A recent Von Schweikert review reminded those of us who pay attention: Product propaganda of magic gain circuits fixing radiation patterns can leave even those reviewers who should know better at risk - to spout pseudo-scienctific mumbo jumbo when venturing into complicated specialist terrain or not opening the item to investigate its innards. In the mood for heavy-duty white or black papers beyond what's been recounted thus far? Visit the company's website at the end of the review. Whatever the explanations, their Magellan VIII clearly worked, not only in Las Vegas but in my new haunt which, effectively, is one large open 1000sft space 56' wide by 18' deep, with slanted ceilings rising to 10' behind the speakers.


For the majority of the evaluation, I inserted the review pair of passive subs, powered from their dedicated outboard amplifier, in place of my customary dual-10" active DUO subwoofers. Common knowledge predicted that two eights couldn't possibly compete with quadruple 10s. However, considering the earlier rationale of not having your bass drivers face the airy reality of your huge listening space -- but rather, its own, far smaller internal cabinet -- this incongruous comparison, at least theoretically, wasn't as handicapped as it seemed.

The published specs for the matte-black Magellan VIII with round-over edging cite a response of 15-100Hz @ -3d. The accompanying graph is abnormally flat from 15-50Hz, with a minor rise centered on 70Hz. At $1,200 for a single Magellan VIII and $450 for the dual-output VBT200S amp designed to drive two bass modules, today's review setup weighed in at $2,850.


The amp uses 30dB/octave slopes below 80Hz and a 3rd-order network above, meaning that the actual crossover point doesn't shift higher even though the control settings extend to 150Hz. It seems that VBT doesn't want to use their aluminum-cone woofer much above 100Hz, hence they modestly extend its reach above the THX point by easing the steep roll-off.


As a clear budget product, the 150/200-watt into 8/4-ohm amp cube doesn't provide true 5-way terminals. Instead, you spot the collared jobs common on mass-market receivers. That's fine for the stripped wire and banana brigade but gives spade owners the fantods. Rummaging through my resident cable assortment fixated on avoiding spades with a vengeance, I eventually settled on a run of 8-foot shotgun Analysis Plus Oval-9 terminated with WBTs. The Magellans' tall brass spikes created enough ground lift to accommodate this ridiculous overkill arrangement, and their true 5-way posts grabbed one banana post in the bare-wire hole tightened down with the nut, the other in the center hole to avoid possible shorts. Hey, it's what I had. I saw no reason to head over to my local Shack and buy some cheap 12-gauge copper wire. Plus, reviewers -- especially German ones -- are supposed to me a bit daft, no?


The 200S sports auto-on circuitry, confirmed when the transparent VBT logo on the front goes from red to green. The sub pix below show the stuffed rim terminus on the circumference and the small circular aperture on the side. The compact cabinet dimensions allow horizontal and vertical positioning, the only condition being a 2-inch clearance for the port which follows the common rule for vents - give them breathing room at least equal to their diameter. The line-level signal feeding the subwoofer amp was derived from a high-quality Y-connector tapping into the main coaxial output of the Bel Canto PRe6 feeding the AUDIOPAX monos (yes, the PRe6 has landed, one leg on each moon, and it eclipsed the PRe1 stone-cold out of the box - report to follow).

My immediate VARTL impression? Holy mackerel, I surely wasn't lacking for output or extension. A 10:30 position on the volume pot equalled the amount of bass power of the DUO subs whose crossover is set to 93Hz.

However. While the Magellans had no problem equalling the far bigger subs in bass quantity, there was a distinct difference in quality.

The first qualifier? If we envision low bass propagating like concentric ripples on a lake, the front-firing Avantgarde subs excited said water with the slap of a flat open hand. The Magellans dropped a round stone into it right from above and with great speed. The actual ripples generated from either attack were the same. However, the initial event wasn't. I've noted this same phenomenon when I owned the 3x8" down-firing older Vandersteen sub. Compared to direct-coupling designs, slot-loaded or isobarically ported solutions sound - er, less direct. They all eventually couple to the air, of course, or else we wouldn't hear a thing. Still, those whose drivers interact with the room's air without the intermediate buffer of a secondary air chamber create a more physical, tactile transient feel.


The second qualifier? Their greater cone surface area exciting the air facing the listener directly -- and vertically rather than horizontally -- the Avantgarde subs transmitted a sensation of greater heft or body; not really more quantity of ripples per se, but a greater initial splash in the water as it were. To eliminate the possibility that some of this body wasn't the result of stereo versus mono bass, I requested another VBT200S to compare green apples to red apples, not oranges. More on that later.


Inherent in the second qualifier hides the third. The VBT bass was extremely well damped, taut, fast and rhythmically precise. It was lean bass without the fat, the premium equivalent of steak tartar meat. By comparison, the Avantgarde's bass had a few extra pounds of 7% fat on its frame, making proper blending with the lightning-fast horns not impossible but a function of diligent attention to setup and control settings. The VBT bass blended frighteningly well to remain truly invisible - well, inaudible in that regard, but certainly completely present, just not drawing attention to itself. It also spread through the room differently, as though spilling like a flood into the far corners and recesses of the stage, rather than remaining more centrally focused as with the DUOs.


On highly percussive transients as featured on Turkish percussion super group Harem's Rhythm Colour -- with its massive arsenal of darbukas, tablas, djembe, bendir, tef and tumba-bongos [Mega Muzik 8-694501-000403] -- occasional skin-on-skin or wood-on-rim sounds exploded with that shocking realism that has you involuntarily react as though spooked by a ghost. That preternatural suddenness felt like an unexpected splash of cold water, the rightness of timbre triggering some ancient survival reflexes trained to watch for snapping branches - or wood hitting steel. It confirmed Plummer's obsession with reactive driver speed, a concern that this hornspeaker owner, naturally, feels mighty sympathetic toward.


To be honest, I'd been a bit tweaked from the word go, by the diametrically-opposed design principles facing off in the DUOs. Minimum-effort, horn-loaded upper registers meet maximum-effort, high-current, sealed-box bass. Aikido versus heavy-weight boxing. Learning how to minimize this potential textural discrepancy, by sweating the extra care on the finely calibrated controls, has long since transcended this original highbrow response. On purely conceptual grounds, the DUO design still remains all wrong, of course. Naturally, adding horn-loaded bass within its price/size category was clearly off the reservation. Hence, there's no blame in this statement, merely admiration for how cleverly its designers solved a very serious challenge.


The part in me that appreciates symmetry and design cohesiveness? It eyes the minimum-excursion principle embedded in Plummer's bass approach and recognizes close parallels to my horn-loaded transducers. But philosophy aside, am I prepared to tell you that the VBT bass, on the DUOs, was superior to their mighty stock woofers?


Not quite. Different? Clearly. Better? That would depend on your priorities and listening preferences. On the bass-heavy, timbrally dark, massive, rockin' and slammin' Beautiful World album by a capella aces Take 6 [Warner Bros., 9-48003-2], the added heft of the Avantgarde woofers displaced more air for greater chest-slapping, pant-flapping, scrotum-tightening cheap thrills. Conversely, Marcus Miller's porky bass guitar and drum programming attacks were sharper, rhythmically more incisive - and, dare I say it, rising faster the Magellan way? This caused a minor deja-vu. I flashed on the bass clean-up/leaning-out first experienced with the Grand Prix Audio Apex footer installed underneath the Monaco stand and DUO rails and subsequently rebalanced by readjusting the DUO controls.


The VBT effect was a bit similar. Calling it lean, dry, extremely damped and cracking as precisely as Indiana Jones' whip isn't a criticism at all, merely a descriptor of its innate mien. I now removed one of the mono subs from the equation. This also removed much of the aforementioned sensation of the bass spilling all across the room for that expansive, positively gargantuan soundstage rising above rock-solid, tightly percolating bass patterns. With one sub on the fence, things got definitely leaner again. This pointed at the reverse option of adding more modules. Rather than making things louder, you'd then back off individual attenuators. This would further minimize excursions, to increase response times yet again and to build out dynamic peak potentials. Pushed beyond what I listen to at regular levels, in a space as cavernous as mine -- and disconnecting the DUOs to avoid clipping my ears with the levels required -- the Magellan drivers could be forced to bottom out. That's one advantage long-stroke designs enjoy over their less-endowed brethren: It takes something fierce to have 'em hit their stops.


However, VBT's 8-inchers, on the kind of music that's the main diet 'round here, required clearly unreasonable efforts to display displacement limits. I'm sure that the 6- and 5-inch variants would be more challenged in that regard, but likely perfectly adequate for the more normal-sized rooms they're intended for. Divulged the firm that they're working on dual 6- and 8-inch versions, essentially two current units assembled cheek-to-cheek, with slightly less width and amp modules fitted aft. The paralleling scheme would raise efficiency by 6dB and thus increase power handling. It'd also alter the box geometry to approach a drop-in replacement for the DUO subs. Oi weh - the audiophile virus procreating once again at alarming rates.


Incidentally, and while merely a design exercise, engineering has also built a 5-inch cube around a 3.5-inch "woofer" using this VARTL technology. While clearly hamstrung in SPL competitions, they claim extension and pitch definition that would take hearing to believe. By now I was quite prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. The Magellan VIII, while also a technology demonstrator, is clearly far more than just a fancy design exercise. It's a very practical new way to produce pitch-correct, fast, no-overhang and properly blended bass from small cabinets. Did I mention very reasonable pricing? Makes you wonder. What would an all-out pushing-the-envelope effort produce, using VBT's combined radial-TL/port loading in a cost-no-object enterprise? But let's not get too far removed from the present Magellan VIII review project...