Questions after a confusing speaker audition

I had an interesting - and confusing - experience last week when I listened to Vandersteen and Sonus Faber speakers at an audio dealer listening room. I was visiting relatives out of town and took the opportunity to visit a dealer that sells both of these speaker brands. I’ve been considering an upgrade from my 32-year-old Thiel CS 2.2 speakers, and the PS Audio FR10, Sonus Faber Olympica Nova III, and Vandersteen Treo CT have been high on my list of options.

The dealer I visited was very friendly and helpful, but they didn’t have any of my tentative options set up for auditioning. Instead, they had the Vandersteen Kento set up in a large listening room and the “bookshelf” Olympica Nova I on stand mounts in a smaller, general purpose room. The Kento speakers were driven by a 70 watt per channel Audio Research tube amp and the Nova I by a Moon integrated amp. Music source was an Aurender streaming Qobuz in both cases. I listened to a few songs I’d been enjoying at home, including “Reasons Why” by Nickel Creek and the Rickie Lee Jones cover of Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids.”

I had hoped that hearing the Kento set-up would give me a flavor of the current Vandersteen sound, but I was disappointed by what I heard. The sound was very enveloping, but it was so bass-dominant that I had to strain to hear what was happening in the higher frequencies. It felt like a wall of bass was hitting me in the head. Instruments were blurred in the soundstage, and the sound was very fatiguing. This was far from what I expected from the Vandersteens, which have a reputation for being smooth and musical, with excellent imaging. For those who know this gear, was the sound I heard likely to be a reflection of the Audio Research Tube amp, exaggerated settings for the powered subs in the Kento, or something about the room?

Listening to the Sonus Faber Nova I in a different room was more pleasant and musically engaging, although the sound was not as enveloping (or overwhelming). When we returned home from our trip, my wife and I listened to the same songs we had auditioned in the dealer showroom. On our ancient Thiel speakers (fed by a BHK preamp and M700 amps), the music sounded significantly more “real” than it had on either the big Vandersteens or the little Sonus Fabers. Now I’m not sure whether it’s worth the time and expense to track down a Vandersteen Treo CT or SF Olympica Nova III to audition. Or maybe I should figure out how to give the PSA FR10 - or something else - a serious listen.

Thanks for any suggestions on speaker options to consider - or reasons why I would be crazy to give up on my old Thiels.

Even in the best of days buying speakers it was tough. You get an idea of a speakers properties at an audition but thats it. No real idea how they will sound at home.

Also i bet after this long, your Thiels just sound right to you. Not sure what you will hear that sounds “better”

PS lets you demo at home. Shipping might sting though if you return. TMR has some deals and audition time but same scenario if you return.

You got to shoot for a in home trial. Good luck!

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@roninaudio Thanks for the comments. I agree that an in-home trial is the best way to buy speakers, but it’s often impossible or impractical. I’ve thought about the 30-day trial from PSA, but I’d want to be pretty sure I wouldn’t be returning the speakers if I took that chance.

I’ve looked at the Vandersteen Treo CT because it is time and phase coherent (like my Thiels) and because it can be built to resemble the Thiels by using the proper choice of wood veneer. I wish my audition of the Kento had given me a better idea of what the Treo CT actually sounds like.

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Typically the dealer has Treo CTs available for audition. I’m puzzled as to why they did not set them up for your demo. Did you call and make an appointment in advance?

I should have called well in advance, but I only called the day before and they didn’t have time to set things up for me. They had the Treo CT in the store but were already committed to an audition for the Kento just before I was able to come in to listen. They offered to set up and fine-tune the Treo CT on another day, but I had to leave for home immediately after my visit to the dealer, so that didn’t work out.

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May be worth revisiting when in town again.


I have a similar experience auditioning speakers in the past and I feel your frustration. I am a long time Vandersteen owner and have owned Model 2’s, Model 3’s, Quatros, and I recently purchased Model SEVENs. I listened to the Kentos extensively before I purchased the SEVENs. And right now, I just so happen to have my Quatros listed for sale on this forum’s marketplace along with a pair of Sub THREEs (shameless plug).

My thoughts are if you have been happy with your Thiels for many years you will be happy with Vandersteens. I think people who are used to and really appreciate the purity of time and phase coherent speakers won’t be happy without it. Every time I purchased new speakers I listened to other brands and I always came back to Vandersteen after I first had the Model Twos. I have not heard PS Audio speakers but I own a lot of PS Audio electronics.

I would say there was definitely something wrong in the setup in what you heard with the Kentos. Could have been the high pass filter settings for the AR amps, the calibration of the Kento bass, the position of the speakers in the room, or a combination of the above. I have never heard Kentos sound the way you describe. I’m surprised that the dealer didn’t pick that up. Vandersteen definitely has a sound that is consistent throughout their lineup, the Treos sound like Quatros which sound like the Kentos, and so on. As you move up the range in price everything about the sound just gets better across the board. The Treo CTs are great speakers, but for me the Quatros with the powered subs are an order of magnitude better. And being able to tune the bass to specific to your room and liking with the 11 step bass adjustments plus contour and Q is a game changer

If you can, try to arrange another audition of properly set up Vandersteens in addition to other brands so you can make the best decision for you.


These speakers were NOT set up correctly… My audition of a pair of Kentos showed that in this setup, they were severely thin in the lower-MR/upper-bass… All other attributes were excellent… I had a pair of FR20s for a few weeks and just never fell in love with them… Subsequently I bought a used pair of V-steen 7.2s with M7 poweramps and did indeed fell in love with them.

A few weeks ago I received a pair of Sound Lab Majestic 745s and I’m back in heaven!

The Pass X260.8s are the best SS amps I’ve ever heard, while PSA M1200s (somewhat improved) are my backups… Haven’t yet decided what to do with the Classés.

I recommend U visit another V-steen dealer to hear the Trios; make an appt. and before U go there, ask if the speakers have been tuned to the room… V-steen speakers are, IMO, the best moving-coil systems around… But I LOVE the sounds of tall dipole radiators, so tall, dipole electrostatics are my choice… And FWIW, mine is now the best-EVER system I’ve heard in my 64 years as an audiofool. :grin:


Nice to hear about the 260.8s. You have way more experience w different amps than I do and I love my 260.8s

As soon as the OP said too much bass and then mentioned powered woofers … I’m guessing there is an adjustment there that was possibly boosted?

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Btw ‘Reasons Why’ - excellent tune :grinning:

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Thanks to all for the info and suggestions. I’m still not sure about the best course of action, but I think I’ll keep the Treo CT on my possible speaker list and try to arrange an extended audition the next time I’m near a Vandersteen dealer. The Aspen FR10 remains on my list as well.

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I have had a pair of Vandersteen Treo Ct speakers with a BHK preamp and a pair of M700 amps. Nice combination! The Vandersteen speakers you heard were not set-up properly. I would go back and make an appointment to hear the Treo’s with a proper setup using electronics at least similar to your own. Good luck!


@fumedtwice It’s helpful to hear that the Treo CT can be a good match for my PSA electronics. What speakers are you currently using?

I thought the sound labs would be a little bigger? lol

They look awesome! Enjoy!

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I still have the Treo’s but my amp is a BHK 250. I still have the m700’s though in another system. I was thinking of replacing the Vandersteen with the Aspen FR20. Not because I don’t like the Vandersteen’s but just for a different flavor. Or I might get the Vandersteen Wood ct. Right now I have a Vandy sub but it’s tricky to integrate. Fun to try though. Good luck!


I was a long time fan of Vandersteen, having 2Ci, 3A Signature, and 5 (original). They had a nice warm, comfy sound that got better as you went up the line. I would have loved to move up the line to Kento or 7, but they got hideously expensive and like you, I never heard a good demo to even remotely justify the price. The demos include AXPONA several times for 5A Carbon, Quattro Wood CT, Kento, and 7 (with subwoofers) and a local dealer for the Quattro Wood CT and Kento. I’m not sure if the dealers were incompetent (Richard was at both dealer demos), Richard changed the sound, or my ears just don’t like the Vandersteen sound any more. I did get FR20 and am very happy with them, a very nice upgrade from the Vandersteen 5 (which I should sell, but haven’t listed anywhere, hint hint).

Not sure where you are located, but a trip to PS Audio is a great way to hear the full line and meet the great folks that work there! Good luck in your journey!


@pmotz I’d love to visit PS Audio sometime, but it’s an 800-mile drive to Boulder for me. I’ve considered ordering a pair of FR10s and taking advantage of the 30-day trial, but I’ll do that only if there’s a really small chance I’d decide to return them. At this point, I have to admit that I’m not totally sold on the aesthetics of the Aspen line, and I don’t know if I’ll be happy long-term with the sound of the planar magnetic tweeter and midrange driver.

The biggest issue, though, is that I’ve never heard better music out of my current 2-channel system. I listen mainly to Qobuz these days, and I’ve cleaned up a lot of ethernet noise that had been reducing the sound quality coming through my Innuos server/streamer and my DS DAC MK2. I’ve talked myself into thinking that a pair of 32-year-old Thiel speakers can’t possibly keep up with modern speakers in the $10-15K range, but I could be wrong. So far, I haven’t heard any options that sound as good as my Thiels do. (Your Vandersteen 5s sound interesting, by the way, but are probably a bit too large for my needs.) I’ve read or watched so many rave reviews of the Borresen X-3 that those speakers have now been added to my short list for future consideration.

It’s definitely a relief that I still like my current speakers, but that probably means that my search for a worthy replacement is likely to become a long and arduous quest. Thanks for giving me some useful advice as my quest continues.

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It is the flat panel ribbon midrange and the flat panel ribbon tweeter that sold me on the FR20, and was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. After having them for over a year, the clean and open sound of the speakers is something that I continue to enjoy. These are my endgame speakers.


@adifferentpaul Thanks for your comments about the FR20. I’ve always been interested in the speed and impact of electrostatic speakers and flat panel tweeters, but I’ve been afraid that they’d be too bright to tolerate comfortably over time. Well before buying my Thiels in 1992, I had a pair of speakers with a large woofer and a Heil AMT tweeter. I liked them at first, but later grew tired of the “boom and sizzle” sound they produced and their failure to have a refined midrange sound to transition between the AMT and the woofer.

I’m glad to hear that the tweeter and midrange drivers on the Aspens are easy to live with over time. The FR20 would probably sound great in my living room, but I think the FR10 would be more likely to look at home in that space (and make my wife happier).

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SDL, I will say the tweeter and midrange of the FR20 are the strong points and what sold me on them. Part of that might be my older ears, but Chris Brunhaver is great speaker designer so he’s way past the failings of early planar drivers. To me the Vandersteen’s, in comparison, are a little closed in. Of course my Vandersteen’s are a 25+ year old design. I do recall listening to Thiel speakers at a local dealer in the late 80’s, may have been an earlier version of your speakers, and thinking they sounded wonderful … on the right music. They were brutally revealing and did not play well with low quality equipment or recordings. At that time the Vandersteen 2 was a viable alternative (though I didn’t hear them side by side) to those of us with equipment and music of lower pedigree. I ended up with the Vandersteen’s a few years later …