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Friend of the Shack
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Hi there,

In early December 2006, I was lucky enough to acquire a pair of Vandersteen 3A Signature loudspeakers. I bought these used from a gentleman in California via Audiogon, and I believe they were created sometime in 2003 (according to the seller, as well as whoever answered the phone when I called Vandersteen headquarters).

I think I've lived with them long enough to write up a little review. First, let me start with my associated equipment:

I generally use one of two sources -- either a Dell PC streaming FLAC files or a Denon 1910 DVD player. From either of those, I go digital into an Outlaw Audio 990 pre/pro to a Sunfire Cinema Grand (200x5). Additionally, I'm using a Mach5 4x18 IB sub with a Behringer EP2500 powering it, and a BFD1124P equalizing it.

The speakers that were replaced were the Definitive Technology BP2002TL, which I had for about a year and a half. FWIW, I've also owned PSB 40MkII, B&W DM602 s2, Magnepan MMG, and some Energy bookshelves.

So, the Vandersteen is noted as being a warm speaker, and I would have to agree. It's really what drew me to it. The Definitives are frequently considered a bright speaker, and I may be rebelling against that sound a bit. I really wanted to get into the music more, and I was just looking for an upgrade. In another thread, I mentioned that I compared the 3A Sig against the Maggie 1.6QR and the Paradigms Studio 100, and both my wife and I really liked them. I listened to probably 80% of the B&W line, spending quite a bit of time with the 802D. I also listened extensively to the Martin Logan Clarity, and to a lesser degree the Montage (or was it the Mosaic? The one without any electrostat panel, anyway). I also listened a bit to the Vienna Acoustics, but the ones at Magnolia broke up easily at volume (not sure on models... two smallish floor standers). In the end the 3A Sig was it, although I admit that I didn't necessarily audition everything I wanted to due to distance and/or weather.

The 3A Sig sounds great to me, and without breaking the bank. They're fairly easy to find used for <$2k. The warmth and life of the sound can really draw the listener in. Female vocals can sound very alluring. I'm listening to Bossacucanova's Aguas de Marco, and the guitar and vocal is just right on. Her voice is solidly in the middle. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear it's coming from the center channel that's sitting on top of the TV.

Switching to a more upbeat number ("Essa Moca ta Diferente") on the same Uma Batida Diferente album, I'm met with the same life and a bigger soundstage. I've turned off the sub, and the bass guitar is still respectably present in my 3,000++ square foot room. These guys are rated to 30 Hz, and use an 8" bass driver as well as a 10" active acoustic coupler to get there. I won't try to convince you that it's the gut-slamming bass you might need for movies, but it's excellent for most music. I understand that dual Vandersteen subs really make a difference with the 3A Sig, but I have not heard that combo first hand.

Clicking over to Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man", I appreciate the dynamics. The sub's still off, but I clearly feel the blam-blam of the tympanis. The blat of the trumpets and french horns accentuates and really defines each of their parts within the song. The dynamic range of the recording is able to shine through on the 3A Sig.

Sting's The Soul Cages simply has some great songs on it. I simply love "Why Should I Cry for You?" and "The Wild Wild Sea", with the latter employing some great imagery and dynamics as the ship gets into the storm. This CD was recorded using "Q Sound", and I'm not sure if that the root cause or not, but there are some downright spooky, outside-the-speaker imaging moments on this CD. Check out the single bowstroke at about 1:09 (a viola or cello, perhaps?). If I didn't know better, I'd swear it's coming from the left surround! My DT's didn't do that, but I heard it on the Sonus Faber Amatis...

They also acquitted themselves nicely on rock. I listened to Rob Zombie, some White Zombie remixes (lot of bass), Gorillaz, Trey Anastasio and a variety of other over-produced, highly-compressed material. They never faltered, they never broke up at volume and they just rocked. Just like a good speaker should.

So, all in all, I'm happy. I can't say that the 3A Sig will stay forever, but they're here for now. My wife says she never knows what's coming or going, who's buying or selling, and that she's given up (I'm not that bad, really!!!). I'm happy for now, and these are without question the best speakers I've ever owned.

In summary, I'd say that the pros of the 3A Sig are imaging, soundstage and their warm, involving character. Cons? I've heard speakers with more punch in the low end, but they have a $12k price tag. I've heard speakers that have better dynamics, including my DTs, the 802D and the Sonus Faber, but that's not what these speakers are about (not that there's anything wrong with dynamics, right...). And the Vandersteen "look" doesn't have much going for it (surprisingly, my wife likes the look), but hey, that's OK, too.

All in all, I really enjoy these speakers. They perform well on all types of material, and they are smooth, smooth, smooth. Like my friend discussed -- once you get to a certain price point, it's not so much about "good" vs. "bad" speakers; it's more that they are just different from each other, and you have to find one you like. I'm not sure if I'm to that price point yet (I think of it as about $5k, and the 3A Sig lists for $3,500, IIRC), but I've definitely found one that I like. The Vandersteen 3A Signature is an all-around good performer.
 
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