Review: Merlin Music Systems merlin VSM-MX Speaker

Category: Speakers

About one year ago, i began researching my first audiophile purchase. I knew i wanted a reference quality system, and with no particular end point in mind, or pre-conceived bias, i began making extensive use of audiogon and other web sites. i quickly became overwhelmed--tubes vs
solid state, separates vs. integrateds, audiophile terminolgy for which i had no reference. this reaction may be common, the volume of information was overwhelming.

weeding through tons of info, i came to the conclusion that i would begin from a reference quality speaker and move backwards through as transparent and natural an acoustic window as i could find. by location, i had no access to live auditioning, which would have been optimal. so i
began searching for a speaker that could be purchased over the phone or on-line, and from someone who i trusted, would be willing to walk me through some baby steps, who would be available via email or phone, and who seemed uniformly well reviewed.

very quickly, merlin music and bobby palkovich began to stand out. i called bobby about his speaker line. in truth i was about 75% sold before even talking to him, but as you can gather yourself, talking wih bobby is a treat. i very quickly decided on the VSM-MX in piano black.

my goal all along was elegance and simplicity. musical transparency, life-like sound staging, and the absence of coloration were my end-points. bobby's design fit absolutely with these goals. symbiosis was also a paramount consideraation, and i leaned heavily on bobby's suggestions
for creation of the whole system. per bobby's rec's, i went with the audio aero prima cd player (maybe on day i'll step up into the capitole), ARS sonum filarmonia intergrated amp, cardas golden reference power cords for the cd and amp (GR power cord included with the filarmonia), and
cardas GR speakers cables. audio aero cdp is balanced on walker audio valid points, per rich's suggestion at signature sound. (thanks rich).

a word about room dimension and musical tastes. my "listening room" is my living room, and the spatial volume is huge. vaulted ceilings maybe 25 " x 30" in a rough rectangle, probably 20 ft floor to celing. i
listened in college mostly to grateful dead and various jam bands, but a 5 yr stint in new orleans re-centered my musical tastes more towards acoustical jazz. funk, R & B, world music (i.e. fela kuti, reggage, etc . . .) also well represented. rock (i.e. flaming lips) and hip-hop (i.e.
blackalicious, del la soul) as well.

the amp and cd player arrived first. the amp is stunning out of box, heavier than i thought, and still gets the most attention and whistles. after a time (be patient with your speaker order) the speakers arrived in a huge package. the finish is just gorgeous, and matches exactly the trim around my pioneer plasma TV. very elegant, understated, and
substantial. a friend helped me set-up the feet spikes and set and level the speakers, which i balanced on pre-1987 pennies on my hard wood floors. the spikes are brutally sharp (seems dumbly obvious, but i still managed to puncture my left thumb twice, once out of stupid curiosity "to see how sharp they were," a second time on accident), the speakers are very heavy, and whole process in retrospect was almost comical. no one was killed, and the speakers were ultimately aligned and balanced per
bobby's very pointed instructions.

the cables terminals are hilariously exotic for a neophite, and the Cardas GR cables and interconnects are beefy (probably #2 in comments to the filarmonia). after a little mix-up (the GR interconnects are directional), the system was set-up and ready to rip. filarmonia break-in lasted about 50 hrs (again, bobby will walk you through this process), and i would estimate system break-in at about 200 hrs, with big leaps in sound quality at 40 and 120 hrs.

now, the fun part. the sound is heavenly. i honestly expected more mid range coloration/sweetness from the tubed filamronia, after reading the on-going SS vs Tube back and forth. what i found instead was an overall
sonic "correctness." whatver was originally recorded, you're getting. almost as if you sitting in the sound engineer's chair, AT THE ORIGINAL SESSION. this can have a hair tingling effect when listening to a coltrane, bill evans, miles, getz, anybody recording which you THINK you've heard a million times. quickly i realized that i would have the pleasure of re-discovering all of my albums. think of it as re-buying your entire collection. one note, poor recordings sound like what they are, poor recordings. i now search out high quality re-masters.

overall and across genres, my system sound tonally neutral, sonically correct, but also dynamic and life-like. the epicenter of the stage centers about 3-5 behind the speakers, and arcs above and behind me in the
best recordings. bill evans key notes have a viscerally palpable crescendo and decay. the clarity makes the
sound-stage, as you can clearly locate in space all the instruments. the
blackness of the stage allows your mind to separate all the insruments, and
ultimately makes the speakers themselves disappear. i actually leave the speakers grills off, for the purpose of exposing them. they disappear even more with the grills on, and people have come very close to bumping into the speakers.

these qualities have been discussed here at length, and they are true. the system is slightly bass lean to my ear, but bass accurate. maybe lacks some of the low-end "effect" of the bass attack, but not the tonal bass response. scott le faro bass with bill evans, for example, sounds
absolutely pristine. i attributed this to my room size, but i just sent the filarmonia back to bobby for an upgrade which he says will improve overall performance in the mid and bass frequecy audibly.

whew, hope this helps someone. i'm very happy with my purchase, and thankful to all the audiogoners and merlin web family whose posts helped me get to this point. i'm very proud to be in the merlin family, and will re-post as i re break-in the filarmonia with its upgrade.

thanks also to bobby, whom i truly consider now a friend. hopefully one day i'll be able to shake his hand in person, sit back in front of a pair of merlins, and drink a cold one.

bravo bobby!

Associated gear
ars sonum filarmonia
audio aero prima cd player
cardas golden reference power cord
cardas golden refernce speaker cable

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