Review: Merlin Music Systems VSM-MX Monitor

Category: Speakers

Ok, I’ve had the VSM-MXs for two months now and though I’ve been burning to give them a review, I’ve been waiting until I felt they were really broken in.
What you probably wanna know is: are they really as good as people say they are? Well the answer is a big resounding no. They are MUCH better than that.

MY BACKGROUND: I’m a guy who loves his speakers to be on the warm side. I’m attached to music as a whole rather than sound in itself, and hate analytical, cold or hi-fi sounding speakers. And I use Brinkmann amplifiers and preamp, which are solid-state. So after reading everywhere on the net that the VSMs worked mostly with tube amplifiers, and that the VSMs could sound cold if set-up wrongly, I almost did not order them. Especially since I’m not one of those guys who love to tweak, fiddle with gear for hours. When I dish out the big bucks, I want things to work with minimum fuss.
But I must be a masochist, because I ordered them anyway, after reading and rereading the great posts about Merlin.

THE WAITING: Four months. Bobby did a nice job of quelling my impatience, even yelling at me a few times J

SET-UP AND SOUND: At least, they arrived. God, they’re beautiful. I first dropped the speakers right where I wanted them to be, because I don’t have a dedicated room and didn’t want them to take over the room. I thought “If they don’t sound well, well they’ll have to go”. Yep, that’s me. After minimal adjustments, they locked into their perfect position. Nothing to do with the golden ratio or anything, and I have a large window on one side.

THE SOUND: So how do they sound, placed less than optimately and paired with a full solid-state system? I’ve owned several high-end speakers (no names needed) and heard a lot more at friend’s or, for what it’s worth, at shows. To put it simply, the VSMs are the best speakers I’ve ever owned or heard. Bold statement, but true.

Despite the complete absence of any tube in my system, the VSMs sounded warm, enveloping and caressing (the Brinkmann are essentially neutral amps) from the word go. At the same time, and this is what makes them so uncanny, they sound so precise you hear a thousand things you never heard before. Transparency has never been very high on my priority list, but my jaw dropped. Had I been missing so much? And this transparency is achieved without the slightest trace of glare, brightness, forwardness or “hifiness”. The emotional connection with the music is absolutely uncanny. It’s really like being there. So much happens in front of you – and even a little on the sides! – you have to hear them to believe it.

Soundstage is the best I’ve “seen”, along with the feeling of air around the instruments. The latter point made me listen to CDs again, whereas I was a die-hard analog fan. I have no idea how Bobby does that, but his speakers remove any trace of harshness and “mechanicalness” to CDs. While being super precise, they make some of my badly recorded CDs listenable. Sounds like a paradox, does it? I guess this has to do with removing distortion.

Well, I guess you got the gist of it, go read the other reviews, they are true!!! Inky black background, treble, glorious midrange, good bass without overstating (the world “elegant” comes to mind)…

As for those who found them cold or analytical or forward… I don’t know what to say. It just beats me. My amp doesn’t sweeten things, I have a rather resonant room and I set-up the speakers without bothering too much… yet they sound gloriously warm and engaging. What those people have heard was probably some mismatch before the Merlins.

SUMMARY: why are these the best speakers money can buy for me? Because they’ll give you the best, or close to it, of different designs, without their flaws: the emotional connection of high-efficiency speakers, the weight and power and box-speakers, the transparency of electrostatics. I’m not kidding. Go for it, you won’t regret it. I first used to think 8000 dollars were a lot for a two-way design, I’ve changed my mind big time! No speakers costing 10 times more will give you more music, more sheer joy and musicality, or even a better sound.

WEAKNESSES: Not sure they could be used in a gigantic living-room. Bass is outstanding in an elegant and understated way, but not subwoofer-deep. Listen to the VSMs, you won’t need it.

BOBBY: Almost the best part of the VSMs! Answers each and every email while building speakers and running a company. I think there must be several Bobby Palkovics. Or he has super-powers. Designing out-of-this-world speakers is definitely one of them. Thanks for putting an end to my quest.

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Thanks John. I do enjoy them tremendously. I could also use a tad more bass in an ideal world, but that's only because the one I have with the VSMs is so awesome I want more! It's the first time ever I own a speaker that goes so deep, so clean, without being muddy or souding like a buzz.
I'm really happy to be part of the club now!
I have owned the VSM-M now for (4) years and I agree they are excellent speakers for a small to medium size room. If the MX version is a major upgrade from the previous mellinum series then indeed they are exceptional speakers. One area of weekness for the VSM's is the low bass below 32 HZ which I resolved with a Rel Stentor Subwoffer which filled out the bottom very nicely. The Bam just does not cut it for me but the Rel Stentor sub makes for a complete system. Bobby is a excellent designer and uses top quality parts and materials and like you I am indeed very impressed with his speakers.

I would like to upgrade to the new MX series but the high cost of the upgrade and hassle shipping from California to Bobby are a bit to much. I will probally wait until I see a used pair for sale on Audiogon and buy them that way rather than going thru the upgrade hassle. In any event you have a very fine set of speakers.