The Inside Game: A Look at VMPS Audio

I recently acquired a used pair of VMPS Tower II SE speakers to use as my home theater fronts. The moment I heard these speakers, I realized this was the best sounding system I had ever assembled by a very wide margin (more on that later). There’s absolutely no reason to upgrade my speaker for a long time because, in my price range, this is perhaps as good as it gets.

Because of this speaker purchase, I decided to learn more about VMPS Audio and speak briefly with its founder – Brian Cheney.

HFR – Tell us about your background.

“I have been interested in audio since the age of 14. I started out building amplifiers and speakers from scratch. I grew up in Europe and dropped out of college to start my own company where we imported hi-fi gear from America. Eventually, I opened my own hi-fi store. While my customers liked the most of the audio gear, they weren’t very excited about the imported speakers. One day I opened up one of the speakers and designed a better crossover for it. That’s when I decided to start my own speaker company. That was 30 years ago.”

HFR – Briefly explain your design philosophy.

“I’ve always been a fan of full range reproduction, but when I started out few speakers offered it. There were two camps: East coast sound, laid back and accurate, good for classical; and West coast sound, loud and punchy, good for rock. I wanted speakers comfortable with any genre. I was also a fan of low prices and had quite of bit of company in the early years, but as prices spiraled out of sight, it became clear many manufacturers were building to a “price point” and not a quality point, and price lost is relationship with fidelity. In today’s market this is most ridiculously the case. I just read an online “review” of a new $220,000 speaker which was praised for its bold design and “punishing” price, even though no one had ever heard it!”

HFR – What motivates you to do what you do?

“Hopefully advancing the art, taking chances, indulging a taste for high quality and low prices and, I might add, making a living. And there is always the music. I make sure my rig gets the music to me intact; it’s my job and my reason for existing.”

HFR – What product innovations can we expect from VMPS in the near future?

“We recently introduced the constant directivity wave guide (CDWG). CDWG provides even off-axis response for all VMPS loudspeakers and offers a huge improvement in sound. We will also introduce the VM-60, an open baffle design at CES. The biggest problem with open baffle speakers is the dipole effect, but we have resolved this issue.”

HFR – Where do you see the mid/high end audio industry going in the next 5 – 10 years?

“The audio industry is going right down the toilet because it has lost the concept of advancing the art. The industry has become profitdriven and is going ‘convenient, small, and compressed.’ The high end audio industry will end up where it was 40 years ago – a cottage industry run by hobbyists.

The high end audio industry peaked in 1995; since then, it has been losing 5% per year. The consumer has no idea what to buy. Audiophiles change their gear like underwear. Currently, there are a large number of oneman shops and companies who simply rebadge Chinese products and stick a large price tag on them. Eventually, we will begin to experience a major shrinkage of manufacturers. On the other hand, lots of good gear is available and prices have never been lower.”

HFR – What components comprise your personal reference audio system?

“I have a simple setup. My reference 2-channel system consists of an Ampzilla (circa 1970’s), a Krell transport, Wadia DAC, and Audience and Kimber cables. I do not use a preamp.”

HFR – Finally, what advice would you offer audiophiles on a budget?

“Audiophiles on a budget can do very well by buying Chinese gear and pro amps with level controls. Of course, this gear ought to be used with VMPS speakers. Don’t bother with brick & mortar or name brand stuff. Buy via mail order or the Internet.”

I’m an audiophile on a budget, and proudly so. That’s one of the reasons I purchased an affordably priced used pair of VMPS Tower II SE speakers. [The Tower II SE’s are no longer manufactured; they have been replaced by the RM2.] These speakers are fairly stout at 44” high, 15.25” wide and 15.75” deep. Quite frankly, they’ll likely overwhelm a small to medium size room. Because of that, the wife acceptance factor (WAF) may be low on these speakers (I made an executive decision and bought them anyway). However, the finish is beautiful. I love the burgundy veneer and it goes well with any décor.

Each speaker sports a super tweeter, tweeter, 4” midrange, two 12” carbon fiber woofers, and a slot loaded 12” passive radiator. They also have three pots to tweak the treble, midrange, and super tweeter. You can even adjust the bass by manipulating the dampening properties of the passive radiators. In addition, there are dual binding posts with internal jumpers. A switch on the back of each speaker controls whether the speakers are to run full range or bi-wired/bi-amped. These speakers are very efficient and dip down to 20 Hz. I’m guessing they weigh about 140 lbs. each.

So how do they sound? Well, the Tower II’s sound much fuller than anything I’ve owned before. The soundstage is exceptional. In fact, these speakers make my entire home theater system sound more like an actual movie theater.

For example, on one of the LOTR movies, there is a scene where mammoths are engaging the enemy in a battle sequence. With the VMPS’, it sounds like the mammoths’ footsteps are charging right at you because the fronts can convey the full complement of bass. And when Darla taps the glass, the entire room becomes the fish bowl, not just the area surrounding the seating position.

The most impressive aspect of these speakers is that I’m finally getting close to true surround sound. I didn’t think it was possible in my room because the seating position is against the rear wall, but I feel like I’m in the middle of the action. The front speakers are somehow working in tandem with the surround speakers and my surrounds sound better than ever.

And it gets really interesting with 2-channel music. Being the bassaholic that I am, I started my speaker demo out with Stanley Clarke’s Bass-ics Collection and my room was transformed into a dance club (I couldn’t stop dancing, and I ain’t very good at it!). I fell in love with the thunderous, yet well controlled bass. On many speakers with large woofers, the bass can be overbearing, like a subwoofer with too much gain. Not so with the Tower II’s; they allow the bass to serve as the delightful garden wherein the mids and highs can blossom.

Then I threw various jazz CDs at the speakers; the voices of Cassandra Wilson and Lizz Wright sounded more natural and with greater emotionality. There was a clear separation of instruments and no listening fatigue at all. The speakers provided incredible dynamics and attack. There was more air, detail, and warmth than I imagined could emanate from a solid state system.

Keep in mind that at the time, I was playing music through an Oppo 970 DVD player and a Pioneer Elite VSX-52TX A/V receiver! In fact, the music sounded so good that it forced me to dismantle my separate, tube-based, 2-channel system and integrate it with my HT system so I can use the VMPS Tower II SE as my new reference speakers. To be honest, I didn’t think it was possible to get music this good in my acoustically troublesome room on my budget. In a nutshell, these speakers completely changed my paradigm about what a great audio system ought to sound like.