Traditional planar speakers have a set of sonic attributes that are not often emulated by other designs using conventional drivers. Planar speakers are highly detailed, produce a huge soundstage, and are not plagued with cabinet resonance issues. On the downside, these speakers are physically large, can be difficult to place in a room, and have limited dynamic range. These speakers need to be placed several feet from room boundaries, due to reflection issues created by the rear wave coming off the driver panel. Only the largest specimens of planar speakers are capable of reproducing the lower registers of music in a believable manner. In spite of these limitations, planar speakers offer a sublime listening experience, and many audio enthusiasts are willing to face the challenges presented by this type of design.
- Dehorned Spiral Ribbon Tweeter (7 kHz-20 kHz) Push-pull neodymium planar mid (280Hz up)
- 6.5″ poly/mica cone woofer w/20oz magnet, 4 layer VC and cast frame
- SR71/BH5 cabinet damping
- CDWG -the Constant Directivity Waveguide for 180 degree dispersion full range
- Fully CD equalized polpropylene crossover
- 200W rms power handling, 89dB/1W/1m sensitivity
- 8 Ohms with 4.6 Ohm minimum impedance
- Price: $998
Designers often endeavor to build a speaker that integrates a planar driver with a conventional woofer. These speakers usually contain a ribbon style tweeter, and a small bass driver. Even though the woofer diaphragm is quick and responsive, it often lags behind the ultra-fast ribbon tweeter. Achieving a seamless blend between these markedly different driver technologies is a difficult task, although there have been speakers employing this configuration with varying degrees of success. Incorporating a planar midrange driver into the speaker design is a viable solution for the problems that plague a two-way design. In a three-way hybrid speaker, the crossover point between the conventional woofer and the planar type drivers is moved down into the mid-bass region. The planar driver is well suited to keep up with the ribbon tweeter, and does an excellent job in the midrange spectrum. The bass driver is no longer responsible for lower midrange information, and does a better job at its assigned task. The cost of producing a three-way hybrid speaker is significantly higher than those incurred in a small two-way design. The manufacturer has to account for the cost of an additional set of drivers, the increased complexity of the crossover network, and a significantly larger cabinet. Even with the increased costs factored into the price of a three-way hybrid speaker, the gain in performance is significant enough to justify the higher selling price.
Brian Cheney has produced VMPS Loudspeakers for thirty-one years. In order to view this achievement in its proper perspective, remember that in 1977 Jimmy Carter was president of the U.S., and gas sold for 62 cents a gallon. Ford Motor Company still produced the Pinto, and the compact disc will not be invented for another five years. Anyone who has been around this hobby knows that the lifespan of a small audio company can be quite short, and this knowledge could be a factor in the purchasing decision that an audio enthusiast makes regarding an expensive piece of gear. Brian has done far more than survive in the competitive audio market place. In 2002 and 2003 VMPS Loudspeakers won the coveted “Best of Show” award at the CES convention. VMPS has legitimately earned its reputation as a high-end loudspeaker manufacturer, and the audio community recognizes the contributions Brian has made to our hobby.
VMPS 626 JR review
After thirty years of service in a profession, most people would gladly retire from the work force. Brian Cheney celebrates his third decade of speaker manufacturing by offering VMPS customers a smoking deal on the VMPS 626 JR speaker system. These speakers normally sell for $1598 a pair. For a limited time Brian is offering the 626 JR for $975 a pair. The everyday price for these speakers is quite reasonable, especially once you compare the innovative design and the substantial cabinets of the 626 JR to other speakers in the $1500 price category. The anniversary price is something special, and Brian has just basically put $623 back into the pockets of his customers. The VMPS 626 JR loudspeaker system is a three-way design that combines planar and conventional speaker technology. The midrange driver is a variation of the Eminent Technology LFT driver.
The VMPS version uses neodymium magnets, and has incorporated a structural enhancement to the driver frame. This driver is crossed in 280 hertz, and extends up to 7 KHZ. From this point, a spiral ribbon tweeter is pressed into duty. This driver has also been modified to meet the Brian Cheney’s design criteria. The shallow horn fascia is removed, and the body is dampened with a resonance absorbing material. The bass driver is a conventional 6.5-inch woofer, which is used in a bass reflex configuration. The cone material for the standard driver for the 626JR is a poly/mica blend. It contains a 4-layer voice coil, and is housed in a cast frame. The review pair I have contains the Megawoofer upgrade. This driver uses a woven carbon fiber cone, and has a longer throw and higher power handling than the stock woofer. Brian adheres to the philosophy that the advantages of first order crossovers are best suited to reproducing music. The 626 JR uses high quality crossover parts, and if necessary there is an upgrade path available if the buyer wishes to up the performance ante of this speaker.
The 626 JR cabinets are built from high density MDF. These enclosures are well built, and surprisingly heavy. The inside of the cabinet is heavily braced, and Blackhole 5 dampening material is used to battle any residual cabinet resonance issues. A satin black piano finish is applied to the cabinets, and the overall appearance is top shelf. The 626JR can be had with a conventional fabric covered grill, but VMPS offers their innovative Constant Directivity Waveguide option for this speaker. The Waveguide grill gives the 626 JR a futuristic appearance, and one could imagine that Darth Vader would have a similar looking speaker in his two-channel system. As a final note, Brian recommends placing a “beard” on the front of the stands that the 626 JR will reside on. Paul Klispch recommended the use of a front baffle for stand mounted speakers about 35 years ago. Speaker efficiency below a 100 hertz can be increased by 6DB by extending the front baffle down to the floor.
The planar and ribbon drivers used by VMPS have certain characteristics that are well suited to application of Waveguide technology. The center portion of the midrange panel is responsible for 75% of the driver output. Brian developed a Waveguide grill that eliminates any off axis information, and allows for uniform dispersion over a 180-degree pattern. The off axis energy is eliminated by sound absorption material that is located on the backside of the Waveguide grille. The application of Waveguide technology does result in a 1.5DB reduction in midrange output, and a 6DB per octave roll off for frequencies above 10 KHZ. The LPAD controls on the midrange and high frequency drivers will allow the user to make subtle adjustments to the output levels of these drivers. The 626 JR becomes easier to place in a room, and certain issues such as early room reflections are now minimized. Also, first order crossovers result in a lobing dispersion pattern, which the Waveguide effectively eliminates. The combination of low order crossover, and Waveguide technology results in a speaker that has low phase distortion and an even dispersion pattern. control to 2/3 open.
The 626 JR speakers are placed on a pair of 24-inch Target HS series stands. I built the experimental “beard” from a section of ½-inch MDF. The speakers are placed nine feet apart, and three feet off the front wall. A slight degree of tow-in was necessary to create an even soundstage. With the Waveguide grilles in place, I set the midrange and treble LPADS at ¾ open. When I listened to these speakers without any grille, I reset the midrange
The VMPS 626 JR are 89 DB efficient, with an 8-ohm nominal impedance. At 280 hertz there is a dip to 4.6 ohms in the impedance curve, which is where the midrange panel is crossed in. Amplification duties are taken care of by a Jeff Rowland Model 5 stereo amp. This amplifier delivers 150-wpc of power into 8 ohms, and is well suited to drive any speaker system. A Jeff Rowland Consummate pre-amplifier makes up the other half of the amplification system. The Bolder modified Squeezebox is used in conjunction with the Audio Magic Kukama DAC. An Audio Magic Mini-Reference handles all the power conditioner duties. All cables are from the Audio Magic Illusion 4D series. Audio Magic Extreme series power cords are used with all components that will accept an aftermarket cord. These components reside in a pair of AV123 equipment racks.
The Waveguide grille option for the 626 JR makes this a distinctive speaker. I will admit to being intrigued by the performance claims for this technology, and immediately began evaluating the effect of the grilles. It is necessary to locate the correct settings for the tweeter and midrange controls, but this was a relatively easy task. “Church” by Lyle Lovett [Joshua Judges Ruth; MCA MCAD 10475] has a diverse mixture of instruments, which includes a small gospel choir. There should be a distinct separation between the vocalist and the individual choir members. A mediocre speaker will tend to crowd the voices together, and minimize the spatial cues between the Lyle and the other singers. The VMPS speaker does a fine job with this track, and generates a well-defined soundstage. The 626 JR clearly defines the space between the lead singer and the choir. Several choir members have a vocal solo in the song, and the distance between each member is easily heard. Since this is a gospel choir, hand clapping is certainly mandatory for an up-tempo praise song. The imaging capabilities of this speaker are excellent, and it is able to place the handclaps in the same plane as the choir members. The Waveguide grilles do result in a uniform dispersion of information from the speaker. The VMPS speaker did not have a traditional sweet spot at the normal listening position; instead the image was stable at any point in front of the speakers. Any changes in the angle between the performers and the listening position are clearly experienced, and reproducing what would happen at a live performance. The Waveguide grills work just like Brian Cheney describes, and minimizes the effects of room boundaries on the performance of the speaker.
Brian Cheney strongly recommends using a “beard” to extend the bass response of the 626 JR. Even though Paul Klipsch pioneered this idea, it is an undisputed fact that the guys of ZZ Top have proven that the beard is cool. The bass response of the 626JR is deeper, and has more punch when the extended front baffle is in place. The extended baffle optimizes bass performance by creating a path for the driver to couple to the floor room boundary. In essence the “beard” bestows the primary advantage that a floor standing speaker has over a stand mounted one. “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” by PM Dawn [Of the Heart, Of the Soul, and of the Cross; The Utopian Experience; GEE STREET314-510 276-2] is an unusual blend of R&B rhythm, a smooth jazz melody, and lyrics with a psychedelic flavor. While the bass instruments are synthesized, there is a complex arrangement to this song that can be appreciated if you listen closely. The 6.5-inch bass driver is nimble enough to reproduce the fine detail in the bass line, yet is not overwhelmed by the high output levels that is contained in the song. There are many highly regarded speakers in the market place that fall short of the 626JR in regards to bass performance. For instance, the Cabasse Farella 401 that I owned a few years back could not come close to equaling the abilities of the VMPS speaker. If bass response is an important factor in your choice of a loudspeaker, do not let the modest size of the 626 JR fool you. This loudspeaker has excellent bass performance, and will stand on level footing with significantly more expensive speakers.
“Afterglow” by Kendra Shank is one of the best recordings in my library. More importantly, Kendra turns in a masterful performance, and this is one of those times where a great recording captures the essence of a gifted performer. On “Tres Yeux Bemol” [Afterglow; Mapleshade MS 02132] Kendra and a piano are transported to my listening room. Everything on this song sounds just right; the illusion of a live performance is pulled off without a flaw. Kendra’s voice occupies a space just a few feet ahead of me, and Larry Willis’ piano has perfect tone and pitch. In my experience, this recording has the ability to elevate the performance of many different speakers, but very few speakers are capable of unlocking the full potential of this recording. The VMPS 626 JR is one of the few reasonably priced speakers on that market that can do this.
It is a fact of life that $1000 speakers have limitations. If this were not the case, then speaker manufacturers could stop at this point, and spend their time sailing yachts, playing golf, and enjoying the fruits of their labor in other various ways. However, in the case of the VMPS 626 JR, there are very few issues that I can address. The points that I can comment on are quite minor, and I had to dig hard to find them. When the 626 JR speakers are set up with an extended front baffle, the bass is remarkably good. Still, a 6.5-inch woofer is only capable of producing a finite amount of bass, and it will not equal the performance of a speaker employing large diameter woofers. If you require the physical impact of the bass region, then consider adding a subwoofer to fill in the lowest registers. Also, planar drivers have lower efficiency than a conventional speaker. The neodymium magnet structure of the planar midrange increases the efficiency of this driver; and the 626 JR has a respectable 89dB/1W/1m sensitivity rating. This speaker will need to be used with a moderately powerful amplifier. Low powered tube amplifiers are not up to the task of driving this speaker. Actually, all the upstream electronics will need to be of good quality. This speaker will not gloss over any imperfections by generating artificial warmth. If any part of the system is not up to the task, the 626 JR will immediately point these shortcomings out.
Conclusions about VMPS 626 JR
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the VMPS 626 JR speakers. Matter of fact, this is one of the best speakers I have heard for less than $1500. The anniversary pricing package that Brian has put together makes the 626 JR one of the best buys in today’s market place. These speakers are remarkably easy to place in a room, which is an attribute that can be directly attributed to the Wavegide grills. The planar midrange and ribbon tweeter are amazingly fast and transparent. The build quality of the speaker is exceptional, and far exceeds what one would expect at the $1000 price point. This speaker system offers both performance and affordable pricing. If you are in the market for a pair of affordably priced high-end speakers, make the effort to find a pair of 626 JR to audition. These speakers are the real deal, and Brian Cheney’s generosity will leave you with several hundred dollars in your audio kitty.
Equipment Used For Review:
- Jeff Rowland Consummate pre-amplifier
- Jeff Rowland Model 5 amplifier
- Squeezebox with Bolder Cable Company modifications and Ultimate v1 power supply
- Audio Magic Kukama DAC
- Audio Magic Mini-Reference power conditioner
- Audio Magic Illusion 4D interconnects, Audio Magic Illusion 4D speaker cable, Audio Magic Illusion 4D digital cable, Audio Magic Extreme series power cords
- Various publications differ slightly on the time frame the CD was invented. Jack Russell first invented the Compact Disk in 1965.
Phillips formed the engineering team for the CD project in 1979. The earliest date that can be referenced to the production of the CD is 1980. However, late 1982 is the widely accepted date of the commercial release of the compact disc.
- The Eminent Technology version uses ceramic magnets, and has a lower efficiency. More than one company uses this driver variation, although VMPS has modified the drive frame in order to strengthen it. Brian’s solution eliminates any reliability issues that plagued early versions of this driver.
- This driver was developed for use in the upper tier speakers of the VMPS product line. Brian has allowed this technology to trickle down to his value priced speakers. This upgrade package adds $200 to the cost of the speakers.
- The Mega-woofer has a FS of 28 hertz and 8mm of excursion. This driver begins to roll off at 200 hertz, and is specifically designed to be a low frequency driver.
- The 626 JR uses a set of high quality L-Pads to adjust the output level of the midrange and high frequency drivers. The purist may balk at the inclusion of these parts. In my listening sessions, I found these controls extremely useful in making fine adjustments to the overall tonal balance of the speaker. I think these controls are a great option, and appreciated the flexibility that they offer to this speaker.
- The cabinets are custom built for VMPS by Mark Shifters production facilities. Affordable Audio readers will remember that Mark is owner of AV123. Cabinet dimensions are 24”H x 10.5”W x 13”D, and weigh in at 46 pounds each.
- A Stereophile test disc and a SPL meter simplified this adjustment. Once a flat frequency response is achieved, it is then possible to adjust the tonal balance if you prefer a different presentation.
- Brian Cheney has developed a speaker that will work well with a wide variety of different components. Between the effects of the Waveguide, and the effects of the output level controls, the speaker can be tuned to compliment a systems overall tonal balance.
from aﬀordableaudio, John Hoffman