Center Channel Speakers
- Written by John E. Johnson, Jr.
- Published on 03 March 2008
Albert Von Schweikert is a legend in the speaker design and manufacturing arena.
His products have never received a bad review as far as I know, and this one will not start a new precedent.
Until now, his product line consisted only of tower speakers. So, if you used them in a surround sound setup, you would have a tall speaker sitting in the center.
The VisiUN is a speaker designed specifically for the center channel.
- Design: Three-way; Ported
- Drivers: One 1.5" Dome Tweeter, One 7" Midrange, Two 7" Woofers
- MFR: 50 Hz - 20 kHz ± 3 dB
- Sensitivity: 91 dB/W/M
- Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms
- Power Handling: 100 Watts RMS, 300 Watts Peak
- Dimensions: 15" H x 28" W x 14" D
- Weight: 54 Pounds
- MSRP: $5,500 USA
- Von Schweikert
This is a big speaker, and now that most consumers are migrating to flat panel HDTV displays, there is no longer that large flat space on top of the rear projection TV to put center channel speakers. So, you will have to put it on a stand in front of the TV, or on a shelf underneath it.
The VisiUN is a three-way design, with tweeter, mid, and woofers. It weighs in at 54 pounds, as much as some of the compact 5.1 modular speakers, including the subwoofer, weigh all together.
Many home theater buffs don't realize how important the center channel is. That is where most of the action occurs, including all the voices and many of the special effects. So, if any speaker should be big, it's the center channel speaker.
The surface of the VisiUN is painted with the same finish as on the Stealth bomber. The reason for this is that the paint reflects just about no light at all, and assuming you place the VisiUN under your display, the light that hits the speaker will not bounce forward to your eyes. Albert had to apply for special permission to use the paint. So, no glossy rosewood here. It will disappear when the lights go out and the movie starts.
The rear panel has two dials near the speaker binding posts, one to give a boost or attenuation for high frequencies, and one to do the same for the bass. If the speaker were close to a wall, you might want to turn the bass dial down, and if you wanted a laid back sound overall, you might want to turn the high frequency dial down. The dials were set to 0 (no boost or attenuation) for all the tests in our lab.
I listened to the VisiUN using various movie players (HD DVD, Blu-ray, SD DVD), Lexicon MC12B SSP, Classé CA-5200 power amplifier, and Final Sound ESL speakers. Cables were Legenburg and Nordost.
The first thing I noticed about the VisiUN is its incredible power. I like to watch action movies such as American Gangster with the volume at an appropriate level for the action, and the VisiUN didn't disappoint me. Gunshots and explosions (isn't it great to be male?) were projected across the room in a way that made me duck for cover. Keep in mind that any speaker can sound good at really low volume, say 0.25 watt, but what separates the good from the bad and the ugly is how it performs when the sound is cranked up. The VisiUN is built like a tank, and voices were always clear in spite of what was happening in the background. No excessive sibilance either. And no boominess. This power capability gives the VisiUN a huge dynamic range, so that if you are listening at moderate levels, and along comes a short, intense sound, the speaker can deliver the additional volume, whereas other, less powerful speakers would "compress", that is, not deliver the full intensity of the transient.
Here's another, let's say, not exactly a PG-13 rated movie. 12 gauge shotguns - double 0 buck no less - are not known for their low level demands on speakers trying to reproduce the sound of their discharge.
Again, the VisiUN did exactly what I wanted it to, and expected it to, do.
One eventually has to watch something besides flame throwers, Uzis, and overuse of the color red. Becoming Jane is a nice family movie with lots of speaking, both male and female. The voices all sounded very natural, with no chestiness that plagues some center channel speakers.
So, this brings me to the second thing I noticed about the VisiUN. It has an amazing ability to maintain the sound when the listener is sitting off-axis. In fact, I don't think I have ever experienced better off-axis center channel sound than with the VisiUN. This is due to a very careful layout of driver placement in the enclosure.
This, in fact, may be the most important feature of the VisiUN, because most of the time, we watch movies with our families, or at least, one other person in the room When I watch movies with my wife, she is usually in the sweet spot on the couch, and I am slightly off-axis in my easy chair. The VisiUN gave me a very clear (as in voice intelligibility) off-axis sound that makes a huge difference in movie enjoyment.
Now, if you were paying attention to the first part of the review, you read that I used electrostatic speakers for the other channels. It might seem odd to have a cone speaker for the center while the others are such a completely different kind of technology.
Well, actually, what you want is continuity of tonality across the soundstage, and this is why one usually has the same brand and model line of speakers all the way around. However, my ELSs sound very natural, and what I wanted to hear was whether or not the VisiUN matched that natural timbre.
Obviously, this is a very expensive speaker. Probably more than most people spend on an entire sound system. So, you would not purchase the VisiUN to go with some modular home theater in a box components. It is meant to go with speakers in its same league. In fact, the VisiUN is designed to go with the Von Schweikert VR-4 SR MK II speakers. The review unit is the standard model, and you can also get the Signature version which is designed to go with the VR-5SE, VR-7SE, VR-9SE, VR10 Mk II and VR-11 speaker models. The signature version is $11,000. Take a look here to see the complete list of models and prices.
If you are thinking, "I can't afford speakers like this, so why am I reading this review?" well, I can't afford them either, but I am taking the time to write the review because we all need to experience everything we can in life, even if it is just for a short time. It shows us what the standards are and what we are capable of achieving.
On the Bench
For THD+N, the bandwidth was 80 kHz.
At 1 kHz, distortion was 0.37%.
At 10 kHz, measuring from the tweeter, distortion was just over 1%. This is higher than when measuring it during the THD+N vs. Frequency test, and I suspect the tweeter heated up a bit when a constant sine wave was applied.
THD+N vs. Frequency across the entire audible range indicates that, like other speakers we have tested, there is quite a bit more distortion at the lower frequencies. At 50 Hz, it is about 2% and this is a good place to cross the VisiUN over to the subwoofer.
Room response shows that the VisiUN is reasonably flat down to about 50 Hz, then drops off sharply. At a 450 angle off axis, the response is about the same up to 8 kHz or so, and this is the majority of what we hear (I find that music is mostly in the 60 Hz to 6 kHz range). So, this is why the VisiUN sounds so good off axis.
The Impedance-Phase curves are shown below. The impedance appears to be nominally 6 ohms, and the electrical phase stays within ± 300. The speaker would be reasonably easy to drive, but I would suggest using a top of the line receiver at the least.
Von Schweikert makes some wonderful speakers. The VisiUN completes their product line as a center channel. It has spectacular sound, and you can experience it no matter where you sit in the room. This is about as good as center channel sound can get.
P.S. I damaged the VisiUN before I could perform the bench tests (burned a resistor in the crossover network), so the review unit is under repair at the factory, and at some point, I will get the speaker back to complete the tests. They will be added to the review at that time.