To Pete Roth,
I read with great interest your review of the Vandersteen Model Seven and see that you are buying a pair as your new reference. How exciting. While I can't afford the Model Seven, I've been considering the Vandersteen Quatro Wood loudspeakers, especially since I had the chance to audition them during a recent trip to Southern California. If I understand it correctly, the Quatro Wood has the same type of active bass unit and equalization that is in Vandersteen's 5A and Seven. Even though the dealer was very accommodating and knowledgeable, I'm a little bit nervous to buy a pair since I don't have a Vandersteen dealer closer to home. Even if he were to set up a pair of Quatros in my room using the built-in equalization, I don't want to be a slave to any dealer over the life of the speaker (I would hope to own and enjoy them for decades). What if I need to move the speakers, or don't want to pay to have the dealer fly/drive to reset them (or if he retires and closes his shop)? I yearn to have the sound I experienced in the dealer's showroom, but don't want my investment to turn into expensive door stops. What do you think?
Thanks for your e-mail, Eric. I have been in audiophile withdrawal ever since the blue review pair of Vandersteen Sevens left my listening room to continue their world tour. While it took me a while to settle on a color (choices, choices . . . I settled on Phantom Black Pearl Effect, an Audi A8 color), my pair are being painted next week and, if all goes according to plan, they should be in my system by the time Spring arrives. I'm very excited.
Your question regarding the set up of the Quatro Wood speakers resonates with me. In fact, my father-in-law asked essentially the same question before he bought a pair. He was afraid that if they weren't set up correctly, they wouldn't sound any good. He couldn't have been more wrong. The bass-equalization control available in the Quatro, Quatro Wood, 5A and Seven is an "extra" tool available to extract the best possible performance from the speaker-room interface (this affects only bass frequencies below 100Hz or so). However, it should be understood that while this feature is available (and differentiates these speakers from the competition), it need not be used. With all the controls set to neutral (which is how the speakers ship, and which is simple to reset), these speakers are flat throughout the bass region and, therefore, act just like any other speaker without such controls. Because my father-in-law uses his speakers in a very large room without any dedicated listening chair, he has chosen to leave the controls in the neutral position for now and he couldn't be happier. If and when he decides to select a prime listening area, I will be able to dial in the controls, but until then they still sound fantastic.
I'm no dealer, but I've adjusted my own 5A speakers on several occasions (family matters have forced system reconfiguration occasionally). It does not take a rocket scientist (or dealer) to dial them in. What it takes is a RadioShack analog sound-pressure-level meter (available for under $50 at almost any RadioShack) and a test disc with warble tones from 20Hz to 110Hz (several such test discs are readily available). The tracks on the disc are arranged to alternate between left and right channels, with tones at the proper frequencies to take the readings necessary to adjust the controls. At the end of the day, the controls allow the room-induced "peaks" to be fairly well flattened, and room-mode "valleys" to be somewhat filled in. The result is a much flatter in-room (at the listener's ears) frequency response (with a little more work, the results can be averaged for two or three listening positions). Rest assured, however, while my system is optimized for my sweet spot it continues to sound great everywhere (just not as great as it does in my sweet spot).
While Vandersteen speakers may not be for everyone, it would be a horrible mistake for someone who likes how they sound to pass by the opportunity for ownership and enjoyment because of confusion over the optional room-control toolset, which is built-in and available, but optional to utilize. Given my own experiences with the Quatro Wood, 5A and Sevens, you have nothing to fear but fear itself and you won't be disappointed if you buy the Quatro Woods. I hope this helps. . . . Pete Roth