open and natural - but these and other such musical elements were less prominent than via many, and possibly most, "high-end" speakers. As a result, things like the brassy, cymbal-bell elements of the drummer's brushy doings were not always quite as obvious or attention-getting.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Schönbergs' ability to deliver at least some genuine bass. In my studio, the 40-80 Hz octave, though steadily rolling off, was still fairly well-served, even to the very lowest notes of the upright bass (fundamental about 41 Hz) - as long as they remained close to the wall, where they enjoyed some low-end reinforcement. They were delightfully listenable: a bit warm in the high treble, perhaps, and just a touch enhanced in the vocal mids as well, lending well-recorded voices a subtle, seductive warmth and proximity. Adding in the REL sub didn't change the overall balance a bit - when the music stayed above 60 Hz or so, I couldn't easily tell if it was on or off, which is high praise indeed. With the sub on, no hint of emphasis, bloat, or boom marred the bass-melding region of 50-150 Hz, but low-frequency weight, and extension down to substantially beyond 35 Hz, magically appeared, adding another layer of realism and listening transport. This is a highly musical, light-fingered subwoofer.

The system had plenty of dynamic punch, too. Natalie Merchant's Live in Concert CD sounded very believable at near-concert levels; even the most exposed piano-and-voice sequences revealed no hints of limited dynamics or strain, whether in stereo or Pro Logic II surround. A favorite disc of the Berg Violin Concerto (I couldn't resist) also sounded wonderfully lifelike, with warm, woody string sound and great clarity drawing my ear irresistibly into the web of that composer's ingenuous (and ingenious) counterpoint.