Merlin Upgrade Experience

I recently had my (very late production) VSM-SEs upgraded to current status and thought I'd share my initial impressions on the change for anyone who might be interested.

Bobby tells me that pre-upgrade my VSMs were among the last SEs manufactured, and thus were quite close to the MM although not yet so badged.

My context for commenting on the VSMs includes both "in a vaccuum" impressions of their sound as well as comparison to other loudspeakers that I own and use regularly.

Until recently, I've owned 2 homes and thus the Merlins were the main speaker in town and my Verity Parsifal Encores served the same purpose at the beach. Additionally, I own a pair of Sonus Faber Cremonas which live in my living room. From time to time, I have been able to insert all 3 into my main system and they now all reside in a single, suburban residence (alas the baby arrived and beach house went!) more easily allowing for direct comparison.


My personal definition of the distinction between a music lover and a music loving audiophile is that the music lover wants all his records to sound good, while the audiophile wants his bad records to sound bad. By this definition, the VSM SE was a classic audiophile device, while the Creomna is more a music lovers device. Bad sounding records (and I own way too many) have tend to sound bad on the VSM SE and less so on the Cremonas. Conversely, the distinctions between any 2 records show up much more vividly on the VSM - for me, this is not a bad description of a phenomenon that many people like to call transparency.

IMHO, the likely cause of this difference is a measure of mid-bass warmtn and low bass wallop on the Cremona compared to some mid bass leanness and deep bass limitations on the VSM SE. The overall frequency response graphs of these speakers may not differ wildly, but there is significant difference in the octave to octave balance and resultant tonal signature:

The Cremonas have significantly more energy below the midband than do the VSM SEs. FWIW, the Verity - which in many respects combines the best of both worlds -- is voiced much closer to the Cremona. I suspect that most of the criticism of the VSM SE is due to people who either prefer a warmer voicing, need more ultimmate deep bass capability, or both. People with larger, less damped listening spaces probably highlight these issues in their environment.


Due to logistical issues on both sides, the process took longer than either Bobby or I would have liked. While his enthusiasm for his product may strike some as a "bit much", say this for the guy: He looks after his customers with unusual energy. He kept in regular touch with updates during the process and followed up multiple times after delivery. By any standard, in any business, this is a very high level of customer service.

I actually decided on this upgrade somewhat reluctanlty. Almost 2 years prior to pulling the trigger, I heard the then current VSM MX (MM?) at a local dealer. I was impressed by the warmer tonality and apparently unchanged mid band transparency, dynamics, imaging, and bass pitch definition. As far as I could tell at audition - the speakers biggest shortcoming had been ameliorated (though not eliminated) while its strengths had seamingly all been reatined.

However, an in-store demo is not dispositive, and I was still concerned that the speaker might lose some of its "magic". For as long as I can remember, much of my favorite mid band reproduction has come from speakers which (like the VSM SE) featured less than full energy below the mids (from earliest Quad through latest Lipinski). Hence my hemming and hawing. Ultimately, I went for it - though I remained a bit conflicted.


These observations must be qualified by the change in listening environment attendent to my move and the limited (2 weeks+) exposure to the new speakers. The listening room environmental effects are somewhat reduced by the continued
opportunity to compare the upgraded VSMs to the Verity and Cremonas.

In short - I couldn't have asked for very much more.

This upgrade is a VERY skillfull balancing act from Merlin. The most obvious difference is improved deep bass dynamics - which are immediately evident on tuned drums. Descending drum patterns on Peter Gabriel's Last Temptation no longer evidence rapidly diminishing power. Kick drum
and bass drum (Putttin' it Down, Out of The Cradle, Sinatra Live at The Sands, "E"'s Shine It All On) all showed greater impact up through significantly higher SPLs.

Meanwhile all else is right in the VSM universe. The mid-band is still SOTA for me;
voices on Sam Cook's Night Beat, Marti Jones' Unsophisticated Time, Joan Armitrading, etc. etc. were consistently as good as I've heard.
massed horns from the aforementioned Sinatra through Duke Ellington's Queens Suite and Intimacy of the Blues are still stunning.
Individual Horn timbre still amazes (The Hawk Flies High, etc.)

My take - this is the same speaker with obviously improved deep bass performance. My gut impression is that little adjustment was made in the warmth region (maybe tweaked up a smidge) but that the overall signature feels warmer by dint of increased energy below 60ish cycles. This is just a guess - no measurements taken.


Bobby likes to talk in percentage improvement. I can't say that I think that way and I would be at a total loss to attach a number. I would say that this is the same speaker with so much of its near SOTA capability retained and its most obvious shortcoming significantly redressed. If you liked the SE, I'm almost certain you'll love the cuurrent version. If you were lukewarm, you might find yourself convinced. If you REALLY didn't get the appeall of the SE, I doubt this new version will be your cup of tea.

Though true headbangers still need not apply - I suspect that just about everyone else will really like this speaker. FOR THE MOMENT, it has displaced the Verity P/E as my first choice for serious listening to high quality source material. It's new and that may change over time, but for me-for now- it's about as strong an endorsement as I can provide.


A Note; The speaker still seams amp friendly in a big way. They work like champs with Cary 805s (expensive) and Pancor Dyna re-issues (dirt cheap). Haven't yet had rthe chance to try my 300Bs.

Another note: Bobby uses BAX global which has about as good a rep as any shipper I know. Unfortunately, it seems that BAX subbed out the "last mile" in this case to a local company which, from the appearance of the crates, uses chain saws to move boxes. Notwithstanding serious damage to the cartons, the speakers arrived unscathed. Score on for for Merlin's packing/crating protocol.
oops, yes, imho low q or higher damped speakers like to be coupled as a rule and higher q or lower damped speakers like to be decoupled as a rule. the vsms are low q.
best, b
Just had my VSM-MX speakers upgraded to the new lead-free spec. I have listened for only two days, but can easily recognize considerable improvement in several key areas.
The bass has much more impact, weight, and definition. They throw a even larger soundstage. The speaker is more dynamic. Vocalists are more immediate (i.e., more "in-the-room"). The VSM-MX sounded large before the mods, but now they sound even larger. My hat's of to Bobby Palkovic for pushing the envelope yet again. If you are thinking, like I was, that lead-free solder could not possibly yield a significant improvement, think again.
i originally posted in june 2007 on my experience with upgrading to the lead free power cord for my BAM and to the 230 BAM battery cells. with this thread's encouragement and bobby's recommendation, i decided to send my VSM-MX's back for the full lead free upgrade.

i've had them back up and running for only about a week now, but the difference is immediate and fairly astounding. right out of the box, the speakers sound clearly more authoritative, with MUCH more bass impact. the sound stage is taller, wider, and deeper. the center of the stage comes up now more to the musical center of the speakers. the merlin imaging remains impeccable, as you would expect. i would agree with several of the above posts--the music is even MORE decoupled from the physical speaker than before. the overall effect is mesmerizing.

the speakers now completely and more satisfyingly energize the volume of my living room, which is a fairly large room with vaulted ceilings.

this upgrade is a no-brainer!

BRAVO bobby!
This is a review of the Merlin Music VSM MXE loudspeaker. I have been a fan of Merlin Music's speakers for a long time. I have known Bobby Palkovic the designer for over 20 yrs and worked for him for 10 This is a review of the Merlin Music VSM MXE loudspeaker. I have been a fan of Merlin Music's speakers for a long time. I have known Bobby Palkovic the designer for over 20 yrs and worked for him for 10 yrs. He is one of the few true gentleman in audio today.

This past summer i had my VSM MX's upgraded to the new MXE version( all lead free) along with a new Super BAM( also lead free). I loved my MX's. They were smooth sounding, offered very very good sound staging(depth,height and width). The resolution, detail and layering of music was simply tremendous.The mids were natural sounding. The highs were sweet and airy without any of that metallic sound that so many speakers have. The bottom end was extended sounding with very good definition and weight.The Mx's are a very well balanced sounding speaker.They are coherent, life like and complete sounding.That is why the speaker is a recommended component in stereophile( class A (RL).They simply play music!

What i got after my upgrade to the MXE version and Super BAM is nothing short of amazing.The MXE is now much more smoother sounding( Liquid sounding).There is a total lack of grunge or harshness. The sound stage now takes on a more life like presentation. voices are oh so natural with none of that chestyness or hollow sound that one hears from most speakers. The highs are even more refined. delicate with even a more airy sound. None of that bright brittle metallic sound here. You know the kind that makes your ears bleed!! The bottom end is much more weighted sounding with much better resolution and definition.The new Super BAM plays a important part in this also.On full Ac the new BAM sounds much better than the old did on batteries. When you switch to full batteries you will notice how things smooth out even more.

The MXE's are much more continuous,coherent, and life-like sounding. As a result the MXE's are a more complete speaker and because of this it sounds more expansive in its portrayal of music. A speaker that is all most beyond belief in its ability to play music in a seamless, natural nature. No phony sounding mids, bloated over exagerated bottom end and artificial sounding highs. It may be the best speaker in the world as some have suggested. I leave that to the ones that already have them.

Thanks Bobby!!

Here is a list of my gear:

Merlin Music VSM MXE speakers
Music Reference RM9SE Power Amp
Joule Electra La-150MK2 line stage
Audio Aero Capitole Classic SE CDP
Equi-tech balanced power units(2)
Cardas Golden Reference interconnects, power cords and speaker cables
JPS AC+ power cords

room size 19x13x12.

If anyone would like to hear them in my system just contact bobby. I live in the DC metro area( northern va). Reston, Great Falls, Sterling area.