Class 1a Featured Pick:
VMPS RM 40
An IAR Best Buy
This is one of those very few, very select products to earn a triple accolade from our critical ear. The VMPS RM 40 is a Featured Pick, and is rated Class 1a, and is also an IAR Best Buy.
The VMPS RM 40 earns these accolades by giving you a very special triple whammy. First, it is one of the few truly great loudspeaker systems. Not just very good or excellent, but a masterpiece, to be treasured by all lovers of the finest audio. Second, it is a large loudspeaker system, and brings with it all the usual benefits of large size, including wide bandwidth, wide dynamics, high power and loudness capability, relaxed ease, deep bass, moderately high efficiency, and an impressive large sound.
Most importantly, the VMPS RM 40 is an outrageous, unbelievable bargain. Its performance competes in the same league as the $20,000+ flagship statement reference speakers from others, and actually surpasses most of them. Yet the RM 40 sells for only $4600 per pair. That's less than you'd pay nowadays for some compromised bookshelf speakers!
As a large system (5.5 feet high, 260 pounds per side), the RM 40 achieves excellence in all the sonic aspects that you'd expect in a large, flagship $20,000+ speaker. Its performance includes wide bandwidth (24 Hz and 25 kHz are the -3 dB points), high loudness capability (115 dB+ SPL @ 1 meter), low distortion, and moderately high efficiency (91 dB sensitivity). Because its capabilities are so high, there's a wonderful sense of relaxed ease and dynamic openness in handling normal playback requirements, while smaller speaker systems often evince fatiguing strain and colorations and dynamic compression trying to play the same music.
The RM 40's most remarkable achievements, though, are the things that it does superbly, but which most other large flagship $20,000+ speakers fail to do well.
First, the RM 40 is very transparent throughout the spectrum. Most other large flagship systems lose some transparency, often because of their very complexity (including a complex crossover with many transparency-robbing parts), a complexity that services the many drivers needed to get the wide bandwidth and high power handling capabilities that a flagship is supposed to have.
Second, the RM 40 is very neutral and musically natural throughout the spectrum. Most other large speaker systems pick up colorations from their various drivers, and often the more drivers there are in an expensive flagship system (after all, having many drivers is what justifies the high expense and the cachet of a flagship system), the more diverse and amusically distracting these colorations become.
Third, and most remarkably, the RM 40 is superbly integrated for the musical spectrum, presenting music and musical instruments as a seamless whole. Most other large systems present music as a splintered collection of fragments, both harmonically and temporally.
What's the explanation for the RM 40's superb sonics? The key factor is probably the midrange driver. The RM 40 is a full four way system, just like most other flagship statement speakers selling for $20,000+. There's a dedicated built in subwoofer (plus passive radiator), a mid bass woofer, a midrange, and a pair of tweeters. But there's a big difference between the RM 40 and most other large flagship speakers.
In most other large speaker systems, the music spectrum would be pretty equally divided among these various drivers. But not here. The midrange driver alone handles virtually the entire musical range, from 166 Hz all the way up to 10 kHz. The only portions of the music not handled by this one driver are the bass fundamentals and the highest treble overtones. This gives the RM 40 a number of sonic advantages, and is surely the principal key to this system's stunning sound.
When any conventional speaker system divides the musical spectrum among plural drivers, it is hard to get all the music to integrate seamlessly. Human hearing is so acute that we can tell that the music is being fragmented among different drivers, with different cone and suspension materials, different dimensions, different sets of mechanical resonances and non-pistonic breakup modes, different radiation patterns, etc. This audible fragmentation gets worse when the crossover point splitting the spectrum among plural drivers is located (as it usually is) somewhere in the midranges, just where the ear is most sensitive and also where music has most of its defining information. Thus, in most speaker systems, you can hear that one part of music's vital midranges comes to you sounding one way from one driver, but another part of the same music's midranges comes to you sounding a different way from a different driver. You get two (or more) musics, not one.
And of course this fragmentation of music gets even worse when the music is split among many drivers, as in four or five way systems. Many large flagship speaker systems, intended as the ultimate statement from a manufacturer, have the most drivers and split up the musical spectrum into the most fragments. This maximal splitting among maximal drivers might give the flagship model some performance benefits, such as wide bandwidth and awesome loudness capability. But we find that these flagship models often sound disjointed, fragmented, and overblown. They seem incapable of presenting a seamless, integrated portrait of music as a whole, and instead we hear a cacophonous assortment of diverse drivers each piping their own different tune. They often sound musically inferior to the smaller, simpler models from the same manufacturer, even though they can admittedly play louder.
Dividing the heart of music among plural drivers also has other adverse sonic effects. To keep this discussion simple, suppose that there's a crossover at 3 kHz between a woofer and a tweeter. That portion of music's midrange below 3 kHz will have a different tonal balance, different tonal quality, different temporal coherence, different harmonic coherence, and different stereo imaging than that portion of the same music's midrange above 3 kHz. All these varied differences are largely due to the fact that the woofer, operating near the top of its range just below 3 kHz, is radiating a very narrow beam, whereas the tweeter, operating near the bottom of its range just above 3 kHz, is simultaneously radiating a very wide beam.
Thus, the portion of music's midrange just above 3 kHz will be more richly radiated toward, and more richly reflected back from, all your listening room walls, than will the portion of that same music's midrange just below 3 kHz. The result will be a disparity in tonal balance, with more average room energy above 3 kHz, and a disparity in tonal quality, with a more richly reverberant sound above 3 kHz and a drier sound below 3 kHz. The music above 3 kHz, richer in reverberation, will have a more diffuse and random coherence, while the music below 3 kHz, consisting more of dry direct sound, will have a tighter, more tactile coherence. The music above 3 kHz, being richer in reverberant sound from your room walls, will sound richer in recording hall ambience and depth (due to the Haas and Damaske effects), while the music below 3 kHz will sound as if it were recorded in a drier acoustic, and its stereo image will have less depth (and perhaps less width as well). Additionally, the driver giving you the musical information above 3 kHz is operating like, and sounds like, an ideal pistonic mode point source, whereas the driver giving you the information below 3 kHz will likely sound very different (even if made of the same materials), since it is operating in or near its non-pistonic breakup mode, and its complex non-pistonic radiated information, coming from different parts of the driver, could interfere with itself in messy ways.
All these amusical sonic disparities can occur at a crossover point. And both the music and our hearing are very sensitive to such disparities when they occur anywhere in the midranges, which they do for most speaker systems. Most large flagship speaker systems then compound these problems, since as a four way or five way system they often will have two crossover points located somewhere in the midranges.
The VMPS RM 40 avoids all these disparities by having a single driver cover the entire span of all the midranges. Importantly, this driver actually covers even more than all the midranges, since its coverage also includes the warmth region on its bottom end and the lower treble on its top end. This means that this driver is performing in its prime throughout all the midranges, so music's midranges are more free of the imperfections that any and every driver has at the extremes of its range.
This single driver gives the RM 40 a seamless integration throughout the vital midranges of the spectrum (and more). The RM 40's ability to give you your music as a single entity, a coherent and believable whole, is a priceless gift, and a towering sonic achievement that most other flagship speaker systems cannot give you, regardless of their cost. It's hard to describe it to you in words, but once you hear and appreciate this seamless integration, this music coming to you with a single voice, you'll know it, and you might never want to listen again to other systems that, for all their many virtues, still present music as a fragmented cacophony of disparate voices. With the RM 40, virtually all the music comes to you from one driver, located at one place in space -- not from multiple drivers located at different places, made of different sounding materials, and having different radiation patterns.
And, in the RM 40, this driver has excellent sonic qualities. It sounds very transparent, revealing more about the music than cone or dome drivers can. It also sounds very neutral and natural, imposing very little coloration of its own, and thereby letting every musical instrument, every singing voice, every film sound effect sound more like itself, more like the real thing.
This midrange driver sounds like a very special unit. And it is. It is a push-pull (for low distortion) planar magnetic driver, with a ribbon printed onto a light, thin diaphragm. The operating principle is similar to the planar magnetic drivers employed by Infinity and Wisdom and Apogee. But the sound of the VMPS unit is light years beyond these other planar magnetic drivers. In IAR we have openly criticized these other planar magnetic drivers. We find them horribly colored, imposing their own fuzzy metallic colorations and distortions, from the spurious vibrations of their own diaphragm materials, upon all music. We realize that other reviewer colleagues, from Harry Pearson on down, have praised these other speakers and drivers over the years, and frankly we can't understand why they miss hearing such obnoxiously foreign colorations from them.
The midrange driver in the VMPS RM 40 sounds very different from these others. This driver is hand built by its designer Dragoslav Colich for VMPS, and he must know something that the bigger manufacturers don't. This driver finally realizes the transparency that the others only promised on paper. This driver sounds much cleaner and purer, and free of the fuzzy distortion that plagued the other planar magnetic drivers. And this driver sounds much more neutral, musically natural, and free of metallic or mechanical colorations to which we became so sensitized in the other planar magnetic drivers. Other planar magnetics emit frizzy metallic colorations that are easily heard on sensitive musical material such as plucked nylon guitar strings and vocal sibilants. On this tricky and sensitive musical material, the RM 40's stellar driver shines, sounding exquisitely natural and effortlessly transparent.
So, you see, the story of the VMPS RM 40 is at heart very simple. When you have a driver so good that it is superbly transparent and pure and neutral, you have the core of a winning speaker system. And then, when you let that wonderful driver deliver virtually the whole musical spectrum, then your whole speaker system is a winner. Each RM 40 uses four of these special planar magnetic panels to make a 40" high vertical array midrange driver.
The frequency range below this wonderful midrange driver is essentially just bass, i.e. below 166 Hz. In many other speaker systems, this whole bass range would be handled by just one driver. But VMPS has a long history of making large speaker systems with impressive bass performance. They know that, for the best bass sound, the needs for the upper bass driver are different than the needs for the low bass driver. And they don't want to compromise either the upper bass definition nor the lower bass reach and power. So they go to the trouble and expense of giving you two different bass drivers (plus a passive radiator) in the RM 40. One driver is optimized to work with the passive radiator for extended, powerful, low distortion low bass, and the other driver is optimized for best definition and low hangover in the upper bass.
The mid and upper treble frequencies, above 10 kHz, are handled by a pair of small planar magnetic tweeters, with a spiral metal ribbon etched onto a light, thin diaphragm. This tweeter is fast, rated as having a -3 dB point at 25 kHz, and is reportedly similar to the tweeter used in some Genesis speakers.
In the RM 40 the woofers at one spectral extreme and the tweeters at the other seem to blend very well with the special midrange driver that dominates most of the spectrum. Thus, these drivers that handle the spectral extremes are like icing on the cake, extending the reach of that marvelous midrange driver that brings you most of the music, and without detracting or distracting from it with any colorations that might not blend in seamlessly.
The stereo imaging of the RM 40 benefits from two contributory factors. First, that single driver for the entire 166 Hz to 10 kHz spectral range means that virtually all the music is radiated from a single source location as a coherent wavefront, and this helps to define the imaging cues (in much the same way that the Quad electrostatic's imaging is helped by its single point source simulation). Second, the RM 40's front panel is only 12 inches wide, and this relatively narrow frontal width (for a large speaker system) helps to reduce unwanted diffraction from the front panel, diffraction that in wider speakers tends to degrade stereo imaging by localizing the sound as coming from the speaker enclosure locations in your room.
VMPS itself has a long history of making large, multi-driver speaker systems. Most of those large VMPS systems achieved excellence in those aspects which are typical for well executed large systems: wide bandwidth, awesome bass, high loudness capability, moderately high efficiency. Some of those previous large VMPS systems have been larger than the RM 40. But this new RM 40 is, in our judgment, the best system VMPS has yet produced. It surpasses previous VMPS systems in the crucial sonic aspects of transparency, neutrality, musical naturalness, and especially in seamless integration of the music it gives you. And the RM 40 also surpasses most other brands of large flagship speakers, regardless of their price, in these crucial sonic aspects. Such performance makes the VMPS RM 40 a stellar masterpiece. Such performance at $4600 per pair instead of $20,000+ makes the RM 40 a steal.
You can visit VMPS online at www.vmpsaudio.com.
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