Vapor Audio Perfect Storm Speaker Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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post #1 of 1 Old 07-11-15, 07:52 AM Thread Starter
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Wayne Myers
 
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Vapor Audio Perfect Storm Speaker Review

Vapor Audio Perfect Storm Speaker Review



Vapor Audio Perfect Storm: $26,695 per pair



by Wayne Myers



Introduction

The Perfect Storm is the new flagship speaker from Vapor Audio, introduced in April at AXPONA in Chicago. I immediately liked the Perfect Storm and felt it deserved a thorough review. Weighing in at almost 400 pounds per channel, it would not be practical to ship them anywhere for this to happen, so I contacted Ryan Scott, owner of Vapor Audio, and proposed a trip to home base in St. Louis for that purpose. Along the lines of full disclosure, we agreed it would be reasonable for him to cover gas and lodging for the trip in lieu of having to ship the speakers for a review.


Description

The $26,695 per pair Perfect Storm is a 4-way design. The 15-inch Audio Technology woofer is separately housed in a cabinet loaded with a 10:1 tapered line, delivering flat response down to 20 Hz with extremely low distortion. The driver's natural response is flat up to 2 kHz, one indicator of a potentially very fast design, and it is crossed over at 200 Hz. The extensively-braced bass cabinet houses the Perfect Storm crossover in a separate chamber, and weighs 260 pounds.

Lower midrange up to 1 kHz is handled by a custom Accuton C220 8.5-inch driver with an all-ceramic cone, developed in conjunction with Warner Dynamics, working directly with Chief Engineer Mark Warner, after identifying a mutual need for the driver's special characteristics. Upper midrange to 2.3 kHz is handed off to the new Accuton Cell C51 2-inch driver.

The RAAL 140-15D Amorphous Core tweeter handles the frequencies above 2.3 kHz with extension to nearly 40 kHz.

Extensively-braced is a term that applies to all of Vapor Audio's cabinet designs. I saw cabinet parts for a number of different models, and each appeared to be an extreme statement of sturdy wood-construction loudspeaker design, with elimination of uncontrolled vibrations a top priority.

Versions of the RAAL tweeter appear in most Vapor Audio speakers, and have been in almost every model I have heard at the different audio shows over the last couple of years. They deliver what I think of as a "liquid smooth" top end that is characteristic of the Vapor Audio sound.


Vapor Audio Website.


Specifications

Specifications
  • Drivers:
    • Tweeter: RAAL 140-15D Amorphous Core Tweeter
    • Upper Midrange: 2" Accuton Cell C51 Upper Midrange
    • Lower Midrange: 8.5" Accuton Custom Vapor Audio Exclusive Lower Midrange
    • Woofer: 15" Sandwich Cone Audio Technology 15F Woofer
  • Cabinet Tuning: 10:1 Tapering Transmission Line, slot ported, 20hz tune
  • Freq Response: 16 – 38,500hz +/-3db, 24 – 26,000 hz +/- 1.5db
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 94 db
  • Recommended Power: 8-500 watts via Tube Amp, 15-500 watts via Solid State Amp
  • Dimensions: 64" Height x 32" Deep x 20" Max Width
  • Weight: 370 Pounds (260 lb bass section, 110 lb top section)
  • Crossover Details: Asymmetric slopes with crossover points of 200hz, 1000hz, and 2300hz

Associated Review Equipment
Measurement Methods
  • VH Audio Plasmatron Power Conditioner
  • Antipodes DS Music Server
  • BMC DAC1 DAC / Preamp
  • Folsom Audio Chip Power Amp - prototype - 15 W/channel
  • Clayton Audio M300 Balanced Class A Power Amp - 300 W/channel
  • SET Tube Amp - custom - 9 W/channel
  • Cables - custom

Setup

The Perfect Storm stand tall and will need a large room to sound their best. It was not surprising that it took a little work to get them placed properly for best sound stage and imaging (SS&I). The Vapor Audio listening room is a well-treated room that the Perfect Storm seem very comfortable in, but they still needed some tweaking to get them sounding ready for serious review sessions.

It was not until we elevated the listening chair several inches, moved it forward a few feet, experimented with toe-in a little, and moved a pair of free-standing absorptive panels located behind them several times, that we finally hit upon the combination that immediately delivered the kind of SS&I I was looking for, very sharp and concise, very cohesive and natural.

Ear height was about 41 inches, with 124 inches from midrange driver to ear, and with the drivers spaced 94 inches apart. Toe-in amount was small, about 15 degrees, and the inside surface of each of the bass units was just visible from the listening position (LP), that line crossing the listener just inside the shoulders.


Listening Tests - Folsom Audio Chip Power Amp

We started out with the Folsom Audio Chip Amp. A fairly efficient speaker, the Perfect Storm seemed very comfortable driven by the 15 W/channel prototype power amplifier. I listened with this amplifier for several hours, getting familiar with the ins and outs of the Perfect Storm delivery.

My first listening track was Ain't It A Shame by the B-52s. I was not satisfied with placement until the SS&I on this song gelled and tightened. Even so, the harmonica at beginning and end of the song wandered a little on each note, a sign that SS&I could be better. Every speaker/room combination has its own set of codes to decipher, with little correlation between ease of setup and level of thrill at the ultimate performance level.

At their best in the Vapor Audio listening room, the Perfect Storm were very impressive, and Ryan will attest that I was extremely picky about getting SS&I to the point where I was very comfortable with them, as I am distracted if they are not near-perfect. I about wore out my welcome during a later listening session when a variable added to the room disrupted the SS&I enough to throw me off. Bottom line, while there was slight room for improvement, SS&I were excellent from the Perfect Storm throughout the listening sessions.

B-52s, Roam, cranked up to a nice loud level, I liked the crack of the snare drum on this track. One of the first things I had noticed about the Perfect Storm was the marvelous sense of unity about every drum beat, every percussive sound. I also absolutely loved the sound of cymbals from the Perfect Storm, at AXPONA probably one of the best speakers that I heard in that regard.

Mids and highs from the Perfect Storm were very balanced, very even, and I felt their voicing was just about perfect. There was almost a silkiness to female vocals in a couple of places, but not quite. If there had been a tiny bit more of that quality, it would have been too much. Almost too much, but not quite. I noticed things like that about the sonics of different sounds, voices, and instruments from the Perfect Storm several times. Almost too much, but not quite, some characteristic of the sonic balance pushed to the edge of being almost too much, and then held just this side of the danger zone... This seemed to be a design mantra that characterized the mid and upper range of the Perfect Storm. And that suited my listening sensibilities perfectly.

B-52s, The World's Green Laughter, we got some really deep bass out of the Perfect Storm on this track. One deep, booming drum sound (boominess in the recording, not from the speakers) almost felt three dimensional in the room. The 15-inch woofer had no problem moving air, and was very tightly controlled. I cannot imagine someone wanting to pair a subwoofer with the Perfect Storm. Every little tinkle, rattle, and beat of drum had a clarity that seemed spatially true, tonally true, and temporally true in time and attack, this seemed one of the Perfect Storm finest characteristics, their way of delivering percussive sounds as truthfully as they could possibly be portrayed.

At another point I noted the beautiful, almost luscious delivery of cymbal tones. From the first tang of attack of a cymbal hit, through the crescendo to vibration of the full surface area, to the way the harmonics and complex tones developed and changed through the life of that particular strike, unique from every other one, all delivered with essential accuracy and clarity by the Perfect Storm.

Buckethead, We Are One, the high frequencies on this track are simply recorded too hot during parts of Buckethead's guitar solos, making it an interesting test track. With the Perfect Storm, those passages were still too hot in the high frequency range, but were extremely even, with nothing sticking out at all. The double bass also was very succinct.

Crash Test Dummies, Keep A Lid On Things, the snare drum crack at the end of the chorus is followed by a complete absence of sound. When the Perfect Storm stop, the sound really stops, almost as though the Perfect Storm soak up the extra energy from the room to complete that very sudden onset of silence in the recording.

Fast, low-mass drivers with proper enclosure tuning produce a fast system response, and this was obviously a top design priority for the Perfect Storm. Percussion sounds, both natural and synthesized, across the frequency spectrum were delivered with apparently instant on and off times, especially when driven by the solid state amps with their high damping factors. Many speakers reveal their resonances with system peaks, but there were none that I could hear with the Perfect Storm, and they got a great percussive workout during our listening sessions.

China Girl, David Bowie, the crack of the snare drum reminded me of the sound of several snare drums on different tracks where there was almost, but not quite, a little too much of a certain sound at a certain frequency, again, that aspect of the Perfect Storm tonality held just out of the danger zone, right where I liked it.

My Own Summer, Deftones, a track that really sizzles, but delivery was smooth. I noted the same on vocal tones on several tracks, kept just out of the danger zone.

Devin Townsend, Disruptr, this track gets very crunchy, and was held so extremely even by the Perfect Storm, even when it got quite aggressive. The same applied to Sunshine The Werewolf, Dillinger Escape Plan.

The Perfect Storm were equally comfortable with strings, woodwinds, and horns. They were fully comfortable with classical piano, acoustical instruments on bluegrass tracks, and heavy rock and roll. They can scream as easily as they can lull you to sleep.

Things The Grandchildren Should Know, Eels, I made a list of all the things the Perfect Storm were doing so right: tight, succinct, even, open, easy, smooth.

Olivier Messiaen, Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus, cello and piano. The Perfect Storm gave a very emotional, very engaging delivery of this track. I was really quite transported.


Listening Tests - Clayton Audio M300 Balanced Class A Power Amp

Coming back to the Perfect Storm after a good break, we change to the Clayton amplifiers, 300 watts of balanced class A power per speaker. Starting with Devin Townsend, Gato, the first thing I noticed was the deep pockets of clean power that were available. With the 15-Watt Folsom Audio chip amp, although I never heard it out-and-out clipping, there was a point where you simply felt you wanted to hold back from pushing it further to keep it clean and comfortable. It was almost as though you were driving with a governor and you wanted to push the speed to the point right before the governor kicked in. There was plenty of clean power for the Perfect Storm driving that way.

With the Clayton amps there was no such governor. There was simply a huge reservoir of available power and the Perfect Storm showed no sign of ever running out of the ability to take on that power and convert it into sonic energy with no rough edges or impurity added. It was an awesome experience, almost a little frightening. I sensed that the only factor in the listening experience limiting the amount of clean volume that could be pushed through the system and into my brain was the vulnerability of my own hearing to permanent damage if I was not careful. I consciously pushed at and ultimately held back on the volume level with this in mind, wanting to enjoy the clean power and wanting to remain sensible about it at the same time. It was a delicious sensation, like hovering just this side of the edge of destruction.

Devin Townsend, Hyperdrive, again a sense of effortless power.

One thing I noted it immediately with the Clayton amps was a feel that there was more mid-bass. Ryan said he had noticed that, too, and had taken measurements that showed no change in frequency response. It was a bit of a mystery.

The same sensation was there even with quieter tracks, like Things The Grandchildren Should Know.

Midlake, Roscoe, with many voices and guitars evenly spaced in the mix, and the Perfect Storm kept them all sonically separate. Layers of midrange detail were well-defined and never became fatiguing. In fact the Perfect Storm is one of the least-fatiguing speakers I have spent significant time with. I noted this while remembering to be careful with the volume level and all those clean reserves of available SPL.

Nickel Creek, Ode To A Butterfly, with the volume pushed up, the acoustical instruments seemed almost to have inflated body sizes. That woofer can really push the air at the low frequencies, especially for the stand-up bass. All those instruments were so transparent with the Perfect Storm.

Introduction To Also Sprach Zarathustra, and Star Trek, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, the Perfect Storm is a fairly efficient speaker with lots of dynamic range; I found no tracks or type of music where that broad dynamic range seemed anywhere close to running out of reserve.

Mindy Smith, My Holiday, it felt like you could reach right into the detail of her voice.

B-52s, Vision Of A Kiss, the seemingly lifted mid-bass was particularly fun on rock tracks, lending a little extra punchiness to the sound. I noted again how focused the imaging and natural the soundstage were. They filled the entire end of the room, extending well past the speakers side-to-side, which almost disappeared on some tracks and completely disappeared on others. The disappearing act also I felt would become complete with more TLC in placement and treatment.

Bass and midbass performance were exceptionally tight. Kick drums and low percussion never felt tired or flabby, the power amps were always able to easily stay on top of the well-behaved driver motion.

Midrange detail was so clear that on heavy tracks with multiple distorted guitar sounds, it was easy to tell the instruments apart, even differentiate the types of guitar distortion in use.

Sleepytime Guerrilla Museum, Sleep Is Wrong, the Perfect Storm span the line between forgettable and exciting. One minute you almost forget you are listening to speakers, and then a track will come along were they reach out and grab you, give you a shake, almost excited, saying, "Hey, listen to this!"


Listening Tests - Custom SET Tube Amp

I listened to many of the same tracks with the 9 W/channel tube amps. Of course, the sense of limited power was there if pushed, although they never sounded distorted, simply held you back at a sensible level as with the chip amp. The Perfect Storm were easily driven to very nice listening levels by them, and a tube lover could be more than satisfied with this combination.

The perception of mid-bass boost noticed with the Clayton amps was gone, and with the lower damping factor from the SET amps it was clear that the bass quickness was just a little soft. That softer presentation was very addictive in its own way, more mellow and laid back with no sacrifice in clarity or transparency.


Comments On The Vapor Audio Arcus and Cirrus Models

During the visit to Vapor Audio, I also had the chance to hear two other models which were on hand. The Arcus, starting at $6,495 per pair, is a two-way with a 10-inch bass-midrange driver and a large, horn-loaded folded-motion tweeter. The Arcus can handle lots of power and cleanly deliver high continuous volume levels, which I witnessed.

The Arcus did not have quite the refinement of the big brother Perfect Storm. With no objectionable qualities whatsoever to report on, I was aware of just a few spots where sonic rough edges had not been sanded down quite as smoothly as with a Perfect Storm. Without the direct comparison in the same room, those differences might not have been apparent at all; they were very subtle. Voicing was very similar, quite smooth through the mids and high-frequency ranges.

The Arcus had to be placed carefully to get their SS&I working properly, but this was accomplished with a couple of quick adjustments. Then they completely disappeared in the room, with a sharp imaging and their wonderfully open and natural sound stage.

Much like the Perfect Storm, the Arcus with the Clayton power amps could seemingly be pushed until the ears bled and deliver only clean, clear, beautiful sound.

But the really fun surprise of the trip was the $4,995 per pair (base price) Cirrus Black, a two-way monitor, one of Ryan's first designs for Vapor Audio. As Ryan was setting them up, I noticed there was a tape measure right next to him. I expected him to make some physical measurements so the distance and symmetry would be as needed. But he ignored the tape measure and set them up very quickly only by "eyeballing." It annoyed me a little that he seemed to be careless about something so important.

I was both delighted and a little further annoyed when he started them up, and I was presented with razor-sharp imaging and a gorgeous, humongous, open, natural, cohesive soundstage which extended well beyond the boundaries of the room. I jokingly expressed my annoyance at how he had ignored the tape measure and at how easy they were to set up, and Ryan said he had found the Cirrus pretty much set themselves up with minimal placement care.

Ryan told how he spent a year perfecting the enclosure design for the Cirrus, insisting on nothing short of a perfect result. The Cirrus became and remain the Vapor Audio standard by which all their other model designs are graded and considered finished and worthy of the Vapor Audio name.

Without a doubt, the Cirrus were the closest to perfection of any of the speakers I heard that week, or have heard in a long time. Absolutely everything that needed to be there was there in just the right amount, and absolutely nothing extra or annoying or off-putting or questionable of any kind was present in their sonic delivery. I and another visiting listener whose ears I highly respect both agreed that the 2-way with 7-inch woofer and RAAL tweeter was the best 2-way speaker we remembered ever hearing, and for me the hour spent with the Cirrus was among a handful of top listening experiences ever, period, absolutely delightful and extremely difficult to pull myself away from. The Cirrus easily leapt to near the top of my list of "gotta have" speakers, regardless of price.

Compared to the Perfect Storm, the little Cirrus do not have the output capability or depth of bass extension, as one would expect. But for a smaller room and moderate listening levels, along with reasonable bass response expectations (-3 dB at 37 Hz, -1.5 dB at 45 Hz, typical in-room response with room gain), the Cirrus is definitely the master of its domain.


Final Listening Session

At this point we returned to the Perfect Storm, and I made a nuisance of myself, insisting that the other speakers we had auditioned be removed from the back of the room. I was convinced they were disrupting the soundstage ever so slightly. Ryan complied, no doubt noting in my file that I could be "difficult," and with all variables returned to their previous satisfactory state, one final session with the Perfect Storm was in order.

We finished as we had started, the speakers easily driven by the modest output from the Folsom Audio chip amp, and all previous impressions were confirmed. Repeating a number of tracks, the wide, natural soundstage with tight imaging, the almost-live accuracy of percussive instruments, the reach-down-their-throat immediacy of vocal detail, all aplenty but never too much, all re-asserted themselves as I made my final notes before departure.


Conclusions

If I were granted three wishes for the Perfect Storm, I would need only one, the time and resources to tweak and play with placement and treatment so I could squeeze the last few drops of soundstage and imaging and disappearing-act magic from the speakers. That final few percent of SS&I finish-tuning can take many hours of experimenting, and will be part of the process of some fortunate owner-to-be making them his own in his listening room. Based on everything I heard from them, I am confident in their ability to achieve SS&I perfection.

No speaker is perfect, but perfection is a goal that is approached in fine degrees of attention to detail. It almost seems like you have to sneak up on it so that you don't frighten it away. Shave off a micron too much of one quality and you find you have gone too far and have to back off again and approach the goal from a different angle. Ryan and co-designer Pete Schumacher have done an admirable job shaving away the imperfections in the design of the Perfect Storm. Priced at $26,695 per pair, they easily stand up against any other speakers I have heard in the price range, and many I have heard at two and three times the price. I readily admit that the Vapor Audio design sensibilities are a good match for my own listening preferences, and all their models I have heard have been easy to like, if not fall for just a bit. I would consider the Vapor Audio Perfect Storm to be a model very worthy of auditioning by anyone thinking of spending $50,000 or under for a pair of 2-channel speakers, and would not be in the least surprised to hear of them being preferred over models costing significantly more. My experience with them was delightful and unforgettable.


Go to the Vapor Audio Perfect Storm Speaker Review Discussion Thread


Photos by Dennis Young.


Perfect Storm

















Cirrus







Arcus









Folsom Audio Chip Power Amp



Antipodes DS Music Server (top shelf), BMC DAC1 DAC / Preamp (middle shelf), Custom SET Tube Amps (bottom shelf), Clayton Audio M300 Balanced Class A Power Amps (black, on floor), VH Audio Plasmatron Power Conditioner (behind, on floor).





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