Von Schweikert Audio Visiun Universal Center Speaker
Published on June 12, 2008
Three-way, double-ported horizontal center channel
Drivers: 1.5-inch dome tweeter, 7-inch midrange, two 7-inch woofers
Two level controls for Midrange and Treble Adjustment
Remove/Add Dacron stuffing via ports to adjust deep bass
Freq. Response: 50 Hz – 20kHz +-3 dB
Sensitivity: 90 dB
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Power handling: 100W RMS, 300W peak
Dimensions: 15” h x 28” w x 14” d
Weight: 54 lbs.
Von Schweikert Audio
Temecula, CA 92591
I don’t think there are many who still oppose the whole concept of a center channel speaker in surround and home theater systems. It’s become a standard, and if you’re a two-channel diehard you’re probably not reading this review anyway. My large SACD library includes most of the three-channel SACDs issued by RCA, Mercury and Vanguard. I have followed the preferred route of having all my surround speakers sourced from the same manufacturer in an effort to ensure that the timbre match of the five channels will be as close as possible for a seamless surround field. Of course I can’t have my center channel speaker be the same VR-2 towers I have for left and right front speakers, or it would obscure my 56-inch HDTV display behind it. (Right there is a good argument for a front projector setup.) I have been using Von Schweikert’s LCR center channel, which uses the same tweeter as the VR-2s plus similar but slightly smaller woofers. I am able to use it in a vertical position, canted upwards and on a heavy sand-filled base. It is powered by a similar tube monoblock to the L and R front speakers.
The match is fine for most movie soundtracks, and for most of the times when I use ProLogic II to add a surround effect to the playback of standard stereo sources. However, I have never been happy with the auditory soundstage provided by the three-channel SACDs. I found I was moving the center speaker forward and back, and constantly changing its level in an effort to balance it more closely with the left and right front VR-2s (my surround channels are also VR-2s). The center channel worked best on concerto recordings where the violin, cello or piano soloist was dead center and acoustically spotlit. However, on standard orchestral works the center didn’t seem to quite fit in to create a seamless front soundstage. When I played the Telarc six-channel pink noise test tones, it has a different timbre than the left and right speakers. It was difficult to characterize the sound but frequency-wise it seemed actually more bassy than the L & R but lacking in the treble. At one point I was using cheaper tubes in the center channel monoblock than in the left and right amps, and I switched to the same higher quality tubes, but that made little difference.
I contacted Albert Von Schweikert with my quandary. He reported back: “Interesting you should ask that – we recently introduced the world’s first truly universal center channel speaker designed to match perfectly in timbre with any other speakers.” Thus the Visiun.
The first goal was to create a full range speaker with the highest level of what Von Schweikert calls “vocal intelligibility” on the market. This is of course due to the center channel carrying the dialog on nearly all videos. Next, the Visiun’s drivers and crossovers were matched to the V.S. VR-4 series of tower speakers, supposedly without requiring any further adjustment. But third and most important, the two high-quality pots built into the Visiun, its ease of low-bass modification by altering the stuffing, and its super-wide frequency range and power-handling abilities have been designed to easily match its specific timbre to ANY loudspeakers on the planet. In other words, this is the first truly universal center channel speaker for multichannel systems. Von Schweikert calls it UTM = Universal Timbre Matching. There are major sonic differences between different brands of speakers, and even if you have stayed with the same manufacturer but have a different speaker model for your center channel, the likelihood is that it will not match your left and right frontal speakers. Even if the drivers are the same or similar, the center channel is probably a smaller enclosure, and it is oriented entirely differently. My V.W. LCR center channel speaker has the identical tweeter to my L & R front speakers, but that’s not enough. Even if it is totally identical to the left and right speakers, it is in a quite different physical location, and that can alter its overall timbre greatly. The two controls on the Visiun – plus adjustment of its stuffing – can compensate for all of these conditions of different placement.
The matt black finish on the Visiun is designed to prevent the reflection of light from the screen or projector. It is a military-trade nonreflecting coating that is called B-17. Its surface feels like velvet fabric. The idea is that the speaker should disappear when the lights go out and the screen lights up. The tweeter is mounted at the top of the cabinet and aids in the impression of the dialog in videos coming from the center of the screen. It is a 1.5” silk dome dual ring radiator with Ferrofluid cooling and a low distortion motor. It’s a prime tweeter – super-extended but clean and with no sibilance on voices.
The binding posts on the rear of the Visiun will accept spade lugs, bare wire, banana plugs, or a ring connector. My opinion is that nothing beats bare wire wrapped around the posts. There is no facility for bi-wiring. There is also no magnetic shielding, so if you are using it near CRT-type monitors, it will need to be at least two feet away from the screen.
The Visiun is designed for placement out in front of the RPTV, flat screen or projection screen, in line with the left and right frontal speakers. However, it can be mounted in a wall to match the other speakers if the decor so demands. Its quality of adjustability will match it to any situation – unlike most speakers which are not specially designed for in-wall mounting. So since the Visiun is a horizontally-oriented large speaker, and quite heavy, it is going to require a stand of some sort; it is not supplied with one.
Sound Anchors make several very beefy metal speaker stands, and are suggested by Von Schwiekert to support the Visiun. I had thought their SDACC Center Channel Stand, which stands 12.5 inches high, would be appropriate, but a learned that a Visiun customer had tried that and it was not sturdy enough for the heavy speaker, nor wide enough support at 16 inches, since the Visiun is 28 inches wide.
The required stand, then, is the Studio Center, which can support speakers up to 300 lbs. and features adjustable height and tilt. It is custom-sized to fit the speaker you have – just let Sound Anchors – www.soundanchors.com – know you want it for the Visiun. It will be 28.5” high, 33’ wide, 16.5” deep and constructed of 2”-square steel tubing, pre-filled and damped for the best sound. You put heavy duty carpet-piercing spikes under them and bluedots or bluetac between the speaker bottom and the shelf that supports it. If you need to move the stand easily out of the way to get behind your RPTV (as I do) the 2.5” furniture sliders with adhesive backing work great to slide the stand and speaker.
I had some concern about the height of the Studio Center – its two vertical posts at the sides just barely cleared the bottom of the screen of my 56-inch Samsung HDTV. It is definitely a massive stand. There are four heavy screw-in lugs to hold and adjust the shelf on which the Visiun sits. They are screwed in and tightened using a hefty Allen wrench supplied with the stand. You can tilt the shelf so that the Visiun slants upwards – but not too far or it will slide back off the shelf, even with the bluedots underneath. The tilting automatically takes care of the time-alignment of the tweeter with the woofers. The Studio Center is about $320.
Matching the Visiun to the Other Speakers
The pink noise test on Track 8 of the Telarc SACD of the 1812 and other Tchaikovsky selections is my standard for balancing my surround speaker system. (The child’s voice introducing the various channels causes my two cats to search behind the speakers for him; there was a child with a similar voice in the home of their breeder.) Pink noise is the best signal to use in matching the timbre of one speaker to another. It is usually created by filtering white noise so that there is an equal amount of energy in every octave from top to bottom.
I first ran the test signals with my old LCR speaker in the center on its base, between my left and right front VR-2 towers. It is difficult to describe the quite different timbre of its reproduction of the pink noise signal compared to the other two speakers. I would have to say the extreme treble end is rolled off and there is a peak in the mid-bass. I tried different ways of mounting as well as different angles of elevation, but none made a real difference. When playing the RCA three-channel SACDs of straight orchestral works the center part of the soundstage lacked the high frequency extension of the sides and it therefore didn’t give a seamless effect between the left and right front speakers. Sometimes the two-channel option actually sounded between due to improved timbre-matching. Using Dolby ProLogic II just resulted in some of the same problems.
I then replaced the LCR with the Visiun on the Sound Anchor stand. (By the way, all three front speakers are powered by identical 40W Consonance tube monoblocks.) Running the test tones and the RCA three-channel SACDs, the match was much closer instantly – especially in the extreme treble, which helped a great deal, but was actually too strong in relation to the other speakers. I turned down the treble pot about 20%, and the same for the midrange pot. Now I was getting closer to the ideal.
The two ports on the back of the Visiun are not bass reflex ports, but pressure-relief ports to enable faster transient response. The woofer chambers are completely stuffed with Dacron to eliminate cavity resonance , increase vocal clarity and bass transient speed mounted in a wall or very close to a wall. If the Visiun is used out into the room, this may result in a loss of deepest bass. The bass power can then be increased by reaching into the ports with salad tongs and pulling out about a baseball-sized portion of the Dacron. I had to buy some new salad tongs because mine were too short. After doing this the deep bass matched the left and right speakers much more closely.
The goal of adjusting a speaker’s timbre is to achieve a continuous sort of pink noise sound, with no particular frequency region sticking out. Too much midrange, for example, makes the timbre more forward and honky, which requires turning down the midrange pot. It controls from 200Hz to 2kHz. The treble pot controls from 2kHz to 20kHz. Many years ago most three-way speakers had similar pots on the rear for just such timbre adjustment and matching. I guess deleting them was just part of the hair-shirt high-end audio approach, such as omitting the tone and balance controls on preamps.
I also listened to a variety of three-channel SACDs to adjust the Visiun, both with my original LCR speaker and then with the Visiun. The increase in the presence and realism of the solo balalaika in some of the tracks of the famous Mercury Balalaika album was quite astounding compared to with the LCR speaker. Track 2 of this SACD begins with solo balalaika on the center channel, then slowly expands to include the whole balalaika orchestra. The expansion was very natural and seamless, without any change in timbre as with the LCR speaker.
The Vanguard three-channel SACD with the Australian aboriginal ballet Coroboree features an oboe at the start of the second movement. With the LCR speaker the oboe seemed to be standing apart from the orchestra, but with the Visiun it assumed its proper place back in the orchestra woodwind section. The various percussion instruments also sounded more evenly spread across the soundstage than they had with the LCR.
Then I noticed the felt tweeter surround I had mounted on the LCR speaker and my left and right front speakers but not on the Visiun. (See my review of the Diffractionbegone surrounds Here.) Simple – I moved it with some double-sticky Scotch tape to the Visiun tweeter, and suddenly everything matched even more perfectly than before.
Another advantage of the Visiun is for those classic films on DVD which have only a mono soundtrack. Although Criterion Collection usually offers a mono track spread across the L & R channel outputs, many other DVDs force you to play back all of the audio thru your center channel speaker only (and often needlessly encoded for Dolby Digital as well!). What a difference the Visiun made over my LCR speaker for such mono tracks! It is definitely a full range speaker with all the power handling and clarity one would desire. One of the classic films I viewed with it was Man With the Golden Arm – the first real jazz score for a Hollywood feature. I am most familiar with the soundtrack album by Jerry Goldsmith, which was rechanneled stereo. But the sound from the Visiun was so rich and encompassing that I quickly forget it was just mono.
If you have top-quality left and right channel speakers but a so-so center channel, or worse yet a center channel of a completely different manufacturer and design, it would be well to check out the Visiun even if your system is strictly for home theater soundtracks and you never listen to any of the three-channel SACDs. After all, remember, most movie theaters have three identical speakers behind their screens! While that is impossible for most of us, the Visiun introduces a new path to solving the problem of matching timbres in speakers. By the way, if the Visiun doesn’t strike you as a very expensive speaker, the rest of your speaker system may be of such a high level that you should consider the Visiun Signature model at exactly double the price – it upgrades all the drivers and every other aspect of the speaker.
– John Sunier
System Used: Sunfire TGP-5 AV Preamp, three Consonance M400 tube monoblocks, Kimber Monocle speaker cables, Oppo 983H universal player, Von Schweikert VR-2 tower speakers, Samsung 56” DLP 1080p display.