Review: Merlin Music Systems VSM-MXe Speaker

Category: Speakers

In my 30+ years in this hobby there are only a handful of components that I've kept more than a few years. I bought the Merlin VSMs (SE version) after an in-home audition in 1998 and after reading many glowing reviews. I liked the speakers so well that I kept them for 10+ years and felt no need to change them. Bobby Palkovic at Merlin (and more glowing reviews of the later models) finally convinced me to take the next step, so this year I sent my speakers back to Merlin to be converted to VSM-MXe status. Thus my comments below address both the original VSM-SE and the upgrade to the VSM-MXe.

My prior speakers were also 10+ years in my home. They were electrostatics from a highly regarded company and I spent many years trying to get them to sound “natural”. They certainly sounded transparent and revealing, which is why I bought them, but I could not get them to sound natural. After listening to the VSM-SE in 1998 it was clear that they had much of the revealing quality of the electrostatics, but they also had the inherent musicality and naturalness that allows one to get lost in the music and simply enjoy the performance. This is why I bought the VSM-SE and enjoyed them for 10+ years. They are natural and sound like music. Thinking back over the past 10 years I guess I resisted the upgrade as there wasn’t much that I didn’t like about the VSM-SE sound and I really didn't think they could be improved "that much".

I was wrong.

If the VSM-SE sounds like music, the VSM-MXe is starting to sound like live music.

I’ve had the modified speakers back now only a bit over two weeks. Bobby put some hours on them after the upgrade and I guess I’ve put another 80 hours on them. The first week they sounded very nice and it was clear they were changing/breaking in. This past weekend though the speakers really came into their own. As the weekend progressed the sound became more expansive, more relaxed, yet more defined and precise. The top end snapped into focus: When this occurred the imaging became much more defined, almost holographic and the sound took on an "aliveness" or realism that I have not heard before. The soundstage details (especially in the mid-to-back portion of the stage became almost as clear and defined as the front of the stage. I began to hear clearly for the first time many details, background harmonies and vocals on recordings that I've listened to hundreds of times before. Simply hearing stuff that I had no idea was even in the recordings. There were several songs that I "thought" I knew the words on but I found out I was singing the wrong words. The speakers now are clear in revealing this. I find the VSM-MXe to be far more resolved, revealing and immediate while being even more relaxing to listen to than the SEs. And for those into imaging - these speakers will not disappoint.

As I mentioned, before I purchased the Merlins I owned electrostatic speakers and, being an engineer, I thought that there was no way a dynamic driver speaker system could capture that kind of realism. I guess I'm going to have to re-consider that opinion. It's amazing to me that (with this modification) the speaker has had no driver changes and yet sounds so different and improved.

Loving what I'm hearing so far with this (very reasonably priced) upgrade.

Associated gear
Decware Torii Mk-2 amplifier
Rega Saturn CDP
Well Tempered Table, ET 2.5 Tonearm, Benz-Micro Glider cartridge
Audience AU-24 cabling
Nice review, Bumcat. I've heard the Merlins (a recent if not the most recent version) several times, and was always impressed myself. A compact, S.O. friendly design I could happily live with. Enjoy yours!