Every high-end audio enthusiast has his or her likes and dislikes, whether they will admit it or not. When the person is paid to write about the hobby, we tend to call them biases, a word that has a little more edge.
As for me, I’ll admit I’ve never been a stand-mounted speaker fan. Yes, I get the whole pinpoint imaging/throws a huge soundstage/unsurpassed microdynamics thing, but what I’m not willing to give up is deep bass, weight, solidity and image height.
To me, that’s kind of like buying the Mona Lisa and then reframing the painting to crop out her forehead and bosom. Sure, the most important elements are still there — and maybe you’re focused on them even more – but I want the whole package. And my bag of chips.
So, when I popped my head in the Von Gaylord Audio room at CAS 2014, I didn’t have high expectations. I saw a pair of stand-mounted monitors and a modest-looking integrated amp.
As I settled in and fished through my camera bag for a demo disc, a large gentleman bounced into the seat next to me.
“Try this,” he said, pushing his own CD forward.
I glanced at the cover. It was the Sheffield Drum Record.
“Oh, for the love of ….” I muttered under my breath. I grabbed by bag and started to make a beeline for the door.
That’s when I heard the initial snare whacks and cymbal flourishes. I paused for a second, and then slowly crept back to my seat. Something was going on here.
I listened carefully to every roll, snap and kick. I’ve never been able to tolerate this kind of hi-fi fireworks before, but with the Von Gaylord system I was enthralled.
“Good, huh?” the big guy said, as he took his disc back.
I quickly dug out my remastered copy of The Feelies’ pastoral second album, The Good Earth, and handed it to Von Gaylord honcho Ray Leung. He dropped it in the CD player and cued up track one, “On the Roof.”
The track kicked off with a burst of quickly strummed acoustic guitars and the inimitable driving rhythms of drummer Stan Demeski. Slowly, guitarist Glenn Mercer, a reluctant lead vocalist if there ever was one, began singing from what sounds like the back of the studio.
I’ve heard this track a million times, and Mercer’s bashful vocals are part of its appeal. On many systems, his voice is more of a buzzing drone that sounds like he may have taken refuge in the hallway. But the Von Gaylord system isolated Mercer in the mix and allowed me to actually try to decipher the cryptic lyrics.
Another part of this song I’d been listening to carefully all day was Dave Weckerman’s tambourine. On too many systems, it merges with the snare into a single, distracting sound. On the Von Gaylord rig, however, the tambourine retained a delicate jangle while the snare had a non-fatiguing mix of impact and touch.
Equally startling to me was the bass. On small monitors that try to “cheat,” there’s an exaggeration in the upper bass that creates the fullness until you also notice it’s masking the texture of the acoustic guitars and messing up the pace of the rhythm track.
The Von Gaylord system had no such problem. The bass had impressive depth, but also admirable pitch definition and a complete lack of bloat.
Nit picks? The stand-mounts didn’t go as deep as the REL Stadium subwoofer in my home reference system, but that’s not a fair comparison. And, when I closed my eyes and really focused, I also noticed a slight bit of strain on transients when the speakers were pushed hard.
After auditioning tracks from Donald Fagen’s “Morph the Cat” and Dire Straits’ self-titled first album, with similar results, I found myself scribbling “best sound of show so far” in my notebook and turning to ask Leung how he does it.
“All of our components are custom-made here in the U.S.,” he said. The company is based in West Sacramento, California.
He pointed out that the VG-8 speakers ($4,995 a pair), which have an 8 inch fiberglass woofer and 1.5 inch titanium dome tweeter, were still breaking in. Based on what I heard, I wondered just how much better they could get.
The speakers have an efficiency level of 93 decibels, which makes them a good match for the company’s Starlet 4 ($4,995), a 50 watt-per-channel integrated amp that runs in triode mode and features an active preamp. Tubes were 6550s.
Tying everything together was the company’s own Legend II speaker cables ($1,495 for a 10-foot pair), Lemma interconnects ($395 for a 1-meter set) and Power 3 electrical cords ($495 for 6 feet)
At those prices, you could add a nice CD spinner, turntable and phono stage and not be too far above $15,000. And, even better, you could get off the upgrade merry-go-round and just enjoy the music.
Heck, you’d have plenty left over to buy a decent Mona Lisa print for the listening room, too. And, when the Von Gaylord system was playing, I’ll bet her smile would look even bigger.